“So how do we do this?” Harken asked, stubbing a cigarette into the growing pile on the console ashtray.
Kramer looked around inside the car that had been their mobile home the last few weeks. Not overly flashy to begin with, the interior been rendered a wreck by Harken's chain smoking, snacking, and general disregard for property. Perfect camouflage yes, but even with her olfactory senses dialed all the way down, it still stank of smoke, sweat and nervous tension.
“You still in there, cupcake?” he asked, tapping on her nose. Almost before he'd touched her, five scalpel-sharp blades sprung from her thin fingers, the lethal hand poised a hair's breadth from Harken's eyes. He pulled his hand back with a smirk, more amused then afraid. “At least you're still with us. So how are we doing this?”
She ignored him, turning to look at the “Open Hands Outreach Center” across the street. A combined thrift store and community outreach center, it was also a cover for one of the largest Church of The Broken God communities in the midwest, with an extensive underground network of rooms and tunnels stretching far and deep. She absently cycled to infrared, watching the vague heat-ghosts wander through the building.
"We are not doing anything. You are supporting.”
“Oh to hell with that, you can't smash up a church all by-”
“YOU can't hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun, and you have all the physical combat skills of toast.”
He huffed, throwing up his hands. It was cheap, childish, and absolutely true.
“There's a vent beside the air conditioner that leads to the main chamber. I can dislocate my ribs, arms and legs, and slip down almost on top of them.” She smiled with predatory satisfaction.
He cringed, looking at her sidelong. “Jesus, do it the hard way, why don't you?”
“It's the quickest way in. I can't just crash the front door, and waiting for the bishop to come out and wander into a bullet could take weeks. Quick in, quick out, no time for anyone to really realize we're here… it's sneaky. I thought you'd be pleased.” She grinned at him, radiating the sweetness of a cat with a bloody muzzle.
Harken stared at her, eyes half-lidded, mouth a grim line. “You're full of shit, you know that, right?”
“My, what ever do you mean, Agent Harken?” Kramer was practically purring now, her voice tinged with a nearly seductive anticipation that had nothing to do with sex.
“You just want to watch everyone run in terror.”
She smiled, stepping out of the car with a wink. “See you after work, sweety,” she giggled, winking a eye cycling between green, yellow and white, striding across the street with a exaggerated wiggle of her thin hips.
Harken smouldered in impotent, frustrated fury, managing to light two cigarettes backwards before letting it go.
The brothers walked down the hall slowly, heads bowed, the dull beat of the machinery deep below them like the warm pulse of a mother's heart. The two men stepped in time to the throb, letting it fill their Broken bodies, the richness of the Silent Voice tugging deep inside. Their reverie was so deep, so profound, they didn't hear the wall grate open, the soft sound of scraping flesh as it oozed from the confined space.
Brother Cam looked up at a sudden noise, his meditation broken by what sounded like a…a chirp, or a squeal. He looked, then suddenly turned more, searching, trying to find Brother Han. He'd been right there, walking beside him. Brother Cam heard another noise, like a soft tap, and he leaned in to the semi-dark hall, trying to place the sound.
A thick metal hook tore his skull open like a rusty can.
The bishop Bronzon could feel the devotion like a wind on his face. The sanctuary was filled, every body singing in time to the Great Machine well below them. Since the hated heretics had been silenced, the Church had swollen with faith, initiates, and the most sacred of relics, shards of The Broken itself. He raised his face to the sooty ceiling, lifting his own voice with the throng, feeling the touch of The Broken firmly, for the first time in years.
He watched the steam and smoke rise from the vents in the floor, the very Breath of God itself, the taste as hot and coppery as blood. Several brothers and sisters had torn open their robes, exposing their flesh to the fumes, letting them soak inside and out. Others had already swooned, shivering in ecstacy at the feel of the heavy hand of The Broken on their soul. Bronzon felt a thrill of excitement coursing through his body, both from admiration of their burgeoning faith and the more earthly admiration of their young, supple flesh.
He was still admiring them when the screaming started.
It started from the back, a sudden flurry of activity, spreading like a wave of panic. Soon everyone had recoiled from the door, some still chanting mindlessly, carried by the crush of humanity.
A demon stood in the doorway. The jaws hung wide, a mass of jagged death lining them. One hand ended in a spray of glistening points, the other in a smooth, hellish hook. The eyes crackled with a green glow, mouth frozen in a too-wide grin. It glistened with blood like a second skin.
Bronzon froze for a moment, paralyzed by fear, replaying every sin, every indulgence he'd taken. He looked in to those glowing eyes, and knew for one shining second, with all that he was, that his time had come. He broke free almost instantly, hitting the button below the podium to summon security and unlocking the hidden panic room behind the wall hanging.
Even in those few seconds, people had started dying. The demon slashed and carved like a living meat grinder, limbs and organs falling like leaves to the ground. Brave, strong men, Crusaders in training, threw their fellows before them to spare themselves a few more seconds, the whole mass pushing away like panicked cattle. Really, that's what they were, in the end. The loss would hurt for a time… but cattle could always be replaced.
Bronzon shook his head sadly, turning away from the carnage. It was only when he tried to open the panic room, and found it locked, that he felt that fear again, bright and sweet, like biting on a rotten tooth.
The screaming had died down, just a few wheezing, bubbling hisses, the odd flapping or brushing sound as some ruined limb tried to drag its dying body away. Bronzon was almost physically unable to turn around, the weight of what he knew was behind him freezing his muscles. He finally did, with great effort, keeping his eyes well away from the floor, still wincing at the sprays of blood and gore coating the walls.
The demon stood a few feet away, barely breathing heavy. Her eyes were wide and glistening, blood running around them like tears.
“W… who sent you? I deserve that much,” he stammered.
She tilted her head like a bird of prey, staring for a few seconds. “The Foundation. We know about your friends. What you did. What you want to do.”
He sighed, nodding his head, absently noting the banging against the locked chapel door… security. Finally arrived to help. Far too late to help.
He held his arms open, closing his eyes. “Send me on to The Broken. My faith may have waned, but I know The Broken waits to make me whole.”
“You talk like I'm about to kill you, bishop. You are mistaken. I have no intention of making you a martyr. My intention is to make you a heretic."
His eyes snapped open, a dark glimmer of idea emerging from a nightmare shadow. “No… no, you can't… ”
“Let me tell you what will happen. The security men will break in. They will find this room filled with the dead. They will find the room covered in blasphemous symbols. And they will find you, one of the priests of your mechanical God…"
"No! You can't!" Bronzon repeated.
"… covered in the blood of the faithful… having sacrificed… having slaughtered… the followers of The Broken for the glory of The Grey.”
He hisses, teeth bared at the very mention of that twisted sect's “god”.
“Blasphemy! They would never…”
“Oh, but they will believe… it says so right here, on this note that will be left on the podium, detailing the ritual you were performing. Too bad you had to remove your own hands, tongue and eyes as part of the ritual… I'm sure the other faithful would love to interrogate you before your body is torn to pieces and burned, excommunicated from your mechanical god.” She smiled wider, teeth chattering in excitement as she raised her slaughtering hands. “Oh well.”
The last sound his tongue made was a whimper, his last sight her dripping, blood-soaked hair.
The sun was going down when she stepped out from the alley, the outreach center closed up and dark nearly three hours before their normal closing. Agent Kramer looked a little rumpled, perhaps a bit dirty even, but still very presentable. She refused to feel her soreness, or reflect on the hard scrubbing she'd had to do after a short break-in at a nearby home. Whoever lived there would have a nasty shock when they went to use the tub…hopefully they'd just assume it was some kind of plumbing back-up.
Agent Harken sat in the driver's seat, a small hill of cigarette butts on the street next to the car door, topped with three or four empty crumpled packets. He sat up, a red-tinged twist of tissue paper jutting from one nostril, as he saw Kramer crossing the street. Kramer laughed, leaning into the open window, brushing at a small dried patch of blood on her hand, one of many she'd probably missed.
“The hell happened to you?”
“I fell asleep in the back. Some kid tried to take our stereo. I don't know who was more surprised, him or me.”
He shook his head, tossing the tissue in to the road as she walked around the car. “Hey, don't worry about me, the hell happened in there?”
“Don't worry about it.”
“Can you think of any reason why I saw two guys come out of the building throwing up?”
Harken sighed, starting the car and pulling out, rolling slow as the last gasp of sun dipped out of sight. “So, everything went ok?”
“Yes," Kramer said, her face settled back into its usual expressionless mask. "Like clockwork.”