The rough of Part Two of “Crosses & Doublecrosses” is complete. I’ve worked ahead to fix some contextual errors in the relatively small Part Three. Much like Jackson’s “Return of the King,” part 3 consists of a series of endings: lives, a person, a life.
Besides that, I’m aware that waaay back in the start of Part One my timing/dating is completely off: Sylvia and her sister Roberta arrive in Dallas as the Breakup is unfolding in the US just then. They shortly get summoned to ExComm HQ in Austin. From what already exists in my novels of Machine Civilization, that doesn’t work: it was at least three months before Clive Barrett left Japan for the US to find his eldest daughter in Ohio. That, also, would be at least three more months. Then his travel to Texas and the formation of ExComm. Minimum eight months; maximum twelve, total. Let’s split the difference and call it ten. So: why, ten months into the collapse of the US, did Sylvia and Roberta fly from the relative safety of their extended family in upper-class Manila into an effective warzone in Dallas, Texas?
No clue. Hope they show me.
Sylvia walked north, away from the rotunda that was the New Mexico State Capitol, her breaths making brief clouds in the air before her. Her two men were a few yards ahead and Kharachan two paces behind.
That did not go well, she reflected. There had not been enough time, as she had had in Oklahoma City, to talk to the right people before a general announcement. So when she stood at the central podium and looked out at the faces of the Legislators, all she saw was fear and hate. When the yelling started I actually threatened them with evacuation. My God, I’m no better than Barrett!
The road they followed was named after the Old Santa Fe Trail, but she had no destination. She just wanted to get away. Sylvia heard her Field Secretary mutter into his radio before catching up to her.
“Five of them were already talking about another meeting: creating a rump legislature,” he hissed softly. “They have been arrested.”
“By First or Second?” she asked, afraid to use the truth: our people or theirs?
“First, Deputy Director, ah.” He put his left hand to his ear, listening. “They’ve been shot.”
Not being Texan Citizens or Residents they had no standing under the law. Even the Conveyor, the appellation given to her accelerated arrest-trial-sentencing procedure, would not apply here.
“Tell your opposite number in First to make the bodies disappear; a climate of terror will work to our advantage rather than nailing heads to the Capitol’s doors,” she directed.
“If their families want the bodies…?” he pressed.
“What bodies?” Sylvia lied. “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Of course,” Kharachan said, falling back.
That additional sin was added just as she paused to look at an elegant chapel across the street. There was a well kept historical marker on display. At a whim she crossed the road to read it.
‘Miraculous Stairway’ she read and snorted. I’m too far gone for miracles. She was about to turn away but was surprised to see her two men going on in. She just barely heard Smith say, “if it’s that nice maybe we can take it home!”
Sure. Why not add looting and theft to my sins. She followed them.
Out of a lifetime of habit she crossed herself as she entered and again in front of the altar. The tourist attraction was opposite it, just next to what would have been the main entrance. She looked at the elegant spiral staircase before reading the placard before it. She snorted again.
So a mystery man – supposedly Saint Joseph – uses non-native wood, no nails, no central support to make this in 1873. Sure. She turned the placard over to muddle her way through the complex carpentry and physics terms. A tiny drop of water fell onto the laminated card. Another. What was…?
“Ma’am?” Smith asked, fear fought with concern in his voice.
“Yes?” When she looked up she became aware that the drops were her tears, now down her face.
What is wrong with me?!
She briskly wiped them away with the cuff of her suit coat and turned to go. Before her three could catch up with her, she quietly asked the old woman at the souvenir counter a quick question. Back outside she waited for the men at the street corner.
“Right,” she began, “that was not much of good morning and we’ve all been going full-out for the past few days. You guys get the afternoon and evening off. We will be leaving for Albuquerque at oh-six-thirty tomorrow, so until then don’t do anything that will land you on the conveyor!”
“Deputy Director?” Kharachan lisped. “You cannot just walk about an occupied city…”
“I certainly can. No one knows who I am and,” she waved at the two armored Hummers from the Texas Field Forces passing them en route to whatever street corner they were to hold, “things are under control here.”
“You three,” she waved again, this time at them, “are perfectly safe, given your ExComm uniforms. Any other questions?”
She could tell her secretary was not happy. She still didn’t care.
“Right. From the map I think the touristy city center is a couple of blocks to the northwest. I’m going to see if this hotel’s restaurant is open and try to get my first real meal since we left Austin. Later!”
Looking over her shoulder just before she went inside, she confirmed that they were headed off. It was just after noon but she wasn’t particularly hungry right now. Walking through the restaurant and out the service entrance, she made her way back to the streets, headed northeast toward her goal.
Sylvia did not note the rat-like shadow following far behind her.
A few minutes later had her before her destination: the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. A fair number of parishioners were streaming out so she guessed that they had an eleven o’clock Mass. Pushing against the faint tide she made her way in and looked about. There: a man with a look of an usher. He noticed her just as she strode up to him.
“I need a priest. And yes, this is something of an emergency.”
She watched his eyes. No, I’m not a beggar; no, I’m not crazy.
“I think, ma’am, that the only one here right now is Father Huy Pham,” the man began, seeing a woman used to getting her way. “He just finished Mass so should be in the Sacristy. Would you follow me, please?”
They nearly bumped into a Vietnamese with a smiling visage about a foot shorter than Sylvia just coming out of the door they were headed toward.
“What’s up, David?” the priest asked, still smiling.
“I, really, Father, don’t know. But this lady here needs you right now,” he said with a nod before walking away.
“Oh I hope it’s nothing too serious!” the priest almost laughed.
“It’s worse than you can imagine, Father. My name is Sylvia Fernandez,” she proceeded to give him her complete title, concluding, “I am complicit in the deaths and suffering of likely a quarter-million people. I need to confess my sins.”
His smile was long gone.
“Come with me, please.”
Five minutes later, in a little used office, he gestured for her to sit while he made sure the door was shut and locked. He took the chair opposite the small desk.
“You dissolved our government this morning,” he stated.
“That is correct and people are already being killed as a result of that.”
He looked around again before taking a pack of cigarettes and lighter from an inner pocket.
“Do you mind?” he asked.
“Not at all,” she replied, shaking her head when he offered her one. She did not recognize the brand: American Spirit.
“It’s from one of the Indian reservations,” he said to her look, taking a deep drag. “I do have a thousand questions, you know?”
“I’m sure. However, business first.” She shifted a little to be more comfortable. “Bless me, Father, for I have gravely sinned…”
When she fell silent and glanced at her watch, it had been just over an hour. The cigarette pack was empty and the priest shaking and sweating. She watched him collect himself, trying to come to terms with all he had heard before offering her absolution. He spoke it mechanically before pausing again.
“I… I can think of no penance for your crimes. I cannot imagine how you atone for all this. Just know that you are forgiven. But,” now he seemed to get a hold of himself as he looked to her, “you must sin no more!”
“The only atonement that I can offer you, Father, is this: I am putting into motion a plan to wreck ExComm. However, as part of that plan, there will be more deaths,” she sighed, feeling both worse and better for her Reconciliation. “Besides that, the only thing else I can offer is to have myself nailed to one of the crosses I’ve hung so many other on.”
“There is no way for these future deaths to be averted?” he asked.
“Then… perhaps we’ll be meeting here again?”
“No, Father. I’ll be dead first. Can you get the door for us?”
With no words he escorted her to a smaller, side exit. He paused to touch the sleeve of her jacket.
“Go with God, Miss Fernandez.”
She walked away in silence. Father Pham went back inside. Neither saw the ghost-like form make its way to the door where they just stood. The door was slowly opened.
“Time for some answers,” Kharachan lisped.