“I find it difficult to believe you were inside the man’s heart,” Colonel Peters said, waving his hand at the monitor at the head of the meeting table. The monitor in Heaven’s main meeting area showed the moment Captain Julie Payne’s avatar touched Robert Dante’s chest in pursuit of the demon Rabdos. They were spending more time around a table talking and less time doing something than he liked. Unfortunately, he had to admit that they couldn’t go do anything without a concrete plan, so here they were.
“Mon Colonel, it is still true. You see it for yourself there,” Hugh de Payens said, waving a heavily bandaged arm at the same monitor. “Until recently you did not believe anyone could enter the ether without the aid of your incroyable technologie, eh?”
He started to respond and stopped. It was true. For that matter, if you’d have told him eighteen months ago he’d be in charge of a program that sent handicapped and gifted individuals into an alternate dimension that existed right next to our own but couldn’t be seen to do battle with demons while fighting alongside angels, he’d have told you to get off the drugs. Yet here he was. He put his arms over his head and turned to face Sergeant Sanchez instead.
“Tinker, have you found anything on the blackout once everyone was inside?” he asked.
“Well, sir, all visual feeds were cut for Guardian Three and Icarus, and we didn’t have anything at all for Cherry, Lancelot, or Percival there,” she said. Hugh and Planche both looked at the sergeant and then at the colonel, then at each other and smiled. They apparently approved of their handles.
“Lancelot and Percival? They have call signs now?” Colonel Peters asked. Sergeant Sanchez looked a little taken aback but he just waved a hand dismissing the statement and indicating she should continue.
“That’s just what we’re calling them, sir,” she said a little nervously. “Anyway, we lost all visual and auditory feeds, but we still had input from taste, touch, and olfactory feeds. We didn’t get a lot on taste, olfactory spiked for the duration of the blackout, and touch mostly went haywire initially then settled down until the very end.”
“It reeked in there,” Billy added. He shot Billy a withering stare that caused the boy to shrink back into his chair and even affected First Sergeant Wilcox in the seat next to him. It should have too, Jack knew that stare and what it meant better than anyone. He’d have to read that kid the riot act for not showing up for an operation like that. If he’d been a soldier under his command he’d have to give him an Article 15 and bust him a rank or two for disobeying orders. As it was, all he could do was get angry and restrict the kid to his quarters for a week or so. The room had gone silent as the other soldiers there recognized the stare too and what it implied. No one wanted to be Billy Ransom right now.
“Go on Tinker,” he said.
“That’s about it, sir. All diagnostics showed the equipment, such as it is, is running clean. No bugs, spikes, or errors in the system at all beyond the connection degradation using this cobbled together crap,” Sanchez finished.
“Your team’s going to get a commendation for making that pile of laptops and gaming consoles meet our needs, Sergeant. Don’t take my mood as a reflection of your work. You’ve at least done what you were asked to do,” he added, looking directly at Billy. The boy dropped his eyes to the table with slumped shoulders. He at least got the point. “I know we just came off a very difficult op, but we have to go back in and reestablish contact with Dante before he tries to blow something else up again.”
“He won’t try to blow anything up again,” Hugh started. “And I doubt you’ll be able to locate him either.”
“What makes you say that?” the Colonel asked.
“He’s been discovered and his demon knows it. He won’t let him risk intervention,” Hugh said.
“Intervention?” First Sergeant Wilcox asked.
“What we were doing,” Planche chimed in.
“Elaborate,” the Colonel said.
“When we disappeared,” Hugh said, pointing to the freeze frame on the screen. “No one is beyond salvation as long as a skilled crusader can successfully battle the forces of evil which have taken root in their heart.”
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians six, twelve,” Planche quoted. Hugh nodded his silent agreement. “The heart of a person is a battlefield.”
“Finally, someone who speaks my language,” Julie Payne said, wincing slightly as her bandaged shoulder ached slightly. “What are we waiting for? Let’s get back in the fight and get this bad guy.”
“Mon capitaine, you are not ready. You would not survive a second venture into monsieur Dante’s Château du Coeur, his mansion of the heart,” Hugh said.
“We did hold our own,” Julie said, easing back into her chair knowing her own injuries belied the fragile nature of what she’d just said.
“You survived because young William here discovered how to manifest his shield of faith at precisely the right time,” Hugh countered.
“Il n’y a pas de coincidences,” Planche said, softly.
“What was that?” Colonel Peters said. He’d heard the words but he didn’t speak any French. He’d taken German in high school, and though he’d joked that was the second natural language of France he never learned anything of the language other than some of the swear words.
“My squire intimates the hand of God was involved, there are no coincidences,” Hugh said, before returning his attention to Captain Payne.
“Make no mistake you are not ready,” Hugh said, leaning over the table in Julie’s direction.
“Then teach us,” she responded, leaning back toward him, refusing to back down.
“You do not have ears to hear what we have to teach Captain Payne,” Hugh responded. Julie inhaled to respond but Hugh raised a hand to cut her off. “Until you can put on the full armor of God we cannot, and will not explain how to get back to his heart on your own, and we two are an insufficient force to manage such an assault on our own.”
“Then why are you here?” Colonel Peters asked. He’d heard enough and needed to move the conversation past bickering. Hugh and Planche answered silently by both turning to look at Billy Ransom, who wilted visibly as all eyes focused squarely on him.
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