Tuesday Morning . . .
Ms. Josephine and I left Angela at the hospital with Jesse’s parents. They all needed to grieve together and it really wasn’t one of those environments where I belonged. When I left I hugged her and as I got into the elevator Angela waved back at me, seeming smaller and more fragile than she had before. That was late last night.
I had wanted to go and visit her today, but the whole saving the world thing got in the way. And maybe I was glad, too. At this stage of my evolving life, I don’t think I want to be talking to people about life and death. At least, not the people who don’t see it from my point of view. And I can’t tell her the way things work because, and I’m not sure about this, but I think that would violate the whole universal question of faith and belief. I don’t want to sabotage her chances.
So, to avoid all of those sticky issues, we’re here at the office, hunting the badies. Ricky, it turns out, had this idea that we ought to monitor any radio chatter going to and from the higher ranking catholic priests. Billtruck took it a step further and decided we should listen to communications that were entering and exiting the Vatican. While this made me more than a bit apprehensive, they assured me that we would be just like flies on the wall. Completely non-invasive.
Now, I didn’t know you could even do anything like that, but Billtruck said that everything’s possible now that there are agencies like the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office), the NSA (National Security Administration), and the CIA. These huge bureaucratic associations dedicate huge sums of money and technology towards listening to everybody else’s phone calls. And since they use satellites to bounce all of their signals back and forth, we’re not really doing anything they aren’t.
Billtruck explained that you don’t have to hack the Vatican, or any of those alphabet companies. You just hack the satellites and the T3 towers, and if you have the software to decipher 126 PGP encrypted message traffic, you’re good.
I have to take their word for techy stuff like this. I’ve been reading WIRED magazine trying to figure out what the hell those three are talking about, and I’m still lost. Ricky, Billtruck, and Hal seem to have it all figured out.
Long story short is: the Vatican had been very worried about something going on in Ecuador. Starting a little over a month ago, very ominous messages were going back and forth between an Ecuadorian Catholic priest and some anonymous voice in Rome. By some good luck, Hal found a short-term memory dump that hadn’t been cleared out, yet.
We haven’t been able to identify the anonymous voice, but we know he’s up there in the ranks.
Right now we’re all sitting in the quiet room as Billtruck lays down sheets of printed transcripts. Billtruck’s way too big for this little room. He makes me feel like we’re a couple of kids in a clubhouse and our parents just showed up.
One by one he lays the calls down in front of us, in chronological order. I notice the calls started coming in towards the end of May. Coincidentally, that’s just a few days after I mistakenly delivered the 23 Evils back to earth.
“That’s no coincidence, Jack,” Ricky said, his voice echoing with an almost metallic tone to it, like we’re all robots. The air in here tastes like plastic and paint and conspiracy.
Billtruck says, “The priest in Ecuador is worried about something, and he switches back and forth between Spanish and Italian several times.” He shakes his head, “ . . . I couldn’t decipher it myself, so I had Hal do the translations. Obviously, it’s not perfect but we get the gist of it.”
I pick up one of the call transcripts, glance at it, then up to Billtruck. He nods, so I continue reading:
Call originating from: Quito, Ecuador 30 May 21:11 44 (GMT)
Priest Fernandez - “ . . . three children have been lost to the mountains.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “Have the local police begun their investigation?”
Priest Fernandez - “There was a searching party (group of farmers), but they found nothing.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “And what are the people saying?”
Priest Fernandez - “ . . . there . . . there are whispers of Chupacabras (Goat Suckers), Others say it’s a cult of Satan worshippers that are taking the children for sacrifice. But there are no bodies.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “Keep me posted, brother.”
Priest Fernandez - “ . . . do . . . do you think it could be the . . . ”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “Contact me in two days with an update.”
Call Ended: 21:13 16 (GMT)
I put the paper down on the gloss white table, looking up at Billtruck. “What do you think the priest is asking about?”
Ms. Josephine hands me another transcript as we all trade papers around the table, passing the calls to the left. She taps the dialog, saying, “Dat, right dere, is interestin’.”
Call Originating from: Ambato, Ecuador 03 June 20:50 23 (GMT)
Priest Fernandez - “Two more children have disappeared. One boy and one girl, from different families.
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “How many, now . . . all together?”
Priest Fernandez - “ . . . seven. None of them over the age of nine, or younger than five.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - (Whispering, untranslatable dialog in background)
Priest Fernandez - “I’m worried.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “There’s no reason to create a panic, just yet.”
Priest Fernandez - “The other priests are talking about the possibility that this could be the work of the Hostis Humanis Gen—”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “Do not echo this rumor. Do not even repeat it. I will contact you in a few hours with more information. There is a plausible explanation for all of this. The last thing we need is a panic.”
Priest Fernandez - “Yes . . . of course. I’m . . . I apologize.”
Unidentified Voice # 1 - “Keep your head, father.”
Call ended: 20:51 28 (GMT)
I turn to Ms. Josephine, “What’s that? What does ‘Hostis Humanis Gen’ mean?”
Ricky leans back in his plastic chair, “Hostis Humanis Generis. It’s Latin. It means, the Enemy of all Mankind.”
“Oh, alright,” I said, “For a second there, I was worried.”
The more I think about it the more bothered I get. Not about the meaning, but the fact that they’re discussing it. “Wait a minute . . . does that mean that there are others who know about the twenty-three Evils?”
“They’re the Vatican, Jack,” Billtruck says with a rather pained expression on his otherwise stolid face. “They have their own army, spies, all of it. They have an intelligence network that rivals the cold war KGB. Think about it, where can you go in the world where there isn’t a catholic church, or at least a priest?”
“Nowhere,” Ricky answers, folding his hands behind his head. “There are catholic priests in every city, in every country, and on every continent.”
That’s a lot of spies, I said to nobody in particular.
And our quiet room, it’s as silent as some door knob in an abandoned house.
Billtruck shuffles through the calls with his big meaty fingers, “The rest of the calls, they’re worse. More children going missing. No explanations.”
“Here,” Ricky says, nodding towards another transcript, “they said it again. Hostis Humanis Generis. And the guy from Rome says he’s going to send somebody down for further inquiries. They don’t just do that.”
“No dey don’t,” Ms. Josephine agreed. “Whatever dey tink is goin’ on, it’s a big deal to dem.”
Show of hands, I say. Who thinks this is our twenty-three?
Each and every one of them raises their hands. Billtruck raises two. I look at him and he says, “One for me, the other for Hal. He thinks something is definitely going on.”
Ms. Josephine nods.
Ricky says, “Yup.”
So . . . what now? I ask them, already knowing the answer.
Billtruck turns to me, “Say, Jack . . . how’s your Español, amigo?”