I hope our Lord is keeping you safe in these most trying of times. I have tried to contact you through more conventional means but the network has been down for some time in Manhattan and now my batteries have died. I have resorted to the old-fashioned methods our ancient brethren used, in the days before the technophiles and idolaters seduced us with their global networks and their Internet pornography (although I must admit that I find myself missing the satellite feed and Prayer Line that funds our ministry. Praise the Lord, who turns the Devil’s own tools to such righteous ends!).
It is day four and our mission here is beginning to make progress, although perhaps more slowly than I would have hoped. New York was full of wickedness even before the End Days began, which is of course why Satan chose it as his first stronghold (though I admit I would have expected him to start with Los Angeles or Fergus). Communists and sodomites are almost as thick upon the ground here as demons, and while recent events have caused many of the locals to repent, others even now resist our attempts to lead them to salvation (none so blind as those who will not see). Those damnable Anglicans, sensing an opportunity to spread their particular brand of liberalism, have also set up shop on the other side of the borough; many survivors encounter them first, and desperate for even the appearance of redemption, are fooled by their use of Christian props. I hear that even the ragheads have regrouped at a mosque over in Hamilton Heights! Fortunately they are wasting their time by launching jihad against Satan’s armies instead of converting souls (they know the easier enemy to beat when they see it, ha ha!), and we have had no direct encounters with them so far.
Our greatest enemy, of course, is Satan himself. You may have heard mention of “the Rapture” on the mainstream feeds; do not be fooled. It is anything but. I have seen these so-called Raptured with my own eyes. They are infested, brother. They seek the light, but it is not the light of our Lord (you may remember that Lucifer means “bringer of light”). Some kind of demonic tumors grow in their eyes, in their mouths, in their open wounds. It steals away their souls. They are already saved, they say. They have already found redemption. And they are gripped by some evil wanderlust that draws them to wherever Satan’s spawn gather in the greatest numbers.
And there is something else, Neville, something new. You may have heard of the “pingers” and the “stalkers” and the other abominations that walk these streets, preying on sinners and saved alike. I have seen them with my own eyes; they are half flesh and half machine and not remotely human. But just today I saw something that looked and moved like a man, yet was as depraved as any demon. I saw a ghoul, feeding on the flesh of the dead.
It was the color of stone, or clay. For a few moments I thought it might be one of those golems the Jews go on about—they do figure prominently in Revelation, even though they have spurned Christ—but it had metal seams and joints, and a head like a helmet. And its body, Neville, it had such muscles, they shone and rippled and flexed with every movement. I swear, were it not the color of slate it might almost have been you standing there, in the shower at the seminary after practice. But it acted nothing like you, Neville. It was crouched over a pile of corpses and it fed on them through some kind of fang or needle that sprouted from its wrist. I did not get close enough to see the details, but those penetrated bodies—they shriveled up as I watched, Neville. This monster sucked them dry and left nothing but husks of skin draped over bone, like one of the steel vermin that scuttle about these streets draining the dead.
I was transfixed. And before I could recover my wits, this thing turned and looked straight at me. Its face—the air was full of smoke and there was maybe half a city block between us, but I could see that it had red eyes, or maybe just a single great eye. It stood up, still facing me; it must have been nine or ten feet tall. It took a step toward me. I held up my Bible, Neville, I was terrified but I had faith in Our Lord, I held up the Bible to this abomination and it stopped! It just stood there for a moment, watching me, and then—
And then it laughed.
It had the strangest laugh, Neville. It didn’t sound anything like a real voice, it sounded like some kind of primitive machine from the last century.
And it began to move again, toward me.
I confess my faith failed me then. I turned and fled. I must have run for blocks, and when I finally stopped and looked behind me it was nowhere to be seen.
Perhaps it was a golem after all. Perhaps it was the Beast himself that I saw, feasting on fallen souls. I do not know. But it had the shape of a man and the aspect of the Enemy; and while I’ve seen the Devil’s other soldiers wreak much greater destruction, there was something especially intimate about the evil this thing wrought in the streets of this accursed place. Don’t ask me how I know, but I feel in my soul that this ghoul was the most wicked, the most evil of all the satanic forces I have seen here. I pray I never encounter its like again.
But enough darkness! There is so much comfort to be had even in the face of these abominations—for they prove, once and for all, that we were right and the atheist liberals were wrong. The Devil’s minions are everywhere, just as the Scriptures foretold. It is truly a joyous time (perhaps not for the abortionists and the unbelievers—who’s laughing now, Dr. Meyers? ha ha!). The coming of our Lord is at hand.
One of CELL’s Christian soldiers has promised to scan this letter to you as soon as he is able. God bless CELL; they are truly doing the Lord’s work. Perhaps once they vanquish the Devil’s Armies they can do something about the homosexuals, ha ha!
Be well, and rejoice. The Lord is with us always.
What? You think this thing powers itself?
You think I can leap between rooftops, roll Bulldogs single-handed, throw CELL drones around like kittens without draining the batteries? Have you even read the damn specs?
Everything about this suit is a trade-off. You can crank the armor so tight you’re pretty much invincible, but only for a few seconds and you cut your speed in half. You can disappear entirely, just fade right out of the visible spectrum, but the lensing field sucks so much juice the capacitors run dry before you’re halfway down the block. And don’t even talk to me about trying to do any of those things at the same time.
They don’t mention any of that in the ad copy, of course. To hear the brochure tell it, you just put on the N2 and hit the ground at sixty, invisible and invulnerable, world without end a-fucking-men. But all those bells and whistles take power—and the suit may be a hundred years ahead of its time, but the batteries? Let me tell you, sometimes it feels like this thing’s running on a couple of triple-A’s.
They say it keeps you going under normal conditions for almost a week without a recharge. I don’t have to tell you conditions are anything but normal out there. I tapped into the grid on those rare occasions when I could find a grid to tap into. Even then, it was even money whether I’d be able to suck up a decent charge before the extra load blew the breakers over ten city blocks.
The suit’s got a NOM option to metabolize carrion on the battlefield. Cellular ATP gives you almost sixty kilojoules per mole, and that’s not even counting bomb-cal content of the raw meat. So, yeah. I used it once or twice, to keep myself going. I fed off the dead like a fucking tick, and I’m not proud of it.
Still, you can’t deny it makes sense. The grid may go down, clouds may cut you off from your solar sats—but the one thing you’ll never run out of down here is bodies.
Gould isn’t gone. I’m starting to get the sense that Gould is never gone, not really. He’s like one of those mutant unkillable STDs you pick up out in the Gene Zone: Just when you think you’re finally free of it, your dick starts oozing again.
He pops back onto my comm channel as if the dustup at his apartment had never happened, bursting with good news he’s skimmed from forbidden frequencies: some kind of field hospital set up at Trinity. He figures that was where CELL planned to “debrief” Prophet. The good news is that hardware designed to interface with all the suit’s black boxes is pretty much a given.
“The bad news,” he says, “is that we’re going to have to storm the post.”
He actually says we.
“I’m already halfway there,” he tells me. “The Harley doesn’t give a flying fuck about rocks in the road, I can thread this thing through a gutter pipe if I have to. I’ll wait for you there, but you gotta haul ass.”
I went to church religiously until I was fourteen. Never liked it much. Don’t expect to like it much now but I make the trip, find a decent vantage point to scope out the territory: a midrise apartment complex that looks like it’s been derelict since the Double Dip. The top floor gives me a perfect vantage point: Trinity’s steeple reaches up from across Broadway, a great stone dildo with a thousand ribs and projections urging the Incredible Fifty-Foot Woman to let go. The main entrance is a two-story arch, deep in shadow; but I have no trouble making out the two CELL grunts slouching in the shade.
I zoom the view and pan the terrain. Gould guesses the entrance is going to be rotten with motion sensors and smart guns and he’s right about that: I make three autosnipes in addition to the two hamburgers at the front before someone emerges from inside. The hamburgers jump instantly to attention. I prick up my ears, too: It’s—
“Sweet smoking Jesus, that’s Tara Strickland,” Gould says. “Used to be a Navy SEAL, went over to CELL after her father died. Try not to get killed by her. Try not to kill her, either; she’s big fish, she’s the goddamn Rosetta Stone if we can get her to talk.”
She’s talking now, tearing a strip off the grunts for slouching in a war zone. Then she disappears back inside, leaving her minions standing a lot straighter.
“Now, those assholes?” Gould says. “You can kill ’em all you want.”
So I do. Three shots total. Then I take out the smart guns. Two other hamburgers come charging out of the shadows and decide, too late, that discretion is sometimes the better part of valor. I take one of them out with a single shot; the other gets to cover behind a Ford pickup whose front bumper is festooned with the smiling face of Osama bin Laden and the words I’M STILL FREE: HOW ABOUT YOU? He knows he can’t get back to sanctuary without taking a bullet; he knows, as my grenade arcs down on top of him, that he can’t stay where he is. He bolts at the last second for an ad-infested bus stop shelter, manages one panicked yelp before the grenade goes off. He dies by the light of a flaming advertisement for Carmat Artificial Kidneys (ISN’T YOUR LIFE WORTH THE PRICE?).
I hit the stairwell and take the stairs ten at a time, make ground level in thirty seconds flat without hearing any rotors overhead, any boots below. I’m not quite sure I believe it; shouldn’t there be an assault helicopter coming over the rooftops by now? Shouldn’t someone be wondering why Asswipe Seven hasn’t called in? I can’t hear anything except this little voice in my head chuckling over the fact that we can’t even stop killing each other when we’re being invaded by space aliens.
It’s funny, you know, because it’s true.
I peek out, pan on zoom, again on thermal. I pull up my cloak and cross the street; I’m still half expecting a hail of heavenly lead but I don’t run into so much as a stop sign. I reach the bodies I’ve laid out across the asphalt, rob them of firepower and ammo that did them no fucking good whatsoever. I take some comfort in the knowledge that I will put it all to better use. I decloak in the shadows, let the charge build back up, fade again. Push one of those massive doors open just a little—solid bronze, I think, they looked like they were a couple of hundred years old—and sneak into God’s House like a shadow on its stomach.
And still nobody’s drawn any kind of bead on me. There’s nobody even here as far as I can tell. So I stand up and I look around, and—
And holy shit, Roger. It’s beautiful. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I don’t know if I can even describe it. One second you’re in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and the next you’re on the floor of this great golden cavern, it’s dimly lit but somehow you can see everything even without the augments. You’d swear the ceiling reaches halfway to the stars; it rests on massive arches topped by these glorious stained-glass windows and they aren’t even broken, Roger, I swear not a single one of them is even scratched. The seats, the benches, what do they call those—yeah, the pews. Those have been ripped out. And sure enough a field hospital’s been set up in their place but even that’s gone now, nothing left but a few rows of stripped cots and a pile of empty crates with red crosses on them. The arches tower over everything like redwood trunks from the eighteen hundreds, you know, you see pictures online sometimes. And way off at the front behind the pulpit, about halfway up the wall are rows of life-sized statues in little alcoves, saints or martyrs or something. And towering over that there’s this enormous mother of all stained-glass windows: wide as any church I’ve ever seen, and twice as high, a great arch that’s all one window full of a hundred colors and a thousand facets. Must be five, six stories high and the colors are so rich they almost hurt my eyes, I almost forgot we had colors like that in the world. The light’s almost—I don’t know. Divine.
I feel like an ant in a kaleidoscope. I swear to God, Roger, that church was so much bigger on the inside, we could pack the whole city in there if we tried. And there’s more than enough room, because I’m the only one there. No CELL grunts, no whitecoats running around with beeping boxes, no hard-ass ex-navy bitches waiting to feed me my balls on a platter. I pump up the acoustics, I zoom every shadow, and there’s nothing but this insane, beautiful pocket universe I’ve stumbled into. I just want to stay there and let Armageddon go on without me.
No chance of that, of course. Because here comes Nathan Gould roaring up outside on his motorbike and he comes stomping into the place like a fucking barbarian. I don’t think he even notices the windows. He looks around and sees nothing, kicks one of the cots. “Shit. We’re too late.”
But he gives it the once-over anyway, starts poking around the desks and the tables up front, and the spell’s broken so I figure I might as well join him. After a few minutes he lets loose a whoop and holds up a sheaf of papers like it was the head of a vanquished enemy.
“They’ve relocated!” he says. “Moved across the way to Wall Street, looks like. Closer to the trunk line.” He jerks his chin at that magnificent windowed wall. “Down in the basement, under the stairwell. There’s an access tunnel, goes under the street. I can hack the security codes, but there’s bound to be muscle. What we need—”
He looks around, and nods to himself.
“—is a diversion.”