Monday, 28 November 2011

And done!

So that's it, the first draft is done. I know have to go through and rewrite big chunks of it, but I'm fairly happy with it as a first draft.

And I managed to hit the National Novel Writing Month target of over 50,000 words in less than 30 days.

Go me :-)

Chapter 37 - Hidden purpose

War is coming. It’s not the war that everyone is expecting. It is not the clash of Good versus Evil portrayed in the Bible, it is both simpler and more complicated than that. Through Lazarus’ eyes I have seen Heaven and it is magnificent. Glorious and terrible, it is a hive where the hive is the queen. Everyone is subsumed for the common purpose. They stand together, they sing praise together and they will fight together.
I hate it already.
As Lazarus’ soul was dragged into Hell I also saw the nature of Hell. It is a direct contrast to Heaven, where Heaven is unity, Hell is about self. Individualism reigns supreme here. There is a common interest, but only that which is imposed by stronger beings or through the conflict with a common enemy. It is a chaotic jumble, more fun than Heaven certainly, but not what I want.
For the moment the war is a low key, almost a guerrilla war in nature. In this, the forces of Hell have the advantage as the battles are smaller and more individual in nature. Here they can use their individual strengths and talents to greater effect. When the final battle begins however, I see that is likely to change. Heaven’s might is vast and its armies are much better coordinated. In a stand up fight Hell will be hard pressed.
When the Apocalypse comes we will all have to choose a side, and that pisses me off.
Every soul that has ever been created has been sucked into this war. The same is true for every soul that will be born. They have two choices and I like neither of those choices. Don’t get me wrong, I care little for those billions of souls, but I care what choice I have. The choice is mine to make, but only having two unpalatable options is no choice at all.
A few short months ago I gave myself up for a final battle of my own, a glorious and bloody last stand the end result was my death. I had grown bored and looked forward to oblivion. To no longer exist that is what I desired, not this.
That had been denied me.
It doesn’t just piss me off, it offends me. What makes us what we are, is the blending of these two extremes, to join a side you lose that mix, you become one or the other.  Fuck that.
There has to be another way, a third way. And by following this way I might get the true death I yearn for. Only the utter destruction of my soul will do.
There is also another aspect that appeals to me. I have quite enjoyed this little challenge, how much more a challenge will finding this third way be? It’s exciting just to think of it. This isn’t just a case of picking a side and making sure they win. I have to make sure they both win, or both lose.
How am I going to achieve this?
I have no idea, but with the consumption of Lazarus’ miracle I have bought myself time. I will need to learn much. More immediately I need to decide what to do about the Friar and his compatriots who are waiting for me. He will no doubt be very upset that I did not destroy the miracle, but I did do what he wanted in killing Lazarus.
I have two choices, the first try is to and escape. They will be expecting that. I am more powerful and immortal, but as Lazarus discovered, not invulnerable. I have not tested this new strength, I need time to investigate them. I also need time to form a plan. Being hunted across the world by the Vatican and its minions will hamper my movements.
A head on contest now will likely leave me wounded and trapped.
The second option is to offer myself to them. They won’t believe that I have converted, but they might believe something else.
My eyes snap open. I am still standing by the body of Lazarus, I can see that time is catching up with him. Already his corpse looks sunken and desiccated, if I touch it, I think it will collapse into dust. Strangely there is a sweet smell emanating from it, and filling the cool chapel.
The Friar looks furious, the other brothers are tense and I can sense them gathering their will. The soldiers are all carefully aiming their weapons at me. Everyone is tense, ready to act at the Friars order.
Deliberately I pull my awareness into the confines of my body. I’m not stupid, I take inspiration from Lazarus and coil defences around my mind. I calmly raise my hands,  careful to make no sudden movements and sit back down into the chair.
Before the Friar can say a word, I speak first. An excited rush of words and it is a rush. I’m feeling a high greater than any drug I have ever tried. The first time is always the best and today has been a day of many firsts.
“That was fucking amazing!” I really am riding this wave, I feel great. I have a mission and I have power beyond anything I have ever imagined. The task I have set myself will ring throughout the ages, but I must be careful. The Friar and his people will not be with me on this, but I need them for a little while.
“Wow. If you need me to do that again, just fucking ask. Who’s got a smoke? I fucked him good and proper!” I look Friar Francis straight in the eye. “After that performance, surely I deserve a smoke? No tricks, I promise.” I try to put him at ease with a smile.
And I mean it, and he knows it. He might not be able to read me anymore, but he knows I mean what I say. And you know what? That shield of his doesn’t look that solid anymore. Now is not the time for that, but sometime soon.
Hammond approaches me, he holds a packet of cigarettes in one, giant hand. He is unafraid. Of them all, he shows no fear. He towers above me, hands me the packet and lights the cigarette. He is actually grinning, I can see right through him, only that huge rock that seems mightier than before is hidden in his mind. I grin back at him, exhaling the smoke over Lazarus’ body. Hammond, a bear of a man, probably too trusting for his own good.
“I’m all yours Friar.” I say. “Just let me know what you want and I’ll work with you. Just don’t me go to Mass, I’m not a believer. I probably never will be, but the job does have its perks. What do you say?”
He nods carefully, still not speaking.
“It’s allright” i tell him. “All I ask for now, is some better accommodations. I’m not going back to that cell, that’s all I ask. Deal?”
He’s still unsure, I can tell. Hammond claps me on the shoulder, he laughs “We’ll make a believer of you yet!”
The Friar nods again, “Deal.” He says, then turns round and tells the others to get prepared, we need to move out. To Hammond he say “He’s your responsibility, keep an eye on him.”
So we make preparations and I have some of my own to do. There’s a war coming, and I need to be ready.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Chapter 36 - Death of a miracle

Lazarus is waiting for me. He stands there in the grey dust, watching me approach. As I get nearer I can see a tiny stone, lying on the ground behind him. Something tells me that this tiny pebble was once a great mountain. I am somewhat relieved that it no longer is.
“Who are you to deny my vengeance?” Lazarus’ voice is stronger than its recent incarnations.  It echoes throughout his mind. I think that it’s a fair question.
“Does it matter?” I respond, fair or not, it doesn’t matter to him. “Here is where it ends. I could tell you my name, but it won’t make it any easier for you.”
“If not who, then why?” He demands. Quite frankly that is a silly question.
“You’re trying to bring the Apocalypse to the world and you ask me that?” I’m almost amused.
“Nothing is what it seems.” He tells me and I notice his voice has moderated a little. “See what they have taken from me.”
With the sadness in his voice the landscape changes. We are no longer surrounded by the desolate desert, now I can see Heaven through his eyes and it is glorious. Majestic buildings and structures of such beauty it almost hurts to look at them tower above us. Everywhere there is light and radiance. My ears are filled with harmonies from a choir from all around, each voice in concert, complimenting every other voice. Heaven is unity. Every being here is working together as one. There is no self, just the wondrous whole. Delectable scents overwhelm my senses, I feel transported on a current of bliss. I have never witnessed such union, such magnificence. For a moment my heart aches for him and what he has lost.
It is difficult for me to imagine what it would be like to be torn from such perfection. I can see the temptation of being part of a greater whole, to be more than just the self, but it is here that I see the flaw.
I look again, not at the Heaven filtered by his memories, but as he truly saw it . It looks the same, it feels the same. But it also lacks something, there’s an alien shadow that mars this exquisite vision. Heaven is the domain of all, where everyone combines their will for the greater whole. If you accept being part of this union then Heaven is what it claims. But there is no self. There is no individuality, nothing that makes each person trapped here unique.
Unity is what helps us endure, it is the coming together makes us strong. But it is self, individuals that make us great. Heaven lacks that dimension. It has strength, it has common purpose, but it does not have everything.
“You see!” Lazarus’ broken voice interrupts my thoughts. “You see what they took for me. For one glorious moment I shared myself with Heaven, became one with God. And his son took that from me.”
I see no God here. Unless God is the whole?
“He might have wept while he did it, but the result was the same. I, who was the greatest of his disciples, the most loved, betrayed by the saviour of man.”
I can taste his bitterness, but I see no saviour, enslaver maybe.
“With my Apocalypse all will be swept into Heaven, to be at one with the Almighty. There will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more death. Evil and the terrors it creates will be vanquished for ever. And it is I that brings salvation to the world, not the son, not the betrayer.”
“Join me and together we can be the saviours of the world.”
It’s nice of him to share, but I think he’s more than a little confused, the rage that powers him has also warped him. This conversation bores me, there’s nothing for me to learn here. It is time to end this.
“Your Heaven looks to me no better than the Hell described by the priests of your God. No matter, we end it here. We end it now.”
With that rather dramatic statement from me, we clash. Our wills strain against each other. Our forms battle another as if in the physical world. Muscles powered by thought drive blows against each other. I can see that Lazarus is distracted, he’s not just fighting me, he’s fighting some inner turmoil that he hides from me.
LSD isn’t the drug you want to be on if you’re fighting. Personally I love it, but for your first time, a battle to the death is a bit harsh.
We continue to battle, he shows no fear, but his defence is weak. He is too distracted and cannot focus his will. There’s no entertainment for me here.
My hands become claws as I tear into his form, ripping great chunks from him, which I then consume. With each mouthful I am filled with his knowledge. With each bite I gain more power, memories from his past are added to my own experiences.
With each torn lump I devour I become stronger. It tastes foul.
The Friar was right, over the past two thousand years this man has become powerful. He has learned knowledge from mystics and men of power from all over the world. And now it is all mine.
It takes some time to eat all of Lazarus life, I eat every scrap until eventually all that remains is his spirit. A bedraggled wisp of a thing, it cannot touch me, let alone harm me. I step towards the pebble on the ground, with new eyes I can see somethings within. I pick up the stone, Lazarus’ spirit wails. It begs for release, to be done with this existence, to once more return to the communion he once knew.
Holding the stone in my hands, the world is shattered by the toll of a bell. Its ring is deafening and it carries with it a voice. The voice is alien to this mind, but I know it well. Friar Francis. From light years away I can hear his command.
“Destroy the miracle!”
Ah the poor Friar, he is going to be very angry with me. I twist the pebble with all my might, shredding the then stone and revealing the secret within. I hold the miracle that has sustained Lazarus for all this time and now it is mine. It feels light and warm.
That dread bell tolls again, again the repeated command.
“For the sake of your immortal soul, destroy the miracle!”
I swallow the miracle and feel its power infuse my whole being. It feels good.
The landscape around me twists into a funnel, Its gaping mouth wide open before me. It spins and the spirit of Lazarus is pulled into the maw. He cries now for release, but release of a different sort. He now realises that he has forsaken the path to Heaven. His soul screams as it falls.
I have stood at this abyss before and gaze into its depths. As before I can see the shapes in the darkness, but the miracle makes me immune from its pull. I allow myself to drift in and as Lazarus’ soul is dragged into Hell I take the moment to contemplate what I can see of Hell. It is not what I expected.
In the moment before Lazarus’ death collapses his mind I return to my own mind and open my eyes.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Chapter 35 - The journey

While we drive away from the village I look at Lazarus, he is lying unconscious on the floor of the van. He doesn’t look like anything special. He looks in his late –thirties, tanned skin. His dark hair frames a strong face and a full moustache proud upon his lip, but nothing marks him as out of the ordinary.
Except maybe the gaping hole in his chest that even in gloom of the van I can see it knitting itself slowly back together. Incredible rhymes with miracle and I can see why.
As agreed in the plan, we’ve injected him with a cocktail of drugs, most are from the Friar to keep him unconscious and pliable. My contribution is the LSD and the ecstasy. The LSD will keep his mind busy, hopefully enough to confuse his concentration so I can get into his mind without too much of a battle. The ecstasy will also help unbalance him, and mellow any internal strife he might otherwise conjure up. The head rushes will also help to throw him off balance, I know they did for me on my first time.
It will take half hour for the drugs to really kick in, so I don’t make any aggressive move just yet. I do have a peek at his mind, to gauge his defences. I am surprised to see his mind is wrapped in  shifting coils of multicoloured strands. It’s a kaleidoscope of shimmering colour, like snakes, the strands twist through and around each other. This doesn’t look like the type of shield I have practiced against. This man is unconscious and still he creates this protection for himself.
“Impressive, most impressive” to quote a great man after my own heart.
Glancing out of the back window of the van I see from the angle of the sun that we are not heading back to the farm. I turn to the Friar and ask him where we are going. “We’re going to the monastery we visited yesterday. The monks there can help shield us while you do your job. It is a revered holy place and official local interference will be minimised. While we add an understanding with the local forces, I don’t want to rely on it. ” He replied.
“Don’t worry, we’ll all be well protected there.”
Always with the worry, but in this instance he may be right, I am a little bit worried. I hadn’t all together believed the tale that the Friar had told me. I had expected that Lazarus may have been a gifted person, maybe even someone like me. Not this, thing on the floor in front of me. A man shaped miracle healing himself while unconscious and drugged. And not just healing a modest wound, but stitching together a hole that would have killed pretty much anything that walks.
It’s definitely interesting, and it would be more of a challenge than I had expected. That’s fine.
I take another peek at his defences as the van begins to climb the track to the monastery. The drugs appear to be kicking in, I can see more confusion and less organisation in the squirming mass. From the slight twitching in his fingers I can see that he is trying to fight the effects. That is good, that is exactly what I want him to be doing.
 I nod to the Friar and tell him that it is time for another dose, without comment he injects the contents of another syringe into Lazarus. For anyone else we wouldn’t need to do anything else as that would be enough to kill him.
As soon as we pull up outside the monastery, the side door of the van is opened. Two of the soldiers jump out and pull Lazarus’ body onto a waiting trolley. The rest of us disembark and follow them into the monastery itself. The body is taken to a small chapel. I get an uncomfortable feeling as we enter. Probably just the excitement.
I take one of the available chairs and make myself comfortable. I can see that he is now up on the drugs we have pumped into him. I look at the flowing strands and start to peel away at his defences. It’s difficult, very difficult. At first I try probing, searching as I had learnt for the imperfections. The constant movement prevents this approach, so I try teasing at the strands, loosening one so I can tug it free. As I pull it snaps and disappears. I keep doing this, but the destroyed strands must be regenerated, I can see no lessening of the coiling mess.
I try gripping a clump of the strands to pull them free, but the mass will not move. I try with smaller clumps, eventually finding a weakness and snapping dozens of the wormlike threads. They recreate themselves as quickly as before. I sigh and pull back, just watching for a moment the shifting threads. I can see no pattern, no weakness that I can exploit. They cover the surface of his mind, following the contours of his head. That gives me an idea.
I take a look at the body, turn to the Friar and ask “Are you sure you don’t just want to stake him out in the desert and drop a nuke on him?” I would love to see that. Awesome wouldn’t even come close. The Friar is not going for it though, he just tells me to get on with it. I nod, stand and approach Lazarus and with a swift movement jab my finger through his eye.
The sudden physical contact strikes below the tendrils that defend him and I’m able to surge my awareness through this gap. The snakes try to react to this unexpected intrusion, but I pour more of myself in, blocking their counterattack. While pushing from the inside I also tear away at them from the outside, a two pronged attack that brings success and I am in.
Initially the landscape of his mind is a raging maelstrom, a stormy sea of chaos beneath my feet. Lazarus sense my presence and the seas flatten leaving me standing on an ocean of glass. Looking down at the surface there are no ripples as I walk and my reflection is a distorted figure. I walk forwards, the direction is unimportant, just a metaphor for travelling deeper. Above me dark storm clouds begin to gather.
When the storm breaks there is no rain. There is just lightening and fire. Lazarus has unleashed his fury upon, using fire and storm to drive me from his psyche. My pain is sudden and immense. The lightening lashes at me. I can feel my form weakening, convulsing with the electric barbs.
Tongues of flames lash against me, searing agony flashes across my entire being. I struggle forwards, defying the forces that rage against me. Gritting my teeth I continue onwards, but the pain is too much. I fall, the glassy surfaces a refection storm of fire and darkness.
This isn’t real.
The pain is too real. The flames eat at my flesh, even my bones feel molten. All I can feel is Lazarus’ wrath unleashed upon me.
It isn’t real.
My skin is blackened and blistered, it is cracked and I can see the rawness beneath. Lightening lances from the sky, striking me over and over again. I try to rise, but another strike slams me down.
Not real.
I can’t even crawl, the pain is too much. Every strike of lightening convulses me, tearing the burnt flesh with a new wave of agony. My strength is fading, I cannot move any further. This isn’t right, his mind is broken how could he be defeating me so easily.
This is his mind, his rules. It’s no good trying to match his strength in his own world, another approach is needed. I shut myself off from the pain, let it become a background thing. It beckons me, strangely beguiling, but I must ignore it. Fighting the pain is a battle of attrition I cannot win, but the cause of the pain is another matter.
I focus what remains of my will and push. There is no response, I must try harder. I push again and there it is, a tiny breeze. The draft of air fans the flames, biting deeper, but that’s ok. That extra pain is a reward for my efforts. Another push and the draft strengthens to a breeze. Screaming with the effort I push again, the breeze now driving into a wind that makes the flames dance. Up above the movement of the clouds has slowed. I push again, forcing the wind into a gale that blows out the fire and starts to break up the storm clouds.
Triumphantly I let the burnt flesh fall from my bones, watching it disintegrate as it hits the ground, I reshape my form around my now gleaming skeleton and with a satisfied smile, walk on.
There wasn’t a palace, but now there is. It is an obscene mismatch of opulence.  In part a colonial mansion, in others a sultan palace,. I could even see the shapes from European fortresses of the Bavarian style.  Huge and loathsome it exudes wealth and power. The door is open.
Inside the mix of styles continues, a confusion of luxury. A leery voice bids me welcome as I step through the entrance. The hall before me is massive, you could land a plan in this room. It is dominated by marble stairs leading up to the next level. Positioned around the walls are sculpted podiums, each with a bust of the rich and famous from throughout history.
These are nothing compared to what you could be, that teasing whisper.
At the base of the stairs stands a woman. She is beautiful and sultry, I pause a moment as I realise that it is Ms Clarke. A perfected version formed by desire’s memory, not by clumsy sight. There she stands, my treasured conquest from all those years ago. She is as beautiful and as willing as she ever was. The voice invites me to take her, this lovely creature who once filled me with delights. I kiss the woman’s full lips, savouring the sweet taste of them, before mounting the steps and continuing on.
At the top of the staircase, my feet sink into the deep, lush carpet. I am filled with heady scents. The voice travels with me. Indulge in my desires it tells me. This house and everything and everyone in it is yours. I smile a little at that thought.
At the top of the stairs another woman waits, a younger form of my mother. She can take care of me, soothe the pain in my soul. More promises from this insidious voice. I kiss her tenderly on the cheek , I feel a momentary pang of grief and walk on.
On this floor the walls are hung with paintings. Delightful works from all of the ages. All around are images famous from hundreds of galleries and museums. Treasures that should be mine the voice insists.
This isn’t real, I smile. But it can be real, the voice asserts.
Onwards I walk, heading deeper into the house. I follow the corridor that winds through impossible angles. I am lost in this maze of decadence. At each turn a new woman awaits, each more lovely than the last. All shades of humanity’s loveliness is represented. All shapes are catered for. I am engulfed by this temptation of riches and luxury. I am bombarded by these seductions of the flesh. I like this place, if it was real I could be tempted, but I know it is a trap. I must seek the end of the maze, somewhere there is an exit.
Lazarus will have to do better than this. I could have these delights in the real world. I have no need for the imagined indulgences.
I can hear his rage, it is distant and all around me. The corridor before me stretches beyond my sight. I keep walking. I must maintain momentum, he cannot hide from me forever.
When the voice finally becomes silent the exit appears, a simple wooden door set in the frescoed wall. Without hesitation I walk through it.
The desolation strikes me.
A featureless grey desert stretches before me. An endless sea of despair that I must cross. A new voice, the same voice, but no longer full of promise, it is now leaden with sadness. There is no end, it promises. There is no help. I will remain forever alone, without even torment for company. I trudge through the grey ash, each step a new weight that slows me down.
Above me is a blank grey sky, in the grey desert there are no landmarks. When I turn round I can see that not even my footsteps are visible. There is nothing to catch the eye but horizon that encircles me. I must continue, the voice says why bother? What will change? You can never reach the other side of this place. Here is where all hope comes to die.
Your strength cannot help you here, it is sapped by the shroud of despair that covers you. The voice is persuasive, with its sadness I feel a little of my will drained. You wanted to die, it says, just lie down. There will be no pain. I ignore the voice, it is the voice of a trickster, so  onwards I walk. To stop is to die, I cannot stop.
That lonely, weak voice continues to whisper, it reminds me of the terrible things that have happened. It tells me of my failures, of hopes destroyed. In this it has erred, those hopes were not my hopes. I have known sadness, but it didn’t kill me then and it won’t kill me now. As for misery, I hear it likes company, so let’s get on with it.
Again there is that howl of rage. A fury that tears through the sky. It is music to my ears.
The deserts stretches ever onwards, but in the haze before me I can see a shape take form.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chapter 34 - Going in hard

It is dark when I am roused from my brief slumber, I’ve managed to get a couple of hours rest and feel better for it. I quickly dress in the clean black fatigues, shirt and boots provided by the soldier who awoke me. I’m not given a weapon of any kind, but I do get an assault vest with a water pack built in. I investigate the various pockets and discover a variety of energy bars, it’s going to be a long wait. A snack and a drink should prove most useful.
Within minutes we are all assembled in the courtyard. The moon is high in the sky, but thin and casts very little light. I take a moment to just look at the sky, it is simply magnificent. I have never seen a sky so clear before, the stars hardly twinkle at all. I had never realised how full the night sky was. I could just stare at it for hours, but I am interrupted with one of the soldiers giving me a pair of night vision goggles. With the goggles on the world is transformed into black and shades of luminous green. I find the view confusing and take them off, relying on my awareness to guide me instead.
We all bundle in the van, it’s a little too cosy in the back with the four soldiers of the snatch team, Friar Francis, Hammond and myself. Checking my watch, another present from the grim faced soldier, I can see that it is soon after midnight when we head out of the farm and onto the road towards the village.
As we approach the village the van pulls over, the driver switching off the headlights. Hammond moves to get out of the van, he has to tab the few miles around the village to join up with the observation team. He needs to be in position before dawn breaks.
Tab means walking very quickly while carrying a load of crap apparently.
He collects his gear which includes the biggest gun I have ever seen in films, let alone in real life. Before climbing out through the side door he claps me on the shoulder and wishes me good luck. I am a bit taken aback by this gesture and just nod back in acknowledgement.
With Hammond gone into the night the van seems much more spacious. Friar Francis says to me in a low voice, ”Time to do your thing. Just do what you did yesterday, keep us hidden until Lazarus arrives and the first shot is fired.”
“Ok.” As I did all through the previous day I expand my awareness and erase the van and its eight occupants from view. “Done” I tell him. He then instructs the driver to carry on. We continue the journey, the driver has kept the headlights off and is navigating using his night vision goggles. We travel slowly, minimizing noise as much as possible.
While I was practising all day, the snatch team had been busy looking for suitable hiding places. They had found a ruined barn on the outskirts of the village, only a few hundred yards from the cafe. Once Lazarus’ arrival had been confirmed the snatch team would approach the cafe from the rear and launch a surprise assault on Lazarus and any companions he had with him. I would have to mask the four soldiers as they approached as well as maintaining the cloak on the van and the rest of us.
We crept slowly through the village. Aas we passed by the first group of houses a dog started barking. I sent a soothing thought at it which seemed to calm the beast down. The driver carefully backed us into the ruined building and turned off the engine.
There was absolute silence, only the sounds of our breathing filled the van. It was now just past two in the morning. In four hours time it would be dawn. The Friar and the snatch team had each brought laptops which they now opened. The soldier sitting in the passenger seat quietly got out of the van and setup small satellite antenna. Once connected to the laptops their screens snapped into life showing various images of the sleeping village. All were grainy from the light intensification filters.
I couldn’t go to sleep, but allowed myself to rest as best I could with my eyes closed. Every so often I could hear one of the soldiers talking to the observation team. I still couldn’t place their accents, they all seemed German or French. “They’re Swiss Guards. “ The Friar told me after I enquired. “They are a special team from the Swiss Guards that have protected the Vatican for hundreds of years. You don’t need to worry, they know what they’re doing.”
I wasn’t worried, I’m almost insulted by the suggestion.
The time passed slowly, I daren’t use my awareness to investigate the few houses. Any slip up might betray our position and all the effort so far would be wasted. I wanted my showdown, so I kept my urges in check.
Dawn finally arrived unannounced, we suddenly realised the sky was starting to lighten. A radio report informed us that Hammond had arrived at the observation team and that he was now setting up in the camouflaged hide they had created.
On the screens we watched the village slowly come to life. Most of the locals seemed to be elderly. A few of the younger residents were seen leaving by old cars to work. The cafe opened and a few locals went there for their morning coffee and for one bent old man, his breakfast.
The sky was unmarred by clouds and as the sun rose, so did the temperature. The back of the van quickly became hot and stuffy. I took a drink from the camel pack on my back. I wondered how much water it contained. I was surprised that the water still tasted cool.
We had the doors and windows open to try and let some air movement provide some cooling, but there was barely any breeze. The Friar and the soldiers seemed to take it in their stride. I was sweating buckets and found it hard to breath. Noticing my discomfort the Friar advised me to relax.
Relax he says, it’s a million fucking degrees in here! I smile as that reminded me of an old joke. The Friar is right, I must relax. I retreat a little inside myself and inject calm into my own mind.
As the morning drags on the pace of the village, already slow, slowed even further. At eleven o clock Sam Jenkins makes his appearance. He sits at one of the tables in the shade of the building. The cafe owner brings him iced tea and he drinks it slowly. Although he has a local newspaper in his hand, he spends most of the time watching the road. He has an oversized phone resting on the table in front of him.
Half an hour later a vehicle can be seen heading towards the village. The observation team reports that it is a police car, two officers can be seen inside.
This causes some consternation between the Friar and the snatch team. The area was supposed to be clear of the local forces. The Friar tried to calm their fears, the local police wouldn’t have been told, otherwise word would have leaked. This was probably just a local patrol that would soon head off and there was nothing to worry about.
No-one is convinced. Lazarus is due to arrive in less than half an hour’s time.
The police park next to the cafe, exit their car and after a quick and polite greeting to Jenkins, sat at the table farthest away from him.
We watched the cafe closely on the laptop screens. The visual feed wasn’t real time video, it was still images that updated every second or two, so it is like watching a slide show. The images are crystal clear though, every detail can be seen.
Midday passed slowly. It is baking hot in the van, even the soldiers are showing some signs of discomfort. The Friar alone remains unruffled. The police have ordered a second cup of coffee, they seem in no hurry to leave.
Another half hour and Jenkins answers a phone call. We see him talking, there’s a brief glance at the police and then the call ends. Jenkins calls for the owner and there is a brief conversation.
“Are the police providing additional security?” One of the soldiers asks. “They could be just having a quiet one out of the way.” Another replies. “So what do we do if they’re still here and Lazarus arrives?” The first one asks.
“We proceed with the plan. If possible use a non-lethal takedown, but the mission objective remains the same. Lazarus is the priority.” The Friar has spoken.
On the screen we can see Jenkins taking another call. It lasts for thirty seconds. A few minutes later the owner brings out a number of dishes, places them on the table, before going to the policeman. Their conversation seems lively, they appear to know each other well..
The tension in the van is incredible. Lazarus is now two hours late. Is he holding off because the police are here?
Fifteen minutes later the policemen both stand up and after waving to the cafe owner, head towards their car. We watch them on the stuttering screen as they climb in and drive off. I can almost hear the signs of relief from everyone around me.
As they drive down the road the observation team call in, they have spotted a vehicle, a black SUV heading up the road towards the village. On our screens we can see the black car getting closer. They pass by the police car without incident. The observation team cannot identify anyone in the SUV, there is a driver and somebody else sat beside them. The rear windows are darkened preventing them from seeing if there is anybody else inside.
At the same time I can sense a ripple pass through my awareness. I maintain the mental picture.
The SUV pulls up beside the cafe, the engine still running as the passenger gets out. We watch frames of a brief conversation between him and Jenkins. The cafe owner goes into the cafe. I bet it is lovely and cool in there. I take a sip of water.
One of the rear doors opens. A man in a light linen suit can be seen climbing out. The build is about right, but he does not face the camera so no-one can confirm his identity. The driver also gets out following the man in the suit. Both the driver and the passenger are dressed smartly in trousers and short-sleeved shirts. They are both wearing jackets despite the blazing sun.
The driver waits by the SUV, the other stands in the shade of the cafe, close to the suited man. The suited man sits at the same table as Jenkins, as he twists his body into the chair his face comes into view.
“Target confirmed.” I can hear the tension in the Friar’s voice. “Let’s move.”
The soldiers in the snatch team deploy from the van quietly, and following the contours of the houses approach the cafe from the rear. In my mental picture they do not exist.
The snatch team split into two, each pair stealthily flanking the cafe. “Take the shot.” I can hear the Friar order. There is a single clap of thunder that reverberates between the hills. On the screen in one image Lazarus is talking to Jenkins, in the next he is on the ground, the table and chairs in mid fall.
The snatch team lob their prepared stun grenades around the cafe, they explode, the burst of bright light distorting several images in a row. Another boom echoes across the landscape. When the screens clear the guard by the SUV is down, the front wing splashed with dark, lumpy liquid. Jenkins is down, one of the soldiers taking aim, a moment later we hear that nearer gunshot. His partner is kneeling by Lazarus’ body.
I can’t believe it, in those few frames he has moved.
The driver is now moving the van towards the cafe, we’ll be there in a few seconds. I keep watching the screen. The other pair of the snatch team have both shot the other guard, he has fallen across one of the tables. His hand never reached the pistol in a shoulder holster beneath his jacket. I can hear the buzz of automatic gunfire.
The van screeches to a halt in front of the cafe. The soldiers are dragging Lazarus’ body towards the van. There is a gaping hole in his chest. You can see the dirt of the ground through the hole. I can see his fingers moving.
On the radio the observation team are reporting that the police car has stopped and is turning round. A third clap of thunder rand the team reports their vehicle has been neutralised and they are now cowering behind their stopped car.
Lazarus has now been dragged into the van, the Friar swiftly injects him with the drug cocktail prepared earlier. As the soldiers climb in, he takes another syringe and injects that as well. The side door slams closed as the van speeds down the road.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Chapter 33 - Testing times

I enjoyed a longer sleep than everyone else. The noises of the farm and the warm sunshine though the window were a subtle and not-unpleasant wake-up call. As my senses returned I could hear the bustle of activity downstairs. It was still quite early, I could see that the sun was still low against the horizon. I guess they were happy to have me out of the way for now. I was on the team, but not part of it. That’s fine, it cuts both ways.
Taking my time in showering and getting dressed I contemplated the upcoming action. I’d agreed to do it and if half of what the Friar had told me was true, it wasn’t going to be easy. I still wasn’t sure if I fully believed what I had been told, but I was surrounded by people who did and were planning accordingly. As I was going to be at the sharp end with them it made sense for me to do the same. If it turned they were wrong and had allowed their mythology of Lazarus to overestimate him, then it would be that much easier for me.
The big question I had yet to answer was: what then? The Friar had already made it clear that freedom wasn’t an option. Now was probably the best opportunity to escape that I was likely to get. So, why stay? Why not take advantage of their focus being elsewhere and run for it. They had the tracker, but they also had other concerns. Lazarus is clearly a big deal for them, a bigger and more immediate threat than I was. Would they call of the attack to hunt me down? They had other resources I’m sure and no doubt Interpol would be on the case, but I would have a head start.
The tracker they had implanted was a concern. I had my doubts about that as well, but even if it was real there are ways to deal with that. I just had to find the right people quickly enough. There’s no question of whether they’d do what i wanted or not.
So why stay? The question was a fair one, I’m not sure I can answer it fully. For the first time in my life I had a purpose other than my own and I find that intriguing. I have done many things in my life, but never for any clear goal. It’s a bit of a mystery, but I don’t mind. At least it provides some entertainment for a while.
Tantalising scents from the kitchen draw me downstairs. Along the way I bump into one of soldiers standing by the back door having a crafty smoke. He generously gives me a cigarette and lights it for me. We don’t talk, we’re just two strangers standing together on foreign soil enjoying the morning sun and a quick smoke.
It’s not a breakfast as I would normally recognize one, but the varied selection of meats, cheeses and fresh, warm bread more than makes up for its unfamiliarity. Simple fare that is simply delicious. A glass of thick, creamy milk and dark, bitter coffee wash down this goodness. I’m not usually a coffee man, but I can see why people drink it, it certainly picks you up in the morning.
Hammond and the Friar found me still in the kitchen, finishing my coffee. “We’re going for a little trip.” Hammond tells me and I follow them out into the yard. As we pass through the house I can hear the grumbling from the various soldier types. I expand my awareness so I can hear their complaints more clearly.
The principal complaint is the lack of preparation they have. They have nowhere to rehearse the assault properly, having to rely on paper and virtual reality walkthroughs to get to know the terrain and to play out scenarios. Exposed as they are in this farmhouse they can’t even practice their contact drills. I have no idea what they are, but they seem important.
Their second major complaint is of course, me. I get the feeling that they’re not happy dealing with new people at all. Especially when that new person is a creepy one with mystic powers. I manage to resist the temptation to improve their feelings towards me.
We get into an old Land Rover, battered and dusty, it is clearly a veteran of these parts. Another monk is already in the driver’s seat. As soon as we are sat, the engine is revved and we are bumping down the track.
Hammond is a looming presence beside me, the Friar in the passenger seat up front. He turns and raising his voice above the engine noise says. “I think you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Today you have to prove to me that you are capable of cloaking us from Lazarus tomorrow. You can start right now, make this vehicle invisible to anyone who can see us.”
I relax, expand my awareness, and then fix the picture  in my mind with the jeep removed.
“Don’t be a smart-ass” growls Hammond, “Everyone in the vehicle needs to be invisible as well!”
I offer a little smile, it is a pity there was nobody around to witness the four people floating down the road. I correct the image and maintain my focus and before we reach the coast road we are invisible to anyone around.
Now I have never experienced driving where the other drivers cannot see you . It makes for an interesting experience and I tipped a metaphorical hat to the driver who clearly had nerves of steel. Luckily for us the road was fairly empty and we didn’t encounter many other vehicles, but we had a few near misses.
Junctions were the biggest danger, drivers would approach the junction and not seeing anything else coming would pull out, not knowing that we were just in front of them. I think our driver spent most of the journey cursing in Italian. It may have been Latin, I don’t really know the difference.
In one respect the Friar was quite correct, I had underestimated how difficult it was. The first problem was that we were moving quite quickly and at first I wasn’t compensating for that. We would reach the edge of the mental picture I had formed and flicker back into view. I changed the picture so it updated as we moved and quite quickly I was able leave it as a background task, letting it tick away at the back of my mind.
The other issue was that of scale, the road ran along the line of hills, about half way up the slopes. It twisted and wound through the hills, sometimes we could see for miles and on others we could just see the corner ahead. Pushing my awareness higher helped alleviate this problem.
I knew that the actual task of hiding the vehicle and snatch team from Lazarus wouldn’t be as complicated as this, we would be in a stationary vehicle and physically hidden out of the way, but it was good practice and I actually felt some confidence in the task ahead, rather than the simple arrogance from the previous day’s briefing.
As we drove, Hammond and the Friar maintained a constant conversation with me. I know what they were doing. They were attempting to distract me by asking a variety of trivial questions about my past, was I into football, nonsense stuff. They continuously switched subjects so I had to think of the answers for their questions.
We drove for about an hour before turning off the coast road and onto another rough track that twisted up the hill. At the top of the hill there is a small monastery. It looked old, the stonework was pocked and bleached by the sun. It was a squat building., dominated by a large stone cross and circled with a high stone wall. We pulled into the driveway, the tyres crunching on the loose gravel. A monk tending some plants by the entrance turned around in surprise, his shock apparent as the car shimmered into view.
Friar Francis seemed pleased with this response, he climbed out of the car saying “This isn’t a Dominican monastery, but the brothers here are known for their mystic pursuits. I have already spoken to the head of their order and they’re going to help test your cloaking of this vehicle.”
With that he walked up to the lone monk and after a brief conversation, they entered the gateway. While they were gone we moved the car, parking it at the far side of the entrance. After we had parked, Hammond jumped out and with a large piece of bush, brushed out the wheel marks from the gravel. I then resumed the mental picture and erased us from view.
For the rest of the day I maintained the cloak. A collection of different monks came out of the entrance and looked around the drive way. I could feel probes lancing out, I ignored them, allowing them to pass through the cloak unhindered. I knew that it would be resisting the probes that would give me away. They were already inside the effect, so could discern no change.
As I had on the trip here I maintained the cloak over a wide area and a prickling in my awareness lead me to an observer on a hill next to the one we were currently hiding on. I could see one of the guards from the farmhouse looking at the monastery with powerful binoculars.
That Friar Francis is a sly one, luckily he was well within the zone of my awareness.
All day I kept it up. I wish we had brought some water and food with us. I asked Hammond if that was deliberate, but he just grinned at me. He’s seen more than his fair share of days spent in the hot sun in dusty lands so it didn’t bother him too much. I mentally shrugged and got on with it.
Finally as dusk began to settle the Friar returned, I think every monk from the monastery was now standing by the gate. The Friar instructed me to turn off the cloak and we reappeared before the assembled brothers. There were a few surprised faces and a couple of restrained nods, but the Friar seemed please as he told the driver to return home. As it was getting dark he deemed it wise to drive back to the farmhouse visible.
It seems that I have passed his test. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did feel a little spark of pride.
Once we arrived back at the farmhouse Hammond told me to get a few hours rest, we would be moving out at midnight. So, I ignored the bustle of the soldiers preparing equipment and checking their weapons and headed to the small bedroom and lay down to rest.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chapter 32 - The best laid plans

The planning group consisted of the same people who were in the briefing room earlier this afternoon. Everyone was sat except for Friar Francis when I arrived with Hammond, as before he stood by the screen. This time the screen had a high resolution image of the village displayed.. Once again I say to one side with Hammond close behind and we all listened as the Friar began talking.
“Before we start I have just heard that a deal has been reached with the Turkish forces. They will turn a blind eye for next few days in this area of operations. They’ve been told that there is a combined UK and US anti-terrorist operation. They’re not happy about not being involved, especially as it is on their soil, but in return there’ll only be minimal objections to some of their operations in northern Iraq. At least we won’t have to worry too much about the Turkish army turning up unannounced.”
A few relieved nods from the military looking personnel.
“Before we outline the plan, let’s quickly recap  the two things we know for certain. Or at least as certain as we can be.”
More nods and a few wry smiles this time.
“The first is the where, we know that meeting will take place at the cafe. The second is when, we know that the meeting will take place at midday in two days time.”
“The objective of the mission is to take Lazarus down for good. We can’t achieve this through conventional means, so we need to get, hmm, let’s call him ‘Mr X’ for now ...” At this he points at me. ‘Mr X’, I like it, very mysterious.  I think I’ll have it printed on my luggage. “We need to get ‘Mr X’ in close proximity to Lazarus.”
“How close?” Asks the military looking man sitting at the front of the room. He sounds German, or maybe Austrian or Swiss.
“As close as we are all right now. He will need to be within touching distance of Lazarus.”
Another nod, but not quite as happy this time.
“This farm is the current staging area, we are two miles away from the target zone. On the local roads that’s about fifteen minutes travel. As soon as we receive confirmation Lazarus is at the cafe, the snatch team will leave here and approach the target at speed. The village observation team will also move to block any vehicle escape from the village from the other access road. The team at the fort will do the same.”
I can see this isn’t a popular plan.
“So the target is going to hear us coming and may have several minutes to escape?” Asks the German sounding soldier.
“We will have all the access routes covered, if he tries to escape cross country the observation team will have him in view for at least five miles in all directions.  Unless he heads north, in which case he will run into the team from the fort.”
“What are the chances that Lazarus will arrive on his own?” Another good question from our Germanic friend.
“We expect he’ll have at least a couple of bodyguards. They’ll be capable, but not the same level of threat that Lazarus himself poses. It’s likely that there will be a fire fight when we snatch him. We don’t need them alive and if Lazarus himself was that easy to kill then we wouldn’t have this problem. Which means we can go in hard. I want everyone to watch their targets, dead locals won’t go down well, but the target is the priority, no matter what the cost.”
“It’s far from ideal, I’d prefer that we staged closer so he little to no warning before we move in.”
“So why don’t we?” I ask.
“Lazarus has a gift that rivals yours ‘Mr X’, he will probe the area as he moves in, if he detects anything suspicious at all, then he won’t walk into the trap. We estimate that we need to be at least a mile away for our presence not to be detected. That estimate does take into account the brothers here capable of shielding.”
“Once we have Lazarus, we bring him back here and with your assistance, we finish the job.”
“I can hide us.” I say confidently. “If we stage the night before, nearer to the cafe. I can maintain the illusion and hide us. When the time comes we won’t have to drive for fifteen minutes to get in range.”
I see that there are doubting Thomas’ everywhere in the room.
“I can do this and even if he does get close and smells a rat we’ll be closer in to chase him.”
Another soldier speaks up, he definitely isn’t a believer. As he begins to protest I expand my awareness and make Hammond fade from sight. He doesn’t realise at first what I have done, when he does I can hear him mutter. It sounds French, maybe he is Swiss as well?
It puts a smile on the Friar’s and Hammond’s faces at any rate.
The Friar nods. “Ok. When Lazarus arrives we hit them hard, use stun grenades to buy us a few seconds then take down the guards. With Lazarus himself we use tazers and then dope him up to keep him quiet for the journey back.”
I raise my hand, playing the shy schoolboy. “Might I suggest pumping him full with some LSD or something similar as well, it might make things a bit easier for me when I have to go in.”
“I think we can arrange that.” He then nods at one of the other priests, who quickly leaves the room.
I contemplate for a moment, something is nagging me. One of Hammond’s memories surfaces from when I delved into his past, bringing with it an idea. “Is there a sniper with the observation team?”
“Yes, they’ll provide long distance cover and help block that access road.”
“Can they cover the village?”
“It’s well over a mile, they might be able to help with larger targets like vehicles, but close fire would be extremely difficult at that range.”
“Didn’t Officer Hammond here take a Taliban down at over a mile in Afghanistan? Record shot for a Royal Marine and all that?”
There’s some impressed looks from the other soldier boys in the room. Hammond nods casually as if this is an everyday occurrence.
“So put him with the observation team with one of those big bastard sniper rifles, you know the ones that will put a hole in an engine block at over a mile. Then as soon as Lazarus sits down, BOOM, headshot.”
The Friar isn’t convinced. “That won’t kill him.”
“I know it won’t, but it’ll give him the mother of a headache and I’m willing to bet that it will slow him down enough to zap him unconscious and then fill him with drugs.”
I can see him wavering. “It might work. One of the .50 calibres would also be good for stopping any vehicles trying to escape.” I know the other part that is worrying him, he’s relying on Hammond being my keeper, but he’ll have to do that himself. We need to take Lazarus down quickly to give us a chance of success.
The others in the team are siding with me on this, I can feel the mood lighten a little. With something resembling a working plan, they can see a feint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
“And to help finish him I suggest that we just keep pumping him with drugs all the way back. The more stressed his brain and body are, the easier he will be to deal with. And I do have some experience with delving into fucked up minds.”
Friar Francis finally relents. “Ok, we’ll do it your way. Tomorrow night the snatch team will drive into the village. We’ll need to find somewhere to park where people won’t accidently bump into the van. We sit and wait for Lazarus to show up for the meeting. As soon as his presence is confirmed we approach the cafe as Hammond shoots him. We then mop up any bodyguards, dose and taze him and put him in the van.”
“Just make sure you are ready to do your part. And remember I will be with you every step of the way.”
I’ll take that as a compliment. I’m feeling a buzz of excitement. I’ve never really planned things out like this before, it’s quite a novelty. And I think I am actually going to do this for them.
It’s the bit afterwards I need to think about now.

Chapter 31 - To sunny climes

Hammond locks me back in my cell, I can hear the sounds of hurried activity down the hall. He returns only a few minutes later with a bundle of new clothes for me to wear. He instructs me to get changed and quickly, so I do as I am bid. Soon I am clad all in black, black combat trousers,  black T-shirt, black boots, even black underwear. I am a modern day ninja.
After I am dressed, he returns into the cell and tells me to lie down. There is a syringe in his hand.
“So I don’t get to enjoy the ride then?” I ask him.
“Not this time” He replies as he expertly injects the solution into my arm.
This seems a little unfair I think, as I slip into the warm darkness.
* * *
I have no idea how long it has been when I wake up. I’m feeling hungry so it must have been a few hours at least. I sit up, groaning from the stiffness in my body. Maybe a bit longer than I first thought then. I take a look around, I’m in a room this time, not a cell. I’m sitting on a bed with a proper mattress, there’s even real furniture. A dresser, a wardrobe, nothing fancy they look quite rustic, but I do seem to be going up in the world. There’s even a real window, framed with flowery curtains.
I expand my awareness just to have a quick sniff of what’s around. There’s no barrier on the walls around this room. I can sense some form of shielding some distance away around the whole building, but nothing imprisoning me.
The temptation to soar is great, but there’s no point upsetting the management just yet.
Standing up I realise how warm it is. I head over to the window and open it. The air outside is warm as well, but the breeze is pleasant upon my skin. I take a look through the window, it looks like we’re in a Mediterranean farmhouse. In front of me I can see a guard by the gateway in a rough stone wall. He is watching all around and notices me with a an offhand salute.
I wave back, it only seems polite.
I can see we are surrounded by farmland, there’s a field of parched wheat and another field of scrubby grass where goats and sheep chew lazily in the warm sun. This is easily the best view I’ve had in quite some time. In the distance I can see a range of hills, cut into those hills is something strange. I can see giant flags cut into the soil of the hills. I remember somebody telling me about this, that means that we’re in Cyprus.
The door opens and it’s a normal latch, not a lock. Hammond pokes his head through. “Ah good, you’re awake.” He says in that low, gravelly voice of his. “Follow me, the Friar is about to begin the briefing”. I let him lead me down the narrow stairs, past a kitchen that smells divine. My stomach growls in protest as I walk by. We continue along the corridor and into an annex. The stonework here looks fresher, this must have been built after the main farmhouse.
In the room the Friar stands against the far wall, a large screen beside him, fixed to the wall. There are six other people in the room, all sitting on cheap plastic chairs. Some have laptops, the others just sitting waiting for the Friar to start. Half of them are in black paramilitary gear, similar to what I’m wearing. The others are wearing cassocks like the Friar. I take an empty chair to one side of the room. The Friar nods a greeting at me, which I casually return. Some of the other faces look at me in curiosity, but only for a quick glance. Hammond pulls a chair up behind me, positioned between me and the door.
“I’ll start from the top for the benefit of the newcomers.” The friar begins and the screen snaps to life displaying a map. He points at the map. “Here, high up in the hills is the old Crusader Fort, it’s pretty much in ruins now. It was built in the late Thirteenth Century on the site of an ancient Christian church, itself just a ruin at the time.”
The map dissolves into a picture of a ruined fortress perched precariously on top of a cliff. “Here is one of  the locations for the events that Lazarus must complete.” The image returns to the map. “There is only one road to the ruin.” He traces the route through the hills, stopping at a small area below the fort. Here is the nearest village. Well, more of a hamlet really. There’s a dozen houses and a single cafe situated where the road forks. One road leads north, to the fort, the other follows this line of hills to the east.”
The image changes, this time to show a balding middle-aged man. His skin is reddened by the sun. His paunch is clearly visible beneath his stretch shirt. “A week ago this man was spotted by our surveillance team entering the village. He booked the only room in the cafe and has stayed there since. He has since been observed wandering around the hills, concentrating mostly around the ruins.”
“We’ve identified him as Sam Jenkins. Twenty years ago he was a well know Evangelist preacher, he then disappeared. He’s been tracked since then in Europe, Africa and very occasionally in the US. On most of those occasions he was seen in the company of known associates of Lazarus. We believe he’s a money and PR man. He helps set up new contacts and funnels funds where needed for Lazarus’ network.”
“He is definitely not a field operative and we think that he’s acting as a scout here for Lazarus himself. Which would indicate that Lazarus is having to scrape the barrel if he has to use somebody like Mr Jenkins in the field.”
This time the screen shows a satellite image of the village, the cafe is highlighted. “Yesterday our friends in the British listening post based on one of the airbases here in Cyprus intercepted a telephone call from a mobile phone in the cafe. Both parties on the call where identified by voice analysis as Sam Jenkins and Lazarus himself. The contents of the call indicate that in two days time Lazarus will meet Mr Jenkins at the cafe. The meeting is supposed to happen at midday, their plans after that time are unknown.”
“We have people at all of the airports as well as the smaller airfields watching for Lazarus’ arrival. We also have all of the ports being watched, but this coast also has many small fishing villages so there are a number of places where he could sneak in undetected.”
“You all know who we face and the challenge that presents. We have brought a new member of the team who should be able to help us.” With this he indicates me, everyone swivels in their chairs to get a better look. They know I’m not one of them, I’m an outsider and that’s enough to make them curious.
“We have an observation team at the ruins and another watching the village. The village team are watching from a distance, which is far from ideal, but we want to avoid spooking Mr Jenkins.”
He pauses again while the screen changes. This time it is a blurry image of a man in his mid-thirties. He has an intense look about it with dark, shadowed eyes.
“This is our target, Lazarus. You all know what he is and the challenge he represents. As I mentioned in the earlier briefings he close to achieving his goals. Much too close for ours, or anyone’s comfort. We need to take this opportunity and ensure that we take Lazarus down for good.”
“Your first job is to familiarise yourselves with the local terrain, you’ll have to do that remotely and via simulation for now. We will reconvene in a couple of hours to go through the plan.”
The Friar then steps away and heads towards me, I can feel Hammond standing up, so I do the same. The others are crowding around the laptops, two of the military looking guys head out of the room.
“You should get something to eat.” The Friar says to me. That sounds good to me.  “I also want you mask the perimeter guards. I doubt that they’ll have the time or the manpower to scout this far out, but if they do I don’t want to make it easy for them. Go to the kitchens, they will sort you out. Hammond, you stay with him and make sure you are both back for the planning session in two hours.”
I expand my awareness beyond the farmhouse to get a good feel for the immediate area. I can sense three guards on the perimeter wall, I mask them from view. The other guards are watching from vantage points in the farmhouse itself, I do the same with them and fade their presence from view. Anyone trying to view remotely shouldn’t see anything interesting. I then head to kitchen, following the delightful smell all the way. Hammond, my ever present guard dog follows in my wake.
I eat so much that I have to rest for an hour before I feel able to move. I like it inside the kitchen, the smell is delicious and it is warm and inviting. There’s a scarred wooden table where they deliver me dishes to tuck into. Hammond sits opposite me, he doesn’t eat and just drinks some iced tea. He doesn’t seem interested in conversation.
The food is amazing. I don’t think I could identify most of it, but everything is freshly cooked and a delight to eat. I wash it down with iced tea, something I have never drunk before. I find it very refreshing. As I recover from this feast, I just sit and expand my awareness. I don’t enter anybody’s mind, I just brush past them to get a feel for who I am working with.
Every one of them has a rock in their heads, some are smaller than others, but I can sense that anchor in all of them. The Friars all have shields over the minds, some are strong, not quite as strong as the Friars, but impressive all the same. Skilled as they are, they still need me and that is important.
Sitting back in the chair, I am contented and snooze a little before Hammond touches my arm and tells me that it is time to go.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Chapter 30 - The joy of shields

As I lay on the narrow bed in the darkness  I think about what I have learned over the past few days. It had never occurred to me before to use abstract symbols as a means to focus the effect of what I wanted. The other advantage I could see was they provided convenient shorthand. It would be a good way to build an arsenal of effects that I could have ready at any moment.  I thought of all the implants I had pushed into people’s minds over the years and how much easier it would have been to use re-use common symbols.

In a strange way it felt oddly satisfying to learn something new. I could wield power, but to add some finesse to it as well was a pleasant feeling. The fact that is also made me more capable was no bad thing either. I’m sure it would come in useful soon.

Again I slept soundly that night, waking feeling refreshed and eager to learn more. It occurred to me that I hadn’t dreamed since I had been brought here. I wonder if that is intentional or not.

With breakfast concluded Friar Francis introduces today’s topic. “Continuing on from your extra-curricular activities we’re going to look at shields and barriers today.”

So they have been watching what I do in the evening. It seems unlikely that they have any technology to monitor what I’m doing, so they must either be able to get a presence inside their barrier or they’re aware when I make changes to their barriers. My money is on the second option, but either way it is useful information.

“We’ll start with building a shield for yourself. At its most basic a shield protects you from attack or external influence. With novices we start with having them visualize a shield as a bright blue aura around them. It’s a good place to start, so why don’t you give it a try.”

Seems simple enough, I coat myself in a bright blue aura as described.

“In your case it’s more of a beacon than a shield. It would protect you well enough, but would also attract attention for miles around. Make the aura thinner, so it just follows the contours of your body.”

I dial it down a bit.

“Good. Now the strength of a shield isn’t determined by its thickness, but in its density. If you remember the exercises where you penetrated various barriers it was the density that forced you to use ever smaller probes. The denser the shield, the smaller the imperfections, so the harder it is to pierce. Your power or strength of will and mastery of the technique is what determines how strong a shield you can create.”

Makes sense, I refocus the aura, making it thinner still but also putting more will into the smaller volume.

“Excellent.  Now we can look at increasing the complexity of the barrier. The easiest way to do this is to have multiple shields, each one layered on top of the other.”

I see a problem with this. “If they can penetrate one then surely penetrating the others is no more difficult?”

“That’s a fair point, you’re jumping the gun a bit, but I expected no less from you.”

That fucking smile again.

“To make the different layers more effective you should vary the density of the barrier, make your opponent seek each level of imperfections. That will cost them time, giving you more time to react. To stop an attack the shield must be stronger than your opponent, in essence that means that the imperfections he seeks must be smaller than he can focus his will. Having to do this across multiple layers will compound their challenge.”

I give this a try.

“Ok, that’s good. Now instead of layering them, try entwining them so the layers pass through each other. Think of it like tying it into a knot, the more complex the knot, the more effective it will be.”

“That’s good. Now let me have a go at breaking the shield.”

I can feel his probes immediately. He attacks from multiple directions at once with countless tiny barbs. I can feel them flickering across the shield, looking for weaknesses. At first I react to each probe, strengthening where I can feel him probing. In response he increases the number of probes and I try to match. It’s a mistake as I respond to one batch of attacks he switches and I fall into a cycle of responding.

I am trying to track too many things and the first of his probes breaks through. I switch tactics and collapse the penetrated shields and adding new ones beneath those.

The Friar changes tactics again, this time instead of probing he focuses his will into a single lance that slams into the shield. The tip is soft and splashes against the shield, splitting into billions of filaments that fill the imperfections in my shields. As clusters find the gaps they instantly burst, shattering new holes.

I see a new method of attack and instead of resisting allow the filaments in and then envelop them with new shields trapping them. I then start pulling at them drawing them into the pockets I have created. His attack weakens as he feels himself being dragged in to these pockets.

“Enough.” He says. “That was well done. The point as I’m sure you’ve realised is that the defence must be dynamic. For the untrained it is often just a clash of wills. The problem with that is if you pour all your strength and focus into a single move, you’ll often end up outmanoeuvred”

With a chuckle he continues. “In many ways it’s like a fighting a boxing match and playing chess at the same time. Agility can often beat power, and keeping moves in reserve can change the balance of a contest. The other problem with putting all your will into a single attack is that you don’t know if the other person is the same, or if you are actually battling more than one person.”

“And as you’ve just discovered, often offense can be the best for of defence.”

I can’t disagree with that, in my experience a good defence is just about waiting to unleash a brutal offence.

We continue with some exercises until Hammond brings through a selection of sandwiches for lunch.  As always, he leaves me on my own to eat, but when I finish he quickly returns and resumes the lesson.

“At the start I said to you to create an aura of blue. We always start with blue as it is a strong colour well suited for defence. It’s also an easy way to encourage putting a lot of energy in a smaller volume. Like with stars, the brightest stars tend to be blue and are also smaller than the red ones.”

“For more experienced initiates colour can be used to add complexity to your shields. Colours can have meanings, but it is best to treat them as another symbol, or as a way flavouring your symbols. If you are juggling different effects at the same time, they can provide a quick mechanism for keeping track of them.”

“This leads me to the final lesson for today. A shield itself is a form of symbol, but it can work the other way round. If you create a symbol, let’s say a symbol that is a snare, similar to how you trapped my probes earlier. You can take that symbol and entwine it into your shield layers. Another way to look at it is to take the symbol and stretch it over your shield. And of course, with an array of symbols you can easily  layer multiple effects.”

“That’s a good way to add traps or triggers to your shields. Let’s try it now. Create a symbol in your mind, keep it simple for now. Create a symbol that sparks when another presence touches it.”

I create the Snap Dragon symbol in my mind.

“Now raise a shield, keep it simple just a single layer. Now merge the symbol with the shield.”

I think of a better way. The Snap Dragon symbol is now a layer that acts as a shield but sparkles when something touches it. I tell the Friar that I’m ready and I watch the shield sparkle as his probes at it. I change the symbol again, with a small grin of my own, the sparkles now buzz around him like bees.

“All right, I see you’ve learnt how to modify your symbols on the fly. That will come in useful. Now for your next exercise ...”

He’s interrupted by a knock at the door. That’s unusual, we are never disturbed. He opens the door, I can hear some muffled voices, I expand my awareness to try and listen in, but the Friar steps out of the room, closes the door and blocks me off.

Fair enough. I look at Hammond stood at the door. He is impassive, just watching me, his eyes alert, his back straight. I don’t enter his mind, but I can sense the rock within him. It suddenly strikes me, the rock is a special type of shield, a shield on the inside. A shield on the inside is not easily noticed, a last line of defence. Very clever.

My thoughts are interrupted by the Friar walking back into the room. He nods at Hammond before saying. “One of our teams has spotted Lazarus. We fly out in an hour. Hammond will help you get ready.”