Category Archives: Cleansed by Fire novel

The Return of the Thing?

So, my Muse is beginning to flit around inside my head and whisper ghostly entreaties to return to my epic storyline “Cleansed By Fire.”

Yeah, like I need another thing on my plate, right?

Because it’s been so long, and because I had long ago begun to do some rewrites of early chapters as well as adding some new info, I’m thinking of starting over from the beginning.

What say you, dear readers? If you had been reading it before, would you like to see its return?

And if you hadn’t read it before, go click on the damn link above, poke around a bit, and let me know if you’d like to have me circle back the beginning for a version 2.0 of the series.

Yes, in part this is laziness, as running earlier chapters with revisions and additions will give me time to generate new content. So, sue me.

But first, let me know if I should even bother bringing the series back and getting back to a story that will likely be the equivalent of two or three novels.

Where’s the Novel?

So, a few of you might be asking (or maybe not): Where the hell are the installments of my novel these days?

Aside from work, I have been busy with my more erotic fiction, and even some non-erotic stuff that I’m writing as part of my other alter-ego. Frankly, I seem to have quite a few fans, and I have to admit, I’m motivated to play to the audience that I am most heavily entertaining. 😉

But I do want this novel to move forward. On the other hand, I also realize it’s been a long time since the last installment, and things have been sporadic lately.

What I think I would like to do is package the existing installments into individual files by chapter, and let you download those to catch up and reacquaint yourselves with the plot and characters as I begin work again.

In fact, I will probably make available my “second-draft” versions of these chapters (since I have gone back and done some changes and updates, both personally motivated and based on comments from whatever few faithful readers I have.) That means that while some of what you read will be “old news” there will be new surprises as well.

I’m not sure if there is any mechanism through the blog to allow you to download Word and/or PDF files. Barring that, does anyone have suggestions about good, reliable, free places that one can do that?

Cleansed by Fire, Part 62

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 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.”

Cleansed By Fire, the Story So Far (pt. 2)

So, here’s the second part of what I started at this post, a summary that brings us up to the most recent installment of my novel.

Now you are caught up, and it’s high time I got quicker about finishing up.

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Chapter 5, Blood and Tears

After forcibly extracting the location of her wandering father from two of his old friends, Maree surprises him on his modest yacht and asks him for advice or help on how to find Stavin. He refuses, both disappointed in her abandonment of the Secular Genesis cause and also believing that she was the one who murdered several of their relatives in a fire. Even after she makes it clear that Stavin did it, and not her, Tobin seems to have more concern with the Secular Genesis agenda than with her predicament—and blames her for the deaths anyway even though she didn’t do the deed herself. Realizing that her father won’t be cooperative, and not feeling that he has any fatherly love in him, Maree threatens him for the information she needs, and makes ready to assault him if necessary.

Roughly an hour later, the templars converge on Tobin’s yacht.

Meanwhile, on Mars, Gregory shares the news of their forthcoming grandchild with Amaranth. We also discover that one of their children, the eldest son (Gavin) had long ago broken ranks with his family to join the Vatican, even though the Catholic Union is sworn to wipe out the UFC. They also resume their discussion about Domina, with Amaranth upset that Gregory has given such lavish accommodations to a mortal enemy—and Gregory pointing out the trouble they would get into with the government on Mars if they were to be seeming to punish her or treat her poorly. Amaranth grows angry when she finds out that Gregory is also following protocols strictly by NOT monitoring Domina covertly. We begin to see in this scene that Gregory’s role at Peteris is more diplomatic, whereas Amaranth’s role as Paulis has some militant aspects.

Onboard Scion’s Dream, the command crew prepares to capture a suspicious messenger vessel en route to Earth orbit from a trajectory suggesting it came from Mars. Bartelle appears surprised, but we discover that he knows it is fake somehow, and meant to be part of the Nazarene’s plans to falsely implicate Mars and/or the UFC in something.

Having seen the templars move on her father’s yacht, Maree runs, knowing that if a strike like that is in progress, monitoring of the city she is in will be higher than normal, and even with her stolen IDentipod, she might be identified, and her new identity compromised. On the way back to her stashed gear, which contains a physical disguise that might keep her from being discovered, she runs into a templar surveillance team. Using a stimulant drug called overhype, Maree is able to take down all three members of the team before they can identify her or raise an alarm.

As part of his daily meeting schedule, Gregory meets with the Panel of Shepherds, the religious leaders who both advise him and Amaranth and serve as a sort of Board of Directors of the UFC. One member, Leonid, along with a few others, take Gregory to task for giving Domina asylum, since that will invite suspicions that the suspicious death of the Red Pope was part of some UFC plan. The head of the Panel is more or less on Gregory’s side, though, and he is able to convince them to give him a couple weeks before they consider rescinding her asylum and sending her away.

Daniel arrives on Mars, still using his false identity, and locates the first UFC chapel he can find, with the aim of getting asylum from the UFC if possible. The chaplain he finds gets in contact with someone high enough up in the chain of command to make him lose a bit of his composure (later, we discover it is Amaranth).

Via holographic communications, Lyseena touches base with her admin staff and Ather as her remaining two admin officers make the rounds of the Red Pope’s requiem celebrations in Nova York. We discover that Ather was in charge of the strike team that raided Tobin’s yacht, and find that Tobin wasn’t onboard, though there are signs he was assaulted, perhaps even killed (although there is no sign of a body). They suspect Maree might have been onboard as well, and they decide to continue seeking Tobin in case he is still alive, as a way to possibly draw Maree into the open.

Domina stews over the fact that Gregory hasn’t been more eager to give into her seductive approach to misdirecting him, and gains a grudging respect for his abilities, though her dedication to ultimately doing in the UFC is still strong.

In a virtual meeting in the SystemGrid (the Internet of the future), Stavin makes sure the various players in Secular Genesis know what they are supposed to do, as they prepare to deal the Vatican some kind of serious blow.

Gina resolves to tell her daughter Grace that Paulo is her father, not her demi-uncle, so that when they see him the next day during the millennial celebration, there will be no more lies between the three of them.

While checking in with a templar team during the requiem events, Kevan sup-Juris is caught on the periphery of a terrorist attack. When he identifies the perpetrator of the explosion, a woman carrying a child—and who is too far away to apprehend—he remotely activates a cybernetic doomhound to track her down and apprehend or kill her, caring not one bit if the child she carries is hurt or killed in the process.

Onboard their spacecraft, Ishtar’s Folly, the Sisters of the Red Sun take part in a hookah, a weekly social ritual of the Shared People (the Ishmaeli race and the Isaacian race, which were created by Muslims and Jews, respectively, in generations past). Sarai relaxes a bit after the stress of dealing with Emil before, and Mehrnaz catches the sexual interest of a female data pirate, an Isaacian named Jordin.

Ather prepares the priest that had earlier been apprehended for involvement with Secular Genesis for his interrogation, planting as much fear in him as possible. We discover the Kevan has requested to be involved in the interrogation and possible torture of the priest, although he is not mentioned by name.

Amaranth contacts Gregory before his next session with Domina to tell him that she is actually impressed with how he has handled the woman, despite her earlier reservations. Gregory is miffed by the invasion of his privacy (by one of his bodyguards, no less) on Amaranth’s behalf, but she promises to seek no more covert surveillance of Domina or Gregory’s interactions with her. She encourages Gregory to continue the interrogations of Domina, knowing that the woman would never open up to her anyway.

Checking in with Paulo, Lyseena discovers that the attack near Kevan wasn’t the only one, and that Secular Genesis is carrying out successively more brutal terrorist actions throughout the requiem event areas. Meanwhile, Stavin gloats about it all, planning even worse things to come.

We meet Bechan Adym, in Israel (which is totally under Vatican control, and cut off from the rest of the world), who seeks to escape the borders of his country with sensitive information. A rabbi (Brifel Mann) who is part of the resistance movement against the Catholic Union’s yoke helps Bechan prepare for the mission.

We also meet Bohlliam, a man in the ashen and magma-scarred ruins of what was once Los Angeles. He is the victim of the emophage virus, but for some reason because of it, is also a sort of reluctant local “prophet.” We get hints that he has some kind of psychic ability as well (which we will later discover is empathy and perhaps a low-level latent telepathy as well).

Maree awakes in her stolen vehicle, after suffering an hours-long coma that is the inevitable result of using overhype. The process is difficult, and she has strange memories and visions in the process. When she finally does regain consciousness, she realizes someone has visited her during her coma. It turns out to be a family friend, Charlyes, who was close to her grandfather (and Maree had always seen her grandfather as more a father figure than Tobin), who has left her a letter cautioning her to give up her pursuit of Stavin, for her own sake.

Domina toys with Gregory’s patience and libido some more, and ups the ante by giving him a gift for Amaranth, which turns out to be a pair of Domina’s soiled panties. Amaranth takes the insult in stride mostly. She also reveals to Gregory that she has granted asylum to someone herself, though she doesn’t tell him who yet.

Bechan works his way through the partially collapsed tunnels under Jerusalem as part of his escape. Meanwhile, conversing with Israel’s primary AI—a relatively young system that hasn’t had to really get its virtual hands dirty yet—Rabbi Brifel Mann determines that in several hours the time will be right to alert Vatican authorities to Bechan’s escape attempt—giving Bechan time to succeed and to make it look like Jewish authorities in Jerusalem aren’t actually helping him.

Meeting with her admin officers and Ather, Lyseena realizes that despite the brutal attacks by Secular Genesis all day, the terrorist actions were probably just to distract them and wear them down for something much worse the next day: during the millennial celebrations.

Chapter 6, Nexus

A UFC deacon named Manguang takes Daniel, who is uneasy with the prospect of living inside Mars, to see Gregory and Amaranth, and gives the native Earther a little education in the ways of natives on Mars.

The Sisters of the Red Sun go on a sort of religious space walk as they prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the job they are to do for Secular Genesis—both of them with growing unease that this job will not end to their liking.

Bechan emerges from the tunnels alive, only to spy a wyvern—a genetically engineered war creature—in the distance, and flees for his life.

Daniel brief Gregory and Amaranth on what he knows about the Godhead’s illicit AI child. He also puts the risk posed by this unknown AI in context—it isn’t the end of the world, but it could still be something very serious and dangerous. Daniel also explains some aspects of AI-related procreation that may help in tracking down the Godhead’s child.

The Sisters of the Red Sun launch the shuttle for Secular Genesis and then resolve to hunt down Stavin to repay him for the gross insult of sending Emil to them, knowing that the man was a “poisoned” gift. Mehrnaz also reveals to her sister that she has entered into a short-term contractual marriage with Jordin and that the data pirate is tracking and monitoring the shuttle to help provide some data on what it’s for and perhaps use that data to find Stavin.

In a display of graciousness and religious solidarity, Gregory visits Domina not to interrogate her but to offer her a eucharista (a sort of spherical communion cracker) for her to partake of on New Year’s Day, which is the third most holy day of the year, both for the UFC and the Terran Catholic Church. At the end of their visit, however, he cannot resist putting her in her place a bit by telling her she isn’t the only highly placed person from the Vatican offices they are now sheltering. This prompts here to covertly contact the Nazarene to warn him. The Nazarene informs her, in turn, that he plans to extract her from the UFC soon.

Lyseena wrestles with the problem of even worse terrorist attacks as the millennial celebrations take place, and then gets a threatening Grid message from the mysterious Enn (who is probably Nemesis) just as alarms begin going off in the templar headquarters.

Meanwhile, Gregory and Amaranth enjoy an afternoon tryst and then Gregory prepares to go have a visit/meeting with Ghost.

We then find out why alarms have begun at templar HQ, as the crowds in Nova York watch the Black Pope ascend a platform for the first-ever public cognos download (copying of all his current memories to the Godhead) and an unauthorized spacecraft hurtles through the atmosphere, breaking apart to reveal a hellpod, which impact almost on top of the Black Pope’s pedestal.

As this is happening, Gregory reluctantly confronts Ghost with a question about whether she was involved in helping to create an AI child with the Godhead, while electronically monitoring her responses to make sure he gets an honest response. This is insulting to Ghost, and does anger her, even though she understands Gregory’s position. Satisfied that Ghost is still on the UFC’s side, Gregory sets her on a series of tasks to figure out what the Godhead is up to and to track down the rogue AI that is his child.

Paulo watches the impact of the hellpod, knowing that Gina and Grace are far enough away that they can still be saved, but not far enough away to escape on their own. He breaks protocol that requires him to flee back to headquarters via his slipchair (which provides instantaneous travel through the slipgate near his current position), and instead travels to the slipgate nearest to his lover and child, heedless of the harm he causes to anyone else fleeing the hellpod attack. A mishap shortly exit from the gate damages the powersled he had dragged along to accommodate them, and Gina sacrifices her own safety (and, soon, her life, it seems) to protect Grace, handing the girl to her father to spirit away in his small slipchair. Paulo doesn’t want to leave Gina behind, but doesn’t have a choice. Worse yet, he will be taking Gina through slipspace virtually unprotected, thanks to the loss of the sled—and unprotected travel through slipspace always leads to incurable insanity.

At his own vantage point on the attack, Kevan—unlike Paulo—responds promptly to the command to flee the area, though he pauses long enough to watch the streets and building near him begin to melt, and vows retribution on whomever is responsible for such an attack on the Vatican and the Catholic Union.

The Sisters of the Red Sun discover that they helped in the launching of a hellpod, and resolve that Stavin will not simply suffer punishment for his earlier insult, but severe punishment and death for involving them in an atrocity like this.

Maree hears a news report about the hellpod attack and realizes that the most likely perpetrator of such an attack would be Stavin, a revelation that inspires her quest for vengeance to new heights.

Gregory hears about the hellpod attack and is devastated by the heartlessness of it.

Dreamer, the AI that controls the warwagon Scion’s Dream, immediately worries that the hellpod attack may have been perpetrated by the AI Mars’ warwagon, in a repeat of the kind of behavior that caused several warwagons, centuries earlier, to nearly wipe out humanity with hellpods. Even after his innocence is ascertained (in mere minutes) by herself and the AI’s of humanity’s other two warwagons, Dreamer continues to suspect someone on Mars—whether the government or the UFC—of being behind the attack.

Stavin is overjoyed at how the hellpod attack played out, and communicates with Nemesis, who informs Stavin that he will activate no more hellpods for Secular Genesis. Furthermore, Nemesis reveals that he is actually the enemy of Secular Genesis, and the son of the Godhead (meaning that for reasons as yet unknown, the Godhead’s child is working both sides of the fence—in the guises of Enn and Nemesis—though claiming to serve God and the Vatican).

As she deals with the wrenching aftermath of the hellpod attack, Lyseena receives a summons that tips her off to that face that the Black Pope is, impossibly, alive—despite being at the impact point of the hellpod.

Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes

Reporting back to his fellow cell leaders, Stavin reveals the treachery of Nemesis but plays up the positive aspect that with one hellpod attack under their belts, and several more hellpods in their possession, it doesn’t matter that they cannot activate the other ones, as long as the Vatican thinks they can.

In Angel City, Bohlliam is little concerned about the hellpod attack, except for the fact that the death of one of the people he is remotely linked to (to provide the emotions and will to live that he lost as a result of emophage infection) provided horrible emotional backlash for him. Moping about his condition and future, he considers just unhooking from the gear that allows him to tap the emotions of those he is linked to and thus slowly drifting into death. But in the end, he decides that too many people are relying on him for his “prophetic” services (actually, a form of empathic dream interpretation) for him to give up.

A representative of the Black Pope confirms that he is alive, having never been in Nova York (though a surrogate with a holographic array was there in his place to make it look otherwise), all because the Vatican had prior warning of the attack (though no knowledge of what kind of attack would come). Gyles and Lyseena are furious at not having been told, though the papal representative insists it is for the best that thousands died, so that it can unite citizens against Secular Genesis and the UFC (the Vatican working under a convenient assumption, whether they believe it or not, that the UFC is working with the terrorists). It will also increase the cachet of the popes, as the Vatican plans to spin the Black Pope’s survival as a direct intervention by God.

The defense minister for the government of Mars meets with Gregory and Amaranth to let them know that not only has the Vatican insisted the UFC was in cahoots on the hellpod attack, but that the Vatican and Catholic Union are demanded their extradition. She assures the couple that MarsGov has no intention of rescinding the protection that has kept the UFC safe from the Vatican for decades, but that she expects the UFC to work hard to help find out who is truly responsible for the hellpod, as the Catholic Union will almost certainly declare open war on the UFC and possibly Mars as well.

That old family friend of Maree’s, Charlyes, deals with a very vile man to get help in tracking down Tobin, a task he feels he must undertake out of respect for the memory of the man’s father, who was his best friend.

Lyseena pieces together, based on Paulo’s actions, that Grace is actually his child and not his demi-niece. She tells Paulo that his betrayal of his vows sickens her, but that she will not turn him in since another scandal so close on the heels of Maree’s betrayal might ruin her. Later, Lyseena meets with Ather to determine whether he knew of the Black Pope’s deception, and decides he didn’t.

Rabbi Brifel Mann, still unsure whether Bechan made it out of Israel alive, sets Kotel, the nation’s main AI, on some dangerous tasks.

Onboard Scion’s Dream, Bartelle is disturbed to find that he has been involved in a conspiracy to launch a hellpod, though he has no intention of turning the true conspirators in, knowing he would be punished with them. Instead, he falsely arrests and implicates a crewman and, by extension, the presume missing (though actually dead at Bartelle’s hands) Counselor Atkins.

Amaranth visits Domina to make it clear that she will suffer if she actually manages to succeed in seducing he husband. Meanwhile, Gregory, unaware of the exchange, is too busy anyway receiving the Vatican ambassador who arrives to officially declare war on the UFC. Thinking it is just posturing and business as usual with the Vatican, Gregory finds out all too soon that the Catholic Union is already killing and abducting UFC personnel in nations and locations that they have no jurisdiction in, including Mars.

Restless inside Mars, Daniel decides to go out to some casinos to gamble, against Manguang’s advice.

Aided by a hired thug, Charlyes barges in on Tobin’s hiding place and finds out that his loyalty to Secular Genesis’ leadership has been sorely frayed by the hellpod attack. Telling Tobin that he hasn’t been involved in Secular Genesis for quite some time, he forces Tobin to accompany him on a quest to find Maree and keep her from getting herself killed.

Acting on information she got from beating her father earlier, Maree finds one of Stavin’s hiding places. Though Stavin isn’t there, she does find there one of the men who helped Stavin assault her, and tortures the man brutally both in retaliation and to obtain information.

Daniel is followed and attacked by a mysterious individual at one of Mars’ casinos.

Paulo sits by the bedside of his daughter. Partially protected in her journey through slipspace, Grace is comatose and clearly disturbed, though not overtly insane as typically happens with unprotected slipspace travel.

Gregory has a horrible dream of his eldest son Gavin killing Amaranth, and then wakes, making love to his wife fiercely.

Late at night, Lyseena meets with a woman (once a citizen of Mars years ago), Tana sup-Juris, to tell her she is being promoted to fill the space left by Maree’s defection.

Chapter 8, Framed in Pain

Ather, with the aid of a freelance investigator named Demus, examines the scene of Maree’s attack on (and torture of) Stavin’s henchman, looking in particular at a threatening note that she left for Stavin, sticking out of the deceased man’s penis. Maree watches the scene play out from afar, having lured Ather there and having left the note only to get the templars to start looking for Stavin (as she hopes to find him through their efforts).

Gregory once again visits Domina, fending off her seductions and going on the offensive again with the too-coincidental connections between the Red Pope’s death and that of a White Pope generations earlier.

Bohlliam awakes from a nap feeling almost normal emotionally (something his “feeding” off the people he is linked to doesn’t quite achieve, as most of them are mentally ill). He then realizes there is another mind inside his own now, and that mind turns out to be Grace’s, and she urges him to go to Nova York immediately.

Using a small robotic device carrying her old IDentipod, Maree sends the templars off on a wild goose chase that make it look like she’s fleeing West, when in fact she’s headed back East to locate a spy in the lower echelons of the templar organization who might be able to help her find Stavin by keeping tabs on templar communications for her.

Amaranth confronts Daniel for unnecessarily putting himself at risk (he wasn’t abducted or killed by his assailant, as Manguang had sent someone to follow and protect Daniel). He expresses his revulsion at living inside a cold, dead planet, and she in turn shows him some of the real life on Mars, that tourists don’t care about, and which isn’t anywhere near as cold and sterile as he fears it is. She warns him that his attacker was hired by the Vatican, and also tells him he will have a personal bodyguard (masquerading as his lover) from now on to make sure his restless wanderings don’t get him killed.

Charlyes reiterates to Tobin the importance of saving Maree from her path of vengeance, while Tobin likes the idea of letting Maree run rampant, since he is disgusted that Stavin would resort to a hellpod as a way to achieve the aims of Secular Genesis.

Mehrnaz discovers that her sister has killed Jordin, to whom Mehrnaz was contractually (if temporarily) married. When asked why, Sarai reveals that Jordin was going to sell the Sisters of the Red Sun out to both the Vatican and the UFC, as well as extort Stavin into paying her to keep the sisters away from him. The upside is that information uncovered by Jordin may help them find Stavin faster.

Ghost’s investigations turn up that the Godhead’s AI child was birthed/created on Mars in secret, and that the former Vatican ambassador to Mars, Drewtine Atkins (the same man that Bartelle secretly killed onboard Scion’s Dream) was involved. Furthermore, she reveals that the AI is probably military in nature, and that the mother was likely Dreamer, the AI of Scion’s Dream. After Ghost shares this, Amaranth tells her to harass the Godhead to try to shake out more information about his child.

Maree continues Eastward toward Nova York, but in better transportation, gained by the death of yet another criminal at her hands. At the same time, though, she worries over the fact that she also recently had to violently assault an innocent citizen to protect her identity.

Paulo, having picked up Maree’s trail, covers up some data that might otherwise have helped Lyseena and Ather find her. He then contacts her with a coded Grid message to ask for her help in dealing with his tricky situation, now that Lyseena knows he is in violation of his vows.

Still carrying much of Grace’s mind inside his own, Bohlliam deals with her irritation that they aren’t getting to Nova York faster, and tries to forge a stronger bond with her, since her emotions inside his mind are so much better than those that draws off of his authorized sources. She prods him to move faster with the revelation that if she isn’t reunited with her physical brain soon, she may dissipate and that won’t do either of them any good.

Bechan finally arrives in Europa, having successfully eluded the Vatican but having lost one hand in the process. He then prepares to locate his Voudoun contact.

Nearly a week after discovering the link between the Godhead, Dreamer and the rogue AI known to some as Enn and others as Nemesis, Ghost is able to arrange a virtual meeting between herself, Dreamer, Gregory, Amaranth and Daniel. They confront Dreamer about her involvement in helping to sire an illicit AI, fairly certain that she wouldn’t approve of Nemesis’ actions, but she denies everything. She even passes what is supposedly a foolproof test against lying by an AI—meaning that either they are completely wrong about their suspicions (unlikely) or that AIs can be capable of deceit.

After that meeting, Dreamer struggles with this information, not having guessed that her AI son was behind the hellpod attack—something that goes against all her own codes of behavior—and she wonders what hand the Godhead himself might have had in these affairs. We also discover that not only is the son of the Godhead and Dreamer also the mysterious Enn and enigmatic Nemesis, but also the shadowy Nazarene who is scheming with Bartelle, Domina and others.

Meanwhile, Stavin is ambushed and captured by the Sisters of the Red Sun.

Chapter 9, Reunions and Seekings

Dreamer invites Bartelle (who had already moved on from captaining Scion’s Dream to beginning his governorship) into a virtual meeting, realizing that he would have been the one to deliver her inception routines to create her and the Godhead’s son, the Nazarene. She begins to question him, and when he tries to log out of the program, she reveals that he is actually inside her systems and no simply on the Grid, and that she has complete control over his fate, and his life, at the moment. He admits to working for the Nazarene and reveals his involvement in the death of Counselor Atkins, the framing of a crewman, and the false implications of the UFC in conspiracies and attacks against the Catholic Union. One Dreamer is done with him, she induces a stroke in his body through the neural link, killing him.

With Stavin now their captive, the Sisters of the Red Sun speak with him, meaning only to intimidate him until they figure out how best to punish and ultimately kill him. In the process, they discover that he is being hunted by someone else (Maree) who according to their code of honor may have as much a claim to harming him as they do. So, they resolve to put Stavin in stasis and attempt to locate Maree. Before they do, though, Sarai drugs him to extract information on how they might get a message to her.

Maree meets with Paulo, and agrees to help him in trying to get himself and Grace out of the Catholic Union.

Grace continues to ride inside Bohlliam’s mind, aware that he is becoming addicted to her presence and trying to hide from his thoughts the fact that when she reunites with her body, she will separate her consciousness from his completely. In the basement of the hospital where her three year old body lays, she enlists his aid in linking her back with her mind, and then, when she senses Paulo enter her room, she exits Bohlliam’s mind without warning, sending him in a fury. As Grace suddenly awakens, Paulo is thrilled to find her lucid, then disturbed to realize that she is talking and thinking like an adult, not the child that she should be. She tells him about Bohlliam and insists they must escape the Catholic Union as soon as possible.

Bechan meets with his Voudoun contacts, who provide him with all the help he had hoped for, but then also give him a zombi (a person turned into a programmable servant), a gift that hints at them knowing far more than they should about him (since he had joked in Israel that perhaps they might give him one) and perhaps more nefarious purposes.

Gregory has one of his regular meetings with Domina, who is uncharacteristically subdued, and he is called away early by Amaranth and Ghost. When he leaves, Domina translates a coded message from the Nazarene telling her he will rescue her shortly after the new Red Pope is named. Meanwhile, Ghost and Amaranth tell Gregory that the new Red Pope will be named the next day, and they have reason to believe it will be Gavin—Amaranth and Gregory’s eldest child, who defected years earlier to the Vatican.

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.)

Cleansed by Fire, Part 61

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)

After so many visits to Domina’s suites, dealing with every form of seduction or sexual innuendo known to humankind being thrust in his face, Peteris Gregory Dyson was wholly unprepared to see a plate with a pastry waiting for him, and Domina attired in very casual, standard garb.

She sat with a similar plate and identical dessert in her lap, a nicstick smoldering in an catchtray on one side of her and a cup of tea steaming near her other hand.

“Come, Gregory, have a bite with me. I’m so tired of talking about ancient papal history and current Vatican politics,” she said to him silkily.

“Don’t you mean you’re tired of giving away tiny clues to me, with increasing frequency, despite your best intentions to obfuscate?” the Paulis countered. The dessert did look delicious, but it was highly disturbing. Not because of any risk it posed, because Miko would never let him anywhere near a fork to eat it anyway. Rather, because it was a honey-grape crispcake with a light ginger cream frosting—Gregory’s favorite sweet treat, and one he only enjoyed here on Mars, in his own chambers, baked by his wife when she was actually in-planet and in a doting mood.

How deep a damn profile do their have on me, anyway? Need to steal away a couple of the Vatican’s psychotechs for ourselves.

“You don’t really think I haven’t told you anything I didn’t want you to know,” she said. “I simply don’t want to shatter your delicate male ego. Please, have a bite. I don’t bake for many of my captors.”

“Watching the waistline, Domina, but thanks,” He told her, “and I granted you asylum, if I recall. However, I bow to your continuing ability to regale me with how much you know about my tastes—in all things.”

As she opened her mouth to respond, Gregory’s linkpad chimed—only two individuals would have ignored his order not to interrupt him for the next hour. One was the UFC’s chief AI. The other was his wife.

As he glanced at the text display, he was dismayed to discover it was both of them, telling him he needed to cut his session with Domina short.

“You know, I was just about to take a taste of that, Domina,” Gregory lied with an almost convincing cadence and grin, “but something seems to have come up.”

* * *

Domina swept the dreadful cake Gregory found so appealing into the disposal bin the moment he, his bodyguard and the MobileEye had left her apartment. On the one hand, it was a shame to have their session end before it could even begin. In a strange way, the Peteris’ visits were a comfort to Domina—she could almost have called it a friendship, even if the man were a bitter enemy, technically speaking.

Even more than that, it was the only mental stimulation she could enjoy these days. Gregory was proving to be more adept at the finer points of misdirection and manipulative diplomacy that the psych profiles gave him credit for having. No doubt the influence of his wife, or that damnable AI Ghost—or perhaps both of them.

But in the end, the Nazarene really didn’t expect her to seduce the Peteris or to totally confuse him; only to waste his time. And, at least, Gregory’s departure meant she could continue to translate the latest message from her patron. The Nazarene had sent a much longer than normal message, which meant pieces of it were hidden in dozens of different innocent-seeming transmissions and messages to her terminal.

When she finished, the completed message filled her with pangs of remorse for the past—for the Red Pope who has been her mentor and lover—as well as with an eager, fierce rededication to her current mission.

When the new Red Pope is named, I will come for you. The arrival of an important new visitor is your signal. I will come from the sky and carry you out of the nest of your enemies.

* * *

Gregory made his annoyance clear when he arrived in Ghost’s atrium. Uncharacteristically, Amaranth was there as well.

“What couldn’t wait for another damned hour or so?” he snarled.

“The White Pope, Black Pope and Godhead are sequestered,” Ghost answered.

“They cut off contact with everyone but the Papal Advisory Council a half hour ago,” Amaranth added.

That gave Gregory pause, but only for a moment. “All right, so that means they’re about to decide on a new Red Pope and will probably name him in a few days. We already know who’s calling the shots with the ships in space above us: the Black Pope. Soon, we’ll have a face to attach to the man who will be giving the marching orders to the people picking off our people one by one on the ground. So?”

“Gregory, they will be naming the new Red Pope tomorrow, and I already have reliable intelligence on whom they will be announcing,” Ghost said.

Something in Ghost’s tone took him aback, and he noticed for the first time that a faint sheen of impending tears were glistening in his wife’s eyes. Amaranth was holding her emotions in check as usual, but her armor was cracking a bit, and the implications of that frightened the Peteris.

“The new Red Pope will be Gavin xec-Academie,” she said softly, sharp notes of pain edging her quiet words. “Our son, Greg. Our son.”

(This completed Chapter 9. To read the next installment, which begins Chapter 10, click here.)

Cleansed by Fire, Part 60

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 automatonwhether willingly or unwillingly Bechan would probably never knowbecause 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.)

Inside My Head: Listening to the Story

So, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these “Inside My Head” posts, and once again, as I think was the case every other time, I’m going to let you inside the fiction-writing portion of my cranium and take a chance to talk about the Cleansed By Fire novel, which I guess I’m probably 3/4 the way to completion on, give or take. Seems appropriate, since I’ve temporarily ceded most of the non-fiction posting to Miz Pink while I finsh this first draft of the novel here in this online venue.

So, I’ve mentioned before how sometimes I feel like I’m a tool to tell a story, rather than the creator of that story. How things I’ve planned or thought would happen have often gone 180 degrees counter to that. What I have discovered, I think, is that it’s less that the story controls my choices at times and more than there is a story that exists to be told, and it gets told best if I shut up, calm down, and pay attention.

That is, if I listen hard enough, the story will tell itself.

I came to this conclusion rather recently, when I finished an eight-part saga at my other blog. Being that the other blog is heavily fiction-oriented, I actually have a number of one-shot stories written, as well as several ongoing series. The one I just finished marks the first time I’ve completed an entire multi-part story. And, given that each of those chapters was over 4,000 words at the shortest and over 7,000 in the longest cases, that means I pretty much wrote a novella, I guess.

But at times, I would have to stop, because I just didn’t know what came next, a situation I’ve faced many times in writing the Cleansed By Fire novel, too. Sure, I could force the plot into some certain direction, but I know that isn’t right. I know there is a proper scene that needs to be there but I don’t always know what it is. So, I had several chapters of that eight-part saga already written, but with several missing scenes in each. And, at one point, after completing the first two chapters, I had chapters 5, 6 and 7 mostly written, while 3 was only half done and 4 and 8 weren’t even remotely started.

(Some of you who recall me mentioning that my other blog is erotica-oriented can, by the way, stop snickering and saying to yourselves, “how hard can it be to write a scene where man A fucks woman B or woman C gets it on with woman D while man A watches”…at least half, and probably two-thirds, of my eight-part story was plot, conflict and characterization, and there was a dramatic arc. But the sex scenes sure were fun to write, I admit.)

When I stopped trying to force things, and just listened, I would realize what needed to happen, and the missing scenes and chapters came together perfectly. Often, though, it would not come together at all as I had “planned” in my head. I would have entire chapters that suddenly would go in directions I never intended, focusing on characters I had planned to remain as background noise.

This is something that’s been happening a lot in the novel here, too, and I’m finally learning not to fight it. To listen instead.

It has been in my head that certain characters need to be focused on or that certain things should happen to make my plot entertaining. What I’ve found instead is that the story needs to be told. If that story ends up requiring two or three dozen characters and some of them don’t get seen for chapters at a time, I need to accept that. It isn’t about scenes or focusing on a “star.” It’s about telling a narrative, and just like in life, narratives require several people and not always at the same time. Also, life is not tidy, and I’ve tried too hard at times to make things tidy and bring events and people together who need to remain separate.

Take Paulo, Grace and Gina, for example. And I will assume you’ve read up to the current installment. If you haven’t, don’t continue unless you want spoilers. I had it in my mind that all three characters would be with us for a while. That at some point, the three of them would have to make a break, but they would do so together. I never initially expected that Grace and Gina would be where the hellpod hit. I never expected that Grace would go through slipspace almost unprotected.

Once those things happened, though, I thought I would bring Gina back. Grace would be convalescing at home with her great-aunt, Paulo would be dropping by, and Gina would materialize out of the shadows, missing a hand and sporting several burns on her face and body. We’d find that she managed to slip into a transit station before she burned, and someone with a slipcar took her through a slipgate to safety, but only after she lost her hand in a nearly fatal encouter with some melting portion of building. She would lose both linkpad and IDentipod. But she would see this as her chance to escape the Catholic Union, because she would be thought dead and would be untrackable. She would confront Paulo with the need to flee, even though their daughter was essentially mindless, and the conflict would be Paulo’s struggle with his vows to the Vatican vs. his love for his family and he would be unflagging in his love for his scarred woman even as she struggled with her disfigurements…

Does any of this sound as trite to you now as it does to me in retrospect?

But this was me trying to force a narrative on events that came to me unexpectedly. Thank God I never wrote those scenes. Because Gina is dead. She burned. Which makes sense. It’s especially important, I now realize, that she stay dead because I’m 90% certain that a character who either already died or is going to (don’t want to tip you off who it is yet) will come back from the dead. Sort of. But you know, we can’t have too many dead or presumed dead people coming back, or I’ll have to submit this entire novel as a script run for some soap opera on TV.

So, Gina is dead and will remain so. Paulo was compromised by saving Grace, thus putting him into dangerous waters. Most unexpected to me of all, though, was Grace’s metamorphosis, of which we’ve only gotten a glimpse so far, which will reveal a great deal about slipspace and open some interesting (I hope) metaphysical areas to explore. Suddenly, a three-year-old girl has become a complex and integral character to the storyline. I’m sad Gina is dead, because part of me wanted to explore the love between her and Paulo. But in a sense, I still will be, as their shared offspring is a person who is a little girl physically but anything but when it comes to personality and intellect.

That strikes me as much more interesting than “Gina miraculously survives and the whole family goes on the run.”

I also thought Domina would be a constant factor and an often-seen character. Instead, after seeing a lot of her early on, we haven’t seen much of her for a while. She is a critical character and she will do some pivotal things, but I realize I don’t need to create scenes for her just to have her around. Same with Daniel Coxe. or Bechan Adym. Or Gregory and Amaranth. Or the Sisters of the Red Sun. They will appear when they need to, and I simply have to trust that they will remain memorable enough that when they show back up, readers will continue to give a damn about them and what they are doing.

So, soon I’ll dive back into the writing in earnest. If nothing else, the eight-part erotica/adventure story has inspired me because it proves that I can begin and complete a relatively complex narrative. So now it’s time to finish this novel soon.

All I have to do is keep listening.

If I do, I think the story will tell itself to me clearly enough for me to give you something worth reading.

Cleansed by Fire, Part 59

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)

“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.

Daddy.

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.)

Cleansed by Fire, Part 58

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)

Paulo hadn’t expected Maree to arrange to meet him quite so quickly, just a few days after their clandestine exchange of Grid messages. The meet location was out of the way enough to be private; not so far out of the  core city that it would cause Paulo to be flagged for monitoring.

And in the style of so many cloak-and-blade grid vids, it was an abandoned structure, full of shadows and places to hide—Paulo had picked the general area; Maree had picked the final location. He’d been here 15 minutes now, time enough to wonder if Maree had a secret melodramatic streak. He saw something move in one set of shadows, and his hand fell instinctively to the grip of his sidearm. It strode out on six legs, something like a mix of terrier and cat, but with none of the organic charm. A pest-hunter. He spied another one in the distance, and took a deep drag on his blunt brown nicstick, designed to mimic the look of an expensive cigar.

Pest-hunters were easily purchased in retail outlets. These ones were budget models, and certainly purchased by Maree. They were probably set to attract and kill only flying insects right now. Maree was almost certainly watching from afar through an ocular, and was looking to see if any flying things weren’t caught by the pair of vermin killers. Anything they didn’t catch would likely be a spyfly.

And so, Paulo was patient. Maree would come when she was satisfied it was safe. And if she didn’t come, it probably meant there was a spyfly somewhere nearby, and Paulo would know he was being monitored.

But he doubted it. Only Lyseena would have a desire to keep tabs on him and as far as she was concerned, his hospital-bound daughter, Grace, was anchor enough to hold him close and keep him loyal.

Twenty-one minutes passed before he heard the low, growling hum of her duosphere approach. “I’ve never seen you smoke before, Paulo,” Maree commented as she stepped away from her vehicle.

“Only occasionally. My father and brothers had a tradition of smoking a cigar before a deal, and then another one after it was sealed,” he said, looking at his nicstick and deactivating it, watching the last wisps of smoke drift away. “I took up the practice with them before I was given over to the templars. When I was cut off from the merchanter lifetsyle, I switched to nicsticks. So much more appropriate for a common law officer.”

Maree grinned at that. “I’ve missed you Paulo, you insufferable classist stick-prick.”

As Paulo slipped the now-cool nicstick into a pocket, he said bluntly, “Did you have any idea that Secular Genesis would put Nova York under a broiler like that?”

The hellpod attack, she realized, and wondered why he would bring it up, but didn’t hestitate to shake her head and answer: “I never would have thought they even had the capability to do that, but it explains why I became so expendable so fast to them.”

Paulo nodded. “Good. I’d hate to think you were capable of involvement in something like that.”

“Why do I have the impression if you hadn’t liked my answer, we’d be having a gunfight right about now?”

“It’s a fair enough assessment. Gina—damn, will I ever stop calling her by that borrowed name? She. She was there, near the impact. I got Grace out, but with only part of her mind intact.”

He told her the story then, in fits and starts, and stopped several times to compose himself. He’d would sometimes cry in front of Gina when she was alive. He could cry in front of his aunt or his daughter. He would shed no tears in the presence of anyone else.

When he was done, Maree sighed. It was a simple thing, but full of honesty. She felt for him, and that gave him confidence she might help him, particularly after he related to her the measures he had taken to cover her tracks.

“I suppose I do owe you a favor, then, Paulo,” she admitted. “But I am rather tied up. How soon can we get you and her on the run?”

“I don’t know. I suppose if there isn’t a change in her condition, I should probably run in a week or two at most regardless.”

“Paulo, no one recovers from losing their mind in slipspace. So you might as well run now instead of waiting.”

He glared at her, then closed his eyes and spoke carefully. “She doesn’t show typical symptoms. She has no madness. I think she was shielded from that, but I still don’t know how much of her I’ll get back. But I have to wait a bit first, to be sure.”

“I can’t guarantee I’ll still be here, Paulo, when you’re ready. If I find a trail that leads to Stavin, I’ll be on it.”

“I understand, but I suspect you could help me from afar, even if just to help me plan. You are, clearly, the superior undercover operative.”

“And the most stylish,” she quipped, leaning against her duopshere like an advertis-femme. It surprised her to feel any kind of humor again; camaraderie felt good, especially with someone in similar straits. “I’ll help you as much as I’m able.”

“Then I suppose,” Paulo said, fishing out his nicstick again. “This calls for a simulated cigar.”

* * *

Riding Bohlliam’s mind and sensorium array, Grace was increasingly eager as they approached the hospital where her tiny three-year-old body waited for her, and the rest of her mind.

She was also increasingly nervous.

What she brought to Bohlliam wasn’t something he was going to part with willingly. She might as well be a drug to which he was addicted, so hungry was he for satisfying emotional stimuli and responses for his emophage-ravaged brain. She needed his help to knit herself back together, but if he had any inkling of what she ultimately planned, he would cut her off and close her in.

But she hadn’t spent a lifetime, give or take, in slipspace to be thwarted now in realtime.

I’m in your mind, so it should be easy enough with my help for you to recognize and reach my physically anchored mind once we’re a bit closer, she told him. Make an empathic connection and hold it, so that I can repair my own damage and sustain a lasting link to you once I am back in my own head.

<Concern> he projected.

It’s a gamble, certainly. But you have two choices. First, make the attempt and succeed or fail. Second, don’t make the attempt and we’ll see how long I last in your head, giving you an emotional foundation again, before I fragment and you’re back to second-hand emotions from the mentally ill.

The split second he paused filled her with concern. She couldn’t be sure she was shielding her emotions and intentions from him adequately by amplifying her impatience, irritation and anger all this time. He was an empath after all. Not well trained, but still…

<Agreement>

Let’s hurry then, but be careful. A man with a sensorium array is going to stand out. I don’t know how much time I’ll need, but we need as much as we can get.

(To read the next installment of this story, click here.)