23
Oct
09

Cleansed By Fire, the Story So Far (pt. 2)

So, here’s the second part of what I started at this post, a summary that brings us up to the most recent installment of my novel.

Now you are caught up, and it’s high time I got quicker about finishing up.

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Chapter 5, Blood and Tears

After forcibly extracting the location of her wandering father from two of his old friends, Maree surprises him on his modest yacht and asks him for advice or help on how to find Stavin. He refuses, both disappointed in her abandonment of the Secular Genesis cause and also believing that she was the one who murdered several of their relatives in a fire. Even after she makes it clear that Stavin did it, and not her, Tobin seems to have more concern with the Secular Genesis agenda than with her predicament—and blames her for the deaths anyway even though she didn’t do the deed herself. Realizing that her father won’t be cooperative, and not feeling that he has any fatherly love in him, Maree threatens him for the information she needs, and makes ready to assault him if necessary.

Roughly an hour later, the templars converge on Tobin’s yacht.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Gregory shares the news of their forthcoming grandchild with Amaranth. We also discover that one of their children, the eldest son (Gavin) had long ago broken ranks with his family to join the Vatican, even though the Catholic Union is sworn to wipe out the UFC. They also resume their discussion about Domina, with Amaranth upset that Gregory has given such lavish accommodations to a mortal enemy—and Gregory pointing out the trouble they would get into with the government on Mars if they were to be seeming to punish her or treat her poorly. Amaranth grows angry when she finds out that Gregory is also following protocols strictly by NOT monitoring Domina covertly. We begin to see in this scene that Gregory’s role at Peteris is more diplomatic, whereas Amaranth’s role as Paulis has some militant aspects.

Onboard Scion’s Dream, the command crew prepares to capture a suspicious messenger vessel en route to Earth orbit from a trajectory suggesting it came from Mars. Bartelle appears surprised, but we discover that he knows it is fake somehow, and meant to be part of the Nazarene’s plans to falsely implicate Mars and/or the UFC in something.

Having seen the templars move on her father’s yacht, Maree runs, knowing that if a strike like that is in progress, monitoring of the city she is in will be higher than normal, and even with her stolen IDentipod, she might be identified, and her new identity compromised. On the way back to her stashed gear, which contains a physical disguise that might keep her from being discovered, she runs into a templar surveillance team. Using a stimulant drug called overhype, Maree is able to take down all three members of the team before they can identify her or raise an alarm.

As part of his daily meeting schedule, Gregory meets with the Panel of Shepherds, the religious leaders who both advise him and Amaranth and serve as a sort of Board of Directors of the UFC. One member, Leonid, along with a few others, take Gregory to task for giving Domina asylum, since that will invite suspicions that the suspicious death of the Red Pope was part of some UFC plan. The head of the Panel is more or less on Gregory’s side, though, and he is able to convince them to give him a couple weeks before they consider rescinding her asylum and sending her away.

Daniel arrives on Mars, still using his false identity, and locates the first UFC chapel he can find, with the aim of getting asylum from the UFC if possible. The chaplain he finds gets in contact with someone high enough up in the chain of command to make him lose a bit of his composure (later, we discover it is Amaranth).

Via holographic communications, Lyseena touches base with her admin staff and Ather as her remaining two admin officers make the rounds of the Red Pope’s requiem celebrations in Nova York. We discover that Ather was in charge of the strike team that raided Tobin’s yacht, and find that Tobin wasn’t onboard, though there are signs he was assaulted, perhaps even killed (although there is no sign of a body). They suspect Maree might have been onboard as well, and they decide to continue seeking Tobin in case he is still alive, as a way to possibly draw Maree into the open.

Domina stews over the fact that Gregory hasn’t been more eager to give into her seductive approach to misdirecting him, and gains a grudging respect for his abilities, though her dedication to ultimately doing in the UFC is still strong.

In a virtual meeting in the SystemGrid (the Internet of the future), Stavin makes sure the various players in Secular Genesis know what they are supposed to do, as they prepare to deal the Vatican some kind of serious blow.

Gina resolves to tell her daughter Grace that Paulo is her father, not her demi-uncle, so that when they see him the next day during the millennial celebration, there will be no more lies between the three of them.

While checking in with a templar team during the requiem events, Kevan sup-Juris is caught on the periphery of a terrorist attack. When he identifies the perpetrator of the explosion, a woman carrying a child—and who is too far away to apprehend—he remotely activates a cybernetic doomhound to track her down and apprehend or kill her, caring not one bit if the child she carries is hurt or killed in the process.

Onboard their spacecraft, Ishtar’s Folly, the Sisters of the Red Sun take part in a hookah, a weekly social ritual of the Shared People (the Ishmaeli race and the Isaacian race, which were created by Muslims and Jews, respectively, in generations past). Sarai relaxes a bit after the stress of dealing with Emil before, and Mehrnaz catches the sexual interest of a female data pirate, an Isaacian named Jordin.

Ather prepares the priest that had earlier been apprehended for involvement with Secular Genesis for his interrogation, planting as much fear in him as possible. We discover the Kevan has requested to be involved in the interrogation and possible torture of the priest, although he is not mentioned by name.

Amaranth contacts Gregory before his next session with Domina to tell him that she is actually impressed with how he has handled the woman, despite her earlier reservations. Gregory is miffed by the invasion of his privacy (by one of his bodyguards, no less) on Amaranth’s behalf, but she promises to seek no more covert surveillance of Domina or Gregory’s interactions with her. She encourages Gregory to continue the interrogations of Domina, knowing that the woman would never open up to her anyway.

Checking in with Paulo, Lyseena discovers that the attack near Kevan wasn’t the only one, and that Secular Genesis is carrying out successively more brutal terrorist actions throughout the requiem event areas. Meanwhile, Stavin gloats about it all, planning even worse things to come.

We meet Bechan Adym, in Israel (which is totally under Vatican control, and cut off from the rest of the world), who seeks to escape the borders of his country with sensitive information. A rabbi (Brifel Mann) who is part of the resistance movement against the Catholic Union’s yoke helps Bechan prepare for the mission.

We also meet Bohlliam, a man in the ashen and magma-scarred ruins of what was once Los Angeles. He is the victim of the emophage virus, but for some reason because of it, is also a sort of reluctant local “prophet.” We get hints that he has some kind of psychic ability as well (which we will later discover is empathy and perhaps a low-level latent telepathy as well).

Maree awakes in her stolen vehicle, after suffering an hours-long coma that is the inevitable result of using overhype. The process is difficult, and she has strange memories and visions in the process. When she finally does regain consciousness, she realizes someone has visited her during her coma. It turns out to be a family friend, Charlyes, who was close to her grandfather (and Maree had always seen her grandfather as more a father figure than Tobin), who has left her a letter cautioning her to give up her pursuit of Stavin, for her own sake.

Domina toys with Gregory’s patience and libido some more, and ups the ante by giving him a gift for Amaranth, which turns out to be a pair of Domina’s soiled panties. Amaranth takes the insult in stride mostly. She also reveals to Gregory that she has granted asylum to someone herself, though she doesn’t tell him who yet.

Bechan works his way through the partially collapsed tunnels under Jerusalem as part of his escape. Meanwhile, conversing with Israel’s primary AI—a relatively young system that hasn’t had to really get its virtual hands dirty yet—Rabbi Brifel Mann determines that in several hours the time will be right to alert Vatican authorities to Bechan’s escape attempt—giving Bechan time to succeed and to make it look like Jewish authorities in Jerusalem aren’t actually helping him.

Meeting with her admin officers and Ather, Lyseena realizes that despite the brutal attacks by Secular Genesis all day, the terrorist actions were probably just to distract them and wear them down for something much worse the next day: during the millennial celebrations.

Chapter 6, Nexus

A UFC deacon named Manguang takes Daniel, who is uneasy with the prospect of living inside Mars, to see Gregory and Amaranth, and gives the native Earther a little education in the ways of natives on Mars.

The Sisters of the Red Sun go on a sort of religious space walk as they prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the job they are to do for Secular Genesis—both of them with growing unease that this job will not end to their liking.

Bechan emerges from the tunnels alive, only to spy a wyvern—a genetically engineered war creature—in the distance, and flees for his life.

Daniel brief Gregory and Amaranth on what he knows about the Godhead’s illicit AI child. He also puts the risk posed by this unknown AI in context—it isn’t the end of the world, but it could still be something very serious and dangerous. Daniel also explains some aspects of AI-related procreation that may help in tracking down the Godhead’s child.

The Sisters of the Red Sun launch the shuttle for Secular Genesis and then resolve to hunt down Stavin to repay him for the gross insult of sending Emil to them, knowing that the man was a “poisoned” gift. Mehrnaz also reveals to her sister that she has entered into a short-term contractual marriage with Jordin and that the data pirate is tracking and monitoring the shuttle to help provide some data on what it’s for and perhaps use that data to find Stavin.

In a display of graciousness and religious solidarity, Gregory visits Domina not to interrogate her but to offer her a eucharista (a sort of spherical communion cracker) for her to partake of on New Year’s Day, which is the third most holy day of the year, both for the UFC and the Terran Catholic Church. At the end of their visit, however, he cannot resist putting her in her place a bit by telling her she isn’t the only highly placed person from the Vatican offices they are now sheltering. This prompts here to covertly contact the Nazarene to warn him. The Nazarene informs her, in turn, that he plans to extract her from the UFC soon.

Lyseena wrestles with the problem of even worse terrorist attacks as the millennial celebrations take place, and then gets a threatening Grid message from the mysterious Enn (who is probably Nemesis) just as alarms begin going off in the templar headquarters.

Meanwhile, Gregory and Amaranth enjoy an afternoon tryst and then Gregory prepares to go have a visit/meeting with Ghost.

We then find out why alarms have begun at templar HQ, as the crowds in Nova York watch the Black Pope ascend a platform for the first-ever public cognos download (copying of all his current memories to the Godhead) and an unauthorized spacecraft hurtles through the atmosphere, breaking apart to reveal a hellpod, which impact almost on top of the Black Pope’s pedestal.

As this is happening, Gregory reluctantly confronts Ghost with a question about whether she was involved in helping to create an AI child with the Godhead, while electronically monitoring her responses to make sure he gets an honest response. This is insulting to Ghost, and does anger her, even though she understands Gregory’s position. Satisfied that Ghost is still on the UFC’s side, Gregory sets her on a series of tasks to figure out what the Godhead is up to and to track down the rogue AI that is his child.

Paulo watches the impact of the hellpod, knowing that Gina and Grace are far enough away that they can still be saved, but not far enough away to escape on their own. He breaks protocol that requires him to flee back to headquarters via his slipchair (which provides instantaneous travel through the slipgate near his current position), and instead travels to the slipgate nearest to his lover and child, heedless of the harm he causes to anyone else fleeing the hellpod attack. A mishap shortly exit from the gate damages the powersled he had dragged along to accommodate them, and Gina sacrifices her own safety (and, soon, her life, it seems) to protect Grace, handing the girl to her father to spirit away in his small slipchair. Paulo doesn’t want to leave Gina behind, but doesn’t have a choice. Worse yet, he will be taking Gina through slipspace virtually unprotected, thanks to the loss of the sled—and unprotected travel through slipspace always leads to incurable insanity.

At his own vantage point on the attack, Kevan—unlike Paulo—responds promptly to the command to flee the area, though he pauses long enough to watch the streets and building near him begin to melt, and vows retribution on whomever is responsible for such an attack on the Vatican and the Catholic Union.

The Sisters of the Red Sun discover that they helped in the launching of a hellpod, and resolve that Stavin will not simply suffer punishment for his earlier insult, but severe punishment and death for involving them in an atrocity like this.

Maree hears a news report about the hellpod attack and realizes that the most likely perpetrator of such an attack would be Stavin, a revelation that inspires her quest for vengeance to new heights.

Gregory hears about the hellpod attack and is devastated by the heartlessness of it.

Dreamer, the AI that controls the warwagon Scion’s Dream, immediately worries that the hellpod attack may have been perpetrated by the AI Mars’ warwagon, in a repeat of the kind of behavior that caused several warwagons, centuries earlier, to nearly wipe out humanity with hellpods. Even after his innocence is ascertained (in mere minutes) by herself and the AI’s of humanity’s other two warwagons, Dreamer continues to suspect someone on Mars—whether the government or the UFC—of being behind the attack.

Stavin is overjoyed at how the hellpod attack played out, and communicates with Nemesis, who informs Stavin that he will activate no more hellpods for Secular Genesis. Furthermore, Nemesis reveals that he is actually the enemy of Secular Genesis, and the son of the Godhead (meaning that for reasons as yet unknown, the Godhead’s child is working both sides of the fence—in the guises of Enn and Nemesis—though claiming to serve God and the Vatican).

As she deals with the wrenching aftermath of the hellpod attack, Lyseena receives a summons that tips her off to that face that the Black Pope is, impossibly, alive—despite being at the impact point of the hellpod.

Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes

Reporting back to his fellow cell leaders, Stavin reveals the treachery of Nemesis but plays up the positive aspect that with one hellpod attack under their belts, and several more hellpods in their possession, it doesn’t matter that they cannot activate the other ones, as long as the Vatican thinks they can.

In Angel City, Bohlliam is little concerned about the hellpod attack, except for the fact that the death of one of the people he is remotely linked to (to provide the emotions and will to live that he lost as a result of emophage infection) provided horrible emotional backlash for him. Moping about his condition and future, he considers just unhooking from the gear that allows him to tap the emotions of those he is linked to and thus slowly drifting into death. But in the end, he decides that too many people are relying on him for his “prophetic” services (actually, a form of empathic dream interpretation) for him to give up.

A representative of the Black Pope confirms that he is alive, having never been in Nova York (though a surrogate with a holographic array was there in his place to make it look otherwise), all because the Vatican had prior warning of the attack (though no knowledge of what kind of attack would come). Gyles and Lyseena are furious at not having been told, though the papal representative insists it is for the best that thousands died, so that it can unite citizens against Secular Genesis and the UFC (the Vatican working under a convenient assumption, whether they believe it or not, that the UFC is working with the terrorists). It will also increase the cachet of the popes, as the Vatican plans to spin the Black Pope’s survival as a direct intervention by God.

The defense minister for the government of Mars meets with Gregory and Amaranth to let them know that not only has the Vatican insisted the UFC was in cahoots on the hellpod attack, but that the Vatican and Catholic Union are demanded their extradition. She assures the couple that MarsGov has no intention of rescinding the protection that has kept the UFC safe from the Vatican for decades, but that she expects the UFC to work hard to help find out who is truly responsible for the hellpod, as the Catholic Union will almost certainly declare open war on the UFC and possibly Mars as well.

That old family friend of Maree’s, Charlyes, deals with a very vile man to get help in tracking down Tobin, a task he feels he must undertake out of respect for the memory of the man’s father, who was his best friend.

Lyseena pieces together, based on Paulo’s actions, that Grace is actually his child and not his demi-niece. She tells Paulo that his betrayal of his vows sickens her, but that she will not turn him in since another scandal so close on the heels of Maree’s betrayal might ruin her. Later, Lyseena meets with Ather to determine whether he knew of the Black Pope’s deception, and decides he didn’t.

Rabbi Brifel Mann, still unsure whether Bechan made it out of Israel alive, sets Kotel, the nation’s main AI, on some dangerous tasks.

Onboard Scion’s Dream, Bartelle is disturbed to find that he has been involved in a conspiracy to launch a hellpod, though he has no intention of turning the true conspirators in, knowing he would be punished with them. Instead, he falsely arrests and implicates a crewman and, by extension, the presume missing (though actually dead at Bartelle’s hands) Counselor Atkins.

Amaranth visits Domina to make it clear that she will suffer if she actually manages to succeed in seducing he husband. Meanwhile, Gregory, unaware of the exchange, is too busy anyway receiving the Vatican ambassador who arrives to officially declare war on the UFC. Thinking it is just posturing and business as usual with the Vatican, Gregory finds out all too soon that the Catholic Union is already killing and abducting UFC personnel in nations and locations that they have no jurisdiction in, including Mars.

Restless inside Mars, Daniel decides to go out to some casinos to gamble, against Manguang’s advice.

Aided by a hired thug, Charlyes barges in on Tobin’s hiding place and finds out that his loyalty to Secular Genesis’ leadership has been sorely frayed by the hellpod attack. Telling Tobin that he hasn’t been involved in Secular Genesis for quite some time, he forces Tobin to accompany him on a quest to find Maree and keep her from getting herself killed.

Acting on information she got from beating her father earlier, Maree finds one of Stavin’s hiding places. Though Stavin isn’t there, she does find there one of the men who helped Stavin assault her, and tortures the man brutally both in retaliation and to obtain information.

Daniel is followed and attacked by a mysterious individual at one of Mars’ casinos.

Paulo sits by the bedside of his daughter. Partially protected in her journey through slipspace, Grace is comatose and clearly disturbed, though not overtly insane as typically happens with unprotected slipspace travel.

Gregory has a horrible dream of his eldest son Gavin killing Amaranth, and then wakes, making love to his wife fiercely.

Late at night, Lyseena meets with a woman (once a citizen of Mars years ago), Tana sup-Juris, to tell her she is being promoted to fill the space left by Maree’s defection.

Chapter 8, Framed in Pain

Ather, with the aid of a freelance investigator named Demus, examines the scene of Maree’s attack on (and torture of) Stavin’s henchman, looking in particular at a threatening note that she left for Stavin, sticking out of the deceased man’s penis. Maree watches the scene play out from afar, having lured Ather there and having left the note only to get the templars to start looking for Stavin (as she hopes to find him through their efforts).

Gregory once again visits Domina, fending off her seductions and going on the offensive again with the too-coincidental connections between the Red Pope’s death and that of a White Pope generations earlier.

Bohlliam awakes from a nap feeling almost normal emotionally (something his “feeding” off the people he is linked to doesn’t quite achieve, as most of them are mentally ill). He then realizes there is another mind inside his own now, and that mind turns out to be Grace’s, and she urges him to go to Nova York immediately.

Using a small robotic device carrying her old IDentipod, Maree sends the templars off on a wild goose chase that make it look like she’s fleeing West, when in fact she’s headed back East to locate a spy in the lower echelons of the templar organization who might be able to help her find Stavin by keeping tabs on templar communications for her.

Amaranth confronts Daniel for unnecessarily putting himself at risk (he wasn’t abducted or killed by his assailant, as Manguang had sent someone to follow and protect Daniel). He expresses his revulsion at living inside a cold, dead planet, and she in turn shows him some of the real life on Mars, that tourists don’t care about, and which isn’t anywhere near as cold and sterile as he fears it is. She warns him that his attacker was hired by the Vatican, and also tells him he will have a personal bodyguard (masquerading as his lover) from now on to make sure his restless wanderings don’t get him killed.

Charlyes reiterates to Tobin the importance of saving Maree from her path of vengeance, while Tobin likes the idea of letting Maree run rampant, since he is disgusted that Stavin would resort to a hellpod as a way to achieve the aims of Secular Genesis.

Mehrnaz discovers that her sister has killed Jordin, to whom Mehrnaz was contractually (if temporarily) married. When asked why, Sarai reveals that Jordin was going to sell the Sisters of the Red Sun out to both the Vatican and the UFC, as well as extort Stavin into paying her to keep the sisters away from him. The upside is that information uncovered by Jordin may help them find Stavin faster.

Ghost’s investigations turn up that the Godhead’s AI child was birthed/created on Mars in secret, and that the former Vatican ambassador to Mars, Drewtine Atkins (the same man that Bartelle secretly killed onboard Scion’s Dream) was involved. Furthermore, she reveals that the AI is probably military in nature, and that the mother was likely Dreamer, the AI of Scion’s Dream. After Ghost shares this, Amaranth tells her to harass the Godhead to try to shake out more information about his child.

Maree continues Eastward toward Nova York, but in better transportation, gained by the death of yet another criminal at her hands. At the same time, though, she worries over the fact that she also recently had to violently assault an innocent citizen to protect her identity.

Paulo, having picked up Maree’s trail, covers up some data that might otherwise have helped Lyseena and Ather find her. He then contacts her with a coded Grid message to ask for her help in dealing with his tricky situation, now that Lyseena knows he is in violation of his vows.

Still carrying much of Grace’s mind inside his own, Bohlliam deals with her irritation that they aren’t getting to Nova York faster, and tries to forge a stronger bond with her, since her emotions inside his mind are so much better than those that draws off of his authorized sources. She prods him to move faster with the revelation that if she isn’t reunited with her physical brain soon, she may dissipate and that won’t do either of them any good.

Bechan finally arrives in Europa, having successfully eluded the Vatican but having lost one hand in the process. He then prepares to locate his Voudoun contact.

Nearly a week after discovering the link between the Godhead, Dreamer and the rogue AI known to some as Enn and others as Nemesis, Ghost is able to arrange a virtual meeting between herself, Dreamer, Gregory, Amaranth and Daniel. They confront Dreamer about her involvement in helping to sire an illicit AI, fairly certain that she wouldn’t approve of Nemesis’ actions, but she denies everything. She even passes what is supposedly a foolproof test against lying by an AI—meaning that either they are completely wrong about their suspicions (unlikely) or that AIs can be capable of deceit.

After that meeting, Dreamer struggles with this information, not having guessed that her AI son was behind the hellpod attack—something that goes against all her own codes of behavior—and she wonders what hand the Godhead himself might have had in these affairs. We also discover that not only is the son of the Godhead and Dreamer also the mysterious Enn and enigmatic Nemesis, but also the shadowy Nazarene who is scheming with Bartelle, Domina and others.

Meanwhile, Stavin is ambushed and captured by the Sisters of the Red Sun.

Chapter 9, Reunions and Seekings

Dreamer invites Bartelle (who had already moved on from captaining Scion’s Dream to beginning his governorship) into a virtual meeting, realizing that he would have been the one to deliver her inception routines to create her and the Godhead’s son, the Nazarene. She begins to question him, and when he tries to log out of the program, she reveals that he is actually inside her systems and no simply on the Grid, and that she has complete control over his fate, and his life, at the moment. He admits to working for the Nazarene and reveals his involvement in the death of Counselor Atkins, the framing of a crewman, and the false implications of the UFC in conspiracies and attacks against the Catholic Union. One Dreamer is done with him, she induces a stroke in his body through the neural link, killing him.

With Stavin now their captive, the Sisters of the Red Sun speak with him, meaning only to intimidate him until they figure out how best to punish and ultimately kill him. In the process, they discover that he is being hunted by someone else (Maree) who according to their code of honor may have as much a claim to harming him as they do. So, they resolve to put Stavin in stasis and attempt to locate Maree. Before they do, though, Sarai drugs him to extract information on how they might get a message to her.

Maree meets with Paulo, and agrees to help him in trying to get himself and Grace out of the Catholic Union.

Grace continues to ride inside Bohlliam’s mind, aware that he is becoming addicted to her presence and trying to hide from his thoughts the fact that when she reunites with her body, she will separate her consciousness from his completely. In the basement of the hospital where her three year old body lays, she enlists his aid in linking her back with her mind, and then, when she senses Paulo enter her room, she exits Bohlliam’s mind without warning, sending him in a fury. As Grace suddenly awakens, Paulo is thrilled to find her lucid, then disturbed to realize that she is talking and thinking like an adult, not the child that she should be. She tells him about Bohlliam and insists they must escape the Catholic Union as soon as possible.

Bechan meets with his Voudoun contacts, who provide him with all the help he had hoped for, but then also give him a zombi (a person turned into a programmable servant), a gift that hints at them knowing far more than they should about him (since he had joked in Israel that perhaps they might give him one) and perhaps more nefarious purposes.

Gregory has one of his regular meetings with Domina, who is uncharacteristically subdued, and he is called away early by Amaranth and Ghost. When he leaves, Domina translates a coded message from the Nazarene telling her he will rescue her shortly after the new Red Pope is named. Meanwhile, Ghost and Amaranth tell Gregory that the new Red Pope will be named the next day, and they have reason to believe it will be Gavin—Amaranth and Gregory’s eldest child, who defected years earlier to the Vatican.

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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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