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It is a windy, humid and somewhat cool night in Vatican City. Faint clouds allow the glimmer of a few stars to be seen. The city glows with ancient majesty, throwing monuments, temples, and palaces above the streets with nostalgia and pride.

At this hour only the permitted are present and of them not many roam the grounds. But there are a few scattered windows alight in some of the ancient buildings.

Within sight of St. Peter's is the Borgo Santo Spiritu, the site of the Mother House of the Society of Jesus, colloquially known as the Jesuits. One of the youngest members of one of the oldest orders in the Church was looking out on the Roman winter night.

Jordan Shepard was wondering about tomorrow, or perhaps, later today. Yesterday, he had graduated from the Pontifical Gregorian University with his doctorate in Sacred Theology. For the first time in his adult life, he would not be going to class or preparing his dissertation for writen and oral defense.

It was all done.

Jordan reflected as he looked out into the night, stretching himself out to his full height...just under 6 feet. Ordinarily, the entire house was asleep in anticipation of Matins in just a few hours. But he was certain that other mid-year graduates were wondering the same things that he was.

I really wonder what the Father General has in mind for me. As a priest under orders, he could send me anywhere from here to Istambul. It might even be an assignment within the Holy See.

Speculating was profitless. He sat down in the chair in the small room provided by the order and read his office until he drowsed and then retired to bed.[/i]

--Shepard


The ancient oak door that seperated Jordan's humble room from the great Vatican City outside suddenly reverberated with a loud series of raps. Three consecutively sharp knocks, followed by silence. And then three more.

The clock on the wall read 4 and the sun had yet to show its party cloudy face through the muslin curtains of the window. A brisk morning draft cut into the room from outside and the gurgle of pigeons sounded from the courtyard.

"Get dressed," a curt voice barked on the other side of the door, carrying no familiarity.

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


"Deo gratias." muttered Jordan to himself as he shambled out of bed. He glanced at the clock, and then at the heavens.

"Not funny, Lord." he whispered. Jordan spoke directly to the Almighty frequently. He was absolutely convinced that Heaven looked at him as comic relief. Still, early hours were nothing new to the young priest...there were certainly enough of them when he did youth counselling in America.

The voice didn't sound like the Father Porter, who usually did the messages in the Mother House.

In a scant few minutes, he was dressed, clothing, cassock and sash. He looked exactly like any other priest in Rome. He ran a brush twice through his hair, dropped the brush on his small desk, and went to open the door.

Last edited by Shepard on Tue Mar 01, 2005 5:57 pm; edited 1 time in total

--Shepard


Standing in the hallway was a silver-haired man with aged and cavernous wrinkles on his face. Still black eyebrows sat atop black eyes, and a Sicilian face. He was dressed in black cossacks and a sash. Despite his apparent age, easily reaching 60, his posture was that of a young and proud man.

He carried a small and hard suitcase in one hand.

"Take only what is important, you will not be back tonight," he said simply.

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan had an instinct that he should follow instructions. He did not know this priest, but there was just something in the back of his mind that said: "Get moving." Over the years, Jordan had learned to listen to that inner voice.

Without a word, Jordan packed up a change of clothes, shaving kit, brush, his Mass kit, breviary and a vial of Holy Oils. He closed the chest, and went to join the mysterious priest.

"I am ready, Father, but what is wrong?" Shepard asked.

--Shepard


Quiet and somewhat grumpy, the priest waited impatiently for Jordan to get his things together. As they left the room, he grunted at the man's question.

The priest said, "Service to the Lord is not necessarily joyful, especially when such service is demanded before one can have his coffee roast. Apart from that, I should say nothing is wrong and, likely, the opposite is true. You've been given a charge by Cardinal-Deacon Valerio of the Roman Curia. He wishes to speak with you immediately."

As they proceeded into the city, a softly brisk air bit Jordan's skin. Only the slightest hint of dawn cast a light blue glow in the east.

"You were hand picked," the priest said, "you must have made an impression."

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Hand picked? By a member of the Curia?

Evidently, the idle speculation that Jordan had indulged scant hours earlier were about to be satisfied. And by a senior Cardinal of the Curia, no less.

The Curia was the overarching term used for the government of the Holy See under the Pontiff. The fact that the Curia had taken over was significant, since they were going out of channels. Ordinarily, a Jesuit is assigned by the Father General (a character so influential that he was known in some circles as the Black Pope) or his local superior.

But Jordan was a Soldier of Christ, and one of the attributes of the Jesuit order was independent thinking.

"I rejoice that I made an impact somewhere, Father. I didn't know I was known outside the Dissertation Review committee at Gregorian. And you are right, a coffee roast would be welcome about now...worldly but welcome."

He smiled slightly at his own mild salley.

--Shepard


Outside they had little time to discuss much else. The headlights of a black stretched sedan pulled up to the curbside. Ancient stone streets spread out to holy buildings and lavishly decorated gardens. Like a city in heaven itself, the Vatican glowed with awesome presence, even before daylight was cast.

The grouchy priest opened the car door. Immediately inside, he saw a man in red cassocks in the back seat. He was even older than the grump, perhaps 70. A trimmed goatee decorated his thinning chin and his hair was all but completely gone revealing only sparse liver spots and heavy wrinkles.

Hardly acknowledging the opened door, he didn't look at them as he waited for them to get into the car.

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Merciful heavens, it's the man himself. OK, Lord, what kind of mischief are you lining me up with? Well, not my will but Thy will be done.

Jordan moved into the car and took his place. The red-robed figure was in fact Cardinal-Deacon Valerio. That face and goatee was known to just about every priest in Rome...and other places beyond, if he remembered correctly.

Jordan Shepard was hob-nobbing with one of the highest ranking Church administrators that the Holy See had to offer. He took a deep breath and let it out. Then he acknowledged the passenger with respect.

"Your Eminence."

--Shepard


The stretched sedan was not lavish, but had ample room. Jordan could find a place sitting across from the Cardinal-Deacon. The other priest sat next to the church leader with unusual calm. He closed the door and the car began its trek through the Vatican.

Skipping all pleasentries, Valerio said in sandpaper Italian, "Why are you a Jesuit?"

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


A propos of nothing at all.

Jordan answered as clearly as he could.

"Several reasons, Eminence. On the practical side, the Society offers more different kinds of assignments than, say, teaching orders like the Carmelites. Additionally, the Society boasts as many sound Scripture scholars and liturgists as the Dominicans and the Barnabites combined. The Society gets a number of unusual assignments, as well. We have exorcists and, well, almost mystic brethren."

Jordan reflected a moment, and continued: "Spiritually, the rule and discipline provide parameters I can move in comfortably. And, honestly, there is a certain satisfaction being a soldier of Christ. In fine, I believe that I can know, love and serve God effectively in the Society."

--Shepard


Valerio did not smile, but his aged eyes softened and he managed to give Jordan a glance before looking distantly ahead. He allowed a beat of silence and his gaze fell outside the window at the passing street lights.

"You see, Carlo," he said, "a soldier of Christ. No need for doubts. The Jesuits are what they have always been."

The grumpy priest, apparently called 'Carlo', grunted and said with an oddly casual tone, "You should know", as if he was speaking to his brother or father.

The Cardinal-Deacon reached into his cassocks and packed tobacco into a pipe. In the next moment the sedan was accented with cherry smoke.

"His Holiness and the Society of Jesus have a path planned for you, Father Shepard. As the representative of the work you shall be doing, I am eager to get you started. Before I tell you more I wish to know...", he took a thoughtful puff of the pipe and said, "Do you know of St. Alexander?"

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


A propos of what? Talk about obscure.

"Yes, Eminence." Shepard replied, with a curious expression. "There are several, of course, but the one we discussed most recently in Gregorian was Alexander of Cappadocia, who died in prison under the Roman Decius. He established a significant library in Jerusalem and was, to some extent, a champion of the rights of laity to participate in liturgy. Is that the one you had in mind?"[/i]

--Shepard


The Cardinal-Deacon smoked his pipe and nodded with approval. Not showing an ounce of emotion, he simply glanced over to his associate and muttered, "Intuitive."

Then he proceeded with his lecture, "St. Alexander of Jerusalem is a beacon to some and a thorn to others. He is the epitome of opposing ideologies within the institution. He can be considered a symbol of progress in the Church, can he not? And progress at high costs? If the Church recognizes such a man, do they not recognize that they are fallible? That progress is warranted in certain cases?"

He paused to smoke some more.

"And what of Luther? Was the Church right in its practice of indulgances? Why does the institution still denounce the Protestants while at the same time denounce the principles the Protestants opposed the Church over?"

He leaned in, his aged face decorated with liver spots and canyons of time, said, "And the most important question of all: what good is the institution if only God is infallible?"

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan thought carefully for a moment.

"Eminence, change is at the heart of the Church's mission. Our Lord said: 'I come to make all things new.' By all means, the history of St. Alexander identifies that progress is part of the Church as an institution. Look at the disagreements between Paul and the Apostles over the conversion of the Gentiles. That was a staggering change at the early part of a fledgling Church's history. And being the catalyst for change can involve a risk...always a spiritual one and sometimes a physical one."

Jordan took a breath. Theology before coffee. I'm going to suggest a new Rule to the Father General. I feel like I'm back at Georgetown with the kids.

"As for Luther, he was right. The kind of simony that was represented by the sale of indulgences was morally wrong. But Luther committed a fault and made a mistake. His fault was in directly challenging the majesterium of the Church. He broke discipline that can be our principal tool when dealing with evil. His mistake was in expecting change in a sweeping step. He forgot that God's minutes are bigger than our minutes. The indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the Church assures us that we return to the path even if we stray for a time."

The priest leaned forward and clasped his hands.

"And your last question, Eminence. The Church is a human institution, founded by God in the person of the Son. Over the centuries, Eminence, we have not always acted wisely or even in imitation of Christ, but God is always there, and the Sacraments are always there, and every human soul has the opportunity to live and die a son or daughter of God."

He shook his head. "We don't need to be infallible, Eminence. We merely need to heed Christ's call, and follow the word as He has shared it with us. We will discover our mistakes and correct them. And our time period is eternity."

--Shepard


The sedan stopped in front of a strangely remote apartment complex. They were now far from the Vatican and dawn's light presented the complex as being named "Villa di Allegra".

Villa di Allegra stood as a tribute to those buildings not torn down during the rejuvination of the district. In plain view was the newly erected United States Embassy and in quiet irony, one block away the Embassy for the USSR. Allegra, however, untouched by the war, unmarked by politics, and perhaps unsafe as well, projected a seedy discomfort to those passing by.

A man stood at the gates to the complex. He was hardly a priest. A long dark overcoat scarcely hid the bulge of a weapon at his side. A wide-brimmed fedora and heightened collar partly hid his heavy and unshaved face.

"Gather your apprentice," the Cardinal-Deacon said to Carlo.

The priest's dark eyebrows, contrasting his silver hair, raised with sullen hope coffee would be in the future. Resigning to not having any, he stepped out of the sedan, exchanged a few words with the thug at the Allegra and then went inside the building.

"I am pleased with your arguments, Father," the Cardinal said, "and it illustrates you will do well with the task the Church is assigning you. I should disclose, however, that you will be a member of a new order before this day is out."

--Laveaux 20:14, 9 December 2005 (CST)


A new order. Wait a moment. I haven't heard about the promulgation of a new order. That sort of thing speeds around the Vatican as fast as one of those rockets. Lord, what kind of fun are you planning for me?

The armed guard was not as great a shock as it could have been to the mystified Father Shepard. With Italy rebuilding and reconstituting the Republic, the government was resisting subversion from both within and without. Evidently the Holy See was concerned about the physical safety of someone. And the Churh was, in fact, in danger from the point of view of those who would undermine moral authority as well as political authority.

Jordan sat back in the seat, collecting thoughts. Why me?

"A new order, Eminence? Something with a charter beyond the reach of the Society? And something to do with catalyzing change within the Church? You have me intrigued, Eminence.

--Shepard


Angelo crumpled the cheap paper mask and let it fall into the growing pile of rubbish on the edge of the plaza. It would have been nice to pass a few more hours with the bubbly americana, but he had an appointment to keep.

For almost a month he had been trying to gain an audience with his uncle. Each attempt had been efficiently squashed by Carlo's secretary - or whatever title the church bestowed upon such a person. Apparently there were endless meetings, ceremonies, obligations et cetera, et cetera at this time of year. So the missive, which had been delivered anonymously with his dinner at the hotel, had both surprised Angelo and aroused his skepticism. Could it be the prank of one of his father's old associates? But the seal was genuine and not many knew of the connection between the notorious Cristiana Antonelli and the influential Carlo Abruzzi.

The young man had resisted the urge to indulge fully in the evening's festivity, settling for only the briefest intercourse with the platinum-haired American girl.

He paused near a window to smooth the creases from his suit and comb the confetti from his hair. It would not do to make a sloppy entrance, even into an unmarked closet so far from the offices of the Holy See. Checking his posture once more, Angelo continued on to the plain suite of apartments that had been indicated in the unsigned letter.

--Angel Antonelli


The letter said, in Italian:

You were given good regards. If your will be with God, meet us at the stroke of midnight on the First of January at Villa di Allegra in the Nomentano on Mantova Via. You will be greeted at the door.

It is a windy, humid and somewhat cool night. Faint clouds allow the glimmer of a few stars to be seen. The city glows with ancient majesty, throwing monuments, temples, and palaces above the streets with nostalgia and pride.

Lurching into an impossible maze of still Midieval where arteries of vias splintered the neighborhood, Nomentano was not the esteemed area of politics. Far from the Vatican in both distance and value system, the newly established Italian Republic but double efforts into erecting various embassies and important political buildings amidst the tattered, war-ridden, and 300 year old city blocks.

Villa di Allegra stood as a tribute to those buildings not torn down during the rejuvination of the district. In plain view was the newly erected United States Embassy and in quiet irony, one block away the Embassy for the USSR. Allegra, however, untouched by the war, unmarked by politics, and perhaps unsafe as well, projected a seedy discomfort to those passing by. Even with festivities so near to the street, this one building remained quiet.

Only a handful of lights decorated the six-story apartment building and of the lighted windows, only one did not have the shades drawn.

As the letter implied, a man stood at the gates to the complex. He was hardly a priest. A long dark overcoat scarcely hid the bulge of a weapon at his side. A wide-brimmed fedora and heightened collar partly hid his heavy and unshaved face. Upon Angelo's arrival, the man rudely and quite deliberately did not acknowledge his approach, continuing to stare off into the streets with an unknown purpose.

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo�s steps overlapped with memories of running the streets with his brothers many years ago. Perhaps not these particular streets, but the design and buildings were similar. Such places in the old city had seemed especially designed to provide hiding places and escape routes for the Antonelli brothers on the rare occasions when they escaped the demanding schedule imposed by their father.

Of course the city, while ancient even then, had not yet born the scars brought about by the great conflicts of the past decade. Other memories: running terrified in search of his mother... helping move stones that had fallen over blocking Leo�s path of escape... the small arm that had landed in front of him as he ran, that was the size of a doll�s...

His hand clutched the rosary in his pocket, as he murmured a prayer to dispel the ghosts of memory.

The Allegra stood before him, standing as if in denial of the war that had ravaged the city and changed the landscape. As promised, there was a man at the door. Angelo�s suspicions were raised. This did not appear to be a man of God. This building, the time... Then again Angelo had little knowledge of what business the Church might be connected with.

He paused for a moment, and then approached the guard with a confident, business-like stride. He waited, while the man looked out into the streets. �I am expected.�

--Angel Antonelli


The man's shoulders were easily double Angelo's and his height put the the man's necktie at ey-length. Slowly and with no expression, he averted his eyes from the street and onto the young man. With a glance upward and downward, examining the full stature of Angelo, he stepped aside and made curt "proceed" gesture by snapping his neck backward subtly and quickly.

The gate was unlocked, allowing Angelo access to the courtyard at the base of the apartment complex. The bodyguard closed the gate behind him, still remaining quiet. Now with endless possibilities of places to go, Angelo was left to his own devices.

Before he began to move, however, an aged priest came out from the foyer of the complex. Supported by a cane and wearing decorative cossacks and sash, his stark thinning hair decayed into a skeletal and wrinkled face. Despite his cane, the old man moved quickly enough.

When in close proximity of the young man, the priest looked him over with pale blue eyes. In native Italian he said, "I am Father Salvatore Duccio, we have work for you, young man. Your uncle has insisted. Come."

He turned to lead Angelo into the complex.

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo looked up at the brute. Certainly focused on his task. I'd hate for him to not be expecting me.

Once past the gate, he took a moment to look around at the courtyard and the various exits leading off of it. Fortunately the matter of choosing a path was pre-empted by the priest�s appearance.

The Father�s words caught him off guard. So, this was to be another brush-off from his uncle? Or not. the priest mentioned work. Carlo Abruzzi had met Angelo�s needs without seeing fit to meet Angelo himself. So be it.

He bowed to Father Duccio and fell quietly into step behind him. There seemed no need to introduce himself, and any questions would have to wait until he had a better idea of the work he had been summoned to perform.

--Angel Antonelli


The old priest lead Angelo inside the apartment complex. It was, to say the least, simple inside. Another less-than-pleasing man was guarding the elevator, one of the only features in the lobby apart from two chairs and a series of mailboxes.

The brutish man opened the elevator for them and once inside the old man said, "Your uncle must be proud of you."

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo reacted as if he'd been slapped. His breathing and pulse quickened, his facial expression cycled between anger and hurt, and his entire body tensed visibly. It took great control to resist the urge for an immediate response to what he interpreted as an insult. What was this man playing at?

After some consideration, the young man responded in a humble voice. "Father Duccio, you are mistaken I think. He neither meets with me nor acknowledges my existence as far as I can tell. I am grateful for whatever chance to serve his contact with you has afforded me, but I can hardly think him proud of this nephew."

�Might I ask what manner of work he has recommended me for?�

--Angel Antonelli


Duccio ignored the contained emotional outburst and said simply, "Your uncle is a busy man."

The elevator door opened and the priest all but ignored Angelo's question. Instead of responding he simply shrugged. They went down the somewhat soiled and displeasing hallway. Green florescent flickered over 1920s carpet, distastefully glimmering off Victorian wallpaper and light fixtures.

At last, the two arrived at a door at the end of the hall marked 20. The priest burrowed into his pocket and pulled out a key.

"Truthfully we were not expecting you so soon. The Cardinal-Deacon will not be in until morning. Rest here until he arrives. I am in Room 23."

He opened the door, revealing a simple hotel room. A twin-sized mattress, dresser drawers, a desk and wet bar. Tattered curtains were drawn over the window and several insects scurried upon impact of the light being turned on.

"I believe this will do?" He asked rhetorically.

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo accepted the priest's rebuke. Surely it was not his place to criticize the actions of someone of Carlo Abruzzi's station. Surely the church made great demands of its leaders. He turned his attention to the environment. The decor was unappealing at best.

He tried to determine how frequently the hallway was used. Did it show the recent wear of frequent traffic or were there signs that this hall was only recently acquired for the purpose of ... whatever meeting was to take place.

Room 20 was less than impressive. Angelo briefly entertained the idea of sugeesting that he return in a few hours time. Perhaps the American girl was still at the plaza. A few hours in a more luxurious tourist hotel... For shame, Angelo! You are lucky enough to receive a summons to work for an important church figure and you think only of the comforts of the flesh? Perhaps a night spent in a bug-infested apartment is what you deserve.

"Yes, Father Duccio. Thank you."

--Angel Antonelli


A few meager hours passed and the room remained quiet and dark. Outside the sprinkle of dawn glew upon the horizon, the ancient Roman skyline forming an impressive silhouette.

Without a knock or any warning at all, the door opened. In came Carol Abruzzi. Much older than Angelo last saw him. Strangely enough he was wearing black, not the colors of a bishop. His wrinkled face held silver hair and black eyebrows. Familiarity crossed his face, but no other emotion presented itself.

"Angelo," he said, and kissed both of his cheeks.

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


In spite of his discomfort with the quality of the room, Angelo managed a sort of cat nap for a couple of hours. He had stood and was brushing the wrinkles out of his suit when the door opened.

Amazement froze the young man in place as the older man greeted him with a traditional kiss. He had not truly expected to see Carlo Abruzzi in person. After all the delays and the brush-offs. Knowing how the man disapproved of his sister's choice in husband and lifestyle. And fearing perhaps that he might disapprove of a son so bold as to desert the family business against his father's wishes.

To be greeted so casually was... a relief? No. More of a puzzle. Angelo did not know whether to step back for a better look at the old man or to fall to his knees at this relative's feet.

All he could manage was a rather businesslike, "Uncle."

--Angel Antonelli

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