*a sequel to Exodus Lost
"Eyes on?" McGonigal asks into the headset. He's been in Los Angeles for over a month, leading a squad from Gabriel platoon on what was turning out to be a wild goose chase. Nobody had said anything, but it was becoming obvious that none of the men thought this target was ever going to show up... or even existed.
"Eyes on," comes the response. "Tango is wearing a gray fedora."
"Where are you?" McGonigal snaps his fingers and Anwar puts down his Wii controller and brings McGonigal a city map.
"West Pico heading east. Just went under the 405; about to cross Sepulveda."
McGonigal locates the intersection and points to it, making sure the other nine men in the room can see. "Roger. He on foot?"
"And you're sure it's him?"
There is a pause, which shakes both McGonigal's growing sense of excitement and skittish sense of confidence.
"Yes." The voice on the radio is calm, and if there is any uncertainty in it, it hides it well. "The intel is good."
"Roger. Contact Survey-two and inform them of your location. Gabe-one-one out." McGonigal unkeys the transmitter, double-checks the map, and looks over his men. Almost out of habit, he makes a quick headcount, counting eight. Though there are nine people in the room, only eight are under his command. The ninth person is, by order of their superiors, officially a guest. And, McGonigal reflects, not even human.
"Get your shit together," he says to his men, "this could be it."
He turns to address the guest, who is quietly staring out a warehouse window, enjoying the encroaching sunset. "Are you coming, or staying?" McGonigal asks. He's uncomfortable giving the option, but should there be any violent disagreement, McGonigal is certain that he'd come out on the losing end.
"No," says the guest, "I think I'll stay. And perhaps go for a walk."
Fedora smiles as he walks up the busy street, feeling the waning heat from the setting sun behind him. He loves the West Coast of the United States - something about the ocean horizon - but he hates being there. He hates being anywhere on this filthy planet, really. Earth is far more lovely when viewed from a distance. Far away, Fedora can pretend that man - those bipedal mammalian ants that are slowly killing their home - doesn't exist. Far away, Fedora can pretend that Mother Earth is as beautiful as she was millenia ago. At peace with herself and her children, rather than at war with them.
Still, as Fedora approaches a piano store, he recognizes that much of what man has wrought has been beautiful. Perhaps even good.
He enters the store, well aware that he's being followed and watched. Somehow a group of these over-intelligent monkeys figured out what is about to happen and are trying to stop it. What arrogance, Fedora thinks, to believe they can confront omnipotence. Ah, humanity.
A black van follows two black sedans through the streets of Los Angeles. It's cliché, McGonigal knows, but in a city full of curious imaginations, the effect that a convoy of black vehicles has in managing traffic is enough to be worth utilizing. McGonigal rides in the second sedan, with Anwar driving. The vehicle windows are heavily tinted, but Mac - so his men call him - preps his weapon well below the door-line.
"He's doing what?" McGonigal appears confused as he responds to his surveillance team's transmission. Though outwardly determined, he secretly wonders if he should start becoming afraid. After all, Talbot's team disappeared a week ago, and other than a heavily shot-up cathedral, no evidence was left of where they might have gone to.
"Gabe-one-one, he's... ah... playing the piano."
McGonigal winces, partly due to the loudness of his headset, but mostly due to the information. "Playing the piano," he utters matter-of-factly. He turns to Anwar as if to ask a question. Anwar, keeping his eyes on the road, simply shrugs.
"Don't ask me, Sergeant. I played the trumpet."
Felt-covered hammers strike strings of steel, initiating vibrations that attack the surrounding space with deliberate percussion. The tones are ethereal and the melody is felt in the bones of passers-by. People unconsciously flock to the source of the music, engaged by a curiosity that myth claims only the Sirens can instill.
Across the street, Gagne and his spotter, Hewson, exchange concern. Gagne keys his transmitter.
McGonigal's voice cracks through the earpiece. "Go ahead, one-alpha."
"We, uh... we have a problem, over."
"What is it?"
"The tango's pulling some sort of Pied Piper bullshit. Please advise."
Silence for a moment.
"Are you still clear?"
"Affirmative, one-one, but it's dirtying up quick."
"Take the shot."
What are you doing? the guest asks, completing a lap around the warehouse. Sunset is his favorite time of the day, partially because he's not too fond of light, and partially because it's a symbol of ending. That the sunrise negates such symbolic resonance the following morning does not concern him. The guest has been around long enough to know that everything, including beginnings and endings, is part of a cycle. Playing piano?
The guest pauses and gazes directly at the setting sun, waiting patiently for a response.
It finally comes.
Enjoying my favorite instrument. A pity it took them so long to create it. And then the question the guest knew would be asked, What are you doing here?
Laughter permeates the guest's thoughts, but it is not his laughter. You? The Adversary? You've come to stop the Child? Who is managing the Court?
Choosing to take the question at face value, though he's aware it was not intended as such, the guest - The Adversary... Ha'Satan - replies, Daniel.
But of course. More laughter. The irony is not lost on either of them. I must go. Your pets are readying their bite.
Perhaps they will finally end you.
Come, now. They've been programmed to hate you, not me. They think you're their devil. I removed the stone from the tomb; they love me.
So much so they forgot to write your name.
At least they didn't soil it. Adversary.
Try as weapon specialists might, there's just no way to properly compensate for a Barrett's report. The .50-caliber weapon is simply too loud and too clumsy.
The front display window of the piano store shatters as the bullet continues its path towards Fedora's left eye. Dozens of once-enamored audience members scream and scurry like cockroaches. Yes, Fedora thinks, definitely cockroaches.
In the warehouse, the 13 men of Gabriel platoon's first squad gather, all upset and more than a little afraid at the failure of the operation. McGonigal steps away from his men and confronts Hotel Sierra - The Adversary's operational designation.
"That was no man."
The Adversary stares blankly into a wall. McGonigal briefly theorizes that he's looking through it.
"I informed you of such a possibility," the Adversary states. Though ostensibly emotionless, McGonigal imagines a graveness to the voice.
"Possibility? Bullshit. You knew. You fucking knew. Gagne and Hewson said he dodged that bullet. What was he?"
"What do you think?"
"A demon? An angel, maybe? We seem to be fighting every side here."
The Adversary nods. "Yes, an angel."
"One of the lower orders, though it wouldn't do any good to say which, since your kind has never properly deciphered our hierarchy. Your early propensity for storytelling hampered any chance of that happening."
McGonigal frowns. He doesn't like being told that his beliefs are really not what he believes. Yet, he has no choice to but to believe it. Sensing resignation in both McGonigal and the rest of the men, the Adversary uncharacteristically decides to offer further explanation.
"He was a man once. Our Patriarch impressed him into service."
"What?" McGonigal doesn't quite understand the point.
"Of all the orders, those are the easiest to kill."
Nodding, another question pops into McGonigal's mind. "They're impressed? Like slaves?"
"In a manner of speaking."
McGonigal blinks, unsure of what to make of the revelation.
"You are surprised?" the Adversary continues. "Your soul is a slave to your god. That you humans... refuse to call it that is self-righteous ignorance."
Tired of what McGonigal feels is blasphemous and heretical talk, he retorts, "Whatever." Returning to his men, he begins issuing orders. "Get everything ready to roll. We're going back to Ireland ASAP."
The men disperse, each somewhat excited to return to home base, but even more relieved to return to the one place on Earth they assume is safe to be, even if the assumption is a false one.
"Hold on, Gagne," McGonigal calls out, stopping his sniper in his tracks. "Is there anything you think is worth adding to the after-action?"
Gagne tilts his head and shakes it slowly, then replies, "His piano playing..." - the shake turns into a nod - "it was impressive."
Back at the piano store, as the Los Angeles PD takes statements and attempts to recreate the incident, an eerie sound begins to emanate from one of the pianos. It is a melody, ethereal and beautiful, like a haunting dream that may not have been dreamt. And nobody hears it.
Strangely, as detectives and patrol officers scour the scene, they find no bullet nor bullet hole in the store. Nor do they find a bullet casing around the bullet's estimated point of origin, that being safely tucked away in one of Gagne's pockets. There is nothing. No blood, no body, and no evidence... save a shattered window, the ramblings of uncertain witnesses... and a felt hat on a piano bench.
*Continued in Garden of Fire