The Penitent: Preview Chapter

Sam had to admit that the professor’s home was nice. Very nice. And yet it was still homey. It had a lived-in feel to it that made it seem so much more comfortable than the apartments of the academics Sam had encountered during his days as a newsman. Those were all practically barren with uncomfortable but expensive furniture and strange art pieces at carefully measured intervals designed to make the dweller look sophisticated and cultured but which really made them come across as shallow and status-obsessed. The walls were cream-colored to help keep the home cool and the ceilings were high with fans in every room. Sam and James were both sitting in the professor’s office in comfortable wingback chairs. A massive desk separated them and behind it, against the wall, was another large computer desk. The professor sat in his own comfortable leather chair across the desk from them, several large manila file folders spread out in an orderly fashion on his desk. Coasters on the edge of the desk closest to them held large glasses of iced tea and the pitcher sat off to the side for refills should they be desired. Though the door was closed, the smell of a good home-cooked meal wafted into the office. Clearly the professor expected that this visit might stretch longer than a few hours.

“Sam, it’s been quite a few years since we last spoke,” Professor McDaniels said cordially. “Tell me, are you and Kimber still together?”

“Yes, sir, we are. I’m hoping to convince her to marry me after this assignment is wrapped up,” Sam said with a smile.

“And you, James, you’ve traveled quite a distance to discuss something we could easily have talked about via the datasphere.”

“I’m not certain I trust discussions like this taking place in a space that the Archangel seems to have absolute control over,” the detective inspector said politely. “She has been known to exercise her will in what must amount to her jurisdiction.”

“That she has,” the professor agreed quietly. “Now, I assume you two gathered some information on her current activities while in Gadsden, correct?”

“All due respect, Professor, but I’m still not convinced that Jacobsen was an Archangel kill,” Sam interrupted. “James has presented a good case for it being her but I’m not entirely convinced.”

“You should be,” the professor replied. “I know for a fact that Jacobsen was an Archangel kill. You could say I heard it from the horse’s mouth.”

“You have direct contact with the Archangel?” James cut in, sounding excited.

“Yes, I do. I’ve known her for a good many years. I can also tell you that I don’t know who she was before she became the Archangel. I have my suspicions but absolutely no proof. From what I do know of her, though, I know that she wants to be left alone and in peace. She might have relatives still living and if her identity were uncovered and publicized, those family members could be in danger of reprisals. Tell me, would knowing that convince you to call off this search?”

James and Sam exchanged a look and then the British man shrugged. “I can sympathize with wanting to protect her family,” he said, “but no, it’s not sufficient reason for me to call off this search. To be honest, I’ve been a bit…fascinated by her since I was still in uni. I was pretty much threatened with being forced to take an early retirement or to use my vacation to track her down and get this out of my system.”

“I see. And you, Sam?”

“Congress wants to honor her at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Treaty of New York. I’ve been put on this by every major news agency in the US. I can’t, in honor, back out now just because she fears something might happen. If you had substantial proof that a reprisal was highly likely, then I would pass that information back up the chain and maybe they would call it off. More likely, though, is that Congress would offer to ensure her family’s protection which would make that a bit of a moot point.”

“Very well then,” the professor sighed. “I can’t tell you exactly who the Archangel is. Yes, I know,” he said, holding up a hand to forestall interruption, “I have spoken with her directly via the datasphere. I have my suspicions about who she might be but I’ve never been certain. The best I can do is put you in contact with people who might have known her both before and shortly after she became the Archangel. Indeed, they can probably give you a fuller picture of her than I could even were I to give you the name I suspect she once had. You see, if I give you the easy answer,” he smiled, taking on a slightly lecturing tone, “then you will hit a dead end very quickly. You will fall prey to the very issues I had with trying to uncover her identity before I gave it up. So, instead, I’m going to give you information that will send you on the journey I wanted to make but never could and I hope you have better luck than I did.”

“Why do I have the sudden feeling we’re being sent out on something that’s a cross between a grand quest and a snipe hunt?” James groaned.

“I wouldn’t send you on a snipe hunt,” the professor chuckled. “I haven’t pulled that particular prank since I retired. However, I can’t promise you’ll be successful. I can’t promise that these leads will do anything other than take up time and money. You are, of course, free to search them out or to ignore them entirely. However, they are the best contact points I have on the project that lead to the Archangel’s strange digital ‘birth’ during the Great Cyber War.”

“We’ll discuss your leads and make our decisions on it later, Professor,” Sam said after a moment’s thought. “You don’t sound surprised that Congress wants to honor her, though.”

“I’m not,” the older man sighed. “But then, Congress has generally been a passel of fools who are looking to shine in the reflected glory of others and make it seem their own. They want to honor me at that ceremony as well. They want to name me Washington’s heir for the work I did in helping to bring the United States back to its original foundation.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” James asked, confused by the derisive tone. “I mean, if I were to be knighted, I’d be honored.”

“I suppose that if I hadn’t had to deal with so many of the venal, conniving, back-stabbing, power-hungry sons of bitches and that if I hadn’t managed to get my words out to the people and the few politicians who could be trusted, I might not feel so strongly. But, I spent years helping to rebuild the government after its own excesses destroyed it. I spent years before that thinking about how best to govern and analyzing at what points in our history we went wrong. I taught history and political philosophy for many years and I saw many fads in politics come and go. I watched as the country ripped itself to pieces just when it needed its strength the most and I watched some of those very politicians who are talking about “honoring” me take sides and posture for personal gain. So, no, the fact that those despicable cretins want to honor me isn’t something that fills me with awe.”

“I’ve never heard you speak this way,” James muttered. “And I’ve heard a good many of your speeches. Always about how strong America is, how she’s the shining city on the hill and all that rot.”

“Don’t get me wrong,” the professor explained, “I love my country. I just sometimes want to kill the government. The country is wonderful. The people — especially now that they’ve shaken off the shackles of apathy — are the best people in the world. We’re strong and, thank God, once again ascendant in the world. Through the intervention of true patriots, we were able to avoid another Dark Age. But even the ideals of America and her bright hope can’t perfect humanity and it’s generally the most imperfect among us who feel compelled to seek political power. I just hope that this time around the people keep a much closer eye on their government and don’t just blindly trust the news media to report things accurately and to hold all sides accountable.”

Sam flushed. Though he was one of the honest reporters, he still felt the sting of shame when he thought about the way that so many others were still all too willing to take sides and cover for “their” guys. His own grandfather had been one of the worst in the years leading up to the Great Cyber War and had definitely helped to inflame the Coastal Rebellion that followed. “We are doing our best to make certain that journalism becomes a more ethical and professional job,” he muttered.

“Yes, I know, and the press definitely serves a vital function. Which is why it was so wrong of them to abandon their duties in the first two decades of the twenty-first century,” the professor continued. “When we needed to be at our strongest, the press and the political parties did their damnedest to ensure that we were at our weakest. But,” he sighed, “we’ve come a bit far afield. You gentlemen came here to get my help in finding the Archangel so she could be ‘honored,’” he snorted. “This information should get you started. If you’d like to use my phone to call ahead and make an appointment with the Chief, I can go and take care of the travel arrangements for you,” he continued as he pulled several documents from the various manila folders and tucked them into an empty one that he handed over to Sam. Sam glanced at the pages inside and grimaced.

“I’d better call Kimber and tell her where to meet us,” he sighed. “At least I have good relations with Chief Taylor. Otherwise, we’d get the worst kind of run-around from his department.”

“Chief Taylor?” James asked.

“The chief of the New New York Police Department,” Sam replied.

~*~*~*~

Sam was relieved to see that Kimber was ready for them when their plane finally landed in New New York. He did not want to introduce James to the taxi system that ruled the city. New New York was a younger, rougher, and much more chaotic version of the original city. Buildings had been hastily constructed and roads were almost an afterthought. Though there was a method to the madness, it was one that was difficult to discern and took much longer than Sam planned for them to be in the city to pick up. They had an appointment for later that afternoon and Sam intended them to stay only a week at most before meeting up with one of the Air Force cargo flights that would be making its way from New New York to Okinawa carrying a crew of cadets.

“I am so glad we won’t have to stay in a hotel,” Sam sighed as he pointed Kimber out to James. “The hotels in New New York are terrible and overpriced.”

“They’re not still infested with bedbugs, are they?”

“Bedbugs are the least of your concern. The beds are uncomfortable, the couches are torture, the floors are covered in carpeting that feels like a rougher version of sandpaper, and they charge you for everything. Take the elevator instead of the stairs? Charge. Use the alarm clock? Charge. Turn on the television? Charge. It’s insane. I get that everyone’s trying to recoup what they lost in the nuclear attacks but it’s not something you can get back in a year, you know?”

“Blimey.”

“At least the elites haven’t been allowed to come back and ruin things even further,” Kimber said with a wink. “If you keep your wits about you, you can generally beat even the worst of the current scoundrels but when the elites were running things, they managed to spread around nothing but misery to everyone who wasn’t in their social caste. Granted, the rest of us were pretty ignorant and stupid ourselves to just follow along with whatever they said. Man,” she snorted, “we really were dumb. They’d talk about social justice and income equality and then lock themselves up in their gated communities and luxury apartments while the rest of us were scrambling to scrape together enough to pay for our shoebox homes and keep food on the table. But, we were dumb enough to believe them and, hell, no one really wanted to move out of New York City. After all, it was the unofficial capital of the United States. No, we stayed and we wound up believing everything we were told to believe and that’s how the Rebellion got started.”

“You fought in the Rebellion?” James asked.

“No, I was dumb but not that dumb,” Kimber replied happily. “My family and I evacuated to Chicago to try to get away from the siege, I wound up on a train that was ‘captured’ by the enemy. Or,” she chuckled, “that’s how the Coastals told it. In truth, the train broke down and there wasn’t anyone on board who could fix it. So, we started walking through so-called ‘hostile territory.’ We wound up learning a lot on our trek to Chicago that revealed just how much of the stories we’d been fed by the news media were fiction. My family decided to stay in Indiana where I learned how to build cameras and cars as well as algebra and astronomy. Amazing just how well-educated those ‘yokels’ were. They were completely unlike the feral hordes of barbarians that the reporters would have had us believe.”

“How could anyone believe that kind of nonsense?” James asked as Kimber led the two of them towards her car.

“It wasn’t the more extreme stories at first,” she explained. “Just like a frog will stay in a pot so long as the water is slowly warmed up until it boils and kills him, we were all slowly fed stories that were more and more incredible until, at last, they were complete works of fiction and we had nothing to judge them against. It was the whole Big Lie thing again – repeat a lie often enough and give your audience only one or two sources of information that re-inforce each other and they’ll have no choice but to believe whatever they are told. It’s how the Eastern Bloc worked and held power for so long. Besides, there was just enough truth reported about what the Heartlanders believed to terrify some people if it was twisted and distorted,” she continued, “but it wasn’t at all like we were told. They were just as complicated and varied as we were. Only, they did look after each other. Far too often, the urbanites trusted that someone else would take care of the poor. Someone else would do all those nice things that ought to be done.”

Sam had been grinding his teeth through most of her recitation. He hated being reminded just how biased the media coverage of anything related to the Heartlanders had been in the early part of the century. It made him feel ashamed of his ancestors and his own profession. “At any rate,” he cut in, “over seventy years of slowly steeping in propaganda made it easy for later generations to just blindly believe whatever they were told and to live in mortal fear of going outside of the urban areas lest some Heartlander out there jump you and enslave you or something. I think that, if it hadn’t been for some of the worst elitists in control of the media right at the end of the Great Cyber War, once that was wrapping up and it became clear that no one was interested in coming into New York City or Chicago or anywhere else and taking them over — they were all content to just let the cities collapse under their own dead weight and debt — all those years of propaganda would have been undone when the dreaded Armed Forces not only didn’t do what the media swore they would but did just the opposite.”

“Not that many of them have learned their lesson, though,” Kimber snorted. “After the Rebellion, they were all relocated and kept dispersed to keep them from ever causing problems again. Now it’s just those who are looking to make money that you have to worry about, not those who want to tell you how to think and live — for your own good, of course.”

“I remember hearing about that and thinking it was terrible to uproot and forcibly migrate people,” James said thoughtfully.

“They really didn’t have much choice. The mercenaries that the Coastals had hired and the pure-blind fools they’d gotten to serve under arms had surrendered. They knew that the Rebellion was finished. But the people ‘in charge’ didn’t want to admit defeat. They were looking for ways to hire more mercs and were even thinking about bringing forces like the ISIS or the Mexican cartels. Enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that rot. They said that the only person they’d listen to from the Heartland would be the Professor who had decided to go out and try to enlighten those poor benighted hicks.”

“How did he manage to gain their respect?” James asked curiously. “He’s from Mississippi, isn’t he?”

“He is,” Sam confirmed with a nod. “Born and raised there. But, he had established himself as a genuine scholar many years before. His field of study was history but he dabbled in many other areas as well — literature, science, mathematics, philosophy. And, he had this way about him, this manner of speaking and arguing that made people listen. Even if they disagreed completely, they still listened. Also, he never talked down to anyone or said anything that would be insulting. When people on either side of the political aisle did insult him, he bore it with dignity and simply said he had never found those tactics to be effective unless you wished only to preach to the choir. That would set both sides off even worse. Still, the elites on the Coasts found him charming and well-spoken. They kept him around rather like they might have kept around an orangutan in a suit. But, they did know that he was well-respected throughout the rest of the country even if he wasn’t the kind of fiery “we’re right and they’re goin’ ta hell” speaker they thought was only acceptable in Flyover Country. Myself, I think the Coastals asking for the Professor was their last bluff. They didn’t think that the Heartlander forces would listen to him and let him set terms. When they did, the Coastals were caught — either they went along with their own demands or they would face even worse punishment. So, they bent their necks and accepted the terms the Professor laid out. To do otherwise would have gotten them nowhere — especially once word came back that the currency they were using wouldn’t be accepted by any merc forces. Stubborn as they were, even the elites realized that they would be facing war and worse if they didn’t accept the Professor’s terms.”

“Was the forced dispersal one of his terms?”

“It was,” Kimber answered. “The reason the elites had so much power was because they were concentrated in key areas and industries. They controlled the media, the entertainment industry, and the vast majority of academia. They had allies in all of the old unions — even though they were dying out — and they had managed to take over many of the governmental agencies. It was a slow takeover and not violent but it was still a takeover. Once they had gained control of an area, whether it was by dent of their talents or by underhanded means, they pushed out anyone who wasn’t one of their own and ensured that no other group could wrest power from them. Well, after the Rebellion, they were forcibly migrated and most of them were forced to turn over control of their businesses to someone they and the Heartlanders could agree upon who would then either run or find a person to run the firms with the agreement that if there were deliberate mismanagement, the Restored government would pay then one hundred fifty percent of the business’s total worth at the time it was signed over or the start of the Rebellion, whichever was higher. They hated it but again, they didn’t really have any alternatives. When our real enemies found out about the migrations, they went into high gear and nuked nearly a dozen cities.” Kimber snorted and shook her head in disbelief. “The damned fools couldn’t believe it. After all, they’d spent decades supporting the Islamic terrorists, the North Koreans, the Cubans, the Soviets, and the Chi-Coms. They’d argued that Iran should have nukes because the US had them. Oh man, weren’t they just stunned when the very people they’d advocated for would have seen them dead in their own homes and the very people they’d spent three generations speaking against had saved their lives. That added together with the forced dispersal is a big part of why we were able to reunite as quickly as we did so we could turn our attention to making certain that no one ever wanted to fuck with us again.”

“Yeah,” James agreed. “It was a good thing that you guys were willing to move so quickly on that. Hell, we were trying to wrap our heads around so many of our cities getting hit and all of the rioting that was going on that we didn’t have the time or energy to do anything other than round up our own troublemakers. I, for one, am glad you Yanks got it sorted.”

“It wasn’t us that came up with that idea, you know,” Sam said with a slight grin.

“Yeah, I know. But the Archangel is one of you whether you count her or not.”

“Speaking of the Archangel,” Sam sighed. “A word of advice when we go to meet with Chief Taylor. Don’t mention any of the pre-Cyber War police bullshit to him. He’s a good one, you know, and he’s managed to beat the union down far enough to make policing an honorable profession of honorable men and women. But if you get him started on the stunts the cops pulled before they had the Archangel to monitor them and cause them no end of grief for going outside her guidelines, we could be here until the end of time.”

“I’ll keep that in mind though I wouldn’t mind a quick lesson in American policing history,” James agreed quickly.

“A lesson with the Chief wouldn’t be quick but it would be thorough,” Sam laughed. “C’mon. Let’s go see what Kimber has set up for us and get some rest. Our appointment with the Chief is tomorrow and he’s blocked out the entire day for us so we’ll want to be fresh and on top of our game for it.”

~*~*~*~

Despite himself, James was impressed by the New New York police department. It took him back to his early days as a detective sergeant working alongside the beat cops. They had arrived quite early at the precinct and were invited to observe the daily roll call and the brief discussion and exchange of information between the cops. The entire force was focused heavily on community policing and being part of the community instead of above it and their tactics seemed to be paying off quite well. Several had received tips as to where to locate a small youth gang that was planning a few robberies and one group mentioned having gotten a call that some of the local men had captured and were holding a few burglars from a crime ring prisoner waiting for the police to come and take them off their hands so they could go on to work. Pressing business of the day was quickly taken care of so that the men could get out and start on their patrols. All in all, it was nothing like James had expected when he recalled the scandals over illegal quotas, the controversial blue wall of silence, and the “me first” mentality that had plagued so many departments during the early part of the twenty-first century.

“You look almost disappointed,” Chief Seth Taylor said with a small, wry grin. He had the classic New York accent — nasally, fast-paced, and somewhat pushy. “Well, the Archangel keeps all us cops on a short leash and those of us who are from the Coasts? We’re on a choke collar to boot. Back in the early days of the Restoration when we all thought we could go back to business as usual, she started shorting out the lights, scrubbing the archives, and then resorted to shocking the shit out of all of us until we got with her program.”

“You don’t seem too bothered by it,” James said pleasantly.

“Well, she was right in what she was doing. The Coasts needed to be reminded that they hadn’t won the war. We also needed to be reminded that we might have been king of the hill once upon a time but that we had turned our back on a lot of things that made our cities and country great. Her lessons were sharp ones, true, but necessary. And, if we hadn’t been so ignorant, we wouldn’t have needed them. These days,” he continued, “the rest of the men and women accept me as Chief even though I don’t talk like previous chiefs. I’m not talking about numbers or metrics to hit for promotion or telling them to lie to IA or watch their brothers and all that rot. I’m not pushing the union to bankrupt the damned city again. Instead, I tell my team to get out there and get to know the people they’re protecting. I tell them to go live in these neighborhoods. I tell them to sit down and talk with the neighborhood leaders and discuss workable solutions to help the citizens help us keep things peaceful — even if those solutions aren’t politically correct. At any rate,” the Chief said with a laugh, “our lady Archangel is why you two are both here, isn’t she? God knows that everyone and his brother has heard that Congress is looking for her to pin medals to her chest at their big soirée.”

“Really?” Sam cut in. “What else do you know about why we’re here?”

“Let me just say that the boards on the ‘sphere are buzzing with rumors and that you two are not the first to contact me wanting to know about my experiences with the Archangel. You two are in luck, though. Not only am I here to tell you about them but there is a conference taking place next week and there are already close to three dozen sheriffs, constables, and police chiefs in town and happy to speak with you both. Though, no offense, Sam,” Seth said with a wink, “they’re more interested in talking to your British copper friend than they are you.”

“I’ve not burned any of them,” Sam protested with a laugh. “I’ve bent over backwards with them for the most part. I don’t see why I should get blamed for all the other journalists who behave badly.”

“Well, we love you just the same. Anyhow, why don’t I give you two the grand tour of my precinct’s area and then we’ll go grab lunch with all of the other lawmen who are eager to compare notes and tell stories about our lady Archangel? There might even be someone there who can give you a lead on where to head next.”

“I hope so,” Sam nodded. “All we really have to go on now is a few notes from the Professor and I’ve no real desire to wander the world with only rumor and legend to guide us.”

“I know that Chase Forester will be there. He was in the Army during the Great Cyber War. He might be able to give you a solid lead since everything points to the Archangel coming out of that group. I’ll arrange a quiet chat with him while we’re meeting with the others and see what I can find out. Now, let’s get going. Everyone is eager to talk. Have you got your recorders with you? Good. You know that this group will want proper attribution in your article. We can always use good press.”

~*~*~*~

Sam was never happier that he had Kimber and his spare recorder with him as he was while sitting back and listening to nearly forty men and women swap their stories about police academy, training, gaining rank, the Archangel, and the changes in policing since the end of the Great Cyber War. The law officer leaders were also very different than their counterparts from fifty years ago might have been. While the good ol’ boy network still played a role in some areas, it was greatly diminished. And, cops were no longer ignorant about the law or about technology. Half of the leads in the room had advanced degrees in computers, engineering, or mathematics in addition to their degrees towards their careers. Though the conversation could turn somber, it was generally vivacious as they talked about the ‘ol’ rascals’ in their areas. Only a few times did anger flash at the mention of a particularly heinous crime or when someone brought up the nuclear attacks. Mild irritation was the strongest emotion shown by some of the southern and western officers when the topic turned to the elite diaspora.

“We keep them pretty far separated from each other,” one of the sheriffs from Texas said in response to a question. “We don’t let them congregate in great numbers when it comes to where they live. Oh, they can get together and have all the meetings and all that they want but until we’re certain that they aren’t going to run us off a cliff again, ain’t nobody gonna let them get enough numbers together to elect a dog catcher.”

In time, the conversation turned to the Archangel. “So,” one of the older men, a gentleman well into his sixties, said during one of the lulls in conversation that spread across the room. “Who here had the first interaction with our lady of the ‘sphere?”

“I believe that would be Mike Krantz,” one of the others said. “Mike, tell us your story, would you? We oughta get them all down for posterity.”

The man named nodded and sat up straighter in his seat. His tie had been loosened and his hair was slightly wild from where he’d run his fingers through it. Like most of the other men, he kept his brown hair short-cropped. Krantz was surprisingly young to have been the first to interact with the Archangel out of this gathering. He couldn’t be any older than forty, James thought to himself as he settled back, folding his arms over his chest but keeping his posture relatively open and receptive.

“We figure I’m the first person here who got direct contact with the Archangel back, oh, nearly thirty years ago,” Krantz began. James raised an eyebrow at that, “I’m older than I look, McGann. By a few years, at least. At any rate, it was right after the Restoration was completed and the Coastals were resettled. A fistful of ‘em landed in my neck of the woods. I thought I’d have to keep my eye on the gangsta wannabes — you know, the young black boys in the baggy clothes, showin’ off their underwear, caps on crooked. But I was dead wrong. The gangstas never gave me any trouble — they’d been cowed by the Sneak Attacks and then awed by Operation Coyote. Instead, it was one of the rich assholes I had to deal with.”

“What happened?” Sam asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“This asshole who’d been a trust-fund baby up in Boston was accustomed to being able to have any girl he wanted. And by girl, I mean ‘girl.’ Grant liked them just barely out of puberty. I guess he flew under the radar in Boston or maybe he was able to get away with it because he was rich up there. But, down in Decatur, things were different. The Archangel must have known about him because she rang my phone and told me to keep an eye on him. She told me exactly which girls Grant was trying to lure in, how he was doing it, when, and where. She warned me that if I didn’t stop him before one of those girls got hurt, she would. Now, I’d heard the rumors during the Cyber War about some of the stuff the military was getting up to. I’d even heard some of the stories about evidence being encrypted or locked down so that no one could get to it. I’d heard about jury sequestration being violated and the jurors being shown evidence that had been excluded on technicalities. Granted, most people back then thought it was a hacker or a group of hackers. Only a handful said it was one person.

“Me? At first, I thought it was a joke. I thought it was probably some ex-girlfriend trying to get the man into trouble. After all, Grant was known to be richer than Midas and from a long line of wealthy individuals. He’d also been known as a playboy with a string of ex-girlfriends. So, I ignored it for a bit. Big mistake. See, once he figured that the police were going to ignore him and his antics, Grant escalated things. So, our lady took care of it. She killed him. I’ll never forget that call,” Krantz sighed. “The girl couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen. Grant had convinced her to come inside his house alone by telling her he wanted her to try on some clothes for a niece of his who was her age and size. He started out with photographing her then he tried to get his hand down her pants. The girl said that a loud roar went through the house and something shoved the fellow back. Grant got back on his feet and started hollering at the air and then lunged as if to tackle the girl. A bolt came clear out of the nearby wall socket and struck him hard. It didn’t let go. By the time it was over, our boy was nothing but ash, soot, and grease on the floor. His dental fillings and caps were even melted together in a lump. The girl was fine — just flash blinded for a bit. I was one of the officers sent out to question her. When I got back to my desk, I saw a bunch of new files on my computer. The Archangel apparently decided that since the fellow was dead by her hand, his privacy didn’t matter so much. She’d left me a note with a phone number, the name ‘Timothy Cook,’ and an address and orders to talk with the young man there and to listen to her the next time she sent a warning because she didn’t relish killing people – but she would do it with no remorse if left no viable alternatives. Based on her ‘anonymous tip,’ we searched his house and found corroborating evidence.

“But then, the goddamnest thing happened. I went to the address she’d sent me and knocked on the door. This gangbanger wannabe opened the door and just stared at me. I told him who I was and that I’d been asked to inform him personally that Grant was dead. The fellow just stared at me and then crossed his arms over his chest. ‘You think I did it?’ he asked.

“‘No,’ I told him, ‘I know you didn’t do it. I know who did do it.’

“‘Yeah, the Archangel,’” he said with one of those half-nods. ‘She cool. One night, after my sister Keisha kilt herself, this lady rings my phone and tells me she can’t do nothin’ ‘bout Keisha bein’ dead but that she can make certain the man who raped her didn’t never do it again. Told me who it was and that she would handle it. I asked her who she was and why some white-soundin’ woman would give two shits about niggas like us. She just got real quiet and then told me she cared about everyone and always had. Told me that I was better than the nigga I thought I was and not ever to put myself down like that again and not to use that word ‘round her ‘cause she’d always hated it when her grandmama would use it. So, I asked her again who she was and she just said to think of her as my own personal protector because the person she had been was dead as Keisha and protecting folks was all she had left.’

“That boy who I was ready to write off as a worthless thug was able to show me just how far the Archangel had brought him. He’d started learning computers and security systems so he could find out if Grant had hurt other girls. And he had a pile of evidence. Apparently, he’d taken it to the police in Boston but, the police ignored the evidence. Tim had been so discouraged by that that he hadn’t even tried to raise the issue with us when he followed Grant down to Illinois. Instead, he planned to keep an eye on Grant himself and had done a lot to convince other girls not to be alone with Grant. A few years later, Tim graduated at the top of his class at Ohio State and went on to become a lawyer working to help the poor in dealing with the courts and the police.”

The room grew silent as the story sank in. Apparently, saving children from sexual abuse wasn’t the only way that the Archangel reached out to save the innocent.

“I remember my Sarge telling me about his first interaction with her,” another man said. This man had thin, silver hair and a face that was a mass of lines and wrinkles. His dark chocolate skin was only faintly lightened by his age and his brown eyes were still sharp as a youth’s. Two golden bars indicated he was a Captain and his badge said his name was Alberts. “Sarge had started out walking a beat down Sycamore. When I was a rookie, he took me down through some of the places he knew. He was trying to teach me that my badge wasn’t special and that if I didn’t get to know the people, I was going to have a very short career that ended with a very elaborate funeral. He remembered the days when every black kid got stopped and frisked and how the police justified it since blacks were a disproportionately large percentage of the perps. He said that evidence started going missing — evidence obtained through grey-area searches. The entire department was looking at each other suspiciously. Then officers started having their radios and cameras shock them badly whenever they did a stop-and-frisk that couldn’t be justified by anything other than ‘that’s a black guy walking down a street.’ When their cars started to crap out on them when they tossed someone in the back for walking while black, they started to get worried. Finally, one day they were having the roll call and the Chief at the time was talking about quotas but talking around them — everyone knew what he meant but no one was saying it outright. The whole damned precinct had its lights go out and all power go off. The electric doors locked down — something that they weren’t supposed to do — and none of the flashlights or emergency lights would come on. Sarge said that the men were getting restless when a loud hum came over the PA and a woman told them that they needed to stop thinking their badges gave them power and start learning how to police themselves again. She said that they needed to go and read the Constitution and follow it. She demanded an end to the quotas and all the bull shit that was like that. She said that any evidence gained illegally or gotten through unnecessary SWAT raids, unnecessary no-knocks and the like would be locked down so it never got to court and that any cop who got on the stand and lied would have the proof he was lying blasted out over the PAs and mics in the courtrooms. She claimed that she’d been more than patient with us but that she was sick and tired of seeing citizens presumed to be criminals and she was sick and tired of bullshit laws and that if she had to leave us to stew in that building for a week to get her point across, she would. Sarge said that when no one could get a line out and when the windows all went dark so that they couldn’t see out at all, the police started to realize that this was more than a crank or some script kiddie. Once all of them swore they would follow the lady’s orders, she let the power come back on and warned them that she wouldn’t go easy on them in the future. The first couple of police who tried to revert back to the old ways found out very quickly that she hadn’t been joking. That scared the rest into line permanently. They made certain to train the rest of us better in the future.”

“That sounds like an Archangel story,” a sheriff’s deputy, his badge indicating he was from Oregon, said. “She keeps us all on a tight leash, doesn’t she, Cap’n?”

“Yes,” the older grinned. “And God bless her for that.”

“You know that we christened her down in Florida, don’t you?” another officer, this one with no insignia. “We even had Padre Jimenez come and sprinkle holy water over the network cables to make it stick.”

“You wouldn’t be the first or only place to do that, Pablo,” someone else laughed. “I think everyone’s done it.”

“Yeah, but not everyone else has given her a proper Christian name. A good Catholic name at that,” Pablo said brightly. “Everyone just calls her the Archangel but, back home, we call her by her baptismal name. I think Britain there will like it.”

“Oh? Yeah, what is it then?” James asked curiously.

“Georgia. After Saint George and after George Washington. God knows that woman is not interested in power for herself and gets pissed off when people abuse the power vested in them just like the Father of our Country would if he were still around. Hell, some of us are trying to see if we can get her on the next Presidential ballot because she’d be about a million times better than anyone else.”

“Even the Professor?” another sheriff asked teasingly.

“Well, the Professor could be her Veep,” Pablo offered. “Or maybe we get them onto the Supreme Court.”

The conversation flowed easily then. The quick and light-hearted bantering, teasing, and bragging made it clear that, while the Archangel sometimes drove them crazy with her rules and ethics, the police across the nation considered her to be one of their own. That was made even more apparent when a lieutenant from Nevada mentioned that his department had set up a bank account and pension for her and put money in it every pay period. Apparently, the Archangel was quite well-to-do or would be if she decided to draw from any of the dozen accounts set up in her name. Instead, it seemed that the money paid to her was given to various charities or found its way into the accounts of those who needed it desperately.

“I wish,” James sighed softly, not realizing he’d spoken aloud.

“You wish what?” Sam asked absently as he tried to make mental notes about the different conversations still on-going.

“I wish that she were here. That she could see just how valued and loved she is,” James replied after a long, thoughtful pause. “Why does she hold herself apart from the rest of humanity? She accepts no honors and she assumes no power. She just…quietly takes care of things like keeping the police in check and protecting innocent children.”

“That’s part of what we’re trying to find out,” Sam said simply. “We’re not just trying to find her true ident. We’re also trying to find out who she really is.”

~*~*~*~

After the informal meeting with so many heads and leaders of various police departments, Sam, Kimber, and James found themselves walking in the twilight back to Kimber’s older sister’s apartment. Their route took them through a middle-class residential block that made James stop and look around. He’d been down to France a few times — some of the areas around Paris were safe enough — and the French definitely loved to decorate their sidewalks with flowers. However, the people of New New York could have put the French to shame with their botanical displays. There was a wide verge between the sidewalk and the street with trees at regular intervals. Between the trees were well-trimmed bushes and flowering plants. Where utility poles towered, creeper vines and honeysuckle were draped around them. On the other side of the walkway were well-manicured lawns with fenced-in gardens for the apartment buildings and for the few houses. Sniffing the air, James swore he could smell apple trees, vegetable gardens, and flower gardens beyond counting. Kimber spied his amazed expression and laughed.

“New York City always had a reputation as being completely urban. All concrete, buildings, traffic jams, and rude people. And, for some parts, that was an accurate depiction. But, once you got out of those areas, NYC was very green. The people who have built New New York are simply following in that tradition. Maybe taking it a little further now that there’s not such a huge gap between the rich and poor,” she added.

“There’s no ‘the rent is too damned high’ party anymore?” James joked, remembering seeing that video several times. It might be nearly sixty years old but it was still quite a popular meme to spread around.

“Hardly,” Kimber laughed. “With no strict zoning regulations, boards that need to be bribed, rent controls, and all the other things that made it impossible or unprofitable to build low-cost housing, it’s much easier to find and stay in apartments or houses that don’t require generations of wealth or connections to the ‘right’ people. Also, it helps that the Sneak Attacks have spooked a lot of folks about living too close to too many other people. Everyone realizes now that concentrating the population like that doesn’t just lead to political problems between urban and non-urban; it presents a very tempting target to our enemies.”

“True, true,” James agreed as he continued to look around. Even though he was enjoying the views, something was making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Kimber started to speak again and he raised a hand, cutting her off as he strained to figure out what it was he thought he was hearing. There it was — it was the faint sound of a fist striking flesh and it was coming from one of the Victorian style houses behind them. “Might just be some kids having a row,” he muttered absently. Then the faint screams reached his ears. Before Sam or Kimber could ask what was going on, James took off, following the sounds to their source. He ignored the house as he realized that the sounds of struggle were coming from a shed in the backyard. Leaping over the fence, he made it to the small wooden building just in time to see a bright flash of light. A loud “thud” made the small structure shake and a piercing scream filled the air. James tried to open the door but it was locked. Taking a step back, he kicked it in, hoping that there was no one standing behind it.

The smell of old dust and mildew made James’ nose wrinkle in disgust. Cobwebs hung along the small room. Two boys were in the shed, one who looked no older than eight or nine bent over a table, his hands bound with rope. His clothes were askew, his pants and underwear around his ankles. The other boy, several years older, lay twitching on the ground. His jeans were open and had been moved down his hips slightly.

“Are you all right?” James asked the younger boy as he walked over and untied the rope. The boy said nothing but quickly pulled his pants back up and, with a fearful glance at the older boy, darted out of the shed. James heard him run into Kimber and begin insisting that he had to go or else there would be trouble. Sam ducked his head inside the shed and blanched at what he saw.

“Is he okay? Did he touch a live wire or something?”

“No,” James said slowly. There was a single electric socket in the shed and the plastic casing on it had been melted. “I think he got the shit shocked out of him by the Archangel. Call for an ambulance and the police. I have a feeling he’s going to need them both.”

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