Archive for January 11th, 2009


Cleansed by Fire, Part 32

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 6, Nexus

baldman-with-die“Doman Coxe, we should be leaving now,” said Manguang, the tall, thin man who had  been keeping Daniel company since yesterday. “We’ll be going well into the native and business passages, so the temperature won’t be quite as cozy. Grab yourself a daycloak from the wall over there.”

As Daniel reached for the closest one, Manguang stepped over quickly and politely guided Daniel’s hand to the next row over. “These are the daycloaks. I know, for an offworlder, they probably all look alike, but it’s a bit of a social faux pas to wear a nightcloak during the day cycle.”

They stepped out into a main passage, and Daniel was once again struck by how large the tunnels under Mars were. And how well-lit. It still set his teeth a bit on edge to know he was far underground and likely to spend a good chunk of the next several years there—and the smooth stone walls were a constant reminder—but it wasn’t the claustrophobic environment he had always suspected Mars to be. According to Manguang, the illumination system was about as close to sunlight as one could get, right down to just the right level of UV exposure that the body needed—at least during the daytime. Even underground, Mars operated on a diurnal cycle, and it had been both comforting and unexpected to Daniel yesterday as the day drifted closer to evening and lights in the passageways gradually dimmed, until they settled on what was essentially twilight illumination on Earth.

After about 10 minutes, as they drifted farther away from the transport hub and the tourist-heavy areas, Daniel could feel the shift in temperature, and was glad for the daycloak. It wasn’t unbearably cold, but the air had a distinct nip now. Even with abundant fusion plants in the lower tiers, there was apparently only so much energy a government was going to expend heating an entire world.

A few twists and turns later, Daniel and Manguang were in a smaller but still roomy passage that clearly led to more utilitarian areas. Someone appeared from a side passage and quickly brushed past Daniel. Someone thinner even than Manguang and exceedingly pale. The skin wasn’t a stark white, but maybe they aren’t really that pale. It’s been at least 10 years since I’ve seen one, and only then from a distance.

Daniel touched Manguang on the shoulder. “Was that an Ishmaeli?”

“Hmmmm? Where?” Manguang looked around and laughed. “No, not a neo sapien there. A Wight. Fully human. They descend from some of the early settlers who considered it a point of pride never to stop living in the older tunnels and warrens. They keep to themselves and only flit in and out of the common areas quickly on business. ”

“Striking appearance.”

“Intimidating, you mean? They consider it a point of dishonor to drink in too much UV or have excessive muscle mass. Aside from the pallor and gauntness, the only thing that really sets them aside is a nasty set of claws—a bit of nano-assisted bio alteration that’s part of their adulthood rites.”

“I’ll make it a point not to stare then,” Daniel said. “I’m fond of keeping all my facial features attached to my head.”

“Meh,” Manguang huffed. “The ghoulish appearance does a great job of keeping tourists from probing around their sectors much, which is just how they like it, but the Wights are actually the most peaceful population in the planet. Don’t worry. You’ll get the measure of Mars soon enough, Doman Coxe.”

“Please, just Daniel. Being an attorney automatically grants me a prodigious ego, but I don’t even like mister or sir, much less doman, unless I’m getting it from a waiter or concierge. I prefer people to bow to my infectious charm or my searing argumentative stylings, not a title.”

Manguang merely nodded assent and led Daniel through increasingly less decorated and more secure passages and portals. Finally, they reached a maglev car—to the immense relief of Daniel’s feet—and a uniformed MarsGov official checked their credentials before they boarded it.

“When we get off the magline, we’ll be in fully UFC areas but don’t worry, we keep the incense to a minimum and you’ll only be required to flagellate yourself once a day,” Manguang said with a wink. “Seriously, the only difference you’re going to notice is that the security personnel dress differently and there are no casinos or taverns.”

“Ah…so this is what Hell looks like,” Daniel retorted.

Manguang chuckled. “We deacons in particular are prone to the lure of dice and wheels. It’s why so few of us go on to become shepherds or pastors. And there’s no prohibition against drinking. Just seems a bit unseemly to have gambling and drinking establishments in religious rec zones. But I doubt you were planning to spend your entire life only in the UFC sectors, asylum or not.”

“You are taking me to see the Peteris and Paulis, right?”

Manguang frowned at the sudden shift in topic. “Yes. Why do you ask?”

“You’ve told me a lot about Mars since yesterday, but nothing about protocol with your church’s leaders.”

“Oh, that? Daniel, that could have waited until we were in the reception chamber. Look, if you were approaching them in some public or vid-worthy event, we’d have all kinds of ritual to quiz you on. As it is, just behave yourself, more or less.”

“You can’t be suggesting I’m about to just slap them on the back and trade jokes.”

“Greet them with a quarter-bow. If you have any personal or philosophical objections to the titles Peteris and Paulis, just use Deum and Deia. Try not to imply that the UFC is a bunch of heretics, even if you think we are.”

The look on Daniel’s face was incredulous.

“Daniel, you’ve been scanned for any and everything obnoxious. Exploding or producing a toxic bioweapon would aggravate the Paulis and Peteris to no end. Not too much else fazes them, and they hate overzealous pomp. Unless you plan to make lewd sexual gestures to the Peteris’ wife or piss on their frocks, you should be fine.”


scary-sistersSarai and Mehrnaz stood in the airlock, wearing the bare minimum gear to protect them from exposure to open space. They listened calmly as the atmosphere was drawn from the passageway, and waited for the outer door to cycle open.

It was a weekly exercise of the religion of the Shared People, and one that was also repeated before any important undertaking. In this case, their mission for the client Stavin.

They pushed off, trusting the thin safety lines to keep them tethered to the deck, and opened themselves to the immense expanse of stars and the great, sweeping shadows between them. The meager crisis suits they were wearing  meant that a significant fraction of the terrifying cold of space was already creeping through to their skin. But that was naught but a reminder of the cold logic of their God’s plans and judgments.

The sisters joined hands and half-sang the words of their prayer in perfect unison.

“Oh wise and merciful Abrahm-Elohim, we gaze upon your infinite face as your servants and heirs. We submit ourselves to the scrutiny of your countless eyes. As we embark upon our life-path, we ask for your forbearance as we inevitably stumble. May our allies outnumber our adversaries and our wisdom outweigh our folly. Selah.”

Not much longer thereafter, they were in the control cabin and guiding Ishtar’s Folly to their destination several hours away and the final dispensation of the mysterious cargo they were carrying—both of them with a growing suspicion that once this job was completed, they were going to be saying a prayer of repentance as well.

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


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


Jeff Bouley

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January 2009

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