2. The Agreement

January 10, 2007

He stood facing southeast. The massive black-feathered wings folded in prayer against his broad muscled ebony back.

The Archangel–as He had become designated–balanced on the outermost edge of the battlement. Motionless. Perfectly erect. A statue against the disk of Aideena’s mother planet in the Gaia-dawn. His piercing silver eyes, pulsing with an eerie light, stared open, however, He seemed somehow absent, asleep.

The Divinity had not moved, even in the slightest, for several hours.

John Gregory alphaOsloe silently studied the meta-terrestrial. He could not conceive how anyone could maintain such perfect rigidity and absolute concentration for so long a time. Not even his own Templar training was so accomplished.

John Gregory was part of the Templar team assigned to sequester the entity mysteriously expelled from the Celestial Collective. He watched The Archangel assume this stance day after day for disturbing lengths of time.

Always southeast. Always perfectly immobile.

The young soldier-priest felt no closer to understanding the purpose behind the ritual. He accepted that it as beyond him.

Discretely, John Gregory detached the pai-reader in his gauntlet, activated its custom scanning program and pointed it toward the Divinity. The device silently scrolled and byte-flashed to life. The Templar had no idea what data the program was designed to gather. He only knew that the scan was unauthorized and that he would lose his knighthood if discovered. He had performed numerous scans in so many weeks without attracting attention. He considered himself lucky. But he was not about to take any unnecessary chances.

Footsteps drew close behind him. John Gregory quickly thumbed off the scan. Turning, his gaze met the approaching bright and eager smile of a fit young man, dressed in the same red uniform and white cleric’s collar of a Knight Templar.

“Morning, Gregory. At it again, is He,” the other greeted and regarded The Archangel. His bright blue eyes then dropped to the pai-reader in the Faithful’s hand.

If only to suppress his panic, John Gregory returned the smile and held out the reader, “Just completing the shift report. He’s all your’s, Michael Constantine.”

Michael Constantine tauValez took the pai, examined it cursory and signed off on the report. “I know I’m late. I hope I haven’t held you up,” he said.

“Are you kidding! With everything going on today, the last thing I want is to be available for crowd control duty.” John Gregory answered, taking the reader and slipping it back into its gauntlet housing. “The next ten hours are mine. I’d just as soon stay here at Thermae. Take in a morning prayer and bath and avoid all the commotion.”

“How can you pass on history-in-the-making! It’s the most important session of Parliamentary we’re likely to see in a generation. Not to mention, the chance to see the omegaMarat Sisters in person!”

John Gregory alphaOsloe smiled, this time genuinely. He knew the rookie Faithful only a short time, but he impressed him.

He did not hold the fact that tauValez was blond and faired skinned against the newcomer. TauValez was very sharp, well-schooled and easy to like. He was as wide-eyed and eager to perform well as any neophyte fresh from Temple, but there was a clarity about him that was rare. John Gregory hoped the harshness of Garrison-at-Court-at-Columbia would not grind down those qualities as it did to so many of his fellow Faithful.

A series of sharp sweeping sounds sliced the air.

The two Faithful nodded to one another knowingly. They peered into the adjacent chamber of the dilapidated fortification, sculpted in the maw of a cavern opening.

Wheeling a long ceremonial sword, a tall brawny man, wearing nothing but revealing Templar undergarments, executed a series of delicate balletic movements. The sword whipped and flashed, moving with effortless fluidity, its high-polished blade glinting Gaia-light. His face calm and concentrate, the man flexed his chiseled body, bending and twisting with mechanical precision from years of difficult training.

John Gregory stole a look at the young Constantine. The other’s gaze was transfixed. His eyes watered dreamingly. John Gregory grinned.

“By Creation, he’s damn good,” tauValez exhaled absently.

“Good! Paul Sebastian is perhaps the greatest living Bladesport athlete,” Gregory hooted his amusement “It’s a damn shame he doesn’t compete any longer. The game has never been the same since he gave it up.”

“Figure that? He injures an opponent and retires. After all, Faith cleared him of any fault.”

John Gregory’s stare narrowed, “I understand you’ve been asking around about xiDuang?”

Michael Constantine shrunk back. His eyes lowered evasively. “I am assigned under him. Just trying to get a handle on the guy,” he answered, choosing his words carefully. “There doesn’t seem to be much to learn. He’s kind of a fixture around the Garrison, but no one seems to know him very well.”

“No, with Paul Sebastian you don’t get much,” acknowledged Gregory, reflecting on the three years he worked alongside the veteran Templar with few, if any, off-duty interactions.

The ballet slowed. Paul Sebastian xi Duang came to rest. After a moment he turned and crossed toward the two fellow Templar. He strode in lean measured steps directly to Michael Constantine. “You’re late, tauValez, “ he said flatly, with only the slightest hint of the exertion he had just undergone.

“I was completing research,” the younger Templar answered, more than a little defensive.

“You’re still late. My report will reflect that.”

Michael Constantine keyed his pai and palmed the gauntlet interface. “I found the vault,” he explained. A three-dimensional display flowered over his forearm.

“It’s directly above the Parliamentary assembly chamber, perhaps part of the acoustic superstructure or an old guard station. It’s been barricaded for years. It’s there, just as The Archangel said it would be!”

“My ancestors be damn,” cursed xiDuang, genuinely surprised. He was—perhaps–slightly impressed with Michael Constantine. “It’s a secure location, all right. How in Second Heaven did He know it was there?…”

AlphaOsloe chimed, “This means the Seraphim will have to honor the Divinity’s request. He can observe today’s Parliamentary in anonymity.”

Paul Sebastian twisted a face, “I don’t like it! There’s no telling what might happen if the delegates learn of the Divinity’s presence. Not to mention the hordes of spectators, the media, the omegaMarat Sisters!”

“Yes. But, we promised Him a first-hand view of the Parliamentary if we could secure His presence secretly,” Michael Constantine insisted. “It was part of the agreement for His compliance.”

“No one wants to invite the ill-favor of the Goddess and Creation. Knowledge of His presence would start a panic. Or worse,” Paul Sebastian rebuffed. “Especially today, with tensions so high. The purpose of our assignment is to prevent that!”

“Why the interest in Parliamentary? He’s Divinity, fallen maybe, but still an alien,” mused John Gregory aloud. “Why should it matter to Him?”

“The whole planet’s interested in Parliamentary,” said Constantine. “At least, today.”

“Do you suppose he has a woman’s perception of future events? That he knows something?” asked Gregory.

“His skin may be dark and colored like a woman but he’s obviously male,” scuffed xiDuang. “Still, he was part of the Celestial Collective… perhaps they are more feminine than masculine, after all.”

The air snapped suddenly.

A startling ghostly pressure swept through the three Templar and out in the all directions. Enormous black feathered wings swept on either side of them and spread apart like a great hand with long flat fingers. A massive muscled frame dwarfed the men.

“We are prepared,” came a deep reverberating voice. “We have been promised an audience at your government in exchange for Our cooperation.”

Sebastian braved a step forward. He endeavored to disguise how unsettled he felt to look at this creature so physically male and yet espresso-skinned like a woman. He doubted he would ever get use to something so unnatural. He found he had to force his focus on getting the words out properly, “We’ll leave shortly. We’ve secured a place from which you can observe the Assembly. You are aware our agreement stands? You are not to make your presence known or interact in any way with anyone other than Michael Constantine and myself.”

The Archangel raised an indifferent eyebrow, “We are aware, my Faithful, of a great many things.”

The Divinity turned his head ever so slightly. His glaring silver eyes fell squarely on John Gregory alphaOsloe and held him as if gazing straight into the depths of his soul.

The Templar shuttered.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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