Cleansed by Fire, Part 42

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 7, Out of the Ashes (continued)

dramatic-handOnce she had finished with Paulo, Lyseena focused herself, prayed briefly, and made a point of seeking out Ather sup-Juris. No sense putting off the inevitable. He was at the far edge of the Pit, discussing something with a tech, and she motioned him over. He finished up, and approached her, his large frame moving with a grace that belied his weight.

“Walk with me Ather. I would like to lunch below. I would like company.”

“Certainly, commander; did you wish to discuss your candidate to replace Maree? She is an excep…”

As they left the immediate vicinity of the Pit, Lyseena cut him off with a quiet, steely, “No.”

Her tone was clear to Ather, and he said nothing, simply nodding slowly in her direction and waiting for her cue as they strolled slowly to the hoverlifts. It came when she continued with, “You might not actually wish to lunch with me when we are done Ather.”

“Do tell,” he answered, with what sounded like genuine, if seemingly modest, concern.

“The survival of the Black Pope was a true miracle to discover this afternoon,” she said. Her affect was flat on the surface, but Ather sensed something darker underneath it.

“Miracles are indeed alive and well, Lyseena. I had been notified shortly before the newsfeeds started releasing the news.”

“How ‘shortly’ before, Ather? Or are you perhaps a miracle worker yourself?”

They had reached the lifts by this point, and the person in the one that opened promptly left it when he saw them. As they replaced him in the lift, Ather noticed that the person had intended to leave on another floor much farther down; his presence often had that effect on people.

As the doors to the lift closed, Ather said, “Lift: Hold position; no alarm.” He turned to Lyseena, and she could see the telltale, if microscopically brief, shift in his facial features that preceded him accessing his hindbrain. “I found out precisely 10.7 minutes before the first newsbriefers transmitted the story. Are you angry that I didn’t tell you? I assumed you had already been told and, if not, that a few-minutes head-start would scarcely aid your investigations.”

“You had no fortuitous knowledge about his survival, then? Or foreknowledge?”

“Lyseena, I serve the Black; you serve the Red. At times, our positions are at odds. Clearly, you are privy this time to something that I am not—a truly rare state of affairs that makes me feel as though I am remiss in my cloak-and-blade skills. I presume that you feel, or know, that no true miracle was involved, which is something I assumed from the start. But if there were machinations behind the Black Pope’s survival, or his ‘predicament,’ I was not made known of them and still have not been.”

Lyseena searched his eyes for a long time, then said, “Lift: Resume descent. Ather. Trinity help me, I believe you. And I don’t know if that gives me comfort or more unease.”

“Lyseena, I am part of the Black Orders and precious little that happens within them gives me ease of mind,” Ather remarked. “By the by, I still wish to lunch with you.”


It might be days yet before he knew whether Bechan had escaped Israel, or even if he was still alive, Rabbi Brifel Mann reminded himself. But it would take days for the remaining preparations to come together as well, and it was time to bring Kotel into the picture fully.

prometheus-inverted1Israel’s flagship AI was very sophisticated, but at his core, he was a dressed-up secondary AI, and that was a shame, as it might be the one factor that could prevent him from carrying out his part in the Synod’s plans.

The original Kotel, now there was a masterpiece of AI design. A custom-built primary AI with a template that combined tactical, religious, legal, economic and espionage elements beautifully. A template  so complex that it likely would have made siring offspring with any other AI impossible. He had cost a fortune, and was worth every debit.

Then rendered worthless by the twin missile barrages shortly after the Final Crusade that wiped out Kotel’s main complex and his remote backup databases. The Vatican had tracked the attacks back to some Arab militia and brought them to justice, but most of the Synod had been certain, from the start, that the Vatican had really done the deed. The Vatican that was “protecting” them and helping them rebuild by sealing them off from the rest of the world. Whether they wanted to be or not.

So helpful they had been in providing a new primary AI, though, and so quickly. Kotel II.

And it took us less than a week to find the deeply hidden subroutines that made Kotel II appear loyal to us, but actually linked to the Godhead and furnishing data without ever realizing it.

Instead of confronting the popes and the Godhead directly, the Synod set a plethora of explosives around the core processors of the AI, and turned his databases into so much rubble. And, after informing the Vatican of the disturbing terrorist attack that caught them off-guard and relieved them of their new AI, the members of the Synod asked, very politely, if they could spare the Vatican the expense of another primary AI and simply design their own this time.

Now that everyone on both sides knew privately what they wouldn’t publicly ackowledge, the Vatican struck a compromise: Israel could order up its own AI, but would have to make do with a secondary AI. A primary AI might, they suggested, suffer a similar fate as Kotel I.

Kotel III had served well, until reaching the end of her life five years ago.

And now this Kotel, eager but young—powerful but largely untested—was going to have to try to interface with several sympathetic AIs in the outside world and give them information the Vatican didn’t want released. All while a dozen Vatican Orbital Navy vessels had Jerusalem under constant surveillance, while troops and wingscouts watched Israel’s physical borders, and while guardian AIs kept watch on the nation’s virtual borders.

Brifel sighed.

I strongly suspect we are going to need a new AI very soon, right after the Vatican punishes this one to death. And probably a whole new Synod as well.

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


3 Responses to “Cleansed by Fire, Part 42”

  1. February 27, 2009 at 11:45 am

    How did the Vatican acquire so much power? Maybe it’s because I’m American and Southern, but I find it hard to comprehend that the Catholic Church is now this powerful.

  2. 2 Deacon Blue
    February 27, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    It was a pretty good power player in olden times, remember. They rediscovered their roots and then some. 😉

    Basically, after the Conflagration, with civilization pretty much in shambles, the Catholic Church emerged as a peacemaker and unifier in a lot of areas. The Vatican used its people and its organizational infrastructure and even its accumulated wealth to help bring things back together.

    In the process, it became directly involved in administration and management and governing…and profiting from growth and improvements, esp. in the Americas. Started small at first, and it was a “necessary evil” kind of thing…the sort of thing that began with good intentions and should have been a “just until things are stable” sort of thing, but became a habit. We all know how power corrupts, and with power came the ability of the Vatican to codify in society the deeply held beliefs it felt were begin trampled.

    Basically, there was a huge vacuum, particuarly in North and South America, both politically and spiritually, and the Vatican filled it. Europe wasn’t in such dire straits after the Conflagration and Africa was in the interesting position of having been very little damaged by the Conflagration and finding a unified purpose at the same time.

    So, the Americas flailed around and were both looking for a savior. Europe contracted into itself to rebuild and couldn’t help anyone else for a while, much less be concerend whether the Vatican was getting power hungry. Africa got the breathing room it needed to truly shine. Australia just quietly did its own thing with some help from the Asia-Pacific nations. And the rest of Asia pretty much fractured and fragmented, but never took help from the Vatican.

    Some of this is spelled out in the historical timeline and major events pages in the portal area.

    Now, one might ask, why would people live in the Catholic Union? People live in lots of oppressive countries for lots of reasons, but the fact is that in the Catholic Union, the standard of living is pretty good, health overall is good, and aside from sexual proscriptions, there are plenty of vices that the Vatican couldn’t care less about (gambling, drinking, etc.) so it’s not a life of constant torment for citizens. There are democratic elements to it, at least for laws/areas the Vatican isn’t as concerned about.

    The worst things are the sexual/marriage/procreation laws (some of which are hard to enforce if one is cautious, but oh, the penalties if you fuck up and get caught on some of them) and the limitations on travel for the vast marjority of citizens. But with the latter, the Catholic Union is big enough that even remaining inside it’s borders, you can see much of the world.

  3. 3 Deacon Blue
    February 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I was just thinking of a way to compare the nations in my novel to the nations of today/recent history, and this is the best I can think of (hope it’s helpful):

    Catholic Union: If you take Russia today, make it more polished and with a strong religious flavor, and give it vast areas of real estate (a la old Soviet Union square mileage, and then some), and you kind of have the Vatican’s Catholic Union. There is democracy in there, but a whole lot of control up at the top and a bureaucratic mindset. Then toss religion into the mix and stir.

    Europa: Not much different than Europe today, except a bit more secular. It’s the EU on a small dose of steroids.

    Oceana (Australia and the Asia-Pacfiic region): Sort of like the United States in the ’80s and ’90s, but without the desire to be a global police chief. A lot of the exciting technology comes out of there, there’s a lot of new wealth, etc. So, perhaps more accurately, it’s like Silicon Valley writ very, very, very large.

    Old Africa (Neo African Republic): A rennaissance nation of the future. I don’t have any direct parallels I can think of among today’s nations. It’s not young, but it has an energy to it.

    Asia outside of the Asia-Pacific Region: Much of Asia in my novel could be likened to Africa today. There are places of affluence and stability, but also a lot of instability and poverty and warlords.

    Mars: Like the Old West of the U.S. in the 1800s, but less lawless. It’s a frontier state, though with advanced technologies and comforts. It’s the New World in a sense, but instead of being taken from someone who already lived there, it was carved and shaped from scratch.

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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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