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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes (continued)
Hauruld Taguire liked his tobacco real—he had never used a nicstick or any other method of smoking tobbaq in his life and considered it a point of pride to keep it that way until his dying day. The proprietor of the inhalatory down the street from his multi-suite was of like mind and happy for a customer like Hauruld who could appreciate and afford quality cigars or cigarillos.
Hauruld also liked his wine and scotch very, very old. And he liked his femmes very young—preferably prepubescent and more than slightly frightened.
His first two vices posed no problems for the Vatican. Why should they when the government of the Catholic Union derived so much of its income—both from taxes and from equity stakes in major corporations—from things like casinos, liquor, tobacco, tobbaq and rec-pharms.
As for the third vice, Hauruld was both discreet and, for those very rare times when his discretion slipped, incredibly well-connected, so he’d never so much as been investigated for violation of any of the Catholic Union’s sexual laws. Some said he kept files of improper dealings among the members of the upper Vatican echelons to make sure he never would be.
Like the Vatican, Charlyes Kemusian couldn’t care less about the first two vices, not that he particularly cared for tobacco or tobbaq himself. Of course, Charlyes had never much cared for dalliances with females either, but child-rape certainly wasn’t something he supported. So, while he was fine with the tumbler of scotch Hauruld had given him, he wasn’t enjoying the cloud of smoke hovering in the air nor the even-more-noxious presence of a sexual predator.
But ever since reconnecting with Maree, comatose though she was at the time, Charlyes was feeling that old sense of responsibility and duty edging back. Without any faith remaining in the cause of today’s Secular Genesis, he had decided to choose duty to family and friends instead. Edward Deschaine had been a dear friend, even more so when Matthew was sick and then dying, and Maree was Edward’s family. A pity that Edward’s honor had skipped over Tobin rather more than a bit, but at least it landed squarely in the subsequent generation with Maree.
And so he sat in the presence of very rich man with stunningly few morals, and slid a piece of memorysheet with a vid-capture toward Hauruld.
Between one puff on his cigar and another, Hauruld smiled warily and glanced at the memorysheet.
“That is all you wish me to do in order to settle my outstanding debt with you, Charlyes?” he said, flicking gray ash into a catchbasin nearby. “Much as I hate to admit it, you saved my life, and I don’t want you coming back saying I only paid you partially.”
“Hauruld, I think your life is very near worthless,” Charlyes responded, with a steady, polar-cold voice that an old man who knew two young, strong bodyguards were nearby had no right using. “So it’s an almost even trade. Find him, tell me where he is, and I will forget you ever existed.”
Hauruld laughed without much humor. “Given how old you are, I could just wait a bit longer and let age take that knowledge from you itself. But you want this man’s location, you will have it. Anyone who wants to stay off the Vatican’s sensors is almost always obvious to mine.”
“Please sit, Paulo,” Lyseena said. She was meeting him privately in a small side-room off the admin suite. Very intimate. And the location of many a dressing-down when confrontations needed to be had away from curious eyes and ears.
Paulo sat, and picked up a cup of hot caff when Lyseena waved toward the tray on the table between them. For all the casual appearance of this room and the civility thus far, Paulo was no idiot. He was in an arena, and Lyseena was his opponent.
“I want to speak with you about your…adventure, Paulo. When the abort alarm went off on your linkpad, you should have gone straight to the nearest slipgate. Yet you went to fetch your cousin and demi-niece. Why is that?”
“I was near enough. The risk to me was minimal. They were family,” Paulo said. His voice was absolutely level and neutral. He came from a family of merchanters and one of his brothers had taught him the tricks of speaking without revealing. Just as he had taught to Paulo to listen. Which is why he could sense the subtle timbre of Lyseena’s voice, so much like the voice of a business associate when she’s about to turn a deal sour.
“That’s wyvern shit, Paulo,” Lyseena said. Her words were quiet and without obvious malice, but given how rarely she used profanity, the words were more intense than they might have been from other lips. “I don’t believe you were anywhere near them. Tell me, how is Grace doing?”
Another shift in timbre; worse this time. “When we came out of slipspace, her face looked like she was screaming, but there were no words. Her eyes were everywhere, like they were seeing things I couldn’t. The physicians and medtechs say she is calmer now, even without meds. But she hasn’t spoken. There is no sign that her mind is returning, but also no signs of the outright madness that most show when they go through slipspace unprotected. She’s well enough physically, but Gina would have been horrified.”
“You are horrifed in Gina’s place, though, aren’t you?”
“The little girl is blood, commander,” Paulo responded, then fluidly added the lie: “As was Gina.”
“The Order Juris is your family, Paulo, and has been since you took your vows. Blood relations are a distraction. A potentially lethal one, as we’ve just witnessed with you.”
“I’m a product of my culture and my upbringing, Lyseena. We don’t cut the lines to our family loose so blithely. I’ve already given up a normal life to be a templar admin officer. I won’t forget blood.”
Lyseena took a sip of caff, sighed and set the cup down.
“Paulo, what would I discover if I ordered Grace’s regular physician to produce some genetic samples?”
There it was. He had sensed it coming from the start, but had expected a far more direct assault.
“What are you expecting to find, Lyseena? Gina was her mother. She handled her medical affairs, not I.”
“I’m expecting to find her father.”
“A man dead some years now. Why do you want to find him?”
“Is that what I will really find if her physician provides me samples?”
“And what if I issue a warrant to get samples directly from Grace herself? And not from a man whom I am sure has some loyalty or debt to your family so long ago and so deeply buried that I have no hope of guessing why he would keep doctored genetic samples.”
Paulo said nothing. He held Lyseena’s eyes serenely, and sipped at his caff. The only difference between you and a businessperson, Lyseena, is the gun you carry. And sometimes the gun makes you less dangerous. I won’t be cowed.
“What would I find then?” Lyseena prodded.
“You will find, I expect, exactly what you’re looking for, commander. Your intuition will bear fruit,” he answered, leaning forward ever so slightly. “What do you expect from me?”
“That you would keep your vows, Paulo.”
“Don’t confuse me with Maree, commander. I’ve kept the vows that matter. I’ve been loyal to the templars. Will giving my balls to Lukas do anyone any good? Have them if you think so. I’ll gladly give them. Put them in a jar and show them to your new admin officer as a warning. I certainly don’t need them anymore.”
“For better or worse, your testicles will remain where they are, Paulo. Gina is dead, and I’ll take that as the hand of God removing temptation from your path. I am displeased, Paulo. And this will tinge our relationship. I don’t know how much longer I can keep you near me or if I will find forgiveness for you in the end and rebuild.
“But Paulo, the only reason I am not shipping you to Lukas to pay for your crime is because with Maree’s betrayal and the botch-up of the millennial, I can’t afford another scandal in my inner circle. But rest assured that if Ather’s nose should sniff out what my intuition did, I will hand you over to him in a heartbeat. He’s too consumed with Maree, though, I think, to notice. But if he so much as suggests he has some suspicion about Grace’s parentage and your actions, I will give him leave to reveal everything he can discover about you. I will be surprised and outraged.”
Paulo picked up his cup, sipped at the caff again.
“I live to serve, Lyseena,” he said. She waved him off curtly, and he left to go check on Grace.
Blood to attend to for now. Soon, I hope, blood to spill when we find the creatures who burned Nova York and took my daughter’s mind from her.
(To read the next installment of this story, click here.)