In which we get a boatload of exposition, and almost learn what the hell happened to Hans.
They traded the Tercel for an equally ugly minivan that handled like Kia Motors’ idea of a combine harvester. Marie-Ange climbed in, followed by Crowbar Eddie and three other people that the nun called the intervention team. Apart from Crowbar, it appeared to be composed of a tiny woman of about sixty with grey-blond hair, a young man with a crew cut and muscle shirt, and an elderly man carrying a white cane.
Ricky floored it. As they sped towards Montreal at twice the speed limit, Ricky, white-knuckled from holding the non-power-steering wheel, spoke again.
“Alright, so, what’s going on, sister?”
Marie-Ange nodded. She’d had no time to change back into civilian clothing before leaving the convent, and her face seemed grimmer under the habit’s black and white headpiece. Ricky had to admit she looked more at home in it than in the jeans and blouse he’d first met her in. She popped a tape in the old tape deck and the power chords of Def Leppard filled the cabin. Ricky’s grip on the steering wheel increased.
“What I am about to tell you,” the nun said, “you can’t repeat to anyone, or you will die.
“That’s a little un-nunlike, threatening to kill people like this,” Ricky said.
“She wouldn’t be the one killing you, you rockabilly smartass,” Crowbar said from the back.
“Who then,” Ricky told the ex-cleaner. “You?”
“StormBrainOne,” Crew-Cut intervened, like it made complete sense.
“Is that your favourite white trash DJ?” Ricky asked him, and in the rearview mirror he saw Crew-Cut’s square jaw tense.
“Ok, kids, calm down,” Marie-Ange said. “Ricky, all you need to know is that this information is very dangerous. ”
“Like what happened to Hans?” Ricky asked.
“Yes. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Ok. Explain. I want to know.”
“My name is Marie-Ange Lévesque. I’m a sister of the order of Saint-Mary-Magdalen and The Holy Child and The Holy Gates Of Heaven.”
“You should get yourselves an acronym.”
“The order,” Marie-Ange went on, “is big on finding your calling. My spiritual advisor insisted heavily on that during my years as a novice. So, after working in prisons, on an army base, at homeless shelters, in food banks, with orphans, at CCS, in hospitals and in South Sudan, I finally found mine.” She smiled and looked at the intervention team with motherly fondness.
“And it was…?” prompted Ricky after a moment.
“To assemble a team of experts whose goal it would be to restore the balance of justice, stop dangerous imbeciles who threaten the Earth, protect the meek, and save the world in general.”
There was a long silence, during which Def Leppard had time to play two songs that sounded exactly the same, and Ricky considered jumping out the moving car. Finally he settled for “You’re insane, sister.”
“What’s that got to do with me and Hans?” Ricky pressed on.
Marie-Ange’s face darkened. “I’m sorry for your friend.” Ricky could see she meant it. “Our present mission is very dangerous, and it appears I had underestimated the reach of our enemy.”
“Enemy?” Ricky said. There was a genuine worry in Marie-Ange’s tone that made him afraid. And really, what the hell had happened to Hans?
“Our previous mother superior, God rest her soul, was an old psychotic religious bigot,” Marie-Ange said.
Ricky wondered what that had to do with anything.
“When she passed away, five months ago, I was charged with cleaning up her chambers. She’d accumulated a lot of crap over the years. Papers, journals, little angel statuettes, a crucifix collection to rival the pope’s…”
The pope had a crucifix collection?
”…the collected works of Robert Fripp, all that. Going through it, I found a key, wrapped in an old piece of paper where the mother superior had written Tool of the Devil. The key eventually led me to the crypt you’ve seen earlier today. It contained only the old radio you saw.”
“The GE Colorama E-126,” Ricky said.
“Yes. I plugged it in and switched it on. Nothing happened. Dead. It was too heavy for me to carry out, and so I left it there. In mother superior’s diary, I found an entry about getting the radio as a present from a devout parishioner way back in the day. She writes that the moment she turned it on, an earthquake shook the convent, unhooking the crucifix above her desk and shattering the rose window in the old chapel. Mother superior, being an old psychotic bigot, concluded it was a tool of the devil and had it stored away in the crypt, where it lay forgotten for fifty-seven years.”
“Maybe I could sell the thing on eBay to raise some money for charity. Thinking I’d have to get movers to get it out of the crypt, I went to vespers and then to bed.”
“But in the middle of the night, I couldn’t sleep. Without knowing exactly why, I went back to the crypt. This time the radio was on. A faint yellow light illuminated its dials, and a crackling voice rose from the speaker. It seemed to come from far away, and to be repeating the same thing over and over again.”
“What was it?” Ricky asked, intrigued.
“First, what sounded like a piece of an old radio commercial, that said You need to listen well, young lady. Then a string of numbers: 573-515-B-H-719. Then Churchill saying The empires of the future are the empires of the mind. And last, Churchill again, saying We will never surrender.”
“Exactly. And every night, at exactly 2:17 am, the radio repeated the same words, the same string of numbers. I started thinking this could be important. I asked the team to look into it, and eventually we found the answer.”
“What was it?”
“For now, all I can tell you is the numbers led us to a recording. On a hidden tape.”
Ricky waited. He was starting to wonder if Marie-Ange was maybe psychotic, but she seemed coherent, and he was still intrigued. Plus, again, what the hell had happened to Hans? “Who made the recording?” he asked.
“Not who. What.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake,” Ricky said, throwing his hands in the air. The van swerved dangerously into oncoming traffic, but Ricky put it back on track with one expert twist of the wrist.
“Hey, careful man,” said Crew Cut. “And you watch how you speak to Marie-Ange.”
“Alright, don’t get your pants in a knot, Van Damme,” Ricky said. “So, what made the recording?”
The old blind man spoke for the first time. He had a weak, raspy voice. “An entity born of the analog world.”
“Huh?” Ricky said.
“We don’t fully understand it,” Marie-Ange went on. “All we know is, all the analog technological devices that mankind created over the years, the old technology, like radios, magnetic tapes, cathodic tube TVs…”
“Moog synthesizers,” the blind man interjected.
“…And all that, it appears to have created some sort of consciousness. Some crude entity that is aware of the world and of itself.”
“And… what does that mean exactly?”
“The recording was made of cuttings from early radio shows and old songs. It was a warning The analog entity had sensed the appearance of a new consciousness, one different from it. A digital entity.”
The tiny, grey-blonde woman spoke for the first time. Her voice was soft and slow, as if she weighed every word. “And this digital entity is taking over the world. Up until recently, it seemed to be content with controlling bank accounts and governmental databases, but in the last few days, it’s been leaving the confines of its digital world.”
“It’s started killing people,” Crew Cut concluded.
“We’re here,” Crowbar interrupted as Ricky veered into a narrow Old Montreal cobbled street. “Suit up.”
TO BE CONTINUED.