The Fierce Feinian Female Fighters of Belfast
- 1 AMY SMITH AND LAURA NORTH HAVE THE CRAIC AND UP THE 'RA IN THE CITY OF STRAY LIGHT!
- 2 NEXT TIME: A TREASURE LOST TO THE SANDS OF TIME UNCOVERED BY THE WINDS OF WAR!
AMY SMITH AND LAURA NORTH HAVE THE CRAIC AND UP THE 'RA IN THE CITY OF STRAY LIGHT!
"Attention passengers, this is your captain. We're on our final approach to Satellite City International Airport, please put your tray tables into their upright positions and fasten your seatbelts. We hope you had a pleasant flight, and we thank your for flying Olympus Airlines, your chariot of the sky."
"Cramped as a chariot," Laura grumbled, strapping herself in as I put the small "table" back in place, causing the baby in front of us to start screaming for some impossible reason. "We could've sprung for the Alexander flight, but noooooo, you wanted to be incognito."
"I'm sorry, did you say something?" I groaned, hunched over thanks to the jerk behind me who wanted to lounge with his feet on the back of my chair. "I can't feel my legs right now because of how I've been sitting."
"Collect your things?" the flight attendant asked, Laura doing her best to smile as the girl put our trash away. "I hope you enjoyed your flight."
"Thanks to you," Laura said, the girl smiling politely as she walked away. Watching as the girl walked down the aisle, Laura turned back to me with a smirk. "Okay, maybe it wasn't so bad."
Playfully elbowing Laura, I let out a yelp as the plane suddenly lurched to the right. The passengers shouted and screamed, children crying out as flight attendants fell across the aisles. One of the bags of trash fell on Laura and I, half-eaten microwaved food falling on our heads and staining our clothes.
"We're sorry about that," the pilot said, trying to keep surprise out of his voice. "Just a moment of turbulence, we'll resume normal landing procedure now."
"What the hell was that?" I said, brushing spaghetti off my jacket and picking bits of meat out of my hair. "That was turbulence as much as I'm Catholic."
"I guess we really are in Northern Ireland," Laura said, looking out the left side of the plane. Following her sight, I saw the trail of smoke fading into the distance. "The Phoenix Front must be getting angry if they're attacking civilian flights."
"I don't think this is all civilian," I said, looking down the right aisle. I saw the flight attendant that Laura was flirting with trying to stand, her miniskirt revealing a small gyrojet pistol strapped to the inside of her thigh.
"Welcome to Northern Ireland ladies and gentlemen," Laura said, as I started to try and plan for what was going to happen next.
Following the long train of people off the jumbo-liner, I caught a quickly glimpse of the first class cabin. The wide spaces between the seats, the clean chairs and floors, even the personal screens for viewing the in-flight movie on, was a stark contrast to the cramped, stinking, loud coach compartment Laura and I had been crammed into. As I watched one of the middle-aged executives give the flight attendant seeing the first class passengers out a quick smack on the rear, I was reminded why I didn't want to go first-class in the first place. The company in coach was far more preferable.
Quickly collecting our bags, we stepped out of the international terminal with dinged and dented luggage from the ground crew's "professional" attitude. "Next time, it's Pan Am or you're on the couch," Laura said, scowling at me as she picked up her Thompson case. "I mean look at this, they scuffed every corner and nearly ripped off the handle."
"And what exactly should I do about it?" I asked, trying to keep myself calm as we navigated to the rental car counters. "Let's just grab our ride and get into the city."
The man at the rental counter smiled far too wide for someone working in an airport, his teeth perfectly white and his eyes as big as a giant squid's. "Can I help you ladies?" he asked, already typing into his workstation.
"Picking up," I said, feeling the glare Laura was giving me from behind. "Amy Smith, reservation number 538F82J-24?"
"One moment," the man said, looking more like a boy with his smile and big blue eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry, but a premium customer asked for the car you reserved, and I'm afraid it was the only one available of that model."
Taking a long and slow breath, I nodded. "Alright, do you have any other cars available similar to it?"
"I'm afraid not," the man said, smiling despite the fact that every other human being on the planet would be at least frowning a little. "We do have many brand new cars at this airport though, I'd be happy to give you one for a discount of your original reservation."
"Fine," I groaned, rubbing my forehead. "But no Chariot Motors cars, I won't drive anything they produce."
The man blinked for a second, like he didn't comprehend what I had said. "Of course ma'am, one moment please." Practically jumping up from his seat, the man disappeared behind a cloth curtain to what had to be the employee section. Looking around, I noticed two things. One, we were apparently the only ones stupid enough to actually rent a car. Two, every employee there was suddenly smiling at us with wide, white teeth. Suddenly I realized that this was what a tuna felt like in a feeding frenzy.
"Here we are," the man said, his enthusiasm somehow dampened by the fact that I probably refused the worst cars they were trying to push onto the customer. "A Ford Anglia, ready for the road. How would you like to pay for this today?"
"Bill it to this account," I said, handing the many a note with all the necessary information. Ignoring the man I quickly led the way to the exit, trying to shake those too-wide smiles from my memory. I quickly checked the tag on the keys, and groaned. "Car 73 on the lot."
"It's official, I already hate Ireland," Laura grunted, awkwardly carrying her case to keep the strap from ripping off. The walk through the lot was a long one, dodging the occasional executive speeding by in a sports car with his trophy wife/mistress on his arm. Some had cybernetic implants on their faces, small ports that could be hidden by even the worst combover or pathetic hairpiece.
Laura stopped in front of me, and we collided as I tried to walk through her. "Oh you're kidding me." Looking up, my jaw dropped. The Anglia was a relic from twenty years ago, rust starting to eat through the bumper and wheel wells. The left headlight was cracked, but that didn't matter to be because of the missing right headlight. The back window had a massive fracture running roughly up the center, and one of the tires was nearly too small for the car.
"This is a joke right?" Laura said, her body almost deflating from the sight of the car. "This isn't the car, it can't be."
Checking the key and the parking spot, I covered my eyes and nodded. "It's our car alright. Look, let's just get into and get moving okay?"
Getting in, we practically had to shove our things into the back with much grumbling and near-screaming. Taking long, slow breaths to not say anything I'd regret, I started the engine after three tries.
Driving on, we watched as the green countryside rolled by our windows. Small houses and villages passed in the distance, and I noticed that above many of the houses there were green flags flying above many houses with a Celtic knot on the center of it. We drove in silence for a few minutes, and finally I sighed. "I know it probably doesn't make much sense now. But if there really are cults out there we can't be flippant with our money and how we behave. If there isn't any cult, we can go back to how we normally do things. But if there are cults around, we need to be careful and not give them any openings."
"I'm just saying, it seems like a stretch," Laura said, finally looking at me again. "You just heard one story in a temple of some crazy fringe in Peru, then you hear about something that has the same name from the Network? How do we know that this isn't all a bunch of insanity cooked up by the kind of people we usually ignore wandering around Brasilia with sandwich boards about how the end is near?"
"I can't tell you," I said, shaking my head. "I just have this feeling that it's a cover for something else. Maybe a Soviet play to grab suckers, like what I've heard about the People's Temple in California."
Laura chuckled. "Christian communists. Do these people even read what happens when communism takes over? Maybe they should talk to some Russian Orthodox churches and ask what happened to them."
"Maybe," I said, seeing a roadblock in the distance. A platoon of RUC officers and RIR reservists stood at an intersection of what the signs said were the B39 and Long Rig Road. An RIR Retriever and a pair of Ranger scouts sat by the intersection, blocking the road in our direction with the APC and hastily setup barricades along the route. "Babe, do you have the paperwork?"
"Had it since the flight," Laura said, quickly pulling the papers out of her pockets. A trio of RUC men waved at us to stop. One had a Webley on his hip, but two were carrying Mini-14's that were undoubtedly dragged out of the surplus armory for use in Northern Ireland. "Are you doing the talking?"
I nodded, waiting for the officers to get to the window before I did anything. The ranking officer stood next to the window, while his compatriots stood to the passenger side and rear of the car, rifles down but with the safety off. "Roll down the window please?" I did as asked, struggling for a few seconds as the roller kept sticking from what I could only presume was rust. "Identification miss?"
I quietly handed over our passports, waiting patiently for the officer to speak again. "Ah, Amy Smith and Laura North. What brings two explorers to our part of the world?"
"Personal business," I said, politely nodding to the officer. "May I ask what's going on up ahead?"
"Funeral procession," the officer answered. "They're bringing some Front boy back to his home for burial. Do you have any weapons or dangerous materials in the car?"
"We have a Thompson submachine gun, aBrowning pistol, and an electrical weapon in the trunk with all the applicable paperwork," I said. The constable raised an eyebrow, but when he looked at the paperwork Laura handed to him through the window he slowly took a step back from the car.
"Open the trunk please?" he asked. I nodded, turning off the car and slowly, carefully getting out to walk to the back. The officer stayed at the front of the car, watching Laura just in case. For her part, Laura didn't move or do anything stupid as she waited for the stop to end. Unlocking the trunk, I backed away as the sergeant found Laura's case and opened it. He opened the breach and magazine to find both empty. He found a separate box of ammunition to the side and nodded. "You both came from Belfast..." The officer sighed. "Satellite City airport?"
"Yes sir," I answered. "What gave it away?"
"The state of the luggage," he answered, moving on to my luggage. Opening my suitcase, he quickly located my pistol case. Opening it, he made the same checks and nodded before picking up my gauntlet. "Would this be the electrical weapon?"
"Yes, just put your hand inside and flex your fingers," I said. The officer did so, and as he balled up his hand the gauntlet started charging. "Now just open your fingers and it'll shut off."
Taking the gauntlet off and closing everything, the officer nodded and handed the passports and paperwork back. "Alright, you're both good to move on. You can wait for the procession to pass if you want, but I'd recommend going around another way."
"We'll be fine here officer," I said, nodding to him respectfully. "Sorry for the trouble."
"Trouble?" The officer and his fellows laughed a little. "Miss Smith, this was the most calming traffic inspection I think I've had in a year."
Nodding as the officers walked back to the barricades, I settled back into the car as a mass off people slowly started coming into view. "There it is," Laura said, a quartet of men bearing flags and a lone piper leading in front of the hearse, and a massed crowd following behind the coffin held aloft by the pallbearers. The men at the lead were what I was most interested in, as I started to pick out what they were dressed in. They wore surplus military sweaters and had dark green scarves wrapped around their faces. Their eyes were obscured by aviator glasses, and their hair was covered by dark berets with only a single, impossible to make out pin on it. The coffin itself was covered in a green flag with a red mark on the center of it, and thinking for a second I realized it had to be the ancient symbol of Ulster, the Red Hand. On the top of the coffin were a black beret and gloves, and the mourners marched arm in arm, to the point where the road was impassible. On both sides of the road were RUC cars and riot police, who I could only guess were there as a formality. Laura leaned back in her seat, mesmerized by the sight. "It's so huge."
"It's so well guarded," I said, watching as the soldiers and RUC started to tense as the procession came close. As it passed, the marchers stared at the barricades and soldiers with contempt, though I noticed that the soldiers made it a point to salute the coffin as it passed by around the bend. The entire procession was eerily silent, even as the echoing footsteps managed to reach my ears. But in minutes the funeral was gone, and the barricades were being struck. The officer that inspected the car soon waved us forward and as we passed I saw that his gun had been out of the holster for the funeral, hidden behind his back with his riot helmet.
"Are you sure we left Winterset?" Laura asked. I couldn't answer her then, I just chose to focus on the road ahead to the sprawl waiting to swallow us up.
Continued on Page 16
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"This is the city that a satellite built?" Laura said, as I pulled up to the outskirts of Belfast. I silently had to agree, as the outskirts of the city looked pathetic. The houses were small, built like they were meant to be in a ripoff of a Levitt family project. Two-story homes were spread out as if slowly encroaching outwards on the countryside, but as we drove past I noticed more green flags hanging in the windows or flying from rooftops. Many of the houses looked like little more than hovels, small little plaster-molded creations that didn't even look like they had plumbing. "Place looks more like the City of God on a good day."
"Straylight didn't care about who built what houses," I said, stopping at an intersection let some old women pass by. They shuffled hurriedly across the road, barely able to walk by the look of it. "They cared about who would be able to build their worker lots for the lowest bid."
"You're kidding," Laura said, watching as a group of boys threw a ball against a house and managed to chip away at the exterior wall. "What road are we on again?"
"That sign says Shankhill," I answered. "Hopefully that church up ahead can get us some directions." Pulling to the side of the road, checked around and saw that aside from old women and little kids, Laura and I were the only ones on the street. "Let's take the gear out just in case," I said, noting that everything around us was covered in a thin but evident layer of grime. "We're gonna need these later for sure." Laura groaned, but said nothing as we managed to finally pull out the luggage from the cramped trunk. Putting on the best face I could as Laura stood behind me holding her own case, I knocked on the bullet-hole strewn door.
A kindly looking old man answered the door, his round wire glasses snug against his face. His gray hair was wavy but starting to recede, and his suit was simple and a few years out of style even for a man of the cloth. "Good morning ladies, may I help you? Are you hurt at all, in any danger?"
"Not yet reverend," Laura grunted, shifting her case so she could hold out her hand. "Laura Smith." "Amy North," I said, holding out my own hand. "Pleasure to meet you reverend..."
"Playfair," he said, smiling like a grandfather as he shook our hands. "Sometimes doctor, but most often the Reverend Mr. Playfair. So, do you need any help ladies?"
"We're looking for a place to stay the night," I said, already feeling Laura staring at the back of my head. "Do you know if there's anywhere we can stay for the next few days?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you many places you could stay," Playfair said. "Most of them are either burned down or full of the kind of company two young ladies wouldn't be safe being around."
We looked at each other for a second, and despite her disappointment Laura sighed. "Um, you don't know who we are sir?" Laura asked, smiling at Playfair. "We'll be fine anywhere you put us."
Playfair started to answer, but he suddenly started looking down the road in surprise. Looking down the road, we saw a pair of Medusa scout cars and a Testudo heavy transport coming down the road. The old women and children scattered, hiding in doorways or fleeing down the side streets. I watched as the auxiliaries marched down the street with a swagger, waving their weapons around and shouting at shop owners. They wore their hair tall and with garish colors dyed in. One of them was even stupid enough to scratch the back of his head with the barrel of his pistol, and didn't even have the scrap of intelligence to keep his finger away from the trigger.
"Quickly, both of you come inside," Playfair said, grabbing my arm. "You don't want to be here when they see you."
"Lead the way," I said, grabbing the luggage and hurrying inside. Playfair quickly shut the doors behind us, sliding a massive wooden beam down over the door and hurrying to watch out the nearest barred window. Laura and I joined him, looking over his shoulders as the men marched down the street.
"Legion Security?" Laura asked, sounding bored.
"Who else," Playfair whispered. "They've started to increase their sweeps of Shankhill, and the Falls and Ardoyne." Playfair blinked for a second. "You're not scared?"
"Because they're auxiliaries," I said, leaning against the nearest wall. "They're just hired guns and junkies. They're the worst shots in the world and can't fight without shooting themselves up so bad that they don't know their own names."
"If they survive," Laura chimed in. The three of us watched as the auxiliaries "marched" down the road, shoving one another or staring wide-eyed into the sky with their mouths hanging open, like the sky was something they'd never seen in their lives. "How often do they do this a day?"
"Usually it's two large patrols in the morning and afternoon," Playfair said, his knuckles gripping so hard they were going white as the patrol passed the church. "They don't do anything at night, I'd say because they don't want to deal with any night fighting." "With the Phoenix Front?" I dared to ask.
Playfair shrugged, the question rolling off like his clothes were teflon. "That or the RUC, there's been skirmishes in the past few nights on the edges of the city."
"Figures," I said. Even in America, the police never liked it whenever Legion Security took over. Like how the IBEW would brawl with Marathon telecomm workers in New York, or when farmers would form "community movements" against Beantil moving into their towns. The RUC saw themselves as the real cops, the Legion and their auxiliaries were just competition trying to move in on their territory.
The auxiliaries pointed at the church, laughing or flipping it a V. Playfair sighed, letting out all his tension as the patrol moved on. "I suppose we're better off here," he said, going to take the bar off the door as he wiped his sweat away. "St. Peter's is barely holding itself together."
"What's St. Peters?" Laura asked, getting the beam for Playfair.
"Oh they're the local Catholic cathedral," Playfair said, smiling at Laura. "They've been protesting the construction of the city since four years ago, and in return they've been attacked more than once for trying to do good works for the people in this city. Well, I suppose attacked is the wrong word," Playfair said, looking around as he though. "No, I'd say they've been left without help compared to the rest of the city, Legion Security didn't do a thing when they were attacked after they stopped their 'protection program' for the city."
"Does the RUC have any power around here?" I asked.
"Oh, around the buildings the city still owns and in Stormont," Playfair answered. "But the rest of the city is owned totally by Straylight, no one gets around it."
"Can we get to the cathedral from here?" I asked, Laura picking up her things.
"I think you could," Playfair said. "It might also be the best place for you to stay, they've been forced to act as an impromtu shelter when people get evicted without warning. Which is far too often for my comfort."
"We'll take the chance," I said. "Thanks for your help reverend, we'll be around if you need us."
We started to walk out confident again, but we froze when we saw that our car was now missing it's tires. I felt my jaw drop as Laura raged silently next to me.
"Or I could drive," Playfair said, quickly walking back into the church. "Elizabeth, I'll be going over to Msng. Lonergan for a moment, hold things down here." Smiling Playfair took out a set of keys. "I'm afraid it might be a tad cramped though, my car isn't the most spacious of vehicles."
"At this point I'll take anything," Laura said, before she let out a growl to the heavens on seeing Playfair going around the church with a hand crank. "What did we do!?"
Getting out at the church, I started to feel my arms getting sore from hauling the luggage around like a sherpa for an heiress. "Are you sure I can't help with your things?" Playfair asked, readjusting his hat as we got out of the aging car. "You're both must be exhausted at this point."
Laura let out a breath as she hefted her things up again. "Nope, we're good, just get the door for us?"
Playfair nodded, knocking on the massive wooden doors at the front of the cathedral. The building was massive, far taller than the small church Playfair looked after. Where Playfair's church was made from brick, the cathedral was a massive stone citadel amongst the urban refuse that surrounded it. Trash and torn cloth lay scattered around the church with used needles and bottles of Ambrosia Cola and whiskey. There were the most faint traces of graffiti on the sides of the church, but they were all unfinished. Above the two spires of the cathedral, two flags flew proudly in the afternoon, just underneath the crosses. One, the flag of the Vatican. The other, a green flag with a harp and Hand of Ulster. All the windows had bars, but the largest window at the front of the church was boarded up with wood.
The door farthest to our left opened, and out popped a blonde man with round wire-rim glasses and five-o'clock shadow. "Ah, Rev. Playfair," he said, his accent a heavy Scottish brogue. "I see you've found two more in need of a place to rest."
"Only for a time I assure you," Playfair said, smiling as the man ducked back into the entrance and opened the door in front of us. "Fr. Anderson, this is Amy Smith and Laura North."
Anderson smiled and beckoned us to come inside. "Welcome ladies. Oh, the monsignor wants to talk to you reverend. He's up in the choir loft."
"Something's happened?" Playfair said, suddenly looking worried.
"Another incident," Anderson said, looking disheartened. "I'll make sure they're situated." Playfair smiled, patting Anderson on the shoulder before rushing into the cathedral. "Well, it's not quite a fine hotel ladies, but I would say that you'll be able to rest easily here."
"Thank you," I said, smiling as best as I could following Anderson inside. "Rev. Playfair said this was a temporary hostel for people who've been evicted?"
"It was,' Anderson said, his smile fading as he led us inside. "Now it's something else."
Walking inside the church, I was struck by how many echoes there were inside, and a split-second later that the Catholic Church really knew how to work with acoustics. The pews were filled with people, some laying down trying to sleep, others running their fingers over the job listings trying to desperately get out. Older couples and individuals sat praying, or falling asleep in the pews. Mothers corralled and gathered their children, rocking them to sleep or watching as they played with each other on the cold marble floor. Pictures of saints looked down from on high, giving the impression that as holy as they were in the past, they could do nothing from where they watched in the present.
"Is everyone here comfortable?" I asked, watching as a man shuffled past with a rope for a belt and his clothes fraying at the edges.
"As much as they can be." Leading us to an unoccupied section of pews, Anderson smiled to us. "We typically set up a section of sheeting to cover the pews at night, but we have some bedding to make things a little more comfortable."
I suddenly felt myself feeling incredibly guilty for even thinking this was necessary when I could afford a hotel. "Are you sure there's enough room? I mean we can definitely find somewhere else to stay if you need this space."
Anderson waved off the objection. "There's more than enough space here for everyone we need to take in," he said, smiling as a trio of young boys ran towards us, a smaller girl running after them as the boys waved a doll in the air. Standing in front of the boys, Anderson stopped them dead and plucked the doll out of their hands. The boys looked frightened, backing up as the girl ran up to them with a scowl. Reaching over the boys, Anderson patted the girl on the head and handed the doll back with a wide smile. Giggling, the girl skipped away from the boys. Looking back up at Anderson, the boys tried to look as guilty and sorry as possible. Chuckling, Anderson ruffled their heads and left them to go back to running around the church. "I'm sure you'll both manage to find a place for yourselves before too long."
"I don't suppose we can talk to the monsignor?" Laura asked, putting our luggage down next to the pew. "We came here for something important, and I think he can help us."
"I'm afraid the monsignor is busy with a good many matters," Anderson said, nodding to us. "I'll leave you be ladies, please be at home here."
"Thanks," I said, waving as Anderson walked off through the cathedral. Then I turned to Laura and leaned in close. "It feels like no one knows who we are."
"Do you think they're expecting two blondes?" Laura said, shoving her case under the pew. "More importantly, how do we find the Front?" "That's what I'm not sure about," I said, opening my case and checking that my clothes weren't damaged at all. "We aren't going to look like your typical Belfast belles."
"How long did it take you to work on that?" Laura asked, smiling at me sarcastically.
"Longer than it should have," I answered. I left my luggage on the seat of the pew, knowing that the giant crucifix standing over the altar would keep the greater majority of the people inside the church from getting any ideas on some new clothes from their new roommates. "Right now, I want to lay down and not feel someone kicking the back of my seat."
"That's good, because none of these pews have a back," Laura said, laying her head down across from mine on the next pew in the row. "Something tells me the nightlife around here is what we're looking for."
I ran my hand along her arm and smiled. "Sorry I got so heated at the airport."
"So am I," Laura said. "But we need to talk about what you said earlier when we wake up okay?”
I didn’t want to answer her. As my eyes got heavier, I idly counted the saints above the wall. I stared at a woodcut on the wall beside us of a scene from Jesus' crucifixion, of Jesus falling with cross in-hand. I started to think something about Jesus and where we were sleeping, but I fell asleep before it could become anything important.
You always feel reinvigorated after a quick nap, and I felt more rested from sleeping on a hard wooden pew than I ever would flying Olympus. Rolling over, I shook Laura lightly and heard her groaning as I shook her. "Hey, babe, c'mon, we need to get up." Sitting up, I looked around and saw little hand changed. Stretching out on the pew, I sat up and shook my head, rolling my neck around and feeling the satisfying snap of the bones inside cracking. The sounds inside the church weren't very changed from before, outside of a few less people being inside. Laura yawned next to me, sitting up and blinking a few times.
"So, ready to start taking stock of things?" I asked.
"Not yet," Laura said, turning to look at me with sympathetic eyes. "Babe, you said you were going to actually book a real hotel room this time. I even trusted you to do it yourself."
I stared at the marble floor of the cathedral, unable to look at Laura even when I knew she was trying to be understanding. "I know, but I just couldn't, every time I tried to dial them up I just..."
Laura put a hand on my back and started rubbing it to try and help me calm down, angling her eyes to at least see mine. "I know you hate them babe, but this is too much. I was willing to look past staying with Tenzin because he was willing to let us stay, but we're sleeping with the homeless when we aren't."
I labored to try and keep my breathing under control as some very bad memories tried to force themselves back into the present. "I did try babe, but I couldn't dial the phone. I swear I tried and I just couldn't."
Laura sighed, pulling me close and hugging me as I got myself back under control. "It's okay, let's focus on what we need to do right now then."
I nodded, pulling my head back up and taking a breath. Standing and stretching, I walked for the nearest doors and stepped outside. The sun was already hanging in the middle of the sky, and children from inside the church were running around with each other, kicking half-inflated soccer balls and drawing in chalk on the pavement. Anderson stood watch over them, smiling down as they laughed and played, ignoring the urban madness around them.
"Hey father," Laura said, letting me get a few more seconds to reorganize myself. "Got a second? We wanted to talk with you and the monsignor about a few things."
"What do you need ladies?" Anderson asked, not taking his eyes away from the children.
"Well, we wanted to talk to you about a few things in Belfast," I said. "Starting with what's going on in the cathedral?"
Anderson sighed and shook his head. "When the Straylight executives decided that they would buy up the land in the area, they raised rent to such an unbelievable rate that many families couldn't afford to pay anymore. Some left for America, others were left destitute. So Msgr. Lonergan decided to open the church as a sanctuary in the original definition of the word. Now we give the families a safe place to watch their children while they go out to look for whatever work is available."
"That's quite the charity," I said, starting to feel back to normal again. "How do you manage it?"
"Well we are part of the single largest charity in the world," Anderson said, smiling again. "We get enough funding and food from the Church that we can keep the people her at least somewhat comfortable until they can bounce back."
"So what's with all the older people?" Laura asked. "They can't work anymore can they?"
"No, that is quite the shameful predicament," he said. "But the city's government can't do a thing without Straylight filing a dozen or more legal motions to prevent any kind of welfare effort being made."
"It undermines their authority," I said. "If you let the government compete, you're literally telling the people that there's another power around."
"I suppose, I never had much of a mind for politics." Still not daring to take his eyes away from his charges, Anderson suddenly seemed to get suspicious. "You're both asking quite a lot about the situation in the city. Are you reporters of some kind?"
"Not quite," I said, nodding to Laura. "We're explorers, from the United Technate."
Anderson blinked but again, to his credit, his eyes were locked on the kids. "Explorers? I thought all they did were traipse through jungles stealing other peoples histories."
"Yeah, get that a lot," I said quietly. "You see father, some friends of ours in the US were nearly driven out of town or killed, and there might have been some people in this city that know why."
Anderson's face hardened. "You can just come out and say it you know. You think we can lead you to the Phoenix Front."
"Can you?" I asked. Anderson's face hardened, clearly going into thought over what to do. "The Technate is supplying them with weapons after all. Maybe we could put in a good word to work out a better agreement?"
"You think you can make that happen?" Anderson didn't sound very convinced. "For all I know you're both ACIN trying to worm your way into the Front to destroy it from the inside."
"Because ACIN would come right out and say they want to be brought to the Front," I said. "Look, we think the Front is selling weapons to some very dangerous people, and they're endangering lives while they do it. I thought the Front did all they could to avoid civilian casualties."
"The church doesn't officially condone any actions being taken by the Front," Anderson said. "We only know them in trying to heal the wounds caused by the fighting in the city."
"So if we tried to find the Front and told them we talked to you, they'd treat us like the enemy?" I watched as Anderson tried to work through the situation in his head, and I knew I needed to keep pushing. "The Front needs support from the outside, and you want these people protected from people like the ones running Straylight and paying the Legion. We can help each other out, and maybe hit these monsters where it hurts."
Anderson was silent, watching the children play and laugh across the courtyard of the cathedral. In the distance the city seemed not just miles but decades away, a distant land of bright gaudy neon that wanted nothing to do with Anderson's desire to help the people around him. Taking a breath, Andreson smiled again. "You can come with me tomorrow, I'll be paying a visit to the cell we work most closely with." Laura and I smiled, but then Anderson kept speaking. "Understand this. These people are my charges, those I have sworn to protect. If you should do anything, anything, that endangers their hiding here? I will see to it that you both are given the proper punishments for doing so."
So I've gotten that kind of threat a lot in my life. But when I saw Anderson's eyes, he meant it. You can tell when someone isn't quite mentally stable by their eyes a lot of the time, and for Anderson it was obvious that living in "Satellite City" had taken a toll on his soul.
"So what can we do until then?" Laura asked, before a soccer ball rolled up to her. Smiling at each other, we both ran to join in with the children, Anderson quickly going back to a kindly smile as we tried to ignore the distant echoing of gunfire and cursing from all around us.
As the sun started to set, Anderson and some of the women inside the church started to set up a long table, four women carrying to massive, steaming pots out from the rectory. The children quickly ran inside to wash their hands in the holy water, Laura and I panting after the workout the kids had given us. Sometimes playing with kids is a better workout plan than going to a health club, that's a definite.
"It actually smells pretty good," Laura said, watching as the homeless started to congregate with one another as the first signs of a line started to form. "But after food off an Olympus flight, anything smells better."
"We should probably wait for everyone else at least," I said, hanging back as a woman came out carrying a box full of bowls and spoons. "Besides, this could be our chance to try and talk with Lonergan. Where's Fr. Anderson?"
Laura nodded. "Still hanging around where we left him." Looking over, I saw Anderson still standing by the wall of the church watching everything with that same quiet smile.
Walking over, I realized that the line was not only orderly, but everyone was at least smiling to themselves. I couldn't believe it honestly, that someone could keep up a smile when they were busy sleeping in a church. Anderson finally decided to look towards us after a long day of watching the children, slumping a little as he was apparently comfortable enough to slouch.
"Long day?" I asked.
"I only really get involved with the children if something's gone wrong," he said, smiling. "With you two, I'd have exhausted myself trying to keep up. And my vestments really don't suit themselves well to football."
"Speaking of, is there a chance we can speak with Msgr. Lonergan before bed?" I asked. "He's running this show after all, I don't want to step on his toes."
Anderson nodded, standing up again from the wall of the cathedral. "The monsignor is probably in his room by now, follow me."
Anderson led us into the church, practically empty now except for one or two mothers nursing their infants. Not daring to look directly at the women and embarrass them, I still felt anger rising in me. It was bad enough that they'd been forced out of their homes with their families treated like the same trash outside on the street, but knowing that these women had infants in need of care was nothing short of enraging.
Anderson led us to the back of the church near the altar, leading us through a vestibule to a door saying, "Rectory". Following Anderson inside, Laura and I both shared at look at the smell of stale age inside. The rectory was sparse, barely anything inside. Pictures hung from the walls of the cathedral's long history, including a few pictures of men with ammo bandoleers and rifles posing for a picture from about 1920. Just another reminder that what we were seeing was only the latest bloody chapter in the story of the Irish people.
Leading us up a flight of stairs, Anderson held up a hand as he went to Lonergan's office. But before he could knock an aged, rough voice came from behind the door, "Who is it?"
Anderson shuddered a little. "Fr. Anderson sir, I've two people who wish to speak with you. Explorers from the Technate come to try and investigate something."
The door opened, but I saw that Msgr. Longergan was sitting behind his desk writing. Then he looked up at the open door and groaned. "We need to get these blasted doors fixed before the winter."
"Sir, Amy Smith and Laura North," Anderson said. "Explorers from the United Technate."
Lonergan seemed to sit up a little straighter at those words, narrowing his eyes at us as we walked into the office. The room was covered in fishing memorabilia, preserved fish hanging on the walls and pictures of old seminary fishing retreats either hanging from the walls or waiting of the desk to inspire memories. "Technate explorers. I can say that this is quite unusual. What brings you both to Belfast?"
"Let's call it a work of peace," I said, nodding respectfully. "You see sir, I don't like to dance around an issue. It takes too long to get to the bottom of a problem and it might lead to both of us getting into some convoluted mess that goes nowhere. We need to speak to the Phoenix Front, we think they're selling weapons to some unsavory types."
Lonergan's nostrils flared a little, leaning forward towards us over his desk. "I see Fr. Anderson has decided that speaking plainly is under his purview as well," he said, Anderson wilting a little. "Publicly, we can't afford to be associated with the Phoenix Front. As you can imagine, the Catholic Church being associated with those considered terrorists by the Allies would have profound and painful implications." Typical Catholic Church party line; get our name anywhere near the mud, and we'll deny until the Second Coming. Sitting up again, Lonergan seemed to steady himself emotionally. "But as I can imagine, Fr. Anderson already told you that there is a cell we are associated with. They keep the area safe from the Legion, and in return we tell them what the people tell us outside of the confessionals. It's worked well for all involved so far, at least it had until the Commando started wreaking havoc."
"The Commando?" I asked. "What's the Commando?"
"The Red Hand Commando", Anderson said. "The first splinter off the Front. They claim to be fighting for the loyalist population of the city, calling for a return to the way things were before Straylight Electronics. Unfortunately this apparently means that Republicans are their eternal enemies."
"And threatening to rip the Front apart at the same time," Laura said. "Do you think this could be a right hand left hand?"
"It's possible," I said. "But we'd need to talk with them first."
"Fr. Anderson is seeing them tomorrow, they've asked him to come over." Standing up and walking towards us, Lonergan somehow managed to convey authority even when it was clear he was long past his prime. "You may stay the night. After that, I suggest you find new lodgings immediately before you're both out on the street."
"Understood sir," I said, edging towards the door. "If that's all, we'll leave."
"It isn't," Lonergan said. "Fr. Anderson, please step outside. Alone." Not knowing what else to do, Anderson nodded meekly and shut the door behind him, and the echoing of feet down the stairs put any hope of him having the sense to eavesdrop out of my mind. Lonergan kept staring at us, and I couldn't tell if he was trying to figure out how to speak to us, or if he was about to try and rip the sin out of us. "Now I need the both of you to listen, and listen carefully. The Legion likes to seek out problems, it gives them an excuse to poke around and try to find the Front. I can't let these people be endangered by any actions you both take in the city." I tried to speak, but Lonergan held up a hand. "First, I need you to tell me why you're both here, the whole story."
I looked at Laura, who could only shrug. Taking a breath, I said, "We think the Front is selling arms to a dangerous branch of the Network of Truth Seekers."
"The who?" Lonergan asked.
Laura blinked. "The Network? The conspiracy nuts? The ones who keep talking about molemen and flying saucers?"
Lonergan sighed. "The only news we're able to find on our radios and the few televisions we can find comes from Argus. We've heard nothing about any Network or such as you say. Only that the Front kills more children with each bombing or that the jobs are coming any day now." Lonergan's hands balled up, his aging skin going white on his knuckles. "The only source of outside news we have is the Front, and some things are understandably kept secret."
"Well to make a long story short, the Network were using Front-supplied weapons to terrorize instead of aid," I said. "We don't think the Front realizes who they're selling to though, we just want to talk to someone who can try and change this."
Lonergan nodded. "My words still stand though. If the people in that church are put in danger, I will make sure they're protected." Judging by the murderous glare Lonergan was giving me, I didn't question his sincerity. "Now if you both don't mind, I need to get to bed for mass tomorrow."
"Don't mind us," I said, Laura and I nodding goodbye and quickly moving for the door. Again, the door opened for us, and Lonergan let out a long, exhausted groan. Quickly moving down the stairs, we found Fr. Anderson looking at us anxiously. I shook my head, walking back into the cathedral. "Let's just get through tomorrow," I told him. Walking back to our pew, Laura and I watched as some of the boys started moving a series of ropes across the roof of the church, pulling a series of bedsheets into place over the pews. Young families and mothers tried to comfort their children, or curled themselves into small balls to try and find some comfort in sleep. The older ones got ready to sleep sitting up, unable to stand the discomfort from sleeping on the pews.
"So do we just tell them what we told Lonergan?" Laura asked, as we settled back into the pews we'd used earlier. "You need more than just that to get these guys to stop selling their weapons to a customer."
"The Front likes painting itself as freedom fighters who avoid civilian casualties," I said, barely able to stifle a yawn. "Once we tell them what really happened in Iowa, they should be able to verify it in time to stop whatever shipments they were planning on sending out next." Shutting my eyes, I listened idly as the church slowly settled into calm. A baby cooed, or a mother tried to sing a gentle lullaby in the Irish to their child. Cut off from the crucifix by our sheets, I decided to focus on the high arched ceiling instead as my eyes got heavy. Part of me wondered why the church kept building these giant things, then part of me realized that I lived in a suite in Brasilia, so I didn't have much room to talk about being smart with my wealth. Again, I drifted off into dreamland, and as I did I realized that through everything, Lonergan had never asked why we hadn't gotten a hotel. Before I could put the thought together, I realized I was asleep.
Continued on Page 26
Every day a person goes missing. You, yes you, can help find them and bring a happy ending for their bereaved families!
Missing: Rod Serling
Age: 44 years
Last Seen: Taking a cab from the CBS corporate headquarters on West 52nd St and 6th Ave, New York, NY, USA.
Description: Typically wears hear with a small pompadour; Typically clean shaven; Smoker; Chiseled jawline; Brown eyes
Important Information: Serling was last seen leaving the CBS headquarters immediately after the mid-broadcast cancellation of his latest series, "Unresolved Enigmas". Serling left without taking any luggage, and told his family nothing about his plans after boarding the cab. Reports on Serling's location at this time are few, but it is believed Serling has not left the continental United States. Serling is not considered a threat, though he is a veteran pathfinder and may still be a danger if pushed.
If you or anyone you know sees this person, alert your local authorities immediately. Their safety and health may depend on your quick action.
Collecting our things from under the pew, we watched as one of the boys staying in the church set the altar for the morning mass. I guess the boy would typically wear a robe or something, because he looked very out of place in his worn and dirty street clothes.
"Are you both ready to leave now?" Anderson asked, walking up as the civilians sat up and tried to get themselves ready for mass as best they could.
"As we can be," I said, pulling up my luggage. I guess I was lucky that we were up early, otherwise I would have had to face down all the boys rushing up trying to get whatever money they could for carrying our bags. I mean it's not that I wouldn't pay them, but I didn't want them to carry around anything with a firearm inside. "Where are we going?"
"To a small pub," Anderson said, leading the way to the front of the Church. "It isn't so far, but if we happen on a patrol we won't have much choice but to bribe them."
"We can do that," I said firmly. As we walked out, the mass started, and as one the congregation started to sing the hymn. Walking out the Front door we saw Fr. Lonergan walking into the Cathedral, dressed in green vestments and flanked by two scruffily dressed altar boys. Not knowing what else to do, I made sure to drop some money into the collection box at the front of the cathedral before leaving.
Outside, we saw Rev. Playfair waiting at the gate to the cathedral. Laura barely stifled a groan at the prospect of trying to squeeze into his ancient car again, especially with the massive Fr. Anderson along for the ride. "Good morning ladies," Playfair said, leaving the car running so he wouldn't have to crank it again. "It's good to see you both again. I managed to find a mechanic willing to tow your car back to the rental company, I hope you don't mind."
"Thanks reverend," I said, lighting up at the generosity. "We'll pay you back, just tell us how."
"No need, none at all," he said, opening the doors for us to try and wedge ourselves in. "Msgr. Lonergan told me where you were going though, I have to say that I don't feel either one of you should be getting involved with such people as these."
"You don't support the Phoenix Front reverend?" Laura asked, holding her suitcase as I tried to shove myself into the back.
"I don't support violence you see," Playfair said, looking thoughtfully out from behind his round wire glasses as I kept trying to force myself to get comfortable. "Oh, I agree with the Front about what's happened to the city of course. But I've always seen violence as a failure. No, only patient action can succeed you see. When one puts true effort into a change, it lasts far longer."
Stuck behind my things, I said with a muffled voice, "But haven't the peaceful marches been crushed underfoot a few times already? And when they're protected by the Front, don't they manage to actually get something done?"
Playfair nodded. "You have some point in there. But then I never could work myself up enough to hate someone for simply being who they were in life. I simply try to guide others to where the Lord needs them to be, like Fr. Anderson."
"Amen," Anderson said. As he got into Playfair's car, the entire chassis shifted to the left side. "Now, off to the pub."
Riding down the Falls, I was struck by how many of the walls seemed to be painted up. Every few yards it was like a community art project had come through, painted a dozen murals, then moved on to the opposite side of the street. At least half of the houses flew the green flag with the Celtic Knot and Red Hand, or were painted with graffiti reading, "Legion out of Ireland! Free the imprisoned city!"
"It almost makes you feel patriotic for them," Laura said, the idle sounds of a city still surrounding us. Cars drove past and people still milled about, but underneath it all you could feel a tense nature belying everything else. "Wonder why the Legion hasn't tried to take it down?"
"Belfast is visible to the outside," Anderson said quietly. "The satellite was too heavy to achieve a stable orbit, so it constantly falls out of place above Earth. Since literally every utility is run from the satellite, they need to keep it stable. But then they add more electronics to it to expand their capabilities, which keeps making the satellite heavier."
"It's a vicious cycle, we must destroy it," Laura said, doing her best Curly Howard. "Remind me to kill a cycle."
"Hit this," I said. Grinning like a fool, Laura did so, and I spun my arm around and playfully hit her over the head. "What's got me worried is that the Legion traditionally doesn't care about crime or terrorism unless it's specifically directed at them. If they're patrolling the city, they have a reason for it."
"Well no sense in wondering about it now," Laura said, as we passed by an office with the sign on top reading, "Éire Aontaithe". The building was bedecked with flags, some new, some shot up and half burned. "The Front can help with this problem you've spoken of, but don't expect it to be for nothing."
I started dwelling on what Anderson said as we drove down the Falls. Down the road we traveled, passing massive apartment blocks and row up row of quickly built, poorly-maintained houses. Small shops with colorful signs tried to draw in customers in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, as the urban detritus of a sprawl lay scattered everywhere. Junkies huddled into corners as elderly women stared out of second-floor windows. Children ran through the streets, crushing discarded needles underfoot. But as we walked people kept staring at us, and I couldn't shake the feeling that this time it wasn't from fame.
"There it is," Playfair said. In the distance I saw it, a massive neon sign with a laughing ugly red gargoyle painted on it. As Playfair pulled up on the curb, I noticed that the bar was heavily battle-scarred. Bullet holes, mono-wire marks, and spent brass littered the exterior. There were no patriotic signs or slogans outside, no indication that it was anything other than a bar for the people that was caught in a bad side of town. Unlike most of the windows at the cathedral, the window bars at the Red Devil were either broken, bent, or half-melted. "I'll stay with the car, they don't usually steal the tires when someone is with the car."
Anderson led the way to the door, still smiling as he opened the red front door. Then a child from across the street cried out, "Fr. Anderson!" Turning, Anderson beamed brightly as a group of children ran over with a soccer ball. "You can both go in and wait at the bar, I'll follow in when I'm finished."
"If you're sure," I said, leading Laura into the bar as Anderson spoke with the children. The inside was quiet, but it was barely eight in the morning when we got there. The bar was empty, the chairs stacked on the tables and bar with the floor freshly swept. But as we got to the bar, I heard voices from the upstairs. Whispers and hushed words that could only ever mean conspiracy when heard by someone else.
Moving slowly, Laura was half crouched as I scanned the corners and quietly scanned the bar. Looking around, I saw the back door and the stairs. Creeping slowly through the empty beige bar across the coal-black plastic floor, Laura gently pushed the door to the stairs open. Laura led the way up, the cramped, ancient stairs gently creaking as we made our way up. On the landing was a small hallway, one of the doors open slightly. The whispers were getting louder, and it sounded like a man and woman talking with each other. As we got to the landing, I checked down the hall and saw the rest of the doors were closed, and no one else sounded like they were awake if they were there at all.
We got on either side of the door, Laura counting down as we got ready to move. I took a few deep breaths, Laura putting her hand on the door. I counted down, mouthing the numbers as I pulled down my fingers. Three, two, one...
We threw the door open and ran into the door before we nearly tripped over each other to stop. It was a bedroom, a sniper rifle, EX-41, and LAW in one corner, but that wasn't what had our attention. A man and woman stood inside, the woman sitting on a desk with her legs wrapped around the man and her short blonde hair mussed up and the top buttons of her blouse half-undone. The man's red beret was askew, and the woman's skirt was nearly pushed up past her thighs.
"What the hell is going on here?!" the woman shouted, quickly pulling a blanket off the bed as the man turned to face us with his camo jacket unbuttoned as he kept cursing in French. "Who the hell are you, where'd you come from?"
"Sorry, must be the wrong bar," I said, Laura and I stumbling backwards to try and get out the door. "Well go now, sorry-" That was when I was grabbed from behind and had a black bag shoved over my head.
"Always with the black bags," Laura groaned before we started getting dragged down the stairs.
If you've never had a black bag shoved over your head, the biggest problem is keeping your feet steady on the move. In this case, it was trying to make sure we were actually walking down the stairs versus flailing our legs like two drunk idiots being dragged into the bar. I tried to make a break for the bar when we hit the landing, but I wound up slamming into Laura and whoever was trying to carry us. I tried to grab for the bag but felt two sets of hands grab my arms as footsteps pounded down the stairs. Laura started trying to shout, but someone slammed a hand over her mouth to muffle her. I tried to aim my kicks where they could actually hit someone, but every time I tried I just sent my leg through empty air. I felt the hands wrestle mine behind my back again, and I heard a heavy door open ahead of us from what I thought was away from the bar. Trying to still wriggle out from what I could only guess were Front fighters, I felt a cold chill the closer I got to the heavy door.
"What in the blood-soaked legionnaire hell is happening here?" Anderson shouted. As I kicked both my legs up to try to brace against the door frame the hands holding me fell away, and I slammed into the cold floor, hard. Groaning, I rolled onto my front and ripped the black bag off my head, stray hands of hair falling over my eyes.
There were five people that were above the bar. Two we'd already met. One was a woman with short, almost-white blonde hair with a cigarette sticking out of her mouth, standing next to a woman with long black hair and Japanese features and an almost fearful look behind her wire glasses, like she was curling up on herself at the sound of Fr. Anderson storming in. The last woman was a long haired platinum blonde with piercing blue eyes and a proud stance despite looking barely older than eighteen. Compared to Anderson, it was like watching a chihuahua growling up at a wolfhound. "They came upstairs and barged in on Pip and Seras, we did what we needed to."
"These aren't enemies," Anderson groaned as he picked me up off the floor. "These are Technate explorers, they're trying to talk for now."
The girl glared at me, clearly still suspicious but saying nothing. I started to hold my hand out, but then Rev. Playfair ran in looking panicked. "The Legion, there's a patrol coming down the Falls a few yards away."
The people around us scattered, slamming the front door shut and careening upstairs as Anderson led Playfair into the basement. Not willing to lock myself downstairs just yet, I followed the cell upstairs to see the two people we'd walked in on already at the nearest window, weapons ready.
"What the hell are you doing?" the man growled as the patrol started to come into view, his hands busy opening a LAW. "You should both stay in the hall before you get us all killed."
"Sorry if I'd at least like to see how I die," I whispered back. The patrol finally came into view, same pattern as before. Two Hydras and a Testudo, auxiliaries swarming like flies around them. That was when the convoy stopped, and two legionnaires jumped out of the Testudo and started walking down the street. They reached behind a bus stop and dragged up a junkie, staring at the two like he was going to be killed. They started exchanging words with the junkie, and held up a needle. The junkie started nodding, and suddenly had a Heckler shoved into his hands. Pushing the man onto the road, the legionnaires crawled back into the Testudo, and the patrol rolled along again, until it was finally out of earshot a few minutes later.
"Ugh, that's another one," the woman said, lowering a FAIL. "And what precisely were you thinking? Who told you to come up here?"
"We weren't shot were we?" Laura said. "And why are you surprised, the Legion never hid that they were taking people."
"It matters when they do it to make it harder on us," the platinum haired girl said as she took out a cigarillo. "They knew that these are people we know who've fallen on hard times. If they get pointed at us, we wouldn't be able to shoot at them and show our faces. Now I suggest we all go downstairs and have the men of the cloth explain all this to us before we each do something we'll regret."
Laura and I calmly followed the group down the stairs, seeing Fr. Anderson opening the door. Rev. Playfair let out a slow breath, looking relieved that nothing had happened. "I think I'll take my leave from here," Playfair said, looking like he needed to catch his breath. "Ladies, call if you need anything."
"See you 'round padre," Laura said, Playfair nodding and waving as he walked out the door. "So he doesn't get involved at all?"
"The good reverend is a better man than most," Anderson said. "He doesn't want any part of the fighting, and we don't very well feel like forcing him to take part. Now, introductions seem to be in order. Amy Smith, Laura North, these are the Red Devils."
"Sorry about that," I said, nodding to the man and woman. "We thought something was happening upstairs."
"But it looks like we were too early," Laura said with a grin.
"Enough of this, I have to go to work," the blonde said. Adjusting her clothes, what looked like a police uniform, she gave the man a quick peck on the cheek and glared at us as she walked out the bar.
"That was Seras," Anderson said, chuckling a little. "That is her boyfriend Pip."
"Enchanté," Pip said, bowing a little and kissing the top of my hand.
"Yumiko Takagi and Henrietta Wolfe," Anderson said, pointing at the two women that had probably tried to carry me into the basement. The Japanese girl bowed a little, smiling politely at us. The blonde woman just nodded as she took another drag. "And that's everyone to meet really."
"So why are you both in our city?" Integra asked. It was direct, it wasn't peppered with pointless niceties, and I found myself appreciating it.
"I didn't know you owned the place," I said, unable to resist the urge to play around a little. Then I got serious. "We need to talk with your leadership, we think you're selling to people who don't have the best interests of civilians at heart."
"We deal with many organizations, some opposed to the Technate's policies," Integra shot back. "Fr. Anderson and Rev. Playfair might not be involved with our actions, but they will not promise you safety if you're threatening our operations."
"You know the Network?" Laura said. "The lunatics who keep spouting off about conspiracies and saucer men from Venus?"
"That depends on the context," Integra said calmly. "Why are you interested in the Network?"
"Some of them tried to kill innocent refugees from Tibet," Laura said. "Pretty bad to be associated with you guys, you're all about preventing civilian casualties aren't you?"
"We have methods in place to prevent such occurrences," Integra said, Heinkel and Yumiko walking up the stairs away from the conversation. "Plus, we aren't the only part of the Front. Others handle the weapons and associations with the contacts we've established. Do you think that a group like ours would give up our secrets so lightly?"
"When you get weapons from the Technate we do," I said. Pip's face twitched, but the girl, the girl who couldn't have been more or less than the same age as me, stood straight as she continued to puff away on her imitation cigar. "Face it, your little group wouldn't be anything without the Soviets, or the Confederates, or the Technate. You're so desperate for money you have to come crawling to bigger kids on the block to find weapons to sell to other wanna-be revolutionaries. If we don't go back, or even worse, we go back with some choice words to say, there goes one of your better suppliers of weapons."
Integra chomped down on her cigarillo a little harder, the dried tobacco crinkling as her teeth bit into it. "And what would happen if we were to help you with this task?"
"Then some shipments out of Fortaleza might get stopped in Belfast for a few hours to refuel and resupply on their way back from North Africa," I said, doing my best to bluff that I actually had that kind of pull with the people who could actually make that happen. "Presuming we can talk with your leadership."
Integra didn't move, thinking carefully about what I'd said. Laura was standing behind me, doing her best to look intimidating as possible to back me up. Then Integra broke into a smile. "Mr. Bernadotte, tell Henrietta and Yumiko to call the Pimpernel and the Dark to the pub tomorrow morning. Then get a set of comforters into the basement so our new guests can sleep for a few hours, they're probably still getting over their flight."
Pip nodded, walking up the stairs with a confused look on his face. "I think I should take my leave as well," Anderson said, backing towards the door. "Ms. Hellsing, ladies." Watching Anderson shut the door behind him, Laura and I just kept staring at the girl in front of us waiting for something to happen.
"Okay, they'll be over tonight," Pip said, coming down the stairs with two comforters and some pillows. "Hope you two don't mind, but we only had two spares, so you'll have to share it to sleep on and get under the covers."
"We'll just have to make do then," Laura said, not letting on to anything. Leading the way, Pip led us into the basement and set out the comforters. Nodding as he left, Laura and I waited until the door was shut to start whispering to each other.
"So, think they're suspicious?" Laura asked, setting herself down on the comforter.
"They have every reason to be," I said, opening up my suitcase to check my gear. "Anyone could be a Legion stooge or ACIN plant trying to get inside to get as much information out of them as possible before the hammer comes down."
"Well you saw the same gear in that room I did," Laura said, taking off her boots and flak vest. "Anyone tries to take this place on, they'll run straight into a massacre."
I didn't want to agree yet, all I'd seen upstairs was people who knew how to point a weapon at someone else. Laying my jacket down, I settled onto the comforter and felt the stiffness of the concrete pressing up against me from under the feather-lined sheets. Feeling Laura press up against my back, I smiled and let her wrap an arm around me. Yeah, it's gonna sound corny, but being with Laura made it easier to sleep in the basement of a terrorist-controlled bar than the best hotel suite Belfast could ever offer.
I finally blinked awake a few hours later, hearing glasses clinking and chairs being moved about in the bar. Rolling over, I saw Laura still asleep, eyes fluttering a little as she dreamed. Sitting up as quietly as I could, I opened the door to the basement and cringed as it creaked in protest. Slipping out, I walked to the bar and tried to rub the sleep out of my eyes.
The bar was bathed in a warm soft light now, inviting and homey for anyone who would be looking for a drink. Pip, Henrietta, and Yumiko stood behind the bar, the wood polished so well that it reflected and stocked with every kind of hard liquor and thick beer you could think of drinking. That sadly wasn't what caught my attention. There were women seated around the bar, all dressed in a variety of ways. A girl with red-hair down to her waist sat bored at one of the booths, dressed in a schoolgirl's uniform with pleated skirt, saddle shoes and all. A blonde girl sat at the bar, wearing a multicolored mod dress and go-go boots. A girl looking like she came from the south of Spain lounged in a booth with an unlit cigarette in hand, white shirt and black pants combining with her pose to try and make her look like a seductress. A Japanese girl rounded them out with a China dress and a leg hitched up to show off her thighs, since the Legion probably didn't go for yukatas.
Pip smiled at me. "Good, you're up. The Pimpernel and the Dark are on their way, they're bringing food too since you were probably getting hungry by now."
"The Irish hospitality," I said, walking behind the bar. Leaning close to Pip, I gave him a glare and whispered, "No one here had better be doing anything against their will."
Pip quickly shook his head, looking insulted that I would even insinuate such a thing. "We're about to open though, so unless you want to get wrapped up I suggest you get back into the basement."
Nodding, I went back to the basement. Part of me wanted to go off on Pip, but I held back. After the attack on Los Angeles, I knew what some people had to do just to make sure they had a decent meal for the night. Maybe in another time I would've let myself get worked up and angry, but if these women were willing to do what they needed to in order to live, I had no right to judge. Walking back into the basement, I caught the most bare outline of a light switch in the darkness along the wall. Reaching for it, the room was barely illuminated by a single bare bulb from the ceiling. The basement was empty, except for a single chair in the corner, and even after what I was sure had to be days I now caught on to the faint smell of bleach on one of the walls.
"Five more minutes," Laura groaned, pulling the comforter over her head to try and block out the world. "Are those guys here yet?" she said from under the blanket.
"They're on the way with food," I said, Laura quickly sitting up and wide awake. "They're running a cathouse here too." Suddenly Laura's face fell, a troubled glare forming instead. "Pip says they're not being forced, but we'd better be on our toes if anything happens."
"As long as someone's answering questions, I'll be fine," Laura said, putting her vest back on. From there we just waited, listening for any kind of different sounds from the bar. After about an hour, we started to hear louder voices and shouts coming from the bar, heavily accented Italian men in bragging tones talking about their plans for the night. The longer I heard it, the more I was wishing for the sweet release of deaf.
By the time the noise from the bar was reaching a fever-pitch, the door to the basement screamed open and two men walked in behind Integra. One wore a black leather jacket with British military pins on the lapel. He wore dark sunglasses and wore a knit garrison cap, and his bearing screamed military. The other man was a polar opposite, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans with an unruly head of hair and a thick black mustache covering his lips. He didn't carry himself like a soldier, more like someone who knew how to act on the streets of a rough town.
"Gentlemen, Amy Smith and Laura North," Integra said. "Ladies, they've confirmed your identities thanks to sources outside of the city."
"Ladies," the man in the leather jacket said. "You can call me the Orange Pimpernel, this is my counterpart, the Dark."
"Pleasure," the Dark said, nodding to us. "We understand you have some troubling news for us?"
"Depends on how important your weapons sales are to you," Laura said before I could even speak. "You both know about the Network?"
Both men nodded. "Yes, the Network are steady buyers for the weapons we've managed to get to them," the Pimpernel said, standing at ease while the Dark sort of shifted from one foot to the other. "We've been told you have issues with the Network regarding some incident in America, so we asked our contacts to look into it as best they could. However, you are both here. Which means we will need something from you both before we can trust your sincerity."
"Meaning you want someone to help you do some dirty work," Laura said, glaring at the two. That was when she caught the look I was giving her. "What? We both knew why we were coming here."
"Time and place babe, time and place," I said, finally getting a word in. "Listen, we honestly don't want to stand in the way of anything going on in Belfast right now. If you help us, we can go back and spread the word that the Front is worth supporting. But that can't happen without our questions getting answered."
The Dark and Pimpernel looked to one another, the Dark nodding his ascent. "Alright," the Pimpernel said, looking back at me and somehow managing to stand even straighter. "We can tell you that yes, we are selling arms. But there's another group in Belfast that's been doing the same. We learned about them a short time ago, they claim to be acting in our stead."
"They're trying to reignite the fighting between the communities in Belfast," the Dark said as he leaned against the basement wall. "Things are bad enough trying to fight the Legion and watching out for ACIN, we can't have fighting inside our own movement either."
"Is there a reason for them to try and start infighting again?" I asked.
The Pimpernel let out a sigh. "We've tried our hardest to smooth out as many differences between the unionist and republican neighborhoods as possible, but there's still holdouts. Much of East Belfast was left alone as the sprawl plans were being carried out, they're considered holdouts to the old way of thinking in much of the Unionist community."
"And the republicans?" I asked.
"A few of the westernmost neighborhoods still say we should carry on against Stormont," the Dark said, almost embarrassed. "We're trying to get our own houses in order before we can really do anything about these problems you talk about."
"Which is where you both come in," the Pimpernel said, in a voice that was practically commanding us to do as we were told. "This group has a safehouse in Highfield, they're using it as a kind of impromptu barracks for their men. We think they're bribing the Legion to not pay attention, there's been no raids on the buildings even when the men inside are clearly walking out with their weapons."
"So take out the safehouse, then we get to talk about what's going on with the weapons." I nodded, as did Laura. "Okay, we'll help you, but we won't do it alone."
"My cell will help with this," Integra said. "If neither commander has any objections?"
"You'll also be responsible for minding our guests during their stay," the Pimpernel said. "Make sure they stay out of trouble, understood?" Integra nodded. "Good. Now, we'll be off to find out more about this problem you've brought up to make sure it wasn't any of our bagmen." Nodding, the Pimpernel and Dark slipped out of the bar, Integra shutting the door behind them to block out the noise from upstairs.
"Nice guys," Laura said, crossing her arms. "So what now, we just hang around in the basement until you need us?"
"We've already scouted the location," Integra said. "You're both outsiders, you're better off waiting until we take you to the location the night of our raid to actually see the location."
"Then do you at least have some food?" Laura asked. Integra nodded, walking out of the room and back in with a box. Opening it up, we found two sandwiches and some water inside. "Thanks."
Integra nodded, taking out another cigarillo and lighting up as we started to dig in. "So, explorers. You must be very recent ones then."
"About two years now," I said. "Lonergan told us about the media blackout."
"How I wish it were a blackout," Integra said, chuckling as she took a puff. "The truth is we've been overloaded. Argus keeps broadcasting all day long, every day of the week. Everything from banal stories involving new academies being opened to painting our movement as brutal child-murderers. People are so bombarded that they just tune it all out. They don't even bother turning on the radios or televisions anymore from how bad it gets."
"There aren't any other options?" Laura asked with a mouthful of sandwich.
"Argus transmitters are so powerful they literally intrude into any other broadcast frequency," Integra said. "Even BCN has trouble coming through clearly here."
"You're not missing much," I said. "BCN had to adopt a lot of Argus' style just to stay relevant."
"Shame," Integra said, tapping off some ash. "I enjoyed their investigative reports."
It's weird, I'm telling you from watching this girl, to see someone who barely looks out of their twenties to act like they've been around for almost sixty years. Those are the people you watch out for too, they're the smart ones in a room full of people. Watching her smoke away under the bare bulb, I saw that for all her youth her eyes were aged well beyond what they should've been. So either the lesson is don't be a terrorist, or don't live in a Sprawl.
"So we have all our gear ready," Laura said, laying her Thompson out and stripping it to see everything was still in good working order. "If we can't get out and kick their asses now, what can we do?"
"Rest and keep yourselves ready," Integra said, walking out with a smirk on her face. "We'll go over our plans with you tomorrow before making the hit. Sleep well ladies, you'll need it."
As the door creaked shut behind her, I let my muscles relax a little. "Well, they aren't gonna kill us yet I guess."
"Why use the kid gloves on these guys though?" Laura asked. "I thought the Front was getting a reputation for dealing with traitors."
"The same reason the Technate won't start a war against the Confederacy, it's just too much trouble right now." Sighing, I again tried to drown out the noise from the bar and just couldn't. Figuring there was little else to do, I went to the door to try and listen on what was happening outside.
"Oh babe, did you drink all of it?" one of the girls asked. Daring myself, I cracked the door to see the blonde mod hanging off a legionnaire stumbling towards the stairs. "You know we can only go upstairs if you finished it all."
"Of course I d-did," the legionnaire slurred, swaying in his armor like the Tin Man after getting his oil. The fool still had his holograms running off duty, and if you've never met someone from Legion Security before, that's the sure-fire way to pick out the macho morons from the professionals. "That B-B-Blarney Stoned special, it always gets me...gets me going!" Laughing, the legionnaire stumbled up the stairs, the blonde rolling her eyes the second he looked away from her. Sighing, I shut the door again and settled back onto the comforter.
"So who can we tell about that cult stuff?" Laura asked.
"Right now? No one," I answered, keeping my eyes shut. "We don't even know if there is one yet, or if the Network is just as crazy as the Inkarri."
"I think the Network win that one hands down," Laura said, putting her Thompson back with her luggage. "So, up for a walkabout tomorrow?"
I smiled. "I can't wait to see what else this city has to offer. Who knows, we might even find a leprechaun."
"Because that's all you need," Laura said, laying down next to me again. "More gold in your bank account."
I chuckled. "Someone has to keep you fed and out of trouble."
Laura elbowed me a little, making it easy to see the grin on her face. "I guess you'll do for now."
Walking into the bar the next morning, we saw everyone wearing balaclavas and carrying weapons. "Okay, did I miss something?" Laura asked, barely managing to catch a mask thrown at her by Pip.
Integra grinned. "Perfect timing, we have a job to take care of straight from the brigade commanders." Henrietta and Yumiko wore the same outfits as Integra, surplus tiger stripe camo with jeans and boots. Henrietta carried two Webley revolvers, and Yumiko had a katana tied to her side. It would have been intimidating if she wasn't shaking so nervously where she stood. "We have a fundraiser to take care off this morning, and you'll need to wear those to make sure no one can recognize you later."
"This should be interesting," I said, pulling the mask over my head as Laura walked back to grab our gear. "Where'd the girls from last night go?"
"Back to their families," Pip said, checking his EX-41. "The van's waiting outside."
"We're ready to go then," Laura said, handing me my pistol and shock gauntlet. "Lead the way."
Pulling down our masks, and then waiting for Yumiko to take the time needed to try and fit hers over her glasses, Pip led the way out straight into a waiting van. Loading in, we felt the van suddenly lurch forward into the street. Once more the sounds of the city of Belfast filled the air; gunfire and destitution.
"Our donors don't know how large a donation to give," Integra said, still smiling. "We'll have to make sure we get plenty of it before we can leave."
I let out a groan. "You don't have to use the fake military slang, just say you're robbing a bank."
Integra laughed. "Alright then. The branch of Minos Banking and Loan, they have two legionnaires at the door and two Helios agents inside. A lot of security for a rather small operation."
"And we go in, take the money, then leave." Laura nodded. "Okay, perfect, what then?"
"We escape," Integra said. "Not every plan needs to be some complex."
"Run in, shoot everyone that's an enemy, run out." Laura nodded. "We should try that sometime, it doesn't involve us getting captured."
"You wanna sleep on the couch?" I said, Laura laughing a little at her moment of victory.
"Enough with the comedy, we're here." Parking, Pip kept the engine running as we piled out of the van. "Remember, six minutes, then we're out. No sticking around this time."
Integra slammed the door and tapped the car twice. Running with her Walther pistol out, I noticed that the second everyone saw us, there wasn't any panic of cries for the police. Instead, the women and children ran into their houses as stores quickly flipped their signs to, "Gone to tea".
The bank was built like an ancient Greek temple, a shrine to the lira in a thousand tiny hovels and tenements. The two legionnaires at the door looked twitchy, but their helmets weren't made like the typical legionnaire model with a widened visor. These looked cheap, like someone hadn't made them to actually be on the battlefield. They had no peripheral vision, and only reacted to us when Integra and Henrietta shot them both down.
Integra charged into the bank, firing into the ceiling and smiling like a lunatic. The customers inside screamed and ducked down, men throwing themselves either over women or into the nearest corner. Every one of them was dressed in what looked like the best clothes they could afford, stitched together coats and patched pants with cracked glasses and cobbled shoes. The tellers all instantly threw up their hands, but I couldn't tell if that was from being trained to or because they knew it was the quickest route to survive. They all wore more recent clothes, new and fresh enough that you could smell the packaging on them. "The money in this bank is now the property of the people of Belfast, no heroics and everyone walks away healthy!"
One of the Helios agents tried to hold Integra in place, but Henrietta started shooting the second she saw the energy pistol. The other one wisely dropped their zero-point pistol and held their hands up with the others behind the counter. Integra didn't have any of it, and jumped over the counter and smacked the agent across the face with her pistol, blood flying across the back wall. "We'll ask for the money now please, no more false surrenders!"
Laura and I stood by the door, we knew that the both of us weren't going to be much good in a bank job except as spare firepower. Daring to look back, I watched as Integra stood watch over the tellers filling up cartoonishly large sacks with the ₤ symbol stenciled on the side. Some of the customers dared to peek up at the robbers, then tried to puzzle out why Yumiko stood sheepishly in the middle of the room quivering and looking around like she was trying to keep from panicking.
"Toss the bags to the door," Integra ordered. The tellers did as told, and threw the bags towards the door, eyes locked on Integra's gun. "Now stop filling up the bags and toss some money to the people here now." The tellers blinked, freezing where they stood and looking at each other like they didn't know what to do. Integra solved their dilemma by firing another shot into the ceiling. Quickly the tellers grabbed some more wads of cash and threw them into the center of the bank, customers looking up in surprise at the money and Integra, trying to figure out if both were actually real. Finished, Integra checked the wall clock then looked back at the tellers. "Now destroy all your records, right now where I can see it."
"Time," Henriette barked, keeping her guns on the tellers as well.
"We have it," Integra barked back. The tellers quickly took out as many of their paper files as they could, tossing them in a pile in front of Integra like the sacrifice before a heathen god. Once all the papers were fished out, Integra waved them away with her pistol. She knelt down, and seconds later I watched as a small column of smoke started to rise from behind the counter as Integra stood up in the center of it. "Now, where's the manager's office?"
One of the women shot her arm up, pointing past the vault to the right. Integra nodded, and I heard her footsteps echo into the back. Then a door opened, shots rang out, and Integra walked back into the room with a Syndicate computer in both hands. "Okay, we're leaving. Everyone not behind the counter, grab your money and get out!"
The civilians bolted for the door, the money vanishing like an ACIN agent. As the last ran out, the van roared up with a side door already open. Laura and I didn't need to be told that we needed to keep the bank doors open as the cell threw the money bags inside and piled in. Firing a few more shots inside the bank, Integra ran into the van and slammed the door behind her. "We're clear," she shouted. "Get us out of here!"
The van lurched forward, quickly picking up speed as we ran down the street. "Five sacks and a computer," Integra said, Henrietta laughing as she shoved a hand into Yumiko. "More than we could ever make in a year before this."
"I hate to burst the celebratory bubble," Pip groaned, "But it looks like one of the patrols took a new route today!"
Without waiting Henrietta kicked open the back of the van, pistols up as two Hydra cars sped towards us. Without waiting their guns started to chatter away. Pip kept trying to swerve left and right, but the van was just too big. Rounds flew everywhere, piercing the sides of the van or bouncing up from ricochet. Kneeling like she was in prayer, Henrietta waited until one of the cars was close enough to make out the wires hooked into the driver to start firing. The Webley revolvers snapped more than popped, massive spiderweb patterns appearing in the glass of the Medusas as we sped through Belfast. Lesson to learn, bulletproof doesn't mean invincible. It lost control, speeding into the side of a building with a sign saying, "Hot food inside! Ask now!" Just to add insult to injury, the car caught fire.
"Do you two actually plan on doing anything?" Integra barked. Giving Laura a nod, I watched as she nudged Henrietta back and knelt on one knee. The Thompson came up, and that familiar typewriter sound erupted in the streets. Bulletholes and cracked glass slowed the beast, but then it launched grenades at the van. I pulled Laura back as Integra reached out and yanked the doors shut behind us. That was when the screaming started, people crying out and yelling in fear to run from what I could hear beyond the van.
"Sear gas," Integra told us, finally pulling her mask off. "The van is sealed, nothing can get in unless we let it."
Laura and I nodded but didn't say anything. The bank robbery showed us exactly how the Front did things. There were no theatrics or showmanship, no winding speeches or pauses to talk. They walked in, shot their enemies down, then ran back out before they could be caught. God, if MIR starts to act like instead of darting through the jungle, we'd be in for some hurt.
"I don't think that was a patrol," Henrietta said. "I didn't see any Tetsudo or gaggle of junkies scattered across the road, it was like those two cars were waiting in case something happened in that bank."
The van hit a sharp turn, then finally started to slow down. I was starting to feel uncomfortable not knowing where we were going, but I just kept my mouth shut for now until I needed to start raising hell. "What matters is that we escaped," Pip said, opening up a small compartment with a radio inside. Turning it on, he scanned through the frequencies until he heard a police dispatch.
"All patrols be advised, bank robbery inside city limits. Suspects reported to be driving a small sedan, all males."
Pip smiled, leaning back in his seat and he rode on. The women started to relax as well, even though Yumiko was still quaking in terror at what happened. Henrietta took out a cigarette and lit up, offering the light to Integra. Integra leaned over and lit her cigarillo, taking a deep breath and letting out a thick cloud of flavored smoke. "That's it then, you've proven that you're somewhat trustworthy with a mission."
"Oh I feel all a twitter," Laura said. "So what happens now?"
"We go back to the bar and get this all to the commanders," Integra said. "Once we're finished, we move on to dealing with those men we told you about earlier. Oh, and don't go anywhere near the dockyards today."
Normally I would ask questions when given information like that, but Laura and I nodded as Pip cruised through the city, smiling as he watched a squad of Hydras and a massive limo speed by in the direction of what I figured was the bank. Despite PIp's smile, I was worried. Limos don't speed by for bank robberies, especially in a sprawl.
After a few minutes drive, we stopped at the back of one of the buildings with Éire Aontaithe over the front door. Integra jumped out the side with the computer in hand and into the building, then back out and back into the van. Nodding, Pip pulled out back onto the road, and after about twenty minutes we pulled up across the street from the pub. Quickly everyone jumped out with the money and sped for the door to the pub, and once we were safely inside I saw two men quickly walk up to the van and drive away with it. A well-oiled and practiced operation. Especially since they had two outsiders with them.
"Excellent job everyone," Integra said, whipping off the mask. "We'll keep the money inside the basement for now. Everyone get some sleep, we have a long night ahead of us." Everyone nodded, taking off their gear and carrying the cash to the basement. We stayed in the bar, taking out our magazines and clearing our breaches. "So, you both have some idea on how things work in Northern Ireland?"
"The general idea," I answered. "Criminal techniques to get things done, then hit the news later when people are paying attention."
Integra nodded. "The criminal techniques work for a reason. And now we can at least trust you both to not flinch when we need to take care of our business."
"Well that's just a glowing review," Laura said. "So when are we gonna take care of the weapons?" I put a warning hand on Laura's shoulder, and with a growl Laura took a long breath and started counting. "Sorry, people I care about are in the line of fire with these things."
"Many people have many loved ones in the line of fire today," Integra said firmly. "Now I recommend you both go and get something to eat."
Nodding, Laura and I went quickly changed into some fresh clothes, sans what we'd worn to the robbery. Walking back down the Falls Road, we heard more gunfire off in the distance. Nothing close enough to duck to the ground over, just the distant chattering of Hecklers every few minutes far into the distance.
"I can't see any sign of gang graffiti," I said as we walked. "Just murals everywhere about what's happening."
"Maybe the Front drove the gangs out," Laura said. "Look at how they robbed that bank. They don't think of this as just a business, this is out-and-out war to them. Imagine what they'd do to their enemies."
"If we stay on their good side we'll probably find out." Looking up the street, I saw a neon sign of a plate with a crossed knife and fork rocking in the soft breeze. Tapping Laura and pointing to it, we both smiled and picked up our pace. The thought of a fresh full hot meal was too much to resist.
That was when the brown van pulled up. We both stopped, watching as a group of men stepped out. They were big men, workers without work to find. A man wearing a black shirt and pants with a white belt stopped as he got out to stomp a cigarette out on the sidewalk before nodding, leading his men inside. "Guess I was wrong," Laura said. Staying back, I suddenly realized that once again the streets were empty. Doors were suddenly being shut everywhere I could turn to look, but this felt different from when we robed the bank. Instead of herding the children inside, mothers literally dragged any children they could off the streets. Instead of simply flipping signs around, shops shuttered up as customers scrambled inside before they were left on the street. I quickly realized that we were the only ones outside along with the van. I grabbed Laura by the shoulder, and slowly we moved towards the nearest doorway. Even if they wouldn't let us inside, we could at least get out of the path of any flying bullets.
"What do you think?" I asked.
"It's collection," Laura said, watching as the men disappeared into the building. "But that's a lot of guys to use for a little hole in the wall."
"Maybe they're trying to look tough?" I said.
"More like they're trying to make sure everyone gets the right message," Laura replied. Everything was quiet for a few seconds outside of gunfire far in the distance, then a woman screamed and the men walked back into the van smiling and laughing with each other. The man in the black outfit lit another cigarette as he got into the van, and as they drove off I saw that there was a symbol on his shirt, but I couldn't make it out before the van drove towards the north side of the city.
Laura didn't need to tell me anything, she bolted from the doorway to the restaurant as I followed behind her. Skidding to a stop, I took in the scene. The shop was a shambles, broken glass and scattered chairs everywhere. A woman sobbed behind the counter, kneeling over a bloodied man. "Oh God, Paddy, don't close your eyes! Stay with me, please don't close your eyes!"
"Get to a phone," Laura said, hurrying behind the counter of the shattered remains of the plates and glasses. "Ma'am, I'm trained in first aid, what do you-"
"Get away!" The woman started to bat at Laura, my girlfriend jumping back to dodge the wild swings. The woman cradled what I could only guess was her husband in her arms. Laura said nothing as I dialed, she just stood back and watched. "Paddy, oh God Paddy don't close your eyes!"
As I told the dispatcher where to send the police, Laura stood back as the woman cradled her husband in her arms, her cries for him to stay awake turning into sobs. A crowd started to form at the front of the shop, but the grumble of the crowd started to fade when they saw Laura standing back with an distant look on her face. After a few minutes the police finally rolled up, and a familiar voice parted the crowd.
"Everyone stand back for the ambulance corps," Seras shouted, stomping forward into the shop. She didn't even acknowledge that she had met us as she shoved her way in, she was all business. "What happened here?"
"Someone barged in for collections," Laura said. "It doesn't look like they could foot the bill."
Seras nodded, taking off her hat and kneeling down to the woman. Taking the man's pulse, Seras nodded to the woman and started talking to her in a low tone.
"Looks like we found our connection," Laura said as she came over to me. "What do you think?"
I nodded, watching from the back of the shop as the paramedics arrived and took stock of the husband. The wife had started to get control of herself again, following the paramedics out through the parted crowd. Waiting for the other constables to start talking to the crowd, we went over to Seras. Checking to make sure that the other officers were actually occupied, she guided us to the back of the counter. "Alright, what'd you both see?"
"Group of men in a brown van, one of them had a shirt with a logo on it. I didn't see what it was." I took another look around the restaurant. "They were acting like a street gang."
Seras suddenly looked very serious. "Do you remember what that logo looked like at all? I need you to remember, this could be very important in determining our next moves."
"This has been happening across town," Laura said. "Is this part of what we were told, about things not being so rosy?"
Seras groaned. "Look, my shift is almost over and then I've got vacation, and I'll have to spend it watching the both of you. So please, for the love of all that's holy and decent, just give me an answer before I take my hat and ram it down both of your throats, and I won't particularly care which order we do it in!"
Laura and I were caught off guard by the outburst, mentally resetting ourselves as Seras panted and the police outside quickly started hurrying people away. Working up the courage again, I said, "Well it looked like it was gold, with blue and red too."
"Do you remember any letters?" Seras asked.
I nodded. "I think so, around the logo itself."
"Then we know what our next move is," Seras said. "Consider yourselves lucky. Not many people get away unscathed when they see the Red Hand Commando in action."
Laura pulled a double-take. "That's their name, the Red Hand Commando?"
"Doesn't really roll off the tongue," I said. "Why not the Bloody Hand Commando, or the Dead Hand Commando, at least those are a little intimidating."
"Are you two really having this conversation right now?" Seras said. Before either one of us knew what was happening, the petite police woman managed to lift us both up by our shirts and throw us out the door. "Both of you get back to your room before I arrest you both!" The crowd had a good laugh at us, two Americans out on our ears still trying to piece together what just happened. I was busy trying to work out the physics of how she managed to lift us up, and I'm sure Laura was doing the same with where Seras was hiding her muscles. "Move it!" With that we both jumped up and started running, another full meal denied to us.
Inimigos da Paz: The Red Hand Commando
Inimigos da Paz is a regular column with the most up to date information and statistics on the most dangerous groups known to mankind. Whether terrorists, cultists, criminal or killer, the following groups are extremely dangerous and care must be taken if encountering said people.
What They Claim: The Red Hand Commando state that they are the last true loyal fighters in Northern Ireland to the British government, using paramilitary and terrorist means to, "Neutralize all enemies of the state and secure a united Northern Ireland". Little else is known about the group, as they consider themselves a small enclave in primarily Unionist communities of Northern Ireland.
What They Are: The group seems to act as an instigator, attempting to reignite the sectarian fighting that nearly tore apart Northern Ireland before construction of Satellite City. Utterly opposed to any kind of unity to those that might even slightly oppose their views, the Red Hand Commando are to be considered hostile and extremely threatening.
What You Can Do: The Red Hand Commando are not above disguising themselves. They will claim to be representatives of the wider Phoenix Front, attempting to solicit donations for their own cause. Do not be fooled! The Red Hand Commando can easily be identified by the symbols of their Unionist cause. Where the Front chooses to use green flags combined with the Red Hand of Ulster or similar combinations of both Republican and Unionist symbolism, the Red Hand Commando utilize no Republican symbolism whatsoever. Any such individuals should be reported immediately to commence observation.
This column references statistics available for view at all United Technate public archives.
Continued on Page 34
We were all crammed in the van again that night, Pip in the drivers seat with Seras sitting next to him. Like the Pimpernel and Dark had said, we were on our way to take out a safehouse. Which is why I thought that everyone was rather well armed for a small job. Pip had his LAW and EX-41, Seras was armed with an M3 Carbine, only fitted with a massive infrared scope with a backpack power supply. So at least we knew where she had so much strength. Henrietta and Integra only carried their pistols, and for reasons then unknown to me Yumiko still carried her katana. Again we all wore the balaclavas, everyone else wearing the surplus cameo.
"The location is considered a secure point for their operations," Integra said as we sped northwards. "Seras will take out their sentries, then we'll move in for the kill."
Everyone nodded, silence ruling until we pulled up to the presumed location. Parking a few yards back, we piled out and crept along the streets, shouts and cries echoing around us. The Heckler fire had died down now, maybe one or two bursts every half hour just to keep the time.
"Remember, the walls are thin," Integra said. "Be careful not to get shot through them."
I nodded, passing a car with the wheels missing. In fact, up and down the road we crept through there were cars everywhere missing their tires. "Hey Henrietta," I whispered. "Why are all the cars missing their tires?"
"Artificial scarcity," she answered, putting out her cigarette. "Junkies steal them then resell them at triple the price. Not a lot of cars have their original wheels anymore in Belfast. It's been insane, people forming little community watches just so they can still get to where they need to go. Stinking junkies and wastes."
"You're not a fan?" I asked.
"I don't know who's the weaker," Henrietta whispered harshly. "The junkies that can't go without their fixes, or the ones like these who can't see the real enemy in front of them."
"What the hell is this?" Pip growled up ahead. Looking towards him, my eyes went wide. It wasn't a safehouse, it was a group of safehouses. Four two-story row homes like you'd see in Philly, set in a half-circle next to one another. Even in the distance in the dark night, I could see men standing outside or walking about, rifles in hand and over their shoulders.
"Think they have the proper permits for those firearms?" Laura said.
"Can we really take on that many?" Yumiko whispered, shaking herself to pieces as we watched the men surrounding the safehouses. "Shouldn't we call for help?"
"The other cells can't afford to get mixed up with this," Integra whispered. "We're the only cell with republicans and unionists, the only one that can do this and not spark a civil war."
Laura and I kept quiet, watching the men outside the safehouses. Some wore slouch hats and surplus British uniforms from WWII. One or two walked around in black shirts and pants, wearing white belts with a logo emblazoned on the front of their chests. There was no uniformity for their weapons either, I saw everything from bolt-action rifles to MX-15s, one or two even carried around a gyrojet bullpup. What really got my attention is that every one of them had their faces concealed with massive aviator sunglasses. Maybe in a bright daylight environment I would understand, but in the middle of the night and especially for an urban environment, it was suicidal.
"Seras, take them down from here as best you can," Integra whispered. "Pip, fire as many grenades into the house on the far right, Henrietta and I will take the house on the center right. Ms. Smith, you and Ms. North take the house on the far left."
"And I can just stay here?" Yumiko said, looking hopefully over at Integra. "I mean, I can't possibly do anything useful right?"
Integra shook her head. "It has to be done Yumiko. I'm sorry."
Yumiko seemed to fold in on herself, but I saw that the shaking had stopped. Seras was already kneeling at the ready, making one last check of her gear to make sure she was readied. Everyone held their breath, waiting for the first shot.
The rifle cracked, and one of the men in a slouch hat fell like he just realized that his life never amounted to anything. The pistol grip at the front of the carbine combined with the massive weight of the infrared scope and spotlight made it easy for Seras to jump from target to target, the would-be sentinels falling like they were deer lining up for hunting season.
We jumped up the second Integra did, as as we moved I saw Yumiko ripping her glasses off and throwing them next to Seras. She suddenly started sprinting towards her house, the commando forces trying to pin her down as she ran across the open ground ahead. Seras kept popping them off one by one, able to pick them out when they had trouble trying to even track Yumiko as she ran. Pip lined himself up with his target, unfolding his LAW and grinning as he flicked the safety off. Laughing, he fired at the side of the building and destroyed it, pieces of wood and plaster raining down on the small courtyard. Integra and Henrietta were grinning as they ran through the dead bodies, firing off rounds to cover their advance. Laura was already at work too, Thompson chattering away as we hit the door of our house. There was already a body hanging out of a window, and two more with blood staining the shattered glass. Standing on the left side of the nearest door, I saw Yumiko draw her blade and run headlong into her house, a scream from inside cut off as she thrust her sword ahead of her.
"Whenever you're ready," Laura said. Nodding, I kicked the door in and started firing to my right, Laura firing underneath me to my left. Taking a second to change magazines, we listened as Seras kept firing at any target that dared to show in her scope. Satisfied that the others had their situations under control, we ran in.
The house had been converted from a home into a makeshift barracks. The interior walls had all been ripped out, the ground floor turned into a communal area with kitchens every few feet. Footsteps above us marked the presence of more foes, and I could make out the sound of guns being readied desperately in the darkness. "I'll take the ground floor," I said, kissing Laura. "Knock'em dead."
Smiling, Laura chambered another pair of rounds and moved up the stairs. Just before the landing, she put the Thompson above her head and fired, screams answering wherever she hit someone. Rounds tore through the second floor, but I could hear feet running away towards the sets of stairs towards me. Smiling, I ran to the nearest set and waited as the footsteps got closer. The second they were next to me I swung my gauntlet sideways and caught one of the man on his bare chest. The smell of fried flesh mixed with cordite as I shot the man behind him twice in the chest. I put three more up the stairs behind them, and I heard a man scream out and collapse onto the second flight.
There was commotion above me, and I smiled as I tilted my gun up and fired through the thin wood and plaster of the stairs. More screams and thuds rang out, and another chattering burst told me Laura was still busy. There were more footsteps, and I heard another set of men trying to move down a farther set of stairs. I knelt down and fired at the five silhouettes that appeared, but they barely noticed me as they tried to run out of the house. One of them made it to a door, but was cut down by Seras along with two more men behind him. I finished off the last two and reloaded, hearing men crying out in panic upstairs about being surrounded by an army. Smiling, I listened as the gunfire at Laura upstairs died off. This made it easier to hear the dull thump of Pip's grenades, the distant popping of the Webley revolvers and the harsh jet of noise made by a gyrojet weapon. "All clear babe?" I shouted.
"Almost," Laura said. There was one last long burst, and she shouted, "All clear."
"Coming up behind you," I said, quickly moving up the stairs she'd gone up and getting on the second floor to see a scene of devastation. There were dozens of beds turned into feathery shreds, guns and bodies scattered everywhere. Some of the men had tried to flip their beds over, or hide behind one or two footlockers. Looking at the blood-stained bodies on the floor, I couldn't help by say it. "I guess you really turned them into the Red Hand Commando."
"Again, such a lame name," Laura said, checking her Thompson before moving towards the stairs. "And these guys were pathetic too, they didn't even put up any kind of a fight."
"That's not normally something people complain about," I said. Stopping at the door, I shouted, "House clear, two coming out!"
"Street clear!" Seras answered. Walking out slowly, we saw Seras jogging over with Yumiko's glasses in hand. "Quickly, I'll need your help with getting her under control!"
Looking at each other, we followed Seras towards the house Yumiko had run into. To our right, Pip's targeted house was already aflame, smoke pouring out of the collapsed roof. Gunfire still rang out from the house Integra and Henrietta were inside, but watching Seras running I didn't have the time to worry. "What's wrong, why do we need to get her under control?"
"Just get the glasses over her face and I'll explain after," Seras said. Stopping at the side of one of the doors, Seras motioned for us to stack up on the other side as she slid her battery pack off her back. "Yumie," she yelled inside. "Yumie, there's still some left in the other house, we need your help!"
Laura and I listened as footsteps echoed across the upper floor and down the stairs, and as they reached our door Seras shouted, "Now!"
Reaching out, I grabbed Yumiko's right hand and tried to keep her from attacking with the blade. Laura took the legs out from under her, leaving the swordswoman flailing wildly as Seras ripped off the balaclava. The quiet, quaking girl from the bank robbery was gone, replaced with a mad-eyed assassin with a clear chip on her shoulder. She roared as she tried to escape from our grasps, twisting and turning her face trying to keep Seras from putting the glasses on. Forcing her down, Seras put a knee on Yumiko's left arm and forced her face up, finally putting the glasses on.
Yumiko blinked for a few seconds, then she dropped the katana and let out a groan. "Oh, she always has to put up a fight when it's time to go to sleep!"
Laura and I looked at each other, trying to piece together what just happened. "It's a long story that we can tell you later," Seras said, helping Yumiko stand up again. "Your house is cleared? Everyone's dead?"
"I left one survivor," I said. "Knocked his butt out cold, he won't be doing much of anything with his heart zapped."
"Bring him out so we can interrogate him," Seras said, gathering her equipment again.
Nodding, Laura and I ran back to the house and found my unconscious, flesh-still-stinking survivor. Hauling him off the stairs, we dragged him from under his arms outside. He groaned as we moved him, head lolling around trying to take in what was happening. Tossing him onto the ground out of the house, Laura leaned against the house and smiled a little, watching as the man grunted trying to push himself up. I didn't smile, but I didn't do much to try and help the man in front of me.
"Alright, let's take a look at you," Seras said, pushing the man onto his back with her boot. Her eyes went wide, and she knelt down next to the man and Yumiko finished putting her balaclava back on. "Christ, he's a junkie."
Looking the man over in the slightly better light, I saw the marks on his arms that marked him. Even with the reddened marks on his chest where my gauntlet had made contact, I even saw that there were injection marks right in the center of his chest. "Christ, the commando uses junkies too?"
"No they don't," Seras whispered, running over to one of the bodies. Pulling up the sleeves, she found move track marks. "Check them all now, do it!"
Giving the prisoner another zap for good measure, we checked as many bodies as we could. Aviators hid bloodshot eyes from view, long sleeves and pants covering massive sores and track marks. Pockets spilled out with the remains of leaves for smoking and powder for snorting and melting. Needles broke on the ground, and rolling papers fluttered in the night. "They're all junkies," Laura whispered. "The commando had to know about this, they planted everyone here to use as the targets."
"It doesn't make sense though," Seras said. "We had the right intelligence for weeks, there's no way they could've know we were about to do this."
"It makes perfect sense when you realize they wanted us to find this place," Integra said, walking over as she emptied her revolver. Pip and Henrietta followed her, both smoking up a storm. "They set up a fake safehouse to use against us, to make it appear like they were strong."
I saw it on my right towards where the van had been parked, movement. "Contact right!" I shouted, everyone dropping down and turning their weapons towards the streets.
Seras turned her scope and floodlight back on to get a better look. "It's two men, they both have long coats and sunglasses."
"Hold fire," Integra whispered. "They may be trying to negotiate."
Watching, I held my finger away from the triger as the two kept walking closer. The crackle of the flames in the house next to us muffled everything nearby, but I could see the two moving their mouths in unison. I strained to listen over the background noise, and over Yumiko's whimpering.
"Pastores erimus, quoniam tu es domine mi, quia, I heard. I realized that they were praying in Latin, and only one religion I knew still prayed in Latin. "Potestas descendit de manu tua, ut praeceptum tuum elevabitur iussa."
"It's definitely a prayer," Henrietta whispered. "But I can't recognize it, I don't think it's a prayer from the Church."
"Well they're getting closer," Seras said. "Should I take the shot?"
Integra said nothing, listening closely as the men kept getting closer. She looked like she was trying to put pieces together in her head, desperately working over what the two men were saying.
"Et fluent ad vos flumen, et erit semper pampineo gravidus autumno animarum." The two men pulled their hands out of their pockets and grabbed inside their coats, revealing two pairs of Colt pistols with extended magazines. This, reader, is why when you see two men in a city like Belfast walking towards you in black coats praying, that you shoot first. "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti."
There was a loud thump, and I turned to see Pip holding his EX-41 at the hip with a bored look on his face and his finger on the trigger. Less than half a second later the two would-be assassins were turned into flying limbs. "Are we done here?" he asked, taking out a cigarette.
"Not quite," Integra said. Turning around, she grabbed the ankle of our new captive and started dragging his unconscious form with her back to the van. "We need to get back to the pub, they knew we were coming."
"We have to tell them," Laura said, kicking half of an arm away as we followed the cell. "At this point we're getting nowhere."
I nodded, holstering my Browning. "If nothing else we can realize just how crazy it sounds out loud."
Laura groaned as the van came back into view, sans tires. "Quite the relative term around here."
Continued on Page 44
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Tossing our prisoner into the basement with his hands bound, we loitered in the shuttered bar as Pip poured everyone drinks. "Well that was a bust," he said, looking bored with himself. "I was kinda hoping we would have a little more fun with that one."
Laura and I just looked at each other. I mean, how do you tell someone you're hunting for a cult? For a society that's literally so secret that no one is supposed to know about it? And then how do you make people believe you're telling the truth?
"You're both rather quiet," Integra said, starting up another sickly-sweet cigarillo. "Something troubling you both?"
I took one large breath and nodded. "There's a reason we came here besides the arms dealing," I said. "The Network mentioned cults, groups that they said were running the planet. People who would do anything to keep that hold on the world no matter the cost. And before that we heard someone talking about a cult of the scorpion. So we need to know if any one of you has heard anything about strange cults, anything at all."
The bar was silent, everyone staring at us with blank eyes. Tobacco smoke pooled on the ceiling, the quiet suddenly a suffocating pall over us. Laura said nothing, but I was trying to figure out what to say before I could dig myself any deeper.
That was when they all started laughing. Pip was holding himself steady on the bar, slamming his fist into the polished wood as Seras snorted every few seconds. Henrietta could barely hold herself up, and even Yumiko was giggling to herself.
"You actually took them seriously?" Seras finally said. "What else did you believe, that stuff about bigfoot?"
"No, no it was the saucermen from Jupiter right?" Pip roared. "They told you that the aliens were about to team up with Frankenstein's monster and that they were the ones that killed Bobby Kennedy!"
"You couldn't just said no," Laura finally said. "And what's the deal with all those junkies, I figured it was gonna be a real brawl we were walking in on. What usually happens when you fight them?"
"That's just it," Integra said. "This was our first real fight against the commando."
Laura and I blinked. "Say that again?" Laura said. "Then how'd you know about the safehouse?"
"It wasn't exactly a secret," Seras said. "You could see them clear as day after all, morning or night outside those houses from what we were told."
A sudden thought erupted in my mind. "How long has the Red Hand Commando been operating?" I asked.
"About five weeks by now," Integra answered. "Why?"
"How did a bunch of drug addicts manage to scrounge up so many weapons and take over four safehouses? And what happens to the junkies after they get pulled off the street, does anyone ever see them again?" I asked.
"No, they never seem to come back," Integra whispered. "My God, that's what they were doing."
I nodded. "Precisely, they played you all. The Legion set you up, there never was a Red Hand Commando."
Everyone's faces went pale, but before I could try and fit the pieces together more effectively the phone rang. Shaking out of his stunned silence Pip picked it up. "Hello...Yes." Slamming the receiver down, Pip grabbed his grenade launcher. "The Pimpernel just called, it's a bacchanalia."
Everyone ran upstairs, as Laura and I bolted the doors and shuttered any window we could. Then another frightening thought struck me. "Babe, why are they suddenly having a bacchanalia now?"
Laura blinked. "I never really thought the Legion needed a reason to unleash them, don't they just do whatever they want?"
"Yeah, but just unleashing them like this?" I shook my head. "They want something specific taken down." There was movement down the stairs, and we turned to see everyone carrying enough ammunition to tear apart a Soviet conscript regiment. "Integra, how long has that church been sheltering people?"
Integra nodded. "We'll have to fight our way there. Expect no mercy, and so them the same treatment!"
We charged out of the pub, weapons ready as we made our way up the Falls Road. The city was in a panic, gunfire mixing with screaming and explosions. I heard helicopters to the west, but saw the Allied Cardinals refusing to fly over the city proper. Whether they were bribed or their commanders were, I didn't know and didn't care. We just kept charging down the streets, hearing everyone around us shuttering themselves in trying to find a way to keep themselves alive.
Sprawls are weird places, mostly because of what happens in a bacchanalia. You would expect sprawl dwellers to make a game out of it, to be running around with their gangs in a massive horde trying to prove themselves the manliest or toughest, or even the stupidest. You'd think they'd use it as a chance to go hog-wild and steal as much as they could. Instead, everyone boxes themselves in for a desperate survival attempt that may or may not work. They point as many guns at the doors and windows as possible and try to see the sun come up the next morning. Which was the one sole blessing for Belfast I suppose, they could have a sunrise.
The neon lights were all out now, the windows and doors shuttered with metal grates. I could hear people whimpering behind the doors, or mothers crying and telling their children everything would be alright. There was no Legion presence on the streets though. They always hid when the satyrs were out in force.
"I still don't get it," Seras said, her rifle looking almost puny without the massive scope and spotlight. "Why go after the Church? There's no one in there that's a threat to them!"
"It's a sign that the Legion and Straylight aren't the only authority in the city," I shouted. "As long as people can flee there instead of selling themselves, there's always going to be resistance to the sprawl's authorities."
Someone screamed in a house to our left, and a grated window fell apart a half-second before a laughing figure jumped out in a tattered brown coat. Landing on the street in front of us, it barely looked up before Laura was pumping it full of .45 ACP. The bastard tried to jump away, but collapsed in a bloody heap before it could even get off the ground. Laura pumped a half-clip into the head just to be sure before we kept running.
After too long a run, we jumped over the wall around the cathedral. Integra ran to the front of the church and started banging on the massive oaken doors. "Someone let us in, there's going to be an attack on the cathedral!"
The door opened a little, and we saw Fr. Anderson barely peeking his head out. "Integra?" Opening the door a little wider, Anderson was nearly shoved to the floor as we ran inside and slammed the door shut. Bolts were bolted and locks were locked, and we quickly pulled Anderson up and into the church. "Lock all the doors and get the monsignor out of the parochial house now, get the woman and children into the choir loft!"
We jumped too, Laura and I running to the rectory as Integra started to talk with Anderson about what was happening. Running through the church, we heard children start to cry and mothers realizing what was happening. "It'll be alright children," I heard one of them say. "It's just a special midnight mass for us all, we should do what Fr. Anderson tells us."
Charging into the rectory, we stampeded up the stairs as the sounds of the cathedral faded. "Monsignor, you need to get up it's an emergency!" Then I reached the top of the stairs, and was smacked in the head with what I realized was a fly fishing rod. "Hey!"
"Leave the church before I get my gaff you monsters!" Lonergan shouted, waving his fishing rod wildly in the cramped stairway and managing to actually smack me a few more times as Laura tried not to laugh. "You will not sully a house of God!"
I grabbed the rod and shouted, "Monsignor, it's us!"
Lonergan stopped and blinked for a second before letting out a breath. "Thank Jesus, I thought they'd finally decided to finish us off."
"Well they're about to," Laura said, charging back down the stairs. "This place is too hard to defend, we're making our stand in the church."
"No, we need to call the RUC," Lonergan said, before looking like he just said something vile. Shaking himself out of it, he ran for the nearest phone with the fishing rod still in hand. "The Allies might not have the greatest authority, but since the city is still open any call to them has to go through and be answered."
"Make it fast then," I said, Laura watching the upstairs for any movement. "There's satyrs everywhere tonight."
"Saints preserve us," Lonergan whispered as he crossed himself. "Yes, this is Msgr. Lonergan at St. Peter's Cathedral, we need the RUC here immediately, there's people who are going to try assaulting innocent people in the cathedral! Yes, satyrs, bring whatever you can!" Slamming the phone down, Lonergan strode into the church with a confident authority born out of years trying to keep order in a city like Belfast.
"That was the fastest phone call to the cops I ever heard," Laura said. "So, what's the plan?"
"We hold the church as best we can," Lonergan said, still holding his fishing rod. "Keep the curtains up, if they see the pews empty they'll look to the choir loft!"
"They won't step foot inside this church," Integra said as she walked over. "Yumiko is guarding the loft, she'll make short work of anything trying to get up there if she needs to."
"Where do you want us?" I asked.
"You stay in the center of the church for now," Integra said. "If we need you, we'll call you over..." Integra looked up with the rest of us as a light passed through the boarded up windows. The sounds of helicopters droned overhead, and from the loft the children cried out as the mothers tried to quiet them.
"Helicopters?" Integra whispered. "Why do they need helicopters?"
Before anyone could answer, a laughing figured jumped through the windows of the church with glee. It landed on the altar hard enough to split it in half, and as it stood we could see the fresh blood still drying on the ragged coat it wore. It's black hair was long and wild, and when we saw the eyes it was like we were frozen by their crazed glare. The outstretched arms seemed to trail blood behind it, then I realized that it was the monowire leading to the wrists.
Laura and I started shooting as it slammed down, and let me tell you that Lonergan started to shout behind me before he saw the rounds we were pumping into it. The chatter of her Thompson and the pop-crack of my Browning went on for at least a minute before we had to change the magazines. The thing jerked and twitched, arms flailing as I watched one of Laura's rounds take the creature in the kneecap. As it fell I saw a round slam home into the chest, right where the heart should be. Even when we ran dry we quickly tried to get fresh magazines in, knowing it likely wasn't enough.
The creature started to laugh, standing up again on a shot-out kneecap. "That was quite the barrage. It's been some time since I've felt a bullet actually hit me." The creature laughed again, lashing a wire out and slicing up the seats behind the altar. "Are you here to find God's protection? Sorry, he's not in. I'm here instead to see who needs to be sent to him right away."
We all tried to stand firm against the creature, but as it stalked forward we felt ourselves starting to back away. It kept laughing, and I realized that none of the wounds were bleeding. The creature was using artificial limbs.
"What's wrong?" it laughed, sharpened teeth on full display as it stalked ever closer. "Why aren't you shooting little girls? Are you afraid you might miss? That I'll survive and manage to get to you? Or do you want it to happen? Are you anxious about what I could do?" The creature laughed again, and cut three rows of pews to splinters.
"How dare you!" Anderson shouted. Before any of us could stop him he ran in front of the creature, arms out and face livid. "This is a place of God, a sanctuary to those in need! Leave now, damn you, leave these innocents alone! If you have any soul left you'll realize we're nothing to you! Have you no shame, or honor? Any shred of simple respect?"
The creature, and frankly the rest of us, stood in stunned silence as Anderson stood panting in front of the creature. It's eyes, those golden eyes, it was like they couldn't decide whether it wanted to keep destroying everything or if it was actually able to feel guilt. I suddenly remembered a picture, an image of a priest shouting down a satyr in Derry, and realized that it wasn't just propaganda. Apparently to Catholic priests, guilt is just as strong a weapon as a Guardian tank. Even Anderson seemed a little shocked at what just happened, as he started to lower his arms.
The creature started to laugh again though, and with a flick of it's wrist Anderson screamed and fell to the marble floor, clutching at his left cheek. "What's wrong priest? Where is your God now that you need him most?"
Before any of us could do anything, Lonergan was behind the creature and slammed the back of its head with a crucifix on a long golden staff. Quickly we all ran over and did our best to truss the creature up with sheet and rope, and I swear I heard Lonergan whisper, "Three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys."
"To anyone inside the cathedral, listen," a voice barked on a loudspeaker from the front of the cathedral. Groaning, Integra stormed to the front doors. Getting a nod from Lonergan that the satyr was secured, we ran over and stood out of sight as Integra threw the doors open and stood illuminated in front of a horde of spotlights. As our eyes adjusted we saw what looked like an army in front of us. There was what looked like an army in front of us, black-armored men in mono-eyed facemasks with their weapons ready as a legionnaire stood atop a Testudo transport with a bullhorn. "This cathedral is harboring dangerous individuals known to be criminals. If they are not turned over to us immediately, we will be forced to move into the church and remove them, and any others, by physical force."
I saw Integra's fists tighten up, her teeth clenched and eyes narrowed. He hair and clothes billowed from the air pushed down from the helicopters, but she didn't raise her pistol. Pushing up her glasses she shouted, "How dare you presume to order us about like your lackies! Do you really think that the people of this city will lay down and let you do as you will with them? After all the crimes and shames you bring on us that we will surrender like meek cowards? And then you dare say that you'll come into a house of God and take those who are innocent out with the guilt? Where is your honor as men! At least the Allies actually believe their propaganda! I swear on my own name that you will never step one foot inside this church, and may hell take me now if I will fail!"
Laura and I blinked, and Laura whispered, "So are you incredibly turned on right now too, or is it just me?"
Integra didn't give me the chance to answer, she fired and dropped the legionnaire atop the transport before ducking back into the church again. Seras and Pip came charging to join us, gyrojet rounds ripping across the stone facade of the church. Wood doors splintered and stone cracked, everything nearly overwhelmed by the whizzing of gryojet rounds.
"Oh it is the biggest mix-up, that anyone has seen," Pip started to sing. "The Phoenix Front’s half orange, while the other half is green!"
The others started to sing as well as they started to fire out at the enemy. Integra leaned around the corner and tried to fire as best she could, as Laura took a knee next to one of the doors and started firing across the wall in front of the church. The song somehow managed to lift above the din of battle, and I realized that the people in the choir loft were singing as well. But there wasn't any fear as Seras started popping off shots at the men behind the walls. Pip didn't scowl as he destroyed their cover with his grenades, he was too busy singing loud and proud over the battle. In fact, they were smiling as they fought. Blackened armor and body parts were scattered everywhere, and orders barked in Latin were cut short as Seras kept plinking away. They sang about the new unity in Belfast, of the Allies and Legion trying to suppress them. They sang as they reloaded, as Pip unfolded a fresh LAW and destroyed the Testudo. That was when a small group of the black-armored men made a run for the door. Trying to keep my body behind cover, I popped my arm out and started to shoot at whatever I could see. Some of the rounds bounced off like I was shooting a BB gun, and I had to duck back inside as gyrojets nearly took my arm off. So I waited until the black suited men were at the door, then put my gauntlet at face level and fried their eyes out. Integra took a more direct approach, kicking them in the gut as she pumped bullets into their heads. She didn't bother to hide the wide smile on her face as she grabbed the man's gyrojet and ducked back into cover.
"Both of you get to the right side of the church," Integra shouted as she chambered a round. "They'll be trying to find another way in, that's the only other door directly into the cathedral."
I didn't waste time, running for the set of doors to the right of the altar. The choir loft was still singing loudly as we ran, and I dared to look up. The people weren't cowering now, mothers didn't bother to try and shield their children from the noise. The singing was keeping them alive, from going into catatonia from the fear. Yumiko and Henrietta both sang along, cheerfully stamping their feet and clapping their hands. Lonergan was busy tearing up sheets to see to Anderson's wounds, but I saw him mouthing the words as well.
"Man these songs are catchy," Laura said as we took cover at the vestibule. "The Allies aren't ever gonna get these outlawed."
"Records later, fighting now." Peeking around the corner, I heard the clatter of armor just behind the heavy doors. Nodding, Laura and I knelt down and waited. Fire ripped through the doors, splinters of wood flying everywhere as the shooters tried to clear out anyone waiting inside. I was more than happy to start firing when one of them tried to come in. I walked my shots up his blackened front, but nothing got through. Cursing, I ducked back as he tried to charge through the doors. Laura shoved the butt of her Thompson into the man's faceplate and pushed him back, ducking inside the church again as his "allies" tore him apart trying to get us.
Looking down, I noticed that the man's arms were covered in injection sites where the arms weren't covered with armor. "Oh my God," I whispered. "These are the junkies, they used the junkies to make Perseus suits!"
"Figures," Laura said, as the rockets kept firing around the church. "When do you think they'll finally break out a-" A massive hole appeared from under the choir loft, and a millisecond later a nearly identical hole appeared in the rear of the church. Laura sighed. "Nevermind."
"Can you keep the door covered?" I said. Laura nodded, and I jumped up and started running for the front door. Ducking low to the floor as another railgun round punched through the thick masonry, I looked up to see Integra tossing the gyrojet rifle away and pulling out her revolver again. Seras was fighting with one of the Perseus suits at the door trying to keep it from getting in, and Pip was already trying to fumble out a grenade. They were all still smiling though, even laughing as they kept fighting. "Integra, they're using the bodies of the junkies from the safehouse!"
"No wonder they haven't killed us yet," Integra laughed. "You left Laura to hold the door alone?"
"She can handle it," I said, running over to Seras and pushing her away as I shoved my gauntlet into the faceplate. The thing jerked and went into spasms, collapsing into a smoking heap as the the electronics inside overloaded. Ducking back inside before the Legion tried to give me a few extra holes, I checked with Seras to see that she was alright. She gave me a nod, then picked her rifle back up and started firing again. "How long will it take for the RUC to get here?"
Integra smiled, then glared at me. "I gave you an order to guard that door dammit, back to your post before I decide to throw you and your girlfriend out to the enemy!"
Running back, Laura was firing at another suit trying to get inside. The suit managed to push it's way to the church doorway, but Laura tripped it backwards and slammed the stock of the Thompson into the thing's eye plate. Shards of glass scattered everywhere, and we both ducked a second after a railgun round crashed through the walls above our heads. "Well a few more of those and they should hit something important."
"We have to draw them off somehow, give us some time." Looking around, I need to find something we could use to try and give us a chance. The cathedral had little in it, but then my eyes crossed the same golden crucifix that Lonergan had used on the satyr. "That's it," I whispered. "Laura, grab everything from the tabernacle!"
Laura nodded, running to the cracked altar past the still-squirming satyr. Before Lonergan could ask what she was doing, Laura grabbed the massive golden box and started running back, Lonergan and Anderson staring at her stunned. "Okay, what now babe?" she asked.
"I'm gonna take it out to them," I said, popping off a few rounds to keep the Legion wary. "I'll get it behind the lines, then try to incapacitate their commander."
"Like hell," Laura said, keeping the tabernacle away from me. "You can't bring the gauntlet with you, and I'm way better hand-to-hand than you and you know it."
"You're sure you want to handle this?" I asked. "We don't know when those reinforcements will get here."
"Just keep me covered out there," Laura said. "Henrietta, cover the side door!" Waiting until Henrietta was in place, we started running for the front of the church when Lonergan grabbed the back of my jacket and spun me around.
"What in the name of God are you doing?" he barked. "Those are holy objects of the church, you'd have them given to our enemies!"
"We need to stall somehow," I argued. "We're all running out of ammo, we need to stop the shooting and buy time!"
Another railgun round slammed through the church, but Lonergan didn't take his eyes away. "Those are some of the last chalices in Belfast, there must be something else to use!"
I glared back at Lonergan and pointed to the choir loft. "Unless you want to sell your flock, this is what we have!"
Lonergan froze, and his angered face fell as he realized what needed to be done. Nodding, he ran to Laura and bowed his head as he put a hand on her. "Lord, protect this woman, your child, as she does what must be done to protect your flock. May the Archangel Michael and the heavenly host preserve her as she takes it upon herself to do Your work. In nominee Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti." Making the Sign of the Cross over Laura, Lonergan gave her a devilish grin. "Now get back here alive or I'll say your name at the mass!"
"Wouldn't dream of it," Laura said, hefting the massive tabernacle in her hands. Grabbing part of the shattered pews and a torn white sheet, I ran ahead of Laura and quickly tied the two together. Integra saw me first, but before she could say anything I started waving the makeshift flag. "Don't shoot, we can negotiate! We have something you can take instead!"
The fire started to slowly taper off, and I heard a man shouting out, "Stop shooting, you stupid corpses, stop shooting!"
Integra looked like she was ready to kill me, teeth bared and her arm twitching like she was physically trying to decide whether to shoot me or not. Seras and Pip just stared at me in shock, until Laura started walking out the door with the tabernacle. Integra's face fell, realizing what Laura was about to do. Integra started to talk, but I held up my hand and gave Laura a quick kiss as she walked out in front of the church.
Watching from inside the doors, I saw a new legionnaire walked forward through the inactive suits smiling gleefully. "Well then, I see the Front is ready to see reason."
"Tell your goons to lay off of the people inside the church," Laura said. "You'll get all of this if you back off."
"I'm afraid I have my orders," the legionnaire said with a false smile. "I can't simply forgo the orders of my superiors, can I?"
"This is some of the last gold in any church in Belfast," Laura said. "You're telling me there won't be buyers looking for something this rare and valuable?"
The legionnaire bit his lip, rolling the options around in his mind. "Let's say I do," he said. "What do you get out of it?"
"My girlfriend and I aren't part of the Phoenix Front," Laura said. "They're a bunch of violent, opinionated idiots who think they can take on the world's leading mercenaries and win." Integra, Pip, and Seras all glared at me. All I could do was chuckle and shrug as Laura went on. "You want those singing fools, you can have them. But let us go, and you get the gold."
The legionnaire smiled, nodding as he stepped closer to Laura. "Very well, I'll accept your offer. Tell your girlfriend to come out, and we'll let you both pass for the gold."
"You get the gold once we're out of the barricades," Laura said, trying to hide the fact that the heavy weight of the gold was starting to strain at her. "Amy, we're leaving."
Standing up, I nodded to the others. Seras and Pip looked ready to kill me, but Integra didn't look angry at all. She just nodded as I slowly walked out with my hands open to show I wasn't armed. Slowly, I made my way to the legionnaire and helped Laura shoulder some of the weight.
"Right this way ladies," he said, the slime in his voice almost a physical presence. As we walked away through the Legion force, I could hear the children in the church starting to cry, and the mothers trying to console them with the classic words, "Everything will be alright."
"I have to admit, I'm impressed with these battlesuits," I said as we walked. "Are they autonomous?"
"Roughly," the legionnaire said. "But when they're stood down, they often need an order to reactivate."
I smiled, and nodded to Laura. "Okay then, we're ready to make the trade."
"Excellent," the legionnaire said. "Just hand it over, and you're both free to go."
Laura and I nodded, and tossed the tabernacle into the legionnaire's chest. Ducking low we swept out his legs, and the man let out a scream before the force of the tabernacle landing on his chest took the breath out of him. Laura slammed her fist into his windpipe to give us a few seconds before he could start shouting orders again. Grabbing his rifle I shouted towards the church, "Now!"
Fire erupted out again, as Laura and I started to tear through the force around the church. It was actually pretty easy considering that gyrojet rounds are weak at such close ranges. My gauntlet crackled as I swung it through the enemy line, the battlesuits making a noise when they were shocked that was like a combination of a scream and a malfunctioning phone line. Laura preferred a simpler approach, and spun herself around slamming the rifle into any enemy she could find. The battlesuits tried to defend themselves when attacked, but it was obvious that they needed orders to do more complex tasks, especially when the one giving said orders was incapacitated.
There were still a few legionnaires left though, and they started to fire as I took down my third suit. We tried to run, but before we could get away I was suddenly held in place by a force outside my body. I couldn't even move my eyes, but I could hear Laura was stuck as well.
The legionnaire staggered up to us, his voice weakened by our one shot. "You whores," he grumbled, barely audible as he spoke. "You'll both be perfect examples." I could hear a pistol being readied behind me, and even for me I suddenly realized that this might have been the end.
The cracks echoed across the night as I suddenly realized I was able to move again. Spinning around, I saw Laura still alive and the legionnaire dead alongside two Helios lawyers. Grabbing Laura, we ran for the church as the streets erupted with gunfire. From the rooftops and alleys, the distinct deep pop of the MX-15 echoed into the night as the battlesuits suddenly started collapsing. The helicopter tried to circle around for a better view, but a SAM trail erupted through the sky and blew it to pieces. Throwing ourselves into the doors, I turned around to see the cylinders being thrown onto the street.
"Cover!" I shouted. Everyone scrambled to get behind the masonry, and seconds later the pipe bomb erupted. There were one or two more shouts from outside, then silence. That was when the sirens finally started, and seconds later armed RUC officers were swarming around the church.
"I want these streets secured and cleared," one of the men barked. He was a rotund man, middle-aged with a thick mustache. "I want any stragglers rounded up for arrest, I don't want any excuses about this being a raid on terrorists this time!"
Seras stood up and quickly dusted herself off. Walking out, she strode confidently up to the man. "Inspector Penwood sir, Officer Victoria."
Penwood shook a little and groaned. "Oh, I should've known," he said, turning around with a look of dread on his face. "Where is she, what did she do that caused all this?"
"I like how you immediately think I'm the one responsible," Integra said, taking out a fresh smoke. "You certainly took your time getting here."
"The whole area is in a panic right now," Penwood said, looking the church over. Gyrojet rounds and holes from the railguns pockmarked the church. There was spent brass just inside the doorway, and I watched as the RUC tried to walk without stepping on any of the bodies. "I just barely got this organized, the Rex Pub was raided. They captured the Pimpernel and the Dark."
Integra's eyes went wide. "Then Adams...Adams is in charge now?"
Penwood nodded. "But there's something more important, we found a computer there. Do you know anything about it?"
Integra shook her head. "I presume there's something interesting on that computer?"
"We'll know later," Penwood said before turning to us. "Ladies, thank you for your help as our deputies. We would not have been able to contain this issue without you."
"Anytime," I said, quickly rolling with what the inspector was telling me. "I saw that most of the battlesuits had track marks, you might want to find a way to cut down on whatever's coming into the city."
"I'll take it under advisement," Penwood said. "Ms. Hellsing, get your people back to their hideout, the military have a team coming to piece together what happened."
Integra nodded, quickly gathering her cell and loading them into a police van. It was the best possible timing, because as they started to drive off a Ranger drove up. A British sergeant and his men jumped out, quickly surveying the scene. "Who's the officer in charge?"
"That would be me," Penwood said, standing tall as the sergeant came over.
"What happened here, where's the Front?"
"They weren't here," Laura blurted out. "The monsignor asked us to come here to help because of all the satyrs running around, we took positions in the church and fired on it when we saw it."
"Then why was the Legion here?" the sergeant barked.
"Obviously this was a group of legionnaires looking to rob the church," Penwood said as he pointed to the broken tabernacle. "They clearly got to the tabernacle, clearly they couldn't wait to open it up and take what was inside. Now sergeant, I think your men had best be concerned with containing this outbreak of killers around the city with our riot squads, don't you?"
The sergeant glared at Penwood but said nothing, motioning for his men to get back in the Ranger. At they drove off, I saw Penwood drop the mask and look faint. "My pension always seems to have it's life flash before it's eyes when I have to do that."
"I figured there was some kind of respect between the British Army and the Front after they saluted that funeral," Laura said. "Guess that isn't true?"
"More like they respect the Front's ideals if not their methods," Penwood said. "You're the explorers? I heard some of our men had stopped you earlier this week."
"You said the Pimpernel and Dark were captured, where were they captured?" Laura said.
"The Rex Pub," Penwood said. "But why-"
"You need to take us there now," Laura said, marching to the nearest police van. Penwood looked to me, but all I could do was shrug.
Penwood nodded and grabbed one of his men. "Take these two women to the Rex, tell the men there they have my authority to go inside so long as they do not interrupt the investigation."
The officer nodded, leading us to the van and spiriting us off to the Rex. Jumping out, I noticed Rev. Playfair's church was across the street from the pub, but focused on Laura moving straight into the scene of the capture. As the officer tried to quickly explain to the ranking officer on-scene I tried to keep up with Laura as she stormed through the bar and up the stairs.
The upstairs had been converted into a makeshift HQ, laden with political flyers and maps of Belfast. All of it had been thrown around and torn apart, and there was a shattered computer laying on the floor next to the table. Laura took it all in, fists clenched as she tried to keep breathing away her anger. "That's it then," she whispered. "They were supposed to be the ones that stopped dealing to the Network."
"We just helped the Front save an entire church, they can't just forget that because their two top guys were captured." Gently putting a hand on Laura's shoulder, I heard footsteps coming up behind us and turned to see two RUC officers.
"Pardon us miss, collecting the evidence," one of them said. Nodding, I moved aside to let them pass. Laura didn't move for the two until they finally took the cracked machinery up from the floor and tied an evidence tag around it.
"We need to talk with the Front's leadership, I don't care how long it takes." Laura started to say something more, but apparently couldn't think of anything to say. Instead, she just punched the wall next to her and stormed down the stairs back into the night. Following her, I looked across the street to see Rev. Playfair looking out of his church. Tapping Laura on the shoulder, I led the way over.
"Reverend," I said as we got close. "Quite the night."
"Quite so," Playfair said. "It was almost over before it could begin. The phone started ringing and someone on the other end is calling about satyrs, and then as soon as I wake up Elizabeth I hear the sounds of a raid across the street."
"Did you see who it was?" I asked.
"Well there wasn't any shooting so it certainly wasn't the Legion," Playfair said. "No, something that fast and without anyone dying was probably the Allies."
I nodded. "So no one attacked your church?"
"Certainly not," Playfair said, almost sounding disappointed yet thankful at the same time. "No, my congregation isn't very big to disrupt the city's way of doing things."
I thought for a second. "Did you know that St. Peter's was attacked?"
"Is everyone alright?" Playfair asked. "Was anyone hurt? I have a first aid box in the house."
"Everyone's fine," I said. "But the cathedral was pretty banged up, and I don't think those people inside can stay for much longer."
Playfair thought for a second, and smiled. "Well I suppose my congregants won't oppose sharing the space with those truly in need. I'll call the monsignor, we'll get those people a good place to sleep by tomorrow."
"We'll tell him to keep by the phone," I said. Laura nodded, and after a few minutes we were back at the cathedral. Unfortunately, Fr. Anderson was there with a furious glare in his eyes.
"Think he's angry about us dating?" Laura asked as we got out of the van.
"What in the blood-soaked heathen hell did you both think you were doing?" Anderson stormed over, his bandages starting to stain with blood. "Those were holy objects, the symbols of our faith in this new Sodom. How dare you use them as some kind of bargaining chip to save your own hides!"
"I'm sorry, did you miss the part where we bought enough time to keep those guys from storming the interior?" Laura asked. "Lonergan said it was fine, he freaking blessed me as I went out."
"How dare you," Anderson said, his breathing getting harsh and fast as he started to shake with a sheer rage. "Better to die in a house of God than defile it."
"What the hell is your problem?" I quickly stood next to Laura, glaring right back at the angry priest. "We helped save this place, everyone inside of it, and you're worried about some golden tableware?"
Anderson went to smack us, raising his arm high with a crazed look, but Lonergan grabbed the hand and spun Anderson around. Anderson froze, and I think he was more shocked that he got caught than letting his anger get ahold of him. "Monsignor, I...I just..."
"Get into the church and see that everyone is accounted for," Lonergan said harshly. "Then go to your room and dwell on what you've just done." Anderson looked like he was about to break down, but before he could walk off Lonergan kept his hold on Anderson's arm. "And thank the both of them for saving us and our church."
Anderson looked like he was the one who just got slapped, but that's something about the Catholic priesthood that never changes; you never question your superiors. It was nearly mumbled to the point of being inaudible, but we did hear Anderson say, "Thank you both for saving us." With that, Lonergan dropped Anderson's arm and pointed towards the church.
"He needs a massage," Laura said as she glared after Anderson. "I know a few 'deep-tissue' moves that can put him to sleep."
"Don't spoil the moment," I said. "Is everyone alright?"
"The police are taking account of everyone now," Lonergan said, smiling again. "Thank you both for what you've both done. If you'll accept it, I would like to grant you both a blessing I learned about long ago."
Laura and I nodded, and bowing our heads we let Lonergan put his hands on our shoulders. "Send down, most kind Lord, the grace of Thy Holy Spirit upon these Thy servants, whom Thou hast found worthy to be united not by nature but by faith and a holy spirit. Grant unto them Thy grace to love each other in joy without injury or hatred all the days of their lives." Laura and I both looked up, and Lonergan gave us a quick wink. "The Church realized that when you put a group of men and women into a same-sex environment, you need to have some kind of blessing to give."
Laura and I smiled, and I had to ask, "So do I get to kiss her now?"
Smiling coyly, Lonergan turned around and started rocking back and forth on his feet.
"Well that was one helluva business trip," Laura said, coming in close. "So does this make today our anniversary?"
"If you want," I said quietly, putting my forehead to hers. "I love you."
Laura smiled and moved in for the kiss. "I love you too."
It was about five minutes later before Lonergan gave a loud cough and motioned to a group of giggling children at the front of the church. "Hey, you want a show buy a ticket!" Laura shouted, hooking my arm around hers and leading me off as dignified as we could over the bodies of the battlesuits.
"So you're sure there's nothing else to find on the computer?" It was two days after the assault on the cathedral, and we were sitting in the pub as Pip poured us all drinks.
"Only that it had information about how the bank manager wanted to know who was stealing the tires," Integra said. "Apparently it was happening all over the city, not just West Belfast. It was playing hell with getting people to where they need to go, rich and poor. When they took our little guest in for questioning, he said that none of the junkies in the city had been doing it either."
"And what happened to the satyr?" Laura asked sullenly.
"They turned it over to the Allies," Pip said. "From what Seras said, he's being put into the Greenland cryo-prison."
"Crazy times," I said, sipping at a Guinness. It was hard and bitter, like trying to drink down a brick. But I was more trusting of it than anything the sprawl pipes would give. "Speaking of, are you all really sure about this march?"
"We're only guarding the marchers from the tenements, the RUC are guiding them along the public roads." Taking a sip of sherry, Integra tapped some ash off her cigarillo. "We are sorry that we can't help you more with your Network problems however, truly."
"It's what happens," Laura said quietly, finishing her shot. "The Pimpernel and Dark were the ones we had the deal with."
"Deal?" Turning, we saw Inspector Penwood at the door of the bar, flanked by Seras. "What deal is this?"
Integra's eyes lit up. "It seems we've been selling weapons to the wrong people," Integra said. "The Network has been targeting refugees claiming that they're dangerous, refugees from Green China."
Penwood looked to us. "Is this true? Has the Network been targeting refugees in America?"
"Yes sir!" Laura practically jumped out of her seat. "One of their cells has been using your weapons to attack innocent people, you have to stop selling them arms, or at least sell to the Confederates so that they have a better idea on who you can trust."
"And in exchange, we get greater numbers of weapons from the Technocracy." Integra walked over to Penwood and gave him a toothy grin. "Certainly of use for our wider efforts in Fermanagh and Tyrone, wouldn't you say?"
Penwood looked us over, Seras standing behind him with a hopeful look on her face. Her eyes seemed to sparkle as we waited for Penwood's answer. Penwood nodded. "Then we will stop selling our wares to the Network." We all started to cheer, but then Penwood added, "After the arms are delivered."
"Oh come on!" Laura shouted, slamming her fists down on the bar hard enough to shake everything behind it. Glasses rattled and shook, but the sound of a box hitting the floor drew my attention. Looking over, my eyes went wide. Pip stared at me, but I waited for Penwood to start rationalizing with Laura.
"We can't afford to stop selling them our arms for a promise," Penwood argued, Seras' face falling with the news. "Understand, we need to have those weapons and ammunition in hand and ready to be used."
Laura kept breathing hard, but closed her eyes and nodded. "I understand, we'll make sure that you'll get the weapons."
"I hope you can keep that promise." Turning to leave, Penwood strode out the bar like a man with a sudden weight being shoved onto his shoulders. "I expect you all to be in position for the march today, rain or not."
I kept my mouth shut until I was sure Penwood was gone. "What are the pills for?" I asked, looking down behind the bar as Pip bent over to pick them up.
"They're how we manage to blackmail the Legion into giving us money," Integra said. "Pip, make them a Blarney Stone." Pip nodded, pulling up a pint glass as Integra kept talking. "It's half-right that we run a special kind of escort service at this pub. But you only saw the barest surface of what we have. You see, everyone who decides to utilize our secondary service is given the Blarney Stone, a special mix of Guinness, Harp, Smithwicks, and all the house whiskey." Pip proceeded to demonstrate, and as Laura and I watched I realized that there was no way anyone who was sober would drink something so heavy. Integra kept going. "I know what you're thinking, no one would ever drink something so vile. Fortunately, the Legion has quite the machismo culture internally. By the time they're ready to go upstairs, we've managed to ply them with six or seven drinks. So when they have this, and don't notice the ground up sedatives we've managed to slip in as we pour it?"
"So your girls don't have to actually do anything with them," I said, smiling. "And when they wake up?"
"The girls are giggling about how they passed out before they were able to get anything done," Pip said, pouring the drink out. "We take their money, and they get to walk out with everyone downstairs none the wiser."
I laughed, Laura smiling a little as we pushed our drinks forward. "That's pretty good," I said. "But there's a bigger issue with Yumiko. You realize that forcing her to do these things isn't safe right? She needs real psychological help, not to be forced onto a battlefield."
"I chose this," Yumiko said, walking in from the upstairs. "My family cast me out when we came to Ireland, they said that a daughter with such mental issues wasn't worth caring about."
"And you took her in," Laura said. Integra nodded, Yumiko smiling at the floor as she started to wring her hands. "Your family works for Straylight don't they."
"On the satellite itself," Yumiko said. "That's why I chose to fight with them, they gave me a place where I could be useful, to be a person."
"You'll have to tell us that story sometime," I said as we hefted our luggage. "Sorry we can't stick around for the march, but we've got an order to put in."
"That's the more important thing," Integra said. "But Msgr. Lonergan called, he asked if you both would stop by."
"I suppose we can stop by the church before going to the airport," I said. "That sound okay to you babe?"
"Yeah, using all that ammo's taken a lot of weight our of my pack." Laura went over to Integra and held out her hand. "We'll do our best to get you those weapons, you make sure that when they get here you stop the sales as best you can."
"You have my word," Integra said, shaking on it. "Goodbye to both of you, and good luck."
"Thanks, hopefully this time your SAMs won't fly by our flight." Waving goodbye, Laura and I walked from the pub and onto the street under the overcast sky. It was full of people now, making their way towards the cathedral in groups of five and six. Some carried banners or signs, others held their children's hands or held their wives and girlfriends close. A few pointed to us and smiled, others tried to pay us no mind as they walked. But the streets were nothing compared to the cathedral, which was surrounded by a sea of people. Banners were unfurling everywhere, reading everything from, "BELFAST NOW! BELFAST FOREVER!" to "LEGION OUT, LAW AND ORDER IN!" to "POW STATUS FOR PRISONERS".
"Amy, Laura!" Looking for the source of the shout, we saw Henrietta moving towards us through the crowd. "You two are staying for the march?"
"Not today," I said, shaking her hand. "We heard Lonergan wanted to talk with us?"
"I'll lead you to him," Henrietta said, guiding us through the crowd. Some of the crowd stood in front of a table filled with snacks and doughnuts being handed out, others talked with the police on the route of the march and how the police would be "containing" the march. We found Lonergan standing by the front of the church, talking with Rev. Playfair and a few other priests and reverends. "Monsignor, it's Amy and Laura."
"Ah, ladies," Lonergan said, smiling brightly with Playfair as we walked up. "You're both sure you can't stay for the march? I assure you we can keep your things safe."
"Just keep everyone dry if the rain gets too bad," I said. "So, right up to Stormont? That sounds like a hike."
"An hours walk is only a good stretch of the legs," Playfair said. "The police will be keeping us to the public roads for the entire march. There's no way the Legion will be able to say there's any wrongdoing on our part."
"And if the Legion does start anything we'll be prepared for it." Smiling, Lonergan nodded to the front of the church to a car with a man standing next to it wearing an RUC uniform. "We decided to give you both a ride out of the city, a small thanks so that you don't exhaust yourselves."
Laura started to wave the offer off, but as she did we both noticed the first drops of rain. "Yeah, sure, we'll take the ride."
We all laughed a little at Laura's quick change of mind, and then I spotted Fr. Anderson walking out of the church with a fresh bandage on his left cheek. "Ah, ladies," he said, smiling again without the crazed look in his eye. "I'm glad that I was able to say goodbye before you both left. I'd like to apologize, truthfully, for the other night. I let my emotions overwhelm me."
"Impending death tends to do that," Laura said, patting Anderson on the arm. "How's the face?"
"I'm told I'll have quite the scar," Anderson said, smiling a little wider. "But I won't be complaining too much about it. I'm told scars are like tattoos, with better stories. It should give me plenty when I leave."
"You're being transferred?" I asked. "Where to?"
"The Vatican itself," Anderson said. "I can't imagine why however, but it isn't my place to question the Church." Anderson laughed. "Not until I'm cardinal at least."
"Maybe one day," I said, shaking Anderson's hand. "Good luck at your new post."
A whistle blasted through the crowd, and the mass of people started to move to the main road. Putting on their hats, the two holy men nodded to us, and Henrietta waved as they joined the crowd. Flags were unfurled, the Hand of Ulster standing proudly over a trinity knot. As we set our luggage into the car, someone started to sing above the crowd. "Hear it ring, on the air." The song slowly grew into a larger voice, banners shaking and marchers pressing on despite the rain getting heavier. "It's the voice of my country so fair." RUC men walked on both sides of the march, riot gear ready and watching the sides. "Oh can't you feel, oh can't you see-e-e." Some of the marchers started to clap, the song echoing through the brick walls and alleys of the city. "The Phoenix Front will set them free!"
As the car revved up, I caught a glimpse of the rooftops further down the march, and saw men in balaclavas standing watch. They kept low, out of sight as best they could, but as the people marched, I could faintly make out their mouths moving with the song too. Even as the rain started to cover them up in the distance, the singing still echoed.
"Think they'll be alright?" Laura asked as the car pulled into the street and drove off in the opposite direction of the march.
"I hope they will be," I said, the both of us looking back for as long as we could at the marchers. "For now, let's just get home and talk to Lin."
"She's gonna love this," Laura said, sounding apprehensive. "You know she hates going to them for anything."
"If it keeps people like Tenzin safe, it'll be worth it." Laura nodded, and as I leaned into her side for the ride to the airport, we both faintly started singing, "The Phoenix Front will set them free."
NEXT TIME: A TREASURE LOST TO THE SANDS OF TIME UNCOVERED BY THE WINDS OF WAR!