Going to do something very different today and moving forward. I haven’t written much original fiction in a long time (although I posted a couple pieces of my older Christian-themed creative writing on this blog recently, with Devil’s Due and A New Record in the Sand), and I’d like to get back into that mode after a nearly decade-long break. So, I’m going to do a serialized blog novel with some religious/spiritual overtones starting today, with ideally one or two new parts a week (might take multiple “parts” to get through a full chapter, though). I have no idea where I’ll go with this story yet, so we’ll both be surprised together. It’ll be sci-fi in nature owing to the time period in which it’s placed (and being that sci-fi and fantasy are my reading preferences), but it’s not exactly going to be Star Wars-style or anything like that. Hoping for something more meaty and issue/character oriented. So, let’s get started…
Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 1, Requiem for the Red Pope
The sun broke cover from behind the Lamb’s Tower and the clouds that had obscured it all morning with the smoky, dull golden glow that Lyseena xec-Juris had grown so accustomed to through the sunscreened transglass of the admin suite’s tall, narrow windows, with their nearly invisible crystalline tracings of a classic painting of the crucifixion from the late 20th century. She wondered for perhaps the dozenth time in as many months if she should revert the windows back to the faux stained glass appearance her predecessor had fancied, but it seemed too ostentatious for a regional commander templar. Law enforcement deserved something more understated, she thought, something midway between the colorful and gaudy trappings of the theologians and the near-black windows of the Inquisitioner’s office.
Her door chime warbled lightly but she lingered a moment at the view. It was only now, so close after the noon hour, that the sun was positioned properly to make the crucifixion image in each window suddenly glow a light blue-white and become visible. A time for her to remind herself what her purpose was and why she suffered the metaphysical and legal weight of her thin templar’s collar. No time to fully enjoy the effect, though; a mere moment with the image of the Lord’s suffering would have to suffice.
“Enter,” Lyseena said, and the suite’s AI system automatically unlocked and opened the door to admit her three admin officers. She waited until she heard them take their respective seats before turning around and sitting in her own slipchair. “Sorry to keep you all waiting. I know this suite is as much yours as it is mine, but I’ve needed this morning to make a bit more than the usual number of secure communications. I hope you were able to get some work done in the pit while I was playing hermit.”
“We all live to serve,” responded Paulo sup-Juris both too quickly and too forlornly. Lyseena knew how much it galled him to work at a common desk in the pit with all the minor admins. He was merchanter-born and still carried some trappings of his noble business upbringing. But still, she respected his attempt to be gracious.
Kevan sup-Juris stifled a chuckle, but not his thin smile at Paulo’s discomfiture. “I can’t imagine what could possibly have been so important, commander. It’s not as if the death of the Red Pope three days before we celebrate the fourth millennium could possibly complicate life.”
Paulo, ever succinct, seemed not to notice Kevan’s attempt at wit and asked Lyseena simply, “Will the papal requiem be before or after the millennial event?”
“Or, Trinity forbid, during,” moaned Maree sup-Juris. If Paulo was Lyseena’s prim, proper and methodical face and Kevan her lighthearted one, Maree was ever the stern pragmatist and resident pessimist Lyseena needed to keep her eyes on the top priorities.
“Weeping Jesus, not during,” Lyseena said, waving her hand to call up the lightdesk in front of her as she maneuvered the slipchair into place and join her three admins in the circle they usually used for their meetings. Following her lead, each admin activated his or her own lightdesk; Maree’s holo flickered for a split second and Lyseena made a quick note on her task list to formally insist that the admin finally upgrade her antique slipchair.
“However, the Godhead has recommended, and the two surviving Popes agree, that the requiem needs to be held soon, so we’ll be hurrying to do it a full day before the millennial gala,” Lyseena continued. “We could use some of the heavenly host themselves to help out on security and enforcement for the next several days, but I doubt the Trinity is going to come down from heaven with angelic reinforcements any time soon. They’ve been pretty quiet up there since Jesus rose and I don’t expect to see them until He comes again.”
Lyseena called up the tentative schedule on her lightdesk and synched it to the other three desks for the three administrative supervisors to review. The Upper Pacific-Atlantic Region was already enough of a burden for one executive officer and three supervisory admins to oversee with Nova Roma—and its Central Vatican Office—in the Yucatan Province and the Papal Jurisprudence Tower in the Canadian Province. And now a Grand Requiem and the Fourth Millennial Celebration almost at once to make the task more difficult.
The commander templar could sense the tension increase in the room long before the slight creases in all three admins’ brows became full-blown, deep-set frowns. There had already been increased bombings and gridhacks in the weeks leading up to the millennial celebrations in all three of the Papacy’s continental regions. Adding the pomp and circumstance of a Grand Requiem beforehand was going to truly fire up the increasingly feisty political and religious revolutionary groups.
She gave them all the time they needed, until each one, in turn, leaned back into his or her slipchair and all of them had put their lightdesks into standby mode.
“Can’t the cardinals be persuaded to postpone the requiem?” Maree inquired. “Surely if they asked, the Godhead and the Popes would have to concur. They are the largest bloc in the Red.”
If anything, the cardinals were even more eager to have the requiem soon, and had lobbied for holding the funeral mass at the opening of the millennial celebration instead of a day earlier. The Red Pope had been well-loved by the more theological elements of the papacy’s social welfare branch. The cardinals were already bristling that their leader wouldn’t be honored officially as part of the dawn of the new millennium; they saw the timing as a sign from the Father that the deceased pope should be on a fast-track to sainthood. Troubling her three supervisory admins with that bit of information right now seemed to Lyseena less than prudent, though. Better to wait until they had digested everything.
“Both the Templar and our Jesuit brothers fall under the jurisdiction of the Red Pope, just like the Faith Cardinal,” the commander reminded Maree, while making pointed eye contact with the other two as well. “Law enforcement, the courts and the teaching academies. Pope Tommis’ tower may have been in the Lower African Region but the bulk of the Red Pope’s offices and personnel are here in the UPA. We will not in any way be perceived as acting counter to the will of the Papacy nor will we try to maneuver the cardinals for our own selfish reasons. We will stand in solidarity as our late Pope Tommis would have expected.”
“Could the Lower Pac-Atlantic send a host or two of templars perhaps?” Kevan ventured. “Most of the celebrations will be here in the UPA and we’re already strapped for warm bodies to put in templar armor. Our brothers and sisters in the south always have too many for their own needs.”
Lyseena shook her head. “I’ve requested six units and I figure I might get four. It’s the Lower Pac that’s traditionally overstaffed with templars, but remember that the Lower Atlantic has been stressed from the plague riots in the Argent Province. So the Lower Pac has loaned them quite a few hosts already. We may need bodies more, but the LPA isn’t going to see it that way.”
Maree let out a short huff and mumbled something only half intelligible but clearly insulting to the rioters in the Lower Atlantic and their parentage.
“Do you have a suggestion, Maree, or just a complaint?” asked Lyseena, knowing the answer already.
“We should round up the lot of them and let them die in quarantine.”
“That’s a bit uncharitable for the Holy Mother Church to do, don’t you think?”
“If it weren’t for the rampant deviancy in the Lower Atlantic, there wouldn’t be any plague riots in the LPA. They made themselves sick, the Trinity has judged them with a deadly disease, what more is there to say?”
Ever ruthlessly practical, my Maree, Lyseena mused, but instead of the sarcastic jibe, the commander templar merely said, “Most of the rioters aren’t even the sick ones; they’ll be rounded up but nobody is going to heap them with the plague-stricken so that we can have even more deaths. It might be nice if we could get a few of the heathen souls ready to enter Paradise first. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Our jurisdiction is the UPA and we have our own rioters and terrorists to contend with.”
She paused for a moment, wondering if there was something else worth saying, and then just sighed and shut down her slipchair. “I’m going to the top of the tower to take my midday meal. I’m going to make it a long one. I expect each of you to have some preliminary strategies by the time I return.”