Cleansed By Fire, the Story So Far (pt. 1)

Even summarizing things, I’ve already got a lot of text just for the first four chapters. So, for those of you who have been reading my novel and have lost track of things since it’s been going on for so long…and for those of you more recently come to my novel who need a summary, too…here are the first four chapters outlined for you, with the other five current chapters to be summarized in a day or so.

Then it will be back to work to conclude (over another few chapters at least) this first novel…in what I fear will be a trilogy of novels ultimately.


Chapter 1, Requiem for the Red Pope

As the end of third millennium approaches, one of the three popes of the Terran Catholic Church (which, through the Vatican, controls the better part of three continents—the Catholic Union—both politically and spiritually) has died. Against the backdrop of the Red Pope’s demise, regional templar commander Lyseena xec-Juris in Nova York brings together her administrative officers—Paulo sup-Juris, a polished officer who had been raised in a wealthy merchant-class family; Mare exec-Juris, a more hard-around-the-edges officer; and Kevan sup-Juris, a more wise-cracking officer. In that meeting, they discuss the challenges of handling security for the upcoming millennial celebration (the templars being a national investigative and law enforcement body), just days away, and having to handle security for the Red Pope’s requiem celebration, which will be held the day prior.

The steward for Lyseena’s office, Willem Staffordis—whose job it is to serve both as a secretary/administrative assistant and as a watchdog for the Vatican in the regional templar office—brings Lyseena news that a pair of her most talented technical officers, Adam and Elisya, (who are in their official pre-marriage courtship period) have been caught in the act of premarital sex (a crime, but relatively minor) and the use of birth control (a very serious crime in the Catholic Union). Lyseena orders Adam to be sent for castration and eventual assignment to a work farm for life, and orders Elisya to have her ova harvested and be sent to serve with the Dry Sisters, a sort of medical/healthcare equivalent to the templars.

Seeing a few too many coincidences with the convenient revelation of Adam and Elisya’s activities, along with the suspicious death of the Red Pope just before the chaos and stress of the millennial celebrations, Lyseena meets with Ather sup-Juris, who is both an interrogator for the templars as well as an internal affairs officer and intelligence officer under the service of the Black Pope. She asks him to look into the suspicious affairs.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Gregory Dyson, the Peteris (co-pope) of the church known as the Universal Faith Catholic (UFC), receives a Vatican ambassador, Samuel Landers, who invites him and his wife, Amaranth Dyson (who, as Paulis, is the other co-pope of the UFC) to the requiem and millennial celebrations on Earth. As the Vatican has long been at odds (and sometimes open hostilities and warfare) with the UFC, which is a far more liberal faith institution (and unlike the Vatican, does NOT have any kind of political or territorial control), Gregory deduces this is a trap, and declines. Also, as Amaranth is missing on Earth, after a bloodless coup orchestrated by the Catholic Union in the African nation of Uhuru, Gregory takes the opportunity to deliver a subtle insult to the ambassador before dismissing him.

Later, Gregory receives a visitor, Domina xec-Academie, who was the right-hand administrator for the late Red Pope. She requests asylum. Although he mistrusts her, and she immediately begins their relationship by unsuccessfully trying to seduce him, he grants her asylum because she claims to have important information about the demise of the Red Pope (including evidence that his death was orchestrated), a death that Gregory fears the UFC will be blamed for. However, the asylum he grants is a sort of “house arrest” so that he won’t lose track of her.

Back in Nova York, as Lyseena’s team heads home for the night, Maree sup-Juris makes some covert communications to a terrorist/resistance group (Secular Genesis, which seeks the downfall of the Vatican and, ultimately, all religious institutions) that she is secretly part of, in an effort to confront her cell leader, Stavin, who has put her in harm’s way by remotely accessing her data at the templar offices too frequently and blatantly.

Chapter 2, Women and Children

A successful British lawyer named Daniel Coxe, who had in more recent years become an artificial intelligence systems programmer for the Vatican, discovers anomalies in the Vatican’s premier AI, the Godhead (which holds the memories of dozens of previous popes and many memories of the current ones as well), which indicate that the Godhead has secretly created an AI child, without authorization and without telling anyone.

Amaranth, who had been on Earth as part of her missionary duties as Paulis of the UFC, is on the run from the Vatican with her bodyguard, having gotten most of her team safely off the planet, and the two of them prepare to don some quick disguises through the miracles of high-tech temporary cosmetic surgery, to slip away themselves.

Maree arrives home, having demanded that her cell leader, Stavin, meet her there to discuss her role in his plans, only to find that she was being monitored all along, and he is already there waiting for her with two thugs. He assaults her and threatens her by promising to burn several of her family members alive if she doesn’t cooperate with his plans.

Getting set up in the very large set of suites that Gregory has granted her (so that he cannot be accused of holding her a literal prisoner), Domina installs a tiny device into her new apartment’s computer systems to facilitate secret communications with someone called the Nazarene, who is behind her false “defection” to the UFC.

Bartelle D’Onofrio, captain of the warwagon Scion’s Dream (the single most powerful military spacecraft in the Vatican’s orbital armada), stands over the body of a man he has just killed in his quarters, mere days before the captain is set to retire from the military and take Vatican vows to become a governor of one of the Catholic Union’s regions on Earth.

One of Lyseena’s three templar admin officers, Paulo sup-Juris, goes to his aunt’s home instead of his own apartment, and lays in bed with Gina, whom everyone thinks is his cousin, not realizing that his real cousin has relocated under another identity to let this woman take her place and be close to Paulo. The false Gina is Paulo’s lover, with whom he has a child named Grace, and this puts him in violation of his vows (of loyalty and chastity) and puts him and “Gina” in violation of several very serious laws of the Catholic Union.

In space, Emil Standish, a member of the resistance/terrorist group Secular Genesis, meets with twin sisters Mehrnaz and Sarai (the Sisters of the Red Sun), who are elite mercenaries, to deliver necessary equipment for a mysterious job (which they don’t even know the full details of) that they are to perform for Secular Genesis. In the process, the xenophobic Emil, who distrusts genetically engineered races (the sisters are members of the Ishmaeli race), mortally insults their honor and almost gets himself killed in the process.

At the end of the day, as Paulo lays with his illegal wife, Lyseena frets about her spiritual and temporal duties and prays for herself and her admin officers, knowing nothing of Maree’s betrayals or Paulo’s indiscretions. Meanwhile, Lyseena’s other admin officer, Kevan, has perverse and sadistic dreams that give us a window into the darker parts of his nature that he hides behind his public demeanor and his jokes.

As morning comes, Maree gets into a vehicle with her Secular Genesis shadow, and acts as if she is cowed by Stavin’s threats and demands the night before. Instead, en route to the city, she kills the man who is to bring her to work and keep tabs on her, and embarks on her own agenda, fearful that her decision might cost family members their lives.

Chapter 3, Narrow Paths and Wide Gates

In the commandeered vehicle of the Secular Genesis operative she has just killed, Maree picks up a unaware Paulo, who thinks it’s the livery car he had ordered to take him back to the office. Once she reveals her identity, she tells Paulo that she knows about his illegal relationship with Gina and his illegitimate child, Grace, and demands that he reveal her as a Secular Genesis plant and spy and round up her relatives for questioning to keep them out of Stavin’s hands.

On Scion’s Dream, in orbit above Earth, we discover that the man that Captain Bartelle D’Onofrio killed was the ship’s counselor, Drewtine Atkins, and that his murder was ordered for some reason by the Nazarene as part of some larger scheme.

Daniel Coxe, knowing that his discovery of the Godhead’s secret AI “child” can only lead to trouble for himself, arranges with one of his cousins to meet at a casino soon in another region of the Catholic Union, in order to figure out how to get him out of the Catholic Union and hopefully back to his original homeland in Europa.

We discover that Ather sup-Juris has some kind of deep affection for Lyseena (although their vows would prohibit acting on any such thing), and that he has some information to give to her regarding the recent mysterious happenings.

Maree tests the wraithskein (high-tech camouflage bodysuit) she took from the man she killed who was supposed to shadow her, and considers her options, deciding finally that she won’t seek vengeance on Stavin and will instead just abandon both her lives: working with Secular Genesis and serving as a templar for the Catholic Union. Then she hears a news report that lets her know Paulo wasn’t able to round up all of her family, and that Stavin did indeed burn those few relatives alive, some of them children. At that point, she commits herself to a path of revenge.

Ather shares with Lyseena intelligence suggesting that Adam and Elisya were set up to be caught in flagrante by someone named Enn whom they both thought was a friend.

Emil reports back to Stavin, who is furious that he insulted the Sisters of the Red Sun. As punishment, he decides to ship Emil back to the twins with evidence of his xenophobic hatred for their kind. Although some of Stavin’s fellow cell leaders are concerned that Emil’s actions may have jeopardized their plans, Staving assures them that things will remain on track. We also get the first mention of a mysterious figure named Nemesis, who is helping Secular Genesis and seems to have a secret to arming hellpods (weapons of mass destruction that came all too close to exterminating humanity many centuries earlier).

In recovery after his castration, and awaiting his forced servitude on a work farm, Adam finds himself blaming Elisya for his predicament and receives a covert message from Enn that reveals that Enn betrayed both him and Elisya.

Daniel, under the pretext of taking a weekend trip, heads for Pacifica to meet with his cousin and try to flee the Catholic Union. En route, he finds out about a new product to allow AIs to lie, a notion he scoffs at.

Gregory gives the UFC’s premier AI, Ghost, some investigative tasks related to Domina and the late Red Pope.

Ather discovers that Secular Genesis was tapping templar data through Maree, and also reveals to Lyseena that Maree’s ascension in the templar organization seems to have been part of a plot going back at least three generations, and which included her father, Tobin Deschaine, also a celebrated templar officer. They decide to track down Tobin, who now lives very much under the radar, to help locate Maree.

The Sisters of the Red Sun speculate about the seemingly innocent shuttle that they are supposed to launch for Secular Genesis, and what nefarious things it might hide. Meanwhile, on Scion’s Dream, Bartelle prepares to frame a crewman for the disappearance of Counselor Atkins and implicate both men in various conspiracies as part of the Nazarene’s grand plan.

Lyseena tightens procedures for her staff in the wake of Maree’s betrayal, and brings Ather in to temporarily fill the gap left by Maree. After this, Lyseena meets with Gyles xec-Juris, who nominally leads the Red Orders until a new Red Pope is named (thus making Gyles her ultimate superior, practically speaking). Gyles berates her for failing to realize Maree was a traitor, but she turns the tables on him by revealing that he was in a better position to know, having been directly responsible for much of Maree’s career advancements (a fact she can prove and that he wouldn’t want public). She then forges an uneasy alliance and peace with Gyles by offering to get him a plum position using her own political capital, since he will lose his position when a new Red Pope is named, and he has no more favors he can call in. Before they part, Gyles reveals that he had planned to have Lyseena stripped of her rank right after Maree’s betrayal was discovered, but was headed off by the Godhead, for reasons unknown.

Chapter 4, Requiem’s Eve

As he waits for his cousin to meet him in the casino they’ve designated for his escape, Daniel looks forward to putting as much distance as possible between him and the Godhead AI (and the human elements of the Vatican, too), even as he listens to news of one nation invading another using an army of remote-controlled factory-grown troops (meat puppets).

After receiving news that he is to be a grandfather again soon, Gregory gets news from Ghost that there is a connection between Domina, the late Red Pope, and a White Pope of the past who died under similar suspicious circumstances. That earlier pope also turns out to have been the man indirectly responsible for almost eliminating Muslims worldwide through a custom virus (which also led to the death of many non-Muslim Arabs and Jews as well).

Paulo examines taunting communications from the mysterious Enn to the templars, then has a discussion with his aunt about his emotional neglect of Grace. He also tells his aunt to extend an invitation to Gina and Grace to attend the millennial celebrations in Nova York so that Paulo can meet with his lover and daughter secretly in public.

Maree murders a criminal she had been keeping safe for years as a street informer, and kills his lover as well, so that she can get a new IDentipod to hide her identity and aid her in avoiding the templars searching for her.

Having received Emil as a “peace offering” from Stavin, the Sisters of the Red Sun are unsure what to do with him (they don’t feel enough rancor to kill the man, as Stavin had hoped they would) but are culturally obligated to accept the gift, at least for a time. In the end, they decide that at least Emil might serve as an organic sex toy for now—a thought that the xenophobic man finds repugnant.

Lyseena breaks in two new tech officers to replace Adam and Elisya and finds out that at least one lead gleaned from Maree’s office and her betrayal has born fruit and netted them a suspect to question (a local priest) who seems to have links to Secular Genesis.

Gregory prepares to meet with Domina and try to get useful intelligence from her, despite knowing that her intentions aren’t totally honest. What he finds is a scene calculated to seduce him and befuddle him, and after some taunting and innuendo on Domina’s part, Gregory simply leaves in frustration and anger, unwilling to resort to extreme measures that might get information out of her.

Stavin consults with Nemesis via a secure audio transmission, and Nemesis warns him he shouldn’t have left Maree alive, though Stavin remains unconcerned about her.

Emil, having viewed his sexual treatment at the hands of the Sisters of the Red Sun as a rape (though culturally, they see it otherwise) and hating both of them simply for being Ishmaeli, he taunts and insults one of the twins when she comes to tend to him. Disgusted with his behavior and with Stavin for giving Emil to them, the twins launch him out of the airlock of their spacecraft.

Thinking that he is about to be transferred to the work farm where he will likely spend the rest of his life, Adam finds himself given over to officials from the office of the White Pope, and realizes with horror that he will be refitted and physically altered to be a drone in the service of the Dry Sisters, the very group to whom his former fiancée is being turned over.

With false identification in hand, Daniel boards a spacecraft bound for Mars, which his cousin has deemed the safest destination for him to be out of reach of the popes and the Godhead.

After collecting himself, Gregory returns to Domina’s suites for a surprise visit, and confronts her with the connection between the Red Pope and the long-dead Pope Kuang-Hsu whose viral technology almost wiped out Islam. Although he doesn’t get any information out of her, he is gratified to put her on the defensive for once.

Working late with her admin officers, Lyseena realizes that the mysterious Enn who set up Adam and Elisya is almost certainly the same individual as the person Nemesis they have recently found out about who is working with Secular Genesis.

After interrogating Domina, Gregory returns to his chambers, alarmed to find a strange woman on his bed, who turns out to be his wife, Amaranth, heavily altered by temporary cosmetic surgical work. He is overjoyed that she is alive and returned to Mars, though he gets a somewhat cold response at one point from her when she discovers the lavish appointments he has given Domina for her asylum (since Domina is responsible for much of the harassment that Amaranth endures from the Vatican when on Earth).

(part two of the summary is here.)

3 thoughts on “Cleansed By Fire, the Story So Far (pt. 1)

  1. Inda Pink

    Excellent! Cliff’s Notes version. Does this mean I’m off the hook and don’t have to torture myself by actually reading it since science fiction isn’t my thing?

  2. Deacon Blue

    Yeah, yeah, yeah…but if it involved NASCAR or punk rock, you’d be all over it. Bet your sister would read it… 😛

  3. Inda Pink

    VRRROOOOM, VROOOOMM —- you know it! And yeah you could try throwing in some rebel yells.

    Of course my sis would read it if I ever remembered to tell her about it the sci-fi/fantasy geek that she is.


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