From a distance, Gethsemane Church shines like a jewel on Skyscraper City’s northern edge. Crystal spires catch the sunlight, gleaming like a beacon and blinding unwary motorists at rush hour.
The grounds are no less imposing nor less beautiful. Exotic and native plants grow in ordered harmony across twelve acres of prime real estate. A wide expanse of lawn, manicured as finely as any country club’s fairways, provides a natural space for outdoor events. Even the sprawling parking lot, big enough for a thousand cars, has plenty of shade and greenspace. The impious often say that Gethsemane is a shrine to its High Minister, Charles “Chuck” Worley. But it’s hard to argue with success, and Gethsemane is success on steroids.
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On this Tuesday afternoon, the sanctuary is almost empty—except for one man at the Living Vine. Snick go a pair of clippers, and a long length of vine drops to the floor atop a growing pile of clippings. Anyone watching Philip Klor at work would be horrified, but Klor insists on working with nobody nearby. He does his job well (and cheaply) enough that Worley tolerates this one quirk. Nobody else could complete his vision of an arch of vines over his pulpit, after all.
With the arch thinned out, Klor reached out and focused. Slowly at first, then gaining speed, the vines grew. On both sides, the vines stretched up the chicken wire that formed the Arch, thickening and leafing out. In minutes, the chicken wire was hidden by lush green, growing exactly where it needed, with not a single leaf out of place.
Klor hopped down the ladder and strode to the back of the sanctuary to check his handiwork. “Lookin’ good as always,” he muttered. Returning to the risen area around the pulpit, he stuffed the clippings into a bag and fed the planters a generous helping of fertilizer and mulch. Automatic systems, more of Klor’s handiwork, took care of the watering part.
Sauntering out to the prayer garden, he looked around. That chump Worley often brought his own chumps out here to shake more money out of their pockets, but today he had the place to himself. He checked the place out, willing a few of the plants to try a little harder, to get a little greener. As always, they responded. The pay was crappy, and Klor often daydreamed of walking out and burying the grounds in kudzu behind him, but he did his job. It was—no pun intended—excellent cover for his real work.
Tucked away behind a holly hedge was the caretaker’s cottage. Gethsemane provided him with living space, but he had to pay rent out of what little they paid him. Not to mention the ten percent “tithe” they withheld from his meager paycheck on top of taxes… but this megachurch was not Klor’s sole source of income.
Not by a long shot.
He deposited the clippings in the mulcher system behind the cottage, then went inside for a shower. Minutes later, clean and refreshed, he sat at his computer. His Internet link went through the church’s network, which was constantly monitored for signs of impropriety, but there were ways around that. Accessing his cover site, a botanical database, he hopped on the anonymizing relay and went to town. Or, to be more precise, Twitter.
Party at my place Friday, one tweet offered. There were several replies from accounts he followed, chatty cover aliases, offering to bring drinks or snacks. He chimed in with his own reply.
The supervillains were planning something big. DeVine meant to be a part of it.