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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 7, Out of the Ashes (continued)
Daniel virtually glided into the Burning Ares casino; he slid through the front doors and through the crowd fluidly like a fish that’s been caught and mercifully released. He was already breathing easier. He could forget that he was fuck knows how many kilometers under the surface of Mars breathing air recriculated through hydroponic ventilation tubes. He could pretend his old life was still waiting for him when he left.
Casinos. The only place other than a courtroom that I ever felt truly was home for my soul, he thought. As good as I am at programming work, as much as I love visiting a well-run brothel or taproom, nothing beats a head-to-head competition. Whether with another lawyer or with Lady Chance herself.
Once he was away from the lobby, minishops, boutiques and minor taprooms and onto the gaming floor itself, his mind was as sharp as it had been before uncovering the Godhead’s dirty little secret.
The outer rings of the gaming floor held the less popular games. People gambling on professional sports events like flipdisk, kickrunner and tennis. Lottery games. People playing high-stakes deceiver or overthrow. Even one table, he saw, for scatter chess, and people betting on the outcome of an ongoing game there.
But as he drew toward the center, and to the games with more energy, people and action, Daniel was smiling. Flashjack tables, callibra wheels, a dozen variations of hedron and more.
He happily scythed through several hundred debits worth of losses in the first ten minutes, then settled into a more comfortable up-and-down, back-and-forth set of wins and losses. It was the interplay of risk and reward, gain and loss, that drove him. He could leave here with more or less than he came with and it would make him just as happy either way.
Well, I guess that’s the key difference between a legal arena and a casino for me. I hate losing when there’s a justicar, magistrate or judge behind a bench.
After a couple hours at the Burning Ares, Daniel was ready for a change of scenery, and he had been told the Seven Veils was a definite step up in all ways. But that meant an 80 kilometer maglev ride, the kind of event that should be preceded by a trip to the refresher before he grabbed his nightcloak from the checkroom and hopped on the next train.
In hindsight, he would berate himself repeatedly for not having noticed sooner a man with all the trappings of a Trav—piercings, tattoos, ribbons, wirebraidings, scalpsticks—but wearing grounders on his feet. Too much alcohol dulling his brain.
In fact, the thought did strike him as he entered the refresher, as he remembered his lessons from Manguang: Martians don’t favor grounders on their feet. And Travailers favor physical challenges, not assistive devices. By then, though, it was too late. Someone was through the door and on him—slamming into him, in fact—and he felt something pierce his underarm. And then his consciousness began to fade.
But he stayed just alert enough, and just long enough, to feel something else slam into him before oblivion took him.
No longer did Paulo sup-Juris have a reason to be at his aunt’s house in the outer city, with her away overseas and Gina now dead and Grace in the core city in a hospital berth.
How ironic that for once, Lyseena would probably like me as far away from the inner city as possible, he reflected, and I’m mere blocks away from the Templar’s Tower.
Instead, he sat by the bed of his daughter. Not that he could admit publicly that she was just that, but with Gina dead, his legal status as Grace’s demi-uncle gave him the right to be here. His templar rank didn’t hurt, either.
He held the little girl’s hand. Her eyes were dancing behind her eyelids, but this was nothing like any REM sleep patterns he had ever seen. It was like some flay-dance those eyes were engaged in. Even with her sedated, he could tell that something frantic was occurring in her mind. But he held her hand, because the physicians had told him that her brain patterns calmed significantly when he did so. In a way that no one else’s touch had so far.
If I could be here every minute, Grace. If I would. But if I did that, I’d be in a cell and no use to you. I’d be a pitiful enough demi-uncle under these circumstances. I’m all the more detestable for the fact I’m your father.
In the morning, he would have to return to Templar’s Tower. For now though, he would hold his girl until he passed out from exhaustion, and he prayed he wouldn’t let his grip falter even in sleep.
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