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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 4, Requiem’s Eve
Harry had checked in long before him at the hotel lobby, but had stepped out with his “new bird,” whom Daniel was surprised that Harry had actually brought along after all. Not that there was much risk at the moment for Harry or her, of course. By the time Daniel was noticed missing, his cousin would be gone too, back to the safety of Britannia, Gaul or France. Of course, the chances were decent the Vatican might connect the dots, so Harry wouldn’t be able to step foot in any of the Catholic Union’s many fine vacation spots safely for some time.
So Daniel reclined in a luxuriously supple gripcouch in the solarium at the Glitterati Casino, content to let Harry enjoy himself before getting to the work of arranging for Daniel’s early retirement and flight from all things Vatican-related for, ideally, the rest of his life.
Daniel switched from his music library to a news feed on his vox, and listened with rapt attention to a report that Ghirisksthan had just invaded neighboring Bulgaria with, apparently, a small army of heavily armed and armored meat puppets and a slightly smaller army of norms in its wake.
Damned cowardly way to wage war, using meat puppets, he thought. Damn expensive, too.
But there was ruthless praticality to such tactics, he admitted to himself, if you had the cash on hand to finance it. Bodies grown to exact specifications, sliptrans-piloted by elite soldiers who were safely in command centers and stood only a one-in-three chance of dying if their meat puppets took a killshot. It was going to mean a shite-load of international outrage, though, given that meat puppets were either altogether outlawed or highly regulated and almost never used in just about every nation on the planet. But the Ascendency of Ghirisksthan had never been known for giving a piker’s ass about what other nations considered ethical.
In the end, it mattered little to Daniel. Most of Europa will be between me and Bulgaria or Ghirisksthan, and soon an entire ocean between me and the Godhead. The only thought that disturbed him was that he had no idea how much space would separate him from the Godhead’s child, nor whether he should be worried about that fact.
After he left Ghost’s atrium, Gregory put his “Peteris hat” on again and slogged through two policy meetings; endured a grip-and-grin with Mars’ new Secretary of Social Welfare, who was boring to the point that Gregory wanted to check his pulse; and enjoyed an all-too-brief linkpad call with his middle daughter Isis, who was fretting with worry over her mother’s as-yet-unknown status even as she was giddy with news that she was officially pregnant with her first child.
The announcement that he would be a grandfather again quelled some of the rumblings in his gut over his next meeting, which would be with Domina xec-Academie. Giving her asylum had granted her certain rights—even if full freedom of movement wasn’t one of them—and now that she was settled, he would be on her turf when he entered her apartments. That the floors were owned by the UFC meant little; the subtle psychology of occupation meant that she would have the upper hand in this, their first post-asylum meeting. He had considered conducting the meeting in his office, but wondered if Domina might be more likely to let something important slip if she was confident she controlled the environment—and thus more comfortable.
Enroute to Candlestand 33 in a tubecar, Gregory’s linkpad chimed, and the avatar on the viewer was Ghost’s.
“Yes?” he answered.
“Gregory, are you ready for the first-fruits of my vast investigative skills?”
“Give me the dump, my dear.”
“Pope Tommis of the Red Orders was engaged in a pet project to author the definitive biography of his hero and sometime-mentor, the White Pope Kuang-Hsu. Aside from—presumably—Domina xec-Academie, it seemed to be his only true passion in recent years.”
The name stopped Gregory cold. Pope Kuang-Hsu held a special place in infamy, if only by association. A talented biochemist and geneticist before his rise to the papacy of the White Orders, he had designed the nano-attenuated gene-binding virus that had devastated the Muslim world, and a good chunk of the non-Muslim Arab population as well. As originally designed, it was intended to be used in conjunction with a possible military campaign to incapacitate those with genetic markers common to Arabs. Plans had gone back and forth for years about possibly releasing it widely in the Middle East, to which the Muslims had, for the most part, retreated and remained after the Conflagration. Not surprisingly, since even now a huge portion of the population blamed them for that near-destruction of civilization.
Pope Kuang-Hsu never did release that virus as part of the Renewal Crusades against the Muslims, but some overachieving and highly militant folks in the Vatican got hold of the virus and modified it to kill. The end result was that by the time the airborne version of the virus self-terminated as part of the nano-attenuation safeguards, More than 90% of the Arabs in the Middle East, whether Muslim or not, were infected, and quite a few others worldwide. Three-quarters of them died within days of infection, and the rest were effectively rendered infertile, as the virus killed men’s sperm and women passed the virus on to their fetuses, leading to miscarriage.
The Arab race itself was still of a formidable size, but because the Muslims had been concentrated in one region, the Final Crusade waged by a rogue Vatican black ops team had crippled that religious subgroup by denying them the ability to reproduce. Now, 80 years later, they were still limping toward reconstruction, zealously guarding the few fertile members of their decimated ranks, wrestling with ethical issues around whether to research mass cloning options, and trying to covert people en masse to Islam.
But that still doesn’t explain why Ghost found it so important to share this information with me.
“Help me out here, Ghost,” he said. “What am I missing?”
“Nothing you would have reason to know. In fact, it took me a while to find an AI in the know who could tell me why it mattered. When Kuang-Hsu was assassinated, it was just a few days before his cognos was to be uploaded to the Godhead.”
Just like Tommis, Gregory realized.
“Worked closely with Tommis on that project. As closely as she worked him over in the bedroom, I imagine,” Ghost said.
He still didn’t know what it all meant or how it tied together. But at least he now had a weapon he could bring with him when he entered Domina’s apartment.
(To read part 18 of this story, click here)