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New chapters will be posted Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays.

Chapter 3

Giuseppe Moretti’s life was boring. It had taken him a long time to realize this, but then it took him a long time to realize most things. The fifth son of a locomotive engineer, Giuseppe’s four older brothers had grown up to become engineers themselves. Giuseppe on the other hand found a job working the ticket booth at Termini Station. He knew his family considered him a failure. His mother told him so daily. He knew his ex-wife agreed with them. She had told him so the day she left. Years ago, he had decided to do something about his situation, to prove to everyone how much he could accomplish. He enrolled in the Instituto Tecnico, he even bought a book. Unfortunately he lost his schedule and could not find his classes for a month and a half. After his first semester’s exams he had three eighteens and a fifteen. Giuseppe Moretti went back to punching tickets.

Most of the ticketing in Termini Station was now done electronically, with travelers making their purchases at computer kiosks throughout the terminal. The old booths sat empty, with only one at the end still lit. Here lurked Giuseppe day after day, listening to hidden speakers whisper their dogmatic message, and watching the hustle and bustle pass him by. Much like his life had passed him by, he thought sadly. For the most part he was merely an onlooker, sitting behind his window. He was separated from everyone, yet liked to imagine that their actions were all a grand play made only for him. Every once in a while, some errant passenger would approach; causing poor Giuseppe to brighten considerably, but most moved on with little more than a glance. To them he was an obsolete curiosity, an unlamented relic of an age where humans relied on each other, and took supposedly pleasure in casual interaction.

As the hours slowly passed in the booth, he wished that something extraordinary would occur. Today he found himself wishing quite the opposite. It began when the small fan he had tacked to the wall behind him stopped working. It took a long moment for the sudden quiet and the still air on his neck to break through his customary lethargy. It took another long moment for him to lever his prodigious bulk around to investigate. He had already begun sweating. Giuseppe had promised himself that he would start exercising again after his wife left him. Like most things Giuseppe Moretti promised he never quite got to it.

After a few experimental pokes and a vigorous shake the old fan began showing signs of life. With the unhealthy grind of broken internal components it wheezed back into a jerky pantomime of its former movement. Satisfied with his minor success, Giuseppe himself wheezed back to the front of the booth. While he was attempting to return to his customary position he found himself face to face with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Simple clothes did nothing to hide a regal bearing, which somehow made her seem even taller than she already was. She took his breath away like no journey to fix a disobedient appliance ever could. For long moments he blinked owlishly through thickly smudged glasses as her kind blue eyes peeked back from behind errant blonde locks.

“Did you hear me, train man?” barked a gruff voice. “We need some tickets.”

Giuseppe was startled. He had never imagined an angel would sound so masculine. It was not until a large hand gently pushed the woman out of the way that he realized she had not been the one who had spoken. Now he found himself staring through the window into startlingly dark eyes, and they did not look kind. Giuseppe’s jaw dropped. The man was a Holy Inquisitor; there was no mistaking that uniform.

“Tickets you said sir? Of course sir, what tickets do you need sir?”

“Well, seeing as this is a train station, train tickets would be nice.”

Giuseppe blushed. “Yes sir, of course sir. What I meant to say was where would you like to go? Sir.” He began fidgeting frantically with his papers, wishing the dark eyed man would stop staring at him like that. Surprisingly, the woman moved to his rescue, slapping the Inquisitor on the shoulder.

“We know what you meant friend, my brother here is just being difficult.” Her voice was like the smooth velvet of his ex wife’s good dress. Giuseppe blushed again.

“We would like to take the express to Paris, Mr…”

“Moretti.” He stammered. “Giuseppe Moretti. One moment please.”

Grabbing two pencils, he began tapping the erasers frantically on his keyboard. His thick fingers sometimes pressed more than one key at a time, and he wanted to take no chances messing up the order of a member of the Church. Especially not that of an Inquisitor. After what seemed like an extra long pause to Giuseppe, the machine printed out their passes and he watched them walk off to the terminal their train would be departing from.

Leaning back on his stool he blew out a deep breath. He was glad to be out from under the eyes of the Inquisitor. What an adventure. In Giuseppe Moretti’s life he had never been so afraid. The woman had been beautiful though….

***

“What do we do now Fred?” Brita Konstantin asked for the third time. For the third time Frederick Konstantin ignored her as he stared out the window and nibbled on a bag of mixed nuts. They had been on the train for some time, gliding through moonlit countryside. With most roads through the wilds in disrepair, and the airports in Italy under the direct control of the Church, Konstantin had decided the heavily armored trains still servicing the majority of Europe were the safest way to travel. Thus far, his decision seemed to be paying off, as they were far from the city and moving fast.

After fleeing the Vatican the duo had gone to ground at one of the safe houses he maintained in the city proper. There he had finally found the time to eat a quick meal while Brita changed into some practical travel clothes he had procured for her. Konstantin opted to remain in his Inquisitor’s outfit. Odds were people would recognize him for what he was. He was relying on it.

Brita once again asked her question, and Konstantin once again remained silent. Truthfully he was not sure what to do about their predicament. It was clear that he needed to get them both away from the influence of The Church. Once they placed some distance between themselves and their superiors, he would then decide what to do about his sister.

The Church’s lands in no way encompassed the entire world, but they were extensive, roughly mirroring the size and shape of the old Roman Empire at its peak. Much like the stories he had read of that ancient civilization, the Church was strongest at its center and kept a more tenuous hold along its periphery. Unlike old Rome however, this kingdom was no republic. Years of strife and uncertainty after the Judgment had allowed the centralized Church theocracy to impose harsher and harsher restrictions on its populace. Within its heavily defended borders, citizens were protected from attack and free from hunger, but the price had been steep. Free will was a thing of the past.

Outside church lands it was rumored that a few rival nations maintained unstable control, but most of the old world was still a wild place. During the Judgment, nature reclaimed much that humanity had endeavored to create. The outer rim was a place of wild animals and wilder humans. Some were exiles. Some chose their barbaric life over the rigors of Church authority. And some were rumored to be the descendents of people who had never taken shelter during the Judgment. These were the worst, little more than animals, plagued by mutation and insanity. They were also the most likely to control dangerous magics. This was where Konstantin had conducted some of his Inquisitions. He knew the wilds better than most, knew what to expect. He hoped his experience there would be sufficient to protect Brita from Church retaliation.

At the moment they seemed safe enough, cozily ensconced in a private sleeper car, rattling along through the Italian Alps. Konstantin took another long look at the indistinguishable shapes drifting past in the night and then turned to his sister.

“Right now, we just need to think about getting you to safety. I have a good idea where we could go for that. Then I’m going to figure out how to cure you.” Konstantin refused to acknowledge Brita’s abilities as anything other than a vile affliction. He was convinced that there was some way to treat her magic. There had to be.

He turned back toward the window. “Get some rest Brita. It’s getting late.”

Lulled by the rhythmic lurch of the high speed train, she was soon breathing deeply and evenly on her couch. Konstantin remained at his post, keeping vigil long into the night.

***

Giuseppe Moretti was bored again. After the earlier excitement of the day he thought his heart would never stop racing. Time passed however, and so did the crowds, lulling him back into a semi-comatose state. It was a few hours after his brief encounter with the Inquisitor and the short-haired girl and he was preparing for the end of his shift. As he gathered his meager belongings Giuseppe noticed something else was amiss in his world.

The intimidating Swiss Guard had entered the station. In frightening numbers they were moving throughout the concourse stopping everyone with some questions and a waved piece of paper.

Giuseppe shrank back in his booth, wishing he could be closer in stature to the mice that sometimes scurried by underfoot than the hippopotamus his mother so cruelly compared him to. In Giuseppe Moretti’s experience, being questioned by the Swiss Guard was never a good thing.

Despite his best efforts to think invisible thoughts he was approached by one of the body-armored men. As the masked man turned toward the window a cold sweat broke out on Giuseppe’s brow.

“You there, in the booth. Have you seen these individuals?” The man slapped the paper he had been waving against the window. Giuseppe fumbled with his battered glasses, blinking blearily at the paper. It took a moment for his brain to register what his eyes were seeing, and when it did his jaw dropped. On the paper were reprinted photographs of the Inquisitor and the girl from before.

Giuseppe heard a voice stammering that they had been through the terminal earlier. It took him a moment to recognize the voice as his own. At the soldier’s bidding a few taps of his pencils on the keyboard pulled up their destination. Paris, France. He was quite sure it was them, yes. That also had to be the correct train, yes. They were the only tickets he had sold that day.

The soldier had barely received copies of their itinerary before he was off running through the concourse, bellowing into his radio. Giuseppe Moretti slumped back on his stool with a sigh of relief. It had been an extraordinary day.

***

Minutes after the Swiss Guard’s radio call, two fully loaded Augusta/Bell helicopters rose from the tarmac on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica, in pursuit of the night train to Paris. The mechanic-priests of the Church were fiercely proud of their ability to keep the aging choppers flying. In fear that man was doomed to repeat past mistakes, the knowledge needed to create new aircraft had been purposefully misplaced, the robotic machines that had once built such vehicles disassembled and scrapped. For the most part, man had ceded control of the skies back to the insects and birds.

The helicopters caught up with the train just as it was crossing a gorge between two mountain peaks. Coded radio calls to the conductor and engineers brought the train to a sparking halt midway across the steel bridge. Both helicopters disgorged their occupants on top of either end of the train and then hovered in midair, bathing the stalled vehicle with high-powered search lights. If anyone were to attempt to leave the train onto, over, or under the bridge, they would see it, and shoot on sight. No one departed the train.

The locomotive was an older model diesel-hybrid, a monstrosity lugging nearly one hundred and fifty passenger cars through the mountains with ease. The once opulent interior had been gutted long ago, leaving bare bench seats and stiff bunks.

The strong arm of the Church moved methodically through the rail cars, scanning every square inch for life. Every passenger was identified, and restrained in their seats. In most cases, the soldiers took the liberty of forcefully collecting donations for the faith. One burly drunk in no mood to be pushed around by anyone was unceremoniously eviscerated and dumped off the bridge. No one else complained about their rough handling. Only the impious would question the workings of the church. Besides, the Swiss Guard never apologized. Near the center of the train, the two groups quietly met outside of the car their quarry had purchased from the ticket man.

Whispered orders were passed down the line, and a door ram was brought to the fore. At exactly 3:37 in the morning the Swiss Guard burst into Konstantin’s reserved sleeper car, guns at the ready. The fugitives were not there. By the unruffled look of the bedding, it was possible that they had never been. Queries to the conductor on hand proved that no one had entered or left the car on that particular trip. Stymied, the soldiers returned to their helicopters, and the train limped on into France.

***

Konstantin jerked awake. He had been dozing in his position by the train window; his breathe leaving an expanding circle of fog on the chilly pane. Rubbing bleary eyes, he glanced at his illuminated wrist-watch. 4:05 am. Konstantin smiled, leaning back on his couch. Soon they would be in Munich.

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