Cleansed by Fire, Part 30

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)

She was being pummeled. Her mind was screaming, “Get up! Run!” Shadowy figures were pressed around her, smelling of burned flesh and touching her with dry and mareeflaking fingers. She wanted to open her eyes. To speak. To get up.

But she was shackled. No, tethered. Mentally pinned. She strained, not knowing why she should or whether the effort was worth it.

For a moment, her eyes opened. A vague shadow in front of her, light all around it. Then she drifted again. Her eyelids dropped. Something inside her head tried to cinch those tethers again and she struggled against herself. She fought. She writhed inside her own psyche.

One by one, the restraints were slipping away. But from all directions, she still heard her own voice telling her to pull herself together and flee and fight and move. She began to grow frantic inside her thoughts, becoming more anxious the closer she got to freedom.

She didn’t know if she struggled for minutes or hours. But she started to rein in the chaos. She pushed away the flesh-seared corpses that were her recently slain family. She quieted the multitude of voices, all of them her own, until she could begin to think.

Until she began to realize that one voice wasn’t her own. “Maree,” it said. The voice was familiar. Familiar didn’t mean friendly anymore though. She panicked again.

Her eyes still wouldn’t respond properly, but she tried. A shadow in front of her gained resolution. A shape. Large. Blocking the dim light. Then her eyes betrayed her again, plunged her into darkness.

And again, she opened them. A shape. A person. There, and then gone again. Then back. Memories of white hair and hazel eyes. Familiar. Strange. Real or illusion? Now or then? Her context was slipping, and her control with it. Panic began to set in again. She didn’t precisely remember why, but there wasn’t supposed to be a person with her. All the dead people were in her head where they belonged. Who?

She opened her eyes again, not knowing how much later it was happening, and managed a few seconds of vision. No one was there, but there were items near her feet that didn’t belong. She remembered a little. She was in the rear berth of her borrowed groundcar. Someone had been there. Maree slipped again. Lost her hold. Everything went black, and she was back inside her head with the scorched dead of Astoria.

Then, all at once, she broke through the wall in her head with a huge choking sob, and she sat up, shaking. It took her nearly a minute to realize she had drawn her slug pistol, and slid it awkwardly back under her bounty coat.

Overhype, she remembered. I took overhype to escape the templars. God I hope I never have to resort to that again.

As her mind and body began to re-synch and her awareness sharpened, she realized that the items at her feet were a hot-canister and a cheap disposable flexsheet. Someone had been here, but as she looked around, past the windows of her car, she realized she was alone. There was still enough light outside to be clear on that point, and she was still back a bit in the woods, out of sight of the main road.

For a moment, she considered tossing the hot-canister out of the car until common sense reminded her that anyone with an agenda would have killed or bound her already, not left her a beverage. She pulled the thermal tab on the side of the large cup, and then sipped at the suddenly-steaming drink. It was shit-for-value caff, and she noticed now on the side of the canister the logo of a cheap travel depot she had passed many miles back. But in her current condition, anything that could shock her brain back into focus was welcome.

She picked up the flexsheet, and touched her thumb to the blinking standby avatar, watching words unfold in a script she hadn’t seen for years.


My apologies for not staying around. I can’t know for certain what you took, but I have a good guess, and I am far too old to risk several broken bones as you come out of an overhype coma. And you bring back too many memories of your grandfather anyway, and Matthew for that matter. Consider me a coward if you must, but I’ll just spend this time while you “slumber” and say what needs to be said in the written word instead.

If the handwriting style itself hadn’t tipped her off, the tone of the letter would have. Charlyes Kemusian, one of her grandfather’s oldest friends; one of the early founders of Secular Genesis. A man she had called uncle from the time she could first speak. Maree began to read again.

Your father contacted me after the events at your Astoria cottage. He feared you might do something rash to Secular Genesis and thought I should warn someone. He vastly overrates my current level of connection to the movement, but I do reluctantly stay in the loop. I suppose I could have told him that I knew precisely what happened in Astoria and who did what to whom. Well, enough, anyway. Enough to know what you were really after.

Maree set aside the flexsheet for a moment. She hadn’t known that Uncle Charlyes had maintained any contact with Secular Genesis, but she should have expected the old fox to do so. When his beloved Matthew died, so did much of his anger toward the Vatican—why fight for something the popes had denied them when one of them was now dead—but he would never let himself be left in the dark. Her eyes fell back onto the letter.

But your father doesn’t let details like that stop him, now does he? But you already know that. I sent a spyfly over to that archaic little yacht of his. I suspected you’d be heading his way, though it slipped my mind to notify Tobin or Stavin or anyone else to expect you. I’ve gotten so absent minded in my latter years.

Maree, I know about anger. I know about revenge. Take your new identity and just run. For the love of your grandfather. For my sake. Run. And when you can find a way to do it, leave the Catholic Union. Stavin isn’t worth any of this. Neither is the Vatican. You have a chance to start anew. Take it.

Maree teared up for a moment. This man was the closest she could get to her grandfather now. Maybe the only person left who cared.

But you probably won’t. Will you? And I must accept that. I watched you face Tobin. I watched your relationship with him die in a moment. I watched you run in Houston. I watched you kill. I followed you here. You are running, but you won’t run away, will you?

“No,” Maree said in a whisper, “I won’t. I don’t think I can.”

If this were a Grid-vid…some godawful cloak and blade  holodrama…this would be the point at which I leave you an arsenal of weapons, a list of names and locations, and a decked-out slipcar. Everything you need for your trail of vengeance.

This isn’t a story, though, Maree.

I don’t have anything to give. And I wouldn’t if I did. Oh, I tapped into that linkpad of yours with that new name you’re carrying and slipped a few funds into the account. It’s not much. I’m old and unemployed and rebels don’t get retirement endowments. But it can feed you and keep you in lodgings for a few months I suppose. But I can’t give you revenge.

Does that mean I know where you could go and won’t tell you? Or that I don’t even have the knowledge you need? You can take your own guesses. An old man is entitled to some secrets, eh?

Choose your path carefully, Maree. I don’t know how many more forks in the road will be offered to you before you end up with only one path and the devil’s own momentum to carry you.

And you know where it got him.

Love, Charlyes

Maree thumbed the erase avatar. Guzzled caff until her throat couldn’t take the scorching anymore. She slipped into the forward berth and fired up the groundcar. Time to go a few miles, and then find a new way to travel.

There was still at least one person in the  world left for her to love, she realized. And who deserved it.

And she was going to disappoint him.

(To read the next installment of this story, click here.)


2 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 30”

  1. December 29, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Interesting interlude.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    December 29, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    This chapter (and calendar day in the storyline) should be wrapped up in the next installment. Things are about to get pretty hot and heavy, I think, after that point.

    I’m kind of wondering if Charlyes is going to show up again. I suspect he will, though I don’t know how often. I’ve got those random few ancillary characters lurking in the shadows, and I don’t know what all of them are up to yet. 😉

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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.

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