Prose

An Uncertain Future- Chapter 17


by: CJ Fogarty

After leaving ol’ Jim Redfield’s, Rich and I part ways, him heading to New York, me for the peaceful, secluded Abbey of Gethsemani. Surrounded by lush, green hills, the abbey sits on a level area in a secluded yet very serene area. Contrary to the typical image of a dark, medieval castle, this was an American monastery. There are four white, heavily windowed wings enveloping a central green, which is enveloped, in turn, by a complex of bushes leading to the gate.

Appearing at the abbey itself and removing a general summary from Sage, I almost start thinking our visit to Jim Redfield was unnecessary. Cardinal Victor Arnim is, apparently, not a hard man to reach. He regularly leads mass every Sunday and there’s a church that’ll permit him wherever he is the world. I learned this from sitting through mass in Louisville. His homily was something very personal than I’d gotten used to from priests.

Aside from mass, showing up at his door, any hour of the day or night, is openly accepted, and he tends to send you away with some bread, made by himself, a rosary, and a happy piece of information to keep you going. This I learned from Sage, after a good many clips on Christian International News interviewing homeless people who had been graced by visits to Father Arnim. For more formal occasions, however, reconciliation is your best bet. That’s the alternative I’ve chosen, hoping to catch the guy in a comfortable setting. And one good thing about the Catholic church if there’s one thing advantageous about the Catholic church is its privacy. Whether that’s good or bad, really, is up to you.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. The camerlengo of the Catholic Church, elite among elites, caretaker of the property and finances of the Papacy just lets people walk into his golden house and take from his pantry, and, while he’s at it, is loony enough to actually walk into random churches and ask to say mass and give confession? Even if you’re not Catholic, I think that certainly conflicts with a variety of typical viewpoints. But, I read up on this guy, and by that, I mean Sage did. Apparently, Arnim doesn’t live in a golden house, nor would you really think he’s one of the most powerful men in the Church, and by extension, the world, if you just looked at him.

Sporting a pony tail and a Yoda staff, in private conversation, the man is as pleasant as can be, with not a single touch of meanness nor confrontation in him. His smile, it was said, was by no means pretty, compared to the million-dollar mouths of Hollywood celebrities, yet it’s managed to disarm nuclear weapons and save millions of lives. Yet, that didn’t mean he was hesitant to get in someone’s face. Whether you were a dictator using sarin gas, an oil tycoon mismanaging the environment, or even the school bully, you were on Arnim’s hit list for a visit and a stern, unafraid conversation. What made him stand out, though, and what made him effective, was the weight of his charisma and his fearless social justice crusade. As Sage was telling me,

“The man looks down the barrel of a gun literally every week, and whomever’s pointing it is liable to have a million voices of protest across the world.”

“Interesting”, I ponder, “but this guy doesn’t have a backstory?”

“Well”, Sage admits, “not really. Into interviews, he dodges questions about his personal life, usually saying, ‘it was nothing special’, or, ‘who I was is not important to me’. In general, he despises the limelight and goes to great lengths to keep himself reserved on social media. What we have figured out is that he was born into a Protestant family in Western Europe. Sources defer whether it was France, Germany, Switzerland, or northern Italy. We know next to nothing of his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood until he finally appears as a convert to Catholicism and a member of the Cistercian Orders. But, by that time, he was in his thirties, we estimate, then was ordained a regular priest in 2032 and by 2064, he is camerlengo of the Catholic Church.”

“Given the camerlengo’s influential position’, I muse, “it almost seems like they wanna make him Pope.”

“Well, you see”, Sage agrees, “that’s not wholly out of the question. In fact, some say it’s highly probable.”

I park my rental car, a Honda AC2, which has wheels thank God, on the grass next to several cars without them. From what I could remember, there would never be this big a gathering at an abbey, particularly among the rigorously ascetic Cistercian Catholic monks. Apparently, though, this was a special occasion, for as soon as word had got out that Father Arnim was staying at the Abbey of Gethsemani, people from all over had begun pouring in, violating the customary seclusion of monasteries. So, according to Sage, Arnim decided to let people in for reconciliation and prayer time, turning into a sort of event, right on the fly. Sage learned all of this from an anonymous contact we were supposed to have inside the monastery, which was actually whom I was going to meet.

“And just what’s his name, again?”, I ask, speaking to a hologram of a boy with muffled hair and skin no darker than the faded white shirt he’s wearing.

“Soo-yun Park”, Sage explains, “goes by Brother Gabriel. He’s been instructed to meet you at the entrance where everyone else will be walking in. He’ll instruct you where to go.”

“Sounds good, man”, I reply, “anything else I need to know?”

“Hm, nope that’s about it. Wait, scratch that. I should also tell you that the abbott is not in the Order and Brother Gabriel won’t be able to speak to you. Vow of silence.”

“Well, alright. That’s customary procedure anyway, right?”, I ask.

Sage shrugs.

“Do you think it’ll be an issue, sir”, he asks.

“Nah, I think it’ll work out. Does Brother Gabriel know who I am?”

“He’ll pick out that you’re a Guardian right away, I’m sure.”

“No”, I insist, “will he know who I am?”!

“Oh, I see”, Sage realizes, “ummm, well, if you’d like to communicate that to him, I’m sure his vow of silence will be very hard to keep.”

“True”, I admit, “best to keep it quiet then.”

There’s an awkward pause. I look around at the people going into the monastery. In my day, I expected to see mainly a lot of elderly couples or groups of old women on a pilgrimage, yet, I am surprised by just how many young people there are. Across from me, a heavyset, balding man and his wife unload their three, no, four young kids out of a van, proceeding into the abbey. As I recall, these guys would never tolerate a bunch of kids runnin around a monastery. To my right, a group of teenagers departs from an old car. Ordinarily, I’d think they were some kind of Bible-thumping teen prayer group, but, the opposite is true. Their car has green flames painted on, the kids themselves are clad in leather and studs, sporting several tattoos and spiky, neon hair that reminds me of Miri.

They must be the cyberpunks I’ve heard so much about. Such people would be turned away or eyed with suspicion back in my day, yet, the stout, shaved, Asian man at the door simply smiles and welcomes them in. Wonder if that’s Brother Gabriel. To my left-this is a long pause don’t you think-emerges a pretty, young black girl, dressed in a nice purple sweater, gold earrings, and with her curly hair tied back. I give her a smile, which is sweetly returned. From the other side of the red car, her boyfriend emerges, wearing a scarlet shirt with a rectangle instead of a V down the middle. He takes her hand, and the two walk in.

“Um, right. So, good luck to you, Duke”, he hesitatingly speaks.

I can tell there’s something wrong, though.

“Kyle, somethin on your mind?”, I pry.

“Oh, no. Not really”, he replies, his face contorting into a wishy-washy expression, his fingers nervously tapping his other hand.!

“Look, I gotta go. But, hey, how was Miri, by the way?”

Well that’s sort of off-topic, I think to myself.

“Oh, fine, fine”, I reply, “Just the usual.”

“Right, right”, Sage concurs, “always working, always traveling, and always smoking.”

“Smoking hot, you mean”, I add, playfully. A moment of laughter passes between us.

“Well, yeah. That too, I guess”, Sage laughs, but looking more relaxed, “anyway, she’s probably checking out the third lead.”

“You mean that bitch from Interpol”, I reminisce unpleasantly, “Yeah I remember her, and the strange urge to vomit suddenly appears.”

Sage laughs again.

“You certainly said it. She nearly exposed all of us to the world with that investigation of hers. But, don’t worry. If anyone can take her, it’s definitely Miri. Sage out.”

And with that, the hologram disappears, and I make for the door. As before, the monk before me stands with a warm smile and a greeting gesture.

“Brother Gabriel?”, I ask, to which he nods.

He, like Sage said, knows who I am immediately but doesn’t say a word, instead, he beckons me to follow him. Entering the monastery, I turn around to find another brother take Gabriel’s place. Coupled with the bells and hourly chanting melodies, this place seems to run like one, giant, ivory clock. I’m led into the eastern nave of the abbey, which is a long room with an altar a very simply altar at the end. On each side of the nave were a series of wooden pulpits, stall rather, stacked next to each other. There were two rows of them on opposite sides of the wall, and the wood looked like it hadn’t been replaced since I was here last. And that was almost a century ago. I can’t say I remember much of that visit, how long it was, or even why I came.

Down the center aisle, there was a long line, consisting mainly of the people I mentioned were outside, augmented by some twenty or more. Brother Gabriel beckons I take my place in line, so I squeeze in next to one of the cyberpunk kids I saw outside. I turn back around, and I see Brother Gabriel gesture to his head, smiling as I remember to take it off. With a finger of silence held to his lips, we share a nod, and he then proceeds off into the abbey.

Running a hand through my long, blond and largely unkempt hair, I scrutinize the group standing with me. Their general appearances couldn’t be more contrary to their surroundings. In front of me is a shorter, thin girl, and her hair is grown out into a frizzy, blond mop with random streaks of pink. There’s really no other word for I can think of for this big mess of hair that looks like something I’d seen in a movie somewhere. Aside from that, she looks a lot like Miri is many ways: black leather coat and skirt, a few piercings in the ears. The only thing blatantly different is her leggings, which compliment a pair of perfect legs. But, by her gestures, I don’t think she’s here to be scandalous or show-offish. Her pale, reddened hand is clasped with the man next to her, an imposing guy dressed in a black leather trench coat with the collar popped up nearing his bleached white hair, and a pair of dark jeans running down his legs that lead to a pair of studded boots. The two share a glance for a moment, and I get a glimpse of their faces. The girl isn’t exactly stunning, but I think she’s kinda pretty, with generally thin features, dove white skin which appears painted, a black patch painted around her dark, right eye, resembling a star, and two piercings under the lip, which curl with her smile. The man’s face, obviously, has less to look at, yet with pale skin offset by a pair of light green eyes that contract as he smiles back at her.

Turning to my right, the apparent third wheel sports a bit of a different look. His hair is longer than his comrades’, which runs grayish black with a few streaks of lighter grey flowing down. The hair ends shortly after his upper back, which covers a set of embroidered text, preventing me from reading it. The jacket itself is brown leather, not black, resembling an old bomber jacket, complete with the stitched drawing of an old B-29, ridden by a voluptuous, cartoonish blonde with shapely legs and a cowboy hat. His blue jeans meet a pair of fancy cowboy boots, which sport a curious metal clip around each heel. Looking at his face, he appears older, pudgier than his young friends, but his big blue eyes, shaven face and staunch build tell me about a man who was once much more fit whose body refuses to let him down entirely into middle age.

He sees me scrutinize him and turns his head to me. I flash a smile, not expecting in the least to receive one back. But, I do. It neither looks awkward nor forced, but is entirely cool and natural. If these are the cyberpunks, I can see why they’re considered a rebellious bunch. But, just that one, silent exchange, and Miri’s character of course, make me think these cyberpunks are okay. Until proven wrong of course.

If there’s anything annoying about the Catholic Church, it’s the virtue of patience. Monks and priests work on Kai Ro, or God’s time, which is characteristically slower than actual time. For two millennia, the clergy have largely resisted any sort of open change in structure and policy, mostly in terms of procedures like these. I’m left waiting in line for just over two agonizing hours and every time someone was finished, they’d have to shuffle through the line while the rest of us struggled and squeezed to make a third row that shouldn’t be there. Claustrophobic and slow. This place is definitely coming back to me now.

Still, I guess there’s an enchanting calm about places like these. Your mind, at first, looks for the million things it’s usually occupied with, only to find life no longer at its usual pace. Thus, you’re head goes into a transitional period where it tries to slow down a bit in order to reset itself for a new schedule centered around work, food, prayer, and nothing more. Such a schedule is one you end up frequently forgetting while your brain is in such a state of limbo, pun intended. Sorry, is this boring? I’m just passing time right now thinking to myself. It’s been a good two and a half hours you know.

After the last cyberpunk comes out, the older one in the bomber jacket, I notice for the first time that there’s nobody behind me in line. Brother Gabriel suddenly reappears and directs me to the end of the nave, onto the altar, and out an unseen door on the right side. So, confessions are being held outside? That’s really strange. Brother Gabriel steps aside and beckons me forward. The path is very thin, and instead of stone or concrete or dirt, it’s paved some kind of bronze-like metal that shines silver if I altered my head. Engraved in the path itself appear to be the words of one, long quote. Looking more closely, despite my impatience, I can make out the words of a prayer of some kind. Although, I can’t quite remember whose it is.

“My Lord, God, I do not have any idea where I am going. I cannot see the road ahead of me…”

Low bushes line either side and as I look around, I appear to be in a lush garden with bushes, a few white trees, all types of flowers giving off poignant aromas, even singing birds just to add to the cliche.

In the center is the great statue of monk, also apparently, out of Cortasteel. The texture and design of the bronze-silver statue is intricate, highlighting everything from the wrinkles on the monk’s meditative face to the individual beads of a rosary held in his praying hands. Staring at the ground, I find the prayer concludes,

“Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death, I will not fear. For you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

At the statue’s feet is a black metal bench with three, plush pillows. One of them is occupied by a familiar person. Father Arnim looks just like his picture, only, his gray ponytail has been reduced to a tuft of white hair. A sharp jawline offset by kindly eyes tries to complement a strange-looking smile. His red and white cardinal robes and broad-brimmed hat are the only thing that make him appear traditional. A crooked staff with a balled top about five feet high leans against his left leg.

I approach him calmly, and I become keenly aware of how high I stand over this man, even though he is sitting, yet how it doesn’t seem to affect him in the least.

“Your eminence”, I blurt out, “forgive me, but um, I’m not really sure how to address you.”

He immediately laughs.

“Just call me Father”, he says, “there’s no need for such honors here. Why don’t you sit down?”

I follow his command, no, his suggestion rather, and sit. His voice is high and soft, for an old man, yet still carries a commanding tone. His accent is almost nonexistent and his English perfect.

“So, do wish to confess your sins?”, he asks, softly.

“Oh, well, um”, I respond, “yes, alright. Let me see…”

Now, in my long life, I’ve broken at least every commandment a hundred times over. I’ve killed, obviously, and stolen and cursed. I’ve committed adultery and think about doing so every day. Let’s not even get started on that one. The point I’m trying to make is that if I were to confess every sin, even the ones I can remember, we’d be here all day. I honestly didn’t expect this to be his first question. Anyway though, here it goes.

“I’ve, um, cursed, several times in the past, hour and a half.”

Arnim looks on, waiting for more.

“I’ve, um, made lewd suggestions about women and, um, I’ve abused the substance of alcohol. I’ve been violent, though, that was sorta in self defense, but, it was against law enforcement, so, there’s no proving that in a court. I, um, stole this outfit I have on here, but, I didn’t exactly have much else to wear. Um, what else?”

“Instead of telling me the sins that will bother me”, he interrupts calmly, “why don’t you confess the sins that are bothering you.”

Well, he’s definitely sure of me, I think to myself.

“Okay then”, I agree, “well, I’ve broken the fifth commandment.”

“I see”, Arnim responds cooly, “and why did you have to do it?”

“The nature of my work. My life, I guess”, I reply enigmatically, “I’ve been in a position where I’ve had to do a lot of that.”

“Alright”, he responds, “and do you feel guilt for doing this?”

“No”, I reply immediately, “and that’s what I feel bad about. I’ve killed people, but I don’t feel a real ton of guilt about it. I know this because, in short, I’m way past feeling that kind of remorse, anymore. The people I’ve found at the end of my gun, most of them, I think, they-they didn’t deserve to die, but, there were in a position in which they could hurt a lot of innocent people.”

“I see”, he says, filling my pause, “well, young man, you must understand that killing is wrong no matter what the context.”

“So what”, I fire back, “does that mean I should just let those people do what they were gong to do!? To hurt, cheat, steal, and kill themselves!?”

“No”, he replies furtively, “but you mustn’t think for a second, that killing is right.”

“So, I guess I should ‘turn the other cheek’?”, I answer, getting a little bit heated.

“Ah”, he replies, suddenly lighter, “that’s an interesting passage. Matthew 5:39, appearing also in Luke 6:39: ‘if someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn your other one also.’ It is truly interesting because very few know the context in which it really means. Do you, young man?”

Oh God, it’s only been a few millennia. Nonetheless, I wanna see what he has to say.

“No”, I reply, feigning naiveté, “I guess I don’t.”

“Hold up your hands”, he commands, and I follow, “now, if you were to slap me with the back of your hand. Just bitch-slap me on my right cheek.”

Did those words really come out of a cardinal, I think humorously.

“Yeah?”

“You’d do it with your left hand, wouldn’t you?”

Examining my hands, he’s certainly right.

“Now, if I turn to you my other cheek”, and with that, he moves his face, and I can suddenly make out a wide scar on his left cheek, that looked like it’d been made with an iron.

“You cannot slap me backhand with your left hand, can you?”

“No”, I answer, knowingly. I get it now.

“According to the biblical scholar, Walter Wink, I don’t expect you to know him, in custom of the time, mainly among people of Jesus’ region, the left hand was used to perform unclean acts. A backhanded slap with the left hand symbolized a sense of authority over one’s household slaves, society’s low classes, or wives and daughters. An open-hand slap or a punch, while certainly more effective, was seen as a symbols of equality among two fighters. So, by turning my other cheek, you can no longer display your authority over me with your left hand, and will thus have to either acknowledge me as an equal challenger to you, or shamefully walk away. Does that make sense to you?”

I look into the eyes of the smiling Arnim. He doesn’t look triumphant, like he’s schooled me or anything. He simply looks at me matter-of-factly.

“Yes. I understand”, I relent, “that’s a good point. But, just how far does nonviolence go before the guys on the other side start shooting? Sometimes, you can’t just sit back and let people get killed because they believed their enemies will respect nonviolent resistance.”

“If you killed the people you did in order to defend those whom, you claim, require your protection, aren’t you making their decisions for them? And, if they did defend themselves violently, don’t they also have a chance of being killed?”

“Yeah! I know it! You’re right about all of that! So, that makes me a hypocrite, right? A lousy, selfish, sex-crazed hypocrite! So, I don’t need to try and say that what I’ve done has been for the greater good or that I’m still a good person, ‘cause I’m not. I didn’t need to wait in line for two hours, in order to tell you that, when I say it every single day!”!

“Okay, young man-“

“Please, don’t call me that”, I respond tiredly, his words stinging me even when they weren’t supposed to, “I’ve been around a lot longer than you.”

“I think you feel, trapped, perhaps, by your own life. You’ve lived something that hasn’t really been your choice.”

He says this very even, very calm, very reserved. Meanwhile, I’ve been pacing around uncomfortably, my back against him. I don’t tend to get very emotional like this, but some things tend to push my buttons.

“May I guess that you’ve had to sacrifice people you’ve cared about?”

At that moment, I feel the need to reach back into my pocket. The only thing in there is the most precious things I’ve got. A tarnished brass pocket watch that-that I should’ve abandoned a long time ago. What hasn’t stayed outta my mind since then is the face on the other side. Ana. Ana….

He’s right, of course. I didn’t have to sacrifice her, but I lost her all the same. When you live as I have, there’s a few strings tethering you to your sanity and happiness. She’s one of ‘em. I close the watch and turn back to face him. He offers me the seat again, but I don’t feel like sitting.

“You have a choice, young man”, he says softly, “and you ought to recognize that you have your limits. You’re only human after all.”

This brings a sad smile to my face.

“Yes, and no”, I reply, “but, you see, that, is where you’re probably wrong. At this point in my life, I’m struggling to understand whether or not I’m actually human. The more I’ve been able to do, the stronger I’ve gotten, with the absence of guilt, sorrow, love and even pain, make me feel like I can’t call myself human anymore, even though I’d love to. See, that’s just the thing, I don’t feel like other people do.”

“There may be factors you cannot help in that regard”, he advises, “things about you that you were simply born with, and must cope with”.

“Hm”, I retort, “yeah, you’re right about that. But if you’re referring to some kind of mental condition or birth deficiency, I assure you, it ain’t that. The problem with me is that I’ve had a destiny that was decided for me. To follow the world until it ends, trying to keep evil from destroying mankind in the process.”

There is a long pause, during which time, I do not look at him, and he looks right through me.

“Are you”, he whispers, “Jesus Christ, then? Is that who you believe yourself to be?”

I look back to him for an inkling in his face as to what that weird phrase meant. I see neither awe nor shock nor terror nor fear in his eyes. Just a hard stare, beckoning me to respond.

I sigh, deep and long. Then,

“No, Father. He was one to accept the fate he was given, the cards he was dealt. Me? I’ve never accepted what my life is supposed to be, so, I guess, God hasn’t granted me the mercy of death.”

The cardinal stares ahead of him for a moment, then strangely nods.

“I see”, he says, back at me, “You’ve been honest, Mr.-“

“Bishop”

“Mr. Bishop. And I truly appreciate that, for I know that that is hard to do. And you’ve stood up for what you believe in, without worrying whether or not I can agree with you. I don’t see that anymore.”

We share a smile.

“Now, is there anything more you’d like to confess?”

I shake my head.!

!  “Very well”, he replies, “then I would appreciate it if you would stay in the monastery for a few days. The brothers here have opened unoccupied cells for guests to sleep, and have offered free food and lodging.

He then looks around, making sure nobody’s around.

“Honestly”, he whispers, leaning forward, “I think it’s just a clever tool for recruitment. But, there are free beds and only three others have taken the offer, so, you, my friend, are more than welcome.”

I think about this for a moment. When I consider that I’ve done absolutely nothing pertaining to my mission, I decide that this is the best course. I cordially accept his offer, and he calls to Brother Gabriel, who mysteriously appears at the door, to prepare me a cell.

I go to take my leave, when, I remember to be cordial.

“Do you need me to help you up, Father”, I ask, offering the old man my strong arm.

“Oh no”, he laughs, waving it away, “I think I’ll stay out here a bit and meditate with my good friend, St. Thomas.”

He gestures above him to the statue. I suddenly recognize the famous, meditative, controversial Thomas Merton in the visage of the praying monk above us. I’m guessing that that was his prayer on the ground as well. I leave the garden, reenter the monastery, and follow the ubiquitous Brother Gabriel. He leads deeper in and we reach my modest quarters. It is an entirely white room with a grey- colored, cushy bed on the left corner, a nightstand, and a small desk sitting on the right side where a window would usually be. The only thing adorning the walls is a wooden crucifix and the only lighting consists of a simply, incandescent lamp. It was bland, but, at least it wasn’t menacing and medieval.

“This is fine”, I comment, “but, I’m going to have to have access to this.”

I point to the holowatch on my wrist. Brother Gabriel nods, and with a parting gesture reminding me to be silent, he closes the door. I look at my watch, and the time reads seven thirty on August 31, 2069. Jesus, it’s gotten late. Oops my bad.

Looking about, I find a few books stacked on the desk. Among a Bible and several prayer books, I come across The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus. Despite being written by a devout and charismatic priest, that type of literature is usually too critical of Church establishment for me to think it’d be in a monastery, but here it is. I lay on the bed, which is too small for me, and pass the time, reading with my legs bent.

A few hours later, I decide to call Sage and update him on my progress.

I access his contact and get a holoscreen of the kid up.

“Sage”, I greet, only, there’s no sound on the other side.

I look on the screen for something to adjust the volume, then wring my hands at finding nothing. Clearly able to see me, Sage types a few things on his end. On the watch itself, a little arrow pops up, gesturing to a tiny button to press on top of the watch. I do so, and then the kid comes through.

“Can you hear me now?”

“Yeah, you’re good.”

“Awesome, okay then.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’m still kinda unsure about this thing.”

“Oh, it’s okay”, he reassures, “Rich was having trouble earlier today.”

“How’s he getting along?”, I ask, almost having forgotten about the old boy.

“Well, he hasn’t made contact with Cortanza yet”, Sage relates, “since the guy’s kinda hard to reach. But, we’re hoping to get something later tonight.”

There’s another pause, only this one’s shorter.

“So, um, how’d it go with Cardinal Arnim?”

“Well”, I begin, “that guy is certainly dogged and determined. Yet, he was pretty cool for an elitist clergyman. I went to confess and it kinda got a little heated, he had his views, I have mine. But, he said he appreciated my honesty and spirit and all that, and has invited me to stay at the monastery.”

“So”, Sage cautions, “you didn’t get anything outta him? I mean, he didn’t hint that he’s still tied to The Forgotten.”

“No”, I admit begrudging my behavior a little, “but being direct, I don’t think, was the way to go about doing that. You said that he goes to great lengths to hide his past. If I’d directly tried to ask him, he’d have turned to stone and I’d have gotten nothing.”!

“Good point”, Sage concurs, “but, what am I supposed to tell Miri? She’ll be asking for an update on you guys tonight. What’ll I say?”

“Just say that the investigation is ongoing, pending results, or something of that nature.”

“Well, okay”, he relents, “I guess that’ll do. So, ummmm,yeah. I think that’s it then.”

But, there’s yet another awkward pause.

“Kyle?”, I ask directly, “is there something else on your mind?”

No answer, but I lose his eye contact.

“Something maybe in relation to Miri”, I pry.

“Maybe”, he squeaks.

“Okay”, I reply with a reassuring nod, “you wanna talk about it?”

“Well, okay”, he relents,” um, I know we don’t really know each other that well, but in a way that’s kinda good cuz then you won’t jump to conclusions or anything. Um, can I ask you something?”

“Oh yeah, brother. What’s up?”

“Well, it’s just that. Ummm, uh. Say you’re a girl.”

I cock one eyebrow.

“Er, no, wait, never mind, that’s too hard. Let’s say, um, how can you tell that someone can’t stand you, or, if they’re just playing hard to get? I dunno, am I making sense?”

“You’re still talking about a girl, right?”, I guess right away.

“Umm, yeah. I am, I am. Or, I may be. I mean, you don’t know, I could be into guys. That’s totally acceptable nowadays, you know.”

“Sage”, I laugh, “I can still see that nude alien girl pasted on your ceiling.”

I am referring, of course, to the slender, nude green alien girl, posted lovingly to Kyle’s ceiling. In more ways than one, this Sage is a bona fide horny teenage nerd. But it seems, he’s looking for something a little more outta life than violent video games, hacking, and porn. More power to him.

Sage rolls his eyes, loosening up a bit.

“Alright, fair enough”, he says, sounding cooler, “but, it’s simply this: how can I tell when a girl cares about me when she appears to connect personally with very few people.”

I smile at this, knowing exactly whom he’s talking about. There had to be something more behind Miri’s codename. Vixen. And his software, even, is named after her? Hmph.

“ ‘Oh would some power God give us to see ourselves as others see us. It would from many a blunder free us. And foolish notion.’ “

“Who said that?”

“It’s from a poem. The point, though, Sage, is that we all wish we could know what others think of us, especially girls. But, everyone, women especially, are hard to read and even harder to find consistency.”

Sage snorts at this.

“I’m serious. Her mind is like she’s got a browser with a million freaking pages open all the time.”

Sage laughs jovially at this.

“Okay, okay, man”, he relents, “I guess that makes sense. But, so, what do you suggest?”

“Well, that’s up to you man. Weigh your decisions, and do what you think is best. You’ve got to figure out what you really want first, and stop worrying about what she wants.”

“Hmm, what I want? Okay, that helps. Thanks Duke.”

A moment of laughter passes between us.

“Alright, alright”, I say, “I’ll contact you later on let you know how it goes.”

“Sage out”.

The screen disappears and I look at my watch. 10:45. It had been lights out for the monastery nearly an hour and a half ago.

No sooner than this does Brother Gabriel burst through my door. The man’s frantic, pacing around the room in his night clothes, his portly hands desperately wrung. He looks to me a few times, and then suddenly points to the door, gesturing me to follow him. He leads me back outside to the parking lot. Brother Gabriel looks around frantically, but whatever he’s looking for isn’t there.

“What is it?”, I demand, “what’s happened?”

But, he just stares back at me, bound by oath not to speak.

“Brother Gabriel”, I state softly, “if something’s happened and you need my help, you’re going to have to tell me what.”

Brother Gabriel’s face tightens. I can see the struggle in his face, choosing between his deep-seated vows and the demands of the current events.

Looking like he’s going to burst, he eventually forces out,

“They’ve taken Father Arnim!”

He then utters a shriek, and then takes to his knees, begging forgiveness.

“Where?”, I interrogate.

“Um, they showed up in the garden. Father Arnim was speaking with the others staying at the monastery in the Merton Garden. Then, they just came, jammed them into an aerocar and took off into the hill. There’s-there’s an abandoned shack not too far in. We use it for retreats. I think they may have taken them there! Oh God forgive me, but the circumstances of this night have bidden me to break my vow!”

“You’ve done all you can, Brother”, I affirm, authoritatively, “let me handle this.”

I proceed, determined, to my car, pressing a button on the holowatch to unlock it and pressing another to start the vehicle. The car switches into high gear, and so does my mind. I speed out of the parking lot and onto the long path curving down a hill away from the monastery. A few miles down the road, I indeed find evidence of activity, one set of tire wheels cutting off the road, leading to the tiny glow of a campsite off into the hills. I stop the car, intending to go on foot. Opening to glove compartment, I remove my Glock and the pair of goggles Jim had given me. I exit the car and reach into my coat, pressing the button which brings a familiar instance of rainbow nausea, before remembering to put the goggles on.

I take off running towards the fiery glow, slowing my pace to a quiet sneak as I near it. While they can’t see me, they can still hear me, I state silently, and I’m too bulky to be especially good at sneaking. I near the camp which is, indeed, centered around an old cabin with a giant yellow cross painted on the side.

Inching closer, force of habit tells me to find a hiding spot, even though the thugs have no chance of seeing me in the invisible cloak. I size up the crew. Three men, all white, two have shave heads and the biggest one has a mess of black hair. They all sit around the fire, passing a bottle of whiskey. In the middle are two, odd-looking shotguns leaned against each other. Getting closer, I notice green, lighted bars on the barrels of each gun, and instead of a hollow barrel from which a bullet exits, there is a long needle. New weapons I suppose. I find their vehicles, four motorcycles, minus wheels so I imagine that they fly, and the culprit behind the tracks in the grass: a painted white flatbed truck, adorned with silver eagles and a big swastika on the hood.

Neo-Nazis. Of course it’s fucking Neo-Nazis.

Looking inside the cabin, I pick up wriggling heat signatures. That’ll be Arnim and the others. I’ll need to make sure fire avoids that area.

The truck rocks left and right slightly, and judging from the pair of grunts from inside, one higher, and one lower, I don’t need the x-ray goggles to tell that the two of ‘em are getting it on. Hate to interrupt, but then again, no I don’t. Thinking before I act, the first thing I do is take both guns and throw them, immediately startling the men around the fire. They look for a culprit, but to no avail.

Wasting no time in the confusion, I get behind the biggest of them, wrap my arm around his neck, then throw him behind me. I then land a knockout punch square to his forehead, ensuring that he doesn’t get up. The other, skinnier men in wife-beaters grab crowbars. I cringe to think, and/or remember, what those feel like. I move behind one of them and take out his legs. He’s quite light so I throw him by his waistband, and he lands ass first onto the fire. He yelps at the searing pain, and runs off, leaving his buddy alone. This third man possesses a calmer disposition than the other two. A hunter’s calm. I go to move behind him as well, but his instincts are too keen, and he spins around, seizing my shirt. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s far shorter than me, and has seizing the center of my shirt, thinking it’s my collar.

“I’ve got you now”, he utters triumphantly, sending the crowbar swinging towards me. This is blocked by my hand, which grips the crowbar tightly. Looking up with confusion, I finally grant him the ability to see me.

As I fade into view and my vision adjusts, I find a shocked expression on his face.

“No”, I assure him, “not quite.”

And with that, I twist his wielding arm and he issues a cry of pain. I turn slightly and flip him over me, onto the ground. Holding his arm up, I issue a severe kick to the back side of his elbow, forcing his arm the wrong way, and cracking it. The sound of the crack follows his cry of angry pain, which is followed by a severe blow to the head.

Just then, however, I am taken aback by the sound of a shot over my head. It sounds like a gunshot, yet, there’s an unusual zing sound to it. I turn around quickly to find the big guy whom, I thought, was supposed to be knocked out, holding the shotgun.

“You son of a bitch”, he cries with anger in his eyes, “you son of a bitch!”

He sends a few more shots of fiery blue light, which all miss me of course because it’s a shotgun and he doesn’t have the range to hit me from that far. I, on the other hand, do. Grabbing the crowbar from my enemies’ hand, I rush forward and throw it at him. It hits the gun, sending his next shot off, ironically, into the leg of his comrade who had just recovered from me throwing him into the fire and was rushing back in. Reaching the man, I lift him up off the ground with one arm, I intend to issue a forceful punch, but my entire left shoulder is suddenly crippled, dropping the man.

My first thought? I’ve been shot. Yet, it feels different from anything else. This pain is burning and searing, almost like a bolt of lightning. I turn around to find the other skinheads, a tall, blond jarhead and his tiny Aryan girlfriend had emerged, the former holding a pistol with a pointed barrel and blinking lights. I intend to rush forward, but then my adrenaline gives out, and I collapse on one knee.

Looking back up, I see the jarhead approaching me, standing very tall with deep blue eyes and a satisfied smile while his girlfriend cowers behind. Nazi scum.

“You shouldn’t have come here”, he utters.

I prepare to summon up another burst of strength right before he pulls the trigger. However, another hand appears from behind him and seizes the gun, while another arm wraps around the man’s neck and pushes him down to the side. My savior is none other than the imposing cyberpunk boy with the bleached hair, standing over the skinhead, whose petite girlfriend is already fleeing the scene. The Nazi tries to bring his gun up at my apparent savior, only to have it kicked away, and several blows land to his face.

My mind then turns to the man still behind me. I turn around to find him upright, but with the cyberpunk’s girlfriend on top of him, her legs wrapped tightly around his neck with a wild expression on her face. Getting up slowly, I find that the Nazi’s brawn wins as he throws her off him, though, he pants frantically for breath. He prepares to bring his gun back to her as she tries to crawl away. With his back turned, I kick out his right knee, lift his shotgun upward, and send him back on the ground and, this time, my blow knocks him out. Turning again, I find the cyberpunk, blood trickling down his nose and face, but otherwise victorious, standing over the defeated skinhead. To my left I hear the cocking of a gun, and I find the third, wounded skinhead holding his gun upright, determined to shoot. Out of nowhere, however, the elder cyberpunk with the bomber jacket, and steps on the boy’s leg, securing his gun with the other foot.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk”, he utters before issuing a fine kick to the skinhead’s face.

Looking around, I see the fight has ended. All the skinhead’s lay beaten, wait, except for the girl. In the distance, I can make her out, her tiny frame skirting across the grass toward the road. I wave her away, and grip my shoulder. The young cyberpunk, however, grabs the pistol and aims it at her. In the time he takes to line up the shot, neither his girl nor the older man utter protest. I can’t find much reason to do so either.

Just then, however, a voice is heard.

“A man acts on principle”, it resounds, “a monster acts on instinct.”

We all turn to see Father Arnim leaning against the door of the cabin, panting and tired, but with his eyes fixed on the man with the gun. Breathing heavy and with blood falling off his nose, his eyes lock back on his target.

He lowers the gun, and throws it away. The older cyberpunk immediately goes to help Father Arnim as the girl immediately goes to embrace her lover, caressing his face like a concerned mother. I meanwhile, tend to my shoulder, feeling around for blood which, strangely, is not there. The wound on my back also feels like serious, tight skin burn, not a shot.

“He got you with a blaster”, I hear behind me.

I turn around to find the cyberpunk and his girl with their eyes on me.

“It’ll cauterize on its own, so there’s no infection. It’ll take maybe a week for the outer wound to heal.”

Taken back by his sudden knowledge, but then again, why should I be, I respond in kind.

“Thanks. Are you guys alright? You really saved my ass back there?”

They both smile.

“Bastards thought they could hold us with simple, metal handcuffs”, the girl explains playfully, “they were dead wrong.”

I turn back around to find Father Arnim back on his feet, staff in hand, the older man checking on him, and the cardinal waiving him away.

“Well, Mr. Bishop”, he begins, “we cannot thank you enough. Even if Ellis, Korban and Juno here could’ve freed us, I don’t think we ever would’ve gotten away. In this case, violence, I suppose, wasn’t what we wanted, but was needed on the part of our savior. So, thank you again. I will contact the police and tell them the locaiton of these ruffians. Now, Ellis, I think you should take Korban and Juno back to the monastery. The brothers will care for Korban’s wounds.”

The older man nods, then cocks his head towards the monastery. Korban nods in repsonse, then steps forward to shake my hand.

!“Thank you”, he says, green eyes staring into mine.

!Then, Juno steps forward and places her hands on my shoulders, gets on her tip toes, and her lips make it to my cheek.

“Thank you”, she repeats.

The older cyberpunk, Ellis, steps forward. He simply offers me his hand, which grips mine tight, and winks his right eye. He proceeds down the road, following Korban and Juno, who are wrapped around each other on their way back to the monastery, Father Arnim shuffling next to him. I decide to take off back to my car, and I notice that my shoulder has become numb. That’s gonna hurt tomorrow.

Reaching the road, I find the space where my car was parked empty. Then it hits me.

“Dammit”, I exclaim, “that Nazi bitch stole my car!”

“Then would you like a ride?”, a voice suddenly calls.

From down the road, I make out a pair of headlights hovering up and down, the silhouette of Brother Gabriel off to the left, holding open the door. With a sigh of relief and humor, I enter the car, place my arms behind my head, and the sharp pain to my shoulder make me realize why I can’t do that right now.

“So, Brother”, I say, “what exactly is your mission? What did the Guardians put you up to?”

“I was simply ordered to aid you”, he shrugs, “and to survey you. Although, I’m quite frustrated I couldn’t do that and enforce my vow of silence. But, at least the abbott wasn’t awake.”

“Survey me?”, I repeat, wondering what that could me. Then, however, it hits me, again.

“Miri”, I say to myself, “of course. She wouldn’t trust two guys she’s just met with this kind of mission.”

“Not entirely, no”, Brother Gabriel concurs.

“Right”, I conclude. Miri. You’re magnificent.

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