03
Oct
08

Cleansed by Fire, Part 18

For the previous installment of this story, click here

Or, visit the Cleansed By Fire portal page for comprehensive links to previous chapter installments and additional backstory and information about the novel.

Cleansed by Fire

Chapter 4, Requiem’s Eve (continued)

Paulo frowned as the display on his lightdesk, a message that Lyseena had received an hour earlier from the mysterious Enn through the SystemGrid. Tracking it back to its source through the Grid was a task that was already underway by people more skilled than he was at gridhacking; his job was to try to glean meaning from the message itself.

Commander Lyseena xec-Juris ::: It is a waste of your time and resources to identify me. I have done what I needed to do. Any other work that I must do is outside of Templar’s Tower. Indeed, I have precious few tasks left on Earth after this week. Please realize that I am not what you think I am. I am not the problem. I am the solution. Indeed, I am the bulwark against entropy itself. | Cordially, Enn

That Enn was screwing with them was obvious. Less clear was figuring out which parts were truth, or some semblance thereof, and which were meant to misdirect them and force the templars to expend resources on false hunts.

Paulo rubbed his forehead and decided it was time for his long overdue midday break. But before he even considered trying to find some kind of food that would sit as anything less than an iron weight in his belly, he had to call home. Not his apartment in the city but his real home, the one he wouldn’t be able to step foot in for at least a few days.

His aunt answered the linkpad call on the fourth chime. “Paulo?”

“Don’t leave out a plate for me tonight, Auntie Sophie. In fact, I won’t be able to visit until the end of the millennial events, at the earliest. You’ll need to give Gracie extra kisses on my behalf for the next couple nights.”

There was an ever-so-slight pregnant pause and all Paulo could think of was, I love my aunt, but I wish Gina had answered instead, even if this conversation would have angered her. He had briefly flirted with the idea of calling Gina directly instead of keying up the house’s main line, but he had to be careful.

“Paulo,” Sofia said, with just a trace of scolding in her voice. “Grace will not be happy. The little girl has no father now; it’s for you to stand in his place.”

She said Grace, but Paulo knew she really meant Gina will not be happy. And the mention of the father who had never really existed, much less been married to the woman everyone thought was his cousin, still wounded him. And he knew that Sofia knew that better than anyone, perhaps even better than Gina. In her way, she was telling Paulo: You have a wife and daughter, no matter that there was neither wedding nor rings. To hell with your damned job; be with them.

“Sofia, I can’t tell you what’s going on in the tower right now, but things are too hot for me to leave the city core. I’ve been ordered to stay here until the requiem and millennial mess is over with. There are no options. In fact, Lyseena will probably give me a formal demerit if she walks in on me making a call to family during operating hours. Until the New Year hits, I am stuck here. I don’t want to break little Grace’s heart. But I have vows.”

Sofia sighed. “If your damned father had given you one small business to run instead of shipping you off to the Vatican, those vows wouldn’t be such a problem.”

“Auntie…”

“Oh, I’ll confess my sin of questioning the Vatican when I visit Father Dunio tomorrow. I’ll tell Gina and Grace that it’s strictly estrogen in the house for the next few days.”

“Thank you. Tell them one thing more for me please?”

“Aside from the fact you love them?”

“Yes, Sofia, aside from that,” Paulo said with as much gentle humor as he could muster. “Tell Gina to check her Grid account later tonight. I’d like her and Grace to attend the millennial celebration in the city. There’ll be a crush of people, but I can get them a special spot near one of the bigger viewpanels so they can see the performers and the cognos upload of the Black Pope.”

Sofia’s “hrrrmmmpph” indicated just how much entertainment she expected the upload to be, at least. Whether she felt the same way about the singers, dancers, poets and orators was unclear.

“Auntie, I have to make rounds of several checkpoints and stations throughout the morning on New Year’s while the events are unfolding. I can’t take much time for them or for me, but if I know where Grace and Gina are at, my little…” he choked back the word “daughter”—damn you Maree, for putting that fact so firmly in the fore of my mind, “…niece can get a glimpse of her demi-uncle. I can at least stop by long enough to give Gracie a kiss once or twice as I do the circuit. And it’s a once in a lifetime event. I can pull some strings to get them a good view and a comfortable spot, so why not?”

“And I’m not invited. Your most devoted aunt?”

The mock indignation wasn’t lost on him, nor the subtle message she was sending.

“I know full well you’ll be on a plane headed to Africa for a little sightseeing,” Paulo said. Off to see your daughter, the real Gina who stepped aside so that my lover and my child could live under your roof, living a lie so that neither would incur the wrath of Vatican adultery and fornication laws. “Have I ever told you that I appreciate all that you do for me?”

“Yes, Paulo,” she said, and the love was clear, even if the sadness was there, too, at the lies they were living and the separation from her own daughter. “You have. We do what we do for family, mi sobrino. I have much love for you, not just for Gina and Grace. Not all of us have holy vows to keep our hearts warm at night, Paulo. Come visit soon.”

As the connection clicked off, Paulo sighed, and fingered his templar’s collar. Gina and Grace are the only warmth I crave. The vows are cold and hard, and heavier around my neck with every passing day.

He turned back to his display. If he couldn’t lash out at the Vatican, then Enn would have to do. I’m going to find out who you are, Paulo promised to no one in particular, and where.

***

If the mental ghosts of her dead family members disapproved of the body at Maree’s feet, they had the good sense not to make any sign of it. They remained still and serene inside her head, watching with black eyes as Maree sliced into the wrist of the corpse with her leafblade.

There was a slice in Maree’s own wrist, where she had removed her IDentipod, and where the dead woman’s would be placed in a moment. The last thing Maree needed on a long journey of revenge was to pass by a security pylon that was being actively monitored and have the entire templar organization alerted to her position.

She had little fear of being flagged for illegal use of another’s IDentipod, as the woman she had killed would almost certainly never be reported missing. The only person who might have cared, and he likely wouldn’t have called the authorities anyway, was the dead man laying some 4 meters away—an informant from Maree’s past field work, whom she had kept out of harm’s way even after she became an admin officer.

Never know when you’ll need information from the street level, Maree thought idly, or the identity of your lover to keep me free and alive.

A small part of her felt some guilt over the murders, but only a very small part. Like all the best informants, David Longer was filthier than a refuse chute, and his lady friend was every bit his partner in crime. They had trafficked in rolling out minors for rough sex; dealing drugs like silverstim, shredd and raptureX; and making ramp-loans to desperate people. He had worked with Maree because it allowed him to get rid of some of the competition; nothing more, nothing less.

Maree knew all about IDentipods, so her work took less than 10 minutes, and then she was, as far as security pylons and checkpoints were concerned, now Debrah-Ayn Baylor. Disposing of the bodies in a manner that ensured they would never be found, however, would likely take up the rest of daylight.

***

Emil Standish was bound in a spread-eagle position on a foambed, unable to cause trouble but not in any discomfort, though the look in his eyes was pure murder. Mehrnaz was double-checking his restraints as Sarai entered, one eyebrow cocked at her sister’s efforts.

“Has he been rambunctious?” Sarai asked her twin.

“He was lightly doped when I got him out of the pod. Draaugha tells me he was modestly violent earlier. It seemed prudent to secure him before he regained his full wits. Ishtar’s Folly lacks the arms and legs to protect herself from him,” Mehrnaz added, nodding to the walls of their vessel, “unlike us. So for now, this seems best.”

“But the button gag in his mouth?” Sarai asked, a lilt in her voice.

Mehrnaz’s white cheeks briefly flushed a light lavender shade. “Oh, sister, I have not engaged in any sport-bonding while you were checking flight status. But based on his behavior at our last meeting,” and at this, she shot Emil a withering scowl, “I knew that he would be interrupting our ability to converse the moment you entered the room.”

Satisfied that Sarai was now up to date, she removed the gag from Emil’s mouth, releasing a string of invective phrases, some of which were actually new to the sisters. Once the swearing was over, Emil said simply, “So, are you going to kill and torture the big bad bigot now? Strike a blow for all the poor neo sapiens I hate?”

Mehrnaz let out a low, rumbling chuckle, but addressed Sarai instead of Emil: “The Standish-gift still seems confused about our motivations. Perhaps we should keep him a far-stretch so that he can become more educated about the ways of Spacers, particularly us deviant neo sapiens.”

“Gift? Keep me? I’m a damn human,” he snapped. “What? You’re slavers on top of whatever other foulness comes out of those twisted genes of yours?”

Sarai’s head tilted and her left hand twitched just barely. “Stay your hand, sister,” Mehrnaz said. “We didn’t finish killing him for insulting our contract-honor before; harming him for a little slight like this, born of pure ignorance about our culture, is unworthy of our death-skills.”

Sarai nodded slowly and turned to Emil with a thin smile, “My sister is wise, and I did not sleep well in our recent rest cycle. Forgive my near-violence. But I fail to see how your presence with us constitutes slavery.”

“I’m tied up like an animal and I’ve been whisked away from my planet and dumped on your ship, with all my freedom yanked away!”

“You were given to us as a gift from the leader Stavin,” said Sarai with a light purr.

“And it is bad form to refuse a gift,” finished Mehrnaz. “It would be an insult to the leader Stavin.”

“So now, you are ours,” Sarai said.

“I’m a human! I have rights…” Emil began.

“You are human. And you are a gift,” Mehrnaz responded.

“Your rights have not been impinged,” Sarai said, a slight scolding note in her voice, as if teaching a small child about the dangers of touching a hot stove. “You are a member of a terrorist organization living in the Catholic Union.”

“You fight against the society in which you live,” Mehrnaz continued, “so you tacitly reject their authority.”

“Therefore, you are not truly a citizen of the Catholic Union, and you do not enjoy their legal protection,” the other sister added.

“You bonded yourself with Secular Genesis, as we bond within and between our Ishmaeli clans, and so the leader Stavin controls your fate,” Mehrnaz said. “He has indicated that he has no more use for you and that you are a gift to us.”

“You have slightly more rights than a dowry-boy in our culture,” noted Sarai, “but unlike a dowry-boy, there is no time-limit to your status as a gift, as there was no promise of marriage between anyone attached to your status.”

“I have rights under international Earth law and, as a citizen of the Catholic Union,” Emil countered. “If you plan to spit on those laws, expect to be outlaws.”

Mehrnaz cocked her head, with equal parts confusion and condescension on her face. “You are, legally, a citizen of the Catholic Union, despite your implicit rejection of their authority. You are indeed entitled to return to that citizen-role.”

“We will prepare the slippod to deliver you to an appropriate Vatican office in a city of your choosing in the Catholic Union,” Sarai offered. “We will, of course, be required as a matter of honor-honesty to inform them of your prior clan-role in Secular Genesis.”

To that, Emil had only silence as a response.

Sarai turned to her sister. “I sense that resuming his citizen-role does not appeal.”

“So, you’re not going to kill me or torture me and you’re not going to sell me on the slave market. What are you planning?”

“To be honest, Standish-gift, we don’t know that we even want you,” Mehrnaz replied. “And we don’t know how long we shall keep you. Nor do we know what we will do with you once we cease to consider you a gift.”

“But it is rude not only to refuse a gift,” Sarai began.

“But also equally rude not to make use of one,” Mehrnaz finished.

“What are you…”

Both sisters ignored him, and Sarai said, “The bonds, and the gag, do inspire certain notions.”

“Buzz-buttons and wanderlusts are sufficient mostly, but one does sometimes crave the use of more organic tools,” Mehrnaz responded.

“Don’t you even fucking consider that, you freaks!” Emil shouted.

“And no risk of impregnation, either,” Sarai said. “He has no ship skills we need, nor would we trust him to freely roam, and he seems to lack any entertaining talents other than the creation of colorful epithets.”

“You should be able to synthesize a small dose of eretine in the medlab,” Merhnaz noted.

“Keep your filthy goddamned hands off me, you abomi…” Emil began, until Mehrnaz reattached the button gag.

“This is for your protection,” she whispered. “I wouldn’t want you to say anything that might cause Sarai to lose her fragile composure.”

“There is no requirement that you actively participate or enjoy this, Standish-gift,” Mehrnaz continued. “But it might save you some inadvertent strains and humiliation if you do at least pretend.”

(To read part 19 of this story, click here.)

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2 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 18”


  1. October 3, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Seemed like that dude was about to get man-raped. Interesting.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    October 3, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    Yeah, that would be pretty accurate. Even though it couldn’t hardly happen to a more deserving guy, it does more to point to the more alien cultural sentiments of the Ishmaeli vis-a-vis baseline humans on Earth than it does to any intention of violence against his person.


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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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