18
Jul
08

Cleansed by Fire, Part 6

For the previous installment of this story, click here, or click on the “cleansed by fire novel” link under the Tags heading for this post (or click here) for a complete listing of installments. 

Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 2, Women and Children

Daniel Coxe always thought it was a dubious distinction to be one of the only licensed divorce attorneys—quite likely the only one, in fact—in the Vatican’s UPA region. Awkward as hell, but it made for great cocktail party conversation sometimes with the unaware, given that divorce was absolutely prohibited in all Vatican-held nations. But the Vatican was always interested in acquiring good talent from abroad, and he had been paid an obscenely large amount of money to leave the comfort of Britainnia based solely on the fact that he had never come out on the losing end of any case he had ever led.

Someone up high thought, and rightly so, that his skills would translate well in the Vatican’s Contractual Law Department in the Ministry of Trade. Daniel had negotiated the hell out of every deal the Vatican put in front of him. Somehow, that had caught the attention of someone in the Ministry of Advanced Automation, who hired him away thinking that he would serve them well in getting artificial intelligence units to comprehend issues of deal-making and law.

And so the divorce attorney because a conceptual system programmer. And he programmed the hell out of every project put before him. Most of the AIs he had worked on could have out-argued half of his law professors.

Someone in the Papal Advisory Council figured that someone of Daniel’s unique skills would be perfect to monitor the health of the most complex and largest AI in the world—the Godhead—and they were right. That was three years ago.

Now, Daniel sat at his lightdesk dejectedly, going over thirteen anomalies that apparently no one else had ever thought to associate with one another. This was the tenth time he had done it. And the ninth time he had come up with the exact same calculations.

What Daniel wanted most in the world right now was to divorce himself from his own life, because he wasn’t quite sure how to handle the knowledge that the Godhead had at some point, without notifying anyone, spawned a smaller AI program and sent it into the world. He wasn’t sure whom he should tell.

He wasn’t sure if he would survive long after the telling.

He now wished very much that he hadn’t been quite so fond of money, because he was now wholly convinced that the Vatican was full of nothing but nutters and the Godhead was the biggest nutter of them all.

Immaculate AI conception or bastard autonomous program? Daniel sighed. This was definitely something they didn’t teach you in any of the family law curricula.

* * *

You learn a lot of things in seven years of seminary, Paulis Amaranth Dyson mused. How to apply just the right amount of blunt force to the human skull with a punchglove just wasn’t one of them.

It was, of course, something you could learn in a crash course in field combat at any of Europa or Old Africa’s military academies—and Amaranth had attended several such courses—but theory was always so much easier than execution. She had only intended to render the guard insensate; instead, it looked like he was going to need reconstructive surgery for his cheek and jaw.

But having only narrowly escaped an attack in Uhuru ten days ago that was either an assassination attempt or the most brutal apprehension plan she had ever experienced, Amaranth was feeling that overexuberance was the better part of valor these days. Too much subtlety and the UFC might be shopping among the single theologians for someone to wed her widowed husband and prevent an early leadership change.

Yet again, she found herself wondering how St. Paul himself would have viewed the job of Paulis in the UFC. One-third wandering evangelist, one-third diplomat, one-third commando. Evangelism and diplomacy had taken a back seat since Uhuru, though; all Amaranth wanted was to get back home to Mars and replace her slipship, apologize to the families of the two team members she had lost on this mission, and sleep for two days straight—preferably with Greg’s arms around her.

Sadly, she and her team were forced to flee southeast instead of north from Uhuru, putting them into long-held Vatican territory. Amaranth had gotten four of her five surviving team members onto a passenger vessel heading to Mars yesterday. That was the easy part; they didn’t have faces that were instantly recognizable by every Vatican security post on the face of the Earth.

With the guard continuing his enforced nap, Amaranth slipped into the medtech lab, snatched up a box of inactive nanobots designed for dental work and another box of nanos designed to treat acne and herpes—then grabbed several other boxes of nanos and numerous very expensive and highly abusable drugs to cover her tracks.

An hour later, she was at the rendevous point to meet the last remaining member of her team, her personal bodyguard—who still seemed to be chafing at the fact that Amaranth had insisted on splitting them up to gather what they needed. If Boris could have had himself surgically attached to Amaranth’s hip, he would have done so long ago.

“You have what we need to fake the IDs?” Amaranth asked.

Boris grunted and nodded.

“Don’t be so surly, Boris. You’re certain you can reprogram these nanos?”

Boris tilted his head and squinted in a manner that would have curdled milk.

“Boris, please try to remember that I’m your boss.”

The big man shrugged. “I can reprogram. Your new face I hope will not scare your husband too hard. I plan to make myself more handsome but you need much more plain. Won’t hold more than four days though.”

“We’ll be back on Mars tomorrow, or we won’t make it at all.” Amaranth set down her bags and tied back her black hair. “Be gentle, Boris. It’s my first facelift.”

* * *

Hasty decisions made in anger and with too little sleep are probably not the best ones, Maree sup-Juris noted mentally as she hung in her living room between the iron-hard grips of two men who not only were solid muscle naturally but also boasted light exoskeletons to give them an added edge. I figured Stavin would come here, or send someone here, within minutes after receiving the report of the slipcar driver.

I never expected that someone would already be here when I walked through my front door.

They hadn’t hurt her yet, but it seemed likely that wasn’t going to last, given the look on the face of the third person in her house, who had greeted her with icy silence and obviously was the brains of this trio. He had retreated to her kitchen moments ago, and after some rattling around in her cabinets, he returned with a slotted spoon.

“I understand that your rank in the templar makes you ill. I understand that the things you have had to do since taking your vows are sickening to you,” the man said softly. Without warning, he stepped up, grabbed a fistful of her bobbed hair, yanked her head back and thrust the spoon down her throat.

If she hadn’t been retching so hard at the time, Maree might have been impressed with how smoothly and quickly he stepped back to avoid being sprayed by the remains of the dinner she’d eaten before leaving Templar’s Tower.

“Yes, I see it has made you very sick to your stomach indeed. I’m so sorry.”

Maree’s throat was in no condition to fashion a surly reply. Nor was her brain fully recovered to think one up.

“I also understand that broken fingers and collarbones are something that appeal to you aesthetically.”

Shit. Not only were they waiting for me, they were monitoring my conversation in the slipcar the whole time I was coming here.

The man stepped nimbly around the puddle of vomit on the floor, broke one of Maree’s little fingers and then shoved the stunrod he had been carrying on his belt sideways into her mouth to stifle her cry of pain.

“I’m sure you can explain away the finger as a home-based accident. A broken collarbone would be too hard to explain, of course. Still, fair is fair, so let me improvise.”

He shoved the business end of the stunrod against her left shoulder and pressed the trigger. Maree had only been on the receiving end of a stunrod three times in her career, and always with templar armor to severely blunt the effect. Even with the excrutiating pain she now felt, she noted with some small clinical detachment how amazing it was that the stunrod robbed her of the ability to scream even as it made her want to do little else but. The fact she wasn’t unconcious meant it was, at best, set to one-third power.

“You never did specify whether you intended to break both sides of his collarbone or just one. I’m afraid that professional ethics demand I be thorough.”

With that, he jammed the stunrod against her other shoulder and repeated the process. He waited. It was more than three minutes before Maree regained the ability to audibly pant and gasp. She might have groaned but suspected that would only earn her an extra couple blasts with the stunrod. At a signal from the man, her two captors dropped her unceremoniously into her own vomit.

The stunrod now back in its holster, and Maree quite certain that she would be able to wrest it from the man if he would only give her an hour or two to lie there first, the man dropped to a squat in front of her and cupped his hands together.

“I’m Stavin. How very nice to meet you in person, Maree. I probably should have introduced myself years ago, but you can imagine how busy it gets running one of the biggest cells of Secular Genesis.” He paused and looked thoughtfully off into the distance for a moment. “You know, I would have expected someone who’s worked this long at the Vatican to be familiar with a phrase about pride going before the fall.”

“Pleased to…meet you…too,” Maree managed through clenched teeth, though she was bitterly disappointed when the last word came out a mousy squeak. “Is this…a morale…building…pep talk?”

“Maree, Maree. Please don’t try to speak. If you give yourself a couple hours sleep and don’t force me to use the rod again, you’ll be able to talk normally by the time you go back to work.”

“You have…got…to be…kid…”

“Shhhhhh. Maree, you are going to go back to work tomorrow, you are going to re-enable all four swiper apps on your chair before you leave for the day, you will drop that sniffer device of yours at the caff shop on your way home tomorrow night, and you shall patiently await either your discovery as a plant or the fruition of our plans, either of which will enable you to stop serving the interests of the Vatican. Which, I am sure, will help settle that sour stomach of yours.”

“And…if…”

“You don’t? You still have two cousins living nearby. I normally don’t like to create collateral casualties, but these are irregular times and I am forced to extreme measures. If necessary, this cottage will burn, and your cousins, their wives and their children wide awake along with it.”

(To read Part 7 of this story, click here.)

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3 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 6”


  1. July 22, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Now that’s what I’m talking about!

    That’s how you end a chapter!

    That’s exactly what Marie needed and exactly what would have happened in real life if she actually threatened someone who was part sleeper terrorist cell. Those folks don’t allow disrespect and they don’t play by the rules of fairplay.

    Of course by alerting Marie to her expendablity Stavin has now greatly reduced any loyalty she had to his group. Obviously he thinks things are so close to fruition that her death is immaterial and they’ve squeezed as much as they could get from her.

    I the twist about the Godhead creating a smaller version of itself to send out into the world. Perfect, perfect allusion to Jesus and traditional Christian stories.

    Lovely.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    July 22, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    And we’re about to see some darker sides to Maree too as she figures out her next steps.

    Yeah, “little Godhead” should be an interesting “character” too…pity (for many of the people in the novel) that he doesn’t have Jesus’ high moral standard. 😉


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Deacon Blue is the blogging persona of editor and writer Jeffrey Bouley. The opinions of Jeff himself on this blog, and those expressed as Deacon Blue, in NO WAY should be construed as the opinions of anyone with whom he has worked, currently works, or will work with in the future. They are personal opinions and views, and are sometimes, frankly, expressed in more outrageous terms than I truly feel most days.

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