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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 8, Framed in Pain (continued)
Tobin Deschaine wasn’t sure which had irked him more this week: The unannounced arrival of Charlyes several days earlier to drag him on a chase after Maree or the fact that he had left Tobin in this room two days ago to go off on his own.
The latter fact made worse by having been left with Charyles’ hired muscle, Raul.
I suspect Raul doesn’t like being a babysitter, but he’s probably had to do this before, many times, Tobin grumbled to himself. At my age, being babysat is among the top five emasculating insults.
So it was with very mixed emotions that Tobin greeted the return of his late father’s best friend.
“Tobin, I hope you and Raul have had the chance to become very well acquainted while I was out and about.”
“It’s been fantastic, Charlyes. I think he’s averaged five words a day since you left. Scintillating company.”
Raul didn’t look up from the flexsheet he had spent most of the past two days viewing. “I said six words yesterday. Eight today. I’m thinking that’s more than five a day.”
“Well, we are all about to be one happy team again, at least until my time runs out with Raul and he rushes back to Camen Sutherland. Then we’ll just be a duo. Though I do sincerely hope we find Maree before then.”
“You’ve had dealings with that murderous smuggler?”
“I deal with people I need to, Tobin. Something that you should be well acquainted with,” Charlyes said scoldingly. “And besides, keeping bad company, like Hauruld Taquire, for example, helped me find you. Despite the fancy scrambler you have in your linkpad to keep the Vatican from properly scanning your IDentipod.”
Tobin didn’t answer, but looked intently at Charlyes for nearly a minute. Unperturbed, he let Tobin continue and simply looked at him with a bland expression. Finally, Tobin broke the silence.
“Remind me why we are going to find Maree? Aside from your notion that you can ‘turn me into a father again’? It seems that letting her kill Stavin is a good start in the right direction for the world.”
“Because by the time she gets anywhere near Stavin, I’m guessing she’ll end up dead. So, it is incumbent on us to make sure she either succeeds or, better yet, we convince her to leave off this notion of avenging herself and all those dead family members.”
Tobin snorted. “You think you can dissuade her? Might as well try to stop a tornado. How do you even expect to find her?”
“Because I know what identity she is using, Tobin. I visited her while she was in an overhype-induced coma.”
“What’s the name?”
Charlyes chuckled. “I think I will keep that to myself for now. My level of trust for you is not yet what I would call fully formed.”
“Sister, there was a contract of personal exclusivity between the lover Jordin and myself for a period of seven solar months,” Mehrnaz commented mildly as she looked at the plasz-wrapped body on the floor of the rec-lounge. “I presume there is a pertinent reason for you to impose a death-break on that contract? And to kill a member of the Shared People?”
Sarai lowered her violet eyes fractionally. “The data pirate Jordin was engaged in precipitative actions without your knowledge.” At this, she paused and drew out one of her monoblades, holding it out hilt-first. “But as she was contractually your spouse at this time, you are entitled to blood-recompense, if you wish.”
Mehrnaz waved off the weapon. “What had she done?”
“She was attempting to negotiate a price for revealing our participation in the hellpod launch on Nova York.”
“Was she able to compromise us?”
Sarai grinned. “Of course not, sister. Magritte notified me of the data pirate Jordin’s covert use of the comm while delaying her by masqeurading as a representative of the enemy Stavin and then masquerading as Stavin himself.”
Despite the surprise of finding Jordin dead and hearing of treachery, Mehrnaz smiled. They had procured the AI several years before, from a mediaplex, and hidden her inside the systems of the Ishtar’s Folly, letting no one else know she was there. The performer template Magritte bore allowed her to quite convincingly pretend to be either or both of the sisters in communications when necessary. It also allowed her to intercept unauthorized communications from within the ship and pretend to be someone at the other end of the intended connection.
“She has never had to pretend to be a male before. Nor someone other than us. I am impressed,” Mehrnaz said. “Before you killed the traitor Jordin, were you able to find out why she contacted Stavin instead of the Vatican? The latter possesses far more wealth, and Stavin already knows we were involved.”
“The Jordin-corpse must have had some true affection for you, my sister,” Sarai said with a tinge of regret. “Based on Magritte’s interactions with her, it seems that she was informing Stavin of our intention to kill him, in the hopes that he would pay well for her to prevent us from doing so. She was then going to contact the Vatican and procure an initial payment for revealing our identities, with a larger payment to be made when she betrayed our location to them.”
“This does not strike me as affectionate behavior.”
“Magritte and I have reviewed some programming and research that she was engaged in over the past few days. I believe she was planning to provide a false location for our vessel. And she seemed poised to contact the UFC as well and tell them that we are in part responsible for their predicament with the Vatican, and negotiate with them a smaller but similar deal as the one she planned with the Vatican. I suspect she had romantic notions of procuring a great deal of money between all three sources and then retiring with us.”
“She was going to deprive us of our livelihood so we could wander as wealthy, aimless beings?”
“I believe so.”
Mehrnaz grimaced. “What point is a life without purpose? Well, it should not surprise me. The Jordin-corpse worked alone. An Isaacian who does not belong to an arc is like an Ishmaeli who does not belong to a clan. They lose sight of what the Shared People should be.”
“Indeed. Thinking like an Earther or Martian. It is a saddening thing,” Sarai noted. “I suggest we navigate around arc-less Isaacians in the future as we already do with clan-less Ishmaeli.”
“Agreed. It is a shame to lose her so soon. She had an agile tongue and talented hands.”
“Distracting and exhausting ones, too, or you might have been the one to discover her actions. Besides, I am every bit as agile and talented,” Sarai joked.
“And my twin. If I want to masturbate, I can do that alone, and quicker. She was already prepared to contact Stavin, you say?”
“Indeed. She was a poor Isaacian, but a very good data pirate. So we now have the beginnings of a trail to follow to find him.”
“Good,” Mehrnaz replied. “The sooner the enemy Stavin becomes the Stavin-corpse, the sooner we can get back to work that involves profits.”
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