Reads: 7

Monday January 6, 20149:40 a.m.  (Somewhere in Chiapas, Mexico)

Mira Bermudez took a deep breath and shuddered as she looked up from her not quite 152 cm height at the man towering above her.  Regardless, she'd had enough.  The "protection money" that he was demanding this time would leave her far short of what she needed to feed her family for the rest of the month.  Besides, who knew, if she refused him perhaps all the others gathered to celebrate Epiphany would do likewise.


The thought was laughable, but when one is grasping at straws....


"No Jaime Morales.  I will NOT give you any more money, not now, not ever.  You are nothing but a petty thief and a bully who is far too stupid to hold down a regular job.  What you are doing must have your mother weeping as she says her prayers to the Blessed Virgin each night.  Go away, now.  Get out of my sight!"


She didn't really expect him to leave, but neither did she expect what happened.  He grabbed the front of her blouse and pulled her over the counter of her stall and out into the village square.  


Suddenly there was total silence except for the voice of her attacker, "You dare to defy me puta, eh?  Well, I'm going to show you," he glared around the square bestowing his anger upon all the onlookers. "I'll show ALL of you what happens if you defy the Jalisco New Generation!"


He raised his hand for the first blow then stopped suddenly.  What was this deadly aura he was sensing?  Had he misjudged the villagers?  Were they preparing to attack him?  


There was a sudden, soft sound, somewhat like a jaguar coughing.  He turned his head and saw the crowd parting, starting with those farthest away from him.  As those closest to him pulled back, he beheld what had caused their fear.  There really was a jaguar, a full grown one, striding in his direction.  


Even one such as he knew that this was unprecedented.  Everyone knew that jaguars haunted the outskirts of the village at night, looking for a chicken or goat that was not carefully secured.  But this?  To walk into town in broad daylight with the town full of people?  It made no sense.  If it were hungry, why was it walking through the square rather than attacking one of the children and trying to pull it into the jungle?  


It seemed to be merely strolling.  It kept up a steady pace, as if it had no fear of the people, nor any interest in them either.  


Jaime stiffened slightly as it passed by him, but other than stopping to sniff his ankle, it did nothing at all.  Nonetheless he, and everyone else, breathed a sigh of relief as it completed its stroll through the square and re-entered the jungle on the other side.


As everyone took that collective deep breath Jaime smelled smoke, which was odd, given that none of the vendors were cooking anything at this time of day.  Soon the smell of smoke was stronger and he heard the first shouts.  He looked wildly around, in the process dropping Mima, who scurried around to the other side of her display, right after she carefully picked up the wallet that she saw lying on the ground behind Jaime.


Many people had dropped to their knees and were making the sign of the Cross.  Most of the others were pointing at him, or rather at his feet.


He looked down and saw that his pants were on fire.As he bent to brush out the flames he vowed to find out which kid had done it and make his life even more miserable than it already was.  That was when he realized what was really going on.  It wasn't his pants, but his leg that was burning, and the flames were spreading rapidly.


How odd that he didn't feel any pain.  That thought occupied the final few seconds of his life as his entire body burst into flame and then collapsed into a pile of ashes.


Glll blinked and nodded to himself.  One more down, many yet to go.  The one thing that he hadn't mentioned to Ix Chel when they discussed what they were going to do now that they were free of so many of the constraints of The Compact was how he was going to go about things.  Even though she was the Goddess of War, she was much too squeamish.  Strange disappearances the cartels were used to, so they couldn't just vanish people.  To get their attention, it had to be something dramatic and something that couldn't be tied to a human agency.  


Being humans though, they'd probably decide to eliminate the entire village as an object lesson.  When they did, they'd find that all the enforcers they sent could make pretty torches just like Jaime and all the others they'd sent to the dozen or so villages that Glll and his "people" had already visited.


When they were finished, it was highly likely that there wouldn't be very many left alive in the Jalisco or Knights Templar cartels.  The ones who survived would probably continue their war against each other, assuming that the other side was behind all the deaths.


Glll was sure that others would eventually take their places, but, if any of them interfered with those under protection, their fate would be the same.  Perhaps someone would eventually learn to leave his people alone.  If not, well...immortality had its uses.  He had plenty of time to teach them the error of their collective ways.


He and Osebo had a bet going as to which of them was going to eliminate the most of the Hierarchy's minions and who would be fastest.  It wasn't nice, but retribution for their myriad crimes was going to be very satisfying.  Even though their tactics differed, there was one thing that both he and Ix Chel were certain of.Almost nobody was going to miss any of the ones that they destroyed.


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Mira was likewise rather pleased by the end result but for much different reasons.  She had to admit that seeing someone burned alive was more than a bit disconcerting, but her satisfaction at seeing Jaime get what had been coming to him for years more than compensated for that, as did her discovery of a rather large number of U.S. 100 dollar bills in his wallet.  


She removed several, enough to replace the money he had extorted from her in the past, then went in search of the village priest.  She wanted the rest of the money out of her hands as soon as possible.  Once word of what she'd found got around, everyone would be clammoring for a share, and he'd know better than anyone else who was truly in need and not just making up a sob-story out of greed.


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Ix Chel nodded in satisfaction.  She'd have thrown her arms in the air and shouted, "MEN!" if, at the time, she'd been in a form that allowed it.  However, that wasn't currently possible, so she just imagined doing it which was almost as satisfying.  Glll was obviously more than pleased with his theatrics, and, she did have to admit that they were effective.  Even so Glll had only addressed part of the problem.  Having your oppressors removed is a wonderful thing, but not having enough to eat afterwards is just as life-threatening as the cartels, which was why she'd picked Jaime's pocket while Glll was strutting through town.  She's also arranged for Mira to notice where the wallet was.  


If you're going to do something, you need to get all the details right, a concept which she intended to rub Glll's nose in the next time she was able to arrange for them to meet privately.  There was no use in humiliating him publicly.  Besides, it would be much more fun if she did it that way.  She could be just as dramatic as she pleased, and it wouldn't damage her public reputation as the Ice Maiden who was always cool and calm under pressure.  

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February 28, 2014  (or thereabouts).  Location: Unknown


"Well, that's just about got it."  General Carver turned to his exec.  "What do you think Brad?  Are we missing anything."


Colonel Ramirez snorted. "Of course we're missing something.  Murphy always finds someplace to squeeze in and screw things up.  That being said, I think we've covered every reasonable contingency."


He shrugged his shoulders. "How much of what we've prepared for will be useful, given that we'll be fighting aliens on another planet, or, what was it they called it?  Oh yes, 'a different plane of existence', I have no idea at all."


He scowled then shrugged once more. "Not that I have the faintest idea of what 'a different plane of existence' means.


"Well, hell, if you'd told me even a few weeks after the attack that we'd be working with beings out of mythology I'd have had you certified, and then I'd have had someone send me to the shrinks too."


The general's answering laugh was forced. "Damn if you don't have that right.  But, given what we've seen in the past few weeks, it's rather hard to deny.  Seeing the batallion walking out of the gym and ending up in the Colorado mountains was jaw-dropping the first time, but, after they'd done it every day for three weeks.....  
"Guess it just shows that you can get used to anything if it happens often enough.  There's just one thing that still bothers me though.  Because of the distance we can't use our usual field radios, so we're running fiberoptic cable to carry the video and audio.  Nothing unusual there, right?  But we're using just over 100 meters of cable.  We connect it on our side, roll it through that 'doorway' I guess you'd call it, and then connect it on the other side, and it works.  So we're getting a signal from nearly 800 miles away over 100 meters of cable.  It just doesn't make sense!"


"Beats me too Thad.  To tell the truth, I've been trying not to think about it.  You're not helping my sanity any."


The colonel tilted his head to the side. "Getting back to what we can deal with though, what never ceases to amaze me is what Rangers can deal with.  Pretty much all of them freaked the first time or two they went through, but now they don't treat it any differently from a parachute drop.  Heck, it pretty much proves what the recruiters have been telling the public for years.  The Rangers ARE the best of the best."


General Carver shook his head side-to-side.  "You got that right.  Now we just need to make sure that as many of them as possible make it back alive.  And speaking of which, how's the coordination with the others going?  I mean, most of the Greeks and South Koreans already speak at least a reasonable amount of English and we have General Hafiz and Master Oh for liasion purposes with those who don't, but the Chinese?


"They still consider their language the most sophisticated in the world and think that everyone else should learn Chinese instead of English.  I suspect, rather strongly, that if three of their 'Eight Immortals' hadn't shown up and started issuing orders they'd still be telling us that they could handle the entire project by themselves."


He allowed himself a small smile.  Someone who knew him well might recognize it as a barely concealed smirk.  "That video that was smuggled out to us of the generals in charge being levitated eight meters in the air and just left there until they quit shouting and agreed to cooperate almost had me on the floor laughing.


"I have to admit that the only thing that stopped me was the thought that the beings giving us OUR marching orders could have done the same or worse."


He sighed.  "Don't tell anyone, but if that 'Yelm' hadn't teleported itself in and out of my office, I'm not sure just how receptive I'd have been when that gorgeous woman calling herself Athena popped in and started telling us what to do.  


"Speaking of which, do you have any idea what she meant when she said whatever it was about The Compact allowing her to intervene in 'small things' in compensation for 'that attack by That Which Rules'?"


Bradley shook his head.  "No, not really Thad.  That Ian kid is obviously doing a damned good job with translating it, but it's got to be driving him crazy.  I had no idea what that first part said.  You know, those pages that the Yelm said were already translated into English.  


"After seeing the kid's update, and holding them side-by-side, I can sort of tell that they're saying the same thing.  How he's managing to make any sense of those squiggles written on all the rest of it, I have no idea."


He smiled ruefully. "I've gotta admit that I thought that 'Raven' was out of his or her mind when they said that a 14 year old kid was gonna be in charge of something so important.  I sure as hell was wrong about that.  That being said, there were over 100 pages and he's only managed to get 17 translated in the past seven weeks.  We're still not going to have even a third of it by the time the operation kicks off."


"True Brad, but do we really need it?  Sure, this Great Lord Malaz thought we did, but do we really need to know the details of an eight thousand year old agreement in order to do our job?"


He answered himself before Colonel Ramirez could say anything, "Of course we don't, any more than any individual Ranger needs to know the entire battle plan.  He just needs to know what he and his team need to do.


"I've gotta admit though that, after this is over, I want to read the whole thing.  I've never been much for reading anything but military history and the like, but think about it.  We have our hands on a treaty that's completely intact after over eight millennia, and it's an agreement between what the people of the time called Gods!


"If I've understood what this Athena told us, they're really 'only' immortal beings who came into existence around the time that the first sentient life appeared on Earth."


He shrugged nonchalantly, "Which means that, at the most, they're no more than four or five million years old...."


He turned to Colonel Ramirez and looked at him directly as if that would make the answer to the question he was about to ask more accurate. "Did you get the feeling that she wasn't quite sure herself how that happened, or am I imagining it?"


Bradley tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling for a few moments. "I hadn't thought of it before, but now that I do, I think you're right Thad.  I have absolutely no idea what that means though, do you?"


"Not a clue.We've got to be ready within the next month no matter what, or at least that's what this 'Lady' said.  Just like the rest of it, I have no idea what she meant when she said:  'That Which Rules will still be at least partially incapacitated then'."


He shrugged.  "I guess that's about enough of a break for us.  We'd better get the Ranger's unit commanders in here and see about setting up the final equipment checks and the final briefings.  Once all that's done, let's get the hell out of here, wherever 'here' is.  It's great that we can be absolutely sure that the security here is tight, but there's something about this place that sets my nerves on edge.  Every time they bring us here, it feels like there's something or someone way off in the distance scraping their fingernails on a blackboard."


Bradley nodded his agreement.  "Yeah, let's wrap things up as soon as we can.  I don't feel the fingernail thing, but there's something about this place that give me the heebie-jeebies."

 


Submitted: June 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Charlotte Braun. All rights reserved.

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