Tobias Finnagan, Special Agent
The bus from the city heading for McCaferty's Fishing Lodge forty miles farther on made its customary stop at the restaurant downtown. They had an arrangement. The few passengers lazily filed in for breakfast or an early lunch, they were ready for either. Except for one man who walked past the door and down the wooden sidewalk, his boots barely making a sound. On this beautiful summer morning, he was distinguished by a knee-length, crumpled, grey rain coat with the collar turned up. On his head of shoulder-length dark brown hair he wore a wide-brimmed grey hat. His boots were black leather with a circular, steel buckle at the ankle off to the outside.
He moved purposefully as though he knew just where he was going. He turned left on Fir street and at its end crossed the grass field next to the school. On the other side sat the Church of Our Lord and Saviour. He paused on the asphalt in front and studied it, his eyes narrowed. Cautiously, glancing side-to-side as he went, he climbed the concrete steps to the twin oak doors. Once there, he quickly pulled both open and entered. Despite the sun shining through the stained glass windows, the rear of the church was dark. The burning candles off to the right of the altar illuminated the statue of Saint George, tucked back into a marble enclosure. An elderly lady sat in the right-front pew next to the aisle, rosary beads in hand. The man walked up to her and asked, "Do you know Father Mynski?"
His soundless approach and deep voice startled her. Indignant, she turned to berate his rudeness, but when she looked into his black eyes, she froze. He repeated the question. Glancing about, she noticed she was all alone. Concerned now for her safety, she said, "Yes, I most certainly do," expecting familiarity to give her an edge.
"Do you know where he is right now?," he asked in the same tone of voice.
She wasn't going to win this, she realized. She replied, "Last I saw him he was out back working in his garden, but that was some time ago. I spoke with him then," she tried again, limply.
He nodded, then moved out passed Saint George and slipped through the side door. Once outside, he removed an object wrapped in brown paper from his inside coat pocket. He walked to the rear of the church, following its curved contours. Father Mynski was resting under the plum tree at the center of his garden, a good fifty feet square. The man didn't hesitate, it was too late for that. In the silence of the garden even quiet footfalls could be heard crunching the tiny stones covering the path. Father Mynski swivelled towards the intruder; at once his body stilled. He'd foreseen this, but lived in denial that it would ever come to pass.
The man stopped in front of him, staring intently into the priest's eyes as though trying to make sure it was the person he was looking for. He held out the package and said, "I was told to give this to you, that you would know what to do with it."
Father Mynski hesitated, anxiety creased his face. Hesitantly, he took it, holding it at arm's length. Removing his coat and hat, the man backed up to the grass and sat cross-legged, relief on his haggard, sweaty face. As though afraid its contents might leap out, Mynski carefully unfolded the paper as though it possessed powers of its own and dropped it on the ground.
He unwrapped the velvet cloth and stared at the small piece of bone, a relic of an ancient necromancer named Dominichi who lived in central Europe during the early part of the eighth century. The inner circle of the Church had sanctioned its storage in a secret and most venerable place in the Vatican. Through their own conjurations, his spirit was constrained to roam the wasteland, not dead or alive and not free to be reborn. However, his teachings and incantations have been passed down through generations of followers. With it, they can channel the evil forces he once controlled, powers to influence minds and hearts in anyway they wish. Word had been received that somehow they'd discovered its location through dark means, and the inner circle of clerics feared they would procure it. People willing to do their bidding were in position.
To destroy it would be useless, the evil it contains would only spread like fine dust across the plain of humanity. It must be transported outside space and time altogether, to oblivion. The rest of his body had long ago been treated thusly; they kept this small piece to bind him to the plain of neverending emptiness as a punishment for his many evil deeds. Forgiveness was not in their vocabulary. Only a select handful of priests had this gift. The followers had found them out and killed all the others; only Father Mynski was left. The inner circle had believed that posting him in this quiet, anonymous town would conceal him. But now that he had the relic in his possession, that prospect was unlikely.
The priest examined it, turning it over in his hand. He had to ask, "Why had they not banished this to the void with all the rest? Surely, it can't be just out of spite."
The man replied, "If they have other reasons for keeping it all this time, they didn't bother to tell me. I've been sent to protect you and to bring you that. That's all I know, father." He lay back on the grass and stared at the sky. "But now, it's time," he said casually, his tone much softer, hardly recognizable. "It's not safe in the world we know anymore. You must perform the ritual."
"Obviously," Mynsky said sarcastically. "Why else would you be here?"
He studied the bone with his chemist's eye. When he first looked at it, it appeared decidely unremarkable, a piece of bone from a human body. But on closer inspection, he had to change his mind. Even if it had been buried, there'd be signs of decomposition, edges would be worned down, the texture would be completely smooth. But this fragment appeared to be from a recently deceased person. How could it be over 1200 years old? He stood, collecting himself, and invited the man in for a spot of tea. On the way to Mynski's private rooms, he introduced himself as Tobias Finnegan, special agent for the Vatican's inner circle. Father Mynsky thought to put matters on an informal basis by telling him his first name, Petrov, and insisting he call him Pete. But something about Tobias Finnagan set his teeth on edge, so, for now, he believed it best to keep his distance.
A special agent for the inner circle. Mynski was a member of a sect which had access to every secret organization in the Church hierarchy. Their special abilities and deeds went unrecorded on any ledger or official document. Yet, they were familiar with all the major players. They had to be. What they did affected time and space, tampered with the underpinnings, and only certain people could direct them to do so.
But Mynsky had lived in Myrtleville for almost a decade. Except for encrypted letters, official and unofficial, keeping him abreast of matters, he was out of the loop. There'd been rumors amongst his brothers that something of Dominichi remained. Those closest to the source felt a tear in space that would not heal. He'd learned of the killings of his comrades and, putting two and two together, surmised the reason. So, he'd been expecting, with considerable unease, this morning's turn of events.
Nonetheless, out of the loop or not, he was unaware that the inner circle had field agents, special or not. Organizations beneath them had agents who investigated the behaviour of Church offcials whose activities seemed to vie with accepted doctrine, the rules and principles by which they lived, and anti-Church radicals. This information would be reported, in summary, and where relevant and important, to the circle. But those were the only ones he was aware of. However, considering what he was about to attempt and the heat that will inevitably bring down on him, he welcomed the offer of protection from anyone.
His housekeeper, an elderly lady who snubbed her nose at the visitor, brought tea into the sitting room, poured two cups, then hastily retreated. The priest sipped, the bone in its cloth wrapping resting on his lap. "How do you expect to protect me?" asked Mynski, half-smiling. "And from what or whom? I doubt very much that Dominichi's followers ever even heard of Myrtleville." He knew that didn't make a difference; they sought both him and the bone by means other than normal channels. He was testing Finnegan, to see if he was aware of what he was up against and what was likely to come.
"When they arrive, father," he said, "you'll need someone who can pick them out of a crowd, and then eliminate them." He showed no emotion; his voice was disturbingly calm.
Mynski reacted as a cleric of the Church to that last remark, but as the only remaining member of his sect about to send the last scrap of Dominichi's body to the void and, consequently, his soul to oblivion, he recognized its necessity.
"It all depends on how soon you can perform the ceremony or ritual or whatever you call it. It may not matter. They might want to kill you for doing it as well as trying to stop you. We'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it."
Finnagan barely touched his tea; he was obviously exhausted and stressed, despite his hard veneer. Father Mynski suggested he get some sleep and guided him to a spare bedroom adjacent the garden. The bed was a welcome sight. Removing his boots, he asked, "When can you do this, father? The sooner the better."
"I have to prepare; it's not just a question of saying hocus-pocus and that's the end of it. I'll let you know." He turned and left, the bone shard stuffed in his pants pocket. He had to agree with Finnagan, there was no time to waste. He went immediately to a secret, locked room under the main altar. Inside was dark; he left the overhead light off and instead lit candles that encircled a round, marble table in the center. In the middle of it he laid a small pillow and on that placed the bone. He then went to a desk against the wall and flicked on a lamp. From a drawer he retrieved a thin book, its black cover old and faded. He hadn't performed this passage ritual for many years, he was out of the habit of thinking this way, in terms of arcane geometric symbols instead of ordinary thoughts. As he read, however, that state of mind began to surface, and with it, the otherworldy person he kept buried deep within.
Dominichi's people had the know-how to hone in on the whereabouts of the venerated bone fragment, the last remnant of their lord's body. Through it, they could tap into the powerful forces residing in unseen dimensions of roiling chaos, inhabited by violent, voracious creatures of malicious intent. A portal could be opened to grant them entrance to this plane of existence, and once here, do their bidding. And if destroyed, burned to ashes in a kiln or crushed to smithereens by a hydraulic press, the reality of what it possessed would still remain. If granulated to dust and then blown by the winds, the dark feelings and thoughts each particle embodies would infect all living things they touch. And they, in turn, would contaminate others. Fouling the very air they pass through, eventually, their corrupted nature would permeate the Earth itself, causing gradual dissolution in the forces that govern it.
All these ramifications were not wasted on the priest. Alone in his darkened chamber beneath the altar of Jesus Christ, he was about to try to save the world.
Finnegan napped for an hour, woke rested, washed up and dressed in the clothes the priest had laid out for him. Retracing his steps uptown, he walked Main street, glancing into the storefronts as he went. Past the barbershop with only one customer, passed the drug store, several kids sitting together at the counter, their backs to him, he sensed nothing. He was heading for the restaurant where the bus that brought him stopped. Slowing his pace, his boots made barely a sound. In the parking lot he noticed two black, windowless vans; their plates were from out of state.
So soon? he thought. They must've tracked him the whole way, or rather, it. Or, he had to consider, they knew where he was going before he left. That actually made better sense, he'd only been there for less than two hours. But who could've informed? And why? The only people who knew his assignment were the members of the inner circle. Could there be a spy amongst so august an assemblage? To belong to the council a person's background is scrutinized to the nth degree. What each member knows are of things arcane and otherworldly. Long years of practice and learning precede admittance. Stages of development following rogorous testing before being chosen. No confederate could slip through undetected. You must be of a singular mind. Belief and commitment at that level cannot be feigned, it must be genuine. Unless, he wondered, someone had been manipulated against his will after the fact, his mind poisoned.
He decided to investigate the vans first, see what he was up against. They could be harmless tourists, but Myrtleville was off the beaten track. People passed through on their way to somewhere else; that could be it. But still, it was too much of a coincidence.
Someone could be sitting in the driver's seat, he couldn't tell, the windows were tinted, so he approached the outside van from the right. Silently, he placed the palms of his hands on the back two doors. They popped open instantly like they were on springs. The driver spun, startled, dropped his magazine and grabbed a handgun from the seat next to him. Finnegan reached towards him with his right arm, a jet of colored plasma emanated from his hand, briefly illuminating the dark interior. The driver was thrown back against the steering wheel, then plopped over onto the passenger seat. Finnegan climbed in. He found automatic weapons and some C4 explosives. These guys meant business, he mused.
The van next to him proved to be unoccupied but contained the same kind of weaponry. They were inside eating, casual-like, as though they had all the time in the world. Something about this wasn't right. He had to make sense of the information he had.
They can't track the relic while in transit. Doesn't look that way. My purpose and what I was carrying they knew. I took an earlier flight to the city when a seat opened up. Otherwise, I wouldn't have been on that bus. They're waiting in the restaurant for the next, the one they expect me to be on. They must've been told of my itinerary and my destination. By whom? They no doubt know what I look like as well. How can that be?
Mystified by what must be a leak in the inner circle, he didn't notice the sound of footfalls coming towards the vans. Shuffling on the gravel brought him out of his reverie. The back doors to both vans were open, a stupid mistake he might end up paying for. He was crouched down in the van without the dead body, listening. Whoever it was didn't slow down, apparently suspecting nothing. When he gauged the closeness of footsteps, he leaped out, scaring the crap out of a small boy carrying a fishing pole. He apologized, saying he thought it was a friend of his and was playing a game. The kid, a little shook up but unperturbed, circled around him and scurried off. It was a lesson, thought Finnagan--wake up and focus.
He entered the restaurant through the busy kitchen, nobody paid him any mind. Vendors and stray friends were always walking through; it was a small town. From concealment behind a glass case he scanned the customers. The front booths next to the panoramic windows were full of locals, engaged in animated conversations. At the counter sat six men, all dressed in shades of black and brown, quietly sipping cups of coffee or tea. They were clearly not local. Could they be more obvious? wondered Finnagan, half-smiling. It's almost as though they want to be found out. Then it struck him.
Could they be that smart? Could they have found out--checking the passengers' lists--that I'd taken an earlier flight and had already arrived and probably delivered the package? And, thinking they were behind me, that I'd come here looking for them?
He ran out the back door heading for the church. Crossing the grass field he saw another similar van parked in the driveway. Without hesitation, he popped the back doors open; it was empty, no weapons. He entered the church and stood in the darkened vestibule. It was a saturday afternoon, the pews were empty. He had no idea where Father Mynski was; he should've found out, but was asleep at the time. He fretted to himself, frustrated. This whole thing so far has been handled very unprofessionally. It was time to change that.
Assuming they had no idea where he was either, he crept up the side aisle, moving from the shadows of columns like a panther. Nearing the recessed statue of Saint George and the side door, he heard glass break. Ready, he pushed open the door to the priest's inner rooms. Three men with auto-weapons were busy ramsacking shelves and drawers, opening boxes and throwing papers on the floor in anger. Before they noticed him, he seared them with plasma bursts from his hand. They dropped to the floor. Suspecting there were more, he searched the rest of Mynski's quarters. At the last, his bedroom, he heard the sound of a motor--the van. He dove through the open window, tumbled onto the garden path and raced around the church curvature to the driveway, only to see the van spin off.
Special Agent Tobias Finnegan wasn't exactly who he said he was. That wasn't even his real name. He was a special agent all right, but not for the inner circle, not directly. Because of his otherworldly incursions, the necromancer Dominichi had gained the attention of a race of beings who live on a planet hundreds of light years distant. In his ignorant arrogance, his activities left vulnerable the very fabric of spacetime to corruption from a parallel plane of existence by tapping into its forces and calling forth beings with superordinate powers. By creating these conduits between realities, he was jeopardizing the integrity and cohesion of the local universe. They tracked down the source of the spatial disruption, the cause of violent and random temporal fluctuations, to the planet its inhabitants call Earth. Only one organization stood out as prepared to oppose the sorcerer Dominichi--the secret inner circle of the Catholic Church. They knew of and dealt with trans-spatial phenomena, delved into its subtle inner dimensions, and explored the intricacy and complexity of alien thoughts. Through agents, they contacted them and assisted in binding Dominichi's powers and in his transference to the void, never to be reborn. However, members of the circle at that time--the eighth century--had chosen to hold onto one small fragment of bone, which they hid and swore amongst themselves to secrecy.
The news of the existence of this fragment and of Dominichi's followers' attempt to obtain it did not go well with the beings who, centuries ago, had assisted in ridding the cosmos of this serious threat. Accordingly, they sent Tobias. He was briefed on the current situation, including the history behind it, by his people and sent to Earth with a letter for the inner council. They wanted to know why they hadn't sent this one small piece to oblivion with the rest of his body. Their response of vengeful punishment was unacceptable, and the bone's possession invited what was now occurring. Fearing the power of Finnagan's world, they came clean: they sought to use the forces it could generate for their own purposes, to counter evil. He explained to them how impossible that was and how naive they were to believe it. Evil is evil, it begets evil, it will always seek itself. They agreed, nothing they'd ever tried to do, with their limited abilities, proved successful. Light lost to darkness; well-intentioned altruism to cynical self-interest; compassion and empathy to hatred and slavery. It was hopeless, and especially now that Dominichi's followers had discovered its existence, it was time to send it to the void. The only one left capable was Father Mynski. Tobias volunteered to act as courier and protect him until the deed was done. Now, however, it looked like he'd screwed that up.
He went back inside and found his raincoat. From a concealed pocket he pulled a flat, rectangular plate, hand-size. Inscribed on it were networks of grooves interpenetrating one another and spiraling to fingertip-size discs. He touched two at once. A three-dimensional hologram as tall as he appeared a few feet away. Within it stood a man from head to ankles, dressed in a sober grey tunic, his hair was white, his face smooth. Finnagan narrated the details thus far. He was requesting help. He didn't know if the followers had the priest and the bone or what they had. Did he just scare them off and Mynski was around here hiding somewhere? He asked to be sent a finder as quickly as possible. And a transporter pad would be helpful. The man in the gram nodded briskly, then said, "It's imperative that you succeed, Tobias. Keep us informed." With that, he blinked out.
No pressure there, thought Finnegan. His location had been recorded in the communications. Shortly, a finder appeared holding a pad of translation. She wasn't what he expected. Dressed in black with tight-fitting leggings and long, curly, red hair laying over her wide shoulders, she caught him by surprise. She was beautiful, what else could he say; what was she doing working as a finder? Usually, they were men devoid of personality and wit, absorbed in the arcane language of their profession. She glommed his reaction and smiled, then handed him the pad. He stood there dumbly holding it, then placed it on the tea table. It wouldn't do, at this point, to get distracted.
She introduced herself as Tamari, that was it, one name. He did the same and then said, "Let's get down to business." She pulled a flat, black sheet of callasium about a foot on a side from the satchel over her shoulder, which she placed on a chair. The ebony sheet she put on the table. Sitting in front of it, she pressed keys on a small pad in her hand and a three-foot high hologram of opaque light appeared above it. She explained that Father Mynski's genetic profile and that of Dominichi were on file. She worked the keys while Tobias sat and drank cold tea. Apparently, the housekeeper had left.
Her device didn't wirelessly connect to any earthbound electronic network, it fed directly into the morphogenetic field encompassing the planet. An ordinary road map emerged within the three-dimensional gram with a red dot showing the whereabouts of the priest. Mynski was in transit. The bone, however, was located almost directly beneath them in a secret antechamber. The schematics of the building were displayed below the map.
"There's a leak in the inner circle, I'm sure of it," he said, matter-of-factly. "Someone doesn't want to let go of the possible power, even though he doesn't know how to wield it. How else could the others of Father Mynski's group be found out; they're a top-secret organization, not even on the books as existing. They knew I was coming, where and when. They must've been watching the church, waiting for me to leave."
Tamari asked, "Why'd they take the priest and leave the bone? Isn't that their prime objective." Her tone was professional and articulate, yet casual; she was no greenhorn, thought Tobias.
"They couldn't locate it, why all the trashing searching for it. The room must be shielded somehow; the bone's resonance blocked. It would seem they want it more than they want to kill Mynski. He knows where it is but ain't talking, for now. He probably came upstairs to find me when they grabbed him. And they don't know who I am, really, except that I'm working for the council."
Tamari stared at the hologram, the red dot turned left off the main highway a few miles past the outskirts of Myrtleville, down a dirt road and then stopped in a deserted area. Finnagan stood, he had to go. "I'm going to get him, bring him back." He grabbed the circular translation pad and dropped it on the floor.
"Wait a second," she protested. "You can't do this by yourself. I'm going with you. I have the training and the skills, that's why they sent me." She pulled a holster with a gamma-ray pistol out of her satchel and strapped it around her waist.
Tobias stared at this unknown creature. He preferred working alone; that way he only had to be responsible for himself. But when she stood to confront him, face to face, as it were, he decided it might be a good idea. He was dealing with more than conventional earth-level weaponry, they had access to otherworldy forces as well. She pressed the side of the pad and it extended to another. A universal grid was superimposed on the planet and the coordinates transferred to the pads by her hand-held remote. Transporters for field agents came with two options: their self-transportation feature allowed them to dematerialize, enter quantum space, and then rematerialize at the destination point either along with the traveler, or, remain stationary until called by a homing device to its location. A handy getaway in hostile circumstances. Finnagan chose the latter option.
They stepped onto the pads. Finnagan asked if she was ready, she nodded briskly; he gave the order to transfer. In the blink of an eye they found themselves behind a row of trees, the air was warmer and the sun lower. On the other side was a compound consisting of several small outbuildings encircling a large house, three-stories high. Finnagan carried no weapons of his own, he didn't have to. He was a transplant, a descendant of a race of beings from a dying world on the other side of the galaxy who had found their way to his current home millennia ago. They possessed the ability to generate waves of plasma from the particles of space itself by mental resonance. Their brains were not human, you understand.
The compound was surrounded by an eight-foot-high cyclone fence with barbed wire on top. About twenty yards past the tree line off to their right, two men carrying machine guns stood guard at the open gate. From the trees to the gate was low grass. Finnagan whispered, "I'm betting he's in the house being interrogated. The gate's open, they're probably expecting someone. We need to move fast. Follow me." Before she could say anything, he held his palms facing the near metal shed; its side flexed making a wuh-woof sound. Startled, the guards spun in its direction. Finnagan and Tamari ran towards them, gamma-rays and plasma blazing. They hid their bodies behind the shed.
Circling to the right behind the buildings, checking each as they went, they made their way to the rear of the house where two more guards were stationed. Finnagan was about to blast them when Tamari pointed to an open window on the ground floor. They crept to it, listened, peered into a shadowy room of random furniture, then climbed in. Muffled voices could be heard coming from the front of the house as a car raced to a stop. Doors slammed, loud yelling followed. A man wanted to know why there were no guards at the gate and it wide open. They were on the back porch but the rant dragged into the kitchen. Somebody else shouted for the guards to be checked. Commotion reigned, several men ran out the back door and down the porch steps. The main ranter entered the room adjacent. Finnagan and Tamari skulked back, ready to fight or dive out the window, whatever seemed most appropriate.
But Tobias couldn't resist; he had to see who this was. A curtain hung at the entranceway between rooms. From behind it, he studied the man who was obviously in charge; there was a familiarity about him, Finnagan never forgot a face. The memory was hazy at first, but then it came to him. When he spoke to the council, he saw him in the background. Not one of the inner circle, an assistant of some kind. He's the leader of Dominichi's people?
He went upstairs, two men followed. "That's where the priest is," Finnagan whispered. Out in the room, three men sat with weapons across their lap, the life of the guard. The others had received a radio message that the bodies had been found and ran out to join the search. It was now or never, decided Tobias.
"We have to get upstairs," he whispered. "We need to take these guys out quietly. On my lead."
They stepped into the opening, Finnagan zapped two and Tamari shot a bolt of gamma-rays throught the other's head. Stealthily, slunk low, they crept up the wooden stairway. Angry voices were coming from the back bedroom. Finnagan only made out bits and pieces. The leader was through using conventional methods, truth serums and physical abuse. He was going to extract the information from Mynski's mind directly. As a practitioner of the dark arts, he could read thoughts beneath the surface of another's consciousness. Telepathy, sympathetic vibrations, perception of mental patterns, it was called many things. It was another dimension of reality one who possessed the nascent gift could experience provided he relinquished his hold on corporeality, a difficult thing to do requiring years of discipline.
Finnagan realized they had no time to waste. Sneaking around was over. They charged down the hallway to the room and smoked the two guards as they entered. The leader turned, lost in another world, his eyes glazed over. Father Mynski sat tied in a chair, his face bruised and bleeding. Tobias knocked the dazed man to the floor where he lay still; Tamari stood over him, her blaster pointed at his head. Finn untied the priest and asked if he was all right, any broken bones or internal injuries. The priest nodded no and then said hoarsely, "This is what you mean by protection?" Finn declined to answer at this point.
Scuffling could be heard down below, people were in the kitchen. Tamari pressed a button on the homing device and the transporter pads appeared in the middle of the room. "Time to go, father," he said as he helped him up. "Tamari, take him back to his apartment. I'll bring our hostage."
She held Mynski on the joined teleport pads and gave the order to return to its original coordinates. Immediately, they were gone. Finnagan heard commotion and curses of rage coming from below, they'd found the bodies. Finn stepped over to the doorway and fired at the lead man coming up the stairs; he tumbled backward causing a logjam. He could keep this up for awhile, but eventually he'd be overrun. And his race of beings were not immune to bullets.
The leader started to come out of his trance. Finn now had two fronts to deal with. Through the doorway, machinegun fire riddled the back wall and shattered the windows. He picked the leader up roughly and dragged him to the pads. He gave the command as a man charged in. Amazed shock froze him in place as he watched the two of them and the pads vanish into thin air.
The leader was tied securely to a chair in a back room of the priest's apartment. Tamari tended to Mynski's injuries and bruises as he lay on the couch, tea was all he asked for.
"What's your name," Tobias demanded. He stood behind him, uncertain of what powers he might have.
"Bartholomew," he replied, his tone casual. He saw no reason to resist.
"What's your job with the inner circle?"
"I chronicle the meetings of the council for historical records."
"So they trusted you, and you betrayed them." He wasn't sure if he should try to get a rise out of him just yet, he was still an unknown commodity. And besides, attacking his integrity and character wasn't going to get him the information he wanted. The pieces had yet to come together. So he shifted tacks. He asked, "Where'd that compound come from? Thin air? I only arrived this morning. Very convenient having it all set up right outside of town. Myrtleville isn't exactly the center of the universe."
Bartholomew laughed. "Yes, it was very convenient. The house was already there, you see; it needed a little fixing up is all. We bought it and put up the other buildings and the fence last year." He was talking as though to an old friend he hadn't seen for awhile, catching up. Was this cafe banter meant to disorient, or was he being merely disingenuous? wondered Tobias. Or was there more than one person in there struggling for dominance, unaware of each other's existence?
Suddenly, as though realizing his situation and the part he was to play, his personality shifted along with his tone. "The council had failed in their attempt to use the power in the bone," he said derisively. "I told them I had information that Dominichi's followers were planning an attack, that they'd determined the location of the relic by numinous means. We eliminated the others of Father Mynski's sect knowing that would force them to eventually send the relic here. After that, it was only a matter of time. Then, you, whoever you are, were chosen as courier and very kindly brought it to us." He laughed. Tobias wanted to fry him, but stayed his hand. He could still be of some use; his men might want him back.
"Mynski's sect. You found out who they were and where. But there's no record of them existing. How'd you manage that?"
"Surreptitious contacts are made occasionally, I keep track. They don't see me as a person, I am an object to be used. So, they suspect nothing and expect total obedience." His tone was contemptuous. Finnagan surmised he'd not been treated with the respect he felt he deserved, and this was payback.
Tobias came around to face him, he wanted to look into the eyes of one so consumed by hatred that he'd bring a world of degradation and dark, empty spirits into this one. The leader unburdened himself of any pretense. He elaborated freely and without a hint of guilt. The opportunity presented itself, he felt the tugs of loyalty, but without any appreciation for it from the inner circle. He learned Dominichi's ways with the benefit of the knowledge of other planes of realities around him. He contacted the lord's followers and told them of the bone's existence and its location. Spies among them informed the inner circle. An all-out attack to recover it was imminent.
In all his experience dealing with villains of the megalomaniac variety, it never failed to amaze Finnagan how eager they were to boast about their exploits, what they did and how they did it. Ego and arrogance, they couldn't help it. Admiration is what they ultimately seek, but for some, that isn't enough. Was it a response to humiliation, or simply lust for power for its own sake?
"My men will be here soon," he said with a smile.
"I hope so," Tobias countered as he left the room, not certain if he truly meant that.
Father Mynski was sitting up. His eyes were sharp and clear, focused. This guy is tougher than he looks, thought Finnagan. "People are coming with guns. Are you ready, father? Can you perform the deed?"
A little unsteadily, he rose. "Yes," he said, determination in his voice. "But it takes time. There are stages. First, I must separate the bone from the space surrounding it. But once I start, the process can't be interrupted for very long or else I have to go back to the beginning, reshape the temporal elementals of the room to resonate with those of the bone's inner dimensions. That's why they couldn't zero in on it; that room was displaced from this timestream. But by now, it's shifted and needs to be recalibrated."
Tobias had no idea what he was talking about, poking holes in the fabric of spacetime to eject a material object into the intervening void between parallel universes was not his forte. As Tamari helped the priest walk, they heard the sounds of gravel crunching in the driveway, vans screeching to a halt. The followers were no longer trying to be discreet, it was now or never. Tamari said she'd be right back, Tobias nodded, then strode to the front door. He yelled, "We have Bartholemew and we'll kill him if you try to enter." He heard rapid footsteps encircling the church. Tobias raced to the back room, untied Bartholemew, dragged him forward, then roughly pushed him into a chair.
It was obvious that the wounds on the dead were not from conventional weaponry. Those more knowledgeable were aware of the history, when an alien race from far away had contributed to capturing Dominichi and his banishment into the wasteland of lost souls, never to be reborn, held there by possession of this last fragment of his body. They believed they could reverse the binding spells of the inner circle and bring Dominichi himself back from the wasteland. In what form that might be no one cared to speculate. This was not much more than a hope, but zealots are born of such extravagant aspirations. Procure the bone they must. However, fighting aliens wielding unknown weapons was not something they anticipated ever having to do.
Wary of who they were confronting and not knowing their numbers, they thought it best not to rush the church pellmell. Tamari returned and took position at the back door. Finnagn saw his job now as buying time for the priest. Once the fragment had been transported, their quest was at an end; therefore, they couldn't wait forever. Bartholomew's lieutenants decided amongst themselves, as often happens in power struggles, that their leader's life was less important than obtaining the bone; it was clearly the higher priority. He would've agreed, they concurred, piously.
Forthwith, machinegun fire shattered the windows of the priest's apartment, rending, breaking, and shattering everything in its path. Tobias and the leader dove to the floor and took cover. Tamari abandoned her post under heavy fire and crawled back to the sitting room. From there she guarded the hallway leading to the rear. They could hear people running into the church, commands shouted. Tobias rolled towards the door that led to the hall beyond which Saint George's statue stood and the door to the outside. He cracked it and peered out. One man entered from the outside and another from the church, both charged down the hall, craziness in their eyes. Tobias stepped out and raised both hands letting go a wave of hot plasma, searing them chest-high; they crumpled to the floor. Behind him, Tamari zapped pulses of gamma rays over and over as men ran towards her from the garden. Finnagan jumped back into the sitting room and glanced at their captive on the floor. He was bleeding from the chest and head, apparently dead. More men poured down both hallways, weapons blazing at nothing, their fanatical rage all that mattered. The cacophony was deafening. Tamari withdrew and pushed the couch to between her and the garden hall. Tobias closed the door and stood behind it, waiting for it to broken down.
Suddenly, all was quiet. No more gunfire, no more running, no more shouting. The tension in the air tingled the skin. Tamari raised her head above the rim of the couch-back. No one. The hall was empty. Tobias opened the door and poked his head out, the same. He listened, nothing. He turned to speak to Tamari and froze; Bartholomew was gone as well. Miraculously, Finnagn's half-full cup of cold tea rested on the bullet-riddled table intact. He upended a chair and sat; his hand fluttering, he took a sip. Tamari plopped into the couch, trying to realx her muscles enough to sit all the way back. They waited for the next shoe to drop. It didn't take long.
The front door of the apartment opened, Father Mynski stood, shock shaping his face. "What the hell happened to my home?" He glared at Finnagan who smiled back, "Tea, good father?" They explained quickly what'd transpired while he was in a soundproof room in another time and spce. He reported that, although not as smooth a transition as he would've liked, the bone had been vanquished to the outer void, beyond life and death. He'd added a twist to the ritual. All those with whom the internal signature of the bone's vibrations resonated were likewise banished into oblivion. It was the final end to Dominichi's reign of terror and all vestiges of his once having walked the Earth were gone.
Father Mynski sent his report, including the gun battle, the kidnapping and torture, to the inner circle. They thanked him for his service and promised to repair his apartment and replace all damaged furniture. Finnagan had others to answer to. Three vans sat in the driveway, Father Mynski decided they would make great transit busses for the elderly and for church outings. Tamari found her satchel amongst the ruins and packed her gamma-ray pistol and holster away. Her finder hologram that had been on the table was in shards, scattered on the floor. Mynski phoned his housekeeper and told her he wouldn't be needing her services for at least a month, he was going on retreat, thank you very much. No one was to know what had happened.
All the windows of his apartment at the right-rear of the church were shattered and the garden door splintered as well. How was he to explain that? The inner circle needed to work quickly else he had no way to cover it up. They concurred. Help was on the way. He thought to cancel tomorrow's services, but knowing that would only bring people to his ruined home inquiring, decided instead to cover the damaged walls and broken windows with tarps before morning. Renovations on the Church of Our Lord and Saviour were long overdue.
Tobias wondered why all that ruckus didn't bring the police. The assault hadn't really lasted that long, but it certainly was loud. The priest explained that the added ingredients in the ritual expanded the elementals of space and time to enclose a much larger area than the chamber, projecting a time-displacement bubble of concealment. The interface created a discontinuity, a split in the fabric of spacetime, blocking all sounds and sights from within. During the gun battle, the church was invisible, out of phase with normal time.
It was late in the afternoon. They sat out in the garden at a circular table of glass streaked with gold paint. Father Mynski, a quick healer, prepared food; they ate in silence, each thinking his own thoughts. Tobias went over the operation from start to finish, analyzing his performance and noting his mistakes. Putting the puzzle together to make sure there were no loose ends. The inner circle would hear of their secretary Bartholomew. They needed to clean house and to be mindful of their treatment of people with whom they invest such confidence and who have access to secrets. He wasn't happy with them at all; they brought this on themselves, as far as he was concerned. But, this was Earth, he reminded himself. Tamari just ate and admired what to her were exotic flowers, enjoying the smell of alien fragrances.
After dinner, they sat in the quiet perfection of the garden drinking tea, letting the whole recent past slip on by, chatting amiably about life on their different planets. Eventually, they came to an awkward silence. It was time for Tamari and Tobias to go. Tamari stood and hugged the priest, a tear in her eye. Emotional, thought Finnagan. He'd have to find out more about her when he got home. She retrieved a small control pad from her satchel and pressed a button. Smiling brightly, she winked at Tobias and cooly said, "We'll have to do this again some time." As they smiled back, she wavered, shimmered, and then vanished.
Tobias had one stop to make before doing the same, to the inner circle, only not by Earth transit. The transport pad was inside. The priest looked totally exhausted as was he; it'd been a long day. Nonetheless, he rose and shook the priest's hand. A smiling Mynski thanked him and told him if he ever found himself in this neck of the woods again to look him up. Tobias Finnagan nodded, then went into the apartment to find the pad.
As dusk descended, Father Mynski entered his broken home, empty of all visitors, and dropped onto the couch. He needed to tack up coverings on the outside walls, but that wouldn't take long and could wait. It was a saturday night, no one would be at church. If only his parishioners knew the world he lived in, he mused, knew of alien races and travel through quantum space and of his ability to send objects into the void that surrounds them, what would they think of him?
The garden air wafted in, the smell of his ripening plums soothed his nerves. He let the peace and quiet embrace him, soak into his bones. As he drifted off to sleep, the image of the colorful sign on the highway entering town popped into his head, bringing a chuckle: Welcome to Myrtleville: Where Anything Can Happen, But Probably Won't.