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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.)