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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes (continued)
Sauntering over to the rack in the hostel-like quarters he was occupying temporarily, Daniel Coxe reached out toward a cloak and caught the eye of his babysitter, Manguang—though he was sure the man would prefer Daniel think of him as a liaison to the Peteris and Paulis. The taller man smiled slightly and nodded.
“Yes, Daniel, that is a nightcloak. You are planning to go out this evening?”
“I’m not confined to quarters, am I?”
“Not at all, but I thought you might avoid the public eye on the day the Vatican declared open warfare on the UFC, being a refugee.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “First, I’m not UFC. Second, there is no reason the Vatican would be looking very hard for me on Mars nor any reason for the few Vatican lackeys who work here to have a clue who I am; I doubt very many people are assigned to find me anywhere on Earth, frankly. Third, I’m hardly a security risk for the Vatican. Security in the Godhead’s complex would have been updated the moment I went missing. Sure, I have an explosive secret, but it’s a secret that the popes don’t even know exists, so they have no reason to fear me.”
“I’m not finished,” Daniel said, waggling a finger. “Fourth, I’m a flipping gambler. I have to live life a little dangerously. By the way, Manguang, are you going to explain to me why the nightcloaks are just a little thicker and way heavier than the daycloaks, since the temperature out in the passages retains the same brisk late autumn bite all day long? Or are you having too much fun running the outworlder through the ignorance obstacle course?”
“Guilty as charged, Daniel. One finds amusement where one can, and Earthers are such fun sport, particularly when we find someone who so clearly hasn’t perused a single Martian guidepack.”
“I didn’t know I was coming to Mars until I started heading here,” Daniel growled. “So? Nightcloaks. Why so heavy?”
“You haven’t been out in the common areas during nightcycle, yet, so you haven’t had the pleasure. Unless it’s a tourist-heavy zone, a-grav systems are turned down for power conservation. Instead of 89% Earth gravity, you have 65% E-grav. A 24 percentage point shift downward is a bit much for even a native. Tourists don’t usually bother with the cloaks. It’s a Martian thing. Tourists will just wear Earth-style coats and put a pair of grounders on their feet if they want to see the real Mars at night.”
“So it’s not a cultural faux pas like you said to wear a daycloak at night or the other way around?”
“Oh, it is. If you’re native or live here long enough, you can spot a daycloak vs. a nightcloak on sight. Subtle differences. If a person is wearing the wrong kind, it’s either an offworlder or a braggart, depending.”
“A Martian who wears a daycloak at night is saying ‘I don’t need the help; I’m better than all of you.’ Young dips do it sometimes. Travs sometimes, too, but usually only for the purposes of one of those insane physical challenges they love.”
“What about wearing a nightcloak during the day if you’re Martian?”
Manguang chuckled. “Would you want to announce to the world that you’re too incompetent to walk properly in almost 90% Earth grav without being weighted down? Enjoy your night out, Daniel. Do be careful at the casinos, which I’m sure are your destination. You aren’t as rich as you once were.”
“The Vatican only shot down the account I had in the Union. I can afford to lose a bit still. And shite, I could even win.”
Charlyes was amazed at how quickly even Hauruld Taguire had located the man he was looking for. Now all that stood between him and his quarry was a locked door. But some skills, Charlyes believed, should never be left to rot, so that wasn’t truly a problem at all.
However, he was far too old to be doing any of the rough stuff, which is why after calling on Hauruld earlier he had cashed in yet another favor to borrow some muscle from a smuggler acquaintance for the next few weeks. Just one man, but a very tall, broad-shouldered, square-jawed, agile and powerful one—someone he might have tried to seduce during in his more impetuous youth.
It was that man who entered the room first and, after a struggle so brief it could hardly be called one, there was silence. Charlyes strode into the room, put his finger to his lips and said, “I am going to close this door now, Tobin. Be a good lad and don’t make any noises that will require the permanent dislocation or removal of your cervical spine. Raul, did Mr. Deschaine give you any trouble?”
“Nosir,” the big man responded. “I expect you could’ve taken ‘im down yourself.”
“No need to emasculate the man, Raul. Even though hand-to-hand was never his strong-suit, even when he was keeping himself in shape, he can take a fossil like me. I do imagine he’s still very good with the guns. Maree excelled at both, thank heavens.”
“If he’s so good with guns, he should’ve kept one under the pillow ‘case someone like me came callin’ I think.”
“Raul, a man who truly appreciates the deadly nature of a gun and loves life will not go sleeping with one right next to his skull every night.”
“Charlyes,” Tobin said, more to end the banter between his intruders than anything else. “How the hell did you find me?”
“I was a contract investigator when your father was still in diapers, Tobin. I was a bond hunter when he was entering secondary education. I think that more to the point, you should be concerned as to why I found you.”
“So answer your own question already.”
“Tobin, I wanted to see how you were feeling about…things…since January first.”
“Replay that, please,” Tobin said.
“I was wondering if, after the events in Nova York, you are feeling the requisite level of concern for Secular Genesis—which took you to its bosom so long ago and nurtured you—now that it stands on the precipice and faces down the Vatican.”
“That depends, Charlyes. For whose benefit are you seeking an answer to that?”
“I ask questions, Tobin. I don’t give clues. You want clues, get invited to a quiz-vid show.”
“I’m very concerned that the people currently in charge of Secular Genesis aren’t already rounded up or dead so someone saner can take charge of the movement,” Tobin said, measuring his words carefully and speaking slowly, almost as if they tasted odd on his tongue. “Maree was right, damn her, and I hope she kills the lot of you.”
“Well, you won’t want me on that purge list,” Charlyes said with a wink. “And the only answer out of your mouth that I’d have liked better would have been one in which you expressed a bit more concern for Maree’s safety than for her ability to get herself into more trouble. Get dressed and pack light. I’m going to see if I can turn you into a goddamned father again, or something resembling one.”
It had been bitterly disappointing not to find Stavin here, Maree had to admit to herself, but the man she no longer considered her father hadn’t promised her he would be. It was merely another step on the path.
And if there was any consolation—and it was an awfully nice consolation prize—the man she did surprise in the cargo distribution bay was one of the two thugs who had restrained her while Stavin had gone to work on her with the spoon and the stunrod. Never having gotten their names from them or from Stavin, she simply had thought of them as Ogre and Troll since that night. This was Ogre, with his pug nose and dark little eyes set under a thick, fuzzy unibrow.
He had let out a high-pitched, girly yelp when Maree “emerged” from the side of the cargo crate, a vision of banded-steel in the shape of a woman until the wraithskein gave up the camouflage and shifted to an opaque gray. Minutes later Ogre was bound tightly with carbonwire and gagged with an oily rag and trying very hard to look defiant, even though Maree figured it was 50-50 that he would let loose his bowels in a heartbeat if she said “boo.”
Although she still felt very cross toward him for being part of her recent assault, she started by asking him nicely how she could find Stavin without having to muck around with official channels or potentially deadly snares.
When the polite approach failed, she returned the gag to his mouth and decided to pay homage to her treatment at Stavin’s hand, and went to the break room in the bay to find a spoon. They were fresh out of large slotted mixing spoons like the one she had owned before her cottage burned down, and the largest they had was a modest soup spoon, but there was no reason to be quite so literal. After all, she was already going to break with the culinary tradition Stavin had created by picking different anatomical paths than he had.
She began by shoving the handle of the spoon into Ogre’s left ear until she ruptured his eardrum, and then she shoved a bit farther and twisted a few times. She explained to him in calm, measured tones that as much as she shared Stavin’s love of symmetry (as when he hammered both her shoulders with the stunrod), she would absolutely not be ruining his other ear, because she wanted to make sure he could still hear her questions—and his own muffled screams about anything else she might do to him. He didn’t void his bowels at that, but his bladder did experience a momentary failure.
Still, though, he showed reluctance to answer Maree’s questions honestly when she removed the gag, so she pushed the rag back into his mouth and used the large end of the spoon to demonstrate just how far she could shove it into his wounded ear. The damage to bone and cartilage did finally loosen his bowels a bit but it also caused him to pass out. She broke a stimpod under his nose and when he awoke with a shudder, she shoved the capsule up one of his nostrils to make sure he stayed awake.
When Maree promised to stop abusing his head so badly if he would only be more forthcoming, his tongue loosened, but not as much as his bladder and bowels had before. So, she offered to let him watch her shove the wide end of the spoon all the way up the smallest hole and narrowest passage available to her on his body. She wriggled her fingers above his pantzip to punctuate her point.
After that threat, Ogre proved to be very accommodating, and Maree heard real honesty in his words. Men are such babies when you get around to that part of their anatomy, she mused.
He even sounded sincere when he apologized for burning the two little girls along with her three adult cousins—a wholly unsolicited piece of information that apparently whatever was left of his conscience felt inspired to reveal as a bonus.
This got the five charred corpses in her head to stand up and take notice; a shame, really, since she had finally gotten them to sit the shit down and not draw her attention to them. But now she felt their eyes looking through her and into him. Really, though, they were looking at her too, and they were quite clear about what they wanted. What Maree wanted, really. It was justice, after all, that she was after. She knew the corpses in her head were just convenient mental constructs—her conscience gone wild. She had gone around some kind of bend since learning that Stavin had carried out his threats against her family, of that she was certain—but she was confident she hadn’t descended into outright madness.
Maree almost felt sorry for Ogre; she hadn’t even considered that he might have been one of the arsonist-murderers that had carried out Stavin’s orders. Prior to that revelation, she had simply been planning on slaying him quickly, but no longer. For a moment, she was tempted to carry out her threat about the spoon before she killed him, but that seemed too cruel given that he had actually told her what she wanted to know. Instead, she simply made a very leisurely process out of the slitting of his throat.
Ogre made the most appalling noises, even through the rag in his mouth.
If only you knew what I just decided to spare you, because you would have made even worse noises then.
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