14
Sep
08

Cleansed by Fire, Part 16

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)

In a small alcove off the admin suite, Lyseena spent scant few seconds actually “girding her loins.” More important was to make sure she observed the proper protocols with the man who was technically “head of the Red” until a new pope was named to replace Tommis. Once her formal collar was clipped to the neck of her uniform, her crimson-and-gold dress cap perfectly situated on her short, gray-salted hair and her formal longcoat on, Lyseena sat down in her slipchair and rode it to the executive slipgate one floor down from the command center.

As it turned out, Pope Tommis’ chief understeward, Gyles xec-Juris—interim administrator of the Red Orders—arrived 15 minutes late, the small chair-only slipgate powering up and space distorting in that way that never failed to induce both nausea and vertigo in those who looked at it. But look Lyseena did, because damned if Gyles was going to see her with eyes closed like a raw cadet. It was the right decision, as he was looking right at her when his slipchair cycled out of slipspace and deposited him on the receiving platform.

His vestments were very much like the Red Pope’s had been, but plainer, as befitted a chief steward in an interim leadership role, or in this case a chief understeward, since Domina xec-Academie had vanished. There was no chance that he would be named in Tommis’ place, and that made this visit all the more dangerous for Lyseena. Gyles would be bitter, and there had rarely been any sweetness between them in the past.

Gyles was already talking as he maneuvered the slipchair to exit the platform and confront her face-to-face. “Have you lost any more of your lambs, templar?”

“No, mi’lord,” she responded with the requisite honorific, but with none of the reverence she would have inserted for Tommis or even the wayward Domina.

“I should have you removed from you post immediately, you insipid child, even with the chaos that would cause and with so much at stake with the requiem and millennial on the horizon,” Gyles said with a hint of panting in his voice. His face was flushed and blotchy. It was hard to tell how much was anger and how much from traveling via slipchair all the way from Africa in one shot.

Lyseena hadn’t expected a warm meeting but Gyles was out of the starting gate faster than she had expected. She had observed the formalities, but now clearly it was time to jettison polite discourse. “I’m actually surprised you haven’t removed me. I would have. Did you stop by Lukas’ office and have yourself gelded before you came here?”

The air in the room suddenly seemed dead and stale. Lyseena started counting in her head, slowly, and reached five before Gyles responded.

“You dare,” he hissed. “I am the…”

“…interim administrator,” Lyseena finished, before he could get the word “leader” out of his mouth. “If you do choose to grow some balls, Administrator Gyles, please do fire me. Bring me up on charges of insubordination while you’re at it. I can use the vacation, even if it’s in a cell.”

“Commander, you presume much. I stand in line…”

“…for nothing,” Lyseena said, cutting him off again. “A brother or sister of the Order Juris will not be named Red Pope. It will be someone from the Faith Jesuit or the Faith Cardinal most likely. The next pope will have borne the name xec-Litigia or xec-Academie. Maybe xec-Consul if they decide the Ministry of Trade should log some time in the papacy again. No Juris has ever or ever will hold that office.”

Gyle’s face suddenly lost its splotchy look and the panting was gone; his mood swings were famous, she recalled. “Phah! Enough of this,” he said, waving his hand. “I came to find out how you’ve managed to gather up so much incompetence inside you that you could lose three important personnel in less that number of days. I must assess that before I determine whether you stay in your chair. I didn’t come to parry with you.”

“I agree. Jousting went out with the medieval templars. So enough for now. But incompetence has nothing to do with this. We’ve already learned much about why I’ve lost people. My logistics experts were maneuvered into sin and into being caught in the act thanks to hacks by a terrorist agent we will likely soon enough identify, and we have established that Maree sup-Juris was a terrorist plant from the very beginning of her career.”

Gyles tapped his fingers on the arms of his slipchair. “These things still speak of incompetence. Someone penetrated your security on the first matter and you failed to detect a traitor in your inner circle with regard to the second.”

“I’d be cautious before you attach incompetent to my name in any of your reports to the surviving popes or the Godhead. It would be unfortunate for me to remind anyone of your own complicity.”

Gyles paused and squinted. “What are you talking about? I have nothing to do with templar operations day-to-day since I became chief understeward. And if you’re thinking of trying to sully my reputation by bringing up Domina’s disappearance and likely treachery, it won’t go well for you. She was my supervisor, and thus not for me to question, and she was trusted by His Grace Pope Tommis besides. If you besmear me via Domina, the White Pope and Black Pope will perceive that you are disrespecting Pope Tommis’ memory and legacy as well.”

Lyseena smiled. “Gyles, we both know why you are here instead of berating me via a sliptrans vid or good old-fashioned linkpad call. You maneuvered your career to go into service for His Grace because you wanted to be at the top, or as close to it as possible before you died. But whereas you once supported the Red Pope’s efforts, you are now a stylus-pusher for the Red Council. So, your achievement is now sewage in your throat now because you realize you can go no farther than you have and you will certainly be reassigned when the new Red Pope is named; no chief steward position awaits you. You want my position so you can remain as highly placed as possible, and you smell blood in the water. There’s no blood yet, but there will be if you continue. Go covet someone else’s job, Gyles.”

“You are in no position to dictate to me, Lyseena.”

“Really? Starting with my logistics experts, they were approached via SystemGrid messages and the security breach that got them caught on vid involved deficiencies in the building infrastructure security,” Lyseena lied. At present, no one had any clue how the mysterious Enn had accessed a maintenance drone’s directional motivators and vid feed without tripping alarms. “You personally denied my requests to boost security in such non-critical infrastructure areas a year ago.”

“You’re going to attack me on a budgetary decision?” Gyles said, starting to laugh.

“No, that will just be to warm up the room, Gyles,” Lyseena responded. “What will really make you look bad is when I remind them that Maree served under you prior to coming to supervise the pit for me…”

“…she might have turned traitor after her time with me…”

“…and your committee vetted her both for the pit supervisor position and her promotion to admin officer. Twice you told me she was clear and clean. Twice you personally signed off on putting a traitor in my very lap.”

The laughed died suddenly on Gyles’ face. “The committee vetted her. You can’t lay that at my feet personally. Even if it was one of the committees I chaired. And there is no way you could prove whether it was or wasn’t one of my committees. That’s not part of the accessible record. Even I don’t recall if…”

“…Yes you do. Maree was always one of your prized ones. She made you look good over and over. And you always repay loyalty. It’s the only redeeming trait you have. And I’m not making conjecture, Gyles. I have friends who were on both committees and I can call in favors for them to swear under oath that you personally recommended Maree and moved the vetting process along rapidly. Both times.”

“Who?”

“Oh, Gyles, I think enough people have disappeared, died or been maimed already this week, don’t you?”

“Lyseena, I’m upwardly insatiable, but not sociopathic,” he replied, then shrugged. “Well, then, stalemate on this one, Lyseena. I expected you to be more off-balance than this. And you know that I had to make the attempt. There’s more blood in the water around you than you think.”

Now that the posturing was over, Lyseena relaxed a little. Gyles was vicious and manipulative, but his endurance for long conflicts was sorely lacking. If he couldn’t make a quick kill, he would step away and circle around from a distance for a while. Also, she thought, if she wasn’t ousted, he would soon be her peer again, somewhere in the Office Templar, perhaps even here in Nova York, and goodwill even with an enemy could be valuable…

“Gyles, a word of advice to you? From someone who can use more friends myself, or at least one less outright enemy.”

He shrugged again, and motioned for her to continue.

“I imagine you used up a lot of your outstanding favors to get so quickly into the chief understeward position as it was; I know you haven’t made enough friends while in the position to rebuild all that good credit, so you’re looking for vulnerable people. I would suggest you look somewhere other than a regional commander templar seat for your fallback position, or even one of the provincial commander slots, even though we both know that some folks are vulnerable there as well.”

“Lyseena, you’ve won this round, but you’re still vulnerable. And as for other people, I’ll strike where I please.”

“True, I’m not out of the wilds yet, and yes, you can choose your own destiny,” she replied. “But you’re simply not suited to be a commander. It’s conceivable I might be forced out, but I’d sooner burn up all my political capital to keep you out of my chair, or any commander’s, than spend it to protect my own career. No, don’t get apoplectic on me again. You were a lousy field agent and a great administrator. That’s why you ended up rising to xec so fast on the personnel track. To be a regional commander, you need to understand how the field works as well as the inner workings of administration. Do the Office Templar a favor and pick another path.”

Gyles barked a short, bitter laugh. “What? Lead a regional personnel office again? I’d sooner fight you for a juicy position that I’m unworthy of.”

“No need to backtrack or regress. What if I were to convince Willem xec-Juris to step away from directing the Recruitment Division in favor of you? Your face will be in the public spotlight since you’re essentially the second-in-command of public relations in that position, and you get to be seen with heroes young and old for festivals and recruitment campaigns. The position is actually important to the Office Templar throughout the Catholic Union and you’ll have a small voice in overall templar policy. More so than I do, frankly.”

“Less raw power, but more prestige and less risk. And you’re not actually asking me to stay off your neck while I’m still interim administrator of the Red; you just want me to stay away from your position or any of the other commanders’.”

“Precisely.”

“What would I have to do to make this happen?”

“You don’t have to spend a millicredit of whatever political capital you have left, assuming that you’re still friends with Freida xec-Cardinale. All you need to do is cajole her into breaking the deadlock on the Academy Curriculum Council to establish a Department of Xenocriminology.”

“Templar Willem’s little pet area of research? And he’ll leave his post in Recruitment and move from adjunct faculty at the UPA Templar Academy to full-time and chair the new department.”

“Of all the things I ever called you, stupid was never one of them,” Lyseena said.

“He’ll find it attractive, but he’ll have reservations all the same.”

“Unlike you, I haven’t yet used up my accounts with people who owe me.”

“OK, get on with the rest of it. I know there’s something else you’d want for such a prize,” Gyles said.

“As you said, I still have vulnerability thanks to recent events. I’m not incompetent; merely caught in unfortunate circumstances, but there are those who could argue I’ve lost my edge. You’re interim administrator, but since you aren’t the chief steward serving in that role but the understeward, you cannot pull the trigger on me without Red Council approval. At the first whiff of something I should know regarding my future, let me know what kind of scent is wafting through the air.”

Gyles laughed. A deep belly-laugh that Lyseena hadn’t expected. “Oh, to think I’ve now solved my problem of what to do with my career and I can settle that part of our debt even before I turn around and return to Africa.”

He let Lyseena sit there in confusion for several moments before he finally broke the silence. “Lyseena, I had the balls to cut you loose. I had not only a Writ of Dismissal ready an hour after I heard about Maree, but also a Petition for Demotion that would have cut you down to man-Juris.”

Lyseena didn’t like the glee on Gyle’s face, but it wasn’t all malice in his demeanor. Part of it was genuine amusement, like someone watching a great scene unfold on a stage.

“And?” Lyseena prompted.

“The Red Council was never even allowed to see them. Neither were the Black Pope or White Pope, by the way. The Godhead rejected both documents out of hand without even allowing me to issue drafts to anyone in the Red. The Godhead wants you right where you are.”

Dear Trinity, Lyseena thought. The Godhead himself is backing me.

The thought wasn’t a reassuring one, and she now understood Gyles’ amusement. The Godhead wasn’t known for showing loyalty to anyone but a pope or perhaps a highly favored chief steward. It was an AI that had, at least twice every year for the past 1,100 years or so, had the cognos of each sitting pope uploaded to it. Over a thousand years of papal memories in its ever-growing and ever-evolving personality. Over a thousand years of theological opinion and interpretation. Worse yet, over a thousand years of scheming.

I’m almost certainly a pawn. But am I about to be sacrificed, or moved to the end of the chess board to be promoted to something less expendable?

(This installment concludes chapter 3. To read part 17, which begins chapter 4, click here.)

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2 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 16”


  1. September 18, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Sorry I didn’t comment earlier. I liked this post a lot, particularly the dialogue. You might want to break it up into individual sentences though because for some reason the comments seemed overly long.

    However, I loved the way you had Lyseena handle this guy. I was waiting for her to show some chops. Although, as that guy pointed out, when three of the five people in your inner circle are effing up, well it’s not long before your head rolls. And they don’t even know about Paulo.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    September 18, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Yeah, this was a rough one because I knew things were so dialogue heavy and it was so long in general compared to other installments, being one scene of what, more than 2,000 words I think?

    Her core team is decently large, actually…with the three admin officer (well, two now), one steward, and the team in the pit. But yeah, I’ve established that the two wayward lovers were pretty much star talent in the pit, so even with two of three admin officers still there and a whole team in the pit, she was bound to get some blowback.

    And yes, God help her if they find out about Paulo. I’m still not sure when/if they will. At least Kevan’s issues are more along the lines of underlying personality flaws instead of outright treachery or disobedience to vows…well, at least for now. I don’t THINK he has any particular skeletons, anyway. But several characters have already surprised me along the way.


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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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