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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 4, Requiem’s Eve (continued)
Once Harry connected with Daniel, things moved fast. Blessedly for Daniel, though, connecting took long enough that he was able to win, lose and then win back some money at the callibra wheels and flashjack tables as well as take in a quick holoconcert—and prime his courage with a few stiff drinks.
Now that Harry had done his magic, Daniel Coxe was, theoretically, a Martian businessman named Daniel Kozen. As far as anyone in the Catholic Union knew, whether grunt-level or in the Vatican, Daniel Coxe was set to fly back to Nova Roma in the Yucatan Province late tomorrow. But Daniel Kozen was now standing in line for the boarding lounge of an outbound slipship flight to Mars—the last one of the day.
Daniel was keenly aware of the security pylons that were all over this area, even more dense than in the resort itself—to which the flightport was attached. Resorts were a common place for people to stage defections from the Catholic Union, and as such, almost all the security pylons were zealously monitored.
A thin trickle of sweat tickled the small of Daniel’s back. Being in an area like this that he had no business being in until tomorrow, for a flight to space instead of the UPA, the security pylons would send out an alert if they caught a whiff of his IDentipod. Harry had told him that his fake Mars passport had a local disruptor that would block Daniel’s IDentipod specifically. If all went well, and Daniel didn’t drift more than a meter or so from the passport, the pylons shouldn’t notice him.
Harry had gotten plenty of people out of plenty of bad situations with tactics like this. And his success rate was in the high 80s. But Daniel was very concerned he was about to be part of the 10- or 15-percent club that Harry didn’t like to mention to potential clients. Daniel was family and knew all too well that Harry wasn’t perfect.
Now twelfth in line to step through the security arch, Daniel’s heart would have been beating like a war drum, something that would have set off biometric sensors in the arch and gotten him pulled aside for questioning—if not for the lovely little cocktail of tablets Harry had given him to keep his vital readings within proper limits.
And that was when he felt the hand descend upon his shoulder.
“Sir, please step this way,” said the uniformed security monitor that belonged to that hand.
Saying nothing, Daniel complied. No sense in getting the business end of a stunrod on top of everything else. The guard took the passport from Daniel’s hand.
“Mister…Kozen. Mmmm. Let’s make this painless, shall we?” the security monitor said. “There’s no reason for you to waste your time in that line. The executive arch is right over here. Glad I noticed the VIP button on your passport wallet.”
Forty minutes and three more drinks later, Daniel was on the slipship. His hands didn’t stop trembling, though, until well after takeoff.
Gregory did indeed make good on his plan to take a cold shower, right after he fished out a private flexsheet from his personal files and enjoyed some revealing snapshots of his wife to ease any pent-up frustrations he might have had. No sense in giving Domina any more leverage than she has already.
Once he was clean, dressed and clear-headed again, he rounded up his personal guards and the MobileEye again, and headed back to Candlestand 33. Once on Domina’s floor of the UFC offices there, he marched to her door with grim purpose and didn’t bother to ring the chimepad. Instead, he ran his capsulekey in front of the door panel and released the locks, stepping through just as the door opened. He strode into the apartment, not knowing what to expect and not much caring, and was immensely gratified to see a fleeting expression of shock on Domina’s face.
She hadn’t changed her clothes yet, but the artfully arranged seduction theme was largely dismantled now, and she had apparently been getting ready to eat something. Gregory dropped the MobileEye to the ground and it scuttled to an appropriate vantage point.
“Gregory, that MobileEye is going to be a lot of trouble for you if I decide to lodge a complaint with MarsGov over my treatment as a supposed religious-political refugee under your protection,” Domina said, with a lightness in her voice but venomous malice in her green eyes.
“It’s not recording, Domina. Just transmitting. It’s here so that my very tense personal guards outside can pounce if you try anything that they are actually secretly hoping you will try,” the Peteris said. “They haven’t been able to take down someone on my behalf in months. And Miko is especially irritated at your attempts to seduce me away from my Amaranth. Only she and Ghost consider themselves worthy for that role.”
“Gregory, I’m quite done for the night. Once you’ve had a chance to dream of me intensely for at least a night, we’ll start over with the seduction and obfuscation again.”
“No, Domina, we’re not quite done yet. We may be in an hour or two, but not yet.”
Domina arched one eyebrow and let a slight smirk curl up one corner of her still-glistening lips. “Gregory, an entire hour or two for me? So we’ll have foreplay as well? How dashing.”
“I want to talk about Pope Kuang-Hsu, Domina. I want to know why Pope Tommis went the way of the corpse just before a cognos upload, just like Kuang-Hsu did, and I want to know what you had to do with it,” Gregory said. He sat down in a chair, leaned back as leisurely as one could in formal papal garb, and crossed one leg over the other as if it was his own common room. “That would truly get my juices warming.”
The smile vanished from Domina’s face. She never sat down once over the next 80 minutes and she barely spoke. From an information-gathering standpoint, it was a nearly complete failure for Gregory. It was disappointing, but not unexpected.
Still, when he left her apartment, Gregory felt better than he had since she first arrived seeking asylum from the UFC.
Lyseena was back in the admin suite, and about half of the Pit staff had been released for the evening; the Grand Requiem tomorrow for the Red Pope was going to require that at least some of her staff had some real sleep and weren’t operating on caff and stimtabs alone—particularly with the even larger Fourth Millennium Celebration to monitor the next day.
Her two admin officers, Paulo and Kevan, were gathered with her, along with Ather and Willem. It was important that all of them get a few hours of sleep tonight, but even more important that they snip off as many loose ends as possible before they did so.
“It is my assumption that if indeed Secular Genesis, or any other terrorist groups—or both—have plans to do harm to the Catholic Union with some kind of dramatic actions, it will happen tomorrow,” Lyseena said. “We need to make sure we have our eyes everywhere and that our people are focused. I cannot shake the feeling that the Red Pope’s death is just too convenient. I think someone killed Pope Tommis to create chaos either before or during the millennial activities, and I think they will strike during the one day we will have tens of thousands of people gathered in the streets and sloppy security—during tomorrow’s requiem. It had to be held, and we have had almost no time to prepare for it.”
All of them simply nodded, except for Ather, who was monitoring something on his lightdesk; Lyseena knew he was listening, though, and that he didn’t substantially disagree with her assessment.
“What I want to get a handle on are the new players we weren’t aware of and find out if they might be the vectors by which we see trouble tomorrow,” Lyseena continued. “So that means we need to find out whatever we can tonight, however small, about Thomas, Kylie, Nemesis and this Enn character who’s baiting us…”
Paulo frowned as Lyseena trailed off. Kevan seemed about to say something when Lyseena’s head suddenly snapped upward.
“Fuck me with a stunrod,” she hissed, in an uncharacteristic moment of outright swearing. “Merciful Mother of God. Hold on a moment, all of you.”
Lyseena’a fingers danced over her holo-projected command-board for several minutes. No one commented and no one moved. “Weeping Jesus,” she said finally. She tapped a key on the lightdesk to synch up several open workfields on her lightdesk with their own desks.
“We’ve tracked back one of the earliest communications between Enn, Adam and Elisya to about 20 weeks ago,” Lyseena said. “The first flash-dump from Maree’s chair that was aimed at Nemesis was 17 weeks ago. Before then, we hadn’t heard of either one of them.”
She waited for a moment. Ather nodded, and looked mildly sick over the fact he had missed the connection. Then it dawned on the others, or so it seemed to Lyseena as she looked at their faces. But just to be certain, she said it out loud: “Nemesis. Enn. The letter ‘N.’ Nemesis and Enn are the same person. I’m sure of it.”
Paulo spoke up. “What about our name searches? We’ve been trolling the databases for people with names like Ennis, Ennette, Enqrique, Enne and Enfield. Should we get off that track?”
“Heavens no,” Ather said, predicting Lyseena’s response. “Names within names within names. If Nemesis is playing games, he or she might still have based the monikers on a real name.”
“Gentlemen, we officially have a new player on the field,” Lyseena said, “and I think he or she might be a real danger to us.”
In one sense, it wasn’t all that surprising to Gregory Dyson to see a woman crouched on his bed clad only in a robe as he entered his bedchamber a couple hours after finishing with Domina; he had expected, on some level, that she would be cunning enough to find a way to his suite and past his defenses. And he wouldn’t have been much of a man, he suspected, if some tiny part of him didn’t almost want that to happen, even with the risk that the woman might be an assassin.
Not only wasn’t it Domina, though, but he didn’t recognize the woman on his bed at all, and that did take him quite by surprise.
His hand immediately brushed against the hem of his vestments to activate the security call.
Nothing happened. The woman smiled and leaned back on her fists, chest thrust forward and eyes piercing him. Her dull brown hair, a limp and semi-tangled mass, fell away from her face, revealing pale, puffy skin with too many freckles and a hooked nose.
“I have ensured that we will not be interrupted, Peteris,” the woman said. “No one is coming to your aid.”
The words made Gregory’s blood run cold and his brain swim with images of two dead bodyguards in the side hallway—until he realized, with much embarrassment, mild amusement and just a sliver of anger that the voice coming from this strange woman was his wife’s.
“You’re lucky I don’t carry a sidearm under the official robes, darling one,” Gregory said, shedding the heavy vestments to reveal a light skeinsuit beneath, and sitting on the corner of the bed.
“You’re a lousy shot anyway,” Amaranth Dyson responded with a snicker and then a pained wince. She sat up straight and her robe opened just enough to show a hint of the maple-colored skin her husband was accustomed to. “I see you finally took my advice about wearing body armor, though.”
“The Red Pope’s former steward came to visit. I thought it prudent to start taking some of your advice after that happened.” With that, he began to shed the skeinsuit as well.
Amaranth frowned. “Domina xec-Academie? Is she dead or in custody?”
“She’s in residence,” he responded, finally ridding himself of the flexible polymesh armor and sitting on the bed next to his wife, now clad only in a light, sweaty undergarment. “The entire third level of our UFC floors in Candlestand 33.”
The Paulis cocked an eyebrow and grimaced in a way that made her look like she was both sick to her stomach and ready to embark on a mild seizure. “I’ve heard rumors about this woman, but she can’t…possibly…fuck…that well,” she said in measured tones.
“You’d be surprised,” Gregory told his wife. He let the rage sizzle in his wife’s eyes for only a few moments then smiled warmly, took one of her hands, kissed it gently and held it to his cheek. “I’m joking, my sweet. You damned well deserve it after trying to give me a heart attack with the haggish-looking assassin routine. We’ll talk more about Domina tomorrow, but suffice to say for now that she sought asylum and I gave it to her, even if I don’t trust her the tiniest little bit. Right now, though, I just want to slip under the covers with you.” He pulled her unnaturally pale hand away from his face and peered at her fingers. “Nanos?”
“Yeah. Boris’ idea. Temporary skinjob to get us on an express passenger vessel. I actually posed as a Dry Sister. People expect them all to look like hags anyway.” She pulled open the front of the robe then raised up her arms to let the sleeves fall. The pale skin of her face and neck ended sharply at the tops of her breasts and on her arms gradually darkened halfway up her forearm until her natural brown color returned just before the elbows. “Being a rush job, though, it hurts like a motherhump. That thing you just did with my hand better be the most aggressive move you try to put on me for at least a couple days.”
“Surely the medtechs can get you some painkillers to take for a day or two; the pain has got to ease up long before the nanowork reverses itself over the next week or so.”
“No—because I’m going to the medtechs very, very early in the morning to get the cosmetic changes reversed immediately with another set of nanos and that will make me hurt five times as much and for twice as long, Boris tells me. I’ll get something minor to take to dull the aches, but I’m not feeling patient. I want my nose back, I want to be cocoa all over again, and I want this limp pile of nastiness on my scalp returned to glossy, healthy black kinks before bedtime tomorrow. Being in agony a couple days is worth that.”
She settled against Gregory’s chest and sighed. “I had a lousy Christmas out there on the wander, Greg, and the New Year isn’t looking that much better. I want to be myself again and I want a few days of no one trying to kill me.”
Trying not to touch her anywhere it might hurt, Gregory pulled his wife toward the pillows and held her as tightly as he dared. A few minutes later, he mumbled, “I love you, Ammie.”
She was already asleep, but he said “I love you” one more time all the same, and then joined her in dreams.
(This marks the end of chapter 4. To read part 22, which begins chapter 5, click here.)