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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 5, Blood and Tears (continued)
Tiny whirlwinds of snow rose from the ground and fell again as Grace twirled in the yard, enjoying a break from the morning lessons. Gina watched the purity and energy of her girl’s winter dance, noting how much of Paulo was in her face.
Too much, Gina worried, too much. When will he realize we can’t continue this charade? Or will he simply stop coming over and stop updating the images of Grace in his office one day?
Her eyes began to well with a mingling of love and despair, and she threw on a thick longcoat so she could join Grace in the yard. No sooner had Gina stepped out the door than Grace broke out into a huge grin and bounded into her mother’s arms.
After burying her icy nose into Gina’s neck and lavishing chilly little kisses on her mother’s check, Grace finally pulled away and put her mittened hands on either side of Gina’s face. In the sudden and guileless nature of extreme youth, she said:
“When does Paulo come home?”
Paulo. Gina had never told Grace that Paulo was anything other than her demi-uncle. Gina had never known any reason to use the words Papi or Daddy or Poppa. Gina always knew she would one day tell Grace who Paulo really was, and that was why she had earned teaching credentials and chosen to school Grace at home. But as she looked into the little girl’s huge brown eyes and realized how flash-smart Grace was, it occurred to her that today would be that day. Not now, but today. By the time they saw Paulo—in passing—during tomorrow’s Fourth Millennial Celebration in the city proper, Grace would be looking at her father and not a demi-uncle.
“I don’t know when Paulo will come home, my little cinnamon blossom,” Gina said, brushing a stray lock out of Grace’s eyes. “When his business with God is done, I suppose.”
For a moment, Gina could swear a flicker of awareness passed through Grace’s eyes. A realization. An epiphany. But then, just as quickly, she was an innocent dancer stirring up clouds of snow again, and Gina’s eyes welled up again with that complex cocktail of adoration and fear.
That explosion was not on the list of scheduled events. It was a singularly silly thought all things considered, but it gave some small dark-humored relief to Kevan’s mind. Checking in with one of the field marshals as the Ecclesiastical March was in full swing—one of the first high-profile activities to kick off the Grand Requiem—Kevan had, moments before, simultaneously heard and felt the explosion as he was thrown to the ground.
The armor prevented him from sustaining any real injuries but he had remained disoriented for a few moments as he got up, almost in synch with the field marshal to whom he had been talking, and tried to figure out what happened. Two storefronts were in tatters, and several armored templars and lightly armored local law enforcement officers lay in a tangled, motionless and bloody pile, along with a few civilians who were now bloodily unrecognizable shreds of humanity.
Either a bomber fitted with explosives who was now as dead as them, or…
He had his answer as the heads-up display in his helmet registered a short-range transmitter nearby. The entire area was being flooded with disruptor fields that would thwart long-range transmitters, leaving only suiciders or people with powerful short-range transmitters the ability to activate anything nasty.
Kevan singled out the perpetrator quickly. A woman. She was leaving quickly, but no quicker than anyone else. She had a baby crying against her breast, held to her by a fashionable, probably name-brand child sling. Too far away to chase with the panic and the crowds. Too far away to shoot without hitting some piddling bystander.
So Kevan called up his comm unit and activated a pair of doomhounds down the block. He fed the visuals and telemetry to them on a sliptrans channel and released their inhibitors. In his mind’s eye, he could visualize their sleek forms darting forth on four razor-tipped legs. They would not be gentle, but they just might be able to take the woman alive.
The baby might even survive.
If not, at least it dies before it can learn the mother’s sinful ways and damn its own soul to hell.
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