December 31, 2012

Final Encryption - Part 4

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.”
   Marie-Ange shrugged.
   “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.
   “What the…?”
   “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.”


December 8, 2012

Final Encryption - Part 3

In which we get a Bible quote, a 1936 General Electric Colorama E-126, and some nudity.

The nun led Ricky down a long stone corridor, to a chapel.  A few rows of cherrywood pews, four stained glass windows filtering the pale morning light into simple geometrical motifs on the floor.  The altar was some concrete modern thing from the sixties.  It reminded Ricky of a ’57 Buick, which made him think of his Mustang, and how it was probably stolen by now, by some greedy bastard who would soon regret being born.
“Don’t worry about your car,” the nun said.
“What,” Ricky snickered as they walked down the aisle, “you’re gonna tell me God will take care of it or something?”
“God has better things to do,” she said.  “And soon, so will you.”
“No I won’t.”
“Also, I think God hates red cars.  Now be quiet.”  She kneeled down in front of the altar, joined her hands together in front of her like a supplicant, and yelled:  “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!”
“Uh?” said Ricky.
The altar pivoted with a soft electrical whirr and revealed a flight of metal stairs descending into the ground.  “Matthew 23:24,” the nun said.
“What does it mean?” Ricky said.
“Not a clue.  But it makes a good password.”  She gestured Ricky to walk down the stairs, and followed him.  She still had the gun, but by then Ricky was too damn intrigued to think about running.  Who the hell was this crazy nun, and what was she doing here?  Where was here, for that matter?  It looked like some sort of religious building, an old convent maybe, but it seemed deserted, except for that man with the strange antenna contraption he’d seen in the yard.  And he couldn’t deny that the nun had a certain strange charisma that seemed to be drawing him in despite his best judgment.
They climbed down into a large concrete room overhung with fluorescents.  Wooden shelves, packed with books and documents, lined the walls.   Three rows of oak desks occupied the center of the room.  Sitting at the desks were eleven men and women, working under old articulated desk lamps.  Ricky took them in quickly and the first thing he thought was that they couldn’t have looked less well-matched.  Dress, age, looks, hair, everything about them was dissimilar.  The next thing that struck him was that, where they appeared to be doing some sort of office work, there were no computers. 
In fact, the only piece of technology he could see in the room was an antique, massive radio that stood in the middle of the room.  Ricky immediately recognized a 1936 General Electric Colorama E-126.  An array of cables and wires ran from it and disappeared behind a stone column.  It appeared to be off at the moment.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Ricky said.  “What the hell is this place?  Who the hell are you?”
The nun put her gun away.  “You’re right, I owe you an explanation,” she said.  “But first, take off your clothes.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ricky said.
“We need to search you,” the nun said.
“Really?  I think you just want to get yourself some eye candy, sister.”
The nun laughed.  “Oh, I’m not the one who’s gonna do the searching,” she said.  “Crowbar is.”
A man that looked like a mountain with tattoos rose from one of the desks and stood in front of Ricky, who found himself staring at sirloin-like pecs.  He tilted his head back until he was able to meet the mountain’s eyes, but found only a pair of knock-off ray-bans.
“Your mom has fed you well,” he said.
The nun turned chastely around and stared at the wall as Ricky stripped to his shorts.  Crowbar’s search was surprisingly gentle, which made Ricky more uncomfortable than the usual rough pat-downs he’d gotten used to on some of his cross-border ventures.
“So, what are you doing here working in a convent for a nun,” Ricky asked as Crowbar checked his leather jacket and looked through his wallet.
“Marie-Ange saved my soul,” Crowbar said in a soft voice.
“You always exaggerate, Crowbar,” the nun said in an oh-you-sweet-talker tone.
“What’d it need saving from?” Ricky said.
“He’s all clean, Ange,” Crowbar said without answering.
Ricky got back into his clothes and Marie-Ange turned back towards him.  “Crowbar Eddie did some work for the bikers several years ago.  He was what I believe they call a cleaner.  I found him in the Bordeaux jail.”
“What the hell brought you there?” Ricky said.
“A call from God.  Plus I needed to get away from the convent and all these women having their PMS at the same time as me.”
“So now Crowbar works for you,” Ricky said.  “Doing…?
Marie-Ange nodded.  “Yes.  The explanation.  So…”
A fast clicking sound from a desk in the corner interrupted her.  She turned.  The man at the desk spoke in an urgent tone.  “Marie-Ange.  We have activity on two.”
Marie-Ange walked quickly over.  Ricky followed, puzzled.  The man who had spoken was well into his seventies, with short silver hair and a well-groomed mustache.  A threadbare tweed jacket hung on his shoulders like it hadn’t moved in a decade.  He was manning what looked like an antique telegraph machine.  “This is Aurélien,” said Marie-Ange.  “He’s our telegraph operator.  I found him when he quit the navy.”
“Honorably discharged,” Aurélien said with a smile that bore such sadness that Ricky almost looked away.  “Cross of Valor and everything.  All for burning down a village.”
“What do we have, Aurélien?” Marie-Ange asked before Ricky could say something.
“Coordinates.  With the usual nine-letter intro code.  It’s him.”
Marie-Ange’s face tightened.  Four people, two men and two women, got up from their desks and headed for the stairs.  “Where?” the nun asked Aurélien.
“Old Montreal,” Aurélien said.  He scribbled an address on a piece of paper and handed it to her.
“Two hours.”
Marie-Ange’s jaw tightened.  “We won’t make it,” she said.
“We will if I drive,” Ricky said.
He had no idea what had made him speak up.  But he knew he’d put his finger into something that was about to eat him whole.