07
Nov
08

Cleansed by Fire, Part 24

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 (continued)

The Redstar Line slipship could have made it from Pacifica to Mars in a few hours, even accounting for making at least three jumps through slipgates and taking its sweet time accelerating from one to the next. But given that it had left at 11:40 p.m. Pacifica time, that would have put it onto the red planet at an atrociously early time of the morning. And since most passengers were just as happy to sleep—and most especially sleep through all those uncomfortable slipgate transitions—the flight crew at that time of night was, as customary, exceedingly leisurely about the whole process.

When Daniel Coxe debarked from the vessel at the Freecity Public Flightport on Mars and glanced at the chrono on his linkpad, he was gratified to see that a nearby clock was displaying the very same Yucatan Province time as the “home time” on his wrist—in which he had lived and worked for three years now.

He had never had any significant dealings with anyone on Mars so had never thought about what time they favored here, though he knew it was a single time zone for the entire planet. That they had chosen Yucatan time probably wasn’t random, he supposed, given that the planet had been colonized in part to establish a beachhead for humans that was largely unthreatened by Vatican aggression.

And with Nova Roma in the Yucatan, housing most of the main bureaucratic offices of the Vatican, one of the papal towers and the Godhead, I suppose I, too, would want to be on the same schedule as them to help ensure I don’t lose sight of my potential enemy.

Because the slipship was incoming from the Catholic Union, current treaties stipulated that the tiny expatriate Vatican security staff at the flightport had the right to scan all passengers coming off the vessel, and Daniel was gripping his fake Martian passport very tightly for just that reason. But the security crew had decided not to bother with this flight, and so Daniel’s heartbeat began to fade slowly to a normal rhythm the farther away he got from the gate.

He had checked baggage just to make things look good, but he didn’t head for the baggage claim because he didn’t give cock-squat about was in his travelcases. Instead, he started looking for a sign bearing the symbol of a fish beside a cruciform.

I don’t really want to be here. I told Harry to get me back to Britanniaor even Gaul or France if he couldn’t manage that. But he was right; anywhere on Earth is still too close to the Vatican for my safety. So now it’s life inside a fucking dusty, cold, red ball hovering out by the damned asteroid belt. Joy of joys.

Finally, he found the sign he was looking for, and followed the prompts down one hallway and then another, until he was standing in front of a chapel door. He entered, and when he didn’t see anyone on duty, he found the door to the office of the cleric on duty, and rapped loudly on it.

About the time Daniel was ready to knock a second time, a puffy-eyed, overweight man opened the door, looking slightly confused. Daniel was tempted to ask the man if this was his natural expression or if he had just been roused from a morning nap at his desk, then thought better of it.

“Yes, my brother?” the priest asked. “The morning service is still an hour away. Do you need counseling or help with one of the terminals?”

“Vicar,” Daniel said, laying a hand on the man’s shoulder and looking at him with a weighty gaze, “I’m not a praying man. I’m a gambling man. But even I like to think I know when to stop running a table and stop pushing my luck.”

The priest frowned, confusion knotting his features. “You need counseling for a gambling problem?”

“No, vicar, I need you to call your central UFC office right now and tell them that a very well-placed person from the Vatican dearly wants to meet with someone important enough to give me a very safe room for a very long time in return for some very valuable information.”

Suddenly Daniel’s hand was resting on open air; he didn’t know a fat man could move so fast. The priest’s first couple calls from the desk-mounted linkpad gave him dead ends, but his third hit paydirt. The person on the other end apparently told the priest to hand over the receiver to Daniel, who was suitably impressed—and more than a little disquieted—to find out who that person was. The priest left the office and closed the door behind him. Daniel gave the quickest synopsis of his story he could, and then waited for five seconds that seemed to stretch on forever.

“If this is a joke,” said the voice on the other end of the call, “you had better be gone by the time my people get there. If you’re for real, stay in the priest’s office, and don’t leave even if your bladder is about to burst. We’ll buy you new trousers and a fresh set of dignity if need be.”

***

future-city-01

In the admin suite of Templar’s Tower in Nova York, it was a full meeting of the admin officers. All the same, only Lyseena and the steward Willem Staffordis were flesh and blood.

In the normal circular arrangement of slipchairs, Kevan, Paulo and Ather—who for all intents and purposes was filling in Maree’s spot until Lyseena could promote a new admin officer after the new year—were all there with her. But they were all holographically projected, as every one of them had been sent into the field with a holotrans. They still needed to meet once or twice today to stay on track, and using their slipchairs to gate into the office was too much time wasted, too much trouble and simply a squandering of energy.

Paulo and Kevan had grumbled about lugging the holotrans equipment with them, but Lyseena was too shaken by Maree’s betrayal to be doing a meeting over sliptrans or linkpad. She wanted to see her people’s faces and gestures. Nothing could afford to be hidden; no misinterpretations could be allowed.

“Ather, my friend, how’s your day-trip to Texas Prov?” Kevan jibed. “Enjoying nice, sunny Alamo Gulf while we make the rounds of the peacekeeping details and field marshals and the piss freezes inside our bladders?”

“OK, you got your shot, Kevan, now jettison any more crap you have in reserve. And yes, Paulo, the scowl on your face is duly noted, too,” Lyseena said. “I need both of you out there keeping the requiem on track. With Maree out rogue, I had to take two field marshals out of the mix to cover what would have been her duties out there, which means I had to give interim promotions to some captains to cover the gaps left by those field marshals, and…need I go on, gentlemen?”

“No, commander,” Kevan and Paulo both responded.

“Good. As it happens, I told Ather to lead a team out to Houston after he woke me out of a perfectly nice dream to update me on Maree. If you have problems with my decision to send him and not one of you, log your complaints with me. I can promise you I’ll give them the same consideration I gave my morning consitutional. Now, as to why I told him to get his hindquarters to the sunnier climes…”

“Prodigious as that part of my anatomy is,” Ather pointed out to his two holo-crtitics.

“…I’ll let him fill you in,” Lyseena finished, firing off a scowl in Ather’s direction for the interruption, for no other reason than to cover her smirk.

“Ah, yes,” Ather said. “As much as I’m enjoying the warmer weather now, you’ll both be happy to know it was still a fairly chilly morning here when I first arrrived, I got my boots and socks quite wet trying to get off a boat at the shoreline, and I’m sure I’ll catch a nasty cold and have to stop by a med-store later this week to get an antiviral.”

“Fantastic, Ather. You’re doing some boating and beachgoing, too,” Kevan said. “The hazard pay for that will be fantastic, I’m sure.”

“Well, Tobin Deschaine has good taste in his choices of place to sail,” Ather said.

“You found Maree’s father?” Paulo asked. “Maree, too?”

“Neither, I’m afraid,” Ather responded. “The boat was empty. Of people, that is. Signs of some kind of struggle, and some small splatters of Tobin’s blood here and there. Two somebodies were there, based on what evidence we’ve found, one of them Tobin, an hour or less before our arrival.”

“And the other person?” Kevan ventured.

“Might have been Maree. Might have been someone else connected to Secular Genesis. Those are the two best guesses so far.”

“Is that all?” Paulo asked. “If all you have is a better idea of where they are now, what’s the fanfare? They might have flown or gated almost anywhere by now. With respect, Lyseena, why are we meeting now about this? As much as I love playing with holos…”

“Because, Paulo, I want Maree, and I want you and Kevan as informed as me so that I maximize my chances of getting her,” Lyseena said, “And because there is a dead templar watch team in Houston. The stakes are getting higher.”

“I could see Maree killing a watch team while on the run,” Paulo said. “But killing her own father?”

“We actually don’t know if he’s dead or not,” Ather interrupted. “The amount of blood doesn’t suggest it, though I suppose it’s possible he met his end with something bloodless like a snapped neck and he’s somewhere at the bottom of the gulf. I give it even odds that he’s still alive.”

“Still doesn’t seem to suggest Maree,” Paulo said. “Assaulting her own father. What would be the point?”

“Actually, I’d argue it points to the other person most likely having been Maree,” Ather said. “I’ve got my eyes and ears in a lot of places now, and we’ve had some of Maree’s family to question. Our rogue princess has some daddy dramas.”

“So?” asked Kevan.

“So,” Lyseena answered for Ather. “If Tobin is still alive and on the run, we may need him as bait to get Maree good and riled and ready to bite a hook. And as soon as we are done dealing with requiems and millennials, the four of us need to find out who’s out there who knew Maree’s grandfather, since Ather assures me that’s the man she loved like a daddy—because hurting his friends may help us hurt her, and draw her out.”

(To read the next installment 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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