“It’s so fuckin’ flat,” Bob said to his bench-mate as the bus’ air brakes hissed the end to their journey. “I’d heard the stories of how flat Montana is…but holy fuck.”
Norm chuckled and stroked his beard. “Ah, yup.” His rolls of belly shuddered with his laughs. “Fuckin’ Montana.” His voice had a similar southern accent to Bob’s but was much deeper. As well, his large frame was much shorter than Bob’s, which was quickly reminded as they all stood to get off the bus.
The bus had halted in a parking lot for a small baseball stadium. It had been the last bus to arrive. There were two line ups of men, with one leaving the stadium and the other for those going in. Some had already been inside for the last presentation. and were being taken out of the parking lot to a further destination.
Bob put on his Atlanta Braves ball-cap and waited his turn to get into the stadium. It was nearly an hour before he got through the gates and could see what was happening.
A tiny make shift stage was over top of where the pitcher’s mound should be. The stands held less than 5,000 but were packed. The baseball diamond, however, held nearly 20,000 men milling about. The stage was black and had a black skirt around it. In the center, a large pine cross rose high above.
One elderly man wearing a thick wool sweater to protect himself from the cool September breeze held a microphone and waited for all to settle. He raised one arm to gain the attention of those in the stadium and held the microphone to his lips. A high old voice echoed over the stadium speakers, “Gentlemen. If I might have your attention please.”
Bob stood on the fringe of the grass nearest the fence and just against the third base wall.
The crowd’s dull roar slowed and stopped.
“Thank you. I am Archbishop Theodore, Archbishop of Los Angeles. I would like to thank you all for coming on such short notice. As you are all acutely aware, our world changed two days ago.”
The crowd noises turned to something of an angry growl.
Theodore lowered his hand and patted the air to return to silence. “These aliens, so far as the general public is concerned, are benign and harmless. Apparently they claim they were in some sort of worker or slave ship that crash landed ”
“Bullshit!” a random voice screamed out from the crowd causing the Archbishop to swing around. A murmur of voices told the other to silence.
“No, my sons, language aside, he is correct. Pope Peter and his advisers believe this to be the leading edge of an invasion force. Luckily they landed on the wrong side of our borders, but they are a threat nonetheless.”
A few “Amen”s were yelled out from the crowd.
“Darn right, Amen. This is why each and every one of you was approached and was trained. This is the moment we knew would come.”
More yelps from the men.
This time he stopped and waited for the crowd to quiet.
Sunlight began to filter as it passed just below the risers of the western stands and brought a chill to the air.
“During the first Crusade, our church put together a grand army. The Templars, no doubt you have heard of them,” he said, now playing the fire-brand preacher as he pointed into the crowd to get individuals agreeing and nodding to make it personal. “They went to Jerusalem to take back the Holy Lands from the infidels. They were above the laws of the land and held to a higher power, the laws of the Almighty God.”
A few cheers from the crowd. “Lord, save us!” “Save our home!” “Save our kids!”
“You are our new Templer, gentlemen, and Earth is our Holy Land that must be defended! We must make our way across that northern border and send any invaders home, or to the abyss!”
The cheers grew louder, back to a dull roar.
“Each and every one of you was hand-picked to be here! Each and every one of you is ready to help protect us and do the Lord’s bidding!”
Clapping and stomping of approvals rained down.
“Go to your camps, get a night’s rest and be ready at dawn. At dawn, we shall begin the ultimate quest of humanity to protect that which the Lord God made for us!”
The men in attendance erupted in cheers.
Bob stood with his mouth open. He looked around at all the men smiling, slapping backs and giving each other high-fives. His mind was reeling, however, as this did not feel right. He smiled and cheered as well, simply for fear of what would come if he showed his disagreement, but his thoughts burrowed deep and screamed at him that something was wrong about this.
Each bus left the parking lot and drove further north. While the men were in the stadium, each coach had been stocked with a cooler of sandwiches, beer, water and sodas. The priest on each bus went over their instructions for the next day. Three hours later, the bus caravan weaved through the side roads falling signs towards Pike Lake. Old abandoned farms had been set up as tent cities with unusual light beckoning to them as they stepped off the buses. The Canadian border was a mere two hundred yards to their north.
Bob and Norm shared a tent with four other men. The fields were quickly quieted as the new soldiers all slept under the watchful guard of some local militia. Save for the local wildlife, it was a quiet night that quickly cooled to below freezing as the ground and tent tops began to accept the first snowstorm of the season.