The Workshop is a bleak place to be alone, Hemelshot thinks. Bare, unfinished concrete, a few industrial lights with exposed wiring, and stacks upon stacks of hardware. Guns, ammo, ration concentrates, tools and vast arrays of other supplies fill the rooms, though without color or personality.
The battle against Masada was yesterday morning, I've never worked so hard and for so long in my life, and I still can't get caught up on my sleep. Damn all pigeons, anyway.
With a soft ding the elevator door opens, and Hemelshot looks over from the table. Spotting Carpenter he scarfs the remains of his breakfast, downs the last of his drink and waves.
"Carpenter! Good to see you."
Jama glanced around Carpenter's tall form and waved, "Hello, Lieutenant."
Carpenter nodded. "Good morning, Lieutenant." He sent Jama a meaningful glance, then walked over to where Hemelshot sat. "Got a moment to talk?"
Hemelshot nods to Carpenter and gives Renuka a grin. "'Morning Renuka, Carpenter—welcome to Chez Cadbur-aay. For your dining pleasure this morning we have reconstituted eggs and processed bread. Can I interest you in some completely natural bioengineered juice?"
While no one could say he was smiling, there was a definite upturn to the corners of Hemelshot's mouth and a brightness to his eyes that had been missing. It was... unsettling.
Carpenter was taken aback for a second at Hemelshot's attitude. "Uh, no thanks. We've, er, already had breakfast." Glancing around to see if any others were present, he continued. "So, you mind a moment or two? There's something I think we need to talk about."
Sensing a note of seriousness, Hemelshot loses his smile. He's not got his game face on yet, but it's ready. "Of course. Down here or up top? The weather hasn't really improved but a breath of fresh air would be nice."
"Ah..." Jama looked around the empty room. "I'll be back in a bit, I need to see how the Book is doing. If you'll excuse me...." With that she not quite dashed off, pausing only to give the two men a quick glance before vanishing through an open doorway.
"Fresh air sounds good to me, too. Later, Jama." Carpenter waits for Hemelshot to join him in heading out the door.
Carpenter doesn't say anything on the walk up to the top of the parking garage, keeping a thoughtful silence.
The rain had stopped for the moment, but the wind was racing the clouds across a gray sky. The top of the parking garage was pooled with water, a few patches of weeds greedily drinking of the liquid. Hemelshot rested his hands on the waist-high concrete barrier and looked out upon Angelus, the wind whipping through his hair. In the distance, the light of the XSWAT towers could be seen—the anti-collision lights blinking and a few office windows aglow.
Without looking, Hemelshot broke the silence. "So, Nathan. I knew we'd be having this conversation. Where shall we start? The soul-sucker? Or Masada?"
Carpenter stood behind Hemelshot, his eyes never staying from the lieutenant's head. "How about you tell me what happened at your house, if you're up to it?" His voice was gentle, soft, but with a thread of steel underneath.
His words are soft and strong, measured and paced. He starts with an apparent non-sequitur. "Do you remember what happened on the ship?
"There were five of them, you were down and Renuka wasn't looking too good. Tyger was blasting away and Karuk was working wonders but it looked like only a matter of time before we all bit the big one."
Hemelshot turns and leans back, against the concrete. His eyes are still on the horizon, staring out at the city. Momentarily, he glances at Carpenter.
"I'd pretty much always admired you, you know. Envied, too—perhaps that's what went wrong. You were strong and skilled and had the confidence of believing in something. When you went down I saw a chance to be the big hero for once. You'd made it look so easy, wielding the flaming sword and cutting down Entities." He grins ruefully. "I held it up and asked for help, and you know what? I got it. The Lord heard my plea, saw my need and gave unto those who sought to help themselves."
He shakes his head and looks down. "And that's where I went wrong. The power of the Lord isn't in triumph or victory, and all I saw was my enemies falling before me." Looking up, now. "I held the power of God in my hands and felt His joy and believed it was mine." A pause. "I held the power of God and believed it was mine. And as a candle in the wind, the flames went out. The spirit of the Lord left me in darkness. Though I had defeated my enemies, I had failed and was unworthy.
"It was terrible. I had been rejected by God and condemned lived in darkness, and what made it worse is that I couldn't even dislike you—much less hate you—for having the sword. For using it and being loved in the eyes of the Lord. I could see what it cost you, and I knew what a thin line you walked.
"So having failed in the 'bright and pure and holy' department, I resolved to simply do my job the best I could and support you in your work." He tilts his head, as though recognizing something. "Perhaps that's why, in His wisdom and love, He gave me another test."
Carpenter closed his eyes for a second, a sigh escaping his lips. He opened them again, his face composed. He took a breath as if to say something, but stopped. After a pause, he nodded encouragingly. "Go on."
"I knew it was bad when I saw my house. The place looked like it'd been bombed and in a way it had been. My daughter had blown out the first floor and set fire to the wreckage and the place was an inferno. I set the spinner down a little hard and headed inside, with Karuk right behind me. Tyger and Renuka remained behind to tend to the casualties and try and put out the major fires." He looks at Carpenter. "It was a war zone, and while I may not have been to a real one, this came close enough for my taste. You remember Sanders and how he ripped the roof off his house? That level of destruction, plus a lot of fire. The houses across the street were burning."
"Inside wasn't as bad as I feared, but it was bad enough. Everything was broken or on fire or both and there wasn't a sign of life anywhere—Michelle, Lorraine or Charles. I headed upstairs and found Charles at the top of the stairs, catatonic. Lorraine's room was what hit me." His eyes are closed and his voice barely above a whisper. "There was blood everywhere. I've been to slasher crime scenes and this was a bad as anything I ever saw—I didn't believe anyone could be alive after that.
Hemelshot shakes himself, blinks and turns back to look down, past the concrete barrier and to the street, far below. "It was every nightmare I'd had, of my work following me home and taking it out on my family. She was dead and I knew it was that damned doll and my own damned fault!"
A moment of silence, then his eyes are back to the horizon and he continues. "I don't remember how, but the next thing I knew we were heading into the basement."
"And there she was, alive and radiant and smiling at me. My daughter was alive and I could have cried she was so beautiful, but for the doll in her hands. That stopped me from rushing to her, well that and she was floating in midair. Her smile wasn't one I liked, either—it was more like what I was on pimps who've just been let out for lack of evidence, all smug and condescending. And evil. My daughter was evil, and Karuk said we'd found the second soul-sucker. It was the doll, and it had possessed my daughter.
His head down, he is silent for a time. His voice is ragged when he continues. "I'd brought the damn thing home, given it to my daughter and let it take her. I had all the signs, all the evidence that something wasn't right and what did I do to protect my daughter?
"Nothing. Not a damn thing."
There was another long silence, the wind blowing between the men and moving the weeds back and forth.
"So anyway, we fought. We couldn't get the doll away and Brogan went down to pyrokinesis pretty fast. You got rid of the last soul-sucker by forgiving it, but I just couldn't. It had ripped apart my life and I just don't have that much love in my heart. Not enough to encompass that entity. That was when I knew what I had to do."
Hemelshot stiffens and stands upright, quoting from memory, "I will preserve, protect and defend the city of Angelus." There aren't any conditions like, 'only when it's convenient' or 'unless I don't want to'—it's unconditional. There are no loopholes, no escape clauses. Just you, and the words. Just you and Him.
"And I knew, at that moment, what the Lord was trying so hard, so desperately to tell me. I knew that He was showing me that there is no difference between His word and the good work."
He turns to Carpenter with quiet eyes, shining with unshed tears. "The love of the Lord is given to us all and my devotion, my love for Angelus is merely an aspect of His love for us all. I had devoted my life to the protection of the city, and in so doing had—however unwittingly—also devoted my life to His work. And I knew the sacrifice that God had called upon me to make.
There is calm on his face and his words only slightly unsteady. "I drew my weapon and shot my daughter. I expected her to die so that the city might live, so that through the sacrifice of my firstborn, others might live."
He smiles, just a little. "And as Abraham before me, the sacrifice was rejected. Through the hand of the Lord my daughter was untouched." He draws a deep breath, and exhales strongly. "The ways of the Lord are mysterious indeed, and I guess it took some doing to get through my skull, and even then He wasn't finished teaching me.
Hemelshot stretches his arms up and out, then leans back against the wall once again. His eyes are to the clouds above, though unfocussed and not seeing the sky. "My sacrifice was rejected, but I still needed to learn. It wasn't enough that I was willing to sacrifice what I loved most—my family—I needed to learn to sacrifice everything in my devotion. My house, my family, my pride, everything, though it wasn't until later that night I found that I was sacrificing my career as well. And so when the soul-sucker offered to trade—my life for hers, my body for the restoration of my daughter—I knew I had to do it. I knew that the Lord would care for me, and care for Angelus if only I would give myself to what I then knew to be His agent. So I did—I willingly submitted myself to the hand of God before me.
"And God showed his mercy and his love, through my daughter. She, who had been the one so brutalized, so hurt and in so much pain, was the one to forgive the entity. Through the power of the Lord my daughter was able to strike down the incarnation of evil before us. I was restored my humanity, given back my family, released to carry on His work, through my sacrifice and my submission to Him.
Hemelshot studies the sky for a long moment, then grins and lazily turns his head to Carpenter. "And so much for my quota of poetic words for the day. We got my family to the hospital, went and saw the ships got the word out and picked you up outside HQ. You know the rest from there.
"That answer your first question?"
Carpenter stood, visibly shaken by Hemelshot's story. He drew a ragged breath and bowed his head for a moment, in a silent prayer for the inspiration to form the right words.
He straightened up again, still troubled. "Richard... I'm not sure what to say.
"We all approach the Lord in our own way. You're right, His ways are mysterious, and many times we can't see where we're headed when following Him.
"I... I'm not sure if I understand the meaning of what happened the same way you have, but I don't have the right to judge that. I'm glad that you have found peace in the middle of... all this.
"What I think you need to understand is that God's love is not conditional, not constrained by tests or qualifications. You don't have to prove yourself to Him.
"I... I've always admired your ability to view and analyze a situation, your willingness to assess dispassionately and logically what needs to be done, and your presence in convincing and leading people into doing it. I may not have always agreed with the decisions you've made, but I've understood how you came by them, and respected the intentions behind them. I don't want to see you lose that, somehow.
"What I'm trying to say is, Richard, please, be careful. Faith is a powerful force. Its light can illuminate, but it can also blind. That was Masada's downfall. It's not a path I want to see you take.
"Faith is no more the absence of doubt than courage is the absence of fear."
Hemelshot's smile turns into a grin, and a short laugh escapes. "Oh believe me, Nathan, I most definitely am not going to follow Masada—for one thing, I have you to knock some sense into me when you feel I need it." His face becomes serious once again.
"And I've seen the blindness that faith can create—there are twenty thousand souls sacrificed to Masada's army to attest to that. I rather think I've been given the gift of expanded sight, not better. I still do what needs to be done, but at last I can see the hand of the Lord, working within all of us. That knowledge neither justifies nor excuses any action I take.
"You said 'You are not with God' to Masada, and in a way you were right. He believed he was right, and that the end justified any means. And as much as I think I would enjoy the freedom of that view, I don't agree with it nor do I think it is among God's teachings. The means must be worthy of the end, or the very goal you're striving for becomes tainted and no longer worthwhile." He looks at Carpenter full in the face. "The goal I seek is the safety of humanity, and Angelus in particular. In what I do, I know that to violate the purity of that goal is to condemn myself from ever attaining it, to ever enjoy the rewards of Heaven."
He leans against the barrier, and continues, conversationally. "But in a way, Masada was also right. There are unpleasant things that must be done, and the Lord shows each of us what we may do. The words are different and the message difficult for some of us to understand, but we are all given the chance to do the Lord's work. We are all given the freedom to do God's work, or not do God's work, and we all have our separate ways of interpreting that work. I believe that Masada took the Lord's message and fell to the sin of Pride, or maybe Gluttony, and he was ultimately blinded to the goal he sought.
"Renuka's faith grants her the aid of the agents of God in the form of spirits. Tyger is about as non-religious as they come, yet he goes about the Lord's work with a light heart, a mostly-pure soul and a pair of the most accurate pistols I've ever seen. Likewise for Brogan, Karuk and most especially yourself." He grins. "We are all servants of the Lord, doing His work, however unknowing and each in our way. I'll not justify anything I do with the excuse 'God told me to', as He has granted us free will, to do or not do as we choose.
"No—my faith is that I must do the work that must be done. I understand the consequences a little better, have a little more motivation to save the city and a great deal more reason to stop Gerzzie and have him leave Renuka standing at the altar.
"We have a job to do, and while I can't say I no longer doubt the actions we take in the preservation of Angelus, I have faith that the goal is worthwhile. I believe we will succeed, and I know He is with us."
Carpenter grinned back. "Thank the Lord, I'm very glad to hear that."
His grin widened. "It means I don't have to preach the sermon I was all ready to give you."
He went on, in a mock wistful tone. "It was very pretty, too. All full of fire and brimstone. I think I'd even worked lepers into it somewhere."
Hemelshot grins. "Keep it around—I haven't finished breaking laws to preserve the city."
He pushes himself away from the concrete, and puts his hand on Carpenter's shoulder. "And, thanks. It means a lot to know how much you care.
"Now let's go see what Hart's up to, and see what we can do to throw a wrench into his day."