25
Oct
08

Cleansed by Fire, Part 22

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 5, Blood and Tears

Tobin Deschaine had taken to sailing almost nonstop in the years after he retired from his templar duties, all the better to avoid having to run into or deal with anyone from his past in law enforcement—not that he had spent much time fraternizing with childhood friends or associates in the Secular Genesis movement, either, except for a select few he met with a couple times a year.

He had often thought about simply heading out to sea for Europa or Oceana, but the chances of being caught trying to flee the Catholic Union were always too high. He had avoided exposure all those years as a templar field officer and then a quiet retiree to put Maree into position in the templars, and leaving the Union would have drawn attention to her immediately.

Not that it mattered much now. He wasn’t of any particular use to Secular Genesis himself anymore, and now his daughter was on the run. Ever since he had received a message yesterday about the events in Astoria, he had fully expected to come up from below-decks and see some armed someone waiting for him, either from the rebel movement or the templars.

What surprised him this morning wasn’t that his expectation had come true but that it was Maree standing there with the gun. But Tobin hardly missed a beat. “Tell me, Maree, was it Michelle or Cowen you worked over to find out where I’ve been sailing?”

“Both,” she said simply.

“Might I ask if you let them live?”

Maree ignored that question. “Dad, I need you to point me in the most promising direction to find Stavin.”

“Why? They won’t take you back. You’re too toxic now. Why did you do it, Maree?”

“Secular Genesis was just using me—and passively at that. Throwing away all the hard work you and Grandfather laid out to get me where I was. And they don’t even stand for what they used to. I was serving a petty, vindictive bunch of children. But I guess I shouldn’t expect you to take my side over The Cause.”

“No, Maree. Not that. The murders of your cousins and their kids.”

“I did what I had to and I tried to keep them away from it. And incidentally, I don’t want to know where Stavin is so I can beg my way back in like you think…”

“…Burning them like that…”

Maree paused, realizing they were having two different conversations.

“What? What do you mean? You think…” she sputtered.

“Burning them like Salem witches. You should have joined the Office Inquisitorial instead of the templars. What did they know? What did they see that made you do that to them?”

“Stavin fucking burned them! Not me. It’s my fault they’re dead, but precious Stavin put them to the torch, Father.” She had fully expected that the Office Templar and the media might jump to a conclusion that she had killed family to cover something up, but her own father?

“You expect me to…”

“Stavin, Daddy. Stavin! I broke ranks and challenged him. He told me he’d burn them if I didn’t sit pretty in the tower and play like a templar Rapunzel. I didn’t do what he said and it wasn’t enough to hunt me down. He damn well kept his word and burned them. He would have burned all of them if I hadn’t arranged for them to be rounded up for questioning.”

“That’s…How…Why…” Tobin seemed to be deflating before his daughter’s eyes as he tried to reconcile the conflicting roles in his life; she hated him for it because it was something Grandfather never would have done. His anger at her had turned into confusion instead of an epiphany. But most horrifying to Maree was when she saw a calm acceptance rise to the surface, watched him straighten up and square his shoulders again, and heard him say: “It’s horrible. But not so unexpected. You backed him into a corner. He can’t make a threat like that and then back down. The cause first, Maree! The price is too high. A few lives are nothing. Not even kin. But still, those are lives that are on your head.”

The five blackened corpses inside Maree’s head seemed to be on board for that final accusation, but not much else that her father had said. The blood vessels in her scalp were thrumming like quad-drums. Grandfather knew how to separate his personal life from his life in Secular Genesis; my father gave up one for the other.

“Tell me, Dad, when exactly did you stop being Grandfather’s son and start being a tripslut for the movement?” Maree spat. “He always told us there would be innocent deaths. He never gave us noble fairy tales. He made sure we understood we would do horrible things for a larger purpose. But do you think Grandfather or any of those fellow founding conspirators he called friends would have threatened the family of a member of the movement, much less actually kill those people simply out of spite? Would he have turned the terror against his own?”

“Times have changed. The stakes are…”

“The stakes have been the same for the past 300 years or more. The same. Secular Genesis is just the latest in a long line of rebellions. Maybe it’s finally the one that will succeed. Trouble is, the people in charge of it now just want to put a new tyranny in place. A secular one. Because we all know that secular evil is so much better than evil in the name of God.”

“Maree, don’t ask me to…”

“I’m not asking you to do anything, Tobin Deschaine,” Maree said icily, “except to give me a lead on Stavin as one last show of respect to your dead parents, especially your father; your dead wife; and me, the woman who used to be your only daughter.” She disengaged the safety on her weapon. “A few collateral casualties are always to be expected, Tobin. You won’t be the first or the last. And Secular Genesis will go on just fine without Stavin. You can console yourself with that. I won’t demand any more of you than how to find him.”

***

More than an hour later, three people watched from the shore of Outer Houston, in three entirely different places—each with very personal emotional investments—as three tac-tanks bearing the insignia of the UPA’s Office Templar dropped from the sky and set themselves down in hover mode, lightly churning the otherwise calm early-morning waters of Alamo Gulf, as they surrounded Tobin Deschaine’s modest yacht. Moments later, several lightly armored templars boarded the ship.

The owner of one of those intrested sets of eyes on shore remained unsmiling, but very satisfied at the spectacle. Cautiously hopeful.

The owners of the other two sets of eyes, for different reasons—but at almost exactly the same moment—simply said, “Shit” and began to run.

***

As Peteris of the UFC, Gregory Dyson was accustomed to waking up at his own pace in the morning—except when Amaranth was in-planet. This morning was no different in that regard, albeit with some extra-hard jamming of fingers into his ribcage.

“Amaranth, I am certain the wakechime I set isn’t to go off for at least 10 more minutes,” he mumbled as he adopted a fetal position and attempted to put as many pillows as possible between him and his tormentor.

Not that it made any difference. She was poking him even harder through the pillows.

“Actually, it won’t go off for another 30 minutes, Greg, but get your flat ass out of bed now anyway. I’m off soon to the medtechs to get my old self back. I know I won’t be able to get everything I need from you in terms of debriefing until later today but give me the high points now.”

Gregory groaned and heaved the two largest and densest pillows at his wife’s head. After rubbing a bit of sleep from his eyes, he yawned and looked at her with only half-feigned distaste. “It’s not fair that you know martial arts and I don’t. Because I ought to give you a good thrashing for denying me 30 minutes of sleep.”

“Out with it, Greg. I have to leave in a few minutes.”

“Well, for a start, Isis is pregnant. With a boy. Though she hasn’t told Mahbi yet that it is, since he wants to be surprised at what parts his first child will have.”

Amaranth’s face broke out in a huge smile and a couple small tears welled up in the corners of her topaz eyes. “Our first grandson. Oh, his cousins will be waiting to put their old dresses on him right away, I know it! Have you arranged for all our children to get together here for a little celebration?”

“Yes. Tentatively anyway. I reached Darlah, Rubi and Glenn all by late yesterday. I’ve left notes on a flexsheet on your desk.”

“And Gavin?”

Gregory was silent.

“Greg. Gavin is our son. Our eldest child. I assume you at least told him. I don’t expect you to invite him.”

“Gavin is our son,” Gregory repeated. “Yes. That’s true. But he isn’t family. He chose his family when he took vows to the Vatican Red. He can find out from someone else. You. One of our girls. Glenn. I don’t care. But it won’t be me.”

“Greg…”

“Amaranth. I’m going to be a grandfather again. You’re back home alive and in one piece, even if you are temporarily discolored and sporting a hideous nose. Please. Don’t ruin my mood.”

The Paulis of the UFC nodded her head slightly and put her hands palm-out in a gesture of surrender. Then she frowned. “Gregory, as wonderful as that news is, I can’t help but notice you deflected my original aim. You know what I was asking about when I woke you up. The lethal tart you’ve given such generous accomodations to.”

Rolling his eyes, Gregory responded, “Generosity was hardly my aim. Domina came to trade information to me for asylum. She confirmed that Pope Tommis didn’t die naturally. She insists she had nothing to do with killing him—which, incidentally, I think might be the truth. She told me that Tommis hadn’t had his cognos uploaded to the Godhead the last two scheduled times and left me with the distinct impression that he had to die before the public upload scheduled for the Fourth Millennial Celebration. Which makes one or both of the other popes the prime suspects in my mind.”

“She tell you anything else?”

“Not really, no.”

“And that’s worth giving her an entire floor of Candlestand 33?”

“Amaranth. I got what information I did by granting her asylum. But she’s holding something back. A lot of something. I’m sure of it. By being here, she already makes it look like we had something to do with the Red Pope’s death. I need her to give up the rest of what she knows.”

“And letting her have an entire floor of a candlestand is your way of applying pressure? Coercion via coddling? If you were an inquisitor of the Black they’d drum you out of the order.”

Gregory let out a short growl. “Ammie. She’s a political and religious refugee. I’ve taken her in. Promised her asylum. Yet I am summarily denying her freedom of movement on Mars. If I give her anything less than the entire floor of a candlestand, it will look like I am keeping her prisoner instead of keeping her safe. Do you really want MarsGov to start wondering if they should reconsider our charter?”

Amaranth closed her eyes and sighed. “Point taken. But this bitch has been indirectly or directly responsible for a lot of the shit I’ve stepped in for the past six years when I go out on the wander. If I find out she gave you any sugar to get those accommodations, you’re going to be celibate for a long while. So, when do I get to see the vids?”

“Vids?” Gregory’s face was awash in confusion.

“Security vids. Footage of what she’s been up to. Covert crap.”

“Amaranth, I don’t have any vids on her except what monitors the common halls and every potential way off the floor.”

The look in Amaranth’s eyes precluded the need to swear or even say “What?” Her displeasure was clear.

“What kind of man do you think I am? I’m going to put spy-eyes or spyflies in her refresher? Her bedroom? Or anywhere else? Just what do you think I’m into?” He winked.

His attempt to lighten the mood worked, but not as well as he had hoped. “I know precisely what deviant tastes you have in your vid viewing—and what you like to record of our activities, Gregory,” she said with some good humor, but then the razor edge returned to her voice suddenly, “but what leave did you take of your senses to leave her unmonitored?”

“The entire floor is monitored. And guarded. Just not her movements in her private areas. I’m interested in her staying put, not recording her life. And frankly, if I did, I suspect any vids of you would have some serious competition.”

“Don’t try to get me in pleasant humor again, Gregory. This is deadly serious. That woman is as lethal as a wyvern, no matter what she looks like or how much she tries to lure you out of your trousers. You’re an idiot for not having cams on her every moment.”

“MarsGov would have our asses if they found out, Amaranth. That’s clear violation of the Conventions of Asylum and you know it. Unless I’m ready and willing to make a case that she should be a prisoner—and then we might lose her to MarsGov—I can’t screw with that kind of thing.”

“Damn the Conventions, Gregory!”

“You can play fast and loose sometimes in the field, Amaranth. You’re the Paulis. It’s your job. I’m the Peteris, and I have to hold shit down here and be a good diplomat, theologian and politician. This isn’t a rule I’m willing to break right now.”

Amaranth scowled as she put on her daycloak and prepared to leave for her appointment with the medtechs. “This will be continued, Greg. Your dedication to rules of good conduct could get you killed.”

“Domina is hoping so, I’m sure,” Gregory said, blowing a kiss to his wife as he headed to the refresher to clean up.

(To read part 23 of this story, click here.)

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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.

Jeff Bouley

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To find out more about me professionally, click here. To find out more about me generally, click here.

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