For the previous installment of this story, click here.
Or, visit the Cleansed By Fire portal page for comprehensive links to previous chapter installments and additional backstory and information about the novel.
Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 9, Reunions and Seekings (continued)
Strange bed-partners indeed, Bechan Adym reminded himself yet again as he waited for the Voudoun priest to see him. Rabbi Brifel Mann had told him to seek out the houngano Varshtis Maongi for aid, and so he was here. But it was already hard enough being a good Jewish boy looking for help from another religion; so much the worse to have to look to help from one that had so many inadvertent spiritual ties to the Vatican thanks to the the mixing of Catholic, Haitian and tribal African religious traditions some 2,000 year or more earlier to create Voodoo—which was transfigured some four centuries ago into Voudoun.
When the houngano finally emerged from his office, Bechan was surprised to see how Asiatic the man’s features were, having completely forgotten how rapidly Voudoun had spread through nations in the Asian Republics—Chinan, Krishna and Dehli excepted—over the past century. Varshtis had obvious signs of Caribbean or African blood in his veins, but his Pacific Asian heritage showed so much more strongly.
The houngano greeted Bechan warmly, and introduced his priestess wife, the mambin Heathri Maongi, whose ancestry surprised Bechan even more, since she was as pale and blonde a Scanda as he had ever seen outside of high-art grid-vids from Denmark or Swedelund.
The negotiations for the Voudoun’s aid and how Brifel or Bechan would repay it later went well overall, and it was a pleasant enough transaction, though Bechan was uncomfortably aware of the sliptrans implants that the couple wore so prominently on their necks and brows, as did almost all hounganos and mambins.
The Voudoun is probably the only religion that can truly say its gods talk to its practitioners, Bechan pondered, thinking about the history of their religion. The Vatican had virtualized the memories of its popes with the Godhead, but they didn’t try to virtualize God. The Voudoun, on the other hand, have at least 13 AIs scattered across the planet, and maybe elsewhere in the solar system, each of which was a virtualization of one of their L’wha—their godling representatives of their Great Good God Bondye. For all I know, one of the L’wha is riding Varshtis, or Heathri, right now. I can’t know if I’m dealing with a human or an AI that thinks itself a minor god.
But, it seemed to Bechan, if one of the L’wha was running the show at the moment, using either the priest’s or priestess’ body, then the gods must be with him, because the houngano and mambin were generous with their help and modest in their demands.
As they finished up, and he rose to leave, Varshtis paused significantly, slapped himself on the side of his skull, and laughed softly. “Oh, my Hebrew friend, I almost forgot.”
“Forgot what?” Bechan asked, trying to keep his voice mild.
“Why, your zombi, of course,” the houngano said, his gaze becoming briefly flinty before it softened back into slight amusement. “A gift for you.”
A short man in simple trousers and a long coat moved into the room, and settled himself into a casual stance a foot away from Bechan, all the world like a trained dog who had just come to heel.
Bechan’s stomach felt a cold clench of despair as he remembered his parting words to Brifel in Jerusalem, and his off-hand joke.
Maybe they’ll loan me a zombi for my journeys, I had told him. Something to do the heavy work and not force me listen to small talk.
There was no way to refuse this gift of a zombi, some person who had been largely turned into a human automaton—whether willingly or unwillingly Bechan would probably never know—because to do so would be to unravel all these negotiations for help.
It was disturbing in part because a zombi was something altogether illegal to possess in most nations of the world.
But what was all the more disturbing was that the houngano and mambin had known he had made the joke to Brifel. Because Brifel would never have passed along that comment to them.
As Bechan looked into the calm and confident smile of the houngano, he realized the message sent by gifting him a zombi.
We know more than you can imagine. The ears and eyes of our L’wha reach far. And your ancient religion is still tied too much to scrolls and rituals. While we have our gods on the SystemGrid.
It was a sharp reminder to Bechan that friends often came at a high price, and he hoped he wouldn’t have to make too many more friends in this journey.
(For the next installment of this story, click here.)