Oct. 23rd, 2011

For your consideration: A floor plan of St. Peter's Basilica.

We set down in the traffic circle of Plaza San Marta. It's still dark – just the way Jefferson wants it. Something about the Process lets the former presidents see well in the dark. The Chiefs pile out of the chopper, all joking set aside. The former Presidents of the United States, once on a mission, are all business.

"Out," says Delano. I'm the last man on the helicopter.

"Give me a minute," I say, fumbling with my kit. I don't have a rifle and grenades and combat knife like the Chiefs, but I do have body armor and a helmet and night-vision goggles.

"Out," repeats Delano. "I gotta lift off."

"Why?" I ask.

"I dunno," says Delano, frowning faintly. "Something smells funny. When it springs, I want to be up, not down. Get out of my goddamn bird."

I get out. Legs or no legs, nobody argues with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Jefferson is arguing with some serious-looking padres in black robes. They're all standing around outside the Sacristy. The priests all look fairly queasy. I guess I can sympathize. Undead priests roaming through your holiest of holies has got to be a little disturbing.

The argument turns heated. I realize they aren't speaking Italian; Jefferson's talking in fluent Latin. Shouting, actually. He gives up and gathers the Chiefs around him.

"Formosus is in the Basilica," Jefferson reports. "Word from the big dog," he adds, "is no fire."

Lincoln's massive brow furrows. That's all the reaction anybody will ever get out of that guy. Lincoln scares me in ways the other Chiefs don't.

"No fire," repeats Jefferson. "That means no grenades, no pyrotechnics, and no live ammunition inside the Basilica."

"That's crazy," gripes Nixon. "What are we supposed to do, slap Formosus until he lays over?"

"We'll bring him out manually," says Jefferson, "and we'll torch him out here."

"I do not like a plan," Teddy growls dangerously, "that I cannot distinguish from the absence of a plan."

"Yeah," sighs Jefferson. "Me neither."

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Nixon leads the way down the spiral staircase, the fragment of the spearhead that killed Christ thrust out in front of him. I follow close behind. I have no illusions about my chances if I get separated from the ex-President. Nevertheless, I take pride in not wanting to retreat. The story is here, not back outside the Basilica of Saint Peter. I came here to report, and dammit that's what I'm going to do.

"So how come that thing was so effective on those zombie priests, huh?" I ask.

"Don't ask me stupid science questions," snarls Nixon irritably. "I dunno, I think the Romans made it with something that screws up the weird shit that makes the Process and the Juice work."

"You used to be a smart President," I complain. "What happened?"

"I'm still smart," Nixon protests. "I just smartly shoot people."

Something occurs to me. "Hey, wait a second," I say. "If the Romans made the Spear of Longinus that way, does that mean that Jesus had the Process on him?"

Nixon half turns and points at me with the knife. "You didn't hear that from me," he growls. "And even if you had, that information would have been classified."

"He did rise again," I muse.

"Think less about that," Nixon advises. "Think more about keeping quiet and keeping your eyes open."

We emerge into a sunken shrine to Saint Andrew. Four tapers light the place, forcing me to turn down my night-vision goggles. A low ceilinged passage exits the far wall. There's a delicate brass gate closing off the egress. It's standing open a foot.

"They staggered that-a-way," Nixon says confidently, trotting to the gateway. As he reaches it, twin leads shoot out from the dark passage and strike the Chief in the chest. "JESUS!" he shouts, but then he falls to the ground, his body convulsing.

Huh. Apparently tasers still work on the undead. Who knew?

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