Cleansed by Fire, Part 15

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)

Sarai scrutinized the  dull gray, squarish hull attached to the oversized thrust pod. She strode around it several times, never in any of her circuits of its perimeter touching anything. She bent with fluid grace to examine the underside, peered into the connections between hull and pod, inclined her head to admire the thoroughly unassuming object.

Always in tune with her thoughts, Mehrnaz said from the edge of the room: “Quite plain.”

“Clearly designed to be of no interest to anyone. To attract the least attention. That makes it all the more intriguing, of course,” Sarai said in response.

“And inside it?”

“Something vile, to be certain,” Sarai said with the faintest hint of a sigh. “I believe nuclear or some other explosive, though I have not ruled out chemical or biological.”

“Our brand-brothers think it will turn out to be contraband,” Mehrnaz replied. Without transition, she added, “Our recent visitor was delivered to one of our drop points, rather unceremoniously, in a tiny slippod.”

“Our brand-brothers are fools. If they are wagering, I will take a 10 point deficit that the package will turn out to be something physically catastrophic,” Sarai said, then responded to her sister’s other comment with: “Was there anything notable about the Standish-liaison?”

“I will tell our brothers about your wager-offer,” Mehraz said to the first statement, and to the second: “The leader Stavin trussed him up like a dowry-boy. It would seem that attached to him is evidence of his revulsion toward us and our neo sapien kin. He is a peace offering.”

Sarai chuckled in a low, throaty sound that was almost a grating purr. “Are we at war with the leader Stavin and his band?”

“Earthers,” Mehrnaz said with a flat tone that still seemed to convey the impression of her eyes rolling. She clucked her tongue and let out a buzzing chuckle. “The leader Stavin must fear that we will hold him responsible for the child-thoughts of his liaison. Typical shallow-thought.”

“They always fail to understand us, don’t they?” Sarai said. “The Standish-liaison thinks we will strike a blow for those who helped create our bloodlines at the cost of our contract-honor, and the leader Stavin assumes we will remain offended at insult-event already resolved.”

“The people Arabic and the people Hebrew still fail to understand why neither we nor the Isaacians continued their long-feud and became a shared-people instead,” Mehrnaz noted. “All Earthers fail to understand us Spacers.”

“And we Ishmaeli and Isaacians still fail to understand the Mandarin. I suppose we are all blind in the end.”

“Spacers still see better than Earthers. We always had the better view on creation, and no haze on our horizons except what comes from the weekly hookah.”

They laughed and left Secular Genesis’ parcel to its waiting, heading hand-in-hand for their sleepcabin and one of the five brief rest cycles of their spaceday, discussing along the way what to do with their gift once they retrieved him.


On the bridge of Scion’s Dream, Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio mentally replayed the interview with Dimitri Martin in which he had so recently participated even as he gave out the usual array of commands and instructions that got the daywatch crew into its accustomed rhythm. Some needed a hindbrain to do real honest-to-Trinity multitasking, but he didn’t. At least not for two or three trains of thought.

Crewman Martin knew nothing of use regarding the disappearance of Councilor Drewtine Atkins. He seemed genuinely surprised. That didn’t surprise Bartelle, since he already knew Crewman Martin was innocent of anything. Just as he knew that the Nazarene had manufactured the marital problems that erupted for the beleaguered crewman just as he was shipping out on Scion’s Dream. Naturally those problems would have placed the crewman and the councilor together. The hard part for Bartelle had been getting Atkins to show up at his own cabin without it being part of the official record and without anyone noticing. Not that it had been all that difficult. Much like on Earth, nightwatch on a vessel was typically sedate.

Well, in the end, once the millennial madness was over and the dust had settled, there would be plenty of blame to lay at Crewman Martin’s feet. By then, he would look very guilty indeed and everyone would know about the terrible plan that he and the councilor had hatched against the Catholic Union. It would, of course, be a great surprise to Martin to learn of his complicity on all this. It would have surprised Atkins too, were he not already dead.

Bartelle realized he was smiling. Perhaps his new career in politics wouldn’t be so bad after all. He was beginning to warm a little to the world of scheming.


When it came time for the midday meal, Lyseena xec-Juris, Ather sup-Juris and the two remaining admin officers Paulo and Kevan were in the admin suite circled up in their slipchairs with lightdesks in active mode—the first time that day that Lyseena had really been in the room for more than a few moments. Seconds after they were assembled and ready, administrative steward Willem Staffordis entered the suite and took his place at a small hard-desk off to the side of them.

The steward pulled back the hood of his office briefly to scratch an itch on his scalp and run his hand through the wispy remains of his hair, and then he snugged it tight again. “Apparently, four minutes early is late today,” he said with a tone that suggested both annoyance and humor.

“You’re usually five minutes early so we assumed that this time, we would be on time,” replied Lyseena.

Willem nodded and smiled at that, then nodded toward Paulo and Kevan. To Ather he gave no nod and no smile but instead a look that questioned his right to be in this room right now. Ather yawned in response.

The exchange didn’t surprise Lyseena. In some respects, their jobs overlapped and they were in frequent competition. On the one hand, each of them was in a position that required them to serve the templars—Willem as an administrative aide and interdepartmental liaison and Ather as an interrogator and intel analyst. But at the same time, each was also a spy—Willem’s role to keep tabs on day-to-day activities and Ather’s to investigate suspicious activities within the Office Templar. The main difference between them was that Willem answered to the Office of the Red Pope and Ather to the Office of the Black Pope.

But this was no time for nonsense.

“Ather, Willem. We all serve the Trinity above, and the popes and Godhead work together for the good of the Catholic Union. We will behave as brothers and sisters. Devoted brother and sisters. If you can’t change your attitudes at least make a convincing act of it for me.” With that Lyseena stood up and turned to her admin officers. “Kevan. Paulo. I picked you two and Maree for your specific personalities and skills, so that the four of us would complement each other and be able to lead in specific areas so that no one of us would be burdened with tasks that distracted and diminished us.”

She paused.

“Maree broke that chain, my brothers. She has left a hole and she has poisoned this office with treason. I have delegated many tasks to the three of you before. I have placed deep and abiding trust in your loyalty and skills. I still trust your skills. I am content for the moment to take your loyalty as a given, since I find it hard to believe our enemies could be so talented as to plant more than one mole in my inner circle. But everything other than that changes today. Your autonomy is now sharply cut back. I can afford neither mistakes nor even the hint that another traitor might use me.”

Kevan smiled and opened his mouth, and Lyseena silenced him with a curt gesture. “You’re about to make a joke. Don’t. There is no room for levity today. None. We’re in mourning for the loss of the woman we thought we knew. We are in a deadly conflict with an enemy that has penetrated too deeply into our defenses. Paulo, Kevan, you will clear all of your decisions with me from now through the millennial before you give a task of any significance to anyone, and we will reassess operations thereafter. For the duration of our personal little hell here with the requiem and the millennial events, I rule here as the hand of God Himself. There is no delegation. There is no autonomy. Paulo, your ass stays in your apartment in the city for the next several days; no visits to your aunt, cousin and niece until we’re through all of this.”

With that, she sat down and started handing out marching orders to everyone, and they began to hammer out final security plans for the upcoming events, starting with protocols for the Red Pope’s requiem in the late morning the next day—an event that would be held in Nova York, the UPA’s capital, rather than Tommis’ seat in the LA Region, given the constant and sometimes armed conflict between the Vatican and Old Africa in that region.

They were almost done with preparations for the requiem when Lyseena’s linkpad chimed. “Gentlemen, I have a meeting in ten minutes with Pope Tommis’ chief understeward. He will be giving me hell about Maree and our two lascivious and wayward logistics experts while trying to ignore the fact that his own supervisor vanished right after the Red Pope’s death. I need time to gird my loins. I expect that meeting to be over in less than a quarter-hour and when I return, I expect to find that you’ve been continuing diligently in my absence.”

(To read part 16 of this story, which will conclude chapter 3, click here.)


2 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 15”

  1. September 8, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Does Lyseena know about Paulo’s sham relatives? It almost felt like that. Or, is Paulo going to disobey her orders not to visit his wife and daughter and catch wreck? I’m interested in that thread.

    I’ll admit that I still haven’t really warmed to ship’s captain dude yet. I can’t seem to get engaged with his storyline.

    I like the twins. I also love how you used Ishmael and Issac as the root of their names. Perfect allusion to the Muslim/Jewish split, and a logical move for a new religion or ethnic group.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    September 8, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    No, Lyseena isn’t aware that the cousin isn’t the original cousin…it’s just that Paulo’s prediliction for spending time with his aunt (even before he ended up with a secret family) and now with his “niece” and “cousin” is pretty well established. Lyseena simply doesn’t want him far from the city since things are getting hot. Just a way of showing that she is reasserting control in the wake of Maree’s exit.

    Don’t worry about getting too attached to the ship’s captain. His plotline is relatively minor, necessary more as support for other plot developments.

    I’m liking the twins a lot too…yet another one of those developments in the novel that I wasn’t expecting. 😉

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