“Tinker, damn it, where are my comms?” Colonel Peters demanded yet again. He stood in the middle of Heaven, his central command post, and felt as though he had command of absolutely nothing. All three display screens for the Guardians showed nothing but static. The only screen that showed anything at all was the panel that displayed the data streams for the five senses of each Guardian. Tinker had already assured everyone those data streams would have flat lined had the Guardians been killed. That was the only reason he hadn’t pulled the plug on this op long ago. He looked down into the Pitt one more time at the inert forms of Angela and Captain Payne as they lay on their hospital beds, faces covered by the Shroud that allowed them entry into the ether. The soldiers they called angels dutifully stood watch at the foot of each bed. A doctor and nurse tended to Julie Payne and the burn that had recently appeared over her right shoulder, but Angela seemed to remain in good health. The buzz of the secure line interrupted his thoughts and he picked up the line.
“Colonel Peters,” he answered.
“Wilcox, sir. I’ve found the Cherry. He’s in the mess hall store room,” the voice of First Sergeant Jack Wilcox said.
“Well drag his butt back up here on the double,” he said into the receiver.
“Well, sir, here’s the thing. See, he’s repeating the Lord’s Prayer over and over and in a sort of trance like de Payens and that Planche guy,” the First Sergeant said.
He looked across the room at the two kneeling men surrounded by four heavily armed guards. Hugh de Payens and his man Planche knelt gripping brass crosses tightly and quietly mumbled as sweat poured down their faces. “I don’t care what he’s doing. Get him back here right now!”
“Sir, I…” At that moment every monitor in the room snapped to life and settled into a clear display or readout. “Wait one, sir. Okay, he’s coming around. We’ll be there in five. Wilcox out.”
He hung up the phone without another word. Both of the Frenchmen remained kneeling and mumbling. He checked the nearest screen for Julie and despite the spike in her emotional state from the wound everything seemed to be settling in as normal.
“Tinker, what just happened?” he asked.
“Don’t know Arch Angel. Things just seemed to come back on line,” the woman wearing the rank of a Sergeant in digital fatigues said.
“Unacceptable, Sergeant Sanchez” he responded flatly.
“Understood, sir. We’ll figure out what happened,” she said as she turned to two other technicians and began issuing hushed orders for diagnostics on the various pieces of equipment.
He turned his attention to the Pit. Down below, Angela was removing the shroud as Corporal Williams brought around her wheelchair. Julie Payne was ripping at the shroud, trying to get it off her face as the doctor was trying to hold her down long enough to get a shot of something into her. He assumed it was a pain killer, but he couldn’t be sure. A technician finally got the shroud off her face and he could tell immediately she was in a lot of pain. The glass of the observation deck made the silent drama playing out below almost surreal but the tattered uniform and burn marks testified to the reality of the situation.
He turned and faced the two kneeling men who continued to be in their trance-like state. He knew from experience waking a person from within the ether if they weren’t ready was risky. They’d almost lost Scott a few times like that. The reports he’d read before taking over the program indicated several of the early trial agents had gone completely brain dead when being forced awake. Nevertheless, he really wanted an explanation of what had happened to his people over the course of the last half hour while they were out of communications. He resisted the urge to slap the two men awake and instead leaned back, planting his hands on the edge of the control panel behind him as he rested.
As he stared at Hugh de Payens his head jerked violently to one side, and three long cuts appeared on his neck. Planche mirrored the move with a similar wound appearing on his cheek, and then again as a second wound appeared on his opposite cheek. De Payens’ shoulders sank as though he were under a tremendous weight. The sleeves of his shirt suddenly ripped loudly causing the four guards to each take an involuntary step back. Blood began to stain the white of the shirt sleeves as it made the fabric glisten with the amount of it. Planche bent in similar fashion and his head bowed as the fabric of his shirt was shredded across his back and great welts appeared there too.
“Medic!” one of the guards called loudly as he slung his weapon and moved to tend to Planche. One of his companions did likewise and moved toward Hugh. He made a snap decision as he watched the other sleeve of de Payens’ shirt shred and seep blood like the other arm.
“Wake them up,” he ordered. Immediately, the other two guards slung their weapons and moved in to grip the two men by their shoulders and shake them violently. Hugh de Payens and Planche let out screams of pure agony as they dropped their crosses and their eyes snapped open. Two medics came through the door and set to work immediately as the two men slumped to the floor and groaned in pain.
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Guardians of the Herald is a weekly serial published and copyright by The Cavalier, Mark Malcolm. To catch up on the first 45 issues you can either read them for free on the web site or purchase the compilation, Guardians of the Herald Issues 1-45: Angels and Demons for the Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/Guardians-Herald-Issues-1-45-Angels-ebook/dp/B00IJIFXSY.
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