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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 9, Reunions and Seekings (continued)
“You took a great deal of time sedating and storing the doomed Stavin,” Sarai noted; it had been more than a day-cycle since they had discovered from him the honor-claim that Maree Deschaine had on him—the one thing that delayed the execution of their own vengeance. “Did you encounter difficulties with him?”
“Not at all, sister,” Mehrnaz replied. “But it occurred to me that given the depth and nature of their relationship as co-conspirators against the Catholic Union, he must have methods of contacting the Maree-avenger. So I brought with me substances to loosen his tongue before I prepared him for stasis.”
“Your demeanor indicates that you were successful, but why would you suppose that the Maree-avenger would be monitoring any usual channels of contact with him?”
“Because he assaulted her, burned her family, and set a hellpod upon her city, dear sister,” Mehrnaz said with some amusement. “And she does not seem to subscribe to the usual notions of Catholic forgiveness. I suspect she wants his blood, and will look anywhere that he might turn up and reveal himself.”
“Very well, then. Now the only problem is in determining how to compose a message that will actually convince her to tell us where to find her.”
* * *
It was getting harder to keep Bohlliam in check. It was taking so much longer than she thought to knit her mind back together. Almost a day now that he had been hidden in a dark corner of one of the basements of the hospital, without food or water. Grace had been able to suppress his thirst and hunger a bit, and she was actively feeding him as many blissful emotions as she could while she worked, but he was beginning to become impatient.
And if he became too impatient, he might also become suspicious.
She knew she was close, though. Almost ready to make the leap. In fact, she had already knitted together all the connections she needed to create. Everything was ready. Except that she couldn’t do anything until her father was there. Everything hinged on that.
Bohlliam began to send waves of complaint once more, and she tamped them down as gently as possible.
I’m still here with you, Bohlliam. I will always be with you, she lied.
And then she sensed her father beside her body. Just barely felt the touch of his hand on the cheek of her little body, several levels above.
Grace leapt. It wasn’t her most graceful psychic act of all time, but she didn’t dare be cautious now.
Bohlliam felt the connections tear in his mind. He sensed her attempted flight and grabbed at her.
But she was gone.
In the sub-basement, Bohlliam howled as all those beautiful, borrowed emotions were torn from him like food from a starving man.
* * *
Paulo looked down upon the sleeping face of his daughter and saw so much of her mother in there right now. He felt a pang of physical discomfort at that. He had saved his daughter, and probably lost her mind in the process. He could come here to grieve and bear watch as an uncle, but never admit his fatherhood.
And in all this, he couldn’t even properly mourn the woman who had been his wife in all the ways that mattered—the woman who had taken the name and place of his cousin to remain hidden from the authorities and prevent Paulo from being punished for breaking his vows. He couldn’t tell anyone around him, “I have lost the woman to whom I gave my heart for safekeeping.” He could only be a man mourning a dear cousin.
So it was bittersweet feelings that he bent forward to kiss Grace’s brow.
“Daddy,” she whispered into his ear.
She hadn’t spoken once since her virtually unprotected passage through slipspace. “Grace? Grace?”
“Say nothing. Call no physicians in here,” she said. “Everything depends on that.”
Even with his elation at hearing her voice, even with the rising hope that her mind could be saved, Paulo’s perceptions weren’t so dulled that he could prevent feeling a little thrill of fear.
My daughter is speaking with a little girl’s voice. But not a little girl’s words.
And then another frightening thought took hold.
How does she know I’m her father? We never told her.
With the barest of whispers, he asked, “Why?”
She hugged his neck fiercely and kissed his cheek.
“A man with a sensorium array is going to be looking for me right now,” she whispered. “He won’t give up. You have to run, Daddy. You have to run with me now.”
“It’s not that easy, Gracie. I can’t just run, I know you don’t understand, but I need…”
“You need to deal with the problem of our IDentipods,” she interrupted, nothing of a little girl’s inflections in that youthful voice. “You need to somehow forge transit documents. You need to get past hospital security. How long do you need?”
Paulo pulled away from her slightly, looked down into her eyes. His daughter was there, her eyes filled with trust and fear and love. But they were a woman’s eyes, so much like Gina’s. They weren’t the eyes of the weeping daughter he had carried through the slipgate. “What happened to you, Grace? What are you?”
“Your daughter,” she said, an edge in her voice now; not anger, exactly, but maybe desperation. “I’m still that. I always have been, I always will be. How long do you need?”
“Two days, maybe three,” he said. “I can have someone brought here to guard the room. Or hunt this man down.”
“Under what pretext?” Grace asked. “And if the med-techs or physicians walk in here right now and see us talking like this, I’ll be taken away from you for study and evaluation and observation, seeing as no one has ever gotten their mind back after a trip like mine.”
“If I just run with you, we’ll be caught before I can even get out of the city.”
“I can play comatose for the doctors for a day and probably hide my mind from Bohlliam that long, Daddy. That’s all I can promise.”
“Do you know where this man is, Grace?”
“Until five minutes ago, he was in a sub-basement near where some linens are stored.”
“Will you be all right?”
Her head was already back against the pillows, in the same composure and demeanor as before her mind had returned. For a sickening moment, Paulo feared he had imagined this entire episode.
But then, speaking out of the side of her mouth, eyes still closed, she said, “I’ll have to be. But if you can find him and kill him quietly, that would certainly make our lives much easier.”
(To read the next installment in this story, click here.)
I like what you’re doing with Grace.
Reminds me of the Dune books. Alia, or Leto and his sister, can’t remember her name. I used to love those books before the old man died. Now they are just trash. But, when Frank Hebert was alive, man, that dude could tell a freaking story! And his character, I swear that I used to start thinking in Dune speech while reading his books.
“Dune” is one of the few books I’ve read probably five times or more in my life now (and I’ve read everything else except Chapterhouse: Dune at least twice). I’m often startled at how the series’ influences have wormed their way into my narrative here…not as exact copies but as very clear influences and inspirations, sometimes conscious and sometimes not.
– The use of religion for social control
– The Sisters of the Red Sun, who in many ways hearken back to the Fremen of Arrakis.
– The ways in which Domina (whom we haven’t seen much of lately) acts like a more sexualized version of the Bene Gesserit (or perhaps, a less martial version of the Matrons from Chapterhouse: Dune)
And those are just the ones I’ve noticed…I hadn’t even thought of the Grace-Alia connection until you just mentioned it, but as I look at her dynamic and think of some of the places her character will be going, I have to agree with you.
I’m glad I have enough aspects that sharply diverge from Frank Herbert (my future having heavy reliant on artificial intelligence, where Herbert’s future rejects it; mankind still being tied to its own solar system instead of spanning the stars; a culture that is anything but feudal/imperial; etc.), or else I’d be embarrassed. Instead, I find myself being very thankful that his work marked my life so heavily with his words, and left such a lasting impression.