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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 5, Blood and Tears (continued)
The air in the modest rec chamber of Ishtar’s Folly was already heavy with haze; heavier than it needed to be, Mehrnaz realized, but getting up and fiddling with the scrubber settings now would only ruin the mood, and any weekly hookah within the Shared People was about creating a positive and communal atmosphere. Even more so this week, as Sarai had been fuming ever since they ejected the Standish-corpse from the ship. The man had struck some nerves with her, to be sure, but that was only a small part of the pain. Worst was that Sarai was even more angry than Mehrnaz was at the leader Stavin himself for sending them the Standish-gift to begin with.
And that, Mehrnaz considered, meant Sarai was about as angry with the leader Stavin as it was possible to be. If not for the fact they still had a contract to fulfill for him, Mehrnaz suspected her sister might already have set a course for Earth to track down the man and turn him from the rebel Stavin to the Stavin-corpse.
So, with a job to finish imminently, and tensions high, canceling this week’s hookah would have been idiocy. Both their minds needed to be clear. Still, some changes had to be made. Normally, the gathering would have been in a larger room with more Shared People at a nearby station or settlement of Ishmaeli or Isaacians. But keeping it here on the ship with a smaller group was more practical with the looming contract to complete with the client Stavin.
Also, there were no brand-brothers of their clan here. A few brand-sisters and some assorted female friends and associates, like the data pirate Jordin, an Isaacian who tended to float from one Ishmaeli clan or Isaacian arc to the next—she was the rare loner among the Shared People; not totally separate, but too independent to commit.
The lack of males at this hookah did bother Mehrnaz a bit. Often, the relaxation of a hookah led to some coupling, or even trebling. Not that such a thing wouldn’t happen this time, but the chances were always slimmer in an all-femme gathering. But having males around would have been too much a reminder to Sarai of the Standish-corpse and the client Stavin. Not to mention that hookah participants shared more than vapors and conversation around the hookah. The contribution of any male genetic sample to the communal dish inside the hookah itself likely would have been more than Sarai was prepared to endure right now.
She would calm down once the job was over, and then they could determine how to address the client Stavin once he was no longer holding a contract for them. Already, Sarai seemed more relaxed, Mehrnaz noticed, and was chatting lightly with an Ishmaeli brand-sister and the the hacktech Kirrah, a particularly dark-skinned Isaacian they had recently made the acquaintance of during a contract last month.
Mehrnaz leaned back into a cushion, pulling lazily on her own hookah tube, and realized that the nearest cushion was in fact the data pirate Jordin, who turned out to be much softer, and certainly warmer, than any cushions in the room. Mehrnaz smiled up into the Isaacian’s shining, charcoal-gray face, caught her aquamarine eyes, and received a sly grin in return.
Perhaps I can rinse thoughts of the our dealings with the Standish-corpse out of my mind after all, she pondered, and replace them with some fresher, softer memories.
Typically, Ather sup-Juris preferred to perform interrogations when he was calm; something he rarely was after any slipgate journey. He had no intention of deviating from that philosophy, but he did feel it was important to set the right tone with a subject.
So, now that he was back at Templar’s Tower in Nova York, he stopped by the holding room where the recently apprehended priest was sitting alone. He would likely know little about the Secular Genesis cell he was serving, but it always paid to be thorough.
Ather opened the door, stepped just inside the chamber, and crossed his arms behind his back. He let both his imposing size and his full inquisitor’s uniform register in the priest’s mind, then cleared his throat slightly.
“Normally, I work alone,” Ather said. “But a certain templar admin officer has expressed a desire to participate. As such, I feel it will be my duty to be very…dutiful…in my use of the latest technologies and techniques.”
The priest paled visibly. Ather imagined he could hear the man’s guts twisting even now.
“I simply thought you should know,” Ather continued, “so that you can consider how best to keep our session short. And to the point.”
With that, Ather backed out of the room, noting with some satisfaction that there was a tear in at least one of the priest’s eyes already. And Ather doubted that the priest would be finishing the small, half-eaten lunch that had been set before him 20 minutes earlier.
Confession may be good for the soul, but the prospect of it is often hard on the digestion.
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