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Cleansed by Fire
Chapter 8, Framed in Pain (continued)
Before Maree had traveled 200 kilometers in her newly acquired duosphere, Paulo sup-Juris had been aware of her ownership of it—or, rather, Debrah-Ayn Baylor’s ownership. Lyseena and Ather and the rest of the templars on the case continued to track her in the Centralia Province of the UPA and now were seeking to head her off farther westward as well perhaps, thanks to a brief security pylon contact with her IDentipod in the state of Nordica, just outside the city of Anokha.
He supposed that if Maree hadn’t intercepted him right before the New Year and blackmailed him into facilitating her break with the templars, he might have been on board with the theory of her westward migration as well. She had attacked and killed a man in Illini, and she was seeking Stavin for some kind of revenge, and Stavin was known to have at least as many connections in Pacifica as he did in Nova York. And the working theory about her dead relatives in Astoria was that Maree had killed them for having seen something or for being co-conspirators in Secular Genesis; among Lyseena’s team, only Paulo knew that Stavin or someone else from the movement had executed those adults and children in Maree’s cottage. The truth hadn’t even come up as a tentative theory.
As far as everyone was concerned, Maree was doing a pretty good job of avoiding detection—but she was still just an educated thug to them. That had always been Lyseena’s view of her, really. Intelligent and resourceful, but basically brute force; never would slyness have entered anyone’s calculations with Maree. Then again, Lyseena still seemed to think that Kevan was a wise-cracking strategist instead of a closet sadist. And she didn’t seem to have any idea that Ather was in love with her, and probably she with him.
Just as she thinks that I am so bound by loyalty and my vows and fear of besmirching my father’s reputation that I will stick with the templars and not choose Grace over all of them. For her own sake, Lyseena should never have revealed her suspicions to me that she knew Grace was my daughter.
It amazed Paulo, who was raised among merchanters and had learned to read people’s basic personalities well, how blind Lyseena was to the true natures of the people closest to her. She had let her vows separate her completely from family and in Templar’s Tower she formed her own. She could so easily judge, influence and evade people above her and below her in the organization, but with her inner circle she assumed too many things that were not true. She saw things as she wished them to be with her admin officers and closest colleagues. He wondered at the ways in which she might yet misjudge the new admin officer Tana sup-Juris.
But Paulo knew things about Maree now that no one did. How she had known about Gina and Grace for so long and held that knowledge in reserve; how she had maneuvered Paulo to have her family members arrested to save as many of them from Secular Genesis as possible. He knew now the slyness and family devotion that she had hidden so well over the years, even from his sharp insights. And so he did what no one else had done: He looked for Maree where no one else had, under the assumption that she wasn’t simply masking her identity or jamming her IDentipod but using someone else’s identity. It was a bold move that only the stupidest or most brilliant people would try. And as far as the templars were concerned, Maree was neither.
He’d done a search for IDentipods that had been in Nova York recently, as well as Houston and South Chicago, though he’d had to be careful to make his inquiries part of another investigation into a smuggling ring that stretched across several provinces. He found a few leads, but had homed in quickly on Debrah-Ayn Baylor. The woman whom Maree was now. And he’d casually tracked her progress and purchases, the most recent one being the duosphere she had purchased for next to nothing.
Even with a false identity, Maree was being careful, Paulo noted. Somehow, she had managed to encounter only two security pylons in Houston, where she killed the templar watch team, and only one pylon in South Chicago Metro, where she killed Stavin’s man.
That had made Paulo’s next task much easier, really, as he added one of the Houston pylons to a correction list, with a notation that for a two-hour period, they had actually been registering data from a pylon 250 kilometers away. The other Houston pylon he added to different duty list being carried out by one of his subordinates, noting that all recent data from it needed to be deep-locked for six weeks to protect a covert operative there.
Finally, for South Chicago, he made a note in third templar’s correction list that the pylon there had jumbled six IDentipod codes and provided the “correct” codes for all of them, in the process effectively changing Debrah-Ayn Baylor there into Crista Donnell of Atlantica Province.
All of which meant that Maree’s path should be erased, or at least well covered for a while, as long as she didn’t go killing any other templars or leaving more notes for terrorists. None of which Paulo expected her to do, since he suspected she only left the note in South Chicago Metro to lure Ather away from her. A supposition backed up solidly by her eastward migration now.
But Paulo planned to extract a price for his subterfuge on Maree’s behalf, because he suspected he was going to need someone very sly indeed to help him and Grace get free of the templars.
Which is what brought him to this small caff shop, where the owner knew Paulo’s family and let him access a terminal there with a Grid account that had nothing to do with Paulo. In the past, it had been his means to contact Gina surreptitiously. With her dead, it would serve a new purpose.
NEW MESSAGE :: Blessings, Debrah it’s Pal. I’ve missed seeing you since you left your job here and aren’t so easy to see anymore. Sorry to hear about your family getting burned in that bad business deal the other week. Wish I could have done more. I know my personal network wasn’t as good as it could have been in your outplacement efforts but I’ve pulled on a few collars and I think you may be pleased with the result. In return, I’d like to lean on your for a little help in some business I’m trying to conclude since the boss doesn’t like the time I’m spending with my family lately, and I may be out of work soon. Incidentally, heard you have a savory new ride, too. Would love to see it. Contact me as soon as you can.
Paulo ordered up a fresh caff and a few caramel-almond dunking wafers and sat down. Knowing what he did now about her, he doubted his true identity could be missed by Maree; he doubted even more that she would wait long to respond. She held knowledge of his illicit wife and child, which could ruin him. He held knowledge of who she now was. Back on equal ground, back to where a merchanter-born man could make deals instead of being used. He hoped Maree would respect that and not take offense.
Frankly, he rather suspected that she might sense the potential for an alliance, in addition to realizing that Paulo wasn’t trying to screw her over. If she was heading back East, with both Secular Genesis and the templars arrayed against her, she needed an ally.
I certainly know that I do.
He hadn’t even finished the first dunking wafer when he had a response.
RESPONSE TO PAL :: Yes, my new vehicle is very nice. And because of that, if you bring along any of your idiot friends, I won’t be happy. No doubt they’d put their hands all over it and scratch the finish. If you’ve done me a favor I like, I might be able to help you. Otherwise, you can flounder on your own in your employment troubles. I’m only doing this because your kid is cute. And I’m telling you, if you bring even one of those morons you call friends with you, I will hand you your ass. You tell me where and I will tell you when I can be there. || Debi
Paulo heaved a sigh of relief, and hoped he’d just created a way to get himself and Grace out of the Catholic Union, and not a path that led straight to a grave for him.
(To read the next installment of this story, click here.)