Cleansed By Fire, Part 8

For the previous installment of this story, click here

There is also a link under “Categories” in my sidebar for Cleansed By Fire, to more easily access all the installments of this novel; alternately, you can 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 (continued)

The moon was bright, and the snow on the ground glowed faintly. Paulo sup-Juris stood for a few minutes outside the house after the groundcar had left, and simply gazed at the blanket of fresh white powder. In the city proper, the streets and walks were set to melt any snowfall. Here in the outer city, plowing had never quite gone out of style, even if automatons did most of it now. It helped center him somehow to look at it.

Once the cold air had cleared his head a bit, he walked up to the door of his aunt’s house. He often stayed here rather than his cramped little Manhattan apartment; inner Nova York wasn’t much his style and he only kept the apartment to be close to Templar’s Tower most days. Aside from his strong jaw, sharp eyes, thick dark hair and flawless skin, the main reason several women in the Office Templar had crushes on him was that he took dligent care of his aunt Sofia and his cousin Gina and visited them so often. The vow of celibacy he had taken didn’t dissuade half a dozen available ladies from doting on him in the office and flirting with him in subtle ways nearly every day because of his devotion to those two women. Those crushes had only deepened over the past three years as his co-workers realized how much he adored his little demi-niece Grace—as if she were his own daughter.

Which was entirely appropriate, given that she was.

Once he was inside, he disrobed quietly and slipped into bed next to Gina, spooning her and feeling the heat of her buttocks against his sex. She let out a sleepy purr and pulled his right arm closer to her bosom, but she slipped right into sleep again. It was for the best. He was too tired to make proper love to her tonight anyway, and would have to get up very early to continue the preparations for the millennial event. Also, after the business with Adam Devan and Elisya Sutco, his passions were much cooled—it was a grim reminder of what would happen to him and Gina if anyone discovered their relationship. His father had take great pains to manufacture a new identity for the woman formerly known as Lexa Price, invent a thoroughly fictional late husband to explain the child, and ship Paulo’s real cousin off to Africa in a cushy role in his eldest brother’s Agribiz Consortium.

His father knew well enough from his own fondly remembered lusty youth that it was better to give Paulo access to his then-pregnant lover than to try to separate them. But if their dalliance was ever detected, father would never go out on a limb that far again for Paulo just to avoid a scandal; he would let Paulo and Gina fend for themselves and make sure everyone else in the core family was safely in non-Vatican nations before the shit truly hit the ventilator. Paulo was merely a sixth son, and the fact he had possessed virtually no chance of being a part of any of his father’s business interests was precisely why he had been farmed out to the templars to serve the Vatican instead. His father bore him only a cursory affection and even less pride, even with Paulo’s ascension to admin officer six years ago.

If Gina was awake, they would make love, and Paulo would be reminded by Adam and Elisya’s example of the fact he could enter his lover anyplace but the place he most wanted to—there wasn’t a single contraceptive drug or device in the house, and with the fictitious husband long dead, no way to explain any additional children Gina might have. Being caught would be dangerous enough but to be caught in fornication and using contraception would be worse yet.

And if they made love, they would talk for a long time afterward, and Paulo would have to share his day with her and all the madness that was occurring.

Then they would probably argue again. She would insist he have his father pull strings to get him out of his templar vows or find some way to fake their deaths so that they could start again somewhere. Paulo would remind her that his father was a well that was now tapped dry and argue that he had already violated enough Vatican vows without abandoning all his principles. He would point out the dismal and financially strapped life they would likely have to lead and the mountain of lies they would have to tell for the rest of their lives if they ran.

So instead of waking Gina, he settled his head down on her pillow, took a deep breath of her lavender-scented hair, set his linkpad to wake him at 4 a.m. so he could have a few minutes with Gina and Grace before he left for the city proper, and let the warmth of Gina’s skin and the softness of her nightgown draw him into a deep and—blessedly—dreamless slumber.

* * *

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

That is what Emil Standish tried to drill into his head once more as he stood on the flight deck of Ishtar’s Folly and watched as one of the two Sisters of the Red Sun approached him. Which, he could not say, as they were twins, but they were each equally deadly and—in his mind—equally untrustworthy. His mantra wasn’t working; she felt less a friend with every step she took. If she were a true human, perhaps he could muscle up some trust for her. But she was Ishmaeli, so heavily modified and altered from baseline human genetics that she was nothing but alien to him, even if she was technically human. The Ishmaeli, the Isaacians, the Mandarin and the Atlanteans—all but the last born to be spacefarers and all freaks of nature, and he couldn’t stand any one of them in the same room with him.

And now he had to deal with two of them. If Stavin and the other senior cell leaders hadn’t ordered him to work with these mercenaries, there were things he might show them and do to them before he ended their lives. In the new order, he hoped, such abominations would be eliminated, along with the churches as well. Spiritual and genetic corruption both, he hoped to see humankind purged of them. But for now at least, they were his “friends,” like it or not.

“I am Sarai,” said the thin, pale woman from behind her scarlet headdress. “Mehrnaz will be along shortly.”

“I really only need to tell one of you what is…”

“You will tell us both,” came a voice from behind him.

Where the hell had the other sister come from and why hadn’t he heard her approach? Abominations, all of them.

Emil stepped back two paces and turned slightly so that both sisters were in front of him. Each had one hand beneath her robes, and there was little doubt in his mind that either or both of them could produce any number of unseemly and unhealthy devices in short order.

“Well, then, let’s make this quick,” Emil said.

“That is a very large drive to deliver such a small package,” Mehrnaz noted in a voice like an autumn breeze blowing through dry leaves.

“Yes, a Class III Moffett ThrustPod, to be exact,” Sarai echoed in a voice that was more like a sirocco passing through desert dunes. Emil wondered if they affected different voices for dramatic purposes or if the tales of their twinhood were overstated.

“I should think even a Class II would be uncalled for; certainly a Class I is sufficient,” Mehrnaz stated.

“None of that is really any of your concern,” Emil said flatly. “You have been paid for a service and all you need to do is to deposit the package at the coordinates on this datastrip, use the remote we’ve given you to activate it, and leave.”

“What is or isn’t of our concern is, truly, our concern and not yours,” Sarai said. “But we merely seek to make conversation. It is said you Earthers like the small talk.”

The seesawing conversational style of the sisters and their ghostly voices was beginning to set Emil on edge. “The navigation pack is already programmed. If you were to consider any kind of reprogramming for a target of your own convenience, I would dissuade you, as there is a security contingency…”

Emil Standish reeled as Sarai struck him across the cheek. He felt a thin trickle of warmth on his face and saw a drop of his blood fall from a white needle on one of the four rings on Sarai’s right hand. He felt an icy stab of fear in his belly, and wondered if there might be another reason for that feeling in his stomach as well. He hadn’t even realized she was rushing him until after he had been hit, and she was already well out of his reach.

“We will not be insulted,” Mehrnaz said as if scolding a five-year-old. “No Ishmaeli hirebrand has ever betrayed a contract. The only target of convenience for us is you. Speak another insulting word and I shall strike you as my sister did. You will find the combination quite lethal, I assure you.”

To ensure Emil wouldn’t miss her meaning, she turned her hand palm-up and waggled a finger bearing a ring with a black needle, but otherwise identical to Sarai’s.

“I meant no disrespect; I have my own orders as to what I am to instruct you,” Emil said. It wasn’t entirely true; Stavin had given him some specific wording to hint at the security contingency protecting the nav pack without being accusatory. “We are a secular force, you understand. You’re Ishmaeli, and have your own duties to your god and probably your own debt to repay on behalf of the Muslims. It would seem to me—to us—that you might have some temptation to aim that package at one of the papal towers instead, or maybe the Godhead itself.”

“Even if we were so dishonorable, however could we know if a package such as this is sufficient to such a task?” Sarai said.

“When you have done such a commendable job of hiding its true nature beneath a false hull,” continued Mehrnaz.

“Your package will be in place at the designated time,” Sarai said.

“We trust our remaining funds shall be as well,” sneered Mehrnaz.

“If not, we have our own packages we can deliver, Standish-liaison,” they said in unison. “To your very home if we desired.”

(To view part 9 of this story, which marks the end of Chapter 2, click here.)


1 Response to “Cleansed By Fire, Part 8”

  1. August 12, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Nice post.Keep up with the good information!

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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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