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 8, Framed in Pain (continued)
After several days on the run and on the hunt at the same time, Maree Deschaine finally had transportation that made her grin. The last time she had driven a vehicle this nice, it was the livery slipcar in which she had killed her Secular Genesis shadow and later waylaid Paulo sup-Juris.
For most of her journey to South Chicago Metro to her rendezvous with the late and not-lamented Ogre, though, she had preyed on vehicles in long-term parking facilities at flightports and such, using the vehicle identification scrambler she had inherited from her informant David Longer nearly a week ago after killing him and his lover. But twice out of the eight times she had used it, the viz had failed her, setting off the vehicles’ alarms instead. One of those failures had been in some small city halfway to the state of Illini, in a populated area, leading to a citizen stepping out from around a residential building with a capturecam that logged her image and IDentipod signature.
Given that she didn’t want anyone registering her Debrah-Ayn Baylor identity as having committed a crime—and certainly not wanting the templars to get data showing Maree’s body was carrying Baylor’s IDentipod—it had been necessary not only to relieve that citizen of the capturecam before she could interface with her homecomm or linkpad, but also to beat the woman senseless without letting her get a clear view of Maree’s face. She had needed the woman to remember nothing but fists, elbows and boots.
It shamed Maree a bit to recall that, but she reminded herself that collateral casualties had always been a likelihood.
How much longer before I have to kill someone who doesn’t deserve to die? The incinerated relatives residing in her mind, all slain because of Maree, seemed to consider that question, but none of them offered her an opinion.
The vehicle she was riding now, a Mach_Runner Puma duosphere, was about as musclebound as vehicles came, but beneath her, it purred like a kitten in her lap—while the repeller field around the duosphere let in fresh air and flicked the latest burst of freezing rain away from her. Mentally admiring the duosphere helped bring her smile back, just a bit.
Having caught a glimpse of the Puma’s previous owner the other day was a stroke of good fortune after the string of shitpiles she had been driving, especially when the viz failed again two days ago and left her convinced she would have to alternate between walking back to Nova York from the Centralia Province and using public transportation to do so.
The duosphere’s proud owner, Kiven Pascaul, had turned out to have very good taste in vehicles and poor taste in careers. It didn’t take Maree more than 20 minutes to ascertain that he sold both silverstim and shredd and ran at least a half dozen pedwhores, one of whom looked to be a former tripslut, based on the impants at the base of her skull. Maree waited only as long as it took to see him hit one of his prostitutes and later sell some shredd to a minor to convince herself he deserved what she intended to give him.
By the end of his night’s business, Kiven was in Maree’s expert care until he had agreed to formally transfer ownership of the duosphere over to one Debrah-Ayn Baylor. Maree promised him repeatedly that she would release him and deal him no more pain once he did so, but she still had to break three fingers, a wrist, two ribs, an ankle and a femur before he finally relented.
Once the deal was done, she went behind him and removed the wristlocks—right after putting a slug through the back of his skull—thus instantly and painlessly releasing him from his life.
That memory brought a feral grin as she plowed through the rain on the Puma, almost driving the sour memory of the beaten citizen from her mind. The duosphere was a beast, she mused, as she stepped up the speed just a little, nearly half as wide as the average groundcar and just as long—but it was a beautiful beast, with curves that reminded her of a predator’s rippling muscles, toned in bronze with indigo striations. And it had to be a bit of a monster with those two big spherical impellers that it used instead of the wheels of a smaller groundbike or landrunner, making it half again as fast and three times as maneuverable. It also needed plenty of room to house that quasi-intelligence unit. A QI didn’t have a fraction of the personality of even a demi-intelligence, much less an AI, but it was smart enough to drive the vehicle by itself safely.
And a good thing, too. Kiven Pascaul may have come out on the losing end of Maree’s negotiations for the vehicle, but he hadn’t gone into them quietly, and the shoulder he had dislocated still hurt like a motherhump. Her ribs still ached as well, though she was pretty sure none of them was broken. Time to rest for a bit again.
She set the controls, and leaned back into the gripseat of the Puma, drifting slowly into sleep. My trusty steed, carrying me on my quest, and perhaps to my death.
(To view the next installment of this story, click here.)