Vatican Assassin

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VATICAN ASSASSIN

BY

MIKE LUOMA

 


Acts 2:20

The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood...

 

Chapter One     

 

            The moon. Our bright light in the night sky. A cratered white orb shining on a field of stars. When she shines full you can see the glint of metal off of mankind’s home on her surface, the main city on the moon, Luna Prime.

            The Moon. Home for more than a million people. An independent state, not allied with either of the factions in the ongoing war between Earth and Mars.

            Both sides in the ongoing war seek Luna Prime’s favor. Both sides respect and maintain the peace of Luna Prime. It’s one of the few homes of mankind not involved in the war; one of the few places the two sides can still meet as they try to negotiate an end to bloodshed.

            When they bother to try.

            The Governor of Luna Prime, Meredith McEntyre, is popular with leaders on both sides of the conflict. She’s used her position to gain power both for herself and for Luna Prime. Her stature makes her an attractive ally. And an attractive target.        

            She’s using her power to bring the opposing sides together with a peace conference on the moon. A conference gathering representatives from all involved parties:  The Universal Trade Zone, the UTZ, who control most of Earth, Near Earth orbit, and who once controlled the moon itself. The Universal Islamic Nation, the UIN, who control Mars and the mag-lev shipping highway connecting Earth space and Mars. The New catholic Church, allies of the UTZ. The NcC, with a small “c” to represent “catholic” in it’s broader sense, the new church which includes all of Earth’s Christians (except for the Mormons) ever since the Great Reunification of 2104, five years ago.

            Representatives from other faiths are also present at the conference, invited to participate by the governor. Many faiths are now based on Luna Prime, forced or otherwise driven off Earth during seventy years of fighting between the Christian UTZ and Moslem UIN. The governor has invited the representatives of these other faiths to attend to hopefully cool some of the heat between the two foes. The war has been raging hot and cold since 2041, since the destruction of Jerusalem. It’s still not really clear who was actually responsible for the destruction of the Holy City, but each side naturally still blames the other.

            After Mecca was destroyed in 2070 there was no turning back.

            The war has heated up of late, and for the first time threatens to spread to the Moon. The governor hopes to stop this. This conference is a start.

            The representatives are gathering in the main conference center on Luna Prime, the great hall used for the moon’s affairs of state. The conference has all comers on their best behavior. People who would otherwise shoot each other on sight sit silently at tables across the auditorium from each other awaiting the governor’s keynote speech.

            Some stare out the giant windows on the long side walls of the hall, out at the gray lunar landscape, at the other domes, tubes and buildings that make up Lunar Prime, and out at the infinite carpet of stars. Some stare at the empty dais and podium and the giant picture of the moon that hangs on the wall behind the dais. Some simply stare at each other.

 

            The Moslems from Mars all wear red colored variations on their ancestors’ traditional desert garb. They have been driven from their homes on the Earth but maintain their ancient ways defiantly in the face of those who destroyed Mecca and stole their home. They glare, ignore, and sometimes nod at others in the crowd.

            The UTZ delegation are all in business suits. In a way they, too, honor their own ancient traditions. The suit, the tie, the ancient garb of the businessman.

            The NcC delegation next to them in the great hall is also in traditional dress, a Cardinal in red, other priests in black, dark purple, blue and green with clerical collars. Their group deliberately ignores the Moslems across the way.

            The tension is palpable in the air, electric, you can almost smell the ozone, as if lightning were just about to strike.

            The governor waits in the green room for her cue. About a minute left before she’s to go out and make her speech to the assembled crowd. To open the dialogue. She has engaged both sides in less public dialogues as well.

            The UIN have been very reasonable, nice people, she thinks.

            They seem willing to talk and work together. David deals with some of them, and they seem sane enough. The UTZ are all business, no warmth. And the NcC Cardinal and the Vatican delegation are almost a joke. You can’t talk to him about public policy. Although they do have a new man up direct from the Vatican. David says he’s dangerous. A dangerous priest! He popped in here by mistake just a minute ago and he seemed nice enough. Ah, there’s the cue.

            The governor walks into the auditorium through a door to the right of the dais. The low buzz of conversation fades as she’s seen, as she walks up the dais to the podium. She stands behind the podium and looks out at the crowd.

            Some of these people’s fathers and mothers fought each other. What chance does anyone have of bringing them together? What chance do I have? Well, somebody has to try. Here goes...

            “Welcome, everyone. Thank you all for agreeing to come here, for agreeing to see each other in peace, arms put aside for the moment to talk. Attending this conference is the bravest act yet on either side in this war. I applaud you.”

            The governor steps back and applauds. Her solo clapping is joined by one of the rabbis in the crowd, and then the applause spreads. The spontaneous ovation drops off after about a minute, as the governor smiles and again approaches the podium.

            “We are right to cheer this hope for peace. We begin with hope. We put the battle aside for the moment for this chance at peace.

            “Luna Prime is often in the middle of these battles. We haven’t been hit physically in this last long round of conflict, but we’ve been hurt by this war all the same. Hurt by both sides. No side is blameless.

            “Luna Prime remains neutral in spite of our pain. Because we are so close to the Earth, the Universal Trade Zone exerts untold pressures upon us. As their only refuge in Earth space, we also feel extraordinary pressure from the Universal Islamic Nation.

            “The Moon... “ She stops. A puzzled look crosses her face.

            She falls.

            She collapses like a puppet whose strings are cut. It happens fast.

            Governor Meredith McEntyre looks up at the moon, the picture of the full moon on the wall up behind the podium she had just been standing behind. Standing on the moon. Her Moon.                        

            She lies flat on her back, losing consciousness.

            What was she thinking? The UTZ war with Mars and the Universal Islamic Nation puts the Moon in the middle too often. Her Moon.

            My moon. The moon in the middle...

            What?

            She can hardly hold her thoughts, hardly keep her eyes open.

            She looks up and sees the moon. Her moon.

            She rolls her head from side to side, sees less and less of her moon. There are people rushing around her, grabbing her arm... people are trying to help her as she lies on the dais.

            She sees the Moon one last time.

            Then nothing.

            “The Governor is down! Call a med squad! Get me more security! Close this place off, now! Nobody leaves without answering to me first! No one gets in, either, without my say so!”

            Lieutenant Governor Marc Edwards finishes barking orders and looks down at his boss, his friend, Madam Governor McEntyre, lying on her back.

            His aide is checking her pulse.

            “How is she?” 

            “I think she’s dead, Mr. Edwards... there’s no pulse!”

            Edwards pushes his aide out of the way. He reaches down and feels for a pulse along McEntyre’s neck. Nothing.

            People are beginning to crowd in.

            “C’mon, c’mon, a little space, please!”

            Two men in blue med uniforms rush up the stairs of the dais to the edge of the group gathering around the Governor.

            “Medics, Mr. Edwards... “

            “Make room! Let them in here!”

            The EMTs work on the Governor. Edwards watches as they pound her chest, send tubes down her throat, and scramble to try to revive her.

            Edwards looks around the room; diplomats, envoys from the UTZ and UIN, representatives from every religion practiced on Luna. They look on in shock.

            The Governor is not responding to any of the EMTs ministrations.

            They defib her, but she doesn’t respond.

            They keep trying... three, four, five minutes.

            They do all they can.

            She’s gone.

            Edwards looks up from her still form at the crowd staring back at him. The delegations are looking at him and the scene on the dais, but they also glare at each other as they mill about, waiting for news, waiting to leave the auditorium. Waiting for it to sink in.


Chapter Two

 

            This is not fun. This is not where I want to be right now!

            Who would want to be here? Sunk up to my knees in sewerage, recycled fluids, and God knows what else, in one of the waste transport tunnels under Reagan Station. Beautiful place, try it on your next weekend getaway...

            It smells like steaming, decomposing garbage, shit, rotting tomatoes, sulfur, urine, dirty socks, disinfectant and vomit... what else do I smell? Shouldn’t dwell on it. A wonderful bouquet.

            I’m trying to keep remembering that it’s of vital importance that I be here doing this right now. Trying to remind myself I do the Lord’s work, right? Yeah right, that matters. That makes it different, makes it special. The LORD’S work! Who’s Lord? Who am I kidding? They’ve got me, so I do this for them, for whatever reasons and excuses they make up. Sure, this is for the Lord. Whatever. God thinks I should kill and then wade through this crap, huh? God’s pretty fucking twisted, then.

            The shit is filling into my boots and seeping up the legs of my pants. Not only does it smell like hell it’s burning my skin, too!  It’s a torture all its own. The Big Guy would probably say using this tunnel as an escape route is my penance. Even though I’m supposedly doing the Lord’s work, I must atone for my sin. Forgive me, Lord, for assassinating the governor of the moon. But I did it for you...

            It’s supposed to be easy this time, a quick hit, fast exit, quick change and back into the hall before any grow wiser. It has to be flawless... the Governor is a major target for the OPO.

            I got in and administered the toxin quickly and effectively. Arrived with The Cardinal for the reception, ducked out to use the bathroom after establishing my presence, stepped past the men’s room to the green room where the governor was waiting.

            “So sorry, ma’am, just lost, new to the place... By the way, I’m the new public relations aide to The Cardinal, Father Bernard Campion...” extend hand with small killbots on fingertips, shake her hand and exchange the killbots, send them off to do their work. “Nice to meet you, Father. The men’s room is right over there. You’re about the fourth person today to do that!”  She laughed, seemed nice. Too bad. She had to be eliminated, for the greater good, to save lives. This is what they tell me, anyway. She’s UIN, or at least a sympathizer. We can’t let her give them the Moon

            All the recent UIN attacks have been launched from Mars. The UIN only have a few stolen transpace ships that are powerful enough to make the trip between Earth and Mars fast enough to be effective. If she delivers Luna to them, they can launch attacks from here. They could bring a lot more of their less powerful ships to the Moon from Mars, and use the moon as a staging base for those ships. Then when they attack us, their ships won’t have to travel so far. And they’ll be able to use a lot more of them against us at once.

            We can’t let her give them the moon.

            But as the Big Guy would say, ours is not to question why. I did as I was instructed. I did the Lord’s work.

            After I left the governor, I went back out and into the men’s room, and dropped down here through a maintenance hatch. Then it was supposed to be a quick trip down this access tunnel to the next hatch. But where’s the next fucking hatch?!

            It’s here somewhere... right here! No, just a random access panel. It’s gotta be here somewhere. It’s in the plan. I’ll find it. The plan. Let’s see...

            When I find the hatch, I’ll go up and out through a maintenance closet off the main mall, near the rest rooms on the opposite end of the conference hall from where the governor was. I’ll change into my spare clothes I stashed near there and head back to the conference. I’ll be seen coming back from the opposite direction from where the governor was, for misdirection’s sake, strike up a quick conversation or two on the way back to establish my presence. Then I walk back into the hall into the chaos which has ensued. The Plan.

            Man, this sucks. I made a fast exit, all right, nearly slid under the surface of this gunk when I slipped down the access hatch out of the bathroom... I knew I’d run into something down here but this is disgusting. Glad I’ve got the change of clothes hidden near the other rest rooms. I knew to expect some slime but this...

            The next hatch should be right about here, should lead to that closet and those other rest rooms, but I don’t feel it. Damn tunnel wall’s so smooth! This tunnel is carved right out of the lunar rock, marble-smooth walls, ceiling and floor, all rounded for easy slippage and falling on one’s face or ass into the combined excrement of the Moon’s largest settlement.

            Oh joy, Oh bliss.

            The glorious life of an agent of the Office of Papal Operations, BC my boy...

            I can almost hear the Big Guy, the Old Man, in my head, see him in the robes of his office as he speaks words that seem somehow wrong coming from such a blessedly adorned figure:

            “She must be eliminated, my son, so that many more will not die. It is God’s will, you see. You, as always, Father Campion, are merely His instrument.”

            Instrument. Hmph. I am feeling pretty played right about now...

            Light and sound break the dark silence. Alarms. Flashing white and red light. A voice saying something unintelligible.

            Shit, what’s that? An alarm? Wonderful. Nice light show. Something’s talking, too.   Amplified, but still muffled. Some kind of warning. 

            Great. Just great. Hallelujah everybody. Too far away to see it yet, but it sounds like an automated security bug. No human Lunar Security Cop would want to come down here.

            Ugh! The smell is getting worse! I didn’t think that was possible! The security robot is getting closer. It’s making a sizzling noise. Must be sweeping around the tunnel with lasers, superheating the sludge whenever it fires down into it.  Oh no. Oh man. I can feel the waves of warm shit flowing down past my legs through the sludge, superheated by the security bug’s lasers. Heating up the shit.This just sucks.

            At least the announcement is getting clearer. There’s a positive, huh?

            “ ...non-standard behavior, including unauthorized access to these maintenance tunnels, is to be reported, investigated and resolved to the satisfaction of Lunar Security. Unauthorized access to this area is covered under the Lunar Emergency Powers Act, and is classified as highly suspicious. Extreme force is authorized, even automated extreme force, as provided under the War Codes . A General State of Emergency has been declared by the Lunar Free Colony. Any nonstandard behavior, including unauthorized access to these maintenance tunnels, is to be reported, investigated and resolved to the satisfaction of Lunar Security. Unauthorized access...”

            The robot’s getting closer. I can see the white strobe flashing, the red laser sweeping a webbed pattern around its perimeter. Man, I can hear the sludge bubbling and sizzling.  It’s definitely getting hotter. Still can’t find the damn hatch!

            “...highly suspicious. Extreme force is authorized, even automated extreme force, as provided under the War Codes. A General State of Emergency...”

            Finally! There’s the rim of the hatch. It’s about chin-high.

            Let’s see what the sign on the hatch says... “Access 14/Lunar Reclamation System Tunnel 28-C.” Ahoy, me maties, thar she blows! In the nick of time, too, damn goo is getting too hot, damn... where’s the control panel?  There!

            Clicks. Good sound! Whirring gears inside the hatch. And another click.

            The hatch swings in. BC pulls himself up through the hatch as lasers from the security bot start to reach him. A red beam slices into the bottom of his right boot before he pulls it through the hatch.

            Damn!

            Red and white light flashes and splays chaotically across the hatch as he shoves it closed behind him.

            He’s in a small space, a meter and a half square around with no visible ceiling.  It’s another tunnel carved right out of the lunar rock, this time leading up. There’s a ladder carved into the wall in front of him.

            He climbs up easily in the light lunar gravity.

            There’s another hatch in the wall at the top, just above the last rung of the ladder.       Locked!

            He takes out a small silver cylinder. His handlaser. It glows red on the end as he fires it up. He focuses a short, intense beam and runs it along the seam of the hatch. The seam smokes as his laser cuts through it. He works his way around the hatch door.

            He braces himself, his back against the tunnel wall opposite the hatch, and kicks the hatch in.

            It falls with a soft thud.

            That’s wrong. Clang, yes. Soft thud, no...

            He looks through the hatchway. The hatch has landed on something.

            On someone, actually.

            It’s hard to see. Dim emergency lighting in here. It’s a maintenance closet. A storage area, toxicological suits in lockers, broken old cleaners piled off to one side...

            And a woman lying on the floor under the fallen hatch door.

            Is she all right? Is she unconscious? Why is anyone in here anyway?

            He climbs through the hatch, drops to the floor next to the woman. She’s wearing a uniform.

            Wonderful! A Lunar Security Cop! All right, God... How about a little help here? Could you work out a helpful coincidence for a change?  I’m not looking for a miracle, just a little help here. C’mon.

            I wonder if that security ‘bot sent out an alert. Shit! Why else would she be here?

            He checks her pulse.

            She’s still alive, just knocked out. Should be fine. Looks like she took a good whomp on the head from this thing, though.

            That’s good. I do try to limit my killings to just one a day. Any more than that and I’d begin to think it was becoming a bad habit... hmm, bit morbid... 

            She’s pretty... like a sleeping Latino angel... hope she stays sleeping for a while.

            Damn, though, this is not in the plan. I’m leaving too big a footprint here, now.  She’s bound to report this, even if she never sees me. And this is taking time I don’t have.

            Gotta move.

            He picks up the hatch and props it back up in its original position.. He puts the handlaser on a slightly lower setting and runs it back along the seam around the hatch, fusing it back into place.

            The Lunar Security Cop on the floor begins to stir as he finishes. He slides past her across the room in his damaged shoes and soaked pants. She begins to move her head. BC reaches the closet exit and tries the door.

            Locked!

            He uses his handlaser again. The door’s lock gives a good fight but loses. BC burns through and pushes the door open.

            The door slides halfway open then stops.

            Shit! Well, it’ll have to do.

            He slides through.

            If I’m doing Your work, why won’t You cut me any slack? Huh?

            He’s in a small side corridor off of the main dome of Reagan Station. He edges down the right side of the corridor toward the atrium, tries not to look suspicious covered in sewer sludge and smelling as bad as he looks. He pulls his priestly collar off and pockets it.

            No need to look that suspicious.  

            BC leans out of the corridor to visually scan the area ahead, the edge of the central atrium for Reagan Station. Groups of tall pines tower over, stretching to the starry roof of the dome.

            Like a forest in a mall. Pine needles and plastic. My bag should be just over by the trunk of that huge pine...

            I don’t see it from here. Good hiding job. Let’s hope.

            He ducks out of the corridor and into the first stand of pine trees in the atrium. He tries to nonchalantly search around for sign of his bag.

            It’s not here! How can it not be here? Is this the wrong group of trees? No, right trees...

            He pokes around under the pines and walks into a sprinkler hidden by the needles. He feels his left ankle twist the wrong way and he starts to fall.

            Ouch! Damn!

            He breaks his fall and plops down onto the pine needles and grass. He sits, massages his ankle and looks around for any sign of his bag.

            Looks like it was stolen. There’s an indentation in the bushes under the trees where I left it. It was here. It should be right here, these are the trees... c’mon, any helpful coincidences?

            Who would steal a priest’s clothes?

 

Chapter Three

 

            Reagan Station began as a military outpost. Now, as Luna Prime, it thrives as an independent city state, a hub of commercial activity, a cosmopolitan capitol and neutral territory in the war, home to over two million people. More than just a moon base, Reagan Station is a city unto itself. Built off the main dome are over fifty separate neighborhood areas, engineered and designed to be aesthetically pleasing and diverse as well as functional.

            Most of Reagan Station was constructed in the last half of the 21st century, after a UIN missile strike back in 2062 destroyed most of the first Reagan Station, originally built by the old United Nations as a military security and Mission to Mars base and later ceded to the UTZ. The UIN’s missile strike gave them control of the Moon in 2062.

            The UIN took over the moon after their attack forced the UTZ off. They began rebuilding, making improvements and adapting the base to their needs. Nine years later in 2071, the war shifted, the UTZ regained control of the Moon and reestablished Reagan Station. 

            Though still technically a military base, the rebuilt Reagan Station’s entertainment facilities and landing facilities became commercial ventures, subcontracted to corporate members of the UTZ. The UTZ is driven by commerce, and finds ways to make money in any venture. The facilities became incredibly popular, a gold mine for the subcontractors. The entertainment facilities’ growth soon outpaced the UTZ military’s developments on the Moon. The Moon became “civilized”.

            The employees of these facilities were the moon’s new working class. Luna’s new backbone. Many of the workers were non-Christians from Earth, who moved to the Moon to escape the war. As this population increased, as Reagan Station grew, the independent nature of the people of the Moon grew as well. The moon became a refuge for those party to neither side in the bitter conflict. An interesting and independent place, intentionally diverse and tolerant.

             In 2082, Luna became an independent state under UTZ auspices. Reagan Station has been growing ever since. Though more city than station, the name has stuck. The Independent government calls Reagan Station “Luna Prime,” but just about everyone else still calls it Reagan Station.

            Reagan Station is lived-in. It’s like any other city, with good sections and bad, old, broken-down dark areas and shiny new construction.

            Independent and united in their neutrality, Luna’s populace segregates itself into its own smaller, separate areas: The Jewish Section, The Pagan Enclave, The Universal Temple, Chinatown. Their separate sectors spoke off the central hub of old Reagan Station proper and the Main Dome through a series of interconnected corridors and airlocks.

            The Main Dome is at the center of the old station and the city, a giant atrium nearly a mile across, the central hub for the station. Three floors of residences and shops circle the atrium. The dome atop the atrium is clear, allowing a breathtaking view of the stars and Earth.

            Artificial gravity supplements the moon’s weak attraction on the floor of the main dome. At the center is a wide, roughly circular pool almost a half a mile in diameter, deliberately overgrown with vegetation and teeming with aquatic life. It’s designed as a part of the environmental systems and also to be “aesthetically pleasing.” The pool is crisscrossed by two broad walkways lined with trees and bushes. Maples and pines, oaks, elms and Douglas firs, and ferns, hedges and dogwoods, all can be found under the moon’s Main Dome.

            There are lilac bushes and stretches of grass surrounding the central pool. Artificial breezes circulate. We try to bring Earth with us, to recreate it best we can. It’s been recreated well in the Main Dome of Reagan Station.

            BC is in a deserted part of the Dome. There are cleaners and other maintenance robots around, but no people. This is part of BC’s plan.  This immediate area has no shops or residences.

            And now, no bag. Not a part of my plan. And my ankle hurts!

            I thought my bag would be safe around here. Maybe it was picked up by Maintenance. That might be worse than getting stolen. They’ll make a record of it.

            I think I hope someone stole it. Twisted. Huh, like my ankle. Bad pun. Is that a pun? I don’t know...

            BC looks back at the wall of the Main Dome. The circular outer wall of this level of the dome is blank, but above him, on the second level, he can hear the din of people and commerce.

            Where I need to be. The reception hall entrance is back up there, on the other side of the dome.

            I can’t go up there looking like this, all in black with my collar off, legs dipped in shit and the rest of me splattered.  Real fine company.

            Then there’s the Lunar Security Cop I knocked out. She’ll be waking up. I gotta get outta here. Gotta get some new clothes, fast, too. Time to move.

            He walks through the pine trees and heads for the center of the dome, towards the central pool. He walks along the pool’s edge until he sees a line of shops ahead on the dome’s outer wall. He scans the signs of the shops until he sees the one he needs.  Men’s clothes. Just ahead.

            Men’s Shop. Perfect. Now, I’ve gotta kind of casually walk out of the trees and into the open, covered in shit. Hum dee dum dee dum...

            He ducks out of the wooded section and heads for the Men’s store. There are a few people around, but most don’t notice him or try not to notice him.

            I haven’t been here long enough for anyone to know me yet, thank God. Most of these people seem pretty calm, too... I wonder if the job is done? Should be by now. Should be mass pandemonium, people running crazy... well, maybe not, but some kind of reaction, anyway. Maybe they’re just keeping it quiet for now.

            BC makes it into the men’s clothing store without incident. The sales assistant eyes him warily as he walks in.  He’s young, impeccably dressed. He arches an eyebrow as he tries to look down his nose at BC. His nose wrinkles as he begins to smell him.

            “Can I help you?” His voice virtually drips with disdain.

            “I need a new suit. I’d like to have these clothes I’m wearing incinerated in your recycler, too.”

            “Our fitter is down, should be back up later on. Why don’t you come back later?”

            I don’t have time for this...

            “I thought you asked if you could help me?”

            “Well, I...”

            “...Didn’t really mean it. I see. Tell you what, you help me out with something off the rack, burn these clothes, and I won’t lose my temper. How about it?”

            The sales guy tries to says something but just stammers. BC continues.

            “You don’t want me to lose my temper here, do you? Not dressed like this. What if I lose it and run all over the store, rubbing myself all over these nice clean pretty suits of yours?”

            “Uh, look, sir, uh, wah...”

            BC stares him down, then tries to reassure him somewhat.

            “Look, I’m gonna pay for everything, so just sit back, I’ll find what I need, you take care of my old stuff, and I’ll be gone. And then you can forget all about me...”

            ...And you’d better. I’d hate to have to come back and tie you off as a loose end. Or maybe I wouldn’t hate it so much, little prick... Just doing the Lord’s work... You’d rather not find out...

            This is already taking way too long, and I’m losing patience fast.

            The sales assistant weasels out of the confrontation,“You just go ahead. I’ll help with those clothes of yours when your done.” He wrinkles his nose again at BC and his soiled suit.

            BC finds a dark suit. Not black, but close enough for off the rack. He pays for the suit with an OPO secured credit card, untraceable. He changes in the store after cleaning himself up in the store’s refresher. The sales assistant incinerates the remnants of his sewer crawl in the store’s molecular recycler and doesn’t speak to BC again.

            Fine by me. See ya.

            BC walks out of the store a new man.

            Much better! Mmmm, clean clothes... Just wish I could do some mind trick and make that little prick forget I was ever in there.

            Not the right clothes, though. This suit won’t pass. I still gotta get into dress blacks.

            And get back to the auditorium.

            He heads for the center of the dome, and crosses over one of the walkways to the dome’s other side.  He steps nonchalantly out of the Main Dome, but then gingerly runs down the corridor towards the Vatican’s Lunar Holdings, still favoring his left ankle.

            Slight modification of plans...

            He gets to his room. As the door closes behind him, he kicks off his shoes and rips off the new suit. The tie almost chokes him as he pulls it over his head.

            He grabs a suit off his rack, the traditional black, an identical suit to the one he wore earlier. He pulls on the pants, the shirt, fixes the collar... he looks at the clock. Time is ticking away, and he’s way off plan.

            Time pressure. Got to get back to the reception hall. Gotta cover tracks, too.

            BC dumps suit he just bought through the waste panel in his room and incinerates his brand new clothes.

            Some tracks covered.... As long as that sales guy forgets. Figures I’d find one of the few places on Reagan Station with a human attendant. Too bad I couldn’t have killed him right off. Would’ve look suspicious. His lucky day.

            BC runs back down the corridor, still limping a little. . He saunters briskly out of the Vatican holdings, through the Main Dome again, then up a level to the reception hall, whose doors are blocked by Lunar Security Cops. A crowd is forming outside the hall.

            Good signs. It must have worked.

            He makes his way to the front of the crowd. A guard blocks his way when he tries to walk past and into the hall.

            “I’m sorry, Father, I can’t let you in there.”

            “What?” BC plays dumb.

            “Nobody’s allowed to enter or leave the reception hall for right now.”

            “Oh, but I’m supposed to be in there. I just left to go to the bathroom.”

            The guard thinks for a second. “I still can’t let you in there, even back in there. Orders.”

            “Why not? I’m with The Cardinal. He may need me.”

            The guard thinks again. Hard.

            Straining with the effort. C’mon, buddy.

            “C’mon, Buddy. You help a priest, you go to heaven...”

            “Aw, Father, I’m Jewish. I’m not sure we even have the same heaven.”

            “Same God, same heaven... Jesus was Jewish! You still get credit.”

            The guard laughs, “Hold on a sec, Father.” He opens the doors to the hall and ducks half inside. BC can hear him talking to someone. The guard leans back through the door and looks at BC.

            “Okay, Father, you’re in, but you might not wanna be.”

            “What?”

            “Go ahead in. You’ll see.”

            BC walks through the doors into some of the chaos he’s been expecting. People running around. Other people, important-looking people, milling about.  Med techs all over the stage. The Cardinal is being escorted back down from the dais.

            BC makes his way through the crowd, to The Cardinal. The Cardinal looks up as BC approaches.

            “Well, Father Campion, you picked a fine time to heed nature’s call. Just as the Governor began her speech, she collapsed. She passed away on the spot, poor thing. I offered last rites but her husband seemed almost offended. Said they weren’t Catholic, ‘not even new catholic with a small “c”’. He was distraught, of course.

            “You should have been here. They’re younger, he might have responded better to you.”

            “Of course, sir. My apologies.”

            Mission complete.


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