Archive for February 1st, 2009


Cleansed by Fire, Part 37

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 (continued)

mareeAs she walked to the sliptrain station en route to the site Tobin Deschaine had suggested to her—albeit under duress and bleeding—as a likely spot to obtain another lead on Stavin’s whereabouts, Maree activated her vox. What started with music was suddenly a breathless crisis report from a newsbriefer who was reporting from somewhere in Nova York.

A city that had, apparently, just been the unlucky recipient of a hellpod.

Maree Deschaine stopped in her tracks, caught up in the story immediately.

For one sickening moment, she thought perhaps a warwagon had gone mad, just like the roguewagons of the Conflagration. But if that were the case, why only one strikepoint? Why no news of the other warwagons bearing down to destroy their compatriot?

That was when her stomach lurched even more, and a vision of her burned relatives played out behind her eyes. Fire. Why not? He seemed to like it well enough for his sadistic retaliations. Why not cleanse the world of the Vatican, and then every other religious body, with the use of hellpods? Why not say to the world, “We have this weapon” and let them know that it might be used again if religion were not purged from human society—or at least the Vatican’s hold on society broken once and for all.

She couldn’t imagine how Secular Genesis could possibly have activated a hellpod. Obtaining one, or more than one, wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. But only a full military AI like those of major world nations or onboard the warwagons could activate one.

One of the few blessings of the Conflagration was that the nation—in fact the corporation—that had the technology to make the weapons was among the first targets. The secret of making them died that day centuries ago, and reverse engineering wasn’t an option, as hard-scanning attempts or any act of opening a hellpod immediately fused everything inside into a jumble of inscrutable scrap.

As such, the devices were collector’s items among some or the richer and more eccentric set, since they were completely safe and innocuous outside the hands of a true military power. Until now.

Because Stavin clearly had a friend with access to a primary AI with a military template and no conscience.

Maree marveled at his ruthlessness and callousness. She was appalled and amazed at the same time. Almost impressed, in a sick fashion. But as much as she hated the Vatican, burning so many innocents to make a point—no, that could not stand.

She had several incinerated corpses inside her own head already crying out for vengeance. What were a few thousand, or maybe tens of thousands, other tiny voices calling out softly behind them? Now she had even more for which to recompense Stavin. And that recompense would be pain, and more pain, and then agony and humiliation, before she eventually got around to killing him.


Gregory was just about to leave Ghost’s atrium when she got the news of the attack on Nova York. He leaned against a wall, planning to collect himself for just a moment, and future-in-vestmentsrealized, only when Ghost’s insistent voice kept asking him if he was all right, that he had slumped against it with his face in his hands.

Dear God, not hellpods. Not another Conflagration. Please.

Ghost was soon able to ascertain that it seemed—at least for now—to be an isolated terrorist attack, likely Secular Genesis. Gregory’s heart was still beating fast but he knew he would have to round up his people. Whatever meetings had been planned today were going to be cancelled for a gathering to pray for the fallen and their families and trying to make sense out of one of the most horrific acts possible.

How could anyone dare to revive the memory of the near-destruction of humanity?

Gregory shuddered, thinking of the scene that must have faced the faithful and the revelers and the simply curious at the millennial celebration. A thermonuclear weapon would have been kind in comparison. Massive destruction near the point of impact, heavy death toll and casualties farther out from the shockwave and fires and building collapses. And then cases of radiation poisoning and radiation burns.

But all of that could be dealt with. Except in the worst cases, radiation poisoning could be reversed. Serious burns, externally and internally, could be healed. It was expensive, but it could be done. There would be hope. People far enough away from the blast to avoid instant death would know they could survive.

But a hellpod. Those who weren’t close enough to die instantly—and those lucky few would be but a handful of the total death count—would know that an agonizing, fiery death was slowly coming for them. Slowly enough for them to be able to ponder it long before it reached them. Slowly enough to make them flee, thinking they might run fast enough. But they couldn’t. Not anyone within a kilometer or two, certainly. And perhaps not even farther out.

Hellpods not only killed more people than a comparably sized thermonuclear blast would, but they did it in a taunting, excrutiating manner, Gregory considered. They gave a glimmer of hope for escape that would be snatched away in burning agony. People who would huddle in corners at the end, and call their loved ones on their linkpads, leaving them with a final “I love you” and perhaps a cacophony of anguished screams to follow it.

Jesus, I know I should be forgiving, but if there is a special place in Hell for such as these, I hope they are sent there soon.

(For the next installment of the 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


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February 2009

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