Cleansed By Fire, Part 10

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 3, Narrow Paths and Wide Gates

A slipcar. Paulo frowned and shook his head; not the first time for such a mistake from a livery service, since few people wanted a long groundcar ride from the outer metro rim to the inner city. But few things unnerved him more than slipgate travel and nothing but officially mandated urgency was going to get him to use one.

“No slipgate, please,” he told the driver as he slipped into the rear seat. “I realize that means taking up a good portion of your time, so I’ll pay double your firm’s going land rate and tip you the same. Templar’s Tower, South Entrance.”


Paulo thumbed his vox to his usual morning news feed and slipped it into his ear, watching the buildings roll by. Just before the thruway exit, the driver slowed and pulled over to a servicer pod, hooking up a cable to the front of the slipcar. Paulo stepped out.

“Don’t do much long driving, eh?” he asked the driver. “Just as well. I could use one more stretch.”

When the driver turned toward him, the first thing Paulo noticed was Maree’s eyes. He had a sudden mad urge to reach for the small slug pistol under his coat but stayed his hand. He had another urge to jump into the driver’s seat and rush back to Gina. He stayed his feet as well.

“Come over here, please,” Maree said in a tone that suggested it was anything but a request.

Paulo held her eyes but from the periphery of his vision, kept watch on her shoulders. Whether fist or weapon, a movement there would be the first sign of hostile intent.

“Paulo, you really must have your cousin give me the name of her aesthetician. Gaining five or six inches of height is quite the feat.”

Paulo went cold all over. But the feeling passed quickly. If the Office Templar knew he had fathered a child in violation of his vows and out of wedlock besides, they would have taken him down at his aunt’s home or at the tower itself. This was not a time to be a templar, he realized. It was a time to tap skills he had learned from being merchanter born and raised. He was calm and centered in an instant.

“Before we get to what your silence will cost, Maree, might I ask how long you’ve known?”

“For more than three years, a little after your aunt started calling you almost every day with updates about ‘Gina’s’ pregnancy.”

“I should have known that would be too obvious.”

Please. Paulo, I’ve always thought you were a selfish, classist prick, but even I always admired you for not cutting all your family loose when you took your vows. You’re an honorable man who does his job as best and humanely as he can, unlike good old Kevan who could probably tell a joke while putting a man down. No one thought twice about your interest in your widowed cousin’s pregnancy, including me. Hell, I remember that party your aunt threw for you when you got that commendation almost five years ago. You and original-formula Gina were tight like twins.”

Paulo’s mind was spinning through the data fast, but making no connections.

“Aside from then, I haven’t had any of you anywhere near my family. The pregnancy was more than a year later. The only new pics of family I’ve ever had in the office were of my niece,” Paulo said, and realized how ingrained and natural the lies had become. “My daughter.”

“I had a really maternal day shortly after we all realized your so-called cousin was expecting. Started regretting that I would never give birth. Actually took a slipcar to your aunt’s new house to give your cousin a gift for the baby. I saw a pregnant woman gardening with your aunt. I realized right away it wasn’t Gina when she stood up, even with the cosmetic changes, and I had the driver move on.”

“You’ve held onto this for a long time, Maree. You never struck me as the extortionist type. What is it you need? Or want?”

“Paulo, you are going to expose me for a traitor and terrorist.”

Paulo actually laughed, suprising both of them. “Maree, that is even less you than the role of blackmailer is. Are you off on some cloak-and-blade escapade?”

“I have played everyone in the Vatican for fools my entire career, Paulo. And I’ve been played a fool myself by…well, you’ll know who I work for soon enough. The less real information you know, the better for the lies you need to tell. It ends today, Paulo, with us getting back in that car and heading to the slipgate station. While we are en route, you are going to begin making calls, starting with my own linkpad code. I will not answer your call. You will try again, using the emergency mode. I still will not answer. Then you will call the tower. You will tell security to lock down my slipchair and to secure everything in the suite that is mine.”


“You will then call Lyseena directly,” Maree said, ignoring him, “and tell her what you have done. You will tell her I seemed to be acting strangely yesterday, especially when we all left the tower. You will tell her it didn’t seem like much at the time, but it suddenly hit you this morning that the holo emitter in my slipchair has been misfiring an awful lot lately and you sense there is a connection. If you think you need to, tell her you saw me fiddling with my chair’s servpanel a lot, too, whenever you and I were alone in the suite. You will tell her I am avoiding your calls this morning, which is awfully strange with the mysterious death of a pope and all the chaos of the upcoming millennial. You will tell her you remember that I have some family in Astoria and that all of them—men, women and children—should be detained by local authorities immediately until you all can sort out what’s up with me.”

“Your family is…”

“Paulo, that part of my family has nothing to do with anything, but if they are not detained they will be murdered. For the love of God, do all this and do it without question. They may already be dead or worse because of what I’m doing now. This slipcar’s detour and the body in the trunk that hasn’t reported in yet will not go unnoticed.”

* * *

The emergency call channel chirped at Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio from the linkpad laying on his cabin’s hard-desk. He clipped it to his tunic before thumbing it on. He was just finishing his morning preparations and pulled his trousers up while he muttered an irritable “What couldn’t wait for five minutes until I’m on the bridge?”

His executive officer’s voice was appropriately chagrined. “Sorry, sir, but someone’s gone missing. Daywatch prep crew noticed a few missing names on the lights-out logoffs and there’s one still unaccounted for.”

Bartelle began pulling on his boots. “So, start scouring the service tunnels for someone sleeping off a drunk.”

“It’s Counselor Atkins, sir. He’s not in his cabin and not responding to linkpad calls.”

Bartelle paused a pair of heartbeats for the appropriate effect. He had been expecting this call since last night and had already rehearsed his lines half a hundred times in his head.

“Pardon me?”

“Yes, sir. You see the problem. Atkins is a slave to protocol. And not apt to go off on a bender.”

Pausing again before he responded, Bartelle said, “Maybe…” paused again, and grunted. “What was his last known position on the ship?”

“He was scheduled for a session with Crewman, ahhhh, Dimitri Martin.”

Bartelle ticked off three seconds in his head, then responded. “I’m not…is that one of the new crew we picked up last week? The name sounds vaguely familiar.”

“Yes, sir. New recruit through Freecity on Mars.”

Closing his eyes in a silent sigh, Baretelle mentally shouted a hallelujah. Thank you, Trinity, for letting him mention Mars before I had to. I wasn’t sure I could slip that in myself casually, either now or later on the bridge.

“All right, we need this crewman for an interview then, right now. I’ll be there momentarily.”

“Already on it, sir. Martin is on his way to the bridge officer’s briefing room. Should I wait for you before I talk to him?”

“Might as well. A couple minutes isn’t going to make much difference.”

“Aye, aye. Donovan out.”

Bartelle flicked off the linkpad and sighed.

So far, so good, Nazarene. I hope you know what you’re doing.

(To view part 11 of this story, click here.)


2 Responses to “Cleansed By Fire, Part 10”

  1. August 18, 2008 at 11:24 am

    Interesting move by Maree. I’m going to have to go back and read the older one to get caught up on this ship captain dude.

    Oh yeah, I “tagged you over at my blog.”

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    August 18, 2008 at 11:31 am

    At some point in the near future, I think I’ll package up the parts as complete chapters (maybe PDF downloads) after I come the end of one (esp. now that I have two complete chapters done)…will help for those who want to catch up or start from the beginning late.

    Haven’t had much on the ship captain yet. This is only his second appearance. I’ve been a bit slow rolling out the primary and secondary male characters, aside from the Peteris, of course.

    EDIT: Captain’s first appearance was in part 7, btw, if you don’t already know…

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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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