Cleansed By Fire, Part 13

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 (continued)

From Stavin’s perspective, partial success was almost as bad as total failure. And he held special contempt for anyone who had a critical duty and did it almost perfectly until the very end. He regarded the freshly sealed wound on Emil Standish’s cheek, motioned for him to keep silent and wait, frowned, turned away from him, then spun quickly and struck him on his other cheek so hard the man stumbled, almost righted himself, then stumbled again before he caught his balance and stopped flailing his arms.

But he didn’t actually fall. Once again, Stavin thought, the man couldn’t get it quite right. Either stand your ground solidly or hit the damned floor.

“Emil, it might have been better for you if the second sister had struck the cheek I just did with her little poisoned needle.” Stavin paused. “I presume you were threatened with just that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was I unclear in my instructions to you on how to comport yourself?”

“No, sir. It’s just that…”

Stavin swept Emil’s legs out from beneath him and when the man’s hindquarters hit the floor, he said, “Please, have a seat, Emil. Don’t embellish your answers unless and until I ask you to do so. Is that crystal to you?”

“Very clear, sir. Yes.”

“These two women have been commissioned to deliver an extremely important parcel on our behalf. What made you think your handover of the datastrip and sliptrans remote was a good time to let your xenophobia bleed from your pores?”

Emil didn’t respond. Stavin circled his right hand in a “hurry” gesture and told the man, “This would be a time for you to embellish.”

“I don’t have any excuse, sir.”

“As embellishments go, that wasn’t very inspiring. Secular Genesis combats the tyranny of religion, particuarly the Vatican and everyone in the Catholic Union who is loyal to it. We are not out to insult the Ishmaeli. Or the Mandarin. Or the Isaacians.”

“Or, if you should find yourself doing some recreational diving, the Atlanteans either,” said a female voice from the edge of the room, where several observers sat.

“Just so, Kylie,” Stavin said. “I was so focused on our spacefaring brethren I forgot to mention them. The point is, Emil, that we understand that you, as an individual, see whole-genome manipulation as a crime against humanity. That to you, Ishmaeli and others of their ilk are a sign of the elevation of science to godhood, and thus a religion equally as repugnant as Catholicism or any other. True?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Honest about it. Good. We’ve always known this about you and most of your real friends in the movement. Not that you would have put it so eloquently as I did, but believe me, we’ve done our homework and know you better than you do. We welcomed you into our fold because, frankly, we agree with your view on that matter of some scientists fancying themselves gods.”

“Uh, thank you? Sir.”

“I don’t think you want to thank me just yet. Emil, the Vatican controls two continents completely and a good chunk of a third. Might it not be logical to focus on the biggest threat first? Neo-sapiens are just about dead-last on our list of threats. Frankly, the real threat is the science and the scientific justifications that make those species possible, not the beings themselves.”

“Yes, sir,” Emil said, a dubious tone in his voice.

“Fortunately, Emil, I think there is about nil chance of those two Ishmaeli reneging on us. It just wouldn’t be professional. So, you haven’t scuttled our plans,” Stavin said. “But for even raising the spectre of such a botch, what do you think I would feel tempted to do?”

Without skipping a beat, Emil said, “Kill me.”

“Kill you? Emil, that you think I am either that predictable or so lacking in creativity simply astounds me. No, I am going to tape a packet to your chest that contains datastrips and hard docs of all your many ramblings on the SystemGrid and conversations with certain people in Secular Genesis about the horrors of neo-sapiens and their utter lack of humanity. And I am going to send you back to the Sisters of the Red Sun with a note that both that packet, and you, are a special gift to them. Our apology to them.”

Emil gaped as the observers and Stavin began to leave the room, and then Stavin turned and smiled.

“Nice working with you, Emil.”


In a small recovery cubicle, Adam Devan lay in a bed, awaiting the inevitable hour or day that he would be shipped off to a work farm, if he was fortunate. Ashamed as he was to admit it, he dwelled more on his own mutilation and his dubious future than he did his former fiancee’s fate. Adam was fit and young, a former flipdisk player in university, and he might be sent to a work farm as Lyseena had decreed or he might be culled one day to be fitted as a drone for a Dry Sister.

Elisya would be sent off to the Dry Sisters, but no one had cut anything off of her. If she took and kept the vows, she could still have some kind of existence outside of a lifetime of forced labor or becoming the bodyguard-pet of one of the crones. A crone his own lover might yet become.

It was her fault, he decided. Just like Adam was tempted by Eve, so Adam Devan had been tempted by Elisya Sutco. Her fault. Bitch. Still physically a woman, while I’m reduced to a thing.

He worried more for Enn, who had helped the couple arrange their liaisons. The inquisitors had been asking about Enn this morning. Probably Elisya had given his name up to them. There wasn’t much Adam could tell them about Enn, but it was still unpleasant being subjected to their methods long enough for them to believe that.

He lay there, glowering and swearing, for some time that morning. Later, a small flash of light and movement on one of the medical monitors would catch his eye, and he would find himself crying as well, still blaming Elisya but now cursing another name, too.

Scrolling across the monitor lazily was the message: God made the wages of sin to be death in the beginning, Adam. Be thankful you were only required to give your manhood in the name of the cause. God bless you, –Enn

When the message winked out, Adam had no idea what cause his loss had served. He only knew that he felt more alone than ever before.


The woman called Kylie caught Stavin by the arm on the way out of the room where Emil was being packaged up for the Ishmaeli twins. Her arms were thin and her fingers liver-spotted, but both were still strong, and her grip almost made Stavin wince.

The other observers had gathered around as well.

“We have much at stake here, Stavin,” she said. “There is no room for adjustment. The window of opportunity is open but a crack. Are you certain Emil has not compromised us?”

“The hirebrand code lies above any other. You know that. Once they take a contract, they carry it out. The sisters will do their task. They would do so even if they discovered our package was set to wipe out an Ishmaeli station-home with their own parents aboard,” Stavin said without hesitation.

“Then why the theatrics with Emil? I’m as cold-blooded as the next when it comes to keeping discipline, but…”

“But what? What if we need the sisters in the future? Nothing in the hirebrand code requires them to agree to a job; only to carry it out once accepted. Emil could have just jettisoned our chances of hiring them again. And I’ve never seen a squad of hirebrands do what the twins can.”

“Then my next question would be, can we trust that the hellpod will do what we need it to?”

“None of us know who Nemesis is, Kylie,” Stavin said, though he turned to look at the others to include them. “But he has never failed to prove his skill, and he has never failed to help advance us forward in our fight. If he says the activation code will arm that pod, it will arm that pod.”

He paused, and smiled broadly. “This is a good day, everyone. Soon the Vatican will know what it is like to suffer the flames of hell.”

(To read part 14 of this story, click here.)


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.

Jeff Bouley


Jeff Bouley

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