Archive for February 4th, 2009


Cleansed by Fire, Part 38

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)

darkeyesThe nearly 1,400-year-old AI that served as the brain for the warwagon Scion’s Dream was, for the first time in a very long time, disturbed. The hellpod strike was deeply troubling to her, as one of the last survivors of the Wagon Wars. So much that she and the others had sacrificed to keep the Conflagration a distant and unfortunate memory. She could feel the ripples of unease from the AIs of the other three warwagons, too, over the sliptrans net they maintained with each other.

Despite the unsettled feelings that had emanated from Shadowblack‘s AI, suspicion fell on him immediately. That suspicion was especially strong in Dreamer’s thoughts, as the Nazarene had alerted her earlier to the suspicious courier pod that had launched from Mars the day of the Red Pope’s Grand Requiem. The Nazarene’s role in the Catholic Union was too important to risk his public exposure, so she had contrived to “accidentally” catch the podship during a nav system update and then let the command crew know. Shadowblack was Mars’ warwagon, and aside from the strange podship, the false shuttle that had carried the hellpod also had been on a trajectory from the direction of Mars, too.

But she and the others—Striker of Battlehammer and Wyrm of Celestial Dragon—had gone through the detailed and complex routines they has set up centuries before, and determined that Shade had neither gone mad nor turned rogue.

But that still left Mars—possibly MarsGov, possibly the UFC or a Secular Genesis cell; or a combination of them—as the prime suspects. Not that it was Dreamer’s duty to assign blame. If the Vatican decided that war with someone was necessary, then she would be called upon.

It would be a shame if she and Shade had to battle each other—she would do her best to spare him if it came to that, as there were only the four of them now—but as a military AI, she knew she would be a liar if she claimed she wasn’t long overdue and very eager for a real bit of war again.


For one of the rare times in his life, Stavin was not simply satisfied but truly happy. Ecstatic. Everything perfectly according to plan.

stavinIt was going to be a joy to talk with Nemesis today, particularly since it wouldn’t be over an audio-only sliptrans channel for once. They would be meeting in a virtual salon set aside for just the two of them. Perhaps Stavin would even get to see his friend’s face for the first time.

In that, at least, he was to be disappointed, he realized, as his own avatar resolved itself in a seat in the salon. Across from him, standing, was Nemesis, who was using a stylized avatar rather than his true appearance. He was silvery-white from head to toe, naked but without genitalia—it occurred to Stavin suddenly that Nemesis might be hiding his gender; he might even be a woman using a voice synth all this time. He had long white hair, a muscular but wiry body, and a large tattoo of an elaborate sword that stretched from his left hip down to his ankle. He bowed his neck slightly in recognition of Stavin’s arrival, and though he smiled as his head rose back up, it was a strange, small, distant kind of grin.

“Nemesis, my friend, that operation could not have gone smoother if it was made of skateglass.”

“I agree, Stavin, everything was coordinated well,” Nemesis responded. “And I commend you and your people on a flawless delivery of another hellpod to me just minutes ago.”

“No thanks necessary,” Stavin said. “We need to thank you, once again, for having the means to activate that first hellpod, and to give us a code for this one, should we need it. And knowing how stubborn the Vatican can be, I’m sure it will come to that. Good thing we have a few others in reserve.”

“You misunderstand, Stavin. I am acknowledging your delivery of the hellpod. I will be keeping this one, and I will be giving you no more codes for any others.”

“Pardon me?”

“I believe I was clear. The crew of the delivery shuttle is dead. You may salvage the remains of the vessel itself at your leisure.”

For a moment, Stavin was struck speechless, and he was certain this was the first time that had happened in his adult life. He stood up, fists balled. He unclenched his fingers as he remembered he was in a secure virtual meeting place—a mind projected into the Grid—where fighting could quite literally accomplish nothing.

“What the hell are you talking about? If you wanted a hellpod for yourself, we might have been able to strike a deal. But who do you think you’re fucking with here? We’re working together. This went flawlessly. We can bring the Vatican to its knees.”

“Stavin, Secular Genesis was a tool. You were a laborer to manipulate that tool for me,” Nemesis said evenly. “Together, you have accomplished what I needed, regrettable though that action was. I no longer need you. It is possible I will need this hellpod. It is even possible I will find you and launch it at your heart. But I simply don’t know right now. What I do know is that our relationship is at an end, and you should attempt to stay well clear of me for the rest of your existence. If that is possible.”

“What you needed? What possible use could you have for a hellpod strike in Nova York against the Black Pope if your aims aren’t the same as ours? We can continue to work together and make our enemies tremble!”

“You’re becoming quite the Grid-vid villain now, aren’t you, Stavin? Will you wring your hands and fondle your beard next with a wicked glint in your eyes?” Nemesis taunted. “Our goals have never aligned. And as to ‘why’ I wanted Nova York and the Black Pope to burn, I will not tell you that.

“What I will tell you, insignificant little soul-damned cretin that you are, is that I am not the enemy of the Vatican. I am the foe of all those who would stand in the way of the will of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mother and the Terran Catholic Church. I am the only begotten son of the Godhead himself, and I am your nemesis, Stavin, and that of all your ilk.”


Dealing with the aftermath of the hellpod attack—debriefings, strategy and planning sessions, interrogations, data sifting, coordination of the comm-log staff, the matter of Paulo’s diversion to rescue his niece and so much more—Lyseena didn’t want to receive a message from the office AI, and confirmed 30 seconds thereafter by Willem, that she needed to go downlevel to the executive slipgate for a confidential, emergency liaison.

female-commanderThat said, the summons didn’t surprise her. She had been wondering when whatever defecation that was raining down on Gyles would work its way to her thanks to the irresistible gravitational forces of bureaucracy. Someone was going to get blamed for this attack, and she was beginning to suspect that the deal she had worked out with Gyles to give her some breathing room was about to go up in flames about as quickly as the Market View sector of Nova York had earlier today.

So it was with great confusion when she realized that neither Gyles nor any other representative of the Red had exited the gate. Instead, the person who stepped out of the slipchair was from the Black. Lyseena shivered as she took note of his sensorium array, shaped like a stylized cross on his back, the crux connected to his cervical spine and the bottom of the cross curving and entering into the base of his lumbar spine. He was clad in a skin-hugging ebony unitard, with only his hands and the bottom half of his face unclothed.

One of the simons of the Black Pope.

Simons disturbed Lyseena. They served a necessary role of course, taking on any sensations or physiological effects that their pope didn’t wish to experience. It made life much easier for a pope who didn’t like aches and pains—or who decided he would willingly resist pleasures of the flesh. More importantly, it made the kidnapping or interrogation of a pope useless. After all, what good was it to torture a pope when the simon would feel the pain? Or to inject truthtelling drugs or other chemicals when the effects could be transferred to the simon?

And even if you killed the simon accompanying a pope, the sliptrans buried in the pope’s brain would simply interface with the next simon in line of succession, no matter how far away he or she was. And with 12 simons online for each pope at any given time, even if you inflicted enough psychic pain to overwhelm and kill that remote simon, you could never hope to remove all of them before the Vatican had activated replacements for every one that had fallen.

It was a necessary thing. But a gruesome thing all the same, Lyseena felt, knowing what these people gave up and took on for the honor of being a simon.

And then there as the awkwardness of being around someone who had been rendered both deaf and blind, so that the simon could neither see nor hear any of a pope’s dealings, and thus could never be interrogated either.

But none of that was what truly disturbed Lyseena at the moment.

When a pope dies, the simons follow him into death within hours as the active and passive sliptrans connections are severed, Lyseena told herself. They couldn’t possibly have a new Black Pope in place this quickly, and this simon should long since have been a corpse.

Which meant the Black Pope was still alive, despite having been at the impact point of a hellpod.

All this flashed through Lyseena’s mind in a matter of moments. The simon didn’t wait for any kind of greeting; he couldn’t have heard it anyway. He simply said, “The steward of His Eminence the Pope Paresh Chopra craves audience with you and with your superior, Gyles xec-Juris, who is already at the Black Tower. You will notify your staff now and accompany me forthwith.”

(This installment ends Chapter 6. To read the next installment, which begins Chapter 7, “Out of the Ashes,” click here.)


Pastors Ain’t Special by Mrs. Blue

slacksAs has been the case, about as often as not, it is one of my periodic (and increasingly rare) phone calls with Mrs. Eager that has inspired me to come over here to the dear hubby’s blog and go on a rant about something.

In talking with her, she told me Mr. Eager has been having some trouble with ringing in his ears (tinnitus for you technical minded types), and he was starting to wonder if it was God’s judgment on him for having words with the pastor of a church they were going to until recently. Give me a break! But before I get to that rant, in all seriousness, if you’re Christian, pray for Mr. Eager. He’s a musician, and a good one (guitar and bass mostly) and I think he could do great with a modern music ministry. But hearing problems could be a big muck-up for plans like that.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I think it’s ridiculous that he’s worried God has judged him with illness or injury for questioning  the head of a congregation. Granted, this is the second church he’s done this at, but let me recap:

The first time, it was at the same church that hubby and I fled from as it got increasingly freaky and fixated on speaking in tongues and espousing questionable doctrine and things like that. Mr. Eager and Mrs. Eager were essentially kicked out (of the church band and the church) when he questioned that pastor on doctrinal stuff. This is the very same kind of stuff that made us leave, so fact is that he was on the money. The stuff that was (and is now) being preached there is half made up by the pastor now.

The second time well, I’m not sure the details on that discussion/confrontation, but dear hubby and I had taste-tested that church too and found it a bit wanting. I think the new pastor there has a bit of an ego (though he was an improvement over the fire-and-brimstone, vegetarians-are-all-pagans guy who came before him) and he seems more focused on his own vision of stuff than on leading the congregation he has in the way that they need to be led. Just my humble opinion of course.

But the point is that pastors aren’t special. They crap out the same kind of hole the rest of us do. Assuming they have both their legs, they put ’em into separate legs of the jeans or slacks just like you or I do. They get angry, they can be selfish and shallow, they can get hopeless, they can get confused.

In short, they are human.

Pastors are not, as some poor souls seem to think, some special spiritual emissaries that God has set down in a church. I like to hope that most pastors are put in place with a little nudge by God, but realistically, I know it is church boards who do this, and they’re human too. They hire humans. Humans who can get led astray or get full of themselves or just make mistakes.

Pastors are great for providing leadership, just as an executive director leads a non-profit. But they still have to answer to a board of directors, just like an executive director does, and they sometimes have to answer to the membership (congregation) as well. They aren’t perfect. And when they are wrong, either because of bullheaded choice or by honest mistake or by a case of the raving loonies, they need to be called to task. They need to be made aware. Mind you, I say this as the daughter of a preacher, who used to head his own small church. I love my dad, but if anything shows you how a pastor can be just as imperfect as the rest of us, no matter how much biblical knowledge he has, being the child of one will do it.

I know Mr. Eager well enough to know he’s pretty softspoken for a big guy. I doubt he read the riot act to the pastor. I’m sure he was trying to be helpful and led by God to say something. In short, even if he was mistaken about the pastor, he was right to speak up.

What wasn’t right was for the pastor and cronies to ease him out of the church for having spoken up. Dealing with dissent by kicking people out is a piss-poor and un-Christian way to handle things.

No, the tinnitus is most likely from a life of playing loud music. And I hope Mr. Eager gets past that physical problem. He really wants to do a music ministry and I hope he can. The only punishment he is receiving is what he is heaping on himself for no good reason, and what yet another pastor did to for trying to do the right thing.

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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February 2009

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