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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes (continued)
It was Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio’s next-to-last day as the commander of Scion’s Dream, and the day of his final dramatic scene in this portion of the Nazarene’s machinations. In a few days, he would be Bartelle xec-Administrum, governor of Pacifica, and almost certainly he’d discover new intrigues foisted on him by way of repaying the debt to his benefactor, for better or worse.
Ideally, though, the next one won’t involve the surprise that a hellpod is involved.
If Bartelle was the protagonist in this scene, and he certainly felt that way, his opposite number was the poor, confused and ultimately sacrificial new crewman named Dimitri Martin, now standing before him adorned in wristlocks and anklelocks and flanked by two security officers. Fear surrounded him. And he clearly had no idea what was going on.
The Catholic Union needs villains, and that’s what I’m going to provide. Now that I realize the subterfuge to implicate Mars and the UFC in something serious included the deaths of tens of thousands in one fiery stroke, I’m infinitely less inspired than ever to stick my neck out for the noose.
The captain almost felt sorry for Crewman Martin, but there was also the matter of the “missing” Drewtine Atkins, and someone other Bartelle needed to be tied to the ship’s councilor, currently cycling through the organics processors in the bowels of Scion’s Dream, since said councilor was also going to be turned into a scapegoat.
“Dimitri Martin, you have been arrested for conspiracy to aid in the hellpod attack against Nova York, in concert with your presumed co-conspirator Drewtine Atkins,” Bartelle intoned. “You are charged with complicity in the illegal use of a weapon of devastation, for gross disloyalty to the Vatican Orbital Navy, for treason against the Catholic Union, for the transmittal of contraband materials and messages on behalf of the UFC, and other crimes too numerous to mention. Which is amazing considering how short a time you’ve been on this crew. Your friends on Mars are proud of you, I’m certain.”
When Martin opened his mouth to respond, Bartelle waved him off dissmisively. “Utter one word and you’ll be gagged as well. I would say ‘May God have mercy on your soul’ but I’d be pleased enough if He simply sent you to Hell now. Officers, package him up and deliver him to the Black Orders.”
As they left, Bartelle realized that in his entire military career as an officer before, he’d never before been responsible for so many deaths as he had in the past week, both directly and indirectly. It was a shame, of course, that the security officers and shuttle crew would be added to the list, but allowing an innocent man to be interrogated by the inquisitors was too much of a risk.
We’ll never know, of course, how Martin got the explosives on board the shuttle or whether there are still other operatives to be found onboard Scion’s Dream who did so, Bartelle mused. A pity really, to leave that investigation unfinished as I change careers.
Although she had expected Paulis Amaranth Dyson to come calling, Domina was surprised that she entered the apartment alone.
“You make your husband keep at least one of his guard dogs close by at all times, but you abstain? My, but we’re foolhardy,” she taunted the Paulis.
“I have nothing to fear from the likes of you.”
“Pope Tommis recruited me when I was 16, Paulis Dyson. Hand-picked my tutors and trainers. I can do more with my body than fornicate.”
Amaranth looked bored. “I’m sure you were quite deadly in your 20s and early 30s, Domina xec-Academie. I’m sure you still do your exercises. But you haven’t been in the field for the Red Orders for at least six years. You have, however, been very good at sending people after me whenever I leave Mars, which makes me very justifiably confident that my skills are more than adequately honed to kill you with my bare hands.”
“And here I thought your hands were only good for punching up orders to launch hellpods at Earth.”
“I know you’re not stupid enough to believe Gregory is capable or that, nor capable of letting me do so and get away with it,” Amaranth responded, to which Domina merely smiled and inclined her head slightly.
“You are here, then, to replace Gregory in my daily interrogations? Fearful that he may be growing…attached to me?”
“Steward Domina, I wouldn’t dream of upsetting the rapport that you and the Peteris are developing,” Amaranth answered. “Nor do I wish to expose you to unnecessary risk that I might be moved to harm you for any number of assaults that you have orchestrated over the years to make my husband a widower.”
“Doesn’t it bother you, Paulis, that Gregory isn’t more dedicated to making my daily life uncomfortable by way of avenging you for all those attempts?”
“Oh, it’s very easy for the Peteris to forgive you those attempts.”
“Really? Because of his gracious Christian spirit or because of his burning libido I stoke so well?”
“Because you’ve been so woefully incompetent in your attempts to harm me for so very, very long,” Amaranth responded sweetly. “This will be, if all goes well, the last time I deal with you directly. I’ve only come to make sure you understand that I’m a bit more Old Testament than my husband.”
Domina merely cocked an eyebrow.
“Eye for an eye, Domina. Tooth for a tooth. If any part of your body touches his, I will come back here to damage it beyond recognition.”
Under normal circumstances, Gregory didn’t bother to activate any of the transmit panels in his office unless he wanted to do a vid-comm with someone, watch a media program or have his walls display replicas of famous paintings to fit one of his moods. He preferred his walls to simply be walls; he certainly didn’t want the illusion of windows while he worked.
But today, all five transmit panels were on external mode, showing images of the Martian surface, as if the office were on the one of the lower levels of Candlestand 33 on the surface above, and as if a dust storm was raging “outside.” He knew how much Ambassador Samuel Landers hated his posting here on Mars and how much the man was going to enjoy today’s encounter.
So you need to be reminded of where you are. My home, ambassador, not yours. My arena.
Samuel entered the office wearing a formal diplomatic gown, flanked by two UFC guards. In one hand, the ambassador held a square of wispsilk that bore the ichthys and cruciform symbol of the UFC church, silver on white. In the other hand, a stub-bladed knife that would make a feces-poor weapon against anyone bigger than a child.
But the knife isn’t meant to wound the body, Gregory reminded himself.
“Peteris Gregory Dyson of the Universal Faith Catholic,” Samuel bellowed, letting a sour note enter his voice on the word Catholic. “The Vatican and the Catholic Union do hereby declare a state of open war between the UFC and themselves, effective immediately. Said state to persist unless and until you and Paulis Amaranth Dyson have complied with all of the articles of surrender that were delivered to you this morning.”
With that, he thrust the blade through the center of the wispsilk and slit the flag.
“It is done,” he finished. “Woe to you and to all of your allies.”
Gregory bowed. “So be it. Our articles of accord and statements of defense are likewise entered with you. We declare no war against you but we will defend ourselves against any aggression.”
Samuel bowed as well, but now that the formalities were concluded, he let the civilities drop as well. “You declared war when you helped burn Nova York with a hellpod.”
“We have done no such thing, nor were we complicit in any such act,” Gregory said. “And if you truly believe we would find any value in doing so, you are either delusional or idiotic. You are to remove your offices, and all your personnel, to a candlestand that houses no UFC offices, before the next dayrise.”
“You will regret your actions against the Union, Peteris Dyson.”
“I have taken no actions that invite regret or reprisal, ambassador. But tell me, since we were already in a state of war with the Vatican, and have been for quite some decades now, exactly what is going to be different than before? Will the popes declare me and my wife damned to a deeper level of Hell now?”
“This is a declaration of war in extremis. What mercy has been accorded is now gone, Peteris. We will take, or kill, your people wherever we find them. Inside the Union, or outside it. The Vatican security details for the embassy offices and for the flightports will be taking long walks during their mealbreaks for some time to come.”
With that cryptic statement, the ambassador turned on his heel, dropping both blade and torn flag on the floor, and left the office.
It was five minutes later when Gregory received news of a priest and a novice suddenly missing from a flightport chapel. By the time UFC security details had been dispatched to defend every likely next victim, there were two other UFC personnel gone from public chapels and one who had been the victim of an apparently brutal, and lethal, mugging while taking a stroll.
After that, Gregory devoted three of the transmit panels in his office to displaying the papal towers, so that he wouldn’t forget who the real enemies were.
(To read the next installment in this story, click here.)