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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 5, Blood and Tears (continued)
Gregory was just toweling off from a quick shower when Amaranth chimed him on his linkpad. He snatched up the device from the bed, slapped in on, and answered her call. At once, a tiny holographic projection of her hovered there on his wrist—it was only for his wife, children and grandchildren that he was willing to waste the storage space for that function.
It was probably for the best that the linkpad wasn’t actually transmitting images back and forth but simply simulating her and, he suspected, simulating him at her end, though she didn’t always have the holo function on. Because if his linkpad had been set up for real-time visuals, Gregory suspect he’d be getting teased right now about his lack of an exercise regimen, as water dripped from his very middle-aged-looking torso.
Instead, he got a relatively chipper, “Hello, Greg. How are you spending your time before meeting up with your paramour again?”
“Cleaning up from wearing full vestments in stuffy rooms with stuffy people carrying on pointless meetings,” he responded. “Want to be clean just in case I give in to Domina, so she’ll have a fresh canvas to dirty up.”
“You’re mixing your metaphors, again, my love,” she teased. “I’m mostly done with the medtechs for today, but just wanted to let you know that in between sessions I’ve been enjoying the footage of your encounters with Tommis’ steward.”
Gregory frowned. “Ammie, I haven’t recorded any of my sessions with Domina. That would be…”
“…a borderline violation of the asylum conventions and certainly a security risk for us if it got out,” Amaranth finished. “But it turns out that someone remembered who’s in charge of security and made sure to record the short-range feed from the MobileEye for me.”
“Damn it! Who the fu…”
“Calm yourself, Greg. It doesn’t matter.”
“It pissing well does matter that one of my guards, and obviously it was Miko or Gregor who did this, went behind my back on something like this.”
“No, it doesn’t, Greg,” Amaranth continued, with a trace of steel in her voice. “First off, the person in question delivered the data strips directly to me and if I hadn’t made it back to Mars alive to see them, would have destroyed them in short order. Second, you don’t know which one of them it was, so you can’t do anything to that person. And even if you did want to do something, Miko and Gregor are the best and most loyal bodyguards that it is possible to get outside of my own personal retinue, and I’m not parting with any of mine because it’s my ass out there in the field and I need the best of the best. Your guards are protecting you, Greg. Part of that is making sure that I see what’s going on with you and Domina.”
“Amaranth, I don’t appreciate the second-guessing here.”
“Greg, making sure the Paulis has the necessary information to guide and preserve the Peteris is not second-guessing. And with all due respect, you’re a tad out of your league compared to me when it comes to dealing with vipers of Domina xec-Academie’s caliber and you know it.”
“Amaranth, this is hard enough as it is; I can’t have you peering over my shoulder or wondering if I can trust my team to take orders from me.”
“Greg, personal security is my purview and you know it. But relax. I’ve told both of them to leave off any more pirated images from your trysts with Tommis’ slattern. And I’ve already destroyed the recordings that have been made. I’m trusting you to deal with Domina and even though I think you’re doing a piss-poor job of reining in your testosterone, I liked the way you sprang the Pope Kuang-Hsu connection on her. I think you’re getting her range a bit.”
The compliment took him aback. “Amaranth,” he said, and paused. “Thank you for that. I do need you, you know. On this.”
“Greg, I’ll be visiting Domina briefly at some point to remind her who owns the nether regions of your anatomy, and there may come a time we need to double-punch her, but this is your cross to bear. Partly I’m doing that to be all passive-aggressive with you for giving her asylum without asking me,” Amaranth joked. “But in all seriousness, she isn’t going to tell me anything. One of us would kill the other if there were extended sessions between us. You, however, are a man and she figures all men turn to gel in her fingers, so you might actually get somewhere with her.”
“Ammie, you know that whatever…”
“Shut up, Greg,” Amaranth said with a light laugh. “I’ll know if you’ve stepped over a line, because I’m your wife. And we women know. And that’s what will keep you in line. There are women I’d forgive you over; you know this isn’t one of them. Now finish sprucing up. Time’s wasting and we need answers, and your girlfriend is probably expecting you by now.”
“How bad is it, Paulo?”
“Compared to what, Commander? This is the sixth attack scene I’ve been to today. Kevan may have been caught in one of the attacks on his circuit, but there’s only been one other terrorist assault on his rounds, so frankly speaking he’s gotten off easy today. And the third circuit, which Maree should have been handling, has been hammered near as bad as mine from what I’ve heard.”
“How bad?” Lyseena repeated, hearing Paulo’s sigh clearly through the linkpad connection.
“The worst yet. Thirty civilians dead; 32 seriously wounded. We’ve got at least 60 with minor wounds. Add to that 2 wounded templars and 3 dead constables. Every attack on my circuit has been worse than the previous. They seem to be coordinated and scaling up as they go along. Does that synch with third circuit?”
“Close enough,” Lyseena responded. “Their most recent attack was just as bad as the one before, but otherwise it was ramping up steadily in body count. They have seven attacks to your six, but slightly fewer injuries and deaths so far.”
For several seconds, Paulo was silent. “There’s still at least an hour more of this pomp and circumstance for Pope Tommis’ requiem before we start to see crowds dispersing,” he noted. “What are the chances that the violence will keep people away from the Fourth Millennial Celebration tomorrow?”
“None,” Lyseena said. “If anything, I suspect crowds might be bigger now.”
“Then what are the chances we can get some more trained bodies shipped in here for tomorrow from some other regions?”
“Imagine that you’re a snowflake,” Lyseena said grimly, “and this is Hell.”
As a newsfeed in his vox filled one ear with delicious news about the day’s attacks, and relayed field operative reports from his servitor filled the other, Stavin allowed himself a grin.
Everything going according to plan. Precisely.
Everything on track.
An ill-prepared and beleaguered templar force, and an worse-prepared local constabulary, were getting hammered on multiple fronts. And they had no conception of the pain he was yet to inflict on them.
Like a cat with its mouse, he thought, and I’m not even through playing with you yet.
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