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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 6, Nexus (continued)
“Now, that wasn’t what I expected when you told me we were going to lunch in our suite together,” Gregory said, disentangling his head from Amaranth’s thighs. “Though I’m certainly not going to complain, given how mutually delicious it was—though not very nutritionally filling I’m afraid.”
“Just wanted to make sure you don’t forget which of the highly placed women in your life these days is the one who makes you see God,” Amaranth replied. “My, but you’re sweating.”
“You didn’t give me much time to limber up first, my love,” he said. “You should watch out with that vigorous stuff. I’m getting old. And you made me get that meme-loop installed in my skull when we took these damn Peteris and Paulis jobs. Going to be very embarrassing for you if I die in flagrante and they play back my final minutes. They might charge you with murder and impound that deadly weapon that is your body.”
“You’re 64, Gregory, and we can afford gerontology treatments. It’ll be another 64 years at least before I start to worry about you having a stroke in the middle of bedroom gymnastics.”
“I’d offer to enter into a second round of gymnastics with you, but I’d better get ready for the rest of my meetings today and I’d better go see Ghost,” Gregory said, toweling himself off with the corner of one of their sheets.
“Ah, the other other woman in your life. And you’re inside her everyday, unlike with me.”
“Well, she has a very nice atrium, and you know they what say: ‘Once you go mech, everything else leaves you soft’,” he said with a wink, and then darted for the refresher while dodging pillows.
The Fourth Millennial Celebration was to continue well into the night, but it was now, around midday, that the crowds would see one of the most important symbolic moments of the event and of their lives, as each of the two surviving popes uploaded his cognos to the Godhead. Several upload platforms had been constructed in the cities they were officially gracing, Nova York in the UPA Region and Trinity in the LPA. Which one each was to arrive at had been shrouded in secrecy, but it didn’t matter, as every vid monitor in every home—and every viewscreen on buildings or suspended skyward—was now fixated on those chosen spots, so that every citizen could watch the White Pope and Black Pope implant their most recent memories into the AI that so many called the Fourth Pope or the Every-Pope.
It was a private moment every six months between the popes and Godhead. And for the first time, made public for the celebration of the new millennium.
Although both popes were being displayed simultaneously, most eyes in Nova York, and elsewhere in the UPA Region, were fixed on Pope Paresh Chopra and not on Pope Eric Vergosian. The UPA wasn’t Pope Paresh’s region per se, but Nova Roma in the Yucatan Province was the site of his papal tower. It was in the UPA region, and in Nova Roma and Nova York in particular, where his network was strongest and most effective.
While ardent faith in the Terran Catholic Church itself, the sovereignty of God and the infallibility of the popes kept most of the LPA Region in line, and fear of more warfare on the African continent mostly kept the LA Region obedient, the citizens of the UPA mostly followed the rules because most of Pope Paresh’s eyes, ears and hands were here.
The Black Pope. He controlled the military on land, at sea, in the skies and in orbit. He was in charge of inquisition and espionage. Most of the prisons were his purview. He didn’t rule the UPA because no pope rules a region, but the UPA was his in a sense, and the populace there viewed him with an uneasy admixture of reverence and terror.
As he ascended to the upload chair, his ebony vestments swirling in the winter wind, there was a heavy note of awe among the massed crowds. A note of expectation that was broken suddenly as people began to call out and turn their eyes away from the viewscreens and toward the sky.
A small vessel had appeared, from no one knew where, flying at high speed. It was well known that only dirigibles and low-flying law enforcement craft were allowed in this airspace today, and the newcomer was clearly heading straight for Nova York. Whether it was a suicide run or an assault run, no one could tell.
There was little fear though. One small vessel could do little to harm a city, no matter how it had evaded the security nets above. And no matter how fast it was moving, they would easily be able to usher the Black Pope down to the base of the pedestal and to the nearby slipgate before it could get close enough to harm him—if that was its intent.
The vessel split apart above them, or so it seemed, and there was a flash of green. A diffuse verdant bubble of light surrounding something dark and small.
History classes in primary, secondary and collegiate schools had never stopped teaching of the horrors of the Conflagration and the legacy it left behind. That was a lesson that never slacked. Precious few citizens in the Catholic Union, or many other nations for that matter, could have mistaken what was coming toward them.
The green glow around the object was a phase disruptor field, which would allow the object it enfolded to plunge through almost any physical barrier like a blade through wispsilk.
The enegy field that few could see, except as the faintest ripple in the air, was a distortion drive field, which would grant the small black object a velocity far faster than the shuttle that had carried it—the kind of speed that no one could now outrun.
Which meant the black object at the middle of it all was the most feared and reviled device of war known to humankind. A hellpod.
All of that registered in a matter of moments in the minds of everyone whose eyes were on the sky, along with the knowledge that it had been too late to do anything from the very start. The hellpod plunged into the ground, scant meters from the upload platform the Black Pope had chosen.
And the screams began.
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