Lori waves me a kiss. Then she runs for a real one. Another.
“Don’t be late.”
“I won’t.” I guess I won’t, answers my mind in silence.
Next to the parking lot of a brand new, never opened, Walmart, I detect the location of a Black Manta. Why on earth are we still using these outdated craft? Never mind, I get in, we take off, and cloak.
Half an hour later, I descend, the Manta flies back as a PVP promptly stops thirty feet ahead of the cylinder that I’ve placed vertically in the sand. A legionnaire descends from the four-wheeler.
“Mon Général, permetez-moi de me présenter. Sergent Béatrice Challe de la Légion étrangère.” Taking my right hand from the cylinder, I return the salute. “Suivez-moi,” she continues after the firm handshake.
I follow her to the vehicle, cylinder at hand. We don’t speak. Still, she spreads comfort and warmth all around my chest. I try to smile — and reciprocate, maybe? — I have no idea what is going on. But her thoughts tell me to relax, to absorb the signal. She used to be a nun, a Cistercian nun. She was shot, point blank, and killed. Showing me her death, I see her Savior, and Groom. I pass out.
Only for a second. Because she moves her right hand from the steering wheel on to my chest, where I feel a pleasant pressure. Electric excitement. Somehow the way I was given to see when her Groom had pressed her open wound. Smiling at me, she turns the headlights on, grabs the wheel with both her hands and presses the gas pedal. By the buzz of the engine, this ‘gas pedal’ is… Nothing more than a pedal for a rheostat — lands a thought of hers on my cortex.
The electrical vehicle plunges beneath the beige surface of Mauritania, West African France. A tunnel! Makes sense to me. Ten minutes later, leaving the vehicle behind, we take the elevator. Then another one. And yet another.
I give up counting the elevators. Am I in a cheap French comedy? Her wide and round green eyes — yes, no more sun glasses down here — tell me that we may take the staircase but, in order to reach the closest door, we’d have to take the ascenseur up a few levels. That’s why you call it an ascenseur, to ascend, I joke.
Same as you call it an elevator — it’s for taking people up, not down. I try to laugh. She gets me: nunnery humour, not as spicy as the French humour you’d expect. I get her: can we speed this up, somehow?
Let me hug you, says she not wasting a moment. Embraced, so unexpectedly for my senses, by her gentle arms and her firm legs, I find myself hovering, and descending slowly, over a wide platform of granite.
Touchdown. She frees me, not before making sure that I can stand on my feet. The cylinder is in my hands. As it always was. Still hovering, like a Colibri with invisible wings, she invites me to learn the art of levitation. How? I ask, on impulse.
Forget the impulse! Focus on my hands, imitate me — she answers.
I’ve got the impression that my hands, my feet, well, my entire body, follows her thinking, without paying much attention to my impulses. I fly. Is this imponderability?, I ask her, for the second time at lost.
Not exactly. Your mind, actually mine, controls gravity field acceleration and inertia. I teach you how to master the fields, how to fly.
How about teleportation?, I dare on, like a naughty boy.
Took me quite a lot of weeks to calibrate my destinations, and I’ve been already upgraded.
Killed and fixed. You saw this in my presentation, when we met. Teleportation is not for the faint of heart.
Am I faint of heart?, you think.
You’re a brave man. A US General with a mission. Teleportation won’t help your mission.
Yes. It comes in handy. Look left!
I look left. And try to keep my composure, to stay brave. At least because she told me that I am brave. Not easy to keep your courage when facing a huge head rising, from the abyss, above the edge of this granite plateau. Indeed, she looks like Lady Liberty, I wonder, gathering my courage to fly again. On my own.
Unlike your statue in New York, Astarte is alive. A living woman, not a dead idol. Fly, General, fly!
My courage, that I can’t actually gauge, is clearly propelled by the gracious French Sergeant behind me.
She doesn’t seem too talkative to me, I rant about the giant lady with closed eyes.
I took her offline. She’s totally unconscious. I can control her moves. And her mind.
Like you do mine?
Well, you know what you’re doing. I just assist you with flying your way up. But Astarte, her mind is frozen. Isn’t this the main requirement for your mission?
It is. Can I unseal the cylinder now?
Only if you’ve got confirmation from the other end.
Kronos is on his knees, praying for clemency with all his being. Totally disconnected from Astarte. For two hours and a half.
I don’t know how you do that?
Ask our Lord, whispers my mind an instant before I feel like loosing thrust. What’s going on? I’m falling!
Whoops. There you go. Up again. I’ve asked. Impressive. Archangel Michael keeping Kronos on his knees.
A military operation. End to end. Unlocking the cylinder, I draw the sword out.
Wow! What is that?
You mean, that Sword?
You m-mean, a copy, a duplicate.
No, I mean the same.
Startled, she sends me silence. No word. No answer.
Not even flight commands. Says she telepathically. Not even… Now I realize that I can fly, all by my own. Or is this because I am handling the Sword?
May be. But one Sword at the core of Saturn, in Michael’s hand, and the very same Sword deep here, under the Richat Structure, in your hand?
One and the same. Yes.
Look, I fix Astarte’s forehead, right in the middle…
Aiming for her pineal. I see. Should I disconnect?
By no means. No one wishes to wake her up. Plus, there’s a lot of pain. In her best interest, you’d rather keep Astarte anesthetized. Don’t you think–
Sliding the Sword in, I can feel the pain of Béatrice. The hilt goes in after the blade. Has to. Nothing to see. No wound. No blood. Even the orange glow is vanishing, like a morning star.
Hands free, I find myself falling. A free fall. This until the gentle hands, and firm legs, of Béatrice will catch me. Tight to her flying body.
You’re all sweat, Béatrice. Why?
My head burns. I can feel it deeply.
The sensation of it.
She feels nothing.
No. Never. She’s not supposed to.
I am sorry for causing you this kind of pain.
Don’t be. I’ll forget it. Tried to, several times, but it’s yet too vivid, too soon.
She lands me on the plateau. Then we beam up to the surface, where the Manta awaits for me. Before stepping aboard, I thank Béatrice with a long hug — this time it’s my turn — and a friendly kiss on both her cheeks. She blushes. “Merci bien. Que notre Seigneur vous garde.” After speaking this out loud, she is no more. Vanished away in a trail of azure.
Two hours later, Floor U8, under Utah.
“Sir, it’s coming online, the signal is strong. The backdoor is operational. Generating first frames.”
“Rather a frontdoor. Let me see.”