Emily's Strange Life Chapter 6

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Moment of truth. I'm in the hospital's cybercafe. It's three am so I have the place to myself and I'm about to do what I've been putting off since Michael told me the secret, or at least, what he claimed was the secret. I google 'Marcus Julius Naso', the name Michael told me was mine. .

Then I look at my search results and shudder. I attempted to usurp the throne of the Roman Empire before being assassinated in 407 AD? Oh, wait, that's the wrong Marcus Julius Naso!

The rest of the results are worse.

Units of the 5th Irregular Infantry under Captain Naso are suspected of being responsible for the ambush and massacre...no survivors....blinded by improvised 'napalm' made from ...under Naso 'poor man's napalm' has become a trademark....Naso is suspected of having killed surrendering US soldiers. ...Naso, pioneered the use of mines designed to cripple and maim not kill....Naso, the Butcher of Mayberry... notorious suspected war criminal Marcus Julius Naso killed in action by US Special Forces on a raid near Ironwood, Minnesota..

It goes on like that and I can feel myself getting queasy. If this is true I'm a monster. I deserve everything that was done to me, even Michael trying to shoot me and much more besides. If a quarter of this is true I deserve it. On the other hand I'm looking at newspaper headlines and government reports in a country that invaded mine, unprovoked and where accusing a government source of lying can land you on a treason charge. I don't know how much of this is true. I don't know if any of it is true. I thought if I could find out something about myself my memories would come flooding back like in a film where amnesia just goes away. After three years of not knowing who or what I am, you'd think I would know better..

Maybe something visual would help? I move my cursor to the top of the search page and click on 'images'. Pictures spread across the screen. A burned town, a battle scene, a wanted poster. There I am. Or there Captain Naso is at any rate. Oh crap, I look like a psycho!

I study the man in front of me for any sign of familiarity. He kind of has my colouring. His face is fierce, even cruel, like the face I saw on Michael that last night, when he dropped the mask and let me see the Michael who can kill and burn and destroy. Michael still looked kind of wholesome though. If Hollywood were casting a film Michael would be the corn fed Iowa boy and Marcus Naso would be the terrifying adversary he overcomes at the last minute by moral fortitude and being the American.

That said I can see that a stranger wouldn't be surprised if they were told this man was a cousin of mine, or even a brother. There is a resemblance On the other hand that stranger wouldn't be saying “Damn, they look alike” either. Does this mean Michael was just playing me? Or does it mean that the scientists altered more than just my sex? I look down at my D cup boobs which for some reason never cause me backache. I I think they did some tinkering. My lips don't look anything like Captain Naso's either, his being a thin, cruel line, but again, that's got to be a prime area to upgrade if you were playing God. Marcus Julius Naso could be me, if Michael was telling the truth.

I could be him. If so, it would explain why I lost my memory. If I am that man then I really don't want to remember what I've done.

First thing in the morning I need to see Father Flaherty.

“Bless me Father, I may have sinned.”

“Emily, is that you?”

I'm sitting in the confession booth, so Father Flaherty can't see my face with the screen between us but it's clear my voice is distinctive enough.

“Yes, it's me Father. I think I need advice. Or possibly punishment.”

“Punishment is for God, my child but I can give you a penance if you need one.”

“Um, I'm not sure what that is Father?”

“A penance is an act of atonement for sin. Now forgive an old man's ignorance, but what do you mean you may have sinned? You can't have seduced Father Rodriguez, he was out taking confession and giving the last rites to a housebound parishioner half the night and was still snoring when I left our dormitory this morning.”

“I haven't seduced anyone Father. I'm not a slut. But I may be a murderess. Murderer even.”

“Go on my child I am ready to hear your confession.”

“I..I think you're not going to believe me. In fact I think you're going to think I've gone mad.”

“Perhaps. But if you are mad I could probably help you better if I knew it. If you aren't, then telling someone else might help. Either way I don't see how you could lose out by talking to me.”

“Father, you know I was a Canadian soldier.”

I pause, but Father Flaherty says nothing

“I only know that because Michael told me. Last night I googled my name, or at least the name Michael told me was my real name and it's the name of a war criminal. The only thing is, I don't know whether I really was that person. In fact, it seems impossible. The- the person in question? They were a man.”

“I see. Did your Michael explain this discrepancy to you?”

“Sort of. He told me I was the subject of a government experiment to alter people at the genetic level. That can't be true can it Father? It must be nonsense?”

I'm practically pleading with him to tell me that Michael was lying to me. I don't want to be a war criminal, a murderer or a freak from a lab. Unfortunately Father Flaherty isn't going to let me off the hook that easily.

“What do you think, daughter?”
“I – I've had this persistent dream for years. It seems to fit with what Michael told me. And the person I was in the dream, they seem like the sort of person who might just be able to do the sort of things this Captain Naso is accused of.”

“Captain Naso? Marcus Julius Naso?”

“Yes Father.”

There is a very long pause before I say

“It can't be true, can it Father? I mean, look at me! There's no way I could ever have been a man.”

“A while ago I would have reassured you but the trouble is, one of our sister orders passed on news a few years back that such experiments had been taking place. And....your story ties with something else I know. Something I can't tell you more about at present.”

“Oh God!”

“I can tell you one thing though. If you are Captain Naso then you definitely are a Catholic.”

Another long pause.

“In the absence of any countervailing evidence and given what I know but cannot tell you I think it is reasonable to assume that you are, or rather were, Captain Naso.”

“Oh God! So I've done all these things they say?”

“Some of what you've read will be lies. As always, truth is an early casualty in war. You may not have breached any of the rules of war. That said, those are human rules. It's hard to see how you could have been a successful guerrilla leader without breaching several commandments. No matter how good your reasons men have died because of you. Given what happens when automatic fire and flame and explosives are used in residential areas it seems very likely you have killed civilians, including women and children, not intentionally, but, at least, recklessly.”

“Oh God, no!” I can feel tears starting to trickle down my cheek now. Stupid, pointless self indulgent tears because no amount of tears can wash away what I've done. Father Flaherty waits for my strangled sobs to subside before saying

“Let us consider the situation. What has been done to you, and others, is a blasphemy. The power to alter humans so fundamentally is a perilous one in the best of circumstances. To do this to someone against their will is to spit in the face of God.”

“I'm an abomination then?” I whisper tearfully

“You, daughter? No, you are an erring child of God who has suffered at the hands of wicked men, But I think, and remember I am only a poor priest struggling to understand His purposes, but I think this is a case where God has turned evil back upon itself and used evil to do good.”

I feel a tiny surge of hope, together with a lot of confusion.
“What do you mean Father?”

“I mean child, that you were, if we are right, a victim and a perpetrator both, twisted by an unjust war. Not only were you a danger to others but your feet were set on the path to Hell. Who knows how far you could have followed it, to what depths you might have fallen? Young, brave, charismatic - who knows how many others you could have dragged with you, what suffering you might have inflicted before you died, still in your rage and sin?

Now look at you. You could not kill the captor who you had every reason to be angry with, to hate. Instead you sought escape, not vengeance. You turned your back on war, made a conscious choice to be a mother, not a warrior. I think God put you where you are to turn your steps on to a better path. This is your second chance.”

“How?”

“Your penance will be in several parts,”

I wince and brace myself. I've heard some weird stories about Catholics, flagellation, fasting, vows of silence. I Still, whatever I can do to atone, I will.

“Firstly, you will say five 'Hail Mary's and five 'Our Father's. Secondly you will strive every day to be a good person, to give others the love, mercy, help and forgiveness you would want Our Lord to give to you. Thirdly and most importantly, you will strive to be a good mother,”

"I -uh- Father, that's pretty much what I was planning to do anyway, apart from the prayers."

“I know, but it doesn't hurt to remind you that this what God wants of you too. Besides, there is one final part, and you may find it as difficult as all the rest put together. I want you to pray day and night for the soul of Michael O'Halloran.”

“I-uh-uh. I mean- what?”

“”God gave you a second chance. I think he also gave your Michael a second chance and you were it. When he turned his back on your love for him he gave up that chance. If I am right then he is in terrible danger.”

“Does he deserve them?” I retort with a flash of bitterness, but I don't mean it, I actually have horrible butterflies dancing a fandango in my tummy at the thought that anything bad might happen to Michael. I'm such a wimp! On the other hand, considering what I used to be, that's a distinct improvement.

“Child, we don't offer prayers for others because they deserve it; we do it because they need it.”

A terrible thought strikes me. “Father, does that mean I've endangered Michael by leaving?”

“Were you in danger from him?”

“Yes. He pulled a gun on me.”

“Then you did the right thing. You have a duty to your unborn child, that outweighs any duty to Michael. Do you accept your penance, my daughter?

“I do.”

“And do you truly repent your sins and promise to sin no more?”

“I do.”

“Then I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Go and sin no more. Oh, and drop in on Sister Consuela, she has a surprise for you.”



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