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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 10, Strange Days
“Is Stavin a total void? Wiped trail? No twittering about him anywhere?” Kylie asked the man in her office, who was serving as liaison between her and the other Secular Genesis cell leaders this week.
“None, Domis. Not via linkpad nor Grid messaging nor any of the usual drop-points,” the man responded. “And he missed three critical salon appointments with Paradigm, Witta and Thomas. Three hours ago, per protocols, we shoutcalled his priv-trans and got nothing but vapor. We can’t even confirm if he’s alive, so either his priv-trans was cripped, he’s in custody under heavy shielding or he’s off-planet.”
“Are you linked up with the other cell leaders, and what are their opinions?” They were all trying to keep their locations and identities secure, and no one even wanted a virtual salon meeting right now since Stavin vanished. The man before her, whose name she didn’t know and didn’t want to know, and the sliptrans-equipped hindbrain attached to his cervical spine, were all the contact she was likely to have with her comrades for days, and she was the ranking coordinator now with Stavin gone.
“All of them but Coulter. Consensus of all but Gloria is that the Vatican has Stavin in custody and is interrogating him.”
“Harass Coulter’s devices and tell him that if he isn’t linked up with you in one minute, I will assume he is behind Stavin’s disappearance and have him killed on sight.”
Kylie waited, drumming her bony fingers on her hard-desk, counting off the seconds in her head.
“Coulter is online, Domis,” the man told her as she silently reached the 37-second mark. “He dissents with the consensus.”
“As well he should. And good fortune that Gloria is thinking clearly, too, right now. No one should be thinking that the Vatican has Stavin. After the hellpod attack, they would be broad-shrilling the news to the entire Catholic Union if they had one of us. Especially on the heels of the ‘miraculous’ survival of the Black Pope and naming of a new Red Pope soon.”
“The others wish to know what the minority opinion is, then.”
“Maree Deschaine almost certainly found him,” Kylie said. She was uncertain if Gloria and Coulter agreed with that, but they would line up behind her out of reflex. “I can understand the Vatican being too drone-witted to realize how resourceful she is, but there’s no excuse for us to be. Stavin underestimated her, too. At his peril, it would seem.”
“How does that explain the situation with his priv-trans?” the man asked.
“She snared him and burned him to ash like he did to her cousins, or she took him off-planet so she could well and truly enjoy her time with him without interruption. It isn’t beyond conception that she has access to a private craft dressed up to get past Aerial Control, or some deal with a third-tier Ishmaeli or Isaacian to give her orbital passage out of the Union.”
“Consensus is willing to cede that your theory is sound, but not a lock. What is the coordinator’s course, then?”
“Stavin was right that we can terrorize the Catholic Union even without being able to arm our remaining hellpods,” Kylie responded. “Take one of them to a a storage facility that looks like a hundred or two other storage facilities in heavily populated areas. Make sure its the kind of place that is distinct enough that they’ll know its somewhere in the Union, but with few enough identifiers that they’ll go crazy trying to find it.”
“Make some demands and attach them to a vid of our staged hellpod placement,” she continued. “Sell off one of our hellpods and buy eight or nine small thermos. If we don’t get what we want in a week or two, set off three of those thermonuclears in the middle of a storage area like the one we vid and tell them we have a dozen more hellpods where that one came from.”
After a few minutes of letting that sink in with the other cell leaders, the man came back with the majority response, “Dramatic, certainly, but hitting them with fissionables isn’t going to look like a hellpod attack.”
“Hellpods set to explode from a ground position don’t have the same character as those launched from orbit, and all the tests done with ground detonation were done off-Earth. No one will know what to expect, and it will still kill thousands, maybe tens of thousands. Enough of the populace will think the Vatican is covering up and that the radiation is something they released as a cover to keep the public from panicking about more hellpods. There’s enough fear brewing already to fuel paranoia aplenty.”
After a few moments: “Consensus agreement.”
“One more thing,” Kylie added. “I had a priv-trans put in Tobin Deschaine when he was still a templar, and I want it trilled so that we can get him in for some questions. I just wish he would have put one in Maree. Maree is a cracked reactor right now and she needs to be dealt with. He may know where to find her and, besides, I’m tired of my grandson’s ‘retirement.’ It’s time for Tobin to get back to work with Secular Genesis.”