A0-Z9

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The Hanford site was nuked back in 1973 but it was the size of a county and large portions were still in use. The reactors were completely gone, of course, and Walla Walla downwind was still more or less a ghost town thirty years later, but contamination levels in the southeast corner along the Columbia River approached the slightly elevated levels of prior to the attack when the facility was used to make plutonium for bombs like Fat Boy. The New Confederacy contemplated shutting the place down for good, but there was still a lot of useful infrastructure, and private industry stepped up to keep the ball rolling. The isolation and security were attractive when large corporations meditated doing something that wasn't entirely kosher from a legal standpoint. So business at Hanford was good. But Dr. Earl Roland was pissed. The head of the Center for Disease Control fumed with steadily mounting rage as Dr. Amanda Trochmann unspooled her presentation, and he quickly decided this was just a Pharmadigm screwup that had nothing to do with the CDC. Roland knew he and his team had flown all the way out from Atlanta for nothing. Let me get this straight, he interrupted when Mandy was less than ten minutes into her digital slide show. You've got a new anesthetic you've made from the venom of black mombas or some shit. Phase zero trials with microdoses went okay, so next was phase one, volunteers on full doses with forty-eight hours of monitoring. Something went wrong and now you want CDC to quarantine the folks. Well, how about you bite the bullet and just pay them out? Lawsuits are part of doing business. Take it up with your shareholders, not the government. We are not talking about money, Director Roland, Mandy objected. The subjects have all signed releases holding Pharmadigm harmless from any side effects. This should be the Food and Drug Administration sitting here, Roland countered. Who's idea was it to call in the CDC? My idea, Mandy admitted. This isn't just Pharmadigm's problem. There are genetic changes, including sperm and ova. Our drug created four little monsters and if they get out into the population they'll be everyone's problem, as I will shortly make clear. So please, Dr. Roland, allow me to resume the presentation. Do make haste, Dr. Trochmann. Thank you, Doctor. As I was saying, the first volunteer was a seventeen year old girl named Robyn Lokken, who is between her junior and senior years in high school. We did a complete physical before the clinical trial in Denver. She was moderately overweight but otherwise fairly healthy. Next slide. The reason Robyn gave for volunteering was financial. Her father was killed last year in the Canadian War and the money situation isn't so good for Robyn and her mother these days. Summer jobs are hard to come by, so she applied for this one. Pharmadigm computers spit her name out and we called her in. Next slide. As you already know, gentlemen anesthesiology is more of an art than a science. We're trying to bring the person on the operating table as close as possible to dying without actually crossing the line so they miss out on all the gory, agonizing parts. Our new drug targets only the gray matter of the brain. It completely shuts down the higher functions of consciousness, but leaves the involuntary functions like breathing completely alone. You don't even need to have an anesthesiologist attend the surgery. I swear to you, there wasn't one jot nor tittle on the instrument monitoring Robyn's brain waves under the drug. And yet she reported a long and rather vivid dream. But that's impossible! Yes, Doctor Roland, it is. Next slide.

A1 - ERIK


The Great Seal of the Islamic Soviet of Canuckistan Robyn Lokken knew she was dreaming even while she dreamed, which she judged to be a complete ripoff. She was moving through a dark tunnel and approached an intense white light. The white light actually wiggled and Robyn saw that it was just a flashlight being held by a New Confederate soldier who was waking her up in a tent. Lokken, get your big dumb Norwegian ass up on the wire, you're late! Robyn grabbed her rifle and her gear and stumbled her way toward the business end of the observation post. And she wondered how she even knew it was an observation post. There was no volition in any of her movements. Robyn realized she was somehow riding behind her father's eyes. And Erik Lokken knew she was in there. The whole prairie was lit up by a flare, but it was fading. Corporal Street said, You missed a pretty hot fire fight. We got ourselves a visitor. The Corporal nudged the bayonet-tipped muzzle of his rifle toward a certain spot just as a fresh flare cast enough light for Robyn to see what he was pointing at. There was the headless body of a Canuckistani fighter lying there, and an up-ended pot of pink and yellow stew where his head and helmet should be. Erik Lokken had seen this sort of thing countless times before. Adios motherfucker, was all Robyn had to say to the Canadian, and it came out in her father's voice. How'd he get through the perimeter? Probably started crawling at sundown, the Corporal said. Now we know why they started irrigating this particular bean field this morning. The water covered the sound of him crawling. Robyn took another look at the dead enemy. This fuck reminds me of staph. Superbug. We created it ourselves with our own antibiotics. All we did was kill the dumb bugs, left the smart bugs to breed, now almost nothing we got will touch 'em. I keep thinking that's all we're doing here too, with these guys. Well, after this asshole came calling we've been watching with night scopes, and we haven't seen anyone else moving out there. Famous last words. A dozen Islamists had been crawling toward the observation post inside the irrigation canal, invisible to infrared goggles under the cool water even as other jihadis drew the attention of Erik's unit by land. When the flares started this only slowed them down, forced them to move only between bursts. There were eight NC troops in the position, and two of them were sleeping. When the enemy came over the sandbag wall they outnumbered the Americans two to one. Only Erik survived the initial assault. They nailed the sleeves of one of Erik's arms to a stump. Another Islamist brandished an axe. God commands this, you understand. And the axe fell. Robyn screamed in pain. Dreams weren't supposed to hurt. The enemy left Erik there to bleed out, and by dawn his unit pulled out of the area without even recovering his body, marking him down as 'Missing In Action'. Robyn's father had been the victim of a certain militia in Alberta devoted to spreading a very nit-picky version Sharia law throughout Canada. In their interpretation of the Qu'ran, the Confederates occupying any portion of the rapidly expanding Dar al-Islam were stealing the land, and faithful Muslims knew what to do with thieves. Off with their hands! Now you know what happened to me, baby doll, Erik told her, mind-to- mind. MIA really means Murdered In Action, but Atlanta doesn't want anyone back home to know how bad we are losing the war. I missed you, daddy. Robyn told him, but she would go on missing him. For her the dark tunnel was not a one-way trip. Not this time.

Naturally we were disappointed when Robyn reported having a dream, Dr. Amanda Trochmann said, resuming her slide show. But the benefits of this drug as a general anesthetic were initially judged by us to outweigh that possible side effect. After observing the girl for two days we did a complete physical on her again, with no changes noted, and I mention that because those two physicals will be important later in my brief. Maybe the girl lied about the dream, Roland suggested. We thought about that, of course and prepared a second volunteer. But as it turned out, it doesn't matter if she was lying about the subjective side effects of the drug, because there are objective side effects. We paid Robyn the five hundred dollars we promised and sent her home. Then why is she here at Hanford?' A week after the drug trial she sought us out because she was scared. But I'm getting ahead of myself, Doctor. Let's back up to the day Robyn was discharged. For phase one we had a ready pool of five candidates, and two of them were male. We wanted to try a male because there could be a gender differential in the response to the drug. We chose Jerry Aspin, who is serving a jail term for killing Oboe Man for his spare change. Roland was astonished. You wanted to flush out Robyn's lies by using a convicted criminal? I chose Jerry Aspin, Director Roland, because I realized we might have to abort the trial after two or three tests and he was the most anxious to continue. Jerry has every incentive to be truthful. He's on year eight of a fifteen year prison sentence. He was qualified for parole after seven years, but the first parole board shot him down because he had no extracurricular activities on the books. Volunteering for a drug trial can help prod the probation board to turn him loose. We called him in. So what happened? Just like with Robyn, he says floated through a dark tunnel toward a bright light, but this time he was in warm water, and when Jerry floated to the top and climbed out of the water, he was given some towels and a robe by what he says were some warrior women, and dried himself off on a dark wooden deck in a grove of trees under a glowing white sky. Jerry says he met Jesus, who was playing the role of his parole officer, but things didn't go so well and after a time Jerry re-entered the pool under his own will and swam back here to his hospital bed. Crazy dream. That's some powerful stuff you whipped up, Dr. Trochmann. Well, after the second test, the clinical trial of this drug as an anesthetic was officially called off. No one is going to sign up for a guaranteed Near Death Experience when all they want to do is sleep straight through an operation. Note that it gives you a dream of whatever you want the most. Robyn missed her father. Jerry missed female companionship and wanted to pass the parole board examination. Dr. Trochmann, I'm sorry your research failed and your company wasted money. But what does any of that have to do with the CDC? Directly, Dr. Roland. Directly. It would have been better if we had just closed up shop. But Pharmadyne management came up with a way to attempt to salvage our substantial monetary investment into the research of this substance. The team remained largely unchanged, but now we were to investigate the possibility of using the drug as a form of psychological therapy, maybe cure schizophrenia by inducing a controlled NDE. So yes, it was greed that got us in a jam and led to calling for a Federal response. So you're Jesus. The Savior was shorter than Jerry always imagined He would be, and not nearly as good looking as the Hollywood versions. He had brown skin, black eyes, and no beard. To Jerry's surprise the Lord wore no white robe, just something like tan striped pajamas, like they wear in Oman or Somalia. But His leather sandals were right out of the gospels. He was seated at a wooden desk near the Sacred Pool drinking wine and reviewing paperwork. But hearing Himself called by those two syllables made the Lord smile. I am called Yeshua, but even that name, when it was given to Me, was changed somewhat from the old days in Canaan. Originally it was Hoshua, which just means 'salvation'. Please have a seat, Mr. Aspin. Jerry settled in to a wide wicker chair in front of Jesus. Two armed female guards in green garb festooned with bird feathers stood behind Him, to his left and right, flashing thigh, but they made a point of ignoring Jerry with intense military bearing. Jerry had been in prison a long time and couldn't help but say, Both of you girls got pretty nice sticks. Jesus continued his story, which Jerry figured He had probably told a thousand times before. The southern kingdom of Judah got to re-write history, and they called God Yahweh, so in the stories they cooked up in the Babylonian Captivity they said Moshe changed Hoshua's name to Yehoshua, which means 'Yahweh is salvation'. But languages drift. A thousand years later it was shortened to just Yeshua and that's when I was born. On Christmas Day. Leap Day, as it turns out! The name Yeshua was too girly for the Greeks so they added an 'S' on the end. Also the Greeks had no 'Y' sound in their alphabet, but they tried to approximate it the best they could, and they came up with 'Ee-ay-soos'. When it was translated to Latin, it came out I-E-S-U-S. Finally, in the Middle Ages in England, they started to use the letter 'J' because names that started with 'I' were too girly for them. I never learned anything in a dream before. What are you reading? I'm reading about the slow-motion train wreck that was the life of one Jerry Aspin. Oboe Man had, what, seventeen dollars in quarters? I've paid my debt to society, Lord. I'm a busy man, as you can imagine. Normally you get your outbrief from a close relative who preceded you. I only get the hardest of the hard cases. But they said to Me, 'here's another one like Robyn Lokken.' And Jesus, reading the last page of Jerry's file, shuffled all the papers together and closed it up. Looking at Jerry with infinite sadness, He shook his head. It would do a great disservice to you were I to take a life like yours and extend it indefinitely. Jerry just chuckled. Normally a final decision like that would set me to worrying a little bit, but this is all just a bad trip. I'm hallucinating all of this! I just have to wait until the drug wears off and goodbye to You. In fact, I can feel it wearing off already. Ahhh . . . it's a drug. That explains what's going on. Clever! Binah told me you folks in the Twentieth would probably stumble on to something like this. We must craft an appropriate response. Craft away, neither you nor your followers can stop me from doing this. And Jerry, shedding his white terry cloth robe, dove into the Sacred Pool and swam headfirst into darker waters, far away from the light.

Obviously no one in our pool of five volunteers is a winner, Amanda Trochmann pointed out at the conclusion of presenting Jerry's case. After all, who would volunteer to allow an unknown substance to enter their body unless there was little choice? We're not scraping bottom yet, but we're getting there. Next up was Jill Pennell, an orphan from some Asian country, maybe Vietnam, adopted by American foster parents. No one knows what her real name might have been, back in the old country. And what was Jill's motivation for volunteering? Roland asked. Money. Just like Robyn Lokken. But unlike Robyn and Jerry, Jill refused to discuss any part of her experience under the drug, even when she was told she would forfeit the five hundred dollars. Maybe they showed her hell, Roland suggested. Unspeakable horror. It doesn't matter. We suddenly had other more important matters to attend. While Jill was under the drug, she literally grew a foot taller, and we didn't catch it until after the test when she got up to go to the loo. And that's when she made another discovery, which speaks for itself. The next slide was a photograph of Jill's shaven crotch. Mandy said, Jill now has two complete sets of female genitals, one above the other. Impossible! Roland sniffed If this is a joke, I'm not amused. This is no joke, and I will demonstrate that to you to your satisfaction, Director Roland. The same thing happened to Robyn Lokken, and that's why she came in.' Another slide, this time it was Robyn. Jerry Aspin grew a second penis and Corrections sent him back here. Yet another slide. Movie make-up, Roland decided. These folks are just having a big laugh at Pharmadigm's expense. But that doesn't explain the genetic studies. Here is an image of Jill's X chromosome from a white blood cell in a sample taken before the trial. You see that it is perfectly normal, a long capsule and a short capsule joined at a constriction called a centromere. This next slide shows Jill's X chromosome after the trial. You can see that it is now three identically short capsules joined by two centromeres. Neocentromeres in humans are associated with chromosome breakage during cell division, Roland pointed out. It's a deadly mutation. We have seen no evidence of genetic damage in Jill, other than this structural change. We are attempting to sequence the chromosome to verify that the change is purely structural, but the results will take some time, and it will take even longer to identify any new genes. Meanwhile, we are calling this changed chromosome a Z chromosome because the two constrictions are like the joints of a three-section set of numchucks. The chromosome can literally drift into the shape of the letter Z, or N." What about the others? Robyn's situation is identical. Every X chromosome in her body is now in this Z configuration. Jerry, being male, only carried a single X chromosome with two thousand genes, paired with a shorter Y with only eighty genes. His Y chromosomes are unaltered, but they are now paired with Z's. What we didn't have was video footage of the actual change. For that we needed to do a final drug trial with the fourth volunteer. Your drug causes genetic damage and you gave it to yet another subject? Lilith Gervasi is a Jew, she said, and Roland's objection melted away. When Jill took Pharmadyne's Near Death Experience trigger drug the Powers That Be on the Other Side were ready for her. Jill went for a wild ride with Binah into deep space, and the speed of light was no barrier. Barnard's Star calls herself Yefefiah, Binah said. She is one of the oldest elohim females. Eleven billion years old. She's a 'runaway' star, and she lives her life in stroboscopic time. Once every century or so she wakes up for a day, looks around, talks to the other elohim, and sees that her position in space has changed. In twenty of her days, she moves one light-year. So she's something of a tourist who flies above and below the plane of the galaxy over and over while it turns. Many among the elohim have tried to court her, but she has no time for them. Someday I hope to meet her. Jill saw the thick planetary accretion disk forming around Epsilon Eridani. Next Binah took her to the Hyades star cluster in Taurus, and then the Pleiades cluster further on. There Jill could look back to see how the Earth's sun was snuggled in along the outskirts of Collinder 285, a formerly tight star cluster which was widely scattered now, but a few core stars remained close together, and men called it the Big Dipper. Next Binah took Jill up and out on Yefefiah's projected track above the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, where the sun dimmed far below and was lost among the interstellar clouds which gave shape to the Orion Arm. Binah pointed out Rho Cassiopeia, four thousand light years away from Earth, a huge supergiant star 100,000 times more luminous than the Sun. Behold Mastema, my absent eloah father. Jill learned there were 2 billion trillion stars in the visible universe, but only a tiny fraction of these were alive and awake. Then Binah took her further out and up, until she was looking at the forty galaxies of the Local Group, dominated by the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy. Binah said, We count ten billion large galaxies like our own, and a hundred billion lesser galaxies. And Binah took her even further out, and Jill saw that the Local Group was just a satellite of the Vega Supercluster, which had one hundred fifty large galaxies and a thousand dwarf galaxies, all bound together by gravity. It was a meta-galaxy made up of galaxies, with a core thirty-five million light-years away. And it was only one of 300,000 superclusters in the universe. But the whole Vega Supercluster was moving toward the Great Attractor near the Centaurus supercluster. Meanwhile the Sculptor and Phoenix superclusters formed part of a long wall of thousands of galaxy groups stretching across a billion light years of space. Finally Binah showed Jill the Bootes Void, 300 million light-years across with no clusters inside it at all, only a few lonely galaxies scattered within. This was the structure at the largest scale of the universe: Walls of galactic superclusters, which formed the surface of large voids. The universe was built like a vast sponge. Binah said, You already know about the Chokhmah-Talishi merger, Jill. I would make the same request, that I may walk as a human being on Earth. You are absolutely free to accept or reject my request, for the change is eternal and irreversible. Respectfully, Binah, I must decline, and remain who I am. As you wish. I will send you back to Denver now, and you will remain Jill Pennell. However, you will go back changed somewhat, and that is not a matter of choice. It's something you signed up for when you agreed to participate in the drug trial. Your mind will be changed such that you will bind the others together by communicating through you, using pure thought, no matter how distant they are. Your body will be changed to bind the others together in that tried-and-true, surefire way that works for both planet-dwellers and elohim alike, which is of course sexuality.

Lilith Gervasi was the daughter of English parents Benjamin and Edith Gervasi and at fifty-six years of age she was the oldest of the five "volunteers", having been born a few years before World War II. Lilith was a survivor of Ohrdruf Nord, the first Nazi concentration camp to be liberated by the US Third Army and she had the numerals 271828 tattooed on her arm. It was a tragic irony, therefore, that Lilith found herself in the hands of an American, distaff version of Doctor Mengele, but Jews on the whole haven't fared so well in America in the wake of the "limited" exchange of nuclear warheads that terminated the 1973 Yom Kippur War. She signed up to avoid deportation to the radioactive wasteland that was Eretz Yisrael. Too young to have served in the War of Liberation, she was a sergeant in the Sinai in the '56 war, and a captain in the '67 war, but by '73 the religious right in Israel had prevailed to keep women out of combat roles, and Lilith was not allowed to enter the country when the call to overseas reservists went out. It was just as well, she might have been incinerated, or barring that, would certainly have died of radiation poisoning later. The final slide in Dr. Amanda Trochmann's presentation wasn't a still image at all, but a digital video file of the actual drug trial involving Lilith Gervasi, filmed the day before in what resembled an operating room, but Dr. Roland thought it resembled a pornographic shoot a lot more, for Lilith was nude, and there was a second camera pointed right between the woman's legs presenting a close-up for the team to watch as the drug took effect. There's the transition, Dr. Trochmann. Shit! Blink and you miss it. In Lilith's crotch shot, she was now sporting a brand new penis, uncircumcised, as well as her original vulva just below it. And she had grown at least six inches, instantaneously, for her knees were now elevated. I did miss it, Mandy said. Rewind the video. They tried to comply, but they couldn't find the footage where Lilith had no penis, not even when they reached the beginning of the file. As far as the record was concerned, Lilith had been mutated from the very beginning. But absolutely everyone attending the experiment knew that wasn't the case. And absolutely no one could explain any of it. But Pharmadigm was sufficiently frightened that they invoked an emergency protocol and transferred everyone, everything to Hanford, the whole shooting match. The chromosome studies showed that only one half of Lilith's sex chromosome pair was modified. She is now XZ, not XX like Robyn and Jill, or YZ like Jerry. That covers all the bases, because YY doesn't work." Except that I don't believe a word of it, Roland said. We're ready for that, Amanda said. We have one more volunteer. We will administer the drug with yourself attending, and you can define the parameters of the experiment any way you like. And assuming that convinces me, Dr. Trochmann, what is it, exactly, you're asking the CDC to do? It should be obvious. Every chromosome is changed, Dr. Roland. Faster than fast. Even their gametes. They can pass these changes along to their children. So we're really talking about a new species here. I'm asking for sterilization, right after you see what it does to Mike. You've got four right now, but you're asking to sterilize five of them, right after you make the fifth one? Mike Morrich is black, she said, and Roland's objection melted away.

I am not the one you worship as G-d, Binah explained to Lilith, but I seek that one even as you do. Belial stands between us and the Old One who created elohim in this galaxy and humans on Earth. This planet alone had the combination of a stable sun, a self-moderating climate, a magnetic field to shield it from cosmic rays, a large moon to dampen wobble due to precession, a large gas-giant planet to vacuum up most stray comets and asteroids, the optimum rate of spin to moderate both temperature extremes and stormy weather, an active geology to rebuild eroded lands, and a fully functioning water cycle. In the beginning the ocean of Earth was saturated with the ingredients of life, the amino acids and nucleic acids which form naturally on many planets or even in deep space according to the exquisitely tuned laws of chemistry selected by the Old One for this universe. Some of these amino acids slammed into each other and stuck together for a short time, forming random shapes, but these rickety structures were soon torn apart again. Floating there in the sunlight of a new star, buffeted by chains of wiggling crystal maggots that were amino and nucleic acids, the Old One assembled an enzyme called replicase from raw amino acids. It grabbed a handful of hydrogen end caps from one amino acid and tore them away, preparing it for assembly into a larger structure. As the Old One added amino acids together one at a time, the object folded up like a long phone cord tying itself into a knot. The Old One busied itself for a time making a few dozen identical replicase enzymes, and soon it had all the hardware it needed. So the Old One turned to making the software. The shortest strand of RNA that can reproduce itself is a mere 4119 nucleic acids long. Omit a single one, and the strand is worthless. The only thing the strand coded was replicase, but there was a 'Catch-22' because it took replicase to read the old strand and build the new one. So the Old One turned one of its hand-crafted ones loose on the strand and away it went, zipping along in fits and starts, powered by random collisions with speeding water molecules. If the replicase machine found the nucleic acid it was looking for in the ambient soup floating all around, it added it to the growing child RNA strand. If it found the amino acid it needed, it added it to the growing child replicase structure. Two structures emerged from this process, a second, identical RNA strand, and a second, identical replicase enzyme. Two became four, four became eight, eight became sixteen. Life on this planet had begun. Random thermal collisions still destroyed the fragile structures, but now they could replace themselves with identical children faster than they could age. In a few years the entire ocean was filled with copies of these RNA strands floating in a soup of replicase. Then competition began. Replicase was hoarded and these hoards were raided by eating. The single-stranded RNA creatures gradually gave way to more sturdy double-stranded DNA creatures with error-correction that could resist mutation and aging. And after the sea had filled with advancing life, even the land was colonized by them. Here on this planet, alone in all the universe, did a species evolve whose natural gait was to walk on two legs, leaving two hands free to manipulate its environment. It is a tragic misfortune that the first meeting of elohim and humans took place under the cloud of sequestration, but Mastema and Belial set up a community of elohim isolated from the greater community as a kind of harem. I am committed to reversing that and restoring humans, nephilim, and the other three elohim in this bubble to full union with El and the Old One who is father of all. To do this I must unite with the flesh and mind of a human being who is full willing to make such an eternal decision. Let it be as you have said, Binah, Lilith said. You not only have my freely-given assent, you have my eager willingness to do this thing. After Dr. Earl Roland of the CDC examined Robyn, Jerry, Jill and Lilith for himself he took Pharmadigm up on their offer and conducted the final drug trial on Michael Morrich under conditions totally of his own design. Roland chose the operating room and brought in his own cameras and recording equipment. Of the Pharmadigm team, only Amanda Trochmann was permitted to attend, and that only in the role of an observer who was not permitted to touch any of the apparatus. Of the CDC, only Roland was present. Amanda could produce no video evidence of Lilith's transition from unmutated human to whatever she was now, but that was not the extent of the problem. Even the charts she had worked up on Lilith and the others seemed to have been altered somehow, after the fact. As far as the medical evidence went, Lilith and the others had the "Z" chromosome from the very beginning and also the physical changes associated with it. The situation was so unusual that Roland couldn't help but suspect it was an elaborate hoax, and if he could prove that, the government would come down on Pharmadigm like a ton of bricks. But Amanda swore up one side and down the other that she didn't understand what has happening. Therefore when Roland satisfied himself that Mike Morrich was fully human he transmitted two copies of the chart to his office in Washington by two different routes, fax and hand courier, using people he knew and trusted. Then he prepared to administer the drug himself. But all these preparations were to no avail. He would never capture the transition moment. Before Roland even pushed the plunger to administer the drug, before Mike's crotch-cam was activated and set to record, his tormentors saw that his crotch was already changed, with two penises, and he had grown a foot taller. Mike wasn't going to get a Near Death Experience. It was enough, apparently, that Roland was on track to give him the drug. Actually giving him the drug was a side note. There was a muffled curse from Mandy. A disturbed Earl Roland reviewed Mike's chart once again. It was completely different, in so many ways it wasn't funny, yet never once was the chart out of Roland's eyeshot. Amanda Trochmann never went near it. Days later, when he returned to the CDC office, he would compare the chart to the two he sent by plane and fax, and they would be identical in every respect, even down to the artifacts of the copy machine. Roland was frightened. Turning to Amanda Trochmann he said, You have the go-ahead on sterilization. Spay and neuter the whole bunch. But it doesn't matter because none of these people will ever leave this installation. Roland said this with Mike Morrich fully conscious and aware of what he was saying, since the drug was never administered to him, but Roland didn't care. And Mike was now in direct mental contact with Jill Pennell, so she and the other three "volunteers" knew what was about to happen to all of them, that they would be rendered incapable of reproduction and imprisoned in the Hanford facility for the rest of their lives. Presently there was a phone call for Roland. This is Sergeant Jim Lasker in Building 1002 at Pearl. Sorry to disturb you Dr. Roland, but you wanted to be informed if any of the five subjects escaped. Jerry Aspin just punched his way out of his holding pen. How did he get out? Roland snapped off with rage. We're not sure at this point, Doctor. There was an explosion. But we're getting hits on the motion sensors. Don't worry, Doctor, we'll get him. I didn't sign up for any of this shit, said Mike, jumping off the examination table, and he simply walked out of the room. Roland and Trochmann were too spooked and astonished to stop him, and by Roland's own contrivance there was no other manpower present to bring Mike to heel. When the Soviet Union nuked Reactor Row at Hanford in black '73 they targeted the two active ones on the east end, but there were two other reactor complexes miles upriver. The one on the far west end escaped nearly unscathed. This was acceptable to the Russians from a strategic basis because that reactor was the oldest one, and had already been taken out of service. There a handful of smaller buildings left intact in that area, too asbestos-ridden to economically tear down, and it was there, separate from the other test subjects and under tighter guard, that Jerry Aspin had been held by Pharmadigm under the terms laid down by Colorado corrections. Moving north, Jerry encountered a chain-link fence still standing along the shore of the Columbia River, installed to keep boaters (casual or not) from entering the installation. He made short work of the fence with his new "talent", the same one that facilitated his escape from the shack where they held him. Apparently he was a pyrokinetic now, though he wasn't sure if it came from the drug or the screwy afterworld he saw. Jerry had used his power to snuff his guards too, but killing men no longer gave him much pause. He already crossed that particular Rubicon when he killed Oboe Man in Denver, although it was Jerry's story, and he stuck to it, that he just gave the street musician a short sharp shock, and it was Oboe Man's face hitting the sidewalk that actually killed him. It should have been Involuntary Manslaughter, but no, it was a robbery so they gave him Murder Two. But the DoE's two guards? No regrets. If Jill was correctly passing along what Mike overheard, Pharmadigm and the confeds didn't intend to let him or any of the other subjects go free for the rest of their lives. At least in prison he could see a glimmer of light at the end of his term. Later, Lilith would explain to Jerry (using concepts he didn't understand at first, like "Maxwell's Demon") that the energy he conjured forth didn't just pop into being from nothing but actually came from the ambient temperature of the fence itself, focused somehow by Jerry into a white-hot circle. This rendered the galvanized steel wire soft enough that a gentle push on the now-frozen fence at the center of the circle gave Jerry a neat hole to walk through. Then he was staring at the whitewater of Hanford Reach, the last undammed section of the mighty Columbia. Jerry wasn't a swimmer, and he knew he couldn't set foot in the water here, or he'd be swept away and drown. He had to find another way. There was the Vernita Bridge, a left turn here and five miles upriver. But already the lights of Department of Energy police cars were crawling all over that whole area, guessing his move. He could see them clearly enough in the deepening twilight over miles of absolutely flat scrublands. Any other convicted felon would move away from those colored flashing lights, but Jerry had a new confidence that came with his talent. He crept upriver on the shoreline until he could clearly see the bridge. Most of the squad cars were gathered together south of the river, but there was one car in the middle of the bridge where the cantilevered section spanned the deepest water. So Jerry had a problem. He could give them a taste of fire but how to get that one car together with the others? Undetected, he crossed under the bridge and looked at the scene from the west. There were four cop cars parked in what passed for civilization around there, a small roadside parking lot with a few trees and a restroom. From a safe distance Jerry set their gas tanks alight much as a kid burns ants with a magnifying glass in the sunlight. Scratch those four cars. The fifth one saw the flames and drove off the bridge to render aid, two cops with pistols drawn, leaving their car running with the key in the ignition, the fools. In the dark it was easy for Jerry to scramble up to the rest area and make off with that car. And there was no way for the cops to call it in. It was too hot to reach any of their radios, even if they were still working. Jerry was the first test subject to obtain freedom. There was no outer perimeter of eight foot high barbed wire fences or rolls of concertina wire or attack dogs or land mines at Hanford as the test subjects had feared, since the clinic was intended only for treating radiation burn victims. Soon they were treading through sand and sagebrush on a very gentle slope east to a bend of the Columbia River. Jerry made it, Jill told the other test subjects. He's out. So it was possible to get free from this place. The news heartened them. Each one of us now has the power to get out of here, Lilith said. But it won't do me any good to tell you how, with words. You have to actually do it before your talent appears and starts working. So it's like when Robyn couldn't guess the combination until she actually started trying to punch it in, Mike guessed. You need muscle memory, not talk. Some things you just have to learn by facing a problem and figuring out a solution. Robyn looked up into the clear and dark night-time desert sky and gasped at the beauty of the many, many stars and the white phosphor Milky Way above. But she was wearing a tan and white dress that ended at her knees, so she began to shiver in the night-time desert cold of early March. They came to a wire fence, and Jill put her hand out to spread the wires apart so she could crawl through, but she quickly pulled her hand back again when she suffered an electrical shock. She looked at it for a moment and decided to try to roll under it, with a little bit of burrowing into the sand to get more clearance. Soon she was through the electric fence and standing at the river's edge. The others followed her in the same way. In the moonlight they dimly saw the swiftly-flowing water of the river. Walking downstream they came to a section where the river was gradually shifting in its bank and they were faced with the choice of getting wet or going back through the electric fence, because there was dang little beach to walk on. So Jill dug another hole and squeezed under the wire, giggling at what she thought was pretty lousy security for a nuclear reservation. It didn't cross her mind that the electric fence was simply to keep critters out so the police wouldn't have to investigate every breach of their network of infrared trip points inland. We have to split up and take different ways out of here, Robyn said. I've got a sixth sense that says so. Does your crystal ball say we make it out of here? Mike wanted to know. If we stay together they'll scoop us all up in about a half hour, and there's no second chances. If we go in two groups, we'll all make it. Then I want to go with you, Jill told her. You seem to know how to stay out of trouble, Robyn. And get out when you're in it. For the purpose of triggering her precognition Robyn tentatively agreed. But it was no good. If we do that, Lilith and Mike make it but you and I do not. You gotta stick with Mike, and stay near the river. Because now I remember you telling me, tomorrow, that you both swam out of here. We better do what she says, Lilith said. She's got the powah. Why did you give me foresight, Lil? Robyn wanted to know. You're a living star. You're the boss lady. Wouldn't it serve you better? Only works for a single awareness. I'm a dualie now. The future won't resolve. Chokhmah, Belial, and Yeshua learned this when they did it. With six hundred square miles of area, the Hanford nuclear reservation was large enough to require town names to identify places within it, mostly women's names, but the "towns" where often just large electrical substations or a cluster of empty warehouses connected by rusty railroads. Despite Robyn's suggestion, Mike and Jill had been steered slightly away from the Mulberry trees along the river by a cyclone fence and entered a more elevated zone of gravel pits connected by a maze of unpaved roads. As they walked, Jill tried to guess what Mike's talent was supposed to be. She already knew she was clairvoyant. She was a sort of telephone service for the five Pharmadigm test subjects, and it had already paid dividends. Jill stopped long enough to physically embrace Mike. "Open yourself up to me without reservation and I'll try to find out what you can do." What happened instead was that she sensed she had copied Mike's talent somehow. But she still didn't know what that power was. Resuming their walk, they veered off the gradually ascending scrub-brush plain into a half-mile long trench intended to hold contaminated water from the Q West reactor before it had been destroyed. When they had walked about halfway down the ditch, which was only wide enough to hold perhaps four cars side-by-side, a pair of headlights appeared ahead and turned to line up directly on them like searchlights. Mike and Jill threw themselves flush against the gritty trench walls. They could feel the cool moistness of the face of gravel, and a flinty smell. The tiny rocks were somewhere between sand and small pebbles in size, and they were held together loosely by a sheen of underground moisture. Mike thought about climbing straight up, but it would be useless to try because the gravel face was clearly unstable. In some places clods of dirt and gravel were actually overhanging, easily knocked down by the brush of a hand. In other places a single scrape would unleash a miniature slide of loose gravel, with the tiny rocks piling around their feet. But that fact itself gave Jill an idea. She began scraping the walls of the trench and deliberately pulling the gravel down over herself. A third light mounted on the windshield and hand-operated by the driver was sweeping methodically up and down the slopes of the gravel pit as the vehicle slowly advanced in the dark. Jill knew she could hold her breath for almost a minute, but with the change she now felt after hugging Mike, she felt she could do it for much longer, and suggested the same idea to Mike. So they scraped at the walls of the trench until enough gravel had collapsed to leave only their heads and one of their arms free. They hyperventilated to get as much oxygen in their bloodstream as possible. Then, as the white DoE jeep approached very closely they held their breath and completed their self-burial, hoping the policeman was too intent upon studying the sides of the trench to glance at the little ongoing rockslide ahead. Since the newly-dug trench was pretty unstable anyway there were many such piles of gravel along the walls. +I think that's long enough+ Jill said to Mike without using audible words, after what seemed an eternity. But neither one felt out of breath. They pushed through and tentatively took a breath after five minutes buried alive. They were careful to avoid loud gasping because the jeep was still fairly near. But the red glow of tail-lights meant that it had passed by. In fact the driver had not even given the brand-new little rock slides a second look. He was checking the nooks between the landslides where he figured someone could try to hide. Jill and Mike patiently and quietly recovered. The crisis of the first security sweep had passed. Soon after Lilith and Robyn went their own way they came to a set of railroad tracks and Robyn suggested they walk along them. This was a good choice, because they would cross no sensors or trip wires, and there was no road paralleling the track, paved or not. Far across the sagebrush plain they could see sodium lights illuminating Hanford's sole remaining tritium production reactor. Within an hour they came to a major rail junction and a cluster of paved roads. But now in the west a few approaching vehicles could be seen by their headlights. The cars didn't seem to hurry, but Robyn and Lil still needed to find a place to hide very quickly. I can hide us in a pinch, Lilith assured her. My own talent is shapeshifting. I can look like whatever I want. If it comes down to it, I can turn into a hollow boulder and you can hide inside me. So let's do it, Robyn said. They'll be here in a few minutes. There's still the problem of hiding my body heat. The boulder would be 98.6 degrees and if they use night vision I'll stand out like a marquee. So instead they hid inside some abandoned rolling stock on a side track. Robyn chose a low, brown Burlington-Northern gondola car to climb into. With many other identical railroad cars sitting around it was a good place for them to hide, as long as they laid down flat and stayed quiet. Out there in the night, true to Lilith's fears, the DoE police were setting up a tripod with an infrared camera so they could do a complete circular scan of the horizon. Once the camera was mounted they saw the dark boxes of many railroad cars creeping across the screen. There were two infrared sources out there in one car, but the cold steel walls shielded them extremely well. After two complete circles the guards bundled their nightscope into the trunk of a squad car and drove away. After that Robyn decided to stick with the train tracks and continue south. If anyone came again, with any luck they could hide in another one of the scattered rail cars. But in a mile or two they reached a place where the tracks, a paved road, and a gravel road all came together. The two roads ran parallel to the train tracks here, making Robyn feel a little exposed. They could see a hint of the coming dawn in the eastern desert skies. Robyn felt her available choices were becoming fewer and fewer. The rail curved southeast for a half mile, then due south for five hundred feet before coming to a dead end. Here was an old forgotten box car, forlorn in the dim gray light of 5 o'clock in the morning. The perimeter fence was tantalizingly close, but they only had two options now. They could hide in the box car and wait to be picked up, or they could hoof it across the sand and try to get out. Robyn still had no idea what to do at the fence. They decided to run for it, and no longer following the rails they triggered a set of intrusion sensors. The DoE cops were right on it, and one of the responding cars had Doctor Earl Roland for a passenger. When the road terminated near the box car, Roland and the cops got out and pursued the escapees on foot. Thus it was that Roland got a fairly good look at something he forever found impossible to believe. Lilith leaned toward a ten-foot tall chain-link fence and turned into a ladder of bones and flesh. Robyn ascended this ladder to the top of the fence. Then the ladder sprouted fingers to grip the fence in many places at the top. Several rungs retracted briefly so Robyn wouldn't be hit as the ladder swung itself over the fence. Then Robyn climbed down on the other side, the ladder turned back into Lilith, and they both ran away. A guard told Roland of sensor hits on the other two escapees. Roland re- covered from his shock sufficiently enough to tell them, Shoot to kill. Mike and Jill knew they were hideously exposed where they were walking and the pre-dawn light was getting slowly but steadily brighter. There was little else to do but to make for the water again and hope to find somewhere to hide. They struck off due east. Jill had some good news, however. Robyn and Lilith just got out of this place, hopped a fence. Lilith says Hanford had a big chunk along the river sold off to the public after '73, otherwise they'd be walking for days. It's the only thing that saved them. But they're on the open road. Great, Mike said, glad that Jill's clairvoyance wasn't displaced by copying his talent. If Robyn really could see the future, then we should make it too. We just don't know how to jump fences. How's Jerry doing? He set a fire and stole a cop car when the cop stopped to help. You can't really go too far in a stolen cop car, Mike pointed out. Cops look for ya. They're funny that way. Jerry knows that. So he lit another fire and stole a car from a do-gooder who wasn't a cop. A station wagon big enough to carry five of us. They crossed a row of fence posts without any barbed wire strung between them. This was actually a line of infrared sensors. The installation's cops had them on their lighted map again. A few minutes after tripping the infrared picket they crossed a wide paved road on the brink of a gentle slope down to the river. But now they heard sirens. Blue flashing lights were visible behind them. Almost the entire Hanford police force was closing in like the jaws of a steel trap. They ran downhill toward the river, kicking up sand. When they met that old electric fence again they dropped to worm themselves under the bottom wire. The even heard dogs now, but once they had gotten to the other side of the fence they figured they wouldn't have to worry about them. When Mike and Jill got their first good look at the river current they knew they were in luck. Not too fast, not too slow. They had completely run out of other options. So they carved out a new option by simply wading straight out into the water. It was cold, but not icy cold like you'd expect in March. The water had baked in the sun behind a dam thirty miles upstream, and behind another dam above that. So it was like old bath water. Here the river slowed and silt had piled up to form several islands. Seven miles per hour. It wasn't the dangerous speed of the whitewater at the rapids upstream, but it wasn't motionless water backed up behind a dam, which would force them to swim for it. There was a wide zone shallow enough to permit Mike and Jill to touch their feet on the bottom now and again. But their bobbing heads were very visible in the brightening dawn. There was a hard splash in the water a fraction of a second before they heard the sharp report of a rifle. Up until now it had been almost a game for both of them. It never occurred to either one that they would be the target of gunfire. They took a few breaths and went underwater. With their new talent, they could stay down under there indefinitely. Another group of policemen were getting out of their vehicles to look at the river with rifles in hand. One of the itchy trigger fingers up there thought he saw something and fired a round. He probably did, the river water was very clear. But the sound of his shot sparked a barrage of blind fire by the other men. Mike and Jill passed through a gauntlet of instantly-forming white bubble-lines as dozens of bullets laced the water. After they surfaced again far downstream it would be almost two hours of drifting along, with their eyes darting and scanning the shore, before the river carried them past a roadless marsh and they could begin to relax. Jerry Aspin was the one who stole the station wagon so he insisted on driving but Lilith rode shotgun to tell him where to go. Robyn had the whole middle seat to herself because Jill and Mike were way in the back doing something horizontal and squishy but no one could see exactly what it was. In Yakima Lilith pulled some gas money out of an ATM to keep their show on the road. They can zero in on that transaction, Jerry objected from his justifiable paranoia. Lilith assured him it soon wouldn't matter. After that they drove the twisty turny road up the Yakima River canyon to minimize contact with police but nothing was pinging on Robyn's prophetic radar. At Ellensburg they got on 90 and headed west into the mountains. Pacifica? Robyn asked. How are we going to get out of the country? We're already out of the country, sorta, Lilith said. If we were starting from Idaho or Colorado we'd be dead meat, but East Washington is a buffer state. The Newcons do all their hardcore border checks one state back. Controlling rednecks is one thing, but they'll be damned if they're going to crimp free trade. Because money talks, bullshit walks. So now we are five of the Beautiful People, Mike said. Just by virtue of being flown to Hanford to be Pharmadigm guinea pigs. Just you keep yourself down until we get over the summit, Lilith reminded him. Ain't no Newcon cop gonna think you're Beautiful People. I think you're Beautiful People, Jill purred, and pulled him back down. So it was up and over Snoqualmie Pass and through a rare unguarded international border to the new nation of Pacifica, formerly British Columbia, Western Washington, Western Oregon, and the parts of Northern California with all the redwoods. After that they took the 605 over a shoulder of Tiger Mountain to a strange zone between suburbia and the Cascade front where the Green River sliced deeply through sandstone like a serpent. They crossed the river on a one-lane bridge at a resort that Lilith said was quite the party spot from the 1920s until the 1970s. Funny how a nuclear war totally squashes the impulse of folks to have fun, Lilith said. That's the first thing I want to undo. The others pondered how Lilith could undo a nuclear war. East of the bridge there was a yellow gate blocking access to a woods road. Lilith told Jerry to stop there and everyone to get out. What is this place? he asked. This is almost the end, Lilith said. I don't have a name yet for our little group. Chokhmah calls her people the Fallen Angels, but they're not evil like their name implies. We are going to work to reverse certain evil deeds of an eloah named Belial. You might have heard of him. The devil? He's real? Robyn found that a little hard to believe. Lil nodded. He is quite the fucker, and lives up to his reputation. But here's where you make your final choice. Follow me down this dirt road and we'll go very, very far from here. Or you can stay in Pacifica, build a new life, maybe even get protection from the Pharmadigm assholes. I'm in, Robyn declared immediately, simply because Lilith was so fun. Jill accepted Lilith's offer as well, and Mike accepted to be with Jill. So that left Jerry, who pondered things for a bit, knowing he had a lot of options now with his talent to start fires. But that would only be extending his old life. He tossed the keys on the carseat and went with Lil. It was a small conference room but it had a window looking directly out onto the airport tarmac and it was private, so it suited Roland's purposes just fine. He had just come in from inspecting the special commuter prop job he had arranged on very short notice. He was inspired by something that Dr. Amanda Trochmann assured him when he first agreed to meet Pharmadigm at Hanford. She had brought all of her company's records of the drug trials, and swore there were no copies. It's definitely in Pharmadigm's interest to keep all of this under limited distribution, she said before she gave her initial presentation, and then proceeded to demonstrate exactly why. After Amanda was satisfied that all of the Pharmadigm records of the drug trials were secure aboard the plane, including the new ones, Roland told her the police had picked up their five errant test subjects riding in the same car, and he asked her to go ahead on the plane to the Groom Lake facility in Nevada, sometimes called Area 51, where he was confident security was much, much better. I'll meet you there, he said, quite the consummate liar. We're taking the Pharmadigm Five down by an Air Force C-141 and I want to ride with them. What capped it off for Amanda were his promises of ample government reimbursement to the Pharmadigm corporation, which bode well for her own career. Dr. Trochmann rode with Dr. Robert Lessing, the company geneticist who assisted her, along with medical technicians Kevin Lodge, Sarah Newbolt, and Lorraine Null. A large young orderly named Andrew Fulford had been Pharmadigm "muscle" and a 29 year old R.N. named Kristen Ramsey was also on the plane. Roland figured that eventually Amanda or one of the six other folks would open a sun shade and wonder why they were flying out over the ocean to go to Nevada, but by then it would be much too late. Roland figured the longer his five escapees remained loose, the more ammunition he had to defend the expense of aborting the whole operation in this particular way. I'm Curt Raplee, the pilot said as he began setting up equipment on a table in the conference room. The plane stood by itself out there now. Doctor No Name, came the reply. You got family, Captain Raplee? No Doc. There's just me, and I was fixin' to retire anyway. He fiddled with some knobs. The plane started up and began to taxi forward under remote control. I'm not even curious about who these people are. They don't pay me to be curious, Doctor No Name. There's only one thing I've ever been curious about: Did the check clear? That's what your people told me. Because I can't stand loose ends. I especially don't like the kind of loose ends that walk around. After this I'll be a very rich, very distant and a very retired loose end, Doctor No Name, Raplee said in the manner of the banal wicked. There was a price that would buy any man, that would make any man give up his pretensions of morality or principle. Roland had found Raplee's price. The pilot flicked on a small radio transmitter. The tower would not be able to tell he wasn't calling from aboard the plane. He said, Tri-Cities Control this is Air Maui zero one requesting clearance for takeoff, over. It was a small regional airport and his bird was the only one out there. A deft maneuver on his panel turned the plane and lined it up nicely at the head of the longest of three runways. When the go-ahead came back from the tower Raplee hit a button and the plane began to roll forward. Roland was amused that Amanda hadn't even wondered why it was Air Maui to Nevada. OK, the on-board computer's got the bubble, from here on out, Doc. It's amazing what they can get computers to do nowadays, Roland marveled as the plane climbed into the sky. Maybe, someday, all by itself, a computer will even be able to land the damn thing. I've decided on what to call our little group, Lilith said as she walked north along a forgotten woods road with Robyn, Jill, Jerry and Mike. We are the Gervasi Crime Family now. But we're not really gonna do crimes, right? Robyn asked. Not really. No. It's just funny in an ironic sort of way. Certainly Belial will consider us criminals. And we did bust out of jail just now. Stay on this dirt road until we get where we're going. There's a lot of intentional and unintentional booby traps around here. Mine shafts and that sort of thing. Very dangerous. This land has been abused. You seem to know it very well, Mike said. I know where we're going even better, Lilith replied. In fact, the name of the place we're heading for is literally The Land We Know. Why that name? Because I helped to make it. How does one get to be a star? Jill asked, sincerely curious. Didn't your mum tell you the one about the birds and the bees? You know what I mean.' Well, stars don't get around a lot, so we're really just talking about phone sex. What happens to the female at the climax of star phone sex is there's a kind of ripple that goes out from her, like on a pond, but it's a sphere, not a circle, and it moves at the speed of light. Months and years go by. If that ripple finds a core of nuclear material that is hot enough, but not too hot, and isn't already a living star, then it fertilizes the part of that core that is the right temperature. A layer of the core organizes itself into a girl eloah. Mom can do this exactly twice. On the second time, she is transformed permanently into a male eloah. That means ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine percent of elohim are male. The competition for female elohim must be something fierce, Robyn said. You said it. This leads to all sorts of bizarre behavior from the males, and some of that is illegal and immoral. So we get our Belials. They arrived at a pond of calm water surrounded by a berm of earth in the shape of a 'C' ring. Lilith jumped in without further ado, fully clothed, and the others knew she expected them to follow. The water was icy cold, but counter-intuitively it got warmer and lighter the deeper one went. They followed Lilith head first and the water grew comfortably warm. They broke the surface and could see varnished wooden decks, towels, plus a dozen striking women to help them out of the water and offer to dry them off. I'm using this body, Bat-El, Lilith said, to give a heads' up. I met one of your people before, Yeshua Bat-El said with a smile. Jerry sat himself down at Yeshua's feet, and the others were shocked at the transformation of his swagger into genuine humility. Jerry said, I apologize for what I said here before, sir. I didn't think you were real. No offense taken, son. Forget it ever happened. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you, ah . . .Jesus. The one and only, Yeshua said. They bugged the wrong phone during the May 1972 Watergate break-in. It was just a secretary's phone mostly used by staffers to order in Chinese food, not the one used by the Democratic Party chairman clear on the other side of the office in a locked room. The corresponding Operation GEMSTONE transcripts were useless and the Attorney General, loth to piss away $89,000 in diverted and laundered campaign funds, ordered a second break-in to square things away because the President himself insisted they keep collecting whatever information they could on his political enemies, around the clock. On June 14 the GEMSTONE leader codenamed "Daddy" got his Washington team back together and the "Spook" told the same group of burglars he used the first time to fly back up from Miami. It took two days to get everyone into place with the right equipment, mostly off-the-shelf stuff that couldn't be traced, but there was no written plan and no rehearsal. This astonished the "Photographer", a semi-retired CIA operative who had captained a boat for over three hundred missions to communist Cuba (some of which were extraordinary renditions of men who might have been his friends had he dared to lift their hoods). But his friend the "Realtor", a fellow Bay of Pigs veteran, practically worshiped the ground the Spook walked on. The "Quiet Man" walked through the front door of the Watergate office complex, signed in, took the elevator to the top floor, entered the stairwell, then used duct tape to cheat the locks on every door all the way down to the parking garage levels. But he was a complete moron, and taped the doors horizontally, rather than vertically, so anyone and his dog could see it. A private security guard named Frank Wills did see the tape, because his first task was always to check the basement doors for tampering when he came on to his shift at midnight. He pulled the tape off and called his supervisor, who told him to check the other doors and call back in fifteen minutes. What he did instead was go get some fast food across the street with a young intern who was pulling a late-nighter. When the actual burglary commenced, it lasted for about seven minutes before they came back to their base of operations in Room 419 of the Watergate Hotel and told Daddy the duct tape on the B-2 garage level door was missing. Meanwhile the "Locksmith" and "The Goon" went around looking for another lock to pick. The Realtor and the Spook told Daddy they wanted to abort the mission, because obviously a guard must have removed the tape. The Photographer said he was ready to do whatever Daddy decided to do. Daddy decided to cancel the evolution and try again two weeks later. The Quiet Man made his rounds again, this time removing the tape from all the doors. By the time Frank Wills finished his hamburger and actually did what his supervisor told him to do (check the other doors), there was no tape. He figured it had just been some lazy workman who taped the B-2 level door open that one time to save a few seconds of hassle fumbling for keys while carrying something big. Wills forgot about the entire episode. But the third time was the charm for the burglars. On July 1 the GEMSTONE team returned one more time to the sixth floor offices of the DNC at the Watergate complex, bugged the correct phone, photographed ten rolls of film of the Realtor holding documents in his gloved hands, and even made off with some blank stationary with Party letterhead. What they didn't find was evidence that Castro was giving money to the Democrats. But that was fine, because the President simply used the letterhead and the photographs of various signatures to manufacture such evidence. Tactically, there was little profit in any of this illegal activity, all it really did was turn what would have been a 49-state victory into a 50-state victory. But having avoided a messy second term scandal, Nixon was free to bring about what he called the New American Revolution, making the executive branch nearly omnipotent with a cabinet whose heads were supremely loyal to him. Congress he largely ignored. But this situation of an imperial presidency was going to bite America in the ass in October 1973. How did we get to this place? Mike Morrich asked Yeshua when the floor was open for questions. "How" was his main thing. Mike had been left in the dark as to how to escape Hanford and he was still sensitive about that. Does the concept of a wormhole mean anything to you? Yeshua asked in reply but Mike shook his head. Einstein-Rosen bridge? It's a natural facet of living suns. We were endowed by our creator with links which go from daughter to mother star, bringing point A and point B close together no matter how far apart they really are in actual space. We usually just let them remain microscopic webs and use them to talk to each other. But we can fatten them up a little bit with dark energy and move things through them. You just swam through one such tunnel linking that pond with this pool. We have also deduced that Belial is blocking access to a half-sister of Chokhmah because Chokhmah cannot speak to a sibling like Binah does when she speaks to El Shaddai. So Belial has got another isolated harem. I've enlisted with Binah's dream of liberation and we're fighting for the other harem as well. I've always suspected that Binah knows much more than she's letting on, that she has access to many other elohim somehow, otherwise how could she know how to do all the wonderful things she does? The other elohim guess as much. But Binah always refuses to confirm this. Lilith turned away from Yeshua's searching gaze and remained silent. What is this place? Robyn Lokken asked Yeshua next. Her new talent was precognition so she was all about "what". Finding what combination opened the door, or what blackjack deal would pay off. This place where you're standing is an island about the size of, I guess Indiana. We call it The Land We Know. But it's floating inside a sort of blister in the wormhole between myself and my surrogate mother El Shaddai. Now that doesn't mean we're inside the sun. I can't really explain to you where we are, but the five elohim have passages linking to here, even Belial. Indeed, Belial cannot deny passage to any nephil between here and Gorpai, or Gorpai and here. That was one of the terms of the agreement between Binah and Belial when they mated and brought me into this universe. I cannot claim it was done out of love, Lilith said. But yes, I am the eloah mother of Yeshua Bat-El. Miriam was his human mother. Why did you make this place? asked Jill Pennell, a question about the relationships between elohim and harmonizing with her clairvoyance. It's a transfer station between worlds. Star travel between Sol and Centauri takes at least two years of ship's time and five years of real time if you don't want to flatten your passengers. Keeping people happy for that long takes a very large ship. This is better. And a second life in the Land We Know serves as a kind of chillout lounge at the end of your first life on Earth. One last chance to reform, if you'll take it. Are any of these ladies available? asked Jerry Aspin, who had spent years in prison locked up with other men. At least he knew his priorities. These women are my priestesses, some of them are taken from the dead among the women of Earth. I never permit such women to perform tasks back in the World. Others like Ambe Omphal here are begotten in the Land We Know and have been to Earth and Gorpai many times. Sometimes I send begotten men. Sometimes I even send nephilim and you get your Bigfoot stories. The history of human beings on Earth is a painting, Lilith explained, and Yeshua is putting the final touches on it. As for their availability, don't ask me, ask one of them. It's none of my business, really. And my sex life is none of yours. Besides, the Roman church always misquoted me. I never said celibate, I said celebrate. Egypt crossed the Suez Canal on October 6th while Israel was basically shut down for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Egypt's attack consisted of 240 warplanes and 2,000 pieces of artillery, followed by 8,000 troops crossing over the Suez Canal. At the same time, 600 Syrian tanks advanced across the uplands known as the Golan Heights. Mobilization orders went out to the reservists and regulars of the Israel Defense Force while the soldiers were at home, or attending synagogue, or even living overseas. Lilith Gervasi, stateside, was notified by telegram and arrived in Israel Oct 8, in uniform as a second lieutenant, or segen mishneh. She reported for duty in General David Elazar's Northern Command. At thirty-seven years of age she was a little long in the tooth as combatants went, but Lilith, who spent most of her time between Arab-Israeli wars conditioning herself for the next Arab-Israeli war, was in fine physical shape. By Oct. 10th, the Israeli counterattack in the Golan reached the line from which Syria launched their attack on October 6th. Moshe Dayan wanted to halt right there, thirty miles from Damascus, to avoid drawing the Soviet Union into the war. General Elazar, by contrast, wanted to advance another twenty miles into Syria to set up a strong defensive line and stabilize the northern front. Prime Minister Golda Meir, assured by the US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Nixon had her back, sided with Elazar. The Israeli thrust east from the Golan Heights into Syria began on the 11th and pushed the Syrians back after fierce fighting. Early that evening, Lilith's unit was already six miles over the border into Syria. A few days later, the Christian commander of Syria's forces in the Golan was executed before a firing squad in Damascus for ordering the withdrawal. Moshe Dayan went on television at 2200 hours and reminded the Syrians that the road from Damascus to Israel was also the road from Israel to Damascus. But the next day Iraq entered the war, with fifteen thousand Iraqi troops shoring up the Syrian front. King Hussein of Jordan resisted Arab pressure, however, and refused to move against Israel. In Syria, all eighty tanks of one Iraqi brigade were destroyed by Israeli tanks and planes with absolutely no losses to the Israelis. Another Iraqi tank brigade was blocked by Lilith and a demolition crew who arrived at two bridges the tanks needed to cross and sliced partway through their support structures with blow torches, letting the weight of the tanks do most of the work. There were no tell-tale explosions. When the bridges collapsed, fifty of the eighty tanks were stranded on an "island" with fewer than ten tanks able to advance, which the IDF Air Force quickly took off the board. On October 16, sixty Iraqi tanks were hit on the Golan Heights and they withdrew. The Israelis held their position just eight miles outside of Damascus and Lilith's company of infantry was an important part of this strong offensive line. The IDF also halted five miles west of the road from Damascus to Amman, Jordan, ready to block any late-minute entry of Jordan into the war with a flank attack. The Soviet Union grew alarmed. At that point, the Israelis began to breathe a sigh of relief, particularly when equally spectacular results were starting to come in from the southern theater of war. But the religious extreme right in Israel, with none of their own boots on the ground (as usual) prevailed upon PM Meir to withdraw all female combatants from the front lines of the conflict. In the event she refused they threatened to take Likud out of the temporary power-sharing arrangement of her Alignment party, which would in turn drive her from office. Meir caved in, and Lilith was relieved of duty. When Lilith made formal protest, General Elazar barked at her, Give me one reason why I should not carry out these orders rotating you back home. She bared her arm with the six tattooed numerals. But it was not enough.

When a set of waterproof luggage was brought to the Sacred Pool Lilith invited Robyn to have a look. See if any of this gear won't fly. When Robyn held up one minidress, which looked more like just a blouse, she thought it was a joke. They don't wear this stuff even in Pacifica. Not anymore they don't, was all Lilith had to say, and Robyn wondered why she was even asked to look. The rest of the stuff in the luggage was what two women would need for an extended trip, packed very tightly. Yeshua's ladies also set out a great deal of paper money, but it was very old, certainly not New Confederate bills. There were even some thousand dollar bills, and when Robyn saw those she was positive Lilith was joking. Jerry Aspin was mostly just admiring the priestesses themselves, especially Ambe Omphal, who looked very exotic to him. She was fair but he could not pin down her ethnic background. Later he would learn that she was the daughter of two jan, and her origin therefore was simply the Land We Know and nowhere else. As for Mike and Jill, they were admiring each other. I'm taking Robyn with me back to Earth, Lilith said. Mike, Jerry, and Jill will go to Nath and to points beyond. We will be in touch. What does that mean? Jill asked. Who will show us the way to go?' Yeshua pointed at a compound containing Grace Hopper, Menachim Begin, and Isaac Asimov. I'm too swamped to take anyone for a horse ride. I have been given the task of accompanying you overland to the temple of El Shaddai, High Priestess Omphal said, and Jerry made a victory fist. When Robyn and Lilith traversed the wormhole again from warm water to cold, and commenced to dry themselves off, Robyn looked around and said, The trees look different, Lil, are you sure this is the right place? It is different, Lilith said. We skipped April and May and went right on into June. We also went back in time twenty years to 1972. You're shitting me. I shit you not. Wormholes bridge locations in space-time, so that means we link times not just places. And so far, that is something Belial hasn't pieced together. I'd like to keep it that way. He's a full-blown eloah. How can he not know? You're right Robyn, he's an eloah, but he's too stupid to understand most of the Lore of El, he relies on me for all his technical stuff. Time in the Land We Know is not strictly matched to time in the other worlds. This helps us avoid the Santa Claus Problem. You know. How does Santa bring all those toys to all the world's girls and boys in one night? Every human death filters through the Land We Know. How do they all fit on an island the size of Indiana? We spread them out in time. So why doesn't Belial figure that out? Belial is not really interested in the Land We Know. He never promised an afterlife to his nephilim. He doesn't have improving human history for a modus operandi. He's more interested in making ever more arcane rules until someone commits an error in ritual so he can go "see!". Belial thinks human beings will be a threat to the elohim someday and wants any excuse he can to destroy them. But neither myself nor any of the other elohim trapped in this bubble accept his premise that humans ought to obey us, although El Shaddai did at first, and that's why we have the Torah. The Eastern Sea of the West Lands is divided in twain by a long peninsula called Magodon, but every approach to Magodon save one was guarded by sheer cliffs rising as much as four hundred feet, made of soft wet clay that could not be scaled by any yeng, and at the foot of these cliffs all around Magodon lay impassible swamps that could swallow horses, trap the wheels of chariots, and drown yeng. Nor could an invading army cross the land around the Sea to the north or the south, for in places roaring waves ran nigh to the very ice, and periodically giant slabs of ice would melt and slide into the sea with the sound of thunder, and no permanent road could be carved nor tunnel bored to permit passage to the lands in the west. Only at the uttermost eastern tip of the peninsula of Magodon could nephilim pass, but this was guarded by the Nine Mile Wall and several small islands bristling with fortified settlements, whose chief city was Rumbek. So it was that the House of Bellon was the bulwark against any Gerash incursion, protecting not only their own lands in Magodon to the city of Hideon and beyond, but also the greater lands of family Antero far in the west. When war came a well-orchestrated ballet of Gerash sailing craft, guided by the lights of homes on the shore of Sealiah Isle, concentrated at nightfall in the league-wide gap between Sealiah and the village of Gurtus on the mainland. The tiny settlement of Surat at Sealiah's northern tip, including the ferry landing, were taken by Eyes of Belial commandos and after that many of the new Gerash ships traversed the narrow strait unhindered. Five battalions of Gerash troops went ashore at Sealiah led by Eye of Belial officers. The boats had to be driven well up on the beach to avoid the omnipresent yang-eating flora in the waters of the Eastern Sea, which also afflicted the Western Sea nigh to Aramel in the Middle Lands. Belial's ships then rowed southwest toward Rumbek. Sloth was remedied by the lash. The defenders of Rumbek answered Belial's incursion with a wall of ships. In this arena alone did the House of Bellon gain a clear victory. By the end of the first day no Magodon ships were left to threaten Rumbek, for all the surviving ships were pulled north to defend the Sealiah beachhead. At dawn on the second day the southernmost two battalions of the amphibious invasion force linked together and marched across Sealiah Island as they began taking it house-to-house. This was accomplished with little resistance and only scattered bow-shot. Likewise, the village of Surat in the north fell quickly to the endless troops pouring over the beachhead. Soon the residents of both towns regretted surrendering so easily, for the Eyes of Belial began obeying Belial's orders to kill male Brown Beards on sight. Meanwhile three other battalions erupted from the beach and cut southwest across the island to join up with the first two, but Khondiel's Fallen Angels issued forth from their tents and borrowed houses to hit Belial on his left flank. All of Sealiah awoke to put up the first real resistance of the unfolding war. Movement ground nearly to a halt as a pitched battle developed along a front that crept slowly south down the Isle of Sealiah. Refugees began leaving Sealiah on foot. Talishi fell in together with them, protected by Khondiel, and the King assigned a platoon to guard Talishi as well, led by a Dominion named Binyiel. Talishi objected, saying, Dominion Binyiel, please return to the King, for I have Khondiel with me, and the people of House Bellon need you and your yang far more than we do. But Dominion Binyiel said, Even so, Lady Talishi, the King himself charged me never to depart your side. And in her presence he produced Irmgard's own ring, embossed with the seal of the House of Bellon, which the King used to imprint documents sealed with wax to assure their authenticity. When the Dominion gave this token to Talishi she mourned bitterly, for by this gesture she knew Irmgard had resolved not to survive the coming attack. But to honor the King, Talishi accepted his ring and also his servant the Dominion Binyiel as a traveling companion. As the 1973 Yom Kippur war raged on, President Nixon ordered an airlift of military supplies to allow Israel to keep fighting. The Soviets supplied their Arab client states continuously throughout the war. In the Sinai, Israel lost two hundred tanks right away, but a pair of extra tank divisions were rushed forward to halt the Egyptian advance. Eighty percent of Israel's entire inventory of armor that was still operational was sent into the battle, but Egyptian troops using Soviet-supplied anti-tank weaponry held the Israelis to a line five miles east of the Suez Canal. Meanwhile more Egyptian tanks and infantry massing on their side of the canal were protected from Israeli air attack by a tough shield of anti-aircraft missiles guided by radar, again courtesy of the Soviet Union. On October 13 the Egyptians tried to break through two mountain passes in the Sinai. What followed was the largest tank battle on Earth since the 1943 battle of Kursk between Germany and Russia and the second largest tank battle anywhere, ever, involving nearly two thousand tanks. During the battle a total of 264 Egyptian tanks were knocked out, to Israel's ten. On the 14th another Egyptian attack on the Suez Canal was stopped with the destruction of 200 tanks and a thousand Egyptian soldiers killed. The following day a third battle was fought at the meeting point between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies that served as an administration area for both armies and headquarters for the 16th Infantry Division. Tanks fired at practically point blank range. Egypt lost 150 tanks to Israel's eighty. Overnight an IDF parachute brigade established a toehold on the other side of the Canal. Two forward-deployed Egyptian anti-aircraft missile bases were taken out, allowing Israel to establish air superiority over the western bank of the Suez Canal. A veritable conveyor belt of Soviet war supplies moved by air to Egypt and Syria, while the Americans supplied Israel from their own endless abundance. But when the Soviet Union saw the Arabs checked in the Golan and now in the Suez, and Nixon refused to pressure Israel to allow the trapped Third Army to escape, Leonid Brezhnev began airlifting Soviet troops to Cairo to supplement the Egyptians. Passing through the Dardenelles, Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean reached 97 ships, including 23 submarines, while the US added a third carrier battle group from Spain for a total of 60 ships. Nixon took the US to DEFCON 3 and sent the 101st Airborne into the Sinai to counterbalance the Soviet troops, but events were moving fast and there was insufficient time to match the Soviets troop-for-troop. Nixon told Brezhnev that sending any more troop transport planes would be crossing a red line, but Brezhnev called his bluff. Fighters from the USS Independence' shot down the next cargo plane hauling Soviet troops. Brezhnev replied with a nuclear-tipped torpedo round fired at the Independence. The United States didn't even know the Soviets had nuclear torpedoes. It didn't have to be close, it took out the carrier, several support ships steaming alongside, and even damaged the submarine that fired it. The Cold War had just gone hot. Nixon ordered weapons red and free on all Soviet forces in the Mediterranean, and the two sides slugged it out. Both remaining US carriers were taken out, but the Soviet naval forces definitely came off much the worse. But this hardly mattered, an exchange of ICBMs took out both the American and Soviet capital cities, killing ten million people instantly and many more after the fact. Then the two superpowers went back into their own corners to assess what was happening and see if the other side would escalate. A few more items on each side's laundry list were nuked, such as Hanford in the US, and the Sevastopol navy base, but Brezhnev and Nixon were both dead, and cooler heads didn't think losing more millions of lives would be worth what either side had gained by the war, which was precisely nothing.

There were things Lilith and Robyn could not do in 1972, because neither one had valid drivers' licenses. They couldn't fly aboard an airline, and they couldn't write checks, but they could buy a used car with cash on the barrel head, and using Robyn's talent of precognition they could avoid being pulled over by the police. So from the Seattle area they headed back East on the same freeway they took from Hanford. Lilith said they would probably end up getting some cheap motel right there in the Tri-Cities again because of their late start, which bothered Robyn. Relax, it's twenty years ago. There's no Pharmadigm, Doc Troch is a kid in junior high school, DC is still in one piece, and we'll have no problem crossing into Idaho because we're all one big happy country again. Twenty years ago. So that's why the minidresses, Robyn said, referring to the very small polyester things they were both wearing. I'm a jen, Lilith explained. That's a chick with a dick. If I went with slacks, I'd have to explain the bulge. Are you sure you can even carry it off? Robyn asked, meaning the dress. Nephilim who are jen from birth are halfway between men and women on the femininity scale, but I've got fifty-six years of experience as a human woman and that's not something you can just sluff off. Our jen children will be closer to the norm. Our jen children? I mean that only in a catholic sense, Robyn. I'm talking about all of us in the Gervasi Family. And I did wear these kind of clothes in the Sixties before everything went to hell. I've had a lot of fun in my time. You don't show your age by day, Lil. You look like a million bucks. But I've seen you when you're sleeping and you're, well, fiftyish. My talent is shapeshifting, but when I'm in REM sleep I can't hold that shape. It's like when you try to sleep sitting up, when you dream you sag against your seat belt. You'll find out about that soon enough, because this trip is going to take a week. We're sharing the driving. Later when they checked into some no-name hotel in Kennewick, Washington, and nothing interesting was on the three available channels of local television, Robyn said, after much thought, I didn't really mean I found the concept shocking back there when I said, "Our children?" They had been coy, trying not to appear undressed in front of each other, but Lilith was a sharp cookie and guessed where Robyn was going with that. She stood up and removed her military panties and bra so Robyn could see what she thought she wanted to get. Lilith had retracted her somewhat ample breasts to modest A cups, and there was no body hair. Her new penis was small as such things went, but attractive and already starting to stand up in anticipation. Her new balls hid her original vulva, but that was just as well, Robyn might have second thoughts if they took this too fast. Robyn said with a gentle laugh, I guess you're the first woman to find out what it's like on the other side of the great barrier reef. Lilith nodded her head and smiled. I certainly understand a lot of very strange behavior by men now. And the star part of me understands a lot of very strange behavior by people in general now. So Robyn opened her arms and legs to gather Lilith in to herself, but Lilith had to be an ambitious lover that first time, because Robyn was yin, and one visit downtown was only half the job done. After the road to Mandakar along the western shore of Sealiah Island fell to the armies of Magodon, Belial watched as a massive stone bridge was sunk by Bellon engineers with black powder as a final defensive measure. But there was a far more worse setback for him later that evening when the Bellon navy won through to demolish Belial's pontoon bridge and set fire to his last remaining ships, cutting off the only line of supply to Sealiah. The whole north of Sealiah is occupied, Dominion Binyiel said to Talishi as they trudged over the shoulders of Mount Memalek. Even Kelang is under assault. Only here in the extreme south does Sealiah remain free. Talishi was accompanied by Khondiel and Dominion Binyiel's platoon. Led by Binyel, they moved by animal tracks in steep wilderness terrain until it grew dark and they were come to the village of Olivus snuggled in the low hills along the southern shore. And Talishi said, Dominion Binyiel, I am unwarlike, and a weakling yin. I am about to swoon from this march. Perhaps I could rest for a brief while in that cottage hard by. In answer, Major Binyiel approached the nearest cottage and pounded on the door. Open in the name of King Irmgard! The yang who answered the door didn't look very happy at all. He barked, What do you want, soldier? Lodging for these two travelers. They go with the blessing of the King himself. The owner was irritated, and said, How much did they pay you to say that, soldier? Do you think in this confusion the "blessing of the King" are the pass words to help yourself to the bounty of any subject of the realm? Binyiel produced the King's ring, and at once the hospitality of that cottage improved. Lady Talishi and Princess Khondiel were welcomed indoors for the night. By dawn the owner of the cottage would also be on the run. As the night wore on, King Irmgard stood his ground in the walled city of Mandakar as it came under attack by cruel flaming catapult rounds from the surrounding part of Sealiah Island already captured by Belial. This was the beginning of a merciless siege by fire that would end only when the city lost the battle to put out the flames and succumbed three days later. At the capital city of Rumbek, on the Isle of Liban, the Lord of the City who ruled in the stead of the King knew the enemy had no more ships or boats, so he ordered the bridge to Fanon island to be deliberately sunk. The early victories of Belial were explained by the fanatical willingness of the Eyes of Belial to die for their god. However the resolve of their Bellon foes stiffened as the slaughter of civilians continued and rumor of Gerash atrocities traveled with the refugees. Faced with no alternative but to die the people of the House of Bellon made their final stand at Rumbek. When Khondiel and Talishi reached the southwest tip of Sealiah it was the last small unconquered piece of the island. There Rumbek took refugees off the island by boat as quickly as they were able. Khondiel and Talishi got in line with the rest of the crowd while their personal squad of soldiers joined others to hold off Gerash attackers in a desperate fight for enough time to allow at least some of the refugees to escape. Dominion Binyiel evaluated the scene and said, Now, Lady Talishi, I must spend the remaining moments of my life in disobedience to the strict commandment of my King, and leave your side to win time for you to escape, but I deem it the greater good. Whatever happens to me, save our people! We both will do what we must, Dominion Binyiel, she told him. With no further word he went to his task, and Talishi never saw that officer again.

The delegation from the neighboring Kingdom of Nath entered the Queen's great meeting chamber next. Of King Belen Garand Luzea sang to Aliwe:

He rules lakeside Hadal where you were born.

The Queen greets him without a trace of scorn.

Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed har son

And is fresh in the minds of everyone.

Indeed, it was that very tragedy which led to the Queen convening the Council in the hopes of avoiding anything like it again in the future.

King Garand was followed by Count Hilkiah Zelus of the city of Mizal, who came to the Council with his beautiful wife Tamar Amshaid-Zelus. Mizal, which lay on the irrigated plain behind the Enkaa Dam, was the breadbasket of Nath. Indeed, Mizal fed the whole Land We Know. Luzea sang:

The more they grow in Hilkiah's Valley,

The more we toil in Aurra's Galley!

The Count was followed by the Baron Nahaliel Kerresh of Linan, who proceeded at a stately pace with his wife Ainia at his side. Linan lay at the center of the rangelands of Nath, where cattle were sold by the head or by the herd and driven alive to parts throughout the Land We Know to be slaughtered, and the choice animals of these were offered by priests to El Shaddai at the Temple in Hadal. Luzea sang:

Watch your step Baron, when ready to roam,

We just caught a whiff, reminder of home!

After that, the man Telan Blackseed, High Lord Advocate of Saiph League, made an unassuming entrance, a stroll without any pomp, that befitted his status here as an elected commoner out of place among blood nobility. But Queen Firegem knew that dealing with Telan (and the republic he represented) was the very purpose lying at the heart of her Council, and his real power equated to that of at least a duke, if not a king.

Telan Blackseed also was under no illusion here. The Queen's aim was nothing less than the formation of a league of all the kingdoms in the Land We Know which would be far stronger than the fragile Saiph League of cities. If that royal alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the eternally warring states, and that in turn would spark an existential crisis in the Saiph League. Over the eighteen decades of its exist- ence, the Republic had shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other nations in the Land We Know, or attending to the needs of those who manufactured those arms. Now, overnight, the entire basis of industry in the Saiph League could evaporate, unless the nascent league of kingdoms was stillborn. Blackseed was attending to that.

The mere fact that Queen Firegem had convened this council had recently propelled Telan Blackseed from the office of a lowly Freelord in the Markal region to the High Lord Advocacy itself, because he had foreseen the Queen's actions and publicly warned of it, while his predecessor, High Lord Advocate Thorgrim Grayeye, ever the conservative, had vacillated until it was too late. The charter of the Saiph League only allowed for the High Lord Advocate to be replaced in the event of his resignation or death. Grayeye refused to resign. This called for a practical solution. So most of the Freelords acting in concert provided the legal sanction for his death, and Blackseed's roving death squads provided the physical action.

Accompanying Telan Blackseed was a black-clad woman with the single name of Joy and no surname. Much mystery surrounded this Joy. She would not say whether she was begotten in the Land We Know, or one of the dead of Earth. Some said she was a great sorceress with power over animals. But one thing was certain. Joy never smiled, and her grim visage gave lie to her name.

As the 1973 Yom Kippur war raged on, President Nixon ordered an airlift of military supplies to allow Israel to keep fighting. The Soviets supplied their Arab client states continuously throughout the war. In the Sinai, Israel lost two hundred tanks right away, but a pair of extra tank divisions were rushed forward to halt the Egyptian advance. Eighty percent of Israel's entire inventory of armor that was still operational was sent into the battle, but Egyptian troops using Soviet-supplied anti-tank weaponry held the Israelis to a line five miles east of the Suez Canal. Meanwhile more Egyptian tanks and infantry massing on their side of the canal were protected from Israeli air attack by a tough shield of anti-aircraft missiles guided by radar, again courtesy of the Soviet Union. On October 13 the Egyptians tried to break through two mountain passes in the Sinai. What followed was the largest tank battle on Earth since the 1943 battle of Kursk between Germany and Russia and the second largest tank battle anywhere, ever, involving nearly two thousand tanks. During the battle a total of 264 Egyptian tanks were knocked out, to Israel's ten. On the 14th another Egyptian attack on the Suez Canal was stopped with the destruction of 200 tanks and a thousand Egyptian soldiers killed. The following day a third battle was fought at the meeting point between the Egyptian Second and Third Armies that served as an administration area for both armies and headquarters for the 16th Infantry Division. Tanks fired at practically point blank range. Egypt lost 150 tanks to Israel's eighty. Overnight an IDF parachute brigade established a toehold on the other side of the Canal. Two forward-deployed Egyptian anti-aircraft missile bases were taken out, allowing Israel to establish air superiority over the western bank of the Suez Canal. A veritable conveyor belt of Soviet war supplies moved by air to Egypt and Syria, while the Americans supplied Israel from their own endless abundance. But when the Soviet Union saw the Arabs checked in the Golan and now in the Suez, and Nixon refused to pressure Israel to allow the trapped Third Army to escape, Leonid Brezhnev began airlifting Soviet troops to Cairo to supplement the Egyptians. Passing through the Dardenelles, Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean reached 97 ships, including 23 submarines, while the US added a third carrier battle group from Spain for a total of 60 ships. Nixon took the US to DEFCON 3 and sent the 101st Airborne into the Sinai to counterbalance the Soviet troops, but events were moving fast and there was insufficient time to match the Soviets troop-for-troop. Nixon told Brezhnev that sending any more troop transport planes would be crossing a red line, but Brezhnev called his bluff. Fighters from the USS Independence' shot down the next cargo plane hauling Soviet troops. Brezhnev replied with a nuclear-tipped torpedo round fired at the Independence. The United States didn't even know the Soviets had nuclear torpedoes. It didn't have to be close, it took out the carrier, several support ships steaming alongside, and even damaged the submarine that fired it. The Cold War had just gone hot. Nixon ordered weapons red and free on all Soviet forces in the Mediterranean, and the two sides slugged it out. Both remaining US carriers were taken out, but the Soviet naval forces definitely came off much the worse. But this hardly mattered, an exchange of ICBMs took out both the American and Soviet capital cities, killing ten million people instantly and many more after the fact. Then the two superpowers went back into their own corners to assess what was happening and see if the other side would escalate. A few more items on each side's laundry list were nuked, such as Hanford in the US, and the Sevastopol navy base, but Brezhnev and Nixon were both dead, and cooler heads didn't think losing more millions of lives would be worth what either side had gained by the war, which was precisely nothing. No one in the Gervasi Crime Family had ever ridden horses before, so there was a brief period of familiarization before they could set out. Six folks began the journey, but only five animals, because Mike Morrich and Jill Pennell wanted to ride pretty much glued to each other. Jerry Aspin rode alone, but not by choice. The three Family members were led by Ambe Omphal and two of her deaconesses, Maris and Jae, who were human associates of the Fallen Angels. Not that I expect any trouble, Ambe assured them. Most of the bad ones gravitate more toward the Saiph League. They rode north, taking most of the day to cover thirty miles, with many stops to rest the horses and rub their own sore asses. Ambe did not rush them at all. When the dense forest began to thin out, and great vistas could be glimpsed through them at last, Ambe said this place marked the informal boundary between Hamar and Nath. Jerry looked back and saw a wide mountain like a very fat tree stump on the horizon, and from the summit plateau of that mountain a shaft of very slowly waning orange light sprang straight up into the white sky, providing the only illumination in the Land We Know. From a base of foothills that were already great mountains themselves, this big mountain sported sheer cliffs of gray stone that were at least ten thousand feet high. Yet there was no snow. Jerry was impressed. Wow, what the hell is that? That is the Holy Mountain, Ambe said. What the Land We Know is to Earth, the Holy Mountain is to the Land We Know. Lilith's people already knew the Land We Know was the Purgatory taught by the Catholic Church, among other roles, such as a way to walk from the nephilim home planet of Gorpai to the twin planets of Hybla-Dia by foot. Ambe was saying when people died in the Land We Know, their shades went to the top of the Mountain. But she didn't explain any further, because she honestly didn't know more. The road bent a little to the east and climbed gently down into a broad river valley. Far away to the west they could see a white line which was the sea. Reciting the scriptures she had committed to memory, Ambe told many tales of the Jewish colonists who were brought to the Land We Know while still living, soon after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 587 BCE. She spoke of how some of these colonists remained faithful to El Shaddai and were known as the Roshites, longfathers of the modern day Nathans. She said other colonists gave dual allegiance to Bat-El as well as El Shaddai and became known as the Dishonites, ancestors of all Hamaris. But others fell away altogether, and became implacable foes to both the Roshites and the Dishonites, and these enemies were called Elamites. They comprised the begotten of the Saiph League to that very day. The travelers reached the city of Shedal well before dusk. The priestly sisterhood of Bat-El had a sort of motor pool with horses there. If they were in a real big hurry they could swap tired animals for fresh ones and keep going, but Ambe suggested they all get lodging for the night instead. She gave the three Family members sufficient coinage and invited them to find whatever suited their fancy. We'll meet back here in the morning. Jerry presumed that Mike tore off a piece that night with Jill, but as for himself, after a day staring at the back of Ambe's slender bare thighs wrapped around her horse, had to settle for a date with Rosie Palms. And that was just not right. What was the point in getting out of prison? It was a situation that needed to be corrected at the earliest opportunity. The following day was essentially a repetition of the first, but they followed the beach closely for half of the journey, bent due east, then came to Glenah. They were all getting better at riding, and didn't complain so much. On the third day they bent sharply to the southeast and ascended a gently rising treeless slope of extensive grasslands, making for the city of Linan. Sometimes from the road they saw large herds of cattle grazing nearby. And ever the Holy Mountain filled half of their horizon. here was an orange flash, and the boat which was being loaded in front of Talishi and Khondiel caught fire, for a catapult round of flaming tar had struck home. Many nephilim, screaming in agony, desperately dove into the water to quench the flames of the sticky tar that licked their clothes and skin. But they were immediately devoured by the hungry life native to Gorpai that lived beneath the waves, and it was a terrible sight to behold. There were six Gerash catapults on Sealiah lobbing rounds over the heads of the city's defenders to reach the refugee boats, but in a single moment the six catapults themselves were set ablaze, and a streak of rushing fire appeared in the sky overhead, followed by two explosions so loud it almost knocked both Khondiel and Talishi to the ground. This fire streak, Khondiel could see, formed behind a small dark object that raced across the sky al- most too quickly to follow. Before she could point it out to Talishi it was already many leagues away and curving higher into the skies again. When Khondiel had her heartbeat under control and could find the words, she asked her teacher, Was that your ally Binah? Talishi answered, Indeed it was, Khondiel, though I wonder how she can fly so fast down here where the air is so thick. Khondiel did not seem to understand, so Talishi went on. Have you ever stood on a very high mountain and noticed it was hard to breathe? Higher still and the air fails altogether, and that is the realm where such speeds are routine. Room in another boat became available for Talishi and Khondiel to step aboard, because many of the people weren't certain that all of the cata- pults were destroyed, but Talishi knew they were, for if anything Binah was meticulous in what she set out to do. In the heavily fortified city of Rumbek, after hours of much confusion as the crowd of refugees were sorted out, Talishi surrendered the King's authentic ring to Lord Jomjael. This act effectively made him King. Then Jomjael welcomed Khondiel and Talishi into his house. Talishi realized King Irmgard intended this very thing. Guessing Irmgard to be certainly dead, Talishi thanked the memory of the dead sovereign in her heart. Lord Jomjael bade Talishi to stay with him to see which way the war would turn. For Rumbek is as secure as any place in the West Lands are these days, said he. And no army has ever breached the Nine Mile Wall. At first Belial bypassed the hard target of Rumbek and destroyed the villages of Teal and Olivus, then his forces fanned out through all the hills. By the end of the third day all of Sealiah Island belonged to House Gerash. The carcass of Mandakar continued to burn, and refugees crowded into boats bound for Rumbek. Gerash forces brought swung a prefabricated bridge on a pivot to connect Fanon Island to Sealiah once again. Supported by many small boats the bridge was flung across during a lull in the naval engagement when Rumbek pulled back many ships to reduce the alarming losses from suicide Gerash commando swimming raids. The bridges from Fanon Island to Krone Island, and also to Rumbek proper were sunk by defenders to limit their losses. Khondiel stood long on the ramparts of Rumbek, and to her military mind it was apparent that House Gerash was steadily gaining the advantage against the Bellons by sheer numbers and the hate by which the Gerash warriors flung themselves into battle. Khondiel bade Talishi to immediately journey west behind the Nine Mile Wall while the route was still clear. For she perceived the siege of Rumbek would soon grow strait, and the Bellon navy would be tasked to defend the city itself, letting the invincible Nine Mile Wall, undefeated in war, defend the rest of Magodon. Then Belial would divide his forces and besiege the Wall itself, and none of the Brown Beards nor their allies would be able to pass the gates, neither east nor west. Talishi accepted the advice of Khondiel and took her leave of King Jomjael. It was getting late, but Robyn and Lilith watched the growing police presence at the Watergate complex from their balcony in the Howard Johnson's across the avenue. Their funny neighbor Mr. Baldwin had to check out all of a sudden. Lilith asked Robyn, So did we do good? Robyn looked dreamy for a few seconds. Oh yes. This bust right here isn't enough to do in the President, but he's going to try to cover it up, and then he's going to totally botch the cover-up, and that will nail him in the end. He will have no choice but to quit his job or be impeached. What about the war in the Middle-east next year? We still get that, and Israel wins, barely, but it doesn't go nuclear. No one goes nuclear, in fact, until well into the next century. But not far enough out for my purposes, I suppose. Robyn said, We get more breathing room, but the space program sort of peters out. Then when they start lobbing nukes around it's too late. Okay, who starts lobbing nukes around? About ten years from now some Muslims start using suicide bombers. One guy goes out and takes hundreds of victims with him. They promise their soldiers lots of post-mortem sex. So about 2001, America pretty much goes into a permanent war against them, and it's a very strange war that mostly stays off the front pages. But you can't uninvent the bomb, and sooner or later these suicidal assholes start getting some nukes, and there's no way to stop them. Eventually the West resorts to just sterilizing Islam from the entire planet but we take a lot of damage too, and after that the world is in no shape to do much of anything in the way of star travel. So you're saying we traded a dark future for a darker one. Oh, it's not all dark. There's some good things that will happen too. Computers, just like they have in insurance company buildings, they keep getting smaller and smaller, faster and faster, until people are wearing them on their wrist or keeping them in one corner of their purse. But why will people need computers to be that small? People will carry them around to be telephones, with no wires, and they will watch any movie or television show they want, whenever they want to watch them. These things will double as cameras. Movie cameras even. And all those pictures and movies and music and short little text notes they write about what they're doing will go up on this big, connected . . . thing . . . so all their friends and anyone in the world can see them. And that's how everyone will get the news or read books in forty years. With all that going for them, why do they kill the space program? It costs too much. Oh, they don't kill it dead, they just switch to sending robots to do it instead, take pictures of all the planets, so people can see them on their pocket computer. That doesn't do us much good. No it doesn't. We definitely must find a way to make them reconsider rolling back their space program. Reverse psychology, Lil. If they run into us up there telling them to go ahead and dial their program back, they'll do precisely the opposite. But it was three AM and time for some goodnight sex. Lately Robyn was in the mood for wrapping her hands around a wiry man's tight muscular ass, and Lilith, as a shapeshifter, could accommodate her perfectly.

From Linan it was one more stint of forty miles to the capital city of Nath where the heavenly temple of El Shaddai lay, and this structure was far more magnificent than even Solomon's original earthly temple had been. For Solomon's temple had been completed in seven years, but work on the temple in Hadal had never ceased in one hundred thirty generations. Following the destruction of Solomon's temple by the Babylonian king in 587 BCE, twenty-four colonists were gathered by a prophet named Lael from among members of the tribe of Judah who had scattered to Egypt. There was Lael himself and his wife Sariah; Zethan and his wife Atara; Elam the eldest son of Lael and his new wife Serach; Jemuel the second son of Lael and his new wife Iscah; Rosh the third son of Lael and his betrothed Sela; and Rimon the youngest son of Lael and his betrothed Dinah. From among the remnant of the tribe of Benjamin, Lael chose Abner and his wife Tabitha; Jabez and his wife Keziah; Asa the eldest son of Abner and his new wife Jemima; Josiah the second son of Abner and his new wife Keturah; Tobiah the third son of Abner and his betrothed Susannah; and Asher the youngest son of Abner and his betrothed Leah. And it came to pass that the colonists traveled from Egypt to the downfallen kingdom of Judah, which was completely vacant, and every dwelling had been looted by the Babylonians and later by robbers from the neighboring kingdoms. The Judahite and Benjaminite colonists made their way to the charred debris upon the Temple Mount in what had been Jerusalem and stood in the exact place that had been the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and they instantly found themselves on a vacant and wild hilltop in the Land We Know, in the place where they and their descendants would construct a new temple that would never be destroyed. In the heart of the Heavenly Temple was two chambers, and only the High Priest of El Shaddai, currently Jakun Ardath, could physically enter either one of these, but the elaborate interior of the larger one, called simply the Holy Place, could be seen by the other priests briefly when they prepared Ardath on the day of the Feast of the Atonement. On that day, the High Priest put on certain vestments, and was tied at the end of a rope, for when the High Priest entered the innermost chamber any defect in the ritual would result in his immediate death by El Shaddai, and the priests would need to pull him out by that rope around a corner while they averted their eyes from looking at the open door into the Holy of Holies. But what all this secrecy really did was hide from the priests the fact that the Most Holy Place was not a second chamber at all, but a solid block of stone, with a false door set into it, and once a year El Shaddai created a wormhole passage for the High Priest to float through until he arrived at the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, on a world that was physically very far from the Land We Know, a world where the High Priest weighed just thirty pounds. But even the High Priest didn't know was there was a trap door set into the gold-covered wooden floor in one corner of the otherworldly chamber containing the Ark. When Lilith's people and their handlers arrived in Hadal, they entered a nondescript house in the heart of the city, and Ambe Omphal carefully inspected the place to assure herself nothing had been disturbed. While Maris and Jae stayed behind to guard the house, Ambe led the way through a narrow winding passage that went from the basement under that house in the direction of the Temple, but in eight hundred feet she encountered solid rock, much like the false door in the Temple Holy Place, and indeed, any unauthorized persons who stumbled on the house would come to the same dead end. But for Ambe and her pilgrims, El Shaddai created something like a pipe, just large enough for a person to enter horizontally. And when the pilgrims entered this pipe they felt no weight, as though they were floating underwater. But after crossing through the pipe they could stand and walk again. They felt light and free, and bounded down the passage with joy. Khondiel had judged well the time of their departure, for mere hours after she and Talishi departed Rumbek and took the path to the foot of the Nine Mile Wall, the Bellon navy rallied all their ships around the Isle Liban. This left Belial free to pull all his troops off Sealiah except those directly involved in the Rumbek siege, and those troops were ferried across the channel to the narrow bench of land that lay directly below the Wall. The beautiful dwellings and public buildings of Krone Island, isolated now from Liban, were burned to the ground in a blaze kindled by Belial himself. And when the fire had burned down and the flame was abated, in the sight of the defenders of Rumbek across the strait Israel scattered the embers and sprinkled the ground with salt. For even so shall Rumbek be wasted utterly, he cried in a loud voice. And the hearts of the Rumbek folk fell. The peninsula of Magodon was ringed on three sides by cliffs of sandstone rising from the sea, but at the Nine Mile Wall yeng had erected masonry which made that tall cliff purely vertical. It was slotted in many places with holes for observation and to shoot arrows or pour boiling liquids. Between the face of the wall and the face of the natural cliff it enclosed were many platforms and stairs and catacombs, filled with weapons for the bane of besieging armies, and stores to supply defenders for many days. When Khondiel and Talishi were admitted through the Wall they climbed many steps and arrived on the plateau of Magodon at the top, where they beheld the banners and ranks of countless troops from the House of Antero, and the House of Sala, and the House of Larund, and Talishi knew her long labors had born fruit, for aid to House Bellon had arrived. And there were as well many Bellon troops who had rallied to the assistance of Rumbek from across the entire land of the Brown Beards. Already many of these were manning positions on the Nine Mile Wall to turn back the Gerash invaders. But there in the sight of every yang under arms on Gorpai something like a star fell from the sky burning like a torch, and struck the ground near the top of the Nine Mile Wall with great violence, such that it dug a deep pit. And there was a blast under the ground such as had not been seen on Gorpai since the fall of the asteroid which brought the second world flood, and never in living memory. Then the bottom half of the Nine Mile Wall nigh to Rumbek blew straight out, and the masonry of the Wall above the blast collapsed in ruin, and in place of a sheer wall there was a ramp of sand, but many besieging Gerash troops also died, or were buried alive by the debris. Belial commanded his generals to charge up that ramp with their divisions to the Magodon plateau above, and they immediately began to comply. Then the avatar of Belial came from the sky down to the battle plain, and smoke rose from its black carcass like the smoke of a great furnace, and both suns were darkened by reason of that smoke. There came out of this smoke many small flying machines, like metal wasps about the size of a full-grown yang. The heads of the machines were made of glass and gold, and their teeth were small rockets, and they had breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like a great waterfall. They had flexible tails like scorpions, and there was a gun in those tails which could kill yeng. And the machines came among the ordered ranks of the three allied families like a cloud of locusts, killing yeng wholesale and scattering them in disorder before they could make a counter-charge down the ramp in the Wall. When Khondiel saw this she held Talishi's hand, and squeezed it, and asked her friend if this was Binah. And Talishi said to her, No, alas, our enemy Belial is come in the fulness of his true might. And Talishi knew the avatar of Belial had the power to snatch her victory away when she was on the cusp of attaining it, but she found that victory or defeat meant nothing to her now. A new thing had come to dominate her consciousness. When Talishi looked upon Khondiel she saw her anew, as though gazing upon her for the very first time. Talishi found that Khondiel had suddenly become the most important thing in creation to her, and she was desperate to get Khondiel away from the field of battle.


After the Watergate thing, Lilith took Robyn to a valley about three ridges back from Charleston, West Virginia where she could summon her avatar without undue alarm. Robyn took the flight rather well, with more courage than Khondiel, but Talishi was still the coolest passenger Binah ever had. Lilith could have hustled, but she chose to stretch out the short hop to the Moon to almost a full 24 hour day. Robyn didn't mind, and eagerly helped to filled in the dead time with even more variations of their already wildly diverse sex. But this time, in free fall, they needed to wrap large elastic bands around their hips to keep from flying apart when they merged together and got the friction going. Robyn was already pregnant and didn't yet know. Neither did Lilith. While John F. Kennedy made a speech before Congress setting a goal for America to put a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the 1960s were finished, humans and jan from the Land We Know were walking around the spectacular Taurus-Littrow Valley on the near side of the Moon scouting a location for Binah's proposed settlement there. The site was on the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis where an asteroid hit the Moon nearly four billion years ago and created a basin a thousand miles across. The rim of Serenitatis was a ring of mountains which collapsed in some places to create long valleys like Taurus-Littrow aligned toward the center of the Mare. The pyroclastic flows that filled the "Sea of Serenity" was accompanied by lava fountains which covered the whole area with tiny glass beads with bright colors such as orange and yellow. Some of the priestesses of Yeshua thought the beads were pretty and brought some home. The outer, southeastern end of the valley butted up against a large mountain called East Massif. In the south, there was a narrow canyon that led to another valley. The west side of this canyon was the sheer wall of South Massif. Crossing north to the other side of East Massif, the advance party found another canyon leading to still another valley. Beyond this were the Sculptured Hills, and to the west of those hills was the North Massif. Between North and South Massif was a narrower exit valley about four miles wide, partially blocked by Family Mountain and a sharp fault ridge about three hundred feet high. Binah's people followed this scarp north. The eastern foot of the sharp ridge formed a gentle ramp that led up around the western slope of North Massif to some rugged back country where it was difficult for landing craft to safely land. This high country on the back side of North Massif was where Binah chose to build the city of Taurus. The staging area for construction was the Taurus-Littrow valley itself, and Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Alfred Worden photographed the area in 1971 from orbit with a large panoramic camera. He captured photographic evidence of what looked suspiciously like tracks of wheeled vehicles and some debris that did not resemble stones at all. But after looking at the photos some analysts suspected the tracks and debris were simply from boulders that had fallen down the face of North Massif in a recent (less than 20 million years) moon quake. In any event, the area looked scientifically interesting. Apollo 17 was designated to investigate the area in December 1972, and the mission would bring along a professional geologist. The room that doubled as the real Holy of Holies was fairly near to the landing bay for the avatar of Binah. It was there that Robyn and Lilith ran into the party they left behind in the Land We Know: Jill, Mike, Jerry and Ambe. And the original Ark of the Covenant was in the center of the chamber, suspended by two poles which were pushed through four pedestals. Lilith was anxious to show everyone what she'd built on the Moon. We just got here, Robyn said, when Jerry asked how long they'd waited. What a coincidence, Lilith said with dry British snark. Just like El Shaddai timed it or something.


Binah had seen the avatar of Belial fall to Gorpai from space, and she was already descending before Chokhmah even requested support. Binah landed on the plateau of Magodon close to Talishi. Belial marked this interference, and began to close up his own unfolded avatar to prepare for launch again. There is very little time. Chokhmah said directly to Binah, Take Khondiel away from there, I don't want to lose her. And Binah said in reply, Forget the little yin, you don't have the resources to deal with the avatar of Belial, you need me down there. Khondiel perceived that Talishi was conversing with Binah, and asked what she was saying. Talishi told her, She says forget about you. Don't you know by now that's the one thing I can never do? And Khondiel wept with joy mixed with sorrow. For the first time in her life she knew her own love for Talishi was being truly reciprocated. Talishi told her, All those things I preached about love were just so much straw. I didn't even know what love meant until now, neither as Talishi nor as Chokhmah. But oh, now I do, and it might be too late! A rising noise came from the avatar of Belial, and Khondiel guessed the time was very short now. She said, Speak plainly to me now, Talishi. What do you want me to do? Talishi said, Binah will take you far away from this place. I want you to go. No, I need you to go. Something happened to me just now. Khondiel, you...are the most important thing in heaven or Gorpai to me. Khondiel wanted to protest, but she could see the avatar of Belial starting to rise above the battle plain, and she could see that Talishi needed her to do this thing. So she kissed Talishi and climbed inside the avatar of Binah like she had seen Talishi do two other times before. Then the avatar of Binah immediately leapt in to the sky with fire and smoke and noise, and Khondiel felt herself to be too heavy to move, and she was deeply terrified, which was an extraordinary thing, for Khondiel led the famous Fallen Angels. The avatar of Belial lumbered into the sky after her. After a time the noise and vibration stopped, and Khondiel floated free inside the small space provided for her inside the avatar of Binah. Her fear dropped completely away. She gazed with great wonder out of the glass at Gorpai, which had become a white sphere crossed by a narrow trench of green and blue far below which was the West Lands, and the sky had become black, but she could see the orange and yellow suns, and also many stars. But the avatar of Belial smote the avatar of Binah with a fearsome blood-red light, and the avatar of Binah was destroyed, which was no small feat, for it had been made in the belly of a sun. Khondiel riding inside the ava- tar of Binah instantly died and was lost forever to Talishi. In that very moment Talishi knew Khondiel was dead, and the world seemed to turn empty and gray to Talishi, and she refused to speak a word for long afterwards, for she was utterly lost in her grief. Since her possession Talishi had been in perfect union with Chokhmah, and even when her nephilim body perished, Chokhmah-Talishi would continue her long and joyous life as a living sun. But that joy would always be tempered by the terrible and eternal loss of Khondiel, and Chokhmah-Talishi would never forget. In a daze, Talishi fell in among the forces of House Antero and Larund as they returned to the west, fighting a rear-guard action against Belial that soon faded to nought as Belial focused on licking his own wounds and consolidating the addition of the Bellon capital to his growing world empire. It's what we call a cut-and-cover tunnel, but it's a big one, Lilith said as the Gervasi Crime Family got their first view of Taurus from the south end, very high up near the ceiling. Five hundred thirty-eight feet wide, just as high, and thirty-two hundred twenty-eight feet long. How did you cut it then?' Mike asked. With this little doodad, Lilith said, and held out something golden that looked like the hilt of a knife, but when she squeezed it hard, a black shaft grew out of one end, making a loud hissing noise. Does this place have an ecological balance? Jill asked. Not yet. You can see how small the trees still are. But give it time. It's only been about eleven years now. We're on the fricken' Moon. Robyn looked at the mostly vacant apartment balconies running along both walls all the way down to the other end, almost a full kilometer away. Is it dangerous here? she asked. There's no weather, only moonquakes and meteors. Moonquakes are itty bitty, you'll never feel a single one. Meteors are a slightly bigger problem but the odds of one poking through the roof are still very small, and even if it does happen we can patch it up before your ears pop from the rushing air. A military attack would be worse, but that's kind of what we're hoping for, right? That the United States doesn't give up on space? How do we get down there? Jerry asked, growing excited. Oh, that's the fun part, Lilith said, and began to strap some wings on all of them. Ambe already knew how to do it and was strapping herself up. No time for flying lessons? Wing it! Lilith said. She strapped her own set of wings on and kicked free of the ledge. When she jumped, the excess folds of her fabric wings inflated and Lilith found herself gliding slowly down under gravity at 17% of the Earth's intensity. It looked like so much fun Jill and Robyn immediately followed her. Like babies thrown into a swimming pool they were instantly required to adapt to the changing circumstances of their flight. Mike and Jerry, big brave men though they were, followed somewhat later. Ambe Omphal, with the ease of long experience, flew circles above and around Jill to stay close enough to speak. She asked her, Why does Jerry Aspin look at me the way he does? I know you've seen it. Ambe! Didn't your parents tell you about the birds and the bees? Birds...and bees? Jerry is a very naughty boy. He has spent the last eight years confined with other men in a prison. Slowly, understanding dawned on Ambe's face and she flew off. Lilith's Taurus estate danced under Jerry's feet. Descending into the compound he tried to finesse his landing with small forced deflations of his wings...too much. Too fast. The four females watched him come down like a bat which was shot out of the sky. There was a swimming pool, screw it... Later, when Jerry was drying himself off in a large room of Lilith's mansion assigned to him, Ambe Omphal, high priestess of Yeshua Bat-El, quietly came to him wearing a borrowed two-piece bikini with yellow and white floral patterns, and Jerry thought he had won the lottery or something. At 5:26 PM EST on December 13, 1972, six days after leaving Earth and their third day on the surface of the Moon, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt made the final moonwalk of the Apollo 17 mission. Gene Cernan had flown to the Moon before, on Apollo 10, together with his commander from his Gemini 9 mission, Tom Stafford. On that mission Gene had even flown a lunar module to within nine miles of the Moon's surface, then returned to orbit, leaving the glory of the first landing to Neil and Buzz. He wasn't exactly tight buds with his partner, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who had bumped one of Gene's good friends from the Apollo 17 roster so NASA could say they were shifting their focus from military test pilots as astronauts to scientists. But tough luck, it was a new era. After Apollo was supposed to be Skylab, and then after that the Space Shuttle program. Like the two preceding moonwalks of the mission, this third one was to last for about seven hours. But it would deviate from the first two EVAs in a very important respect, not counting the fact that it was about an hour late getting started. Robyn had been following the live television broadcasts from only a few miles away in Taurus City, and she even followed the proceedings with the portable television in her truck as she drove down the flanks of North Massif to reach the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley. She drove to the astronaut's current position near a large, dark, shattered boulder wedged in the wall of North Massif where geologist Harrison Schmitt was gathering samples. She was careful not to run over their fragile little electric Rover parked nearby. This boulder, which was in five separate pieces, lay beneath a long furrow of dents showing it's recent plunge down the face of the mountain, and that plunge, in turn, was caused by some naughty people from the Land We Know having fun with explosives. She pulled her truck to a stop, pumped the interior atmosphere down to a near vacuum, then popped the door open to wait for them to come in. They hadn't heard her pull up in the vacuum, of course. They were so busy examining the boulder that it was thirty-six minutes before they looked up from their task and noticed Robyn parked next to them there. Both of the astronauts uttered some expletives and the live feed was cut. CBS cut to Walter Cronkite for commentary. The live television blackout would last for about a half-hour while NASA claimed technical difficulties. Commander Cernan described the situation to NASA. President Nixon was advised. Phone calls were made to the Soviet Union asking them if they were operating in the same area and didn't tell anybody (the Russians thought the Americans joke was in bad taste. "Is not enough you win Space Race," they said, "now you rub it on?"). Cernan and Schmitt, watching the minutes tick down on their life-support system, reminded Houston they were still waiting for instructions. Houston said the mission commander, Cernan, could approach the truck, and perhaps even enter it, but Schmitt should wait outside near the rover and get prepared to hustle back to the Lunar Module, which was about four miles away. So Cernan walked over to the truck, where he performed a complete circuit around it. There was only one space-suited figure seated inside, who was waving at him, and motioning for him to come inside. Gene reluctantly stepped inside, and Robyn motioned for him to have a seat. She closed the door and began to re-pressurize the interior of the truck with pure oxygen at just 3 psi. When the dials read the appropriate pressure she removed her helmet, and invited Cernan to do the same. The sharp spent-gunpowder smell of the lunar regolith assaulted her nose, but she was used to it now, and after two lunar EVAs so was Cernan. When he removed his own helmet, his first words to her were, You sound like an American. Missourah, Robyn replied. Born and bred.

Talishi stumbled west with the defeated forces of House Antero, Bellon, and Larund for weeks before she shook off her own self-pity over the loss of her precious Khondiel and realized there were injured people around her who needed the knowledge and skills of a healer. So she began to carry her own freight long before reaching the first major Antero city of Jelaket. The ranks of the stragglers began to thin, but the bulk pressed on across the heart of the West Lands to the Antero capital of Vaska. As they drew near, the Red Beard patriarch sent trains of supplies to aid their march. In the city, Lord Gudrun greeted Talishi courteously enough, but many things remained unspoken between them, such as her failure to foresee Belial's intervention with his avatar, and she quickly discerned that she was simply not welcome to stay. It would be fruitless to explain that the precognition inherent in the elohim pertained only to their stellar lives, and prophetic powers failed altogether when an eloah was united with a nephil. She made preparations to leave with the much diminished Larund detachment. The Brown Beard folk who remained behind at Rumbek were given a very rude introduction to the Law of Belial that governed House Gerash. This law seemed deliberately designed to contradict the teachings of Talishi at every point. A yin shall not speak to any yang in public, nor labor for recompense, nor own anything; she is property herself, Belial said. For three days nephilim were permitted to eat, on Larunday, Anteroday, and Bellonday. On the fourth day, or Saladay, they were permitted to eat a double portion. But on Gerashday they were to eat nothing, and drink only water. This was the fast appointed by Belial. Only soldiers on campaign were exempted. And soldiers, as it happened, were almost always on campaign. The worship of Belial consisted solely of giving a fourth of one's income to the Eyes of Belial priesthood at the local shrine. The biggest change, however, was in the way dirks attained adulthood. At the Age of Initiation, dirks entered the rites of the Cupel system of testing. He wagered his sister in a fight to the death with another dirk. The dirk who survived this combat took the sister of his opponent and his own sister to be his wives, and he attained the rank of angel in the Army of Belial. Incest was institutionalized. Belial knew Gorpai itself and subsequent trials by combat would automatically weed out any genetic defects resulting from such close unions, and the benefit was a strengthening of those traits which did survive. Nephilim evolved much faster than humans. In the lower echelon of the Army of Belial a soldier could advance from angel to archangel to principality based on his valor in combat and the ability to lead larger and larger units. To attain the middle echelon of the Army of Belial he wagered his two wives against the wives of another principality in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system. The yang who survived took the two wives of his opponent, retained his own two wives, and was designated a power, the equivalent of a commissioned officer. From there, the ranks of virtue and dominion were reached, again through leadership and merit on the battlefield. To attain the upper echelon of the Army of Belial he wagered his own four wives against the four wives of another dominion in the third ritual killing of the Cupel system of testing. The yang who survived the final combat therefore ended up with eight wives and was appointed one of the ophanim, the lowest officer of flag rank. Above that were the ranks of cherubim and seraphim. So it was that House Gerash and all the nephilim they conquered were trans- formed into a soulless machine for the further conquest of Gorpai. But the habitable portion of the icy planet was but three narrow strips along the equator, which offered the combined area of no more than one of the larger nations of Earth, like China. Belial took no thought to what he would do with his living war machine after there were no more lands to win.

Even in the subdued light of her moon truck interior Robyn noted Gene Cernan was rather gaunt, and prematurely gray for a man in his thirties. And for his part Cernan noted that Robyn was pregnant. And Robyn noted that he noted. My baby will be born right here, Commander Cernan. Born. On the Moon. On the Moon. I'm Robyn Lokken by the way. She handed Gene a clipboard with a sheaf of papers secured to it. Most of this is for your handlers at NASA but there's also some correspondence for President Nixon, and he should get it without too much delay. Very important stuff. Cernan looked at the stack of papers, and then searched Robyn's face. She looked like an older version of his own daughter. He wanted to like her. Then he looked through some of the papers she had given him. Included were five glossy color photos. He pulled them out and asked what they were. Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken months or years after their departure. Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record. Cernan became quiet, and put the photos back on the clipboard. He seemed to be a little sad. So this meeting, what is it, a fancy sales pitch? She smiled. It all boils down to this, Commander: Everything you've done with your socialized government-financed space program, we're doing faster and better with good old-fashioned capitalism. When I say "we" I mean the Astrodynamics Corporation, or Astrodyne for short. So tell your debriefers that Apollo 17 is pretty much it. You won't need to come back. Cernan felt embarrassed. All the effort spent by America, all his training, all that national treasure, and in the end it meant exactly nothing. The whole Space Race was just a little fart in a big hurricane. It's twelve days before Christmas, Robyn told him with a sly grin. I've got about a hundred fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for your geologist companion out there named Mr. Schmitt. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken from various depths up to six hundred feet below the surface, which you can't do. Sulfur from a highlands channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation is provided with each sample. Hopefully it will compensate for all the precious minutes you're losing talking to me. I'm sure it will. For what it's worth, thank you, Miss Lokken. Well, time marches on and your backpack won't run forever. So that's pretty much all I wanted to say to you, Commander Cernan. In summary, thanks for playing, but there's nothing for the United States government to see or do up here on the Moon. The big boys and girls are in charge now, so please move along. And thanks for taking the time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. Have a nice drive back, and a safe flight home. When the two men returned to their Lunar Module named Challenger and removed their helmets, Harrison Schmitt snapped a photo of Cernan for the history books. He looked haggard, exhausted, and just a little haunted. Cernan guessed the pretty blonde young lady he met out there on the Taurus-Littrow valley floor with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks spelled instant doom for NASA's manned moon program. Apollo 18 and 19 were designated to explore the lunar farside, but they would probably be canceled soon after Cernan, Schmitt and Ron Evans returned to Earth with that paperwork. The twenty-five billion dollars that had already been spent on the Apollo project now seemed like the biggest waste of money in American history. Eugene Cernan thought he might get still the title "Last Man on the Moon" but even that would all be a big fat lie and he knew it.

Robyn and Lilith returned to Earth via Nath and Hamar when Robyn was only a few weeks away from delivering her baby. They leased offices on the eighth floor of a building in Bellevue, Washington and advertised an opening for someone who could program the new eight-bit "computer on a chip" produced by Intel. Most of the prospective programmers turned around and walked out of the interview room when they saw they were dealing with two women. Mark Felton had just graduated the University of Washington. He thought the world of women and was more far interested in a job than maintaining any stupid "boys club" tradition. Paul Allen was in his third year at Wazoo for a computer science major and his pal Bill Gates was still a sen- ior in high school. The two of them were pretty ambitious and even started a company to analyze traffic patterns so government agencies could issue reports, but the federal government was now offering the same service for no charge, so Traf-O-Data was going out of business. They needed the work. On the final day of interviews Robyn sat quietly in a corner of the office while Lilith questioned Allen, Gates, and Felton, in that order. When it was Felton's turn, Lilith gave the same introductory spiel she had given the Traf-O-Data boys. This is the Astrodynamics Corporation and we are interested in manufacturing a single-board microcomputer. In fact, we're calling it a Micro. It's going to retail for $500, and that's set in stone. We're looking for a programmer to develop the operating system for the Micro, which we're going to call Budget Operating System Software, or BOSS. The hardware doesn't exist yet, so you will need to be able to work with our engineer to settle on a final design. The problem we have right now is the 8008 only has fourteen address bits, so we're stuck at 16K of memory, tops. That might sound like a lot right now, but we're thinking long term. Do you know how we might solve that issue? Simple. You just have two 8008's going at the same time, one runs BOSS in ROM and handles all your keyboard inputs, video out, and flips 16K banks of RAM in and out when the user's program calls for more memory. Theoretically that would give you up to 256 megabytes of RAM, which is insane, Well, see, you're not really impressing me right now, Mr. Felton, because the 8008 costs three hundred sixty dollars, so two of them put us in the hole right away. The $500 price point I gave for the Micro is firm. The first run of chips are in that range, sure, but put in a big enough buy order I betcha Intel brings it down to $150. Touche. I'd like to discuss this with my friend for a bit, Mr. Felton so if you'll wait outside, I think we can give you an answer quickly. Mark shrugged and got up to leave. Robyn said, I like that guy. What about the Gates and Allen show? Traf-O-Data. Paul Allen is okay, Robyn said. He knows the chip well enough to have written a complete simulator for the PDP-10, so we can get started before our hardware is ready, and Gates writes tight code, but he's obsessed with using BASIC to run everything on the Micro. That might make it easy for people to program, but it's gonna be too slow. And Gates doesn't seem to get the concept of money. He ran up a lot of computer time having big iron play tic-tac-toe against itself, and sent the bill to his daddy. And he sure didn't like the name Budget Operating System Software. What do your enhanced instincts tell you? Gates and Allen already started one company on their own. I'm not seeing either one of them still working for us in 1975, so I figure they're going to take our ideas and try to compete against us. But Mark Felton is in for the long haul. He's the adult in the room. I say we go with him.' Robyn gave birth to a jen early in 1973, and Lilith named hem Ariel. This child was a number of firsts all wrapped up into one. Che was the first baby born on the Moon and the first offspring of the union of a planet-dweller and an eloah-hybridized planet-dweller. Not even Yeshua, the first hybrid, ever quickened a fetus inside any of the women who comforted him. Lilith told everyone, Since we're obviously going to have all five genders here on the Moon we need to start using use the conventions adopted in the Land We Know. Ariel (and myself for that matter) is not a she or a he but a che. We don't say his mother, or her mother, we say hez mother is Robyn. We don't say give the bottle to him or to her, but to hem. That covers jan, Mike said, but what do we use for Jill and myself? You are yang, Mike, so instead of he we say hy with a Y, rhymes with bye. Instead of his we say hyz, again with a Y. Rhymes with rise. Jill is yin, so instead of her we use har. Instead of she we use sha. Ambe is a classic woman so no change there. I know it's confusing right now, but give it time, and it will become second nature. Baby Ariel was born with a talent just as each of the other members of the Gervasi Crime Family possessed a talent, but Ariel's power manifested much earlier than would be true for their subsequent children. Che was a lightbringer, a true bundle of golden light, and the only thing Ariel needed to learn as che grew older was how to turn it off when it wasn't needed. Back on Earth, a handful of Astrodyne employees were putting the final touches on the Micro-73 before it hit the market, but it still seemed to lack a software "best seller" that would really put it on the map. In a letter faxed to Mark Felton dirtside (he had no idea at that point that his management team was literally located on the Moon) Robyn described something from her vision of the way computers had changed everything in the timeline that existed after the Watergate alteration, but before the Apollo 17 alteration. It was the electronic spreadsheet, but she couldn't pick that precise name out of her vision. Felton was intrigued, but he was also swamped putting the final touches on BOSS so he hired a pair of new programmers and set them to work making Robyn's idea a reality. Their program was a cross between an accounting worksheet and the "Battleship" game. Columns were marked A through Z, rows from 1 to 256, and where the columns and rows intersected, they formed cells designated A1, B9, C117, and so forth. The customer could enter data or formulas into any one of these cells, and each cell could reference data anywhere else on the worksheet. If the customer changed data in one cell, all the dependent cells would be quickly recalculated. They called this program "Matrix". Now if a businessman wanted to find the answer to the question "what will my long-term profits look like if I buy a second sheet metal cutting machine today?" he didn't have to hire a programmer to write a special program just to find out. With a Micro running Matrix he could sit in his office and fiddle with the numbers himself. So when the Micro-73 hit the market in the spring it came bundled with cassette tapes containing Matrix and an assortment of other applications, such as a simple text editor and an 8008 assembler to allow customers to create their own programs for the Micro. But when sales began to take off, everyone from small business owners to the Chief Financial Officer of large multinational corporations went to dealers and plonked down five C notes for "one of those Matrix machines." And every time they did, one of those five Benjamins was pure profit for Astrodyne. Three thousand units sold in '73. Bill Gates developed a high-level interpreted BASIC for the Micro but as Robyn foresaw, it was too slow and had very few takers. He would have slightly better luck two years later with the Micro-75, based on the 8080.

Jill gave birth to the second child born on the Moon in January 1974, a yang, and if hy had been born on Earth hy would have weighed 16 pounds. Mike named hym Hunky. The infant dirk was an attractive racial mix but much darker than any Gorpai native, and hyz talent lay dormant for years. Also in that same month five unmanned American spacecraft began to land on the Moon in the Taurus-Littrow area, containing supplies to be consumed by the upcoming Apollo 18. These supplies were hauled up by the same stubby Saturn 1B rockets that were used for Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz flights in Reality 2.0. Meanwhile a new man-rated rocket called Nova, even larger than the Saturn-5 used for the other manned moonshots, was being constructed in Alabama. Nova-Apollo 18 was scheduled to carry five men to the Moon the following year, including three who would go to the surface, for a record duration of one month. When people asked NASA why they were returning to the same location already explored by the crew of Apollo 17, NASA replied that Cernan and Schmitt had scouted the area to determine its suitability for a permanent base, and it had passed with flying colors. The Gervasi Crime Family went out to see the freshly-landed supplies, but they did not tamper with them. Lilith was grateful that Robyn's suggestion of trying reverse psychology seemed to work, though it was puzzling that NASA was trusting the lives of three men to those supplies being untampered with by the same unknown people they were obviously coming up to monitor. Intel offered their second 8-bit microprocessor, the 8080, in April of 1974, with plenty of time to be incorporated into Astrodyne's next computer. Since this 40-pin chip could address 64KB of memory all at once and had four times the clock speed of the earlier chip, a second 8080 running BOSS was dropped from the new design. Instead, Mark Felton used task swapping to alternate between low-level BOSS functions and the user's program. The new Micro still used cassettes for program storage, but it shipped with 16 KB of RAM. An external floppy disk drive costing as much as the Micro itself was sold separately and BOSS was re-written to allow disk management. Soon after the Micro-75 actually hit the street, a 4 KB 8080 interpreted BASIC (permitting the other 12K to be used for programs) was written by Bill Gates for the new version of Astrodyne's computer. It sold for $500 on cassette, but this was considered outrageous. Soon copies were pirated and began to make the rounds with the tapes duplicated by a pair of ordinary Radio Shack cassette recorders. Gates offered a disk-based version of his BASIC for $250, hoping the reduced price and the floppy disk format would discourage copying. Clandestine software to copy disks using RAM and several manual swaps made the rounds and Gates was foiled again. The Micro-75 was the first in the series to have a modem, also sold separately. It was only 300 baud but users were able to dial out to Astrodyne for support and downloads. The host was a DEC mainframe. A 24 hour news service was started with free access for all Micro customers. Messages could be left on a bulletin board for anyone with a modem to read. For the marquee app, Mark Felton's stable of five programmers created WordBoss, the first word processor with automatic hyphenation and paragraph justification, leaving the user free to just type. Dot-matrix printer support was also added. Twenty thousand of the new Micros sold, mostly to business, but also to some hobbyists, resulting in $2 million of profits for Astrodyne. The general public was not yet aware of the growing world of minicomputing. Astrodynamics had been filing income taxes every quarter like a good corporate citizen, but it wasn't until the summer of 1975 that the Ford Administration realized the papers brought home by the Apollo 17 crew also mentioned this same Astrodyne. When the Federal government raided the Astrodyne offices in Bellevue they learned Robyn Lokken was not present, and Felton said he had only actually met her one time during his job interview in '72. The agents had no grounds to proceed and left. The US government, however, did purchase a number of Micros to monitor the company.

At the invitation of President Ford, Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) took a hiatus from Washington to return to flight status with NASA. He flew on the Apollo 18 mission in a special non-partisan observer role for the United States government. Glenn had authority to make deals with the people already on the Moon who apparently were represented by Robyn Lokken. This was not public knowledge at the time. Glenn was not assigned a role as Command Module pilot or Lunar Module pilot, but he checked out on both. It was Richard Gordon who actually commanded the mission. He had already attained lunar orbit as the Command Module pilot for Apollo 12 but never walked on the moon. He landed on the surface with Glenn and Fred Haise, who had almost walked on the Moon once before for Apollo 13 but had to turn back around following an explosion. Vance Brand and William Pogue were space virgins. They stood port and starboard watch aboard the Command Module in lunar orbit for the three weeks the teams were separated. The Soviet Union transmitted to NASA the orbital elements for their Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl which parked over the Moon about a week before Apollo 18 arrived. They said the craft was currently unmanned and didn't want the risk of a collision, no matter how remote. The part about the LOK being "currently" unmanned was strange, but the Soviets refused to elaborate. Soon after Glenn, Gordon, and Haise landed, an electric truck identical to the one photographed by Harrison Schmitt arrived at the landing site and stopped. After that, the truck driver found the frequency the astronauts were using to talk to Mission Control and suggested, in English but with a Russian accent, that they follow him in their rover. Glenn and Gordon agreed to go, and Haise was left behind to watch the Lunar Module. The route they took was like a long dirt ramp up the North Massif, but all the up-climbing took a toll on the battery of the Lunar Rover. At about the eight mile mark, Gordon got on the radio and said they'd have to turn around to recharge, or the rover would run out of juice. The Russian voice suggested it wouldn't be a problem and they should keep going. After thirteen miles, with many switchbacks, they rounded a hillock and saw something like a wide garage door, which opened at the command of the lead truck. Both vehicles entered, and the garage door shut behind them. It took about an hour to fill the space with oxygen, then two men got out of the truck wearing jumpsuits and boots, nothing more. Aleksei Leonov and Oleg Makarov! Richard Gordon said. I recognize both of you from photographs in our briefing. I knew you were out here but I didn't know you were landing. Where's your LK? No LK, Commander, Leonov said. Astrodyne. We hitch ride down here. There were brief introductions all the way around, then Makarov attached a power cable to the truck. He brought another power cable over to the Lunar Rover, and offered to plug it in, but first he had to convince Gordon it was safe. What sold Gordon was how the cable fitting was exactly tailored to fit the rover. Someone up here had done their research. The next space after the garage was literally a locker room, with large lockers for the NASA crew to stow their pressure suits and keep the keys on their person. Makarov said, This key for peace of mind, no? And the space after that opened on a balcony looking down upon the vast green interior of Taurus City, lit by clever sun reflectors in the ceiling. Damn that air smells good, said Senator Glenn, taking a big breath. It better smell good, Leonov said. We pay for each lungful. They say, go fetch Americans, reduce line item on expense account. Two nights after the Council of Royals came to an abrupt and ignoble end, High Lord Advocate Telan Blackseed personally led the Army of the Republic in many boats across the lower reaches of the River Sabik, taking the town of Sadl Ferry in Menkal by surprise. Rynet Wood, however, just a few miles inland, remained undigested. Saiph League troops completely encircled the forest and were beginning to fight their way in, but a fair fraction of Blackseed's forces camped on a wide prairie between the forest and the roads to Melak to prevent Queen Firegem from aiding the refugees hiding among the trees, as well as to prevent the refugees from fleeing to Alodra. The balance of Blackseed's forces came to grips with King Stronghammer's infantry on the Horse Plains between Rynet and Suhair along a broad front. Both sides dug in and erected earthworks with elaborate trenches to protect themselves from bowshot, for soldiers on both sides realized that on the flat battleground there was absolutely no cover. Thus the unfolding war threatened grind to a standstill and become a contest of attrition. That it did not do so could be attributed solely to Demonstroke, commanded by Joy, who used the dragon to provide "air support". Menkalese troops who thought themselves cozy and safe in fortifications soon found the very lumber they used to build their bulwarks were the target of liquid fire from the dragon's mouth. So it was that Blackseed, using judicious air strikes, slowly pushed Stronghammer back and seized the town of Rynet itself. King Brogan Stronghammer dispatched a horseback courier to Queen Firegem in Atria begging for aid in the name of their new Union of Kingdoms. Che said Blackseed's left flank was "in the air" along the Menkal-Alodra border, therefore if sha attacked from northeast from Melak and burned Blackseed's boats, sha could raise calamity in the Republic rear and starve the enemy, forcing Blackseed to call off the invasion. The Queen sent the Menkalese messenger back to Akamar with the reply that sha had done precisely that very thing without waiting for a plea from King Stronghammer, but every Alodran company that set a toe over the border, without exception, was wiped out in detail from the air by Demonstroke. Yet the dragon did not attack into Alodra itself. So now if the Queen ordered the relief attempts to continue, sha faced a mutinous army. Stronghammer replied that Blackseed had played his hand brilliantly, and it was now just a matter of time before he exported his revolution across the entirety of the Land We Know, one kingdom at a time. Again che begged the Queen for any relief sha could muster. In har final message sha said sha would take it directly to Chokhmah in the Temple, and suggested that Stronghammer take hez petition to Binah. For it was the gods themselves who established the political order in the Land We Know, and assuredly they would not roll over for this contemptuous upstart. But by the time this message reached the King, Suhair had already fallen, and the way to the Temple of Binah was cut off. And the forces of the Saiph League won through to the very threshold of the Temple of Binah, yet none dared to go in, not even Lord Blackseed himself, for concerning the shrine there was something very special planned. Then Belial rode forth on a black steed, and the truth was in the open now, that Lord Blackseed was nothing more than a sockpuppet with Belial's hand rammed up his ass. And Belial, as he had done for these last eight hundred years, possessed the body of the current Gerash patriarch, Abaddon, and styled himself an Emperor. With him came his brightest flag officer, Field Marshal Ithuriel, who (it was said, when out of earshot of Abaddon and his spies) rivaled Binah herself in his intellect. With the Saiph League troops arrayed around the Temple of Binah, only Emperor Abaddon, Ithuriel, and a small cadre of the most elite Eyes of Belial warriors entered therein. The Tuesday night one week before the 1976 elections, CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite reported on President Gerald Ford's eight-point lead over Jimmy Carter in the Gallup poll. Uncle Walter attributed this sustained lead to Ford's bold decision early in 1975 not to pardon Nixon for his role in the Watergate fiasco, which resulted in Nixon being the first occupant of the Oval Office to serve a prison term after his Presidential term. In the closing minutes of his broadcast, Cronkite introduced Dr. Carl Sagan, coming live from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where, Cronkite said, Astronomers have made a truly astounding discovery. That is indeed the case, Mr. Cronkite, Sagan said. On the monitor next to me is raw imagery taken from the Viking II Orbiter circling high above the Red Planet. Here we are looking at a small section of an enormous canyon on Mars called Valles Marineris. Excuse me for interrupting, Doctor Sagan, but for the benefit of our viewers, would you compare this canyon to the Grand Canyon in Arizona? There is truly no comparison, Mr. Cronkite, Valles Marineris is much, much bigger than the Grand Canyon. If it were somehow relocated to the Earth, it would stretch clear across the United States, from coast to coast. Over the last twenty-four hours, a part of this gigantic chasm has filled with white smoke, and so far we are at a loss to explain it. I have in my hands a pair of full color composite photographs which shows much more of the canyon, and you can see what I'm talking about much better. This one shows Valles Marineris shortly after the Viking II orbiter arrived last August. And this second one, which you will please excuse for being somewhat more patchwork, that's how new the data is, shows how the steam or smoke has completely filled the canyon and is spilling out to the east. Walter Cronkite loved every facet of the space program and expressed his utter fascination at the report, but with apologies to Dr. Sagan he had to cut it off there, because he was up against a hard break. Cronkite promised more coverage in the following days. The astute viewer would have noticed an Astrodyne Micro-77 computer arrayed behind Carl Sagan, which JPL was testing before it was to be released to the general public. A 4 inch floppy disk drive with 128KB of space was incorporated inside the new unit. The cassette tape deck was dropped, but it was still available as an external device for legacy software. BOSS was changed to load from floppy, permitting upgrades to the operating system without changing the hardware. The 8080 chip was replaced by the Zilog Z80, an improved clone. Astrodyne populated the motherboard with 32 Kb of RAM and still came in under $500. An optional GUI called GUIDE (Graphical User Interface with Desktop Elements) ran on top of BOSS, in black and white. The first truly "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG) word processor, WordGuide, was the real star of the Micro-77 show, much as Matrix had been for the 73. A spooler program converted documents for output on dot-matrix printers exactly as they appeared on the screen, allowing endless fonts. With a 1200 baud modem built in, Micro-77s were able to communicate with each other point-to-point rather than just to Astrodyne's mainframe, so email and software was copied between machines. The US government ordered Astrodyne to disable point-to-point file transfers to prevent piracy, but Astrodyne won in court using the argument that it was like suing General Motors because the getaway car in a bank robbery happened to be a Chevy. A quarter of a million Micro-77 units were sold. Astrodyne built a business park at the crossing of SR-169 and SR-516 in Washington State, close to the Green River Gorge and the tunnel to the Land We Know. The Federal government blocked Micros for export because the technology could aid the Soviet Union. Astrodyne was flattered, but smuggled the units out anyway using Binah's avatar, selling at markup to cover the additional hassle. Senator John Glenn, it really is an honor to meet you,' Jill said. I'm not sure it's such an honor anymore, he said ruefully. It seems I wasn't the first American to orbit the Earth after all. And you are? My name is Jill Pennell. If you were looking for Robyn, she's not here. Do you have authority to make agreements with the United States? I remain in constant contact with one who does. My companion Ambe has no such authority but she must attend this meeting, and she must also feed her son Gordon, so I hope you don't mind if she nurses him right here. It's okay, that's natural. What's his name, if I might ask? Gordon Aspin, the same as the last name of your mission commander. And Aleksei Leonov, thank you for agreeing to be here as well. This big boy is my own son, Hunky. He's here because he's so damn cute, people can't resist doing whatever he asks. I once told him a story about a faraway kingdom where they treated a princess the same way, but that was just to make her feel good. Hunky here is the real deal, that's how cute he is. Leonov and Glenn chuckled at this, but by the end of the session they would not find it funny at all. Jill also chose not to reveal that Hunky had been born in 1974 but had spent three years growing up in the Land We Know, so he was older than one would normally guess from the calendar. Glenn said, This city you name Taurus is a truly amazing accomplishment, Miss Pennell, but what puzzles me is how you dug this big hole. I don't even see removed soil piled up nearby. There should be mountains of it. We have a way to turn normal matter into what we call dark matter, Jill revealed. We call it dark because it doesn't interact with light. So chemistry doesn't apply to it anymore. It just goes away, sinks to the center of the moon or flies away into space. Works great for trash too. That is a very important discovery, Glenn said. You must share. Unfortunately, no. We are a group of very disgruntled American citizens, Senator Glenn. I've had to dodge federal bullets myself, for one thing. But think of the possibilities! Roads, tunnels, we could save taxpayers billions of dollars. I'm afraid I must insist on this one point, Miss Pennell. Astrodyne must share this discovery with the American people. Nothing personal, but we have a variety of ways to encourage compliance. Mister Man, Hunky said, could you please stop bothering my mom? For you, son, anything. Sorry Jill, I withdraw my demand. There is one important thing, however. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says non-governmental activities, such as your group, obviously, must operate under the approval and authority of a state which is signatory to the Treaty. I can tell you now he US would only extend such recognition quid pro quo. Commander Leonov, do you think Astrodyne could be placed under the legal penumbra of the Soviet Union to satisfy this treaty? No, I think this request impossible, out of question, Leonov said. Mister Man, Hunky said to Leonov, Pleeeeeeese? Very adorable child, Miss Pennell. Tell you what. Give us photos and names of people here, birthdays, I take home to Star City, maybe Kremlin. Who knows? Maybe next Korabl bring Soviet passports. At length, Talishi and the two surviving regiments of the Larund expeditionary force arrived in the city of Locotin in the center of the Black Beard lands. They had come to the end of their travels by foot. The commander of the expedition commissioned a barge and floated with Talishi down the River Bandar to the capital city of Peshast, where the people marveled to see their veterans returning from a battle beyond the end of the world. The Black Beard commitment to the war had been relatively meager, so Lord Hanelor bore no resentment to Talishi as the Red Beard Patriarch obviously did, but the same caution that led him to send only a token force of volunteers asserted itself again. He did not wish to do anything to antagonize Belial, for the only thing that stood between House Gerash and Peshast was a sea, an ice bridge, and a very weak House Sala. But he honored Talishi's request for passage west on a Larund ship used to ferry diplomatic envoys. The Central Sea was the largest body of water on Gorpai, but still a small remnant of the time between Floods when it received all of the meltwater on the planet. It was stormy at times, but Talishi was grateful her foot travels were at an end. The walk had aged her a decade. Talishi was more handsome now than beautiful, but she always knew beauty had a shelf-life, and regretted only that she would never grow old together with Khondiel. Binah shared a great secret with Chokhmah. The endpoint of a wormhole could be located in different places in time as well as in space. Belial did not yet suspect this. Chokhmah asked if there was a way to extract Khondiel before she was killed, but Binah said unfortunately she could not do so without tipping Belial and unraveling all of her preparations. The ship rounded the large island of Danya, and driven by the winds began to move up the great meandering River Loenna. This stately river crossed the flat and fertile lands of the House of Sala with many turns. Word reached the shore that Talishi was aboard, and word of this spread faster than the ship could tack upwind. Admirers from across the land rushed riverside to greet Talishi as she sailed by, and this warmed her heart greatly. After many days, they reached the wide tongue of land where the capital city of Saharad lies, and Talishi was taken there by horse-driven cart. House Sala differed from all the other great Houses in that it was led by a matriarch rather than a patriarch, a yin named Lady Savara Sala. Belial has stumbled onto an effective, if cowardly strategy, Talishi told her. He hits his victims one at a time with everything he's got. I saw this and tried to unite House Larund, Antero, and Bellon against him, but we failed. Rumbek fell, and House Bellon is no more than Gerash slaves. Belial's eyes are now on House Antero, and House Larund will follow. Then say what you would have me do, Lady Talishi, Savara said. You see the problem, of course. Nephilim naturally gather themselves into large settlements, driven by simple economics. After that, they attempt to protect their cities with walls, but we have learned that walls are no defense against the avatar of Belial. We have also seen a capital city is a single target so valuable that if taken can drive an entire House into servitude. The solution is as obvious as it is simple, but it will require a mighty hand to overcome thousands of years of tradition. Instead of a few cities and towns dotting the land, Salas must live in many small settlements of no more than fifty souls, spread evenly across the land. Talishi had no wish to stay in Saharad very long, for her star power would undermine Lady Savara just when she needed to mobilize her whole people. So a familiar sequence happened once more. Binah descended to the surface of Gorpai with an avatar, a larger one this time, and Talishi climbed aboard. I've come to take you home, beloved parent, Binah told her. Gorpai is Belial's game. It's time we got you a game of your own.

For a dark warrior-king of a deity, Belial was not valiant. Seizing the Temple of Binah was an unprecedented move, but going forward from there depended on what he found inside. Belial thought he was prepared for anything. He was not surprised, then, to find Binah was expending the effort to leave the fold-door in her temple open, as though inviting him to cross over. He knew the other end of the fold-door had to terminate somewhere in Binah's star system, and he knew nephilim and humans had been seen to enter the temple, only to leave again months or even years later, which strongly suggested the other end of the wormhole could support planet-dweller life for long periods of time. Obviously Binah was hoping he'd make the crossing in eager haste, then close the tunnel, trapping him on the other side. He suspected that Binah had some sort of workshop on the Proxima side, which is why she left the door open, gambling that no nephilim servant of Belial would understand a single thing he saw over there. But that was a gamble Binah would lose. For Belial had prepared Field Marshal Ithuriel for many months with a sort of crash course in basic physics, such that he would be able to pick up a random copy of Scientific American and fully grasp the contents, which was quite an achievement for a man coming out of a culture that roughly corresponded to Europe's dark ages. Ithuriel had little trouble, therefore, finding the controls to illuminate the interior of the space on the other side of the fold-door. The Proxima system had only a single star and no planets. There were only a few scattered comets that wandered in from the cloud around Rigilkent and Toliman. In the entire system, the only artificial structure was a rotating space station in the shape of a gray metal disk like a hockey puck, about three hundred feet across, with fifteen levels arranged in concentric circles. The sensation of gravity due to centripetal force increased with each drop to a lower level, but it was never more than five percent Gorpai normal. In the dead center of the station, facing forward, Ithuriel rolled down a metal shield outside a large square window to reveal a bloated red ball, which he was careful not to look at directly, despite being much more dim than the orange sun of Gorpai. The stars rolled around like a clock. Hello, Binah, Field Marshal Ithuriel said with a grim smile. The disk of the station was fifty feet thick, large enough to occupy Ithuriel and the Eyes of Belial for weeks exploring it. There were two miles of passageways, each one tall enough for a nephilim to use, and more than two thousand compartments of various sizes and shapes. Many of the compartments still contained personal belongings of people who had worked here before. Ithuriel knew he would spend much of his time examining the clothing and effects left behind by many people from Gorpai and the Land We Know, for the station was the property of Belial now, a spoil of war. But first Ithuriel needed to carry out the task for which he was long trained, and he proceeded to Binah's scientific laboratory to carry out his initial inspection. He made such a profound discovery that it necessitated his immediate return to the Land We Know to report the finding to Belial. Emerging in Menkal via the tunnel, Ithuriel kneeled before Emperor Abaddon and made his report. Binah has found a way to make unlimited quantities of mirror matter, Sire. If normal matter is viewed as gold coins lying heads up on a table, Binah flips them to tails through a higher space. Clever Binah. She has found a way to tap the cosmic imbalance created by the Old One himself. But how does she solve the storage problem? She fires mirror protons at spheres of Carbon-60 with a velocity high enough to penetrate but not enough to exit again. The mirror proton then becomes trapped in a little hole at the center of the molecule, surrounded by a cushion of electrons with the same charge, and can be safely transported. Heating Carbon-60 treated in such a way to only three times the boiling temperature of water relative to ice releases the mirror matter.

After John Glenn returned to Earth and delivered his report to the President, a spotlight was trained on Jill's absolute refusal to describe in any more detail the method by which Taurus City was excavated on the Moon. Apollo 19 was being prepared to establish a permanent American presence at Taurus-Littrow, but in the meantime focus shifted to the area around Astrodyne's business campus in the Seattle area. The FBI received a lucky break when the "prophet" of the Reformed End Dome Church, Paul Bergin, stepped forward with much information. He figured if his reformed Church couldn't have the Golden Gift, then neither would the unreformed "church". After that Special Agent Hugh Ridpath paid a visit to Peter Two Feathers at the temple on the summit of End Dome. At first Two Feathers was very cooperative despite the apprehension of many in the native American community following the recent incident at Wounded Knee in South Dakota where two natives and one federal agent was shot. He described to Ridpath how the End Dome Church came into existence as an unlikely union of white settlers from a Pennsylvania German Brethren background and a local Indian clan, too small to be considered a tribe, who called themselves simply the People. I'm interested in a relic that Prophet Paul Bergin called the Golden Gift, Agent Ridpath said. Can you tell me anything about this object? Ah yes, he refers to a large nugget of gold that Chief Malekwa offered to the leader of the settlers when they first met as the price to hide the Chief and some of his braves inside their wagons before the US Cavalry found them. We like to believe the union of the red and white people in this place had an underlying spiritual basis, and perhaps there was a deeper divine purpose at work, but the truth is, Pastor Mark Lange saw that nugget of gold and the sound of cash registers went off in his head. Prophet Paul says the Golden Gift somehow translates the dead directly to the spirit world, and that is the essence of the worship in your temple. It is true that I wave the original gold nugget, the Golden Gift, over the bodies of our dead in the temple service because it symbolizes how the red and white wings of our church are united, or rather, once were united. But then the corpse undergoes a normal cremation, nothing more. I can show you our license from the State of Washington to provide this service. Special Agent Ridpath wanted Two Feathers to produce the actual gold nugget rather than paperwork. Two Feathers refused. The FBI resorted to a careless search of the Temple that ended with the structure being incinerated. Also included in Ford's Glenn Report was a warning from Jill to all mariners to stay at least a hundred nautical miles away from a new, large whirlpool about halfway between Tasmania and New Zealand's South Island. Naturally, the US Navy rushed directly there with a gunship. The destroyer Buchanan, a twenty year old Adams can, was ordered to cut short a port visit in New Zealand to investigate the area. Perhaps if the Navy had flown aircraft to the location first, 350 destroyer sailors would be alive. The submariners of the USS Bluefish suffered much more than the crew of Buchanan. Their boat was airtight and able to resist the 90 atmospheres of pressure on Venus without being crushed. So she just laid on her side next to a blackened Buchanan and boiled the crew. Distress calls went out from Radio Central for an hour or two, and were intercepted, but the US had no clue the signals were crossing interplanetary space. From what they could make out from the frantic calls, the Navy guessed the destroyer and submarine had gotten pinned in the fumarole of a new underwater volcano. A cruiser action group and one oiler was dispatched to the area to keep lookie-loos out. The Soviet Union was fully informed by Lilith of the true nature of the whirlpool, so they didn't send ships to challenge America's picket, not even submarines. But rumors did trickle out to the public.

Binah punished the invaders from the Saiph League who captured her temple with a series of plagues. The first plague was a heavy spill of rock oil which covered the lower reaches of the Sabik River with a brown syrupy layer, and many of the soldiers of Blackseed whispered that the goddess of the jan had turned the river to blood. It was bitter, and the invading army was forced to dig new wells far from the river to drink. The second plague was a grass fungus that exterminated all the horses and food animals who foraged on the east side of the River Nanki (which meant all the animals owned or captured by Lord Telan Blackseed) while the animals on the west side remained healthy. And this fungus also caused a loathsome skin disease in many of the invading forces from the Republic. The third plague seemed more like a miracle at first. Binah contrived the first tides in the Land We Know, such that there was exposed seabottom from the mainland to the isle of Sukai. Led personally by Countez Berek Moriz, a great multitude from Suhair fled on foot over this new land bridge with their children, goods, and all of their animals. Blackseed thought to use the new land bridge as a way to conquer both Sukai and the larger island of Elendal beyond, and ordered his forces to pursue the people with many chariots of iron. But while the mud flats were dry enough for those who went on two or four feet, those who went in wheeled carts had more trouble. The Saiph League cavalry became stuck in the mud, and they could not escape before Binah allowed the sea tide to flood the area once more. The survivors trapped behind in Suhair were forced to pay a tribute to Lord Blackseed of thirty talents of gold, eight hundred talents of silver, gems, antimony, and many jewels. Also paid in tribute was carnelian, couches and chairs inlaid with ivory, elephant hides and tusks, boxwood, and other rich treasures, along with Count Moriz' daughters, hez wives, and his musicians. All of these things were sent by Lord Blackseed to Eniph. After that, Lord Blackseed turned his sights on the Menkal capital of Akamar, with the goal of capturing or killing King Stronghammer, but first he had to get through Priam Stillstone. While Countez Moriz had executed hez primary responsibility by getting most of the population of Suhair to safety, Baron Stillstone's people were mostly trapped in Rynet Wood and were being methodically slaughtered, with no way for the Baron to save them. So the only thing that remained for hym was revenge. But the power of the Kingdom of Menkal had been reduced to just fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and ten thousand foot soldiers. Lord Blackseed marched on the coast road and laid siege to Akamar. While King Stronghammer fled to the temporary safety of Alodra, Baron Stillstone set fire to the palace and let it burn around hym rather than be captured alive. Blackseed left no man or woman alive in Akamar. He put the people of that city under saws and harrows and axes of iron, made their dead bodies pass through a brick kiln, and salted the earth nigh to the city. Following the massacre of the people, Binah sent upon the armies of Blackseed a great destruction of wind and fire, such a one as never had been known anywhere upon the face of the Land We Know. But Telan Blackseed attributed the disasters to a chance confluence of those natural misfortunes which are prone to happen everywhere from time to time. He said Binah was a figment, a mere jen styling hezself a goddez who deceived the people by playing to their ancient superstitions, for Belial was the sole eloah. Thus it came to pass that the Saiph League occupied all of mainland Menkal, despite the plagues of Binah, leaving only a rump state on the islands of Elendal and Sukai. Blackseed deported all the surviving people, mostly jan, to the worst lands in the Republic, while assigning the most choice lands in Menkal to the officers of his army. King Brogan Stronghammer became little more than a refugee who survived only by the generosity of Queen Firegem in Atria. And Blackseed soon turned his eyes toward Nath.

Ambe took her baby son Gordon home to Hamar to age him like a fine wine, which left Jerry Aspin feeling a little lonely. And Lilith knew it. Knowing him to be somewhat of a fan of the female leg, che took to wearing knee boots and socks that covered more of her thigh than her skirt did. Sure enough, Jerry soon rolled around the idea of taking Lilith hiking in Mineral Canyon, which was an artificially "wild" stretch of Taurus City. He took Lilith doggy style in a glen on the side of the trail in a place where they would be free from prying eyes along the city wall, but there was still the danger of being spotted from the trail by other hikers. This fact only added a little spice to their adventure. Jerry verified what he had only suspected, that Lilith was wearing nothing under that black and white checkered skirt. It had been a long time for Lil too, and it wasn't long after Jerry started plunging himself into Lil's bulb of jenflesh before che whimpered with the sounds of the peak of hez enjoyment. Then he flipped hem over to take a good look. Well, aren't you quite the variety pack! And he proceeded to do things to Lilith that he must have learned in the Colorado penitentiary, where there was little else to do. He was certainly much more accomplished than Robyn, which came from owning the same equipment. Lilith found the experience profoundly satisfying. Bill Gates tried to incorporate as Micro-Soft, with a hyphen, but he was sued by Astrodyne and forced to change the name of his company to Winspire. He kept going around saying he was "W-I-N-N-I-N-G". Still, business considerations overrode any personal animosity and Winspire BASIC was licensed to Astrodyne. It made the Micro easier to program and was attractive to schools, but as an interpreted language it was still too slow for serious work. Real programmers like Mark Felton wrote in compiled Polycode. The Micro-79 came with a 9600 baud modem, fast enough to leave voice messages on the Big Board or listen to spoken word news commentary. GUIDE used four bit color for the first time. A paint program was included to create images, but 16 colors was not quite good enough for photographs. An 8 megabyte external hard drive was also available for another $500. The marquee application for the Micro-79 was a new markup language that could turn simple text files into eye-pleasing documents that included portions of text highlighted in green with an underline. If the user placed a trackball cursor over this green text and clicked, they were taken to a new document that could be stored locally, or on the Astrodyne server, or even on another Micro that was currently online. Winspire reverse-engineered the Micro's operating system and offered IBM something they called DOSS with only cosmetic changes to BOSS, daring Astrodyne to sue. Soon after that, IBM began to offer a competing "Personal Computer" or PC, using stock components, Winspire BASIC in ROM for all software and disk operations and 128 megabytes of memory. There was nothing like GUIDE yet, but IBM blew that off by claiming a GUI was just for people too stupid to remember a measly set of two hundred DOSS shell commands and all their options. IBM considered GUIDE a toy for consumers, not for serious computing. The federal government deliberately purchased only IBM PCs despite the inferior quality and $1,500 per unit price, ostensibly to shore up competition to Astrodyne, but they were almost the sole customer. There was a Winspire ripoff of Matrix called Electronic Paper whose sole difference was cells labeled by rows and columns rather than like in Battleship, R12C19 vs. L19. Astrodyne had failed to get a software patent, and refused to do so on principle, saying it was like getting a patent on the procedure to solve quadratics. Gates, however, did get a patent for Electronic Paper, then turned around and sued Astrodyne. The government testified as a "friend of the court", but the suit got tossed out by an "activist judge" who was "legislating from the bench" when Astrodyne showed prior art. Meanwhile the Micro-79 moved over a million units. It came to pass that Telan Blackseed crossed the River Armak with an exceedingly great force and entered the Kingdom of Nath to subdue it. And Count Hilkiah Zelus came forth from Mizal to give battle to Blackseed when yet half his forces were still on the Menkal side of the river, and Zelus brought him into captivity, but Hovan the son of Telan went into the camp of Zelus with a squad of elite soldiers and released his father. And Blackseed came again after Zelus with his army. They clashed in the ravine of Anixi, and Zelus was driven down the brook to the plains of Nolesh. Then Count Zelus turned and fought Blackseed, and drove him below the Enkaa Dam to the gorge of Armak. But Joy came to the aid of the Saiph League army with dragon fire. Untanirok the chief lieutenant of Blackseed slew Count Zelus, but in his death throes Zelus sorely wounded Hovan in his thigh. And it came to pass following the death of Hilkiah Zelus that El Shaddai sent a curse upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the Saiph League set objects down at night, in the morning they were found to have disappeared. Blackseed said the missing goods were not a sign of the power of El Shaddai, but indicated only thieves. So everyone started keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but the invaders were steadily impoverished even as they looted Nath. And it came to pass that Baron Nahaliel Kerresh came out of Linan and gave battle to Blackseed, who was driven to the wilderness of Shikah. And the Baron waylaid the greater part of the army of Blackseed because they were exceedingly drunken. Then seeing his foes flee before him, the Baron went nigh to the city of Mizal and plundered the encampments of the invaders. And after that all the people in the land flocked into the army of King Garand; yea, even the women, the infirm, and the children. The war grew so bloody that the whole face of the land of Nath was covered with dead bodies, but no one took the time to bury them because they were busy marching to make more dead bodies. And the land exceedingly stank. Then King Garand pursued Blackseed across the plains of Nolesh to the shore of Lake Enkaa. The king assembled his army on the hill of Ronmok, where he could spy over the plain upon the army of Blackseed. And King Garand gave battle for three days. Lord Blackseed fought with his back to the water. In the battle Blackseed smote upon King Garand with many wounds. The king fainted from the loss of blood and was carried away. Battle casualties were so high on both sides that Blackseed ordered his army not to pursue the armies of King Garand as they withdrew again to the city of Hadal. And it came to pass that Telan Blackseed wrote an epistle to King Garand that he ought to surrender his forces for the sake of the lives of his people. But the king answered nay. And it came to pass that Blackseed wrote another epistle to King Garand that if he gave himself up, and renounced his crown, he would spare the lives of the people. And the king answered nay. And it came to pass that Blackseed wrote a third epistle to King Garand, saying, Behold, with me are six thousand staters of silver, and all these I will give thee if thou wilt renounce thy throne and step down. King Garand refused to yield even to the sore temptation of the silver offered by Blackseed, which was enough to buy two and forty thousand measures of barley or seven hundred head of cattle. And this money had not been taken by the curse of the land, for it had been carried on the person of each person loyal to Telan Blackseed. Yet it could not be used to buy provisions in Nath, for the war campaign had run well into the harvest season, and many crops rotted in the fields while the farmers fought for the king, and the cattle had been slaughtered. It was truly worthless. So King Garand replied, May El Shaddai the true and living God curse your money. In 1980 President Ford was elected to his second full term, since the years he served out from 1974 to 1977 were counted as Nixon's second term. Ford continued pursing Astrodyne with the Death of a Thousand Cuts, but the development of the Micro reached critical mass. With sales now crossing four million units, the Micro transformed from a mere toy for hobbyists or a business tool into a genuine appliance for consumers. The steady improvements began to accelerate, motivated by big dollar signs floating around. Astrodyne went to a yearly rather than a bi-yearly release cycle. A sixteen megabyte hard drive was built right into the hardware of the Micro-80 for permanent storage, and BOSS now booted from the hard drive rather than from floppy disks. Graphics used 15 bit color, five bits each for red, green, and blue, for a total 32,768 possible colors. The internal modem attained 19,200 baud. Software and copyrighted photos (mostly pornography) and protected works of text were stored in small pieces across many computers in what soon came to be called the Swarm. But the central indexing point remained Astrodyne big iron, which also grew to meet demand. Winspire's BASIC, which still shipped coded inside the Micro's system ROM, was now being cloned to RAM with a third-party tap called Ghostrider before being ran, which made BASIC at least ten times faster and therefore almost usable. Bill Gates, CEO of Winspire, complained to the federal government that these transient RAM images represented a copyright violation, and the government responded by trying to shut down Ghostrider. They soon found it was impossible to track down every copy of Ghostrider in the Swarm, so they just seized the Astrodyne mainframe computers used to index files in the Swarm for search. In reaction to this, independent tappers created automated scripts to cruise and index the Swarm, so instead of a single vulnerable search node the search nodes themselves become as widely distributed as the very software they catalogued. Astrodyne news and support services continued after a short interruption with the company itself becoming a normal user in the Swarm rather than a central node. In the summer Lilith's pregnancy began to show, so Robyn was forced to deal with the fact that she was sharing her jenfriend with someone else. Lil wouldn't say who the father was. Robyn couldn't really press the issue, at least not with her get-togethers with Jill still ongoing. Near the end of 1980 Lilith gave birth to a human son she named Brand, making him the half-brother of Ariel and obviously Jerry's kid. There was no hospital in Taurus City, but quick access to the priestesses of Yeshua, who shared Yeshua's power of healing injuries and infirmities. Ambe did what she could but there was no solution for Lilith's labor pain. Che said, It hurts like hell. Still, che did not dare to compare hez suffering to that of Yeshua in Jerusalem. And Lilith knew perfectly the reason for her suffering. Humans were the only animals on Earth that walked upright. At every moment, they were faced with the threat of being disemboweled simply by standing up. So the hole in the pelvic floor had to be as small as possible to prevent that. At the same time, humans had the largest brains of any animal on Earth as a percentage of their total body mass. So the opening in the pelvis could not be too small, or the infant would be wedged in the birth canal and die. The baby's skull did not fully form until after birth, so it deformed during birth to ease the passage, but the ordeal was still very dangerous for both, and painful for the mother. Lilith loved to hold Brand's face close to hez own and sniff his soft baby scent, that special new person smell. Che was Brand's mother! And Jerry's joy in Brand was just as great, even if he could never grasp the full depth of Lilith's joy in giving life to him. Chokhmah had taken on nephilim female flesh but had never given birth, so this was a new experience for the elohim, anywhere in the universe. And when Brand grew older, he would find his talent was a limited form of telekinesis. He could move objects through the air, as long as that object was not himself. In the space between Rigilkent and Toliman lay the so-called Eggbeater, a vast collection of asteroids and comets left over from the formation of Alpha Centauri in lieu of the gas giant planets that never formed there. The Eggbeater was actually two separate belts of debris, each orbiting its respective sun, but these belts merged every 80 years when Rigilkent and Toliman approached each other in periastron. Sometimes this resulted in collisions which populated the Eggbeater with smaller chunks in greater numbers, but mostly there were only near-misses, which altered the orbits of the mixing objects to various degrees. Very rarely, one of the larger objects would be hurled toward Gorpai, which had already caused two global Deluges in the long history of nephilim on the planet. To compare distances, if Gorpai was in the Solar System, and its sun Toliman was in the position of the Earth's sun, Rigilkent would occupy the space between Saturn and Pluto. Thousands of small bodies in the Eggbeater were settled by wave after wave of pioneers from Rigikent, and after a time, the settlers had established themselves well enough to become multiple sources of many new waves. Each rock was occupied by a single family or clan, and few of them obeyed the Cupel system of testing or any other precept of the Law of Belial. Religious and political unity shattered in the infinite frontier of space. Some of the "Beaters" (as the colonists of the Eggbeater came to be called) were peaceful adherents of Talishism, but many of them were quite warlike, especially after the Eyes of Belial came calling and found the devotion to their god to be wanting. In the low gravity of asteroids it was considered more practical to have four hands rather than two hands and two feet. Genetic engineering began to blur what it meant to be nephilim, and this was disgusting to the Gerash Patriarch, which was ironic, since the nephilim themselves were a genetic modification of classic human stock. Other Beaters dabbled in techniques for changing genders within a few days. The procedure was reversible and complete, right down to a functioning uterus for men, which was very useful for new colonies where breeding females were at a premium. Such a thing was absolutely incompatible with the system established in the Law of Belial that treated yen as little more than property. So Emperor Azibeel vowed perpetual war, and the Beaters were happy to oblige. In this war, the combatants threw rocks, and the Beaters had the high ground. In a devastating surprise attack, the Beaters caused a large meteor to all but destroy Dartarus in the eastern kingdom of the Gerash Middle Lands, a city of two hundred thousand nephilim which lay on the estuary of the river Kelang where it flowed into the Eastern Sea. For many years Family Sala considered themselves safe from their greatest ancient peril, raids from marauding Larund vessels, on account of Saharad's position far upriver and away from the sea. But when Belial took House Gerash to war against the Brown Beards no one was safe. At the suggestion of Talishi, the entire House of Sala went through a fundamental change. The people were reorganized into "Faith Communities" of about twenty-five to fifty people each, spaced at regular intervals across the plain irrigated by the river Loenna. Each Faith Community was self-supporting in most things, and for those goods they could not obtain, they would trade with neighbor cells. The entire nation abandoned urban conglomeration and spread itself out so thinly and evenly there remained no viable targets to conquer. It would be like an animal trying to live off the seed that was scattered to create a lawn. It was not lost on Family Sala that this made them immune to the Beater's guided meteors. So they farmed the breadbasket of Gorpai and embraced Chokhmah as a feminine creative spirit, having turned their back on Belial worship once and for all. There would be many more Beater attacks, and more cities would be destroyed. But in time even House Gerash begrudged that the Salas' strategy of radical decentralization was probably the wisest course. All the people in the Saiph League were mobilized for war. A third of them were despoiling the Kingdom of Menkal. A third of them remained home to guard against a counterstroke from Alodra. And a third were arrayed for battle before the Temple of El Shaddai in Nath. Men, women, and even their children were all armed with weapons and wore armor. But on the morning the final battle was to take place, the people loyal to Telan Blackseed awoke to find even the money many of them were holding on their person was now gone. It dawned on them that they could not keep their own property on account of the bewitched land, and there rose up a great lamentation. Then King Garand came forth and prayed the people would turn back to El Shaddai and receive his blessings again (that El Shaddai was actually female was not widely known), but his hope was in vain, because they were not sorrowful for their sins, only sorrowful for their lost property. And they said, Let El Shaddai return to us our missing silver and gold, and then we will serve him. Telan Blackseed was not willing to smite the Temple of El Shaddai, just as he feared to smite the Temple of Binah, and Belial in the guise of Emperor Abaddon was angered by his reluctance to do so. Abaddon himself rallied the people to loot the gold of the Temple of El Shaddai, and set the roof on fire, and tear the walls down stone by stone. And the crowd drew near, but Yeshua and Talishi had come to witness the desecration, and these elohim they touched not. As the people surrounded the temple, a death squad of five powerful men chosen by Abaddon and armed with weapons gleaned from Binah's workshop at Proxima stood forth. Thrand Pikebreaker caused stones to move and fill the moat, which gave the death squad access to the wall of the temple. Magar Hardlash cut a hole in the thick stone wall with a copy of the Golden Gift to allow the death squad to enter. Atol Ratrunner caused dark storm clouds to pile up over the temple, to hurl lightning bolts at the archers in the highest parapets. Derian Elderwood caused strong whirlwinds to rage about the death squad, protecting them from other archers and horsemen. Torr Stonespear caused the temple doors to splinter before the death squad, one by one, until they reached the chambers of the High Priest and slew him unarmed. Their task complete, they stood at attention as Emperor Abaddon and two nephilim guards of the House of Gerash proceeded into the heart of the Temple in the wake of the death squad. Abaddon was eager to take possession of the Ark of the Covenant, the only artifact associated with the very aloof El Shaddai. She had used the Ark to communicate with her high priest, much as Belial and Binah often spoke from their avatars. It sat in the center of the room suspended above the floor by two staves on four pillars. But something was amiss. Abaddon only felt 17% of his own weight. The passage back to the Land We Know transformed into a blank wall in Taurus City, and Abaddon knew he had been duped. Wormhole. Abaddon and his guards were disarmed by the simple expedient of having Jerry set their weapons glowing orange-hot. They dropped them to the deck. Emperor Abaddon, you are under arrest for war crimes, and, uh...trespassing, Lilith said, and simultaneously he heard Binah speak these same words directly to him, mind-to-mind, so he knew without any mistake exactly whom he was dealing with. The wormhole thing was an interesting trick. Hello Binah, he said, and offered no further resistance. In 1981 Astrodyne rolled out a Micro with 32 bit color, giving over 24 million colors and finally reaching full photo quality. Onboard storage reached 64 megabytes and the modem attained 57,600 baud, the best that could be obtained by dial-up. Millions of users worldwide were now "buzz- ing the Swarm" to communicate with each other. Suddenly there was a global library of information available to anyone with a Micro and a telephone line. In Robyn's vision of Reality 2.0 she knew there were corporate gatekeepers who sold monthly access to the network, and Mark Felton carefully designed the Micro to avoid a middle-man. Meanwhile Winspire offered IBM a nearly identical clone of GUIDE called Windows (which is what they renamed the panels) and suddenly IBM stopped calling graphical interfaces mere toys. The IBM-PC was slashed in price to $1,200, hoping to jumpstart annual sales, which were still numbered in the hundreds. And even those paltry sales were mostly for government computers that were not even used, prompting some Winspire employees to call it Windows for Warehouses when they were out of earshot of Gates. The government tried a carrot-and-stick approach and offered a $750 subsidy to school districts if they purchased the IBM/Winspire boxes, and cut existing subsidies to school districts if they insisted on going with Micros. Sales of IBM's machine miraculously jumped to ten thousand units. But Astrodyne sold a thousand $500 Micros for every one unit sold by IBM. Mark Felton decided to finally call Bill Gates on his bullshit and filed a lawsuit against Winspire for copyright infringement. Surprisingly, the case seemed to be placed on a fast track. Felton found himself in front of Judge Samuel Watanabe in only a few months, not years. And if there ever was an open-and-shut case, this was it. GUIDE and Windows both consisted of exactly 51 files, and each file was exactly the same size, but with slightly different names. TASKSWAP.BIN in GUIDE became SWAPTASK.BIN in Windows. All Gates did was change the name of the file called out by the GUIDE kernel when it needed to scoot itself out of memory, which anyone could do with a simple editor without access to the original source code or recompiling. In the courtroom Felton displayed the disassembled code of both operating systems to show they were absolutely identical except for when they called out one of the other fifty files. But the clincher was the Easter egg buried in the program by Mark Felton for just this contingency. He was the only person in the entire universe who knew about it. With Bill Gates' Windows product running with a projection monitor so everyone in the courtroom could see what he was doing, Mark put the trackball cursor in the upper left corner, then typed "GOTCHA". Suddenly a slideshow began to display cartoon versions of the GUIDE developers and in bold letters the text "GUIDE - Copyright 1981 Astrodynamics Corporation - All Rights Reserved". And Mark Felton sat down, fully expecting the judge to ream Gates' ass and hand Winspire a multi-million dollar penalty. Nothing like that happened. To be sure, Judge Watanabe acknowledged that copyright infringement had taken place. "Mistakes were made," he said, pussyfooting around. The judge could hardly dismiss the case without being slapped down himself in the inevitable appeal. But Winspire was fined a dollar. One dollar. Judge Sam explained that brisk competition was commonly held to be a public good, and so Winspire, simply by offering an alternative to GUIDE and breaking the unfair monopoly in operating systems that Astrodyne currently enjoyed, had mitigated any damage to society they might "theoretically" have done to Astrodyne's intellectual property rights. It was absolutely insane. Mark Felton immediately started to think of ways he might appeal, but in the courtroom after the trial he was approached by two cosmonauts who were traveling under the aegis of the Soviet embassy in San Francisco. Lilith Gervasi says never mind all this, one of them said. Lilith Gervasi says we take you to Moon. One way trip. Shyla was Robyn and Lilith's second kid, the younger sister of Ariel. Shyla had been stashed in a time in the Land We Know corresponding to the 1700s and there she had lived out her childhood in the care of the priestesses of Yeshua, anonymous and far beyond the ability of Belial to threaten her. The second and third generations of the Gervasi Crime Family had been "aged" like a fine wine in exactly the same way. Shyla was a tunneler, a living version of Lilith's Golden Gift. She could walk through solid stone as easily as another person could walk through the air in a room, leaving behind tunnels just large enough for a person to stand up in. Sometimes this wasn't safe. Loose stones threatened to fall on her, and there was the ever-present nuisance of underground water. So she went together with her half-brother Brand, the human product of a union between Lilith and Jerry. Shyla and Brand were lovers, despite sharing one parent, but that was not uncommon. The Gervasi Family tree didn't fork. They even had names for their sexual preference. Shyla as a man-loving yin was a muffle. Brand as a yin-loving man was a tyke. Years ago from her point of view, Shyla had given birth to a baby jen they named Del. After a time Del was sent away to another era in the Land We Know even as she had been. On the north flank of the Sacred Mountain two streams came together to form a river that flowed past Glenah. For a year, stones had been cut and moved to build a dam on the east fork of the two streams. Water had backed up behind this dam and now threatened to spill over it. But for a week, Shyla had been walking southwest toward this dam by plowing right through the intervening hillside underground, while Brand kept her sister safe from debris. Now they emerged deep under the pool behind the dam and Brand kept both of them dry, shielded by a bubble that kept the water away until they could crawl up on the bank. Presently the water began to drain through the tunnel they had made. In a few hours it would spill out on the cattle plains around Linan and carve itself a new path, seeking the sea, but it would never reach it. Instead the water would be diverted into canals and pools for the cattle as well as the townsfolk of Linan to drink. From now on only the west fork would feed the Glenah River, but this would not seriously impact the total flow, since much of its water was developed from the water table along the way north. They saw Yeshua there, the one who had commissioned them to do this job on behalf of El Shaddai. Shyla bowed to him and greeting, and said, Lord Yeshua, when you helped make this place you didn't finish the job.' We didn't ask people to build Linan where it is, Yeshua said. I thank both of you for your service building the Linan Aqueduct. Brand bowed as well. There was to be no payment. Both Shyla and Brand did this out of their abundant gratitude for a lifetime of gifts from Yeshua and his priestesses. Yeshua went on to say, Your parent has captured Belial on the Moon and wants hez entire family to meet hem there to decide what to do with him. All of your kinspeople and many others are gathering there. I've come to bring this message to you. We will obey the summons of course, Brand told him, and Shyla nodded. Just one thing I must mention, Yeshua said. This is Timeline Three. When you and your siblings meet Lilith and Robyn on Selene in 1981 it will be a time and place when you, Brand, were only a year old and you, Shyla, were not yet born. This will create Timeline Four. Lilith will know your whole history because che remains in union with Binah, but your mother Robyn will see you both as strangers. I needed to prepare you for this, so you do not take it the wrong way. Be of strong heart. When Shallum succeeded his father Josiah as king of Judah, changing his name to Jehoahaz, he only reigned for three months in Jerusalem. After defeating the Babylonians at Harran, Pharaoh Necho II took Jehoahaz captive and demanded a tribute of more silver and gold than Judah possessed. He was mistreated and became the first king of Judah to die in exile. Necho then appointed Eliakim, a younger son of Josiah, as king of Judah, changing his name to Jehoiakim. After his defeat at the hands of Judah's former ally Nebuchadnezzar II, and serving as his vassal for three years, Jehoia- kim revolted against Babylon. The combined armies of the Chaldeans, the Arameans, the Moabites, and the Ammonites laid siege to Jerusalem. King Jehoiakim was assassinated and his body cast over the wall to end the siege. He was succeeded by his son Jeconiah. Like his uncle Jehoahaz, King Jeconiah only reigned for three months in Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar personally laid siege to Jerusalem with the plan of carrying off the elites of the city to Babylon and knocking some sense into them. Nebuchadnezzar took all the treasures of the temple of El Shad- dai and deported the king, the army, the craftsmen, and all the leading citizens of Jerusalem. Only the very poor remained behind to till the land. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Mattaniah, another uncle of Jeconiah, as king and changed his name to Zedekiah. King Zedekiah reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. Near the end of his reign he rebelled against the king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and his whole army advanced against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. Zedekiah at- tempted to escape the city but he was captured. The sons of Zedekiah were slain before his eyes, and then Zedekiah himself was blinded, bound in chains, and taken to Babylon. The Babylonians burned the temple of El Shaddai, the palace of the king, and every house in Jerusalem. The walls of the city were torn down and the surviving people of the city, numbering about fifty thousand, were taken in exile to Babylon. From that day forward the kingdom of Judah ceased to exist. Only a very few of the poorest people and a handful of army offi- cers remained behind in the Judean hills, and even these soon fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians, leaving the land entirely vacant.

A third person joined them, drawn by the light cast by Ariel which penetrated deep into the gloomy night. It was Ambe, the mother of Gordon, and he was glad to see her, but he did not greet her as "Mom" because it would confuse Lael. Ambe sensed this, and pitched her message accordingly. The Eldest demands your presence at Taurus to witness the judgment of Belial. According to the scroll given to Lael, he was to seek a man of the tribe of Judah from among the exiles in Egypt with four unmarried daughters and who was willing to allow them to be trothplighted to Lael's four unmarried sons, even though two of his sons were yet boys. Zethan was such a man, and so this was the full tale of the colonists from the tribe of Judah: There was Lael, and his wife Sariah; Sethan and his wife Atara; Elam the eldest son of Lael and his new wife Serach; Jemel the second son of Lael and his new wife Ischa; Rosh the third son of Lael and his betrothed Sela; and Rimon the youngest son of Lael and his betrothed Dinah. From among the remnant of the tribe of Benjamin, Lael chose Abner, who had four sons, and Jabez, who was willing to allow his four daughters to marry them. And so this was the full tale of the Benjaminite colonists: Abner and his wife Tabitha; Jabez and his wife Keziah; Asa the eldest son of Ab- ner and his new wife Jemima; Josiah the second son of Abner and is new wife Keturah; Tobiah the third son of Abner and his betrothed Susannah; and Asher the youngest son of Abner and his betrothed Leah. And it came to pass that the twenty-four colonists traveled from Egypt to the downfallen kingdom of Judah, where every dwelling had been completely looted by the Babylonians and later by robbers from neighboring kingdoms. The Judahite and Benjaminite colonists made their way to the charred debris upon the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and stood in the very place that had been the Holy of Holies. And they suddenly found themselves inside the Holy of Holies in the twin temple of El Shaddai in what would become Nath. When they were led outside the colonists beheld the full glory of this tem- ple and there were many tears of joy, for it was far more glorious than Solomon's temple had been, even before it was brought down to ruin. Yet it had been built by nephilim and no sacrifices were yet performed there. And Chayn the youngest daughter of Robyn and Lilith came to Lael, accompa- nied by horses she had gathered together using her talent of taming ani- mals, all wild horses from the land that one day would be called Menkal. Talishi had joined the demigod Chayn when she was about to quit camp the morning after she had found and broken fifteen animals to her will. May I offer you a horse, Lady Talishi? Chayn asked at that time. I have heard that you have done quite enough walking for one lifetime. Talishi accepted the offer and led the way to El Shaddai's temple, stopping in places to load the horses with arms, shields, fresh fruit, and gifts of gold and silver to give to Lael and his people, for it was appointed that they should make their home in the Land We Know. And in the years that followed they multiplied exceedingly. Some even found mates from among the nephilim, and the first jen appeared in the land who were not Lilith, Del, or Ariel, anchorless sojourners in time of the Gervasi Crime Family. Talishi and Chayn came through the fold door to Taurus City only a few mo- ments after Abaddon had been arrested. Talishi strode a few steps direct- ly toward Abaddon and slapped his face, hard. It was so unexpected he did absolutely nothing to fend her off. That is for killing Khondiel, ac- cursed one. Abaddon turned to Lilith. You had better kill this body, Binah, because whatever deal you're putting together here is now impossible. Oh, no, you mustn't take that attitude, Belial, Talishi said. You are bargaining for passage of your colonists to and from Hybla. Carrot and stick, we say on Earth, Lilith said. Stick doesn't work so good because you can always possess another body. So we're banking on carrot. I'm putting together a summit. The first and perhaps the only time the elohim will meet with the leaders of the nephilim and humans. And as Talishi has just hinted, it would be in your best interest to attend. Not many days after Lael's death in the new colony, about six years after the migration, Elam and Lemuel were angry with their brother Rosh on ac- count of the admonitions of their father which came out of Rosh's mouth at regular intervals. The old man was dead, may he rest in peace, but here was little Rosh spouting Laelisms as though he lived on through his third son. Rosh's older brothers sought to take his life, because they would not have their younger brother rule over them, but before they could carry out this deed, Rosh fled into the wilderness with all who would go with him. Rosh took his family, and also Zethan and his family, and Timon with his family, and Jared his younger brother who was born in the new world, and also the sisters of Rosh. They journeyed west toward the wild coast, to that land which would one day be known as Hamar. Rosh took his father's scroll as well as the obliga- tion to record the history of the Jewish people in the Land We Know. The Roshites stopped at a river estuary and founded the city of Menkant, where they fished and raised animals on the green hills that rose to the east. And there Rosh made many blades of bronze, ...lest by any means the peo- ple who were now called Elamites should come upon us and destroy us. And the Elamites did seek them out, despite the natural defenses of the mountainous country of Hamar, because they had nephilim allies, and thought to eliminate the Roshites by attrition in battle. But in the aftermath of every battle the demigod Del was sent to them, a healing jen, the jist off- spring of Shyla and Brand. Del had the power to heal small and great in- juries, sometimes pulling fallen soldiers back from the very brink of death, but she could do nothing for those who had already suffered irre- versible cessation of life. Yet it was enough to permit the Roshites to thrive in the land of Hamar despite endless depredations by their separated brethren. One evening when Del was sitting in a wicker basket chair quite exhausted from healing the victims of a particularly brutal skirmish, with blood still coverings her arms and the screams of agonized soldiers still ringing in her ears, she noticed two other similar chairs, when she clearly remem- bered there was only one other chair. Hello, beloved grandparent, she said with a sigh, and one of the wicker chairs flowed smoothly into the shape of a smiling Lilith Gervasi, who embraced Del warmly, kissed hem, then proceeded to take the last remaining chair. What would you say if I told you that was your last job for the Ro- shites? Lilith asked hem, nodding at her bloody hands. I would say do not toy with your own kin like that. I am serious. I am pulling the whole Family together on Selene, 1982, Timeline Three. Belial has agreed to a kind of summit, and there will be many other important figures involved. And you think I'm important? Far more than you know, Del. You are much more than merely human or nephilim or jen, you are semi-divine. I've been hiding you and your cous- ins from Belial in such places and times that he doesn't even suspect your existence, but you and I will be together a lot more now, because I'm grooming you to become the head of the Family someday. Where am I going, you want to ask? I have been working toward a certain goal for thousands of years and I believe it is now within reach. You are already aware of the isolation Belial has imposed on me, Chokhmah, El Shaddai, and Bat-El, as well as an addition restriction such that I may not travel to an eloah outside of our little circle and report what Belial has done. But I have been preparing humans and nephilim to embark on that travel on my behalf. It may be the case that I will need to go with them, which is permitted so long as I do not myself initiate contact with the destination star. For the Summit at Taurus City the People's Republic of China was represented by Special Minister Liu Chou-Lai, appointed and trained by the Communist Party solely for the event on the Moon. The Soviet Union was represented by the platoon of cosmonauts Astrodyne had contracted to bring up the Earth delegations, including their old friends Aleksei Leonov, now a Field Marshal, and General Oleg Makarov. The Islamic Republic of Iran sent five mullahs from the Revolutionary Council. The Soviets had to use only male pilots to bring them up, because they refused to get into a space vessel piloted by women. A dozen less prominent 'non-aligned' nations from Africa and Latin America, which fell neither within the Soviet sphere nor the American sphere, were also represented at Taurus City. What they had in common was a long saltwater coastline, and the gift they were soon to receive would be far beyond imagination . The United States leaned on their closest allies to spurn the Summit, including most of Europe, the entire British Commonwealth, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. To Lilith's disappointment, the state of Israel also refrained from sending a representative. As a natural result of this embargo, the list of attendees from Earth read a little bit like a Who's Who of America's traditional enemies. But in a case of do as I say, not as I do, old John Glenn came up from the Taurus-Littrow base to keep an eye on the proceedings. Lilith warned him the US would probably receive a big fat nothing. Glenn was most dismayed to discover the Summit would be televised globally, because this would instantly blow the cover off the Ford Administration's ongoing narrative, now a decade in the making, that only NASA was present on the Moon. The US would not broadcast the coverage, of course, but soon it would become common knowledge worldwide that elohim and nephilim existed, that there were two habitable worlds at Alpha Centauri, and that there was a staging area between them and Sol called the Land We Know. Americans would ask why President Ford had kept all of this hidden from them. The answer ran far deeper than politics and was rooted in Protestant theology. Although he started as a Mid-west checked pants Republican, by the middle of Jerry Ford's second full term his cabinet was over-represented by Southern fundamentalist Moral Majority types. John Glenn's reports from the Moon put them in a constant state of future shock. Holding the Bible to be the inerrant, literal word of God, they didn't know what to do with the knowledge that their God was really a vast female alien made of dense nuclei in the heart of the sun, that Jesus was really the daughter of her and the devil, and that there were two other aliens, including one that ran around wearing the body of a Jewish woman. There were anthropological considerations to take into account. From the long, sad history of the collision of colonizing European cultures with the more primitive aboriginal cultures in the lands they invaded, one could easily imagine Earth itself, in the aftermath of the arrival of an advanced alien civilization, becoming a sort of galactic "Human Reservation" utterly dependent on handouts and perhaps becoming a seedy haven for gambling or other pleasures that might be forbidden elsewhere in the universe. A cover-up could buy time to prepare the world for the shock and perhaps prevent such a post-contact malaise from taking hold. This would be a legitimate reason for the cover-up, but it was not the real reason. There have always been those who seek to cling to safe and familiar things in a world that appears to grow more and more dangerous and complex every day. These relentless change represented a quantum leap in the world's danger and complexity. To those who sought to steer America's schools away from teaching evolution and "old earth geology" and towards a curriculum of a special creation of the Earth by God 6,000 years ago, the changes raised questions that their closed, self-contained, strictly biblical theology could never answer. Chuck kept looking down from his fourth-floor room in the Taurus City wall. The royals of the Land We Know had arrived, and it was like the opening of Queen Firegem's council, but some of the eminent Personages were from lands conquered by Blackseed so they came as exiles attached to the Alodran par- ty. And the rulers of Gorpai were also present, except for the Bellon pa- triarch, because Belial considered the Brown Beards to be nothing but mere vassals of House Gerash. The summit is starting, we should go down. Hunky was interested in going down, sure enough, but not that kind of going down. Let's go to bed.' Hy loosened hyz garments and let them fall to the floor, letting both of hyz quickly stiffening members rise free. I'm not horny, Chuck whined, and that was true. He had not experienced sex with anyone yet, but he definitely wasn't gay. In this encounter Chuck was under duress in a kind of rape. Hunky was irresistibly persuasive, but it was a purely mental thing. Without it Hunky's elaborate cross- dressing helped only a little bit, and ultimately the contradiction of a hyper-feminine yang was just to wide for Chuck to make the leap. Hunky had hoped hy would not have to resort to his talent, but it proved necessary. When the new persuasion took hold, Chuck shed his clothes in a flash. The unexpected suddenness of this caused Hunky to shudder with a frisson of de- light, for it was over and above what Hunky was compelling Chuck to do. Chuck cast Hunky upon the bed and began to devour hym. There is a high level of sustainable male arousal, just short of orgasm, marked by a continuous dribble of semen. In a yang this state can be main- tained in one penis even while the other one trips over the small hurdle to full climax. Chuck kept Hunky in a state of continuous bliss for two hours, punctuated by alternating orgasms until Chuck himself couldn't stand waiting anymore. He flipped Hunky over on hyz stomach. Shuddering with pleasure he squeezed half a bottle of lubricant inside Hunky and massaged the overflow on Hunky's ass cheeks and around his hips. When Hunky was penetrated there was some pain, despite Chuck's attempts to break hym in gently, but growing from deep under the pain was a profoundly transcenden- tal ecstasy associated with direct stimulation of the prostate. It fit well with Hunky's desire to be the passive, receptive one. It was exactly what hy wanted. Hy writhed on the bed until Chuck boiled over inside him. Chuck let his back arch, legs stiffen, and mouth lay wide open as he felt a re- lease far more satisfying than anything he had ever done for himself. But in a male human sex is only interesting until it's over. This was an adaption rooted in evolution which led to the impregnation of many differ- ent partners rather than wasting sperm on just one partner. In Chuck's case, it was sufficient to break the power of suggestion Hunky had placed over him. Chuck rolled away, filled with distaste at what Hunky had forced him to do. I'm going to tell the others about this, he threatened. Actually, Hunky replied, no you're not. And hy clamped down on Chuck's mind with a level of persuasion far greater than anything hy had attempted before. Chuck's very soul was pressed down, diminished to less than thirty percent of his previous intensity, his brain re-wired, replaced by the memories and linkages of Hunky. This was possession, the same thing Lilith had allowed Binah to do to her, or Talishi had accepted from Chokhmah. But Chuck didn't volunteer for it, so it resembled more what Belial did to the Gerash patriarchs one-by-one. It was over very quickly, and the result was a slightly Chuck-contaminated copy of Hunky looking out of Chuck's eyes. Now Hunky was ready to complete the sex act, this time with a willing du- plicate of himself. Hunky's posterior member crawled inside Chuck even as the sensitive underside of his anterior member rubbed the underside of Chuck's single member. Hunky's toes curled, hyz eyes crossed, and in a simultaneous double orgasm he came, both inside Chuck and out. In the early stages of hyz captivity when the idea of a grand summit was first being bandied about, Belial was firmly truculent. To be under ar- rest was an indignity too great to bear, and Talishi literally slapping hyz face did nothing to allay this. But the consequences of not cooperating were severe. Chokhmah would bar the way of colonists to and from Hybla-Dia if Telan Blackseed dared to set foot in Alodra. But later, when the jen incarnation of Binah laid out more incentives, Belial warmed to the idea of a parley. All he had to do was agree to peace. That is, he would simply stop his aggression where it now stood, and not seek further territory. So when the Summit was called into existence Belial immediately declared an end to the state of warfare on Gorpai as well as in the Land We Know. Binah then tried to press Belial to see what else he was willing to do. And what of the seraph whose flag flies over my temple and over Proxima Station? What of the House of Bellon, or King Stronghammer in exile, or the Baron of Difda and hyz wife who are confined to Elendal Island? In reply Belial staked out his absolute red line. I have never relin- quished territory once it has been taken. Never. This is embedded in the heart of my Law and is not negotiable. Everyone knows this And even this concession was dependent on the other elohim offering Belial great gifts, which they immediately proceeded to do. Talishi began by say- ing that she personally would teach the people of Gorpai how to reach space in the Toliman system from the surface of their planet, even as the people of Earth had recently begun to do. For Belial had been shocked to see how Americans and Russians had reached the satellite of Earth using their own skills, with absolutely no transfer of technology from Binah, even while Gorpai remained in a pre-industrial state. But it did not enter into Beli- al's wildest dreams that the present of Taurus was situated twenty years prior to the location of Belial's own consciousness of the present time. El Shaddai, speaking from the Ark of the Covenant, offered to grant Belial for colonization all of the planets, moons, and asteroids of the Sol system beyond four times the distance of Earth from Sol, if only he called off the siege of her holy temple in Nath and permitted travelers to freely come and go. This Belial could do without violating his rule of never reversing a conquest, since he had been arrested before he could raise his flag. We four elohim you have mistaken to be your mere servants can offer a service to move large ships in the same instantaneous way individual people now move between temples in the Land We Know and Centauri system or Sol. I refuse to accept that such a thing is possible! And even if you could do it, I would demand some measure of control, just as the small wormhole tubes we use today are anchored in the heart of our guarded temples. Yeshua said, Then I propose four structures, one in each star system, and each one called an Identification Lattice. One end of a wormhole will always be associated with the location of this Lattice. Ships moving to and from the Land We Know will pass through the lattice for identification before the elohim permit the actual fold-link to come into existence. Belial still could not accept it. Such transportation would be possible only if you have access to an unlimited flow of dark light. It is not unlimited, Yeshua contradicted hym. Three of the five elohim must combine to provide sufficient dark light to permit passage. You will outline this process to me, Belial insisted. No we will not reveal the process to you, Lilith said. For it is highly classified. Lilith permitted herself a sly grin here. The secrecy is embedded in the heart of my Law and it is not negotiable. There were two instances of Hunky now, at the expense of young Chuck, of Generation Three, who had simply ceased to exist as an individual. So one version of Hunky was a persuader, the other one was a transmuter. The original Hunky felt a little like a murdering serial rapist who buried his victims in his back yard after he was through with them, as though they were nothing more than the tissue one threw away after a session of self- love. But in this case there was no corpse. Chuck's body was still alive, but he as Hunky had deliberately isolated himself from Hunky's mother Jill, who otherwise with the clairvoyance sha used to bind the Gervasi Crime Family together would soon detect two versions of har own son. Interior things could not be hidden from Jill if one allowed har to look. Chuck in turn brought Hunky into his household, into close proximity with Chuck's mother Chayn, who was the next target of Hunky's roaming obses- sions. Hunky was spoiled rotten. Hy had never been denied the smallest thing. Hyz parents Mike and Jill had given him anything hy wanted, freely, and if hy ever wanted something from others in the Gervasi Crime Family hy could always resort to hyz talent. But there were some things Hunky could never have no matter how persuasive hy tried to be. Hy was the most iso- lated member of the Family. Through no fault of hyz own, hy had no broth- ers, no sisters, no cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. Only when hy took possession of Chuck did Hunky learn what it was like to have actual kinfolk. Hunky never even had a boyfriend, for Chuck had been coerced. To protect hym from Belial Hunky had been sent to a garrison of Fallen An- gels at Central, between Hybla and Dia at Rigilkent. Jill never realized how cruel this was to har son. Yen from Gorpai or the Land We Know con- tinuously rotated in to Central for a stint of a few months, but Hunky stayed on and on, growing ever softer in the eternal free fall. Hy was only occasionally taken to places where hyz talents were used to influence negotiators. At Central, surrounded by Fallen Angels hy was smothered by a miasma of femininity yet never grew tempted to physically indulge no matter how enticing the troops tried to be, on account of the second greatest les- son in this universe: that one never wants what one already has, only what one does not have. So Hunky longed for the male touch, a look, even a whiff, but was ever deprived and in the presence of warrior yen hyz gender identity grew distorted beyond recognition. What hy wanted above all was to be female, simply because this was the one thing hy could never have. But the new thing with Chuck showed Hunky how to achieve the impossible. Chayn was a woman. Hunky could be a woman if Chayn became Hunky. And so the seduction began, but it was far more difficult than it had been with Chuck because Hunky had badly wanted Chuck to penetrate hym. There was nothing physical hy wanted Chayn to do, other than vacate her body. The thought of doing anything sexy with her brought back memories of Central. The possession succeeded on a purely technical level, but in so doing Hunky learned the single greatest lesson that pervades the universe, that wanting a thing is always far sweeter than actually having that thing. In possess- ing Chayn's body, Chayn's personality remained in the relative intensity of thirty percent. There was no delight of discovery for the Hunky personal- ity at seventy percent. Hunky now knew (as though hy had always known) what it was to be a woman from a full lifetime of experience, and Chayn, frank- ly, had always found it to be no big deal. The cost of learning this les- son was to isolate yet another member of the Gervasi Crime Family from Jill, a situation hy knew could not be maintained for very much longer. Hunky realized hyz very next target for possession must be none other than hyz own mother Jill. It was the only way to keep har from discovering hyz secret and revealing it to all the others. But there would be a bonus. As part of har clairvoyance Jill could copy the talents of the other Bene Elo- him, the other offspring of the gods. After Jill's conversion there would be two Hunkys who could take possession of the body of others. On the second day of the Summit after all the peacemaking had been accom- plished Lilith unveiled a large illuminated map of the Earth, showing the contours of the continents as they were in the present day of 1982, and also showing contours of the land beneath the waves at the 2,000 fathom line. To the left of the world map was a map of Venus taken from radar data obtained by the avatar of Binah long ago, but recently in geological time. To the right of the Earth map was a photomap of Mars also taken by Binah. Lilith walked to the left side of the stage and said, The second planet in the Sol system is wrapped by a thick blanket of greenhouse gases that retain the sun's heat, making that planet far hotter than the Earth would be at the same distance. Venus has too much air, and not a drop of wa- ter.' Then che walked to the center of the stage and said, The third planet in this system will have five billion people in five more years, yet only twenty-nine percent of its surface is dry land, and much of that is desert or frozen tundra unable to support human life. So the Earth has too much water, and too many people. Walking to the right side of the stage, che said, The fourth planet has a cold atmosphere that is only one percent as thick as the Earth's atmosphere, causing any liquid water on the surface to evaporate away. Mars has too little air, water and heat. But all three of these planetary inequities, che revealed, could be re- solved with just two wormholes, very much like the one that took Belial from the Land We Know to Taurus City, except these wormholes were much larger, and would open all the time. Lilith announced that che had al- ready started the process. Some of the delegates had already suspected. Lilith returned to the center of the stage and pointed to a section of the Earth map. One wormhole has a mouth far under the sea, near New Zealand, right here. The Earth end of the wormhole will constantly be maintained at the level of the sea where the water pressure is sufficient to overcome the air pressure on Venus, currently about ninety standard atmospheres. This will create a flow of sea water to the north pole of Venus, where it will immediately turn to steam, and the sea salt will be precipitated out. Lilith faced the row of Iranian mullahs as El Shaddai's resonant voice, sounding neither male nor female, rang out from the Ark. El Shaddai said, It is my commandment that Venus shall be given to Iran, to rule as you see fit. It will become the home, if you wish, of an Islamic Caliphate. Lilith added a caveat, however. Unfortunately, temperatures will remain too high for humans to live in the open on Venus for perhaps a century. The only thing you will be able to export at first will be the salt, but there will be a great traffic of people from Earth to Mars, and ores from Venus to Earth and Mars, and you will earn much money in transit fees. But your enclosed structures will require the constant conversion of air to dark matter to sustain air conditioning, and it will be another century after that before terraforming of the north and south polar regions will raise the level of oxygen to a life-sustaining level. Then you will be in sole possession of a new planet quite comfortable in the polar regions. One of the Iranian representatives asked Lilith, Why did you choose that remote spot for the wormhole entrance? Why not closer to Iran? Lilith answered, When the Earth's sea level drops about twelve thousand feet, in two hundred years, the world ocean, which is currently seventy-one percent of the Earth's surface, will be divided into precisely two halves. South America will have two land bridges connecting it to Antarctica, as you can see here. At that time, the only water connection between the Pa- cific and Atlantic ocean water lobes will be right here, between New Zea- land and Tasmania. This undersea basin will be the location of the greatest city on Earth in the 23th Century. It will be the crossroads for all sea transport, which is now and will always remain the most cost-effective way to move goods from point-to-point on the surface of the Earth. Jill used to watch Robyn play blackjack in Vegas and wondered why she did- n't take the House for everything they had. Robyn's open-mouthed aston- ishment was followed by the answer that consistently winning too much money would get Robyn on somebody's shit list and no casino in town would so much as let her walk through the door. Besides, that's not how precognition works, Robyn said, taking this as a good opportunity to try to explain. The first thing Jill needed to realize, Robyn told her, was that the free will of herself and others was paramount, and it constantly obscured her talent for precog. The other players could hit or stand and there was no way for Robyn to predict what they would do, and each choice affected what cards would be dealt to the players down the line, which in turn would af- fect their decision to hit or stand, and so on. The variables multiplied beyond Robyn's ability to sort them out. That's why I always wait until the seat is open at Third Base before sitting at a table, she said. And by Third Base, Jill understood that to mean the seat that was serviced by the dealer last, just before he turned over his own cards. That way all the variables were reduced to just those affected by Robyn's own choices. The only thing I can see without fail, sha said, is whether the deal- er's going to get a blackjack, and if that happens I can sit out the hand with no bet but if I do that every single time they will catch on and toss me out on my ass. So sometimes Robyn lost a hand, but it was always just the minimum bet. Sometimes the cards were no help and there was no way to beat the dealer no matter what sha did. But Robyn never busted by going over twenty-one unless sha wanted to throw the watchers off her tail, the ones snooping on closed-circuit TV through cameras mounted over the table. And if sha could see sha was going to beat the dealer sha doubled down. The result after a few hours of relaxation and exercising har talent was a mild buzz from her drinks and a few hundred dollars. Every night. Before sha moved into space Robyn considered gambling to be har primary occupation. One thing still puzzled Jill, however. Robyn had no problem predicting stock market crashes or recessions, and they had infinitely more variables than a simple blackjack game. The big stuff is easier, Robyn said. It's not about a single person telling a dealer hit or stand, it's about groups acting together, buying and selling things. And I can narrow things down if a single person commits himself to a course that is irrevocable. And that was precisely what Hunky had done by beginning to take possession of hyz fellow Bene Elohim. If Hunky was quickly found out, hy would be immediately driven into the camp of Belial, and if his deeds went undetect- ed, hy would gradually alienate the other Family members until hy was forced to remove himself to Belial's side. It was just a question of time. A surface probe by Jill established where Hunky was located. Sha went up to his apartment with Robyn in tow while Lilith continued to negotiate with the Iranians. Hello, mother, hy said, letting them both in. Briefly hy was tempted to take possession of Robyn first, judging har to have the greater power but Jill would broadcast a warning to the others if hy tried. Really, son? You're going over to Belial? Why have you closed your mind to me, Hunky? Tell me what's going on with you. What's wrong? Hunky deserved an Oscar for his performance. He sobbed and extended his arms, inviting hyz mother to give hym a hug. Hy needed close physical con- tact to make the possession work. Jill and Hunky moved together. And then hyz mind was bearing down on hars with irresistible force, compressing and diminishing Jill's very soul. With any other person the trick would have worked, but Jill's talent was the ability to copy the talent of the other Bene Elohim, which sha promptly did in a desperate act of self-preserva- tion. Immediately sha was taking possession of Hunky even as hy was tying to take her. Her mind regained lost intensity until they were balanced in stalemate. Then Robyn brought the base of a lamp down on Hunky's head. As the Summit continued, Lilith revealed more about her terraforming project. At the south pole of Venus, another wormhole will take the hot atmosphere of Venus, which will still be under great pressure but supersat- urated with water vapor, to Mars, where it is too cold and there isn't enough air. Che turned to address the Chinese Special Minister directly, In a very short time, much less than two hundred years, Mars will have greenhouse gases at sufficient temperature pressure to become quite com- fortable. It will remain only to convert the carbon dioxide to oxygen, and that will be accomplished by planting green things. This planting is some- thing that can begin almost immediately. El Shaddai assigned all of Mars to the People's Republic. But the moon Pho- bos was given to the Soviet Union, and Deimos was to be retained by the Bene Elohim, also known as the Gervasi Crime Family, hosts of the Summit. On Earth seawater was already being moved to Venus, pouring down a wormhole hundreds of feet wide like water draining from a bathtub. Lilith hadn't asked anyone for permission to do this but there was nothing anyone could do to stop hem. Thus the imbalances of all three worlds would be set aright, with no input of energy aside from that which the elohim used to maintain the wormholes. And the representatives of the non-aligned nations of Earth understood the nature of their own gift. They were to receive much more land as the sea levels dropped to expose new territory beneath the sea. If Lilith's scheme worked, the land area of the Earth would rise from 29 percent to 50 percent in only two hundred years. But the people of Earth would begin to reap the benefits of that uncovering process almost immediately. New land would be exposed off the coasts, and much of this contained oil deposits which would become newly economical to tap. Indeed, within just a hundred years, all of the North Sea and Baltic Sea would be dry land, with only a single firth reaching southeast to di- vide the two lands at Denmark. Florida would grow to more than double it's width. The ancient land bridge between Siberia and Alaska that the ances- tors of the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere used to cross over from Asia to North America would be permanently re-established. The role of the Soviet Union would be to provide ships linking together the worlds of the Sol System in a great transportation network. Most of the lesser bodies of the inner system would be theirs, solely, as well as a constellation of habitats and space stations they proposed to build. As for Luna, or the Moon, Lilith said, waving her hands all around, With the blessing of El Shaddai I am retaining this world for the Bene Elohim, and it shall be renamed Selene. I propose to build a device which I choose to call the Circumlunar Supercollider. It will be a ring of electro- magnetic coils that will encircle the equator. It will be powered by solar cells and I will use it to make small black holes that will be allowed to drop into the interior. So while Venus and Mars are being terraformed, I propose to graviform Selene. If I reduce the diameter of this satellite to about 900 miles, it will have the same gravity as Earth and it will be able to retain atmosphere and water long enough to allow us to easily replace the losses. In the end, if all goes well, then in two hundred years this star system will have four perfectly habitable worlds. And as Lilith was winding up that day's briefing, Hunky (his head still throbbing from where Robyn had laid him out cold with a lamp) quietly wan- dered over to the place where Emperor Abaddon was seated. Arrayed around the Emperor were the members of the American delegation, including John Glenn, who had been accepted by Belial where they had been spurned by ever- yone else. And Glenn had wormed his way into the role of advising Abaddon. When Hunky bowed before the Emperor and begged to be given asylum, Glenn warned Abaddon hy could be a spy. Then, suddenly he reversed himself. I see you are one of Binah's Talented Ones,Abaddon said with delight. The final day of the Summit was supposed to be a simple matter of tidying up all the dangling threads. Talishi placed her army of Fallen Angels un- der the command of the seraphim of the Gervasi Crime Family, and Yeshua assigned most of his priestesses to Lilith to offer healing on Earth and Gorpai, although at least a thousand of them would remain in the Land We Know to serve him. Lilith named her new organization Femina Caelestis, or Star Woman, the presence of a number of men and yeng in FC notwithstanding. But the hypermasculine Emperor Abaddon (and by automatic extension the House of Bellon) couldn't stomach the very concept of a Femina Caelestis and refused to have anything to do with them. The House of Sala fully em- braced Femina Caelestis and pledged to support them with bases on Dia and Gorpai. The Antero and Larund patriarchs thought it unwise to antagonize Belial so soon after the Summit and said they would welcome only Yeshua's healers. But these healers possessed hands of glorified flesh, even as Yeshua's entire body was glorified, which meant their hands had been recon- figured with nanotechology and were not even truly alive anymore. In this way they were like Yeshua before he was crucified, or Kephas afterward, and their hands could heal many infirmities, even reviving the recently dead. Permission was granted for the humans, nephilim or jen who were native to the Land We Know to migrate to the Jupiter colonies or Gorpai or Hybla-Dia if they chose to do so, but those humans of Earth who were experiencing the Land We Know as Purgatory, as a kind of second life for their spiritual development, would not be permitted to leave. And soon the white skies over the Land would be filled with crossing ships as the Land We Know be- came the way to fly between star systems, not merely to walk between them. At the very end of the Summit Emperor Abaddon stood up and said, Many gifts and agreements have been passed back and forth, but we have failed to reward the American people of Earth and this strikes me as very rude. Silence fell over the Summit as people tried to guess what Abaddon meant. Abaddon walked over to an inert silver robot with the size and shape of a little child. I call this a Bot. It is designed to work on the termi- nator of an airless world, at the very transition between day and night. Lilith knew that Belial had gotten the plans for his Bot from the Lore of the Elohim, and che was mildly surprised, for che had grown used to being the sole user of that store of knowledge. Binah probed that store now and was even more surprised to find nothing on Bots. Belial had given access to a redacted set. If Lil could prove it, the ancient bargain was off. Abaddon said, If El Shaddai permits, I propose to give the First World of Sol system to the Americans. They will be aided by many of these Bots. The terminator line moves at walking speed, so the Bots will never cease moving, but they will also gather together resources for export and to make more Bots. So close to the sun, this world is rich in energy, which the Americans will be able to transmit to the Soviets to power their ships. The Iranians also stand to benefit, since the main port for moving the American's products to their final destination will be the Second World. Talishi moved close to Lilith to whisper, What is Belial doing? I don't know, but hy's playing it beautifully, saving it for the end of the Summit. Hy's cooking up something with Hunky. We have no choice but to give Mercury to the Americans, or we ruin the spirit of the whole thing. Yeshua caught this exchange and said, Emperor Abaddon is wise, for we were on the brink of being unforgiving hosts and snubbing the Americans. El Shaddai said, Then I grant title of Mercury to the American people, and my gifts are without repentance. Let it be as Belial has proposed. In 1982, immediately following the Summit, Astrodyne offered a radical redesign of the Micro. The case was slimmed way down. The modem, hard drive and floppy drives were completely removed, replaced by a little black box containing nothing but a self-destruct mechanism which melted itself when it was scanned by x-rays or ultrasound. This black box was simply a locator for El Shaddai to place one end of a wormline linking back to some- thing she called the "Mother Node" deep inside her stellar body. This loca- tor also served as a kind of GPS, something Robyn glimpsed in Reality 2.0. Files were transferred and stored totally encrypted by El Shaddai herself. Even the latest BOSS operating system and GUIDE windowing environment were downloaded from the Mother Node at each boot, with on-the-fly decryption unpacking files during runtime and absolutely goring Winspire's cash cow of reverse engineering. Customers could now carry just the keyboard unit (with a battery) and a headset and use their Micro as a telephone with no long-distance charges, or as a music player. Storage and bandwidth was ef- fectively infinite and not even limited by the speed of light. This fact was soon exploited by stock market traders until federal regulators caught on and implemented a sixty second delay for every trade. Movies as well as music began to be shared freely. Over a hundred million Micro-82s were sold. Thousands of songs and films became available in the Swarm for free, which soon impacted sales. The music and film industry re- alized it had a problem with a business model which depended on an artifi- cial scarcity of content. Money sloshed around from lobbyists and soon Ford's Attorney General ordered Astrodyne to suspend all operations until they could be cleared of being accessory to Intellectual Property theft. Astrodyne complied to this order without filing for a stay in court or even a word of complaint, which by itself sort of threw the government for a loop. The company suspended the manufacture of all new Micros in the Unit- ed States, but continued to make and sell the units internationally, total- ly unabated. The value of unsold Micros already on retail shelves in the United States doubled overnight and would only go up from there. A thriv- ing Micro smuggling trade appeared along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Machines that fell into disrepair were cannibalized for their "black boxes" to be retrofitted into older Micros, or became the heart of a local server tied back into the Mother Node with other Micros networked to it. Black market sales of Micros in the US were conducted in the Swarm using existing Micros, either owned by users or in computer stores. Micros were manufactured in Mexico, smuggled across the border, and arrived by ad hoc package delivery methods that could not be traced back to the source. With encryption in place, Astrodyne then rolled out the concept of Microbux, electronic money which could be transformed to and from hard currency using local couriers for a nominal fee that included a small kickback to Astro- dyne. Tappers tried their luck getting Microbux, but Astrodyne guaranteed customers against any loss. They could certainly afford to do so, since Micros, as always, remained priced at $499 and the profit margin was huge. After this quantum leap in technology, the evolution of Astrodyne's hard- ware leveled off. Micros grew incrementally smaller, but the essentials remained the same. A classic Micro-82 would continue to work with the Swarm in the 1990s and far beyond. The United States government continued to put all their eggs in the Winspire basket, but the Redmond systems never approached the technology of even the Micro-81 and they remained more ex- pensive by a factor of at least three. None of them could access the bulk of the Swarm as it migrated over to the Mother Node. At that point, innovation of the Swarm became democratized, and passed out of the hands of Astrodyne. The Twenty-first Century arrived a generation early to citizens of even the poorest nations, texting or talking to one another with video phones, while the citizens of the United States remained mired in the 1970s as a deliberate policy of the Ford Administration. Talishi had begun to teach the nephilim of Gorpai how to reach space. Before sha had succeeded in doing this, Belial, using antimatter production technology stolen from Binah's workshop at Proxima, staked out a stronghold for a growing Navy on the surface of the small moon named Palato. Belial's avatar would soon be vulnerable to a sneak attack. For protection, the actual location of hyz avatar inside a growing number of identical hangars scattered across Palato was maintained as a state secret of the highest order. A spy might note the hanger it landed in, but after the retractable roof closed, the avatar was taken by a system of underground railroads to another hanger chosen at random, any distance away, and only the Eyes of Belial knew the precise location. At odd intervals the avatar was moved yet again, and wherever it was currently located was Belial's throne room. Only there did Emperor Abaddon feel free to speak without being overhead, and hy questioned Hunky closely for the first time since Hunky joined the imperial entourage at the Summit. What do you know of the elohim? My Lord, Hunky replied. I know the elohim are living suns with great wisdom, that Lilith Gervasi is the elohim named Binah clothed in jen flesh, and hez knowledge comes from the lore of all elohim in the universe. And the bit you mentioned about the source of Lilith's knowledge, have you shared that with Talishi or Yeshua or El Shaddai? Everyone in my Family speaks freely with the elohim we know, my Lord.' Belial was coldly amused. I see that Binah has contrived a loophole in our ancient bargain. And what power did Binah confer upon you? My own talent, my Lord, is the ability to be very persuasive in any argument. I have been required to be present at many critical negotiations. Do not attempt to use your talent to persuade me of the least thing, Abaddon warned Hunky. It would only result in your immediate demise. Hunky wanted to express hurt that Abaddon would even suggest such a thing, but it would only come across as insincere. Hunky said only, Yes Sire. And deep within hyzelf Hunky was overcome with regret and loneliness, thinking hyz mother had cut hym off forever, for sha no longer replied to hyz attempts to communicate with har by clairvoyance. Hunky knew the elohim played fast and loose with the timeline of those travelers who went to and from the Land We Know but hy did not know that the present moment in Gorpai was offset twenty years after the present moment at Earth-Selene. At that moment the Emperor's young son Apollyon crossed the hangar along a far wall, sweaty from knife practice, and hyz passage was marked by Hunky. For years the best instructors among the Eyes of Belial had trained Apollyon in the art of personal combat with the aim of preserving the dirk's life in the death struggle mandated by Belial's own ancient law which was the gateway to reproductive rights and full yanghood. But the dirk was too weak and clumsy to have a chance of surviving no matter what he was taught, and the Emperor, advised of that fact by hyz secret police, was beginning to resign himself to the certainty hy would lose hyz own son. When Hunky first learned of Apollyon hy focused on the fact that the dirk had never been allowed anywhere near a female since hy had been weaned, and this would not change until hy emerged alive from the approaching death combat. But using hyz own body Hunky could present Apollyon with a very realistic simulacrum of a yin willing and eager for the dirk to plunge into hym, and in the height of passion hy would be unable to resist Possession. Apollyon in his sexual naivete would take the extraordinary sensation to be normal. Hunky was on the hunt again, and there was no one to stop hym. After the Summit at Taurus City there began a period of rapid development of space in the Toliman system. A breathtaking feat of construction took place inside the Northern Ice of Gorpai, guided on-site by Talishi with technical support from Binah. It resulted in the construction of a sun-powered electromagnetic catapult for hurling vehicles into orbit. With this device it became relatively cheap and easy to obtain access into space. Shuttles were hexagonal in cross-section, so they could fit inside the mass-driver. Wings and stabilizers lay folded up on the surface of the reusable shuttle for the launch, to be used on the return leg. The spacecraft typically carried six persons and a small amount of cargo, or two persons and more cargo. After getting underway, there was two minutes and thirteen seconds of crushing hell in the mass-driver tunnel at six gees. As the shuttle neared the end of the tunnel it passed through a series of automatic airlocks designed to bring the local pressure from the near-vacuum of the majority of the tunnel to the full atmosphere at the tunnel mouth. Passengers were hurled forward in their straps. At 365 miles east of the boarding station the shuttle passed the final coil and broke into clear air. The sky turned black and the planet appeared to gradually drop away from the shuttle until orbit was reached. It was a frightening ride to newbies but it was actually very safe if one could handle the gees. Before this mass driver came on line, Belial established a navy headquartered at the moon Palato, armed with antimatter warheads, powered by antimatter drives, and sufficiently powerful to deal with any contingency as the citizens of Gorpai began to filter off the planet. The wormhole fold-gate system announced at the Summit permitted travel between star systems. Since Rigilkent was close enough to Toliman for two-way radio communications between the systems, there was a sense of continuity among the Families. The Salas of Dia, for instance, felt a deep communion with the Salas of Gorpai. But in the Jupiter colonies a different thing happened, because two-way radio communication was not possible. It would take more than eight years for each response. So at Jupiter the people felt themselves to be more Solarian than Centauri, and they soon lost their connection to the great families of their roots. So it came to pass that the Bellon and Ger- ash families who settled Ganymede mixed together and produced a new family that called itself Krenek. The Larund and Sala families merged on Callisto to form family Ushnel. Family Antero settled the moon Io but soon shattered into many smaller clans that grew to be dominated by Family Sonad. Europa started as a Gerash prestige project that divided into many clans as well, but no unified order emerged there. Overlooked in all this expansion, thousands of small bodies in the Toliman section of the Eggbeater were settled by wave after wave of pioneers from Gorpai, and after a time, the "Beaters" of Toliman began to run up against the Beaters of Rigilkent, and this was not always peaceful. Each body was occupied by a single family, and few of them obeyed the Cupel system of testing or any other precept of the Law of Belial. Religious and political unity shattered on the infinite frontier of space. In the very low gravity of the asteroids it was considered more practical to have four hands rather than two hands and two feet. Genetic engineering began to blur what it meant to be nephilim and the practice was absolutely disgusting to Belial. This was immensely ironic, since the nephilim themselves were Belial's extensive genetic modification of classic Earth stock. Other Beaters dabbled in techniques for changing genders within a few days. The procedure was reversible and complete, right down to a functioning uterus for men, very useful for new colonies where breeding females were at a premium. Such a thing was absolutely incompatible with the system established in the Law of Belial that treated yen as little more than property. The Emperor vowed perpetual war against them, for the Beaters had not been at the Summit, and the Beaters were happy to oblige Abaddon.

With El Shaddai herself providing unlimited bandwidth for macros, and also portable connectivity, the free news service offered by Astrodyne from the early days of the Swarm began to include live 24 hour television coverage. This program was anchored by attractive females of four distinct kinds who pulled eight hour shifts. From among the Gervasi Crime Family (or bene elohim when Lilith needed to be more serious) Jill Pennell offered har services as anchoryin. Besides being very easy on the eyes, Jill could accept updates by direct mind link from any of the other bene elohim, even while giving the newscast, which sha could then work into the coverage. Salatheel was the other anchoryin, one of Talishi's Fallen Angels permanently relocated to Taurus City, where the studios for InterWorld News was located, and sha could be forgiven if her stints on the air tended to emphasize events in the Centauri system. Naturally, most viewers on Earth assumed the stuff about Gorpai and Hybla-Dia was an elaborate practical joke, one that IWN never seemed to tire of doing, but at least they could enjoy the coverage as a kind of running science fiction television series. There were two human anchorwomen. One was a great friend of the Gervasi Family, Ambe Omphal, former priestess of Yeshua Bat-El and mother of Gordon. Despite her origins, Ambe's broadcasts totally ignored events in the Land We Know, primarily because of the completely ambiguous setting in time which characterized that place. The other anchorwoman was Diane Sawyer, who would fill in for one of the other three to give them a day off from work. This made Miss Sawyer's own schedule unpredictable, but it was her lot as the junior partner and the bare fact that she worked on the Moon was sufficient to cause her to overlook any inconvenience. But in 1983 when this affair had been in place for about a year, Lilith came to Jill after her shift and made a very demanding request of har, albeit not quite so radical as that first time when che asked Jill for har body. Che said, All of my machinations are on the cusp of fruition. In the Rigilkent system the Beaters are putting the finishing touches on the first starship. Or at least, they will a number of years from now, but we can meet them in time as well as space. I want to ask you to join that mission, Jill. It is the most important thing I've ever asked of you. Mission? What mission? For how long? A mission to a neighboring star who can reveal to all the other stars what Belial is doing here with his little enclave cut off from the greater community of elohim. Eight years one way, but two years of ship time. So you want me to quit my job, say goodbye to Mike and travel to the Eggbeater where I will be taken aboard a starship on a one-way trip. Where? Jill, I wish to bring to your recollection the time we first met, in your 'near-death experience' when I took you on a grand tour of the universe. Remember what I said about Barnard's Star at the time? You called her Yefefiah. But why send me to that particular star? Because she's nearby and I know Yefefiah has not been corrupted by Belial or Mastema or any other of their ilk. She's celibate by choice. But I remember you said Yefefiah was a 'tourist' living in stroboscopic time, and only woke up for a day every hundred years or so. What if we get there and have to wait a century? And how do we talk to her anyway? The answer to both questions is you, Jill, your two-way clairvoyance. You can wake her up and after that you can tell her about our situation.

The Jovian moon Europa was just slightly smaller than the Earth's moon, with a surface just 6 percent of the Earth's total area, but there were almost no craters on Europa. The entire surface of the satellite was water ice about six hundred feet thick and only a hundred degrees Kelvin above absolute zero. Underneath that ice was a saltwater ocean sixty miles deep and as warm as a heated swimming pool. Driven by tidal forces as Europa orbits Jupiter every three and a half days, the thin crust of the satellite was always cracking open in random places, allowing liquid water to be exposed to the vacuum of space and freeze. This made the surface of the moon a chaotic jumbled mess, There were icy ridges two hundred feet high alternating with ravines just as deep, all oriented at crazy angles. It was impossible to build a road on Europa, and it wouldn't last for very long even if one was attempted. So despite being one of the smoothest bodies in the Solar System, with no mountains to speak of, it was perhaps the most difficult place in the Jupiter system for colonists from Centauri system to get around, except by flying point-to-point. But the House of Gerash didn't take that into account when they barged into the Jupiter system first and took over Europa and what they thought was the sweetest meat. Belial thought only of all that water, which his ships with their antimatter reactors still required for reaction mass, for propellant. But House Gerash soon found there were absolutely no other resources on Europa within easy reach. All the metals they required had to be imported. The only advantage Europa had over Ganymede or Callisto (which also had a mix of ice and rock) was that the ice didn't have to chiseled out and melted first. So Europa was a black hole sucking up Abaddon's treasure and re- turning no profit to hym at all. It wasn't even suitable for a navy garrison. Hy operated Europa at a loss, therefore, only as a prestige showcase, just to say the White Beards had a toehold at Sol. The families of the Gerash clan who were established there lived largely on the Imperial dole. Power was plentiful to be sure, obtained by taking advantage of the large thermal gradient between the frozen surface and the warm underground liquid reservoir, but on Europa it was a life where almost nothing could be thrown away. Every piece of garbage had to be weighed in the mind with regard to its possible value after being recycled. So the colony languished, and after a time Belial thought of it seldom, if ever. Europa rarely figured in the military conflicts of the colonies. The largest towns on Europa numbered only in the hundreds of souls. Family Gerash on Europa shattered into thousands of individual families living in homesteads or small communal farms with very little communication between each other. But it did not escape notice that part of the surface of Europa was streaked with color, and some of the colonists realized the sea salts in those areas were rich with minerals such as magnesium or iron or even gold that could be painstakingly extracted by electrolysis. Some families started operations to extract these minerals, and they not only went off the Gerash dole, they even turned a tidy profit in their own right. Abaddon naturally demanded a cut of these profits in taxes. Most did not comply, judging it would be far more troublesome and expensive to extract these taxes by force than could ever be obtained in the shakedown. They forgot the ancient principle of "kill one to warn a thousand". Their operations were spotted by the Navy of Belial from above by examining the waste stream, the melted discolored water they dumped on the surface to freeze, leaving a tell-tale sign someone was living and working below. Abaddon sent warships on random raids to cow the rest of the homesteaders into paying up. Whatever was taken in these raids was pure booty for the ship's crew. There were a few families who required no such intimidation. They paid the Gerash tax out of loyalty to Belial. One such family belonged to Terel, husband of Greidi and father of Lahatiel and Noriel. But their tax payments did not redound directly to the account of the offers and men of the Exiler. To the captain this made them perfect candidates for a raid. With the possession of Azibeel, it became possible to gain entrance to hyz father's harem. Hunky tried hyz luck with one of Belial's concubines but he kept doing the wrong things, licked the wrong things, rolled over on har hair, but the most embarrassing part was when Abaddon caught hym there. Hunky used hyz power of persuasion to keep Abaddon from acting on hyz out- rage, and invited him to climb into bed with hym. Abaddon felt the ten- drils of Hunky's power and was perfectly capable of resisting it, but hy decided to flow along with it as it brought hym near enough to Hunky to make a physical embrace, which would enable full possession. The law of unintended consequences, or karma, kicked in. Hunky was quickly over- whelmed by the depth of Belial's experience, linked to him direct and raw. Belial had met Lilith, of course, during the Summit, as well as hez wife Robyn Lokken, and he was vaguely aware of Binah's project to breed demigods from among the planet-dwellers who shared some of the powers of elohim, the bene elohim, or "Gervasi Crime Family" of whom Hunky was the only specimen hy had examined at close quarters. Now directly from Hunky's mind Belial learned the names and kinds of eleven others, and he knew the extent to which Binah had succeeded. Robyn possessed Binah's power of precognition, a power forfeited by Binah and Belial himself, as well as Chokhmah and Bat- El, when each of the four elohim assumed planet-dweller flesh. Clever! There was Hunky's father Mike Morrich, who could go for long periods of time without the requirement of breathing, as well as Hunky's mother Jill Pennell, who could communicate mind-to-mind with any of the other bene elo- him and even copy their powers, but only one power at a time. Belial noted with interest that Hunky had shut out his mother for a very long time. Belial learned of Jerry Aspin, who could set fires or cause explosions at a remove, coupled with a genuine joy for doing precisely that. Shyla, who could tunnel through solid rock simply by making a path in front of har into dark matter no longer bound by chemical forces. Victoria, whose power of self-telekinesis gave her the experience of unaided human flight enjoyed only by fictional superheroes in the comic books. Del was a healer, which did not interest Belial, but che was also immortal, which did. Chayn could control animals, and Belial guessed she was bred to replace Joy after that early experiment slipped her bonds and came over to serve him. Brand could throw up an invisible shield to protect from any blow. Chuck could trans- mute materials into other materials, quite a boon to any construction project. Gordon possessed a mirror image of Victoria's power of telekine- sis, he could make objects fly, but not himself. And Ariel could cast light at will. A little below the gods the bene elohim were, a little above men, and born to rule. Belial wondered why hy didn't make them first. Yet Belial did not penetrate to Binah's greatest secret. Hunky had spent most of his life in the Land We Know, and was pulled out only now and then for parleys. When Belial reviewed the memories of these, he did not dis- cern that the time sequence was jumbled. Belial had little interest in Earth history, so hy had no baseline to make a comparison and Hunky hymself had been kept in the dark about the way the Gervasi Crime Family moved freely through time, based on Robyn's warning that Hunky would defect to Belial, a warning that became a self-fulfilling prophesy because it served to establish the alienation that drove Hunky to Belial in the first place. Unique among the bene elohim, Hunky had no brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins. But hyz parents Mike Morrich and Jill Pennell did love hym, hy could not deny that. So in hyz last act, as Belial sucked Hunky's mind dry and discarded hyz body, Hunky did what many mortally wounded sol- diers have done in their dying moments and cried out for hyz mother. And Jill heard this cry, and knew the moment of hyz extinction, which was irre- versible and eternal, even as it was for Khondiel, for none of the elohim possessed a map of Hunky's mind. Jill grieved for har son, but sha could do nothing, for she was fourteen trillion miles from Barnard's Star. The Exiler timed their raid for one of the periods when the waste stream at Terel's homestead diminished, which they took for a sleep period. Europa was tidally locked on Jupiter and "night" lasted for almost two standard days, so it was impossible to tell when the locals were asleep otherwise. What saved the family was Terel's strict orders that at least one member stand watch while the other three members slept. That, and the fact that the sole entrance to their homestead had a silent alarm. At the commencement of the raid, Terel's wife Greidi was on watch one level below the top of the main shaft. The cave network that was har family's home was two hundred feet below her, and the warm, inky surface of the Europan sea was three hundred feet below that, sending up billows of condensed water vapor that made it difficult to see anything in the shaft. When the first bluecoat stepped onto the portico Greidi hit a control stud that tipped the floor on that level forty-five degrees from the horizontal. Taken completely by surprise the spacer slid into the main shaft and began to fall toward Europa's ocean, but was arrested by his safety line. Beware the female whose loved ones are endangered. Greidi reached out with a sharp blade and severed the line, causing the yang to fall. Any scream was muffled by the helmet of his vacuum suit, but no doubt his compatriots on the other side of the airlock heard his death cry on the radio. Whether or not he survived impact, his heavy suit made him sink like a stone toward the rocky core of Europa, which was another sixty miles below the surface. For her part, Greidi hightailed it down to the family living quarters to awaken har husband and children. This escape was done by using a ladder with a safety lanyard sliding in a safety rail between alternating footrests. Sha took them five at a time to get completely out of the main shaft before the airlock cycled and another intruder arrived. When two more bluecoats had emerged from the airlock they called out for their companion in the white steam but got no response. Then they saw the cut line and realized there was trouble. An attempt to report this to Exiler failed. There was a film of heavy metals that had precipitated out from Terel's waste stream on the surface above and formed a Faraday Cage which blocked all radio signals out of the shaft. The wise thing to do at that point would be to abort. But the two yeng knew their skipper was not a wise yang. So they proceeded slowly down the shaft under high alert. When they got to the multi-level series of tunnels that formed Terel's home they dropped one at a time, alternating on point while the other yang covered him. On the third level, Terel let the first exposed yang have it with a stunner, a weapon which was actually a living plant from Gorpai. The dart penetrated his suit and gave the yang three minutes of total paralysis. All voluntary motor functions and even breathing was disabled. Hy couldn't move his mouth to warn the other yang, hy couldn't even blink. The stunner wasn't used as a weapon of war in Belial's armed forces, but it was often used to render a victim helpless but conscious for torture. The other yang above hym wasn't a soldier per se but merely the lander pilot, a Europan colonial who was more or less drafted into the robbery "mission". Hy assumed the other one who really was a Gorpai spacer was merely rendered speechless by what hy saw, and curious hymself, hy dropped down to see what it was. And Terrel hit hym with the stunner too. After they were both tied up Terrel demanded, Where's your unit? The reply hy got from the yang who was soldier was a stream of obscenities, beginning with what hy planned to do with Terel's wife, who was standing there covering all of har loved ones. Lahatiel couldn't abide the insult to hyz beloved mother. Hy kicked the man's chair into the white abyss of the central shaft. This time Greidi could hear him scream, for a very long time. It was the first time Lahatiel killed a yang, but not the last. Mike and Jill rented a cabin a few miles from Central. It was a small wooden cube floating willy-nilly in the gravitational null zone between Hybla and Dia. Within the privacy of this cabin they made love for what they knew could very well be the last time. A yin and yang with two sets of genitalia each, they engaged in the plain vanilla missionary-position sex practiced by the majority of nephilim on Gorpai. Mike and Jill (who made it their hobby to catalog all the possible sexual preferences and po- sitions between the five genders) called it "trite" sex, which described it well and sounded vaguely like straight sex. Still, any sex was good sex, and no couple ever got bored of having four simultaneous orgasms. Jill once also had sex with Robyn, who was another yin. At the time Robyn seemed to take the passive role, lost in har vast ecstasy, so Jill called har a "bliss". Jill was more active that time, so sha called harself an "amazon". Mike, on the side, had slept with Jerry, who took a more mascu- line role, so Mike called hymself a "punk". Jerry was a "rough", which also described the sex to a tee. This relationship was known to Jill by Mike's own confession and sha felt not the slightest twinge of jealousy. Robyn was primarily pair-bonded with Lilith, who was a jen with both male and female genitals. Mike and Jill called Lilith's role as the penetrator in that kind of sex a "plunge" while Robyn was a "snare". Jill knew that Lilith had also been intimate with Jerry, who was a yang. They called Jerry in that case a "bear" and Lilith was a "twink", borrowing some slang from the gay community, yet the product of their union was Brand. Sex with jan was always breeder sex, never purely recreational. Jill knew of Li- lith's sex life through har power of clairvoyance, which also gave har in- sight into the deeply private lives of the other bene elohim unless they deliberately blocked har, as did Hunky, Chayn, and Chuck. Hunky was killed by Belial eight years up the timeline, so Mike and Jill were not yet aware their nephilim son was dead. But after hyz attempt to possess Jill, sha was aware Hunky had bonded chiefly with Chuck, a human male. So they called Chuck a "merry", vaguely suggesting a gay, and Hunky in the more feminine role was called a "trinket", suggesting a plaything. Chuck also had more traditional gay sex with Brand, where he was called a "pitcher" while Brand was a "catcher". But when a passive gay like Brand got together with an ultra-feminine yin like his half-sister Shyla, he was relatively dominant. Mike and Jill called him a "tyke" while Shyla was called a "muffle". And Shyla had also experienced sex with har niece Victoria, a human woman. In that case Vic- toria was called a "tribade" while Shyla was a "snatch". In side action Victoria had engaged in lesbian sex with Chayn, making her a plain "dyke" and Chayn a "femme". Chayn got around. She had straight sex with Gordon and also for a short time had sex with her niece Del, a jen. Mike and Jill called Del a "snap" in that case, and Chayn was a "bent". Del was pair-bonded chiefly with hez aunt Ariel, who was also a jen. Mike and Jill called this "flex" sex, because half of the time, depending on their mutual genital configuration, the jan couple had to assume the "six- ty-nine" position to make everything fit simultaneously like they do in trite sex. Ariel also mated with hez brother-in-law Gordon, a human male. Mike and Jill called him a "bauble" and Ariel was a "knot". All of these sexual permutations were assigned by Binah under the theory that the family that plays together stays together. There was, however, one remaining combination which none of the bene elohim had tried yet (to the best knowledge of Jill) and that was a "predator" yang with a "shag" woman. It was of course quite common in the Land We Know, but what set the Gervasis apart from lovers in the Land was that their preferences were not set in stone. Victoria, for example, had never experienced the male touch, but this was simply a matter of opportunity, not choice. The third intruder became very co-operative after witnessing what had hap- pened to his companion. Hy said, Our mother ship is hovering overhead. That's much better, Terrel said. You're not really in the Navy, are you? You have a remarkably better attitude. What's your name? Karayan. The hashmal was short-handed, I was pressed into service. So a Jovian civilian? Karayan nodded that Terel's guess was correct. Lahatiel kicked the chair. Nuriel spat on him. A curse on your beard, Greidi told hym bitterly. That you would do this to your own people. From the very beginning I had no choice, madam. The punishments... After Terel learned there were only three more yeng aboard the ship hy said, So that makes your Exiler a corvette? Frigate. But we came down in the lander, Exiler Sidekick. Then I see one narrow way out for you, Karayan. You do not have to die like your two friends. All you have to do is fire up your lander and take myself, my wife, my son and my daughter up to your mother ship. Karayan thought about it for a moment. Lahatiel helped hym along hyz thought process by drawing near to him and tapping his feet. You'll nev- er make it, Karayan said. They'll know something is wrong right away. That's why I'm hoping you are a very good actor, Karayan. You need to get on visual, ship-to-ship, and give the performance of your life. Immediate- ly. Because your life is at stake. And then where can you go? The empire will never stop looking for you. Never mind about that. Will you fly us up? It'll be crowded. And what about the yeng on the Exiler? No one has to die. I'll give you the lander and you can all fly away. Five heartbeats later Karayan said, Then we do have a deal, sir. On the way up Terel demanded Karayan describe the interior of the frigate with great detail. Then he gave his orders to Greidi, Lahatiel, and Nuriel. Before docking, the commanding officer of Exiler raised Corporal Karay- an on intership VHF and ordered hym to make his report. Karayan pasted a smile on hyz face and said, Gold, sir! There's so much the ravmalak told me to take a load up here and go back for more. And there were only four locals in the hole. We finished them off easy. Excellent work, Karayan. We'll get ready to receive you. So anxious were the other three yeng on the Exiler to see the gold they were all present when the lander docked with the frigate and the hatch swung open. That made things easy for Terel and Lahatiel. They didn't have to go though the warship looking for strays. They did have to hit the yeng with the stunner several times before they were all strapped into their seats, the hatch was closed, and the lander was cast off into space. Lahatiel never learned what happened to the spaceyeng after they departed. Perhaps the three overcame the one, wriggled free, and killed Karayan when he succumbed to sleep. But Exiler Sidekick never returned to Belial. The starship constructed by the Beaters was named Redemption and it was already beginning its voyage, but Lilith remained aboard for a little while to finish speaking with Jill. Matter flippers gave the vessel a nearly inexhaustible source of power, but the engines had to sit way back from the habitat section on the end of a long shaft to protect the passen- gers from long-term exposure to gamma rays. The habitat itself was the shape and size of a tall cylindrical skyscraper with ladders connecting the decks to provide access, and climbing them was the bulk of the exercise the passengers would get over the eight-year journey to Barnard's Star. You already know Hunky tried to possess my body, Jill said, but now I believe I was not hyz first attempt. Chayn and Chuck have cut themselves off from direct communication with me, precisely as Hunky has done. So you think we've got at least three Hunkys running around. Jill nodded. You should watch Chayn and Chuck very carefully. If Hunky did take possession of them, which is entirely possible, they won't be pure Hunky. More like 71 percent Hunky and 29 percent Chayn, or 29 percent Chuck. But you're right, we need to watch them closely, because Hunky went over to Belial's camp. It's a shame we've come to that. Jill gestured at the interior of the ship around her. So, Binah, you've won. You've got the silly planetdwellers to make a crossing between the stars to spill the beans about Belial. So what do you do for an encore? This thing you told me about Chayn and Chuck has given me an idea, Lilith said. I've known about the 71-29 thing from the beginning when Chokhmah took Talishi, which is why neither sha nor Yeshua nor myself have done a second possession. If we did, the breakdown would be 49, 21, and 9, which already makes one a minority, you see? And it only gets worse from there. We warned Belial about that, but he's done it countless times. So there really isn't any Belial, anymore. I guess what you need is a baseline mind that never changes so every possession ends up being 71-29 and no worse. The only way to do that is with artificial intelligence. Lilith smiled at Jill. She was getting it. I dragged you from 1984 to 1999 but even here we can't make a computer program that can convince us that it is aware of its own existence. Still, Mark Felton says we probably had AI in 1982 when the Swarm crossed a certain threshold of connectivity. The Grid is aware, but it is too alien for us to recognize it as aware. Maybe an artificial intelligence has to live as one of us, at least for a few years of childhood, or it will never think like we do. Lilith shook her head. It's been tried many times. We can't get silicon to work like living brain cells. An electronic switch is either on or off, but a brain cell sputters. It doesn't fire every time it's supposed to, it makes mistakes. Our brain runs at ninety watts, like a dim light bulb. We evolved to work with low-power switches that have a high error rate by screening every decision through layers upon layers of filter networks. Brute force. They say computer technology doubles in power every year or two. Surely it will reach a point where you can simulate those trillions of sputtering neurons. A little black box that pretends to be a brain. Now there's an idea, Jill. But it'd probably require five thousand watts of power and what do I do with the waste heat? Jill pointed at the Golden Gift attached to Lilith's belt. Your little toy can make hot things into dark matter and they will go away. And if you make electrons go away on one end of a wire you get a current flow. On short notice, Terel and his family had left almost everything they owned behind on Europa. All they had left was the clothes on their back, the frigate Exiler, and everything aboard her. Greidi and Nuriel went through the ship cataloging whatever they found while Terel flew on to the distant outskirts of the Jupiter system to meet an old friend hy knew. Terel tried to teach hyz son Lahatiel as much as he could about flying. There were many captured asteroids in the outer reaches of the Jupiter sys- tem that orbited the planet as so many small moons, but only tiny White Rock had a greenhouse. An artificial black hole created a full gee of gravity on the surface of White Rock, but that gravity fell off so rapidly with distance that the asteroid could not hold an atmosphere for very long, unless the air was glassed in. Unfortunately any glass house was vulnerable to other people throwing stones. Hence the current proprietor of the White Rock operation, Starkad, was ever in the market for armaments. The Navy had approached White Rock twice before, and Starkad resorted to bluffing to survive the encounters. The first bluff was a suicide bluff. Starkad told the approaching warship hyz family would blow up the glass en- closure and eject the black hole, killing themselves in the process but ensuring that no one could ever use the rock. The second bluff occurred after Starkad and hyz entire family had been captured by commandos and were already being taken away to be tortured. When Starkad was put under torment aboard the destroyer ChastiserStarkad "confessed" to have arranged a timed blast take out their greenhouse. Since Chastiser's CO intended to gain White Rock intact, Starkad and hyz family were returned to their as- teroid alive, but with life-changing injuries from the torture. The Navy of Belial never gave up on their problems. Starkad's only remain- ing option was to give up the asteroid, walk away, and live. That is, until Terel parked alongside White Rock in the Exiler to pay his old friend a visit. Access was through a landing pad atop a tall glass-enclosed gantry where the gravity was only half a gee. Greidi and Nuriel stayed aboard the frigate. When Terel and Lahatiel descended the ladder they felt the weight begin to pile on. Then they were through the glass and in. Starkad had a nostalgic streak. Amid the two hundred acres of forest and gardens wrapped around the tiny ball was a big lawn, with a white two-story farmhouse and an old gnarled moving tree from Gorpai, complete with a tire on a rope that the tree itself kept swinging. Under the artificial lights and heat lamps used to supplement the diminished and faraway sun they sat in chairs on that lawn, just Starkad, Terel, and Lahatiel, and they had themselves a cozy chat. In the opening round, Terel offered the Exiler entire in return for sanctuary for himself and his family. The ship is a liability to me. Belial will never stop looking for it.' In that case, Turel replied, I offer the four fully armed and fueled Bulldog ship-to-ship missiles we found stored in the tubes aboard. That will pay for such protection as I can provide for only two souls. Lahatiel stepped in and sweetened the deal. Then I will take the ship far away from here, sir, if my father will release Nuriel to me. Turel gaped at hyz son. And where will you go, Lahatiel? Directly to Palato of course. The Emperor will be very interested to hear how hyz honest and loyal subjects are treated here in hyz colonies. Then you not only have my approval to take your sister with you, but you have my immense gratitude. I am thinking of the well-being of Greidi. The dirk will need more training, Starkad said. We will help. The entire cluster of newer skyscrapers on the north side of downtown Seat- tle seemed to be constructed over a vast single underground parking garage made of many levels. Mike, Jerry, and Robyn felt their stomach drop away with the rest of the city as a glass elevator rushed up along one of the dark green spines of the Astrodyne Tower. At six floor intervals the eleva- tor burst through a level laced with skyways that connected to six other towers, like a metal and glass web. Robyn smiled at the security this af- forded. If something unfortunate were to ever happen, say a hijacked plane were ever to crash into the building like she saw in Timeline Two New York City, the survivors would merely rush to the nearest floor with a sky bridge and then cross to a neighboring tower. Not that any hijackers would be able to pick out Astrodyne Tower, easily, sha knew, for it was exactly 72 stories tall, just like its six neighboring buildings, and the twelve additional buildings on the ring outside of those. There were a total of sixty-one such buildings in this cluster, and the Earthly headquarters of the Astrodynamics Corporation was nestled in among them on the third ring. The Executive Lounge wasn't on the top floor, and there was no view to speak of, other than the windows of nearby buildings and thin vertical streaks of gray sky. Lilith Gervasi and Mark Felton were already seated in two of the six dark plush chairs which formed a hexagon, all facing slight- ly askew rather than directly facing each other. There was a elegant round- ed glass coffee table that doubled as a monochrome liquid crystal between the chairs, displaying reams of data that perhaps meant something to Mark. When the others came into the Lounge and sat down Lilith gestured at the empty chair and said, Jill's on her way to Barnard's. So that priority one job is pretty much done. You're all here for action item two. We are going to build an artificial child, Mark Felton put in, proudly. I believe the only way to finally bring about AI is to raise a robot in such a way that even it is fooled into thinking it is a human being. Mike was annoyed and wanted to know why they needed to bring about artifi- cial intelligence. Lilith answered, I need a replacement body when this one wears out. I won't feel like I'm in the robot body unless the robot is also self-aware and capable of being imprinted with my memories. At the same time, if we do achieve a robot that is self-aware, its mind can serve as a universal template for many other such robots, or even disembodied human "souls" inside the Swarm. The possibilities are truly endless. Jerry was skeptical. Hyz own talent had taught him that literally every- thing, from a human body to a farm to a full national economy was a Carnot engine. Hy said, What will you do for power, Lil? Batteries will never be good enough. And you said the robot has to think it's a real person. Che held up her Golden Gift. Hat tip to Jill for this solution. Do we even have the technological chops to pull this off? Robyn asked. You already know we are offset twenty years back from Belial's timeline. He thinks it's 2004. We think it's 1984. That way if Belial tries to at- tack us from Centauri it will always be a clean miss. I took Jill to 1999 before sending har on har way to Barnard's Star for the same reason, so Belial won't be able to target har ship. On the way back I brought Mark some 1999 computers that look like black cubes to use for the robot's brain. But you and I, Robyn, will have to go to Mercury ourselves and scoop up some of the Bots that Belial set up for the Americans in '82. Jerry said, Sign me up, Lil, but what are you calling this debacle? The robot will be raised as a human girl, Lilith said. That will make the transition easier for me, because I was also raised a girl. So lets call our robot girl Hope. I'm recruiting you for Project Hope. Failed colony though it was, Europa had the benefit of being the anchor for the only ID Grid in the Solar System, by fiat decree of Belial. The worm- holes linking Sol and the three Centauri star systems were opened only upon request, and that request took the form of a properly identified imperial vessel moving at the correct velocity through an ID Grid. The only sensa- tions Lahatiel and Nuriel noted during the transit was that the stars were instantly replaced by a bright white sky, there was the abrupt sound of roaring air slipping past the ship, and they both felt gravity suddenly, probably eighty percent of Earth normal. They were over the Great Sea, Thalury, which completely surrounded the Land We Know.. Exiler was configured with a large delta-wing, and she was approximate- ly the size and shape of the NASA space shuttle Robyn saw on Timeline Two, if you omitted the shuttle's large external drop tank, and also clustered six booster rockets around the orbiter. The wing was sufficient to keep Exiler from dropping like a stone over the Land We Know, as long as a cruising speed of about five hundred MPH was maintained. Coming from the west, Lahatiel turned the ship due north when he reached the Sacred Mountain, careful not to fly too close to the shaft of heat and light that leaped straight up from the center of the lake on the summit plateau which served the role of sun for the Land. Eventually the ship would reach the northern edge of the fold-space bubble enclosing the land and sea, and the elohim would spit Exiler out of the ID Grid over Palato. But Lahatiel knew it would take many more hours for the passage so he set the ship on autopilot and joined Nuriel in the common space which was a combination dining hall and sitting room and parlor, with many tunnel open- ings in the deck, overhead, and bulkheads leading to other parts of the ship. Instead of a common table there were six smaller individual tables and chairs facing each other in a ring along the wall. The frigate was originally designed for a crew of twelve. Underway, half the crew would be on watch while the other half messed here in the Banquet Room or hot-bunked it in the six staterooms. Everything was a claustrophobic's nightmare. Six hatches in the Banquet Room led to the six main drive modules, each with a space for performing engineering duties and more hatches leading to access tunnels aft. Forward of each one of these engineering spaces was a large supply room, corresponding to the domed enclosures that capped each engine. Access ways in this space were shaped by the stored material it- self, they were simply the voids between boxes, a bewildering three-dimen- sional maze. The previous crew had plundered most of the supplies. The flight-deck was all the way forward. This was the ship's "bridge," and it was somewhat more cramped than the common room. Arranged around the rim were empty tubes for Bulldog missiles, radar, communication equipment, and the F/1 Fairchild 500mm CCD optical tracking system called the Big Eye, an import from Earth. There was also a thick circular window dead center with a liquid crystal layer which could be electronically polarized or even made opaque in the event of a laser attack or if Lahatiel tipped the ship di- rectly at one of the Centauri suns. Nuriel marveled that no sizable flat space along the interior bulkheads was wasted as merely a bare wall. Crew's berthing was between the Banquet Room and the flight-deck, shaped like a pie cut into six pieces with a wide hole taken out of the center. These six "staterooms" had some 900 cubic feet inside each one, roomy as such things went. One entered through blue curtains secured with runners. Each stateroom had a large picture window looking out the side of the ship. In one of these staterooms Lahatiel took his sister to bed, claiming har for hyz wife. Hy hadn't come by har strictly by the rules of the Law of Belial with the ritual death combat, but in the story he planned to tell Belial, which would be embellished with a tale of the death of hyz parents to keep them safe, the capture of Exiler would fulfill the ritual nicely. When Lahatiel and Nuriel emerged from the fold-gate over Palato, traffic controllers at the naval station took control of the Exiler and brought it down to an empty hanger sufficiently far from the unknown location of the avatar of Belial that it would preclude any damage from a booby-trapped ship. It spoke volumes of Belial's regime that such a precaution was necessary. Lahatiel had no illusion they would survive an escape attempt from the heavily fortified moon of Palato, which was riddled with tunnels and sported so many missiles and guns it resembled a giant gray cactus. After landing, the Eyes of Belial swarmed over the interior of Exiler and found to their astonishment that there was no one present but a dirk and a doll. The commander of the Eyes and chief lieutenant of Abaddon, one Balberith, decided to forgo the usual session of rusty pliers applied to nails and teeth and bring the children before Abaddon directly to provide an explanation, but this was done with no small amount of rough treatment. Five Eyes were deemed sufficient to guard the children while simultaneously not irritating God with a crowd. In the throne room to Abaddon's right a large television screen showed live footage from a station in orbit over Gorpai, where the Emperor's son Azibeel was locked in free-fall combat with another dirk named Haziel. The five Eyes bowed face-first before the throne and with hard kicks ensured that Lahatiel and Nuriel bowed as well. Then Balberith arose at the Emperor's bidding, saying, Forgive us, Lord, but there is a curious happenstance which requires your personal attention. The imperial frigate Exiler has returned without orders from the Sol System, and we have found it to be crewed with only two children! Rise and explain all of this, young dirk, Belial commanded. Lahatiel got to hyz feet and said, If you please, Sire, I am Lahatiel, son of Terel of Europa. My father was an honest yang who distilled the waters of that satellite for metals and sold them for a small profit. Hy never failed to send the fourth part of the increase to the crown, according to Your Majesty's holy law, and this was always done out of gratitude and loyalty more than obligation. While it is true my father lived outside the Cupel system of testing under the dispensation Your Majesty allowed for the first generation of colonists in the Sol system, hy was preparing me well for the death combat and dreamed of the day when I attained the ranks of ishim and became fully a yang. But there is a foul stink of corruption on Your Majesty's fleet in the Jupiter colonies, Sire! All of the homesteaders know this, but our family learned of it first-hand when the frigate Exiler engaged in a naked invasion and robbery of my father's operation. We resisted, of course, even as other colonists on Europa have resisted, and the crews have taken many losses, but before hy died fending off the attack my father suspected Your Majesty's Navy has covered up these casualties, because a colonist had been forced to serve aboard Exiler as a replacement crewyeng. Send aides, Your Majesty, to examine the books kept by the crew, and the booty we found stashed throughout the ship. Your pardon, Sire, Balberith interrupted, but I have just received word of a jen intruder approaching. I do not know how that is possible. Outside the throne room there began a commotion so loud it penetrated the door. A hissing black shaft about a yard long penetrated the door and made a neat circle. A heavy slug of metal was pushed through and Lilith stepped inside. Lahatiel and Nuriel saw that there were many bodies of dead Eyes strewn about the passageway behind hem, and these were in two pieces. You are dead meat, Belial! Lilith shouted, and Abaddon leaped off his throne with sword in hand to meet hem, more a display of bravado for the Eyes and the children than self-defense, because hy knew absolutely nothing could withstand the Golden Gift. Lilith smiled, deactivated hez weapon and snapped it to hez belt with a carabiner. Dead god walking. After Lahatiel and Nuriel departed White Rock in 'Exiler their parents Turel and Greidi did well in their new home. White Rock was almost like a toy planet. There was no want for food. The inhabitants could work and play in the lush gardens of the sharply-curved surface under greenhouse glass that became the exact shade of the purple Gorpai sky by "day" and permitted one to admire the stars at "night" as the tiny asteroid rotated upon its axis once in 22 hours. Climbing trees was particularly fun, as one's weight dropped nearly to zero as one reached the higher branches. At times, Starkad took Terel and Greidi in the family runabout to visit other homestead rocks in the vast halo orbiting Jupiter willy-nilly. Terel knew the paterfamilias of some of these spreads, and wishing hym well in hyz change of life, they extended gifts which helped lighten the burden on Starkad. And there was scattered bits of news and rumors of what happened to the yeng Terel had cast off in Exiler Sidekick. Karayan was mur- dered as was expected. The lander was sufficiently small enough that it was sold to a Ganymede chop shop and reconfigured in such a way to make it absolutely unrecognizable as once belonging to the Navy. It was said that one of the three yeng burned through his share and had already sold hymself into indentured servitude. Though hy didn't know it yet, Lahatiel was free to lie with impunity to Belial about what happened on Europa, for none of the survivors of Exiler would ever approach the Navy to contradict hym. But as the saying goes on Earth as it is in Gorpai, all good things must come to an end. Less than a month after Terel made White Rock his new home the asteroid was attacked by the destroyer Chastiser, which was the same vessel where Starkad had been tortured. Starkad took great pleasure releasing one Bulldog missile from the four he had obtained from Turel. The crew of the Chastiser were blindsided. They did not expect a mili- tary attack from a mere greenhouse. The Bulldog split Chastiser neatly in two. The crew was killed almost instantly, but White Rock was not com- pletely out of danger. The pieces remained floating out there like two moons of White Rock. The debris was sufficiently intact to allow the Em- pire to identify them should they came looking for their missing warship. So Starkad was forced to use two more Bulldogs to render the burning hulks into glowing splinters. This gave the people of White Rock a few more weeks of life as the empire attempted to ascertain the fate of the destroyer. But after that time White Rock was attacked again by the cruiser Punis- her. Starkad fired his last remaining Bulldog missile, but Punisher was fully alert this time, and the automatic close-in weapon system on the cruiser easily destroyed the missile with no harm to herself. After that, the centerline 80mm gun on the cruiser began to rain shells down on the asteroid. First to go was the gantry that poked above the glass shell where the Bulldogs had been mounted, and where Starkad stowed the family run- about. Starkad and his large extended family, including Turel and Greidi, were stranded with no means to escape. More shells pierced the greenhouse itself, letting out all the atmosphere. That was a death sentence for Star- kad and all his people. They would eventually run out of food. With nothing left to lose, Starkad ejected the core black hole on a course straight for the hovering cruiser. As soon as the black hole was free of the electromagnetic coils in the asteroid's center which had held it in place Hawking radiation began to evaporate it away. It grew exponentially hotter and hotter as its mass decreased. This runaway process reached its climax inside the Punisher itself. The cruiser exploded into a billion cinders that scattered to every corner of the sky. Turel, Greidi, Starkad and his family still remained alive deep inside the asteroid, but they were stranded with no way to grow food or escape. They could survive for a few months on what they had stored away, but the Navy quarantined the rock and kept salvagers away. The cost for taking out the greenhouse and turning it into a gigantic tomb was two ships of the line. Emperor Abaddon walked around Lilith and stared through the hole che had made in the door to hyz throne room and appraising the casualties che had left lying on the deck out there. I thought you were a "good" eloah, Binah. There are less violent ways to communicate with me, you know. Mindspeech doesn't have the same dramatic character that befits this news, Lilith said. Nephilim have departed in the first starship. Then I must block your access to El. You have broken our agreement. I have observed our agreement to the letter. You gave them the technology for matter flippers yourself when you seized my spacelab at Proxima. So what is their destination, Binah? It must be a boring trip, I'd like to make it more interesting, perhaps enliven their attempt to settle. But Lilith remained silent. Abaddon said, Come now, you always liked the bad news up front. Chances are they are just heading to one of the stars of the other harem I share with Mastema, the less troublesome one. You can be quite sure they selected their target with that in mind. Yefefiah then? You must be joking. She sleeps for a hundred and fifty years, wakes up for five minutes maybe, looks around with her orbiting avatar, then goes back to sleep to repeat the cycle. That's why no male eloah in the galaxy has ever successfully courted her. Look how she slept right through the entire Golden Age of Earth radio. Completely missed Gunsmoke and Bewitched and Gilligan's Island. Otherwise the entire community of elohim would be on fire with the news. I reckon she'll sleep for another fifty years and that is plenty of time for me to bombard your colony of nephilim to a pre-radio level of technology, and more for good measure. Perhaps you are right, Belial. When the humans make their own starship, I suppose they can bring something that will allow them to communicate directly with the target eloah, maybe even an avatar. Binah, listen carefully. If you allow the humans to make a crossing with your avatar you will violate our agreement not to travel to another star. If you teach Chokhmah, El Shaddai, or Bat-El to make an avatar you will violate our agreement never to pass the lore of El to the other elohim. Of course, Belial, but you forget that El Shaddai has already caused an avatar to be made, by the hands of human beings no less. You already tried to steal it once, and that got you arrested for attempted burglary. The Ark of the Covenant? Do you have any idea what the conditions of the center of a star will do to a tiny artifact of wood and gold and whatever electronics you've clandestinely stashed inside? Do I need to remind you there are ways to shield things from any conditions no matter how harsh? And she briefly touched the Golden Gift. The dark matter converter is another one of my toys your Seraph Ithuriel gave to the planet-dwellers, even if you use it mainly to produce bombs. And from that moment Belial became obsessed with gaining possession of the Ark of the Covenant, no matter if it meant returning to a war footing. Lilith allowed her gaze to settle on the television screen for a moment. Is that your kid, Belial? He moves in ways that remind me of a bene elohim named Hunky when hy played a zero gravity game we call Freeball. The one you called Hunky is dead. At my own hands. Don't be too sure of that, Belial. Che pointed at the screen. It depends entirely on the outcome of that death combat ritual, doesn't it? For weeks a pair of landers crossing from Venus spun gracefully around a common barycenter, held together by a thick cable two thousand feet long. The sun was a bloated spinning white blur growing ever hotter and brighter, but Lilith and Robyn hunkered down out of the line of sight in their re- spective spacecraft as the ferocious questing sunbeam scoured the inside like a searchlight. And as their mission drew near to its climax, a lesser light grew out there, the pinkish-gray half disk that was the planet Mer- cury. Mercury was close enough now that the stable images coming from the counter-rotating cameras were beginning to provide useful detail. Lilith had to work fast, because if the pair of landers did not separate soon, they would both spin down and smack right onto the face of the planet. When Robyn found a candidate "situation" she piped it down to Lilith over the cable, along with the latitude and longitude of the scene so it could be fed to fire-control. For Lilith wasn't on the mission just to keep Ro- byn company with phone sex, she was the one who was going to take the shot. Hundreds of sun-driven steerable laser beams leaped from the surface of Mercury, providing remote spot power to ships and space stations scattered all across the System, so long as the US-government controlled utility Gen- eral Materials got paid. Laser beams were impossible to see from the side in the vacuum of space, of course (bad science fiction movies like the Gal- axy's Fall trilogy notwithstanding), so avoiding them was going to be pure- ly a matter of luck on the part of Robyn and Lilith as they drew near. Aside from the pink tinge, most of Mercury was cratered and looked remarka- bly like Earth's moon. But nine percent of the surface of Mercury was fea- tureless, smooth, and gray. This was the area already covered by solar pan- els which converted the fierce sunlight falling on the planet into electric power. And that power in turn drove the lasers. General Materials boasted they would cover the entire planet someday, and they would have tens of thousands of tracking lasers powering every ship in the Solar system. It was a bold dream, and it was well within their grasp. For it was not men who were turning Mercury into a vast powerhouse, but automated refineries crawling eternally toward the west in two large groups strung along the day-night terminator, each one accompanied by an army of Bots running at a brisk jog. The combination of Mercury's slow 59-day rotation and 88-day revolution resulted in a zenith-to-zenith synodic Mercury day of 176 Earth days, and that meant each group had to average between four and five miles per hour to remain in the twilight zone between day and night. And there in the twilight zone the Dawn Racers had to stay, because neither Refinery nor Bot could store electricity. They generated power from the enormous heat difference between the rising sun and the eternal shadow on the opposing side. Part of this power drove the treads of the Refineries (and the legs of the Bots) to cross the land and maintain their relative angle with the sun. What power remained they could use to do other work. The other group of Refineries were called the Sunset Chasers, because they ran with the westering sun ever in their face. The land they crossed was still hot after three months of searing daylight. Mercury never ceased to smelt its own surface rocks, so there were small but ancient pools of pure liquid lead, cadmium, bismuth, tin, selenium, lithium, and zinc so buttery- soft a Bot could cut it with a knife. And that is essentially what they did, ranging far from their mother Refinery to gather raw materials and bring them in to be processed into stacks of sorted ingots for the Dawn Racers to pick up, and even use them to make brand new working baby Bots. But how the Refineries accomplished all of these things the Americans knew not, nor even did Belial know, for in a sick parody of Binah he mindlessly assembled the first one from detailed procedures developed by other elohim long before he thought to give them to his human clients. And Binah could not discover Belial's source material among the Lore of El and suspected Belial was holding it back, which necessitated this raid to obtain a Bot. Abaddon knew from the beginning that Azibeel was possessed by Hunky, but hy decided to wait and see what the dirk could do in the death combat before hy killed hym. Abaddon never had high hopes for Azibeel before the posses- sion. In the negotiations with the father of Haziel which cleared the way for that yang's son to have a crack at Abaddon's son, Azibeel insisted on the right to establish the conditions of the match. Hy chose a variation of Freeball hy made up on the spot, Combat Freeball, with knives. As the match drew to a close Haziel placed all six of his dirks in a ring, who hoped by sheer numbers to capture Azibeel and fling hym at armed Haziel for the kill. At the referee's first whistle Azibeel's closest team- mates curled into fetal positions at hyz feet, and hy was also curled up. At the second whistle all three made themselves straight as fast as they could. Azibeel surged forward and the other two dirks were flung back. When Azibeel was joined by hyz Van and Wingbacks, the Flankers reached the elastic end cap feet first and kicked back off again, perfectly timing it to take advantage of the thumping rebound. Spinning on hyz long axis now to make him harder to grab, Azibeel reached Haziel's defending line. Azibeel's Wingbacks had overtaken him and joined to face Haziel's defenders too. Freeball was a contact sport. Azibeel's team kicked and punched to form a narrow tunnel for hym to drill through, scattering bodies like bowling pins. Forbidden to stab the unarmed dirks, Azibeel bent and twisted hyz body like a maggot to wriggle free. Stinging from blows, Azibeel reached a wall feet first and did a dance. Left foot sticks, right foot kicks, hy chanted, launching hymself out again to chase after Haziel. Haziel and one of his flankers linked hands to swing off each other and change course, tumbling head-over-each-other's-heels. Thus, Haziel was flung after Azibeel, but he was left flailing with a yaw rotation he couldn't control. By chance, when they met, they were both in a poor position to strike each other, but Haziel's position was slightly poorer. Azibeel slipped his blade between his Haziel's ribs and pierced his heart. The match was televised across the empire, and everyone knew Abaddon did not cheat to favor hyz son. The Emperor was overjoyed. No one had ever seen him happy. Ever. On a whim hy made young Lahatiel the rank of ophan. At this the Eyes of Belial grumbled, and Balberith even protested openly. Lord, we have very good reason to believe this dirk has slept with hyz sister on the ship before the ritual combat demanded by your holy law. Belial had never really cared about those sexual prohibitions. Hy had used them to try to pit the planetdwellers against their own instincts. Now it suited hym to ignore his own law, and Abaddon said as much. Balberith accused Lahatiel and his sister of bewitching Abaddon into spouting heresy. Abaddon replied by asking Lahatiel if he desired anything. Anything at all. Lahatiel faced Balberith and drew out the yang's own blade from the sheath dangling from his side. You speak of heresy and in the same breath imply it is possible for our Lord and God to fall under the spell of mere nephilim! And with that blade Lahatiel brutally butchered Balberith. How many dependents were attached to the officers manning Exiler? Arioch, next in line after Balberith, quickly answered Abaddon, saying, There were a total of sixteen yin and all their children. Lahatiel, today I have made you a flag officer, entitling you to eight wives. You may take your sister Nuriel and any seven of those sixteen yin, whosoever of them pleases you the most. The rest shall be returned to their fathers. You are my chief lieutenant now! Choose a new crew for the warship. In the days to come I am going to rely on you to deal with the issues presented today by Binah and hez blasphemous starship. As Robyn laid out her proposed scenario to Lilith on a screen, she used a black cursor to point out features on Mercury while she spoke. There are six Refineries currently approaching a gap in this escarpment almost simultaneously, but the gap is only one lane wide. The bots are too small to see right now, but if you hit this first refinery here, just when it gets to the gap, there's going to be a dead hulk in the way when the second one gets there. And these other four will just add to the traffic jam. These are Sunset Chasers, Lil. If they don't keep moving, night gets the jump on them. The Refineries are complete morons, but they know what to do if they can't proceed. They'll ring up all the bots on the wireless and tell them to go to sleep. And next they will ring up the Americans, tell them to get off their fat bums, and come out here to clear the motorway. Lilith smiled at Robyn's use of Britishisms. So we'll have several days to take our pick of some bots before the ground is cool enough for General Materials to send a work crew. And we've still got fifty-six minutes before we have to split up. Damn, you're good, Robyn. I don't care what Jill says about you. Che fed the ground coordinates into hez fire control panel and estimated how long her torpedo should take to reach impact for maximum effect. The weapon was smart enough to understand hez orders to hit the westernmost of the six large objects, the lead refinery, which appeared as a moving white square blur on video. Homing was passive and visual. After she fired the torpedo she switched to torpedo cam, which was uploaded to her by laser rather than microwave to avoid alerting Mercury with any possible radio back-lobes. And since she shot the torpedo directly at Mercury, there was no visible exhaust flare to announce it was incoming. The view of the planet grew larger and larger until Lilith's chosen ridge line was visible. After that, the panorama tightened rapidly until it was hard for them to follow what was happening. Suddenly the signal went dead. Lilith switched to her original telescopic view. They both saw a gray dust cloud settling rapidly in the near-vacuum, a circular debris field, and only five Refineries. But now Lilith and Robyn were close enough to finally see the Bots as little sunlit specks running around the scene like pissed-off ants. Robyn said, Great shot, Lil, that deserves a little yum yum later. The first major task was completed, and there was still eighteen minutes until the moment of separation. Here was the reason for the two ships swinging on a tether: GenMat didn't waste power slicing the sky with early warning radar, but they were known to passively search for the bright flares of incoming ships on terminal cruise and bounce the contacts against a list of known traffic. If the Americans discovered Robyn and Lilith's uncleared presence here, they would quickly steer several of those lethal laser beams their way. So the mission employed an unorthodox, acrobatic approach scheme which used absolutely no glowing macro drive, ion drive, or chemical rockets at all. But it depended on exquisite timing. They were approaching the planet dead-center. No human being had reaction time fast enough to cut the line at the proper moment. In the final minute Robyn armed the system and let the on-board micro make the slice. The landers let go of the tether in the same millisecond. Robyn and Lilith found themselves instantly weightless after two months being tugged at two-fifths gee. As the landers rapidly flew apart, temporarily incommunicado, Robyn knew everything was rolling out as she foresaw. But she still grimaced when she skimmed only three thousand feet above one of Mercury's higher mountaintops. She caught a glimpse of Lil flashing by.Then they were both flying up and out again, captured by Mercury's gravity into a long looping ellipse. Emperor Abaddon appointed Arioch the head of the Eyes of Belial and commanded hym to allow Lilith to leave unmolested so long as che kept moving toward hez avatar, and so long as hez avatar was moving away from Palato. Lahatiel requested access to the full personnel records of the Navy of Belial in order to obey the emperor's command to staff the Exiler with a new crew, and Arioch said he would accommodate him only if he could be present and retrieve the records. The Empire was running old school. All of the archives were in the form of microfilms embedded in punch cards. At Sol the equivalent archive would be in the Swarm and accessed by Micros. First on Lahatiel's agenda was an operations officer. He asked for the best tactician in the fleet, regardless of rank. Arioch retrieved four microfilms and Lahatiel instinctively went for the one that he seemed to be most reluctant to hand over. Suriel Larund was har name, and sha had last served on the cruiser Coercer when the Emperor had sent that ship in together with a squadron of smaller ships to follow up on rumors the Beaters had constructed a spacecraft carrier. They found the vessel in question, but during the battle the skipper of Coercer was killed when the hull was breached. Suriel took command using the lander as a secondary bridge, and sent fourteen four-yeng corvettes to their deaths making futile torpedo runs against the carrier. The Beaters were obliged to pull their fighter cover in close, and that opened a window for three bombers to stand off and let their payloads fly. Scratch one Beater carrier. Arioch didn't care about any of that. What was important to him was the fact that Suriel was a yen, she was a "bliss" who preferred other yen in bed, and she worshiped Chokhmah. But Lahatiel knew most yang approved of the post-Summit policy of letting yen serve in Belial's military. If a yang, by some fluke, was killed by a yen in the death combat, then he did- n't deserve to live and contaminate the gene pool. And if sha died sha yielded up a sister who would otherwise be unavailable. But she must be very fierce, Lahatiel said. Always on guard against being raped. As for Arioch's other objections, neither Belial nor Lahatiel really cared. Lahatiel settled on a navigation officer named Barakiel Antero, with the rank of Erel. On the Adversary during a raid by rebels from Ganymede, Barakiel had flown the ship into the Palato ID Grid and brought the vessel to a stop inside, where she could fire at the rebels while being perfectly safe from counterbattery fire, at least if the rebels still wanted to go home. Arioch's objection was that hy was actually just a fraud, a homosexual who faked the two death combats that led to hyz current rank and whose "mate" was a convincing yen but still a yang where it really counted. Lahatiel knew Belial's only penalty for homosexual yeng was to withhold their access to breeding females, which probably suited them quite nicely. The Sar called Adnarel Sala, at least, was not a fraud, sha easily killed har opponent in the death match, simply because sha could not miss. That was the talent for which Lahatiel proposed to make har hyz weapons officer. Arioch's objection was that sha was too feminine, it was jarring to see that in Belial's navy. At least Suriel made an attempt to emulate a yang. Arioch had no objection to the Ravmalak named Kushiel Bellon, neither hyz devotion to Belial, hyz adherence to Law, hyz sexuality, masculinity, or any other grounds, aside from hyz low rank. An engineering officer should be an erel at least. But Arioch knew there was no use convincing Lahatiel. I wonder when daylight appeared between the things that were important to Belial, Lahatiel purred, and the things that were important to Balberith? I think it was Binah announcing her starship. Imagine the universe filling up with people who are loyal to Chokhmah rather than Belial. Imagine what Belial would do if he found another Balberith dragging his feet. So Arioch left without another word, leaving the archives unmonitored. At the bottom of their loops, when Robyn and Lilith skimmed just over Mercury's highlands again, they lit off their engines to make planetfall, so there were two big bright flares telling anyone on Mercury who happened to be watching that two interlopers were come calling. Fortunately the danger was minimized by the low altitude where they initiated the burn, limiting the sight horizon. Presently there were two Astrodyne landers parked in the dark on the gradually cooling night-time surface of Mercury. They lit up the whole area with floods, and saw a pipe elevated on pylons which terminated in the mountain pass. A pale cyan glow emerged from the end of the pipe and stretched off to infinity. The floodlights made the glow difficult to see, but Lilith obtained the spectrum of the glow and noted it was pure ionized carbon gas, a puzzle to be figured out later. A few minutes later pumps had stashed away into tanks most of the air in their respective cabins, allowing Robyn and Lilith to drop to the surface. There was little need to get acclimated. They had spent the last two months at the same level of acceleration, by design, and the recent brief interval in free fall did not seriously reverse that conditioning. By luck, Lilith spotted one sleeping Bot near enough to her lander that it reflected the floodlights. It was a beautiful little human-shaped thing, nearly four feet tall, with silvery skin. Che picked it up tentatively. It didn't wake up, and there was no sun power for it to use in any event. It was made from exotic and light metals like lithium and beryllium, and would have weighed as much as a small child on Earth, but in the lower gravity of Mercury it was even easier to lift. So within a quarter of an hour Lilith already had one Bot in the bag. This encouraged hem to go looking for more. Che only needed one, but perhaps they could use some spare parts. Robyn, unfortunately, couldn't find a Bot using the lights from her lander, so she had to comb the ground by foot, using the lights on her suit. This was a surprisingly time-consuming task, like a snorkeler looking for a fin which had fallen off somewhere within a mere five feet of murky water. By the time she stumbled onto her first and only Bot, Lilith had bagged two of her own and was hunting for a third. But as she planned from the beginning, one Bot was sufficient for Robyn. One and done, no need to get greedy. There was quite a safety margin of distance between their two landers, but Robyn still wanted to give Lilith a heads-up so she could turn her face- plate away from the launch and avoid taking any flying debris. Instead of talking to her by radio, which could be picked up, she walked right up to Lilith and touched her faceplate directly to Robyn's faceplate, just like a kiss, so she could speak and they could hear by simple, classic conduction of sound with no chance of being overheard by the Americans. I got my Bot, Sugar, so I'm leaving now. Watch for blowing rocks. Good girl, Lilith replied with a wink. I'll be right behind you. We're not going to get a second chance at this, and I want a couple more Bots to create a margin for error. What does your sixth sense tell you? 'You know my Talent doesn't work for shit trying to guess the future of an eloah. Common sense tells me you need to go now, but you won't. Then Robyn patted Lilith affectionately and picked her way over the dark rocky landscape back to her lander, leaving Lil behind to look for more Bots. There was no way to avoid the bright light of her hot engine exhaust during launch, and the higher Robyn rose, more and more area of Mercury could potentially see her. This was the time of maximum peril. But Astrodyne rou- tinely hauled shipments of refined metals from Mercury to Venus, so Robyn was gambling that GenMat would not attack a ship going away from Mercury without a damn good reason. It was a reasonable risk. GenMat needed Astrodyne to carry their vast overflow of ore to Venus and thence to Earth. Lahatiel crewed Exiler with just five officers, when the normal complement of a frigate was eleven. When Arioch objected, Lahatiel reminded hym that he returned the vessel to the emperor with just hyz sister as crew. Erel Barakiel took the ship out into the Eggbeater on a "shakedown" cruise that was really an opportunity for the new crew to work and gel together as a team. And if some Beaters were flushed out of the woodwork along the way so much the better. Two weeks into the deployment Suriel said to Lahatiel, I think I know what this is, sir, but I need a second set of eyes. Yes, I recognize those numbers, Suriel. Where did they come from? Why is there's no corresponding symbol on your scope? Sir, one time on the Coercer I was bored and I discovered that commercial signal analyzers are actually much more sensitive than what the SLIP-64 uses, so if I create a dummy symbol out there and hook it, I can open a beamport on that bearing and my store-boughten gear will trigger on stuff that's way out there, long before the SLIP-64 shows a symbol. Just now I took a look out at 210 tack 45 and I got a whiff of something. Fusion motor signature. No doubt there are others nearby on different bearings. I can open more beamports out that way and fish around for more, sir Actually, I have a better idea. Sar Adnarel, program a torpedo for Launch On Bearing Only and send it on its way: 210 tack 45 and go. Yes sir, she said, immediately complying with his order. Adnarel's fingers flew over the console and then a thump shook the ship. LOBO away. There was about an hour of watching with the Big Eye and waiting. Then Hashmal Suriel announced that one of the unknown contacts had lit off their fire-control radars to take shots at Adnarel's torpedo which they discovered, far too late, was almost upon them and in terminal cruise. A little puff of light appeared on the Big Eye briefly, indicating that either Adnarel had scored a hit, or the enemy had somehow detonated the torpedo. Immediately there was heard frantic shouting back and forth on UHF radio in the clear, indicating the presence of at least two more ships. It also told them Adnarel scored a hit. One of those two remaining ships started slicing and dicing the sky with search radar to find whoever it was that shot it at them, and after a few minutes they had Exiler locked on with what Suriel called "steady rails" which referred to the constant train of radar pulses on one of har scopes. It meant a torpedo was bearing down on them. Adnarel, warm up your laser and get ready for some incoming rounds. And Barakiel, begin taking evasive maneuvers, I don't want to make it easy for them. Immediately everyone began to be pitched back and forth in their couches as Barakiel made random course changes under high acceleration. Ravmalak Kushiel, belowdecks, monitored the strain on the engines. Sure enough, within ten minutes a rising whine filled the bridge. Suriel had picked up an inbound torpedo and initiated countermeasures. As sha tried to jam the torpedo with MACKSY, Adnarel spotted the dot moving against the star background on the Big Eye and started putting short, powerful, Q-squelched laser pulses on it, one after the other. The lights on the flight-decked dimmed with each power draw. Somehow, Adnarel never missed and she didn't need any stinking fire control radar, an uncanny fact that astonished even veterans when they saw her do her magic. Every hit took a toll. Pretty soon the dot became a harmless scattered line of tumbling commas that missed the ship by a good 500 meters, flashed by like a set of lightning bolts, then sailed off to infinity on the other side. That was my first real ship-to-ship tussle, Adnarel said. Lahatiel beamed at har. You performed like a champ. Everyone did. Lilith saw the bouncing lights of an approaching vehicle and aborted hez harvest immediately. Hoofing it back to the lander, che flipped through the launch sequence from muscle memory, without using a checklist, and within a few minutes che was rising rapidly but silently at the head of a brilliant white flare. The American maintenance team noted the launch, and when they arrived on the crime scene fifteen minutes later they stumbled over the bodies of sleeping Bots. They also noted the debris of one Sunset Chaser scattered all around, and the hulks of five more Refineries which had been unable to negotiate the obstruction, made worse by the pylons of the pipe. All of this information they relayed back to Tolstoy Basin without commentary. Let The Powers That Be figure out what it all meant. In the meantime their job was just to clear the path so the Dawn Racers could come through here in another three months, revive the Bots, and adopt five new Refineries into their traveling clan. Sometimes the Dawn Racers lost a few refineries to the Sunset Chasers also, so it all evened out in the end. As che rose into the sky, Lilith measured the velocity of the ionized carbon gas emerging from the pipe. It was precisely the speed and direction it would require to cancel out Mercury's rotation and speed of revolution around the sun. When the carbon left the pipe, it was motionless with respect to Sol. Presumably gravity would then begin to pull the gas directly down to the sun. So the Americans were injecting carbon into the star. But why? A quick survey of the Lore of the Elohim soon provided a possible answer. There was a process inside all stars called the carbon cycle: 1. Carbon-12 fuses with a proton to form Nitrogen-13. 2. One of the protons emits a positron to form Carbon-13. 3. A proton capture produces Nitrogen-14. 4. Another proton capture produces Oxygen-15. 5. An energetic alpha particle is emitted to return to Carbon-12. The cycle made the star a little bit hotter, and the carbon which was consumed was completely replaced. The carbon acted as a catalyst. So what Belial was having the Americans do (Lilith refused to entertain the idea that the Americans knew what they were doing) was stoke the stellar fires of Sol with an irreversible process. But why? Belial couldn't get Sol to go nova, Mercury would be vaporized long before that. But the delicate nuclear reactions which were manifested as the life of a living star depended on a stable temperature. Raising the baseline through the carbon cycle would kill the existing elohim occupying Sol, both El Shaddai and Bat-El, and prepare the star for the quickening of a newborn. Alarmed, Lilith-Binah alerted the other elohim to what Belial was attempting to do, then turned back to the task at hand, which was making a clean getaway. The control tower at Tolstoy Basin hailed Lilith on VHF complaining about "UFOs" and che thought it might be worth hez while to try to bullshit hez way out of the jam. Che said. One of your Refineries just exploded for some reason when it was passing by, damaging our two Astrodyne freighters loading up on sheets of zinc. We were forced to abort our pickup and return to Venus as soon as possible for repairs. So explain your presence at the site, the tower demanded. It has never been GenMat policy to book any pickups so near to the terminator. Lilith replied, I think that can be explained by the inexperience of the two pilots in question. We must have landed at the wrong site. One crater looks like another. Please accept my apology for the entire incident. In reply, the tower locked onto Lilith with a big lase. The flight deck glowed red, and Lilith jumped around in a frenzy trying to strap herself back into hez seat. The seams of hez landers' skin melted and some of the ship's exterior panels blew out and away into space due to the internal pressure, taking Lilith out with them before che could get belted in. Emperor Abaddon commanded Lahatiel to investigate the loss of two of hyz capital ships at White Rock in the Sol System. Hy added, Your navigator will find the real-space transit will have been shortened considerably. We are moving the ID Grid. Have hym take the acceleration into account when you return. But Abaddon offered no explanation for the movement. After a routine transit through the airspace of the Land We Know the Exiler emerged from the Jovian ID Grid only a few thousand miles away from White Rock. Abaddon had obviously timed his deployment orders carefully. Soon Exiler was stationary in the space off White Rock, which was littered with the debris of Punisher, Chastiser, and the greenhouse. I'll take the lander over myself, Lahatiel said. My wife comes with me. Suriel, you stand well off in Exiler in case there's a trap. The interior of the micro-asteroid was still pressurized, and a few electrical panels had little immortal green and red LEDs still glowing, but the main lights were not lit. It was gloomy, like entering one's house at dusk after an extended trip. No one could be found inside, neither Starkad's family, Lahatiel's father Terel, hyz mother Greidi, not even dead bodies. As they searched, Lahatiel and Nuriel made their way to the operations center, where a set of four chairs faced a series of panels and monitors. Lahatiel knew it well. A few instruments still functioned in idle. Starkad's log was old school, hand-written. Lahatiel learned then of the raids by first Chastiser, which required three Bulldogs to fend off, and finally Punisher, which cost Starkad the final Bulldog, the green- house, and White Rock's mini black hole. But there hyz log entries ended. Lahatiel was about to give up and return to hyz ship when a sphere of gushing water appeared in the center of the room, forcing both of them to close their faceplates before they drowned. Soon the room was completely immersed, making it impossible to open the hatch and escape, because the hatch opened inward. Both of them swam to the center of the sphere because there was little else to do. The universe turned inside out. Then Lahatiel and Nuriel bubbled up to the surface of the Sacred Pool in Nyduly Wood. Both of them were overjoyed beyond words to see their parents again, alive, as well as Starkad and all the other inhabitants of White Rock. When things were completely explained to them, they expressed their gratitude to Yeshua for rescuing them and giving their parents a place in the Land. Terel was moved to tears by pride for hyz children when hy learned that they not only successfully returned the ship to Belial, but Lahatiel was officially given Exiler to command. Hy said, Lahatiel, I praise you for your loyalty to Belial, but I learned just now that Belial is steadily killing both Yeshua Bat-El and his mother El Shaddai. If you remain in the emperor's service you will be helping hym to carry out this murder, and this place will disappear, killing everyone who lives here as well. Father I must confess my loyalty to hym is a sham. I did not tell of White Rock in order to keep you and mother safe from the Eyes of Belial. When I return I propose to maintain the pretense with a false report. Yeshua said, Lahatiel, if I offer a safe place here for the dependents of your entire crew, do you think that will suffice to make your loyalty, and theirs, undivided once more, but on my behalf and against Belial? I believe so, Lord. I have chosen my crew with extreme care. Returning to the ship was easy, since Bat-El could relocate the endpoint of the Sol system wormhole at will. Lahatiel and Nuriel simply dove toward the bottom of the Sacred Pool and were ejected in a cloud of ice crystals near the ship, where they could be grappled by Kushiel and hauled aboard. Robyn hoped the Americans would be satisfied with just getting Lilith, but no such luck. GenMat steered their launch lasers over her way. Robyn heard a loud bang, accompanied by a sudden return to zero gravity. She realized they must have melted her main motor. So Robyn tilted her ship slightly to keep the ongoing assault of coherent light from crawling right up the inner core of the lander stack to the main tanks, which would melt the mid-body plumbing and ignite the propellant mix. By doing this she gave Mercury's lasers nothing but mirror to chew on. On her instruments Robyn noted a small acceleration from that. She knew she could still get to Venus, but it would take some tricky sailing and the cooperation of her enemies. The Americans were perturbed that Robyn didn't blow up after a few seconds and disappear from radar like Lilith did, so they poured it on, adding more and more lasers to the attack. Every time they did, Robyn did some precognition and tilted the ship's mirror a little bit to fine-tune the ascent. When she finally had enough velocity to intersect Venus she thought she had won. But GenMat calculated her flight path and realized she was on course to reach Venus so they began randomly adding a laser from here and there. Robyn's velocity cup was overflowing, and she had to keep tipping this cup first one way, then another, reflecting the light from side to side, but always keeping her projected course touching Venus. It was all well within her limited capabilities as a pilot and prophet, but the transit would be about two months and eventually she would need to sleep. Over time GenMat would simply grind her down and they would prevail. So she needed help fast. Robyn contacted Jill Pennell, communications expert, directly. Within the hour the voice of Jill was heard in a general broadcast relayed through the transmitter at Bell Regio, Venus. After identifying herself, Jill said,I have received video showing the murder of one of my pilots using one or more of GenMat's launch lasers. As a consequence of this, the Soviet Union has assured me they will not offer transportation services to General Materials until further notice. There is nothing personal in this decision, it has to do solely with the difficulty of asking pilots to fly in a hostile region of space where they might be killed at any moment. Right now I feel a temporary shipping embargo is sufficient and I do not foresee a military response or a blockade. But I do have a another pilot who is currently under the same type of unprovoked attack as the first pilot. If the second pilot is still being assailed by your lasers one hour from now, then I will interpret that to mean a state of war exists between the United States and the Astrodynamics Corporation. Jill Pennell, out. Presently the attack ended, leaving Robyn to drift free on her two month glide-path directly at the limb of Venus, which she fine-tuned with solar radiation using her light sail. GenMat even stopped pinging Robyn with their fire-control radar and lost the track. They no longer cared about her. As the Americans had done throughout their history, they overstepped a bit, and now it was time to deal with the unintended consequences. When Robyn delivered the stolen Bot after her two month crossing from Mercury the first step was to provide for power and the removal of the waste heat that would be generated by Hope's quantum computer brain as it modeled a child's human mind. Mark Felton produced the Golden Gift, an heirloom of the Church of End Dome that traced back through Chief Malekwa and far beyond. For many years it had been in the possession of Del, who wielded it to outrageously lethal effect in the Levant. Mark had to present the Golden Gift for inspection in customs when he came through, but as he had been coached, Mark told the inspector it was just a small gold ingot, a gift for his second wife who had been sent to Venus ahead of him. He was allowed to bring the item through, and entry was granted for him and his first "wife" Victoria, but he had to pay the jizya, the infidel tax. Also, the customs agent slapped Mark hard on the right cheek with his open palm, which knocked him to the ground. This fulfilled the requirement in the Holy Qu'ran for the physical humiliation of non-Muslims at the time the jizya was paid. Needless to say, Venus would never be a popular tourist attraction. N0 - INSURRECTION KUSHIEL: Hybla-Dia was wild in the beginning, calling for many nephilim to come and labor there. In return we were promised some of the very land we toiled to bring to flower. But Belial broke hyz word and gave landed estates only to hyz officers of flag rank, and we simple laborers were promised only more serfdom. Later when Belial found hy needed a much larger military to put down rebellion in the Eggbeater, hy recruited from the Hybla-Dia labor pool. Azibeel promised hyz enlistees land on Hybla and Dia that would be theirs after a term of twenty years. That was the second covenant the Emperor made with us, and the second one hy broke. On that day, I considered my oath of loyalty to the Emperor to be null and void. I did not walk away from hym, for I still serve. Hy walked away from me, I deemed. I will join you in opposing the Emperor, Ophan Lahatiel, but I do not ask for sanctuary for my two wives in the Land We Know. I would have them remain aboard Exiler with me, sir. SURIEL: There was a time when a yin officer would have been unthinkable in the Empire, because we yin have been considered little better than property under the Law of Belial from the beginning. Even now as a commissioned officer, I can own no land, not even if I attain to the high- est echelon, which no yin thus far has done. I was in the first class of yen who entered under the new rules, and everyone thought we were suicidal. But myself and a hard core of other yen survived and even did well for our- selves. Three booty-wives I have and one sister-wife, all totally dependent on my support as a naval Hashmal, but only my booty-wife Orifiel is my lover. I ask to keep har aboard this ship, sir, and my other wives safely in the Land We Know. Belial I worship not, and why should I do so? All yen are denied entry to the Temple of Belial and from every Belial shrine. BARAKIEL: Unlike the case of Suriel, same-gender unions are not sanctioned for yeng in our empire, even if my preference for males has a similar pre-natal origin to my preference of using the left hand, and the same moral import in the great system of things as my choice of dark green as my favorite color. My lover's name is Peniel, which means Face of God. Hy was my opponent in the Laraji, the death trial. The poison I used in my dart was powerful enough to convince the proctors that I had killed hym, but it allowed hym to recover later with no ill effects. Then Peniel pre- sented himself to me disguised as hyz own 'sister', and became my 'wife' together with my real sister, Anafiel, who I love in a completely different way, and never touch beyond the innocent hugs and kisses of siblings. For Peniel alone is my lover. Once again I repeated this deception in my second combat, and after that my vanquished 'opponent' Sachiel and hyz 'sister' Gedael became my alleged third and fourth wives, but they are both yang lovers even as Peniel and I are, and all of these now dwell together in the security of my harem. If I can put them beyond the reach of the Eyes you would have my undying loyalty, Ophan Lahatiel. ADNAREL: Like Erel Barakiel I too have four wives who won't be safe if the Eyes of Belial learn I have joined your team, sir. Hashmal Suriel says I don't know what I'm missing, not sleeping with yen, but I'm still not interested. I also support my mother. I was born on the far side of Dia from Central, and I grew up with my sister on my father's estate. We had many farm hands to help us, and I never had to toil for all the days of my dollhood. Then my father was killed in a war, and our land reverted back to the emperor, for under the Laws of Belial my mother could not inherit property. By that time the Emperor was running out of high-ranking friends hy could assign land to, yet hy still refused to allow lower-echelon veterans to have estates, as Kushiel mentioned in hyz remarks. If we were cast out to become beggars, or set to toil on what had been our own land, other senior officers would fear to die in service to Belial, lest their own wives and children suffer the same fate. So my commission in the Navy was a way out for myself, my sister, my mother, and even Belial hymself, who fell into a trap of hyz own devising. I'm not the hottest fireweed in the glade but even I wonder about our deity sometimes. If you can find sanctuary for the five yen who depend on me, then sign me up, Ophan Lahatiel.

When the bot's power system was on line, courtesy of the Golden Gift, Mark Felton installed Hope's artificial brain, his life's masterpiece, pre-programmed to function as a five year old child on a basic level. It was the best that could be done by mankind at that stage of history, and it could barely be done. For Hope's external skin, there was no time to completely encase the bot, but that wasn't a deal-breaker because Hope would have to wear a burqua to leave Venus anyway. Still, Astrodyne had to do her eyes, the skin of her face around her eyes, and her hands. In the presence of Robyn and Victoria, Mark touched the back of Hope's hand and the pink skin blanched at the place he pressed, then slowly filled back in with color. Just that effect right there cost a billion dollars, he said. So it was that only two weeks after smuggling the bot from Mercury, Robyn walked through Customs in the Caliphate of Venus, sweating like a pig and completely shrouded in a stifling, hot black burqua, with a similarly clad Hope holding her hand. Mark's other "wife" Victoria held Hope's other hand, and the three females walked the required two paces behind Mark. Hope's multi-billion dollar artificial eyes had retinal patterns that were never scanned before. The patterns didn't exist in the Caliphate's system. So there in Bell Regio Emigration, Mark christened her Hope Anne Felton, and the system had her. Then he paid the jizya, the infidel tribute, and the Customs agent slapped him hard on the left cheek this time, knocking him to the ground. Mark hoped he never had to do this again. After the submarine clawed it's way upriver through the Venus fountain and traversed the unimaginable shortcut through space of the wormhole and the swirling whirlpool called Charybdis, they reached the calm waters off New Zealand, but Mark, once more, had been absolutely terrified by the trip. Robyn actually began to relax soon after they left the Bell Regio checkpoint and was in quite a mellow mood even when the submarine heaved and pitched, but the rolls were soon remedied when they transferred to a larger ship which would take them back to Seattle over a leisurely three weeks. Mark needed the time to complete the rest of Hope's skin. When he was finished, what he had was not a real girl, still just a machine, but it thought it was a real little girl, and it was important for her crucial early years that no one ever told her she was not real. It wasn't difficult to comply. As the cruise ship neared Puget Sound City, Hope had become a smiling little girl wearing dark brown hair in two pigtails. Her round face was absolutely authentic, triggering no instincts of revulsion in Victoria that have plagued the creators of artificial people (both movie characters and physical objects) ever since the problem was documented by a Japanese researcher in 1978 and labeled the Uncanny Valley. The revulsion invariably happened when the virtualization was almost, but not exactly perfect, and the effect seemed to be buried deep, grounded in human evolution itself. Something in the limbic brain screamed: COUNTERFEIT! But not here with this little girl. Victoria would find it easy to be Hope's "mother". The girl's apparent age was about five. In fact, Mark had chosen to make that morning Hope's fifth birthday, and if she didn't remember having a fourth birthday that was natural too, very few people do. Why make it a girl? Victoria asked Robyn after Mark took Hope away. Because she's just a Barbie doll with no genitalia. With her clothes on she has no genital bulge like a boy does. She doesn't urinate. And Hope will become the host for Lil's personality someday. The merger will go much more smoothly if the host is the same gender as the client. Hope's brain was programmed to accept either choice easily enough, but after a few weeks socializing her as a girl the pathways for a feminine brain will be well-established and impossible to reverse. So the easy part is over, making her, we took care of it by throwing a lot of money at the problem, and she does have a father figure. In a way Mark really is her father. But she needs the influence of a mother, Vic, and that's where you come in. Suriel used an encrypted signal which told any ordnance drifting in the debris around White Rock to come home. Five rounds were undamaged enough to show up on cue. Suriel checked a list and chose a round from Chastizer which Kushiel retrieved with grapples the same way hy retrieved the skipper and hyz wife. To make room, Adnarel was ordered to fire a round from Exiler and detonate it a few hundred miles away. After that, the four re- jected rounds were also sent away to be detonated, lest an enemy salvage them. Their story would be that Punisher fired everything she had. After that, the Exiler got underway, heading for home. The ID Grid was under high acceleration, apparently making for the inner Sol system, so it was a "stern chase", nine days from the 5.2 AU where Jupiter lay. Exiler caught up to it just outside the 3 AU mark, deep in the asteroid belt, and Barakiel had to fly into the ID Grid while it was still under acceleration, something hy said no one had ever done before. I had no doubts over your ability to rise to the challenge, Lahatiel told him. Crossing from Toliman to Sol and back again was becoming so routine Lahatiel took to calling it the Slog. At that time, Lahatiel revealed to the other officers a serialized blank order sheet from Belial which Yeshua had given to hym, and which in turn came, somehow, from Talishi. If Belial had been a doctor, this was a single page from his prescription pad. All Lahatiel had to do was fill it in, and it would be accepted as though the Emperor hymself had filled it out. I'm showing you this because I'm at a loss on how to use it. I'd hate to waste it on something small. At Palato, Lahatiel told Abaddon that White Rock, the Chastizer and the former crew of Exiler obviously had some sort of arrangement. White Rock had been stocked with Bulldogs from Exiler(that part was even true) plus a great deal of booty. Obviously it was the base of operations for a clandestine "navy within the Navy" at Jupiter. When Punisher showed up, there was a three-way struggle which left all the warships in pieces and everyone dead. As evidence, Lahatiel offered the torpedo from Chastizer he salvaged so the Eyes could check the serial number. This story fit well with what Abaddon already knew about the incident. The Chastizer had gone missing, and Punisher was sent in later to track her down. The last report from Punisher was that she had entered into combat at White Rock. After losing two major warships, the asteroid had been made off-limits and the Emperor notified. Very well, Lahatiel, Abaddon said. But what of the inhabitants of the asteroid? They flushed themselves into space, Sire, rather than face the...I suppose extremely unpleasant consequences of their treason. And to support that contention, Lahatiel showed Abaddon images of the empty interior of White Rock hy and hyz sister had taken with their suit cameras when they first investigated it. Abaddon examined the photos and smiled. Lahatiel had accomplished quite a feat. A living sun had been deceived, and Lahatiel's standing had jumped up a notch even in the view of the Eyes of Belial. Probation was over. Hy had passed his final examination. Questions, Abaddon said, becoming uncharacteristically jovial. You're wondering why you had to chase the ID Grid to get back home. It was difficult and certainly well out of the ordinary, Sire. I'm preparing for a raid on Selene, Lahatiel. I myself will go. That'd not be something for the elohim to learn, Sire, Lahatiel said. The Exiler will not be involved in the raid. There's trouble brewing at Xanthos and I'm holding you in reserve to deal with it. Tomorrow.' Nyduly Academy in Hamar provided the best primary education in the universe. Four of the five elohim each chose three children to attend. This year Talishi-Chokhmah selected the two nephilim children of the late Aldred Firegem, Nelchael and hyz sister Bikol. Talishi also allowed Abdiel Bellon (heir to what remained of that defeated House) to attend the Academy. El Shaddai, speaking through the Ark of the Covenant at Taurus City, selected three commoner jan who were orphaned by Blackseed's violent invasion of mainland Menkal. Their names were Inanna, Muran, and Dafla. Binah just before his jen avatar Lilith was killed at Mercury, chose a common yin named Murmi who was the daughter of a Beater. Binah also selected a jen named Kishar, the eldest offspring of Countez Berek Moriz, who was the de-facto ruler of the Menkal rump-state from Elendal Island. And Binah enrolled Hope in the academy. Yeshua introduced Hope as one of the bene elohim, another daughter of the now-deceased Lilith Gervasi and Robyn Lokken, but so far no one knew what her special talent would turn out to be. Yeshua Bat-El chose three humans. Two of these had made their way to the Land We Know by accident, having chosen to swim in the Earth end of the Sacred Pool. One of these visitors was named Malekwa, a member of what he knew only as "The People". This boy found the secret pond in the Green River Gorge in 1848 and dove in, trying to find the bottom. What he found instead was Yeshua, who used sign language and much food to entice Malekwa into staying for a while. Yeshua set about trying to teach him English, and the kid was already eight before he was ready to start school. The second visitor was a white American girl named Inge Lange, who was part of a wagon train passing by in 1867. Like Malekwa, Inge came to the Land via the Sacred Pool, but unlike the boy, Inge's family saw her enter the pond, and immediately grew concerned when she did not rise again. Yeshua had to close the wormhole tunnel for a time, lest the rest of her family followed her through one-by-one. They would be grieved for a time, but it would be very short. He planned to return Inge after only a few hours of her family's elapsed time later, but years of Inge's time later. And Ma- lekwa would experience the same thing. Yeshua knew that if he returned the children immediately, in Earth time, it would dilute the miracle. The third child chosen by Yeshua to attend the academy came recommended by El Shaddai. It was a doll named Dory, the daughter of Mike and Jill born after Mike journeyed to Barnard's Star to be with Jill again late in the first decade of the 21st Century, a future that was obscured to even El Shaddai until the insurrection of Exiler and the creation of Hope. Just as Malekwa and Inge mingled with children from their distant future, Dory mingled with children from har past. Sha was a large child, much like har brother Hunky whom sha would never meet, since access to Hunky's timeline was now closed to prevent more possessions. Yeshua, speaking rather obliquely, said, Dory's existence is proof that everything we're fighting for will pan out in the end. I suppose that makes me pan-trib. Early in the first semester Talishi and a number of Fallen Angels delivered a wide variety of musical instruments for the children to play, looking for talent in pretty much the same manner as throwing spaghetti at a wall and seeing what stuck. Dory liked the physicality of the drum kit. Malekwa eventually settled on the electric guitar, which was very strange to him. Kishar found che could play a keyboard rather well with almost no instruc- tion. Bikol Firegem discovered that sha liked the electric bass. Everyone else tried the other instruments and learned they had no talent for playing them at all, including Hope, but Hope discovered quite by accident that her real talent lay in her own voice. She could mimic any singer that she heard, and indeed any sound at all, which was no surprise, since she was really a machine with a sound card built in. So Hope became the lead singer for a band that formed more-or-less spontaneously. Yeshua asked them to think of a name. They eventually settled on Bite the Wax Tadpole. The day following Lahatiel's report on White Rock, Emperor Abaddon toured the Exiler in person. The crew donned their best uniforms for the emperor's inspection. For the first and only time, Abaddon looked with hyz own eyes at Hashmal Suriel, Erel Barakiel, Sar Adnarel, and Ravmalak Kushiel. Abaddon also greeted Nuriel, Lahatiel's sister-wife, seeing har for the second time. Then he spoke to Lahatiel openly before them. I have a problem and maybe you and your people can solve it. Do you know of the Seraph named Ithuriel Gerash? Yes, Lord, you have posted hym to Proxima, where hy and hyz family and their servants are the only inhabitants of that entire star system. Abaddon said, Ithuriel has many sons and daughters by hyz eight wives, and some of hyz sons have distinguished careers of their own in my armed forces. But hyz sister-wife Lauviah was very young when hy gained har hand in hyz first death trial, you see. Really, sha was just an infant. Only when Ithuriel was forty and sha was twenty did hy go to har and sire sons and daughters, but now hy is sixty while Lauviah is forty, and all hyz days of bearing offspring are over. In hyz golden years Ithuriel has become weak. Hyz youngest son born of Lauviah, named Marou...Ithuriel cannot bear the thought of possibly losing Marou in the death-combat, so hy withholds hym from the military with Lavuiah's assent. And I, for my part, will not push Ithuriel on this matter. Hy has given me enough. Hyz genetic contribution is secure, and hyz mind, hyz greatest asset, remains sharp. Ithuriel is close to rendering a service far greater than siring more cannon fodder, and if hy would rather train hyz youngest dirk to be an astronomer than a soldier, then so be it. Unfortunately, young Marou, who is now a student at the University of Xanthos, has been abducted by members of a criminal organization there called the Iron Fist, and they have certain demands for ransom. This would be a small matter unworthy of my attention in any other circumstances, but Ithuriel is very distraught, and he cannot find it in hymself to keep working on hyz very important final project while the fate of his youngest and most beloved son remains unresolved. What are my orders, Sire? Lahatiel, commanding Exiler you will proceed to Xanthos, discover where the dirk named Marou Gerash is being held, and neutralize the Iron Fist elements holding him. You will do this in such a spectacular way that it will deter any and all future kidnapping attempts of suchlike nature. Lord, your pardon, but it may be impossible for even the new crew of Exiler to carry out those orders without killing this dirk as well. Civilian causalities are often unavoidable when servicing a target with an air strike. After the campaign, Exiler shall proceed to Proxima via the Land We Know to bring Seraph Ithuriel news of the tragic loss of hyz young Marou. You shall offer my sincere condolences, and you will also provide what moral and physical assistance Ithuriel might need to complete his necessarily brief mourning process and accelerate his ongoing research to a successful conclusion. Exiler was underway less than an hour after the emperor departed. The entire crew of Exiler had heard, in person, the Emperor's orders to go directly to Xanthos, the largest of four natural satellites of Gorpai, but nevertheless Lahatiel ordered Barakiel to set up an ascent ellipse to the satellite Rhene first. At a distance of 310,000 miles from Gorpai, Rhene, which is only about 90 miles wide, is just visible as a very bright disk in the night sky of Gorpai. Rhene was Belial's prison. In an icy world of poisonous, motile flora, with a warrior-king god, an unforgiving religion, and a population steeped in harsh militarism, Rhene was the one place in the universe that gave natives of Gorpai nightmares. Lilith Gervasi served in all of the Arab-Israeli Wars in Timetrack One until che fell victim to ultra-orthodox Jews playing politics and was sent home in the middle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a move that probably saved her life. In Timetrack Three, resetting the clock to 1972, Lilith provided her government with a great deal of intelligence on the Egyptian moves fully a year in advance, information that turned out to be uncannily accurate. Acting on these tips, the country mobilized to nip Egypt in the bud. So there was no Yom Kippur War on that reality thread and Lilith became legendary. The Labor Party kicked around the idea of making hem Prime Minis- ter. What Lilith obtained instead was an officer's commission for hez grandchild Del in the formidable Israeli Defense Force, which when rendered in Hebrew and shortened to an acronym was known as ZAHAL. After the near-miss of 1973 the active forces of Israel were reorganized into twenty-six battalions, Alfa through Zulu. Major Del commanded the two thousand men and women of Bravo Battalion. In times of major conflict in Israel (always alerted well in advance by Robyn), hundreds of thousands of reserves were called up and assigned to one of the twenty five other battalions, which rapidly became full divisions, but Bravo Battalion, the elite, remained made up solely of hand-picked army regulars. With hez head sticking outside of the hatch on top of one of twenty segments of a towed barge, Del let the eternal winds of the Gulf of Suez and the moderate rolling of the barge kick saltwater spray over hem. Hez tan, mottled major's uniform was impeccable, sharply creased, heavily adorned with fabric service ribbons, and practically skin-tight. Del was invincible in war, but Belial figured che couldn't be in two places at once, and hy also figured if both Selene and Israel were attacked simultaneously, Del would automatically default to defending Lilith's adopted homeland. So when Belial moved to assail Taurus City, hy ordered up another Arab-Israeli War just to keep Del and perhaps several other bene elohim tied up. Africa was almost completely surrounded by water. The place where it was joined to Asia had been crossed by a man-made ditch 200 km long for the last 200 years, permitting ships to travel between Europe and the Far East without detouring all the way around Africa. It was not even a particularly elaborate engineering feat. The land was so flush with sea level that the canal did not require locks. By 1985 fully 23% of all world trade was using the Suez Canal, but it was only wide enough to permit one lane of travel, alleviated with turnout lanes here and there, thus requiring quite an elaborate traffic control setup. For a long time there had been talk of widen- ing the canal, but the proposals for dredging it wider always entailed shutting down traffic for up to four years and the predicted increase in traffic was not thought to be enough to justify the loss of government revenues from transit taxes, an enormously important source of income for Egypt as the country approached becoming a net importer of petroleum and Islamist terrorism strangled Egypt's once lucrative tourist trade spigot. For twelve years Israel had relied on Lilith's reports, obtained through Robyn's borrowed power of precognition, to concentrate against any attack well before it happened. But this new attack was on the initiative of Belial hymself, completely outside the scope of Robyn's foresight, so the country was caught completely off-guard. Egypt punched a hole at one point in the much-vaunted "Ben-Judah Line" of fortifications with artillery. The commander of the Egyptian 1st Army knew that the Sinai was like a bread with a hard crust that was soft in the interior. After breaching the crust in the short channel between marshy, salty Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, the Egyptians started ferrying over tanks, troops, ammunition, and other war materiel on rafts as fast as they could, building up quite a bridgehead on the other side, like an infection of bacteria lodged in a wound. They had a good three day head start before Del could travel down from Selene and report for duty, together with her parents Brand and Shyla, her aunt Ariel, and her cousin Victoria. Mike went to Jerusalem to be a point of contact between the bene elohim and the Israeli government. The Land We Know was a baby universe maintained by El Shaddai and Bat-El. It was accessed by wormholes through which the planetdwellers (and the elohim who possessed two of them) could move freely between Sol, Rigilkent, Toliman, and Proxima, in time as well as in space. This was a recipe for chronological confusion. Since El Shaddai refrained from taking possession of one of the planetdwellers, the concept of an "absolute" time was simply that time which El Shaddai took to be the present, currently 2005 C.E. This time-traveling aspect of the Land We Know was a secret rigorously kept from Belial and known only to the other four elohim and the original members of the Gervasi Crime Family (or the bene elohim): Robyn, Jerry, Mike, and Jill. Not even when Abaddon possessed Hunky did hy reason it out. To the bene elohim the "present" was set twenty years earlier than that, in 1985, which had been true since the first jump from 1992 in Reality I to 1972 in Reality II. This provided a built-in safety margin. If Emperor Abaddon, for example, were to send a fleet of starships lumbering towards Sol through real-space, a journey of six years, they would arrive to find a star system that had prepared for hyz invasion for twenty-six years. In the Sol system in 1985 everyone used Micros to swap music for free, and over the preceding three years the music business collapsed. On Gorpai and Hybla-Dia, however, nephilim still used analog recordings on spools of thread made from a plant called deathsilk, thin as the silk from a spider but as strong as steel. It could cut anything except other strands of deathsilk, which must be cut with a flame. Deathsilk was also used in blades, which resembled violin bows, used only for slashing, not piercing. The music of the nephilim occupied a very narrow range between solemn hymns to Belial to operatic post-battle lamentations. No one, in the entire history of Gorpai and its off-world colonies, had ever made music just for the sheer joy of it. Such a thing would be subversive in a way Belial would be ill-equipped to counter. So Talishi laid a challenge before the children of Nyduly Academy: Introduce the nephilim of Centauri system to fun music. Of the twelve children, only Dory, having grown up in the 2010s and 20s, had heard the kind of "fun" music Talishi was looking for (on her father's Micro) and fun it was indeed, for it celebrated the end of Belial's age. There were melodies running around in Dory's head for songs that hadn't been created yet. But to get the other children to play them, sha had to invent a system of notation entirely from scratch. That's what the academy was for, not only to teach facts, but to inspire children how to think. Seven of the children weren't performers in Bite the Wax Tadpole, but Nelchael was a budding poet and stepped in with song lyrics to go with Dory's melodies. The lyrics ranged from nursery rhymes to the brainless fun of Fatho hill country bumpkins to the sweaty energy of Belial revival music. But the thing which really brought the band together was a "field trip" to Earth, escorted by Hope's adoptive parents Victoria and Mark Felton. Everyone went to a mountain lodge at Stampede Pass about a half hour east of the Green River Gorge area. Some of the more adventurous dirks and jists put on skis and hit the slopes, while the dolls, the girls, and the other jists contented themselves with riding on inner tubes. All of them had a memorably great time, but the outing inspired Kishar to write a song titled Skiin' USA which would serve as a template for a flood of other songs. With Hunky keeping time and Bikol stitching the song together harmonically on bass, Malekwa carried the main melody line on guitar and Kishar kept the whole thing chugging along with improvised chords on her piano. Hope sang Nelchael's lyrics with a voice that was girlish but with rich undertones that belied her age. Other children made costumes or painted cover art. The jen orphans Inanna, Muran, and Dafla learned to operate a micro to record and edit their songs. So they all worked to meet Talishi's challenge. In the wake of the 1982 Summit the fortunes of the United States declined markedly due to the irrational response of certain Christians who led the country after they were faced with the actual angels, gods, messiahs and devils of their own theology. In many ways their reaction paralleled what happened in Judea after Alexander the Great died and left no heir. Alexander' generals divided the empire between themselves and became rivals. They put on royal crowns and so did their sons after them. The gen- eral named Seleucus I Nicator founded an empire centered in Asia Minor that ruled much of the land conquered by Alexander from Thrace to India. At that time many Jews began to adopt the ways of the Greeks who dominated them. They built gymnasiums where nudity was standard, tried to reverse their circumcision, and no longer observed the ordinances of the Mosaic Law. With some support of these secularized Jews, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes declared Judaism abolished and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Zeus. Many Jews were willing (even eager) to abandon their old religion, but the priest Mattathias began a set of terrorist acts to deter Hellenized Jews from sacrificing to Zeus. This eventually became a full-scale revolution to return Judea to the fundamentalist doctrines instituted by Ezra. In America the revolution was from the top down and was chiefly manifested by the creation of a secret agency called Domestic Enemies Classification, Observation, and Neutralization, or DECON. Domestic enemies were defined as those American citizens who embraced the changes brought by the bene elohim at the Summit which the United States boycotted. Mere possession of a Micro was a felony. It was a curious fact that partisan politics had very little to do with it. Although President Ford (R) established DECON in 1983, President Kennedy (D) appointed Senator Glenn (D) to head it in 1985. Two hundred DECON agents making up an expedition to invade the Moon were lofted using a new launch laser constructed at the Florida cape named after the President's assassinated older brother. In the sudden zero gravity many of the agents began vomiting, some from an upset stomach, but more perhaps from fear. It set off a chain reaction of vomiting and there was misery all around in the earliest hours of the flight. Even space veteran and DECON director John Glenn had to close his helmet before the smell made him puke. Abaddon traveled by fold-door from Palato to his temple on the southeast corner of the Land We Know, where he was picked up by a transport identical in every way to one of Glenn's except for propulsion. Abaddon had been willing to give the Americans the prints to the spacecraft, but kept matter-flippers secret. Each one of these vessels could carry twenty-five yeng or men. The Emperor's son Azibeel accompanied him, and there no longer was any need for pretense. Father and son understood one another. Abaddon said to hym, I am counting on your knowledge of Taurus City to lead us directly to the Ark of the Covenant so the humans have no way to attract the attention of a star. If Ithuriel has a breakthrough I can be waiting for Binah's ship with a fleet. If both plans fail, the community of elohim will reject my enemies for putting on the bodies of Earth primates. El Shaddai has never accepted a merger with planetdweller flesh. For that case I have a blade poised over his head at Mercury. Abaddon's troop transport was joined by seven more, and all of these flew in formation with the spacecraft carrier Trespasser, whose name, at this particular time, was apropos. The ID Grid orbited Ganymede, Ganymede orbited Sol, Sol orbited the galactic center and the whole shooting match was flying toward the Great Attractor. So none of the elohim knew precisely where the ID Grid was with respect to Jupiter, all they had to do was send vessels flying far enough west from the Land We Know to the structure, wherever it was. And where they popped out, due to perfidy, was the Earth- Sun L2 point, about three-quarters of a million miles past the moon.

Del's amphibious assault arrived under the guise of twenty deceptively painted, weathered-looking old barges slowly towed behind a jumbo tugboat toward the southern entrance of the canal. They were in two parallel trains of ten containers all linked together by flexible couplings. At Del's com- mand they all simultaneously broke free from each other and began moving under their own power toward the assigned beach. All twenty of the special landing craft began to take sporadic 40mm mortar fire from somewhere in the city but this was mainly just an annoyance. Each landing craft was coated with tank armor, constructed in the best shape for defense, a shape evolved through more than a century of constant warfare with the Arabs.

Del made hez way to the front of the barge, pushing through the men and women hanging on to straps from the ceiling of the barge. Israel was unique among nations. Ever confronted with a chronic shortage of personnel, men and women were drafted equally, trained together, and sent into battle to- gether, at least when the ultra-orthodox factions were out of power.

Then Del raised hez voice to address hez people, saying, I have never lied or concealed the truth from you. They gave us the most dangerous beach possible. We'll be practically single file. When you disembark immediately turn to the right and get off the sand spit as soon as possible. We're the first. Our mission is to seize the canal operations center and to secure a beachhead for the forces that will come a little later. God be with us.

The boat officer beached Del's assault craft right up onto the sand close to the structures of the locks and the buildings that supported them. The wall behind Del dropped down to become a ramp, revealing a beach being torn up by mortar fire. Che knew the heavy shelling was soon to come. She yelled her grandparent's motto, "Follow Me!" and led her people out onto the sand, the 1st Platoon of Gold Company.

Further down the spit were Blue Company, Orange, and White, each with five platoons, all of them storming the sand spit simultaneously.

The astonishing sight of a rusty barge breaking up into twenty motorized landing boats, turning with perfect coordination like a drill team on pa- rade, beaching on the spit, and disgorging a thousand IDF troops onto Egyp- tian soil was spotted by the alarmed men in the canal control tower, and they called it in to a gun battery somewhere in Suez City.

Splashes began to fly up in the sea around them as the gunners got their range. The splashes got closer to the beach, and some of them struck the now abandoned landing craft.

Gold Company 2nd Platoon, the people from the boat immediately next to Del's, was the first hit with an incoming 155mm shell. Artillery is the troop killer. Sixteen people lay dead, another twenty lay wounded or were knocked off their feet. Of the wounded, eight would later die. Only twelve people in that platoon were unharmed, but some of these would be picked off in ones and twos by the random mortar rounds coming in.

A pair of soldiers in Del's Platoon, a male and female, set up on the sand a compact air search radar and tried to pinpoint where the rounds were com- ing from by tracing their flight-paths back. Blue 5th Plt. took 5 dead and 12 injured before he got a fix. The female called out the resulting coordi- nates over a portable phone and requested an airstrike.

At first Del wasn't sure what happened next. She found herself waking up with her legs soaked by seawater. It slowly dawned on her that she was close to an incoming round and had been knocked by the concussion a little ways into the water. Del had no recollection of the last few seconds, minutes? She didn't know. Her only thought at that point was dying was so easy. Del had never been obsessed with the issue because she had lived for years in the place where dead people go anyway. If hell existed anywhere in the universe, then Gorpai's third moon Rhene was a good candidate for it. Belial created on Rhene a brutal prison for the worst offenders of the Empire, those recalcitrants for whom simple exe- cution would be deemed far too merciful. Every art of torment devised over thousands of years of nephilim tribal warfare reached its pinnacle and ut- termost fulfillment in the dungeons of Rhene, whose majority of inmates were virtually buried alive, crammed naked in dark cells hardly larger than a coffin, with not even the possibility of escape by suicide. In those iso- lated and claustrophobic conditions their minds wandered on strange ruts and withered, and when after many days or months they were periodically taken to the questioning chambers, dimly lit with blood red light and as- sailed by the never-ending screams of countless other inmates in neighbor- ing cells, it almost seemed better to them. Yet all these tortures would serve no purpose if all the inmates simply perished in the bowels of Rhene completely forgotten by society. So some of the survivors of Rhene were taken back to Gorpai and released into society to spread horrific tales of what happens to nephilim who sin against Beli- al, or break the Law, which of course were exactly the same thing. Lahatiel emerged from the upside-down lander hanging under the Exiler weighing all of three pounds, and was met by guards who escorted hym through a maze of corridors to the spacious office of Warden Achimel, a man with an exceedingly cruel reputation, where Lahatiel presented a fake docu- ment using the "blank check" Talishi had provided. The order was for the Warden to release one Elimelech to the custody of Ophan Lahatiel. A jumpsuit hid most of the damage to Elimelech, but numerous scars on his face attested to a life of constant violence, either before or after his incarceration, or possibly both. A haunted look in his eyes spoke of the toll the prison was taking on his mind, but there was also a small hint of defiance there. Lahatiel conditioned his release on the act of identify- ing on an aerial photograph the center of Iron Fist activities on Xanthos. Happy to comply with such a small request, Elimelech marked the place on the photograph. The Warden released him from his chains and Lahatiel led him to his ship. The Ophan entered the Exiler first and headed straight for the flight-deck. When Elimelech climbed through the lander to follow hy found the hatch to the rest of the Exiler closed. The Ophan's voice appeared on a speaker. "Relax and make yourself comfort- able, Elimelech," hy said. "I regret that the rest of my ship is classified for visual inspection and you don't have a clearance. When we get to Xan- thos I'll fly you home myself. In the meantime, you might want to close the exterior hatch before we return to open space. A day later Barakiel reported, We have achieved synchronous orbit over the city of Xanthos, Ophan. Suriel was summoned from a nap back to har station, where sha focused the big imported 500mm refractor down onto the city and threw the image up on the main viewport's liquid crystal layer. Lahatiel climbed down into the locked lander with Elimelech and prepared for separation. A series of thumps announced their departure. Time of flight to the surface was about an hour. Several domes on the outskirts of Xanthos were landing bays for ships. The metallic half-sphere that covered one of these domes rolled completely over on huge gimbals, opening to allow the lander to settle to the surface inside. When it closed again the dome quickly re-pressurized. Standing outside the lander after they both emerged, Elimelech shook hands with Lahatiel and thanked hym for his role in securing his freedom. I didn't trust you at first but now I believe you are a good yang, Ophan. Feel free to move around the city at your lei- sure, sir. Then he went on ahead into the port of entry offices to ar- range a ride. Lahatiel stayed with his lander for an hour conversing with Suriel by micro before seeking his own ground transportation. Drivin' all night on the leg from Amarillo Hubby at home is he dreamin' on his pillow? Musta kilt me a half-dozen Armadillos Racin' home to find him in bed with a fellow So begins Far Country on the first spool by Bite the Wax Tadpole titled Stampede after the place where the children once went skiing, a title which described the wild proceedings to a T. The spool was recorded live at a concert at Nyduly Academy, attended by Yeshua, Talishi, most of the bene elohim, and perhaps a thousand others, all there to see a child of about seven singing in a grown-up girl's voice about grown-up girl things. The Whole Town's a Rollin' was the second song, and the best one. After the silliness of the first song the band wanted to hook the listener and show them right up front they were getting some serious energy and fun, which was focused mostly on Kishar tickling the ivory. The jen orphans ran the soundboard while Nelchael, Abdiel, Murmi, and Inge stood off to the side and supplied backup vocals. Snow Bunny was a naughty ditty about a girl with loose morals hanging around the lodge that would have earned a quick ban on Gorpai, but for the spool that Bite the Wax Tadpole released there, Hope snarled some of the words to the song unintelligibly to deliberately mislead censors. In the middle of the set, the band played the first song they ever recorded, Skiin' USA, which featured Bikol's bass pushed way forward in the mix plus a sixteen bar call-and-response "duet" between Kishar on piano and Malekwa on guitar. Like most of their songs, it was an AABA pattern. To balance the dumb but fun songs like Far Country there were smart, important songs like Responsibility Boundaries: Can a dream bleed until it dies Drained of all hope through skeptic floors? Shall the living cut their losses? Bow to merchants with empty stores? How artistic is our healing To grow hard crusts on shameful sores? For the instrumental title Seven Humps' Dory's drumming was as organic and improvisational as usual, but swooshed up and down in pitch as she hit the skins near the rim and moved to the center. Hope was idled, but she stood there dancing in place and swinging her microphone in a circle. Before the final song, a slow ballad, Victoria approached Hope very closely so she could be heard over the noise. Honey, you know you're adopted, right? Because Lilith is dead and that leaves Robyn with the responsibility of leading all of the bene elohim. Well there she is in the third row. That's Robyn. The beautiful blonde yin in the yellow dress. See har? Hope did see har, but it was time to sing the last song, Mom-Shaped Hole, which was literally about Hope's longing for her real mother Robyn. I hope you can hear me Nobody else can take your role How can I go on now? All I have is a mom shaped hole Hope sang the entire song with her eyes locked on Robyn, but she saw that Robyn never once looked directly back at her. Robyn seemed to be having a good time, but sha only seemed to look at the other children, or the people in the seats around har. And after the concert when the audience started to filter out of the amphitheater Hope drifted off the stage trying to catch up to har, but too many people were in the way, and Robyn was gone.

Remadiel was head of the clan which dominated the Gnome Dome. And through his dreaded Iron Fist criminal organization Remadiel totally dominated all of the city too, but few have spoken of it openly, because Remadiel brutally enforced a code of total silence. Elimelech and Remadiel embraced with the traditional double touch of cheek to cheek, boss and underboss together again. I learned just now, Remadiel said, that some ophan is sniffing around the Cabala Dome asking embarrassing questions. Elimelech laughed. That is the very dome I marked for hym as the secret heart of power in Xanthos. Obviously the Emperor has decided hy must flat- ten a Xanthos dome, any dome, to quiet the nobility on Gorpai. If hy hap- pens to take out Cabala Dome, the stronghold of his own accursed loyalists, so much the better for us, no? Raid Cabala Dome, Remadiel commanded, but do not use members of your family and do not go yourself. Send someone you can trust, Eli, yet someone it would not upset you overmuch to die in the very likely event the Emperor does something rash. As for this ophan, do not kill hym. Have hym confined somewhere inside the Cabala Dome. Should the Empire carry out an air strike, I want his final thoughts to be that it is his very own fleet which is killing him. And if the Empire sends down troops to occupy and search the city, he will be our hostage, If they do not withdraw the Commodore can die together with the Marou dirk. I'll send hym along presently. Over the next hour Elimelech raised a small army of Iron Fist soldiery in the Gnome Dome, in case there was any trouble with the loyalists, but hy was confident a strong show of force would be sufficient to cow them into submission as it had always done before. Iron Fist associates throughout the dome were pumped up when they saw their former underboss free from Im- perial clutches and barking orders once again. Presently a convoy of ground vehicles went out from the Gnome Dome led by one of Elimelech's more aggressive captains, and this movement was registered in the corner of Ma- jor Suriel's eye. Some of these vehicles went to other domes to gather more Iron Fist men. They were told to put their shopkeeper shakedown rackets on hold temporari- ly so they could participate in a major spoiling raid. A trickle of cars from these other domes joined the main parade and converged around the rim of the Cabala Dome in southeast Xanthos, and this too was observed by Hash- mal Suriel, though perhaps sha was not aware of everything on a conscious level. All of these maneuvers were tabulated by Suriel's mind as sha watched from above, which gradually built up for har a gestalt impression. Koth had doubted Rogziel that Elimelech could be followed through the city from a warship in orbit, but he had no idea Suriel could do it this way. I know which dome the ringleader is in, sha finally said after a solid hour of watching the screen. Hashmal Suriel spoke with a shaky confidence sha knew would quickly erode if anyone pressed har to prove it. Sha went to Adnarel's fire control gear and selected a nondescript dome three rings in from the southwest edge and painted a red digital smudge on it with har finger. Take out this dome, Sar. That's perfect, Adnarel said, studying the image at har own fire-con- trol station. I can come up this canyon at eye level, right between these domes here and here, Hashmal. There wont even be collateral damage. Ad- narel deftly flipped the switches that armed and released the torpedo. One Mark 64 Mod 2 torpedo configured as an orbit-to-ground smart bomb jumped from the aft end of Exiler, near the lander, with a burst from a small attached pyrotechnic squib. Designed to penetrate the atmosphere, it was made of heat-resistant titanium wrapped in an even more heat-resistant cer- amic case, protecting a thousand pound high-explosive warhead, but here at airless Xanthos, the heat shielding would be redundant. After its engine ignited, the torpedo pulled away from Exiler on an descent ellipse whose projected orbit just touched the ground at the city.

On their second day of patrol Jerry Aspin and a human female named Debby Kelland were about five thousand miles from a radio observatory operated by the Organization of the Nations of Earth (ONE) at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point, flying red and gray Sandwich Fighters. Deb was asleep. They flew close together, linked by a cable so they could talk without being overheard on the radio band, the same trick Lilith and Robyn once used. What the hell, Deb...I just took a hit! A big ragged smoking bite was taken out of Jerry's top solar panel, and debris glittered around him like so many twinkling golden stars. Their ESM panels were lit up with symbols. After a brief moment booting her brain back up, Debby swung her twin laser mount on its gimbal to lock on the offender. The target was a single insect-like dark brown fighter from Centauri. After few rounds expended on target she was rewarded with a satisfying bright ball of expanding gas where the fighter and its two pilots used to be. First blood went to Debby. Now that they were under attack it didn't make sense to stay so close together on a cable, so they snapped the line and split apart a few miles. Meanwhile Jerry tried to raise his people on Selene, but no one answered. Debby played around with her instruments for a bit. That thing is 600 feet long! It must be one of Belial's fleet carriers come out to play. And I have more bad news, Debby. There's a whole swarm of Imperial bugs between here and Selene, fighters and shuttle-bombers all of them. Okay, Jerry, I'll punch a hole for you right through the bastards. Look how tight they're bunched up. Honestly, doesn't the Empire know anything? See you in the next life, Deb! And that was not a matter of idle hope. Jerry and Debby had run into Squadron 21 from the Trespasser, which was about a dozen two-yeng fighters like the one that assaulted Jerry plus a handful of larger three-yeng bombers with their articulated insect heads that could send a flat, powerful lase in any direction. They had been spotted by lookouts scanning the space near the observatory and designated as tracks. Abaddon ordered Squadron 21 to hold station about a thousand miles nearer to Selene than the radio observatory to block any escape to there. Debby came into range and the Emperor ordered Squadron 21 to fire at will. Deb was killed instantly in the hailstorm of energy that followed. But in- cluded in the debris field was one fully armed nuclear Brushfire-C missile. When the pile of expanding garbage that was the corpse of Debby's ship passed her attackers, at exactly that instant, the Brushfire detonated, destroying most of the planes, disabling all of the others, and clearing a neat hole for Jerry to escape through. When the spherical fireball had grown to fill half of the sky and dimmed to invisibility Jerry dared to look again, and in hyz telescope hy saw the ellipsoid of the enemy carrier looming behind him ever closer. The ship was being escorted (or perhaps was escorting) a dozen or two smaller ships. As hy neared the Moon Jerry found hymself entering various cones of Imperial jamming and hy understood at that point why hy had been unable to warn Taurus City of their danger. When hy got very close hy put hyz laser on low power and locked onto a solar panel on the city's roof to talk through the radio noise by modulating the light. This is Jerry flying Illustrious. I've been in a scrap, and Debby is gone. Prepare to receive me. The play was a long shot but Robyn thought of this trick too, at the same time, simply by prognosticating Jerry's death and backtracking. A docking port slid open. Jerry entered a hollow space in the two-story ceiling structure that covered the entire city and brought his fighter to a rest. Del was not to die on that day. Using his talent, Brand had deflected the incoming shell from striking directly on her platoon. Del's body armor had intercepted most of the blast shrapnel, and the overpressure had been enough to put her in a mild state of shock but it was not life-threatening. She was capable of healing herself with her own Talent. Still, Del was a little dazed, and she no longer led the assault, to be sure. Brand, with the rank of Captain, had taken charge of the assault when he saw his child go down. It was all handled seamlessly. Del no longer had a coherent platoon to lead. Seven were immediately dead, twelve were wounded, and four of those would soon die from blood loss, missing limbs, or other serious injuries. The rest merged with the other platoons running north. The Orange 3rd Platoon was the last to be hit, six dead and ten wounded, three mortally. A single Archangel flew to the location called in from the ground and let loose a cluster bomb, which broke up into many bomblets and saturated the area of the offending gun battery with many small explosions, disabling the guns and killing all the personnel manning the weapon. Now Del's people were free to hurry off their vulnerable position on the beach, plagued only by mortar fire, which claimed thirty-one lives. Total killed in the landing phase was just eight percent of her force, and anoth- er 12% injured. This was very bad, but not nearly as bad as the forty per- cent casualties Del had anticipated after she understood her orders. Del rammed home a lightweight clip of laser ammo. The cartridges were clear Lucite vials. When the trigger was pulled, the firing pin broke a seal in the cartridge, mixing nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide which gave a bril- liant flash of light. This light pumped the ruby rod and laser light flashed out from the half-mirrored front end. Fully 40% of the chemical energy in the cartridge was put on the target as a burst of pure light. In city the defenders were well dug in. Lasers flicked all along the front hoping to catch an unlucky head. But Del could see the Egyptians were not fighting up to snuff. She could sense the feeling of little boy lost among them. Return fire was mostly ineffective but a few enemy soldiers stood their ground, aimed carefully and took out a few of Del's people. Ex- pendable nitrous/carbon monoxide shell casings popped away as Del called on the best within her to put thumping 50 millisecond bursts of light on tar- get. This was the turn of the tide. It was palpable. It fell over the Egyp- tians like a shadow, like the blackness of mass hatred overtaking a mob. They were already in retreat, moving north on the road home to Cairo, and the Israeli Army was sweeping over the city in a general rout. By the time she caught up to Brand in the canal ops center the building was largely secure. Del's immediate objective had been achieved, and she or- dered her people to fan out into Suez City to prepare to greet the rest of the Israeli Defense Force soon arriving, less clandestinely, in waves of lightly armored hovercraft. There were fights for the railroad station and the Al-Gaysh Causeway to Port Tewfiq, and a very hot struggle for the Gov- ernorate building on the waterfront that was quickly wrapped up. With hez successes of the opening hours, with Del's empty barges abandoned on the sand bar swaying with the tide and not likely to be needed ever again, Colonel Motti Adan parked his ass safely in that Governorate build- ing. Eager to gain the credit for the victory, he separated Del's troops from her and reassigned them to the main thrust on the road north to Is- mailia. As for Del herself, he called her out on the carpet. Del's as- signed beach had been a dead-end sand spit with only one way off yet some- how she refused to fail and he wanted to know why. Adan had an affinity for tidiness which Del didn't share. The Colonel was less interested in killing the enemy and seizing land than he was in making the change of watch into a regular and orderly process complete with pass-down logs. He put a lot of time crafting the Scimitar plan and Del went off script. In Cabala Dome Lahatiel found himself surrounded by a circle of toughs who motioned for hym to turn over his sidearm. Hy was cast, none-too-gently, into a windowless room in one of the commandeered shops. It could not be locked, but a 350 lb. mountain of a yang sat on the floor on the other side of the door, which amounted to very much the same thing. Some time later the missing youth was also thrown into the room with Lahatiel. He was beat- en and bruised as well, but Lahatiel was glad the dirk was still alive. I'm Commodore Lahatiel Gerash of Lord Belial's Navy, at your service, hy told the dirk, who seemed dubious, on account of Lahatiel's own youth. I am called Marou, sir. Hy hardly needed to indicate his family affiliation, his white hair declared that he was also of the House of Gerash quite plainly, and the tufts of hair on his chin declared that he was on the cusp of physical yanghood, even if his parents would never allow him to attain to yanghood in a cultural sense through the death combat. Your mother and father will be very pleased to see you again, Lord Marou. Proxima Station will be our very next stop. Marou's face fell after an initial show of excitement. What are the chances of that ever happening now? The four officers aboard Exiler had a perfect bird's-eye view from directly overhead displayed on any number of screens on the flight deck. Adnarel's torpedo entered like a lightning bolt on the first floor, immediately detonating and punching through with a cone of destruction that was fully blossomed 10 milliseconds later. Many of the residents were on Elimelech's spoiling raid, but most of the eight hundred remaining occupants including Elimelech, his whole family, Remadiel, and the senior figures of Iron Fist, were killed instantly by the concussion. Molten droplets of metal and concrete flew everywhere, twice as fast as any bullet, ricocheting off of floors, walls, ceilings, through the bodies of the dead and through the bodies those nephilim who had somehow lived through the initial blast. The fury of this shrapnel was expended by the middle of the third second after impact when the whole physical structure of Gnome Dome began to collapse in on itself. If anyone survived the blast, they soon suffocated to death. Vehicular traffic around Xanthos looked like an ant-hill after throwing a boot into it. Suriel, monitoring battle frequencies, said to the other officers, It looks like we got the right dome. They seem to be in total disarray. Gnome Dome's destruction could not be heard through the vacuum, but Lahatiel felt a great deal of vibration and had a good hunch hy knew what just happened. Later hy heard a commotion outside the door, including several gunshots, which ended when the door was opened and four strangers entered. Lahatiel identified himself when he saw they were not Iron Fist. One of them nodded to Lahatiel and introduced his leader. Lord Jetrel, the head of his titular clan. And these are my sons, Jetrel added. I'm pleased to make your acquaintance, Commodore. You seemed to be just the trigger we needed to do what we've put off doing for much too long. The Iron Fist is soon to be no more, their dome been completely flattened. We're just picking off their loose remnants now, the bitter-enders with nowhere to go.. Indeed, flashes of light were seen on the streets of Xanthos throughout that evening, but it tapered off by early the next morning. The Commodore made ready to depart with young Marou, who was now much more optimistic that he would meet his parents again. The invasion force peeled away from the side of Trespasser together with a mix of fighters and bombers to provide "air" cover, as it was still called even in the vacuum of space. Debby's nuke had taken out a third of Trespassers' air assets in a few milliseconds. Cautiously, the carrier hung back about fifty thousand miles from Selene with half of her surviving fighters and bombers circling on CSP, or Combat Space Patrol. Mines were a dangerous nuisance but they were not really considered a game-changer. Abaddon considered them to be good target practice for hyz gunners whenever one popped up from behind the limb of the moon. None had nuclear warheads, but conventional high explosives were nasty enough. Mines were generally easy to avoid, being in orbit where they marched to the precise laws of gravity and their positions were known to all parties at all times, but these mines had a primitive AI and they also had thrusters to maneuver. When the mines saw the enemy ships they made small alterations in their orbits with puffs of propellant gas. Each one of Belial's and Glenn's ships noticed the discrepancy on radar and changed their own course to swing clear. After a few near-misses, the orbits of the mines were crafted by their internal artificial intelligences, working as a team, into a concentrated phalanx. The invaders dropped closer in to the Moon and became a loose cluster of ships less than fifty miles in altitude. The sharply bending lunar horizon allowed little time for evasive action when hundreds of the space mines popped up over the lunar limb in a gigantic surprise. A last ditch laser barrage defense was turned against the rapidly closing mines but there were simply too many of them and some of the invaders were too slow and clumsy to get out of the way. Conqueror and Brutalizer in fact, collided, crippling each other for the remainder of the battle. Six nephilim officers from both ships salvaged what they could of the calamity, jettisoning themselves in their command sections and making their way down to a prearranged rendezvous point on the surface of Selene. But the forty-four angry nephilim troops left behind would continue to flounder in orbit until the Gervasi Crime Family captured them a week later. Thirteen of the fourteen other transport ships successfully evaded the mine attack. But the Harasser was not so lucky and seemed to walk right into them. The artificially intelligent mines were ecstatic that they could fulfill their intended purpose at last and explode. Harasser was struck by the cresting wave of mines and all 25 soldiers aboard her died. For her next trick Robyn unleashed dozens of surface-to-space missiles from batteries all over the Taurus-Littrow valley. Half of these missiles were not armed with explosives. Instead they were tasked to haul up inflatable mylar balloons, long strips of chaff, aluminum foil, dummy warheads and canisters of infrared-emitting aerosols. In the middle of all this trash the live Brushfire missiles inside the "threat cloud" were completely hidden by an opaque white smear on radar. When Abaddon realized this and or- dered everyone to switch to visual target acquisition the Brushfire missiles were already on terminal cruise, aided by targeting using passive and active sensors scattered in odd corners all over the surface of the Moon. Then the fighters, bombers, and troop transports started taking potshots at the rest of the incoming missiles with thumping 80 kilowatt laser firepower, two rounds per second per turret. With all these defensive efforts at a peak the big wave broke and sprinkled only a relative handful of Brushfire missiles through to hit Degrader and Immolator, which were de- stroyed in spectacular, silent explosions with all hands aboard. It was an odd fortune of war that all the hits from mines and missiles were made on transports from Gorpai, none on the ones from Earth. Abaddon's flagship the Insolent escaped damage for the time being, but the fireworks show was just getting started. Robyn said Belial's fiasco had made an odd show of disrespect for the preparations of the inner system to defend itself. Del caught up to Brand in the canal ops center when the building was largely secure. Del's immediate objective had been achieved, and che ordered hez people to fan out into Suez City to prepare to greet the rest of their people soon arriving, far less clandestinely, in waves of lightly armored hovercraft. There were fights for the railroad station and the Al-Gaysh Causeway to Port Tewfiq, and a very hot struggle for the Governorate building on the waterfront was wrapped up with a sharp cost in IDF casualties. With Del successes of the opening hours, with hez empty husks of the landing force abandoned on the bar swaying with the tide and not likely to be needed ever again, Colonel Motti Adan parked his ass safely in that Governorate building as soon as it was secured. Eager to gain the credit for a regional victory, he immediately separated Del's troops from her and reassigned them to the main thrust on the road north to Ismailia. So temporarily there was the incredible situation of Israel's best battalion commander twiddling hez thumbs with nothing to do. When Colonel Motti Adan learned that Del had deviated from the plan and attacked with only half her force he was absolutely furious. On the top floor of the occupied Governorate, which had contained the city's police station, che and hez father stood before him at attention as he vented the worst of his wrath, which eventually got around to the question that was foremost in his mind: Where are your people now? Del decided on telling a partial truth. I loaded the landing craft forty-six percent full, sir. I left the balance of my battalion in the barracks at Eilat. Your battalion? Major, I can assure you that it is no longer, and never shall be again, your battalion. Brand asked the Colonel pardon and explained that the beach would have been too crowded with 2190 troops, and the resulting confusion would have led to much higher casualties, perhaps even a total rout. He was awarded another stream of shouted insults, focused more intensely directly upon him. My father is also my chief staff officer, sir, Del said when there was a pause for breath in the colonel's stream of invective. He was following my orders. Therefore I will accept the heat, sir. If there is to be any punishment I take it upon myself. I should throw you both behind bars, Adan said, but I think it is far better that you should both sit out the rest of this war. Major Gervasi, you and your father will do nothing. That is mandatory. I repeat: nothing! Do you understand me? Yes sir! they both blurted in reply. Now get out of my sight! There was a very large black car parked right in front of the building. Del cast covetous eyes on it. Brand saw the Colonel's eagle sticker on the window and shook his head. "No, no, Del, that is Adan's limousine, you can't be thinking what I think you're thinking." Del simply got in on the passenger side of the limo and expected Brand to get in and drive. Che had already found the keys in the front ashtray when he reluctantly took his place behind the wheel. Everyone is sitting around, che said, disgusted, as they went out of the building onto the streets of Suez City. Everyone is more afraid of the finger-pointing that follows action than in actually being hit with a round! It is time to get out here, father. To the front. That won't be easy. Nyduly Wood was famed for its trees, the Academy for its treehouse. There the children learned their final lesson, though none of the elohim or bene elohim were present as teachers. It was a lesson learned by countless children since the dawn of time: "I'll Show You Mine & You Show Me Yours." Inge had straight hair so blonde it was almost white. The eyebrows over her baby blues were nearly white as well, giving the appearance at first glance of having no eyebrows at all, yet her face was peppered with brown freckles for spice. By lot, she was the first one to strip. Everyone had the same academy shirt and tie, but the bottom half of their uniform depended on gender. Inge dropped her gray skirt and panties, and everyone could see her freckles extended over her whole body. They saw the fat lips of her labia but the nephilim wanted to see better so one of them said, Legs up!. Inge lay on the floor for their inspection, and they saw that human girls were "two holers." The nephilim were astonished that Inge had only a bare stretch of skin where her other pussy should be. Abdiel, a dirk of the Brown Hairs, was the next name pulled out of the hat. He dropped his red trousers and undershorts and assumed the position with- out being ordered to do so and without a shred of body modesty. As you can see, hy said, one holer, two dicks, two nutsacks, one nut each. Dory was a budding bodybuilder in build, but when sha doffed her shirt and red skirt, going completely nude, her muscles were not so bulky that they overrode the feminine layer of fat on her skin, which was darker than any of the other kids. Sha was beautiful, but Dory would always be what cruel kids called a Butterface. That is, a great body, "but her face..." It was Inanna's turn, and che wore red shorts, but the other children were curious why Muran, also a jen, wore gray shorts. They made the two strip together so they could do a side-by-side comparison, and everyone saw they where complementary jen. Muran had a dick above hez pussy, Inanna had a pussy above hez dick. And everyone remembered that Muran had taken to skis at Stampede Pass, while hez sibling Inanna merely rode a sedate inner tube. Malekwa was a few years older than the rest of the children. He was old enough that some tentative hairs were beginning to grow around his genitals, and the "lesson" in the treehouse had excited him to the point that his dick was standing at attention. So the children learned yet another new thing. Legs up and they had him written down as a one holer, with one nutsack and two nuts, rather than two nutsacks with one nut apiece. And just like Inge he had that smooth bridge of skin that was unique to humans. Hope never needed to go to the bathroom, so she had never seen what the other kids did in there. Seeing the variety of genitalia on display there was a completely novel experience for her. Now it was her turn, and it dawned on her, too late, that perhaps she had made a mistake by agreeing to participate in this impromptu lesson. The other children sensed her reluctance to strip and poured the pressure on. At length, Hope did remove her gray skirt, and what everyone saw was a girl as anatomically incorrect as a Barbie doll. Maybe her pussy was hiding. The ordered Hope to drop to the floor and put her legs in the air like the others had done, but no joy. Hope was a zero holer. How do you pee? How do you poo? they asked. I don't, was the honest reply, and what followed was an even bigger mistake than Hope agreeing to attend the session. The children could have kept it all quiet and just forgot about it. Instead they shunned Hope as though she was a monster and evacuated the treehouse like it was on fire. Their frantic questions filtered up the chain of adults and in short order Victoria and Mark back at Taurus City knew their careful plans to keep Hope convinced that she was a human girl were in complete disarray. But Robyn said they'd have to deal with it later. Right now it was all hands on deck. Sha needed Victoria to fly down to Eilat with Brand, Shyla, and Ariel. Vic was to get aboard the Galatea to help Del save Israel. Six female Sandwich Fighter pilots followed Jerry into the black sky of Selene from the roof of Taurus City. They were called "sandwich" fighters because they sported two square solar panels, like bread, painted red and gray, with a powerful, angular little two-motor spacecraft between them as the meat. Most of them burned hydrogen and liquid oxygen, but Jerry's used hydrogen alone. Jerry himself was the power source for his own fighter. From the very first day these women, including the late Debby, had joined hyz team, Jerry made them drill. Jerry drilled because hy wanted no hesitancy. It should be a dance. Second nature. There should be no transition from training to the real thing, and the real thing had finally come. When everyone checked in over their private darkswarm, Jerry barked hyz orders. So let's get them interested in us, ladies. Spread to every corner of the sky. Then make your runs. Sting 'em with random attacks. No pattern! Set your Multiblip Repeater to attack formation Delta. The Multiblip Repeater was an instrument with a smart transmitter that simulated the radar echoes of real contacts. So mixed in with the real blips of the randomly flying fighters were a dozen false blips in a precise "V" attack profile. Abaddon directed hyz assets toward the juicy targets of all those blips lined up in a straight "V". Hy instructed the ships under hyz command to ignore the other blips, the randomly moving blips, as silly attempts to jam. The Multiblip Repeater deleted contacts one by one as the invaders thought they scored "hits." Not until Jerry's people actually passed to within visual range did Abaddon realize hy had been tricked. Freedom reached out and slapped Elin as she passed by, crippling the Talon with close-in laser fire. "I'm hit!" she screamed as her fighter spun wildly out of the zone of combat. Eventually her nerves settled down and she was able to bring her plane under control. Elin couldn't get back to the city, but she did manage to set down on the surface in once piece. Amanda and Cherie's blows combined to score a fatal hit on the Liberty Bell. It fell like a stone to the surface and impacted, killing all 25 men aboard. This was the first loss to any of the ships commanded by Glenn. Jerry said, "Execute Formation Delta. Scramble your repeaters." Everyone expertly complied. Now it was the actual sandwich fighters which were in a precise "V" pattern and the false electronic blips which were moving randomly. Abaddon had picked up on things right away. Now hy scoffed at the primitive attempt to fool hyz radar with a "V" of dots all lined up with (it was obvious now) machine precision. Not the rough formations to be expected from inexperienced human women pretending to be combat pilots. This time hy directed hyz missile and gun-fire to the randomly moving contacts. Abaddon's ship fell into the trap this time. Jerry allowed Insolent to drift into the jaws of his 'V' and commanded weapons red and free. The cornered transport withered away under the attack, and the ellipsoid soon had giant ragged bites taken out of it. Parts of the hull had been exposed to vacuum, and the seated troops held within were directly exposed to fire. Insolent, true to her name, lashed out with a mini-Bulldog torpedo which found its way to the Star Cobra. Impact. When the overlapping glowing swirls of gas from Cherie's demise grew and faded to invisibility, Abaddon could see the five remaining gnats had turned tail to make a bee-line for Taurus City. After only a few moments of shaking themselves and checking for broken bones the troop transports and their escorting fighters and bombers turned and lumbered hell-for-leather after Jerry's gals. Gradually the battle became strung out on a line five thousand feet above Selene. As this line thinned out, Abaddon's forces found themselves configured one-dimensionally, where each ship could only assist its two imme- diate neighbors, and interspersed with these were Jerry's hostiles. The going was slow as Del and Brand made their way out of town. The road paralleled the canal due north through al-Kubri, which was seized on the first night, as well as the town of al-Shallufa, which fell on the second day along with the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the canal, which was a major IDF standing objective in the event of an invasion. With the tunnel in hand Israel could pour troops, tanks, and materiel across in a kind of counter- punch to the Egyptian main intrusion to the north. But the highway and railroad to Cairo was still strongly held by the Egyptian Second Army, and the town of Gineifa was being contested as the key to the whole area. The forces of Israel were still a long way from being able to seriously threaten the main incursion at Ismailia, at the halfway point on the canal. Soon it wouldn't matter, according to a message from Mike who was the liai- son with the Israeli government. He said Egypt was nearly finished fully supplying their bridgehead in the Sinai east of the Canal. At the crossing of the Gineifa-Qabrit road Del and Brand could go no fur- ther. They were flagged down at a checkpoint and forced to give up their vehicle on the standing orders of Lt. Colonel David Shazar on the Gineifa front. They could not continue on without a set of papers which they did not have so they soon found themselves on foot with Adan's car confiscated. Some of the walking wounded, the simple first-aid cases, were being de- toured onto the road that ran northeast of the checkpoint and across the salt marshes and flats to Qabrit, at the place where land pinched between the Large and Small Bitter Lakes. Del decided to follow them. If there was a way around the checkpoint this was as good as any. They were on foot for an hour. Soon they arrived at a makeshift camp sprawling among Egyptian homes, a little compound snug back off the road. At least a hundred cots were set up, most exposed to the winds and dust with nothing more than prayers to Allah for good weather. Del could see the houses were overflowing. The three local couples were working themselves half to death trying to bandage up their guests, scrounge up blankets, and pass out the white box lunches that had been hastily dumped in a pile by an impatient gang of Israeli soldiers. One lady, the oldest of the six, took the time to straighten up and spare Del a smile. I didn't think it was possible, Del said to the woman, using Arabic. Why are you supporting your occupiers? Grow up girl! the woman snapped. Jew, Arab, we don't even think to play politics with the wounded. Lend me a hand here. So that was it. Egypt was no neat monolithic bloc loyal to the Islamist theocracy in Cairo but a society like any other. Big, messy, and out of control. And here were six people trying to put together in their small way what the war was tearing down in broad strokes. Was it futile? Absolutely. But Del felt as if she'd been graciously allowed to help the troops. Which she certainly could do, since her talent as a bene eloah was healing. But Robyn intruded on her thoughts just then, communicating by voice mes- sage on Del's micro that Taurus City was simultaneously under attack by the Navy of Belial, in union with American forces. Del replied that she was stuck between two firefights, with no way to dis- engage and come to Robyn's aid. Del was still separated from Ariel and Vic- toria, and even worse, both Robyn and Del knew Shyla was flying Binah's avatar in low Earth orbit to come the aid of Israel. Even if she abandoned that role and left now, by the time Shyla returned to Selene it would be too late to make a difference in the struggle for Taurus City. Almost as though Belial planned it that way, Robyn said ruefully, and Del could only agree with har. Even before the ancient gravitational capture by Alpha Centauri, Proxima had been stripped (by passing stars) of every planet and possibly every asteroid and comet too. As far as any nephil knew, Binah's telescope and its attendant space station were the only objects in orbit around Proxima. The station was a 100 meter gray hockey puck with a hole drilled in it. The telescope was a silver eyeball 100 meters across as well. Two giant precision-machined flywheels (at right angles to cancel each other's reverse torque) provided the firm anchor against which the telescope turned to orient itself at a target. Warned by Abaddon, Lahatiel instructed Barakiel to approach the disk in a way that steered well clear of the telescope. The way to dock with a spinning object was to hover over its north or south axis and match rotation. When Barakiel made contact with the station the ship looked like a tall Coke bottle surrounded by six shorter beer bottles, sitting a garbage can lid. The lander under the ship faced straight into the station's central axial core. A flexible tube came out from the inner wall, did a 90 degree bend, and made a tight seal with the lander. Ithuriel's wife Lauviuah was about fifty with a dour oval face, human-sized, very short for a nephil. Her dark hair was drawn back into a bun, presenting the appearance of the stereotypical shrew. On the innermost and topmost of the station's fifteen levels wrapped around the central core, she received her son with icy formality. The crew of Exiler took Lauviuah to be a class A bitch. But in her heart of hearts she was very glad to see Marou, she simply did not find it appropriate to shower him with maternal affection in front of the frigate's crew, though she longed to do so. No ships were permitted near the telescope to prevent the lens from being fouled by corrosive gasses. Ithuriel crossed the five miles to the station alone in a rocket pack, which was propelled only by compressed nitrogen. Seeing one of the emperor's frigates parked over the station's north pole, which was his customary way in, Ithuriel came in by way of the south pole instead. Hand grips lining the inner core permitted him to gently match movement with the spinning disk, which revolved about once a minute. Ithuriel's valet Yomyael and Lauviuah unpacked the seraph like cargo from his frosty vacsuit and set him on his feet. Gravity there in the innermost ring was very gentle, less than 1% of Earth. It was just short of being free fall. Ithuriel paused for a moment, gathering his wits about him. Hy was only of middle age, but a gray beard and a bedrock of dignity added ten years to his visage, and he was beat down by having just logged thirty hours of observation time uninterrupted by sleep. When his servant removed his inner gloves he smiled at his son and made a fatigued gesture of welcome to the crew of Exiler. Then he whispered something to hyz wife and with an apologetic look he turned to stumble into the family chambers in that full quadrant of the station which was designated as his manor. His Lordship is quite exhausted, his wife told Lahatiel, and begs leave to delay any further greetings until after he has drawn his bath, and after he has caught up on his sleep. I shall have you notified when he is ready to receive you. Please accept our hospitality in the meantime. While Yomyael and Kushiel unloaded the supplies that Exiler had brought from Palato for the station (necessary since Lilith's death when the tunnel from Menkal was closed), Marou spent some time telling Lauviah everything that had happened to him, and mentioned Abaddon's orders to write him off. Then Marou retired to his own rooms, which had been kept in perfect order. Individual rooms were also given to each of the frigate's officers after the Seraph's valet had given them all a full tour of the facility. Exiler's crew was grateful for the break. It meant a quiet night's sleep away from the ship, off the endless watch rotation, and blessedly separated from one other. The last was particularly refreshing. In the slug-match over Taurus City, Marianne aboard Tornado suffered a disabling hit. It wasn't as serious as the damage to Talon but she had to withdraw from combat and drop to the city below. The gnats now numbered four, but Taurus City attacked Abaddon's ships with impunity using heavy defensive lasers. Abaddon dared not return fire because his objective was somewhere inside the city and he needed the place intact. This situation was a classic textbook case of what not to do, studied by naval historians for centuries, from the time of wooden sailing ships right through the era of steel battleships in the First and Second World Wars. Abaddon had allowed the enemy to cross his 'T'. And what made it even more historically unforgivable was that it was a stationary site bristling with laser cannons and not a line of maneuvering warships that did the crossing. So Abaddon invasion fleet broke formation, went into complete disarray, and individually set courses to get to Selene's surface as quickly as possible. All of the US and Imperial ships took damage in this melee, but the Subjugator was crippled by a particularly well-paced shot from the city and her descent turned into a free-fall as she spiraled down to the ground, with the loss of all hands. Robyn noted this sparrowfall from the War Room in the heart of the city and said, I get the impression they came out here with their junior varsity football team and expected to go up against nothing but cheerleaders. Only nine troop transport shuttles successfully landed on the Taurus-Littrow plateau. Jerry came in low and scored a direct hit on the Molly Brown before her troops could debark, killing or seriously wounding six- teen of the Americans aboard. When Jerry came around again for another pass Abaddon prepared to let hym have it with a shoulder-launched surface- to-air missile (although the Moon had no air, so a different name for hyz weapon would have been more appropriate). With effortlessness derived from countless opportunities affording hym experience, Abaddon shouldered hyz rocket canister and took meticulous aim while the rest of hyz people dove for cover. From Jerry a lase touched the ground at Abaddon's feet, visible only as a bright red spot. Azibeel took aim and fired, unperturbed by Jerry's attack. The passive, IR-homing, radar-silent SAM found its way unerringly toward the intense heat of Jerry's underthrusters. Two objects crossed in the black lunar sky: Abaddon's missile and Jerry's spacecraft. The intervening factor was a hot puff ball at the point of closest approach only three feet away from Jerry's wildly evading fighter. Then hyz fighter tumbled in a fatal spin to the deck like a tile thrown out of a window. After that, Abaddon set up a perimeter with some of the American DECON troops armed with shoulder-launched SAMs in case any remaining fighters returned. Inside that perimeter the half-bubbles of many pressurized tents dotted the dark plain of Taurus-Littrow here and there, scattered too far apart for a single strike to take any two of them out. The tents were psychologically important. They permitted the troops to get out of the vacuum suits they wore on the way down, or at the very least remove their helmets. Jerry ended up unharmed in a clearing of Nyduly Wood in his helmet, flight suit, and pieces of his crash couch. Debby and Cherie were there too, blinking at hym. I just got here, Debby told hym. Jerry looked around and found Yeshua standing there. What kind of supernatural death experience is this, Lord? I missed the good part. 'There's nothing supernatural about it, Jerry. Did you think elohim can make living human bodies? I forked each one of you an instant before impact and brought you here using a fold-door. And don't bother looking for anyone you know. This slot is way back down the timeline. You already know the rules. There's no going back. The Pool won't work for you. Yes Lord. Always moving us along to the next level, right? Del knew everyone in her 2190-person battalion by name, somehow. Che said to Brand, I recognize a few of our people here. Find out who isn't hurt too badly. Find out who is with me and quietly, father. Keep it quiet. Brand managed to round up eighteen men and women whose wounds had been treated and who felt they were ready to get back in the fray. Seeing Del tend the fallen had done the trick. No wide-load sitting back at a desk in Suez City was che, but one willing to share their hard-ships and carry hez own burden. To go back to Israel on a pussy chit now seemed unthinkable. Brand repeated to Del the scraps of information he had obtained from the wounded. They only hold ten grid squares centered on Gineifa. There is a fragile stalemate on the ground. We surround them on three sides but there is such a build-up in the area it could tip either way very soon. A call from Shyla came in for Del on her portable micro and she spent a few minutes exchanging information. Before che even terminated the connection the east lit up brilliantly, like a camera flash that extended on and on. Don't look at it! Del shouted. Brand locked eyes with her instead. Nucdet. Bigger than that, father. Antimatter. Nothing but gamma rays, wavelengths proton short. That means a pile of cooked Egyptians but no fallout and even their tanks might still run after we scrape out their ashes. After twenty seconds the light faded rapidly. There was no mushroom cloud. What does it mean, Major?one of the walking wounded asked. I think now the country is safe. But that doesn't mean the war is over. Much blood remains to be shed. And we're way behind schedule. We were supposed to be hitting Deversoir an hour ago. Del led her little platoon about a mile east over loose desert sand until they stood on the western shore of the swollen Great Bitter Lake, which was thoroughly mixed with the salt water of both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. With field binoculars she scanned the waters. This was the Reed Sea spoken of in Torah, confused in the popular imagination with the Red Sea. Here, exactly here, Del knew, El Shaddai had parted the waters of this lake to let her escaping people cross to the other side, according to the account in the second book of Moshe. Hez grandparent Lilith said the part about the ten plagues was true, but Pharoah never chased after the Israelites afterward. In those days this lake was an extension of the Gulf of Suez, and the Hebrews simply waited for low tide and made a crossing on foot. And the part about conquering the Canaanites afterward was embellished too. It was the cusp between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age when nomads were settling down in permanent settlements across the Levant. The Hebrews slid in there with the rest of the folks. In a sense, the Israelites were Canaanites all along, just ones who didn't raise or eat pigs. The Greek cargo ship Galatea was just now steaming into the lake but Del, despite hez reverence for El Shaddai, knew she couldn't count on a parting of the waters to get to the ship before it passed them by. They all stood around looking at her. Del froze for a minute to let the gears of hez brain-case turn for a while. Finally che began stripping off hez uniform, right down to hez black panties and bra, revealing a surprisingly voluptuous but compact body. Che couldn't hide the bulge between hez legs but it wouldn't matter anymore, this was Del's final campaign. The men and women gaped at her at first, then came to and followed her example. Del said, What is watertight? The lasers? Strap them on. Get rid of everything else, and 'Follow Me'. We're going for a swim. Late in the next morning when Ithuriel was quite recovered from hyz stint at the telescope, Yomyael fetched the crew of Exiler and brought them to a sitting room on the third ring where the seraph and his family were waiting. Ithuriel opened a shield to allow the light of Proxima to enter as well. Sunrise in the third system, hy said. Are you well, sir? Lahatiel asked. It did not seem so yesterday. Quite well, although this morning I have been listening to my wife and son. They tell me Marou owes his very life to your risky disobedience. Sir, my orders from Emperor Abaddon were specifically to destroy the Iron Hand organization on Xanthos without regard to the safety of your son, then proceed here to pressure you to finish your work. During the mission I deemed that the Emperor had not carefully considered hyz orders. They seemed tailored for lesser vessels than the Exiler and her crew. We were able to destroy the Iron Hand without killing Marou. And you, Marou, you will not consider entering the emperor's military? Father, it is bad enough to know that Belial's twisted religion and his madhouse world will soon be replicated everywhere in the universe, I will not lift a finger to help that come to pass and beg you to reconsider. Pardon me for asking, sir, but what is so important to the emperor that hy would order me to kill your son to get you to resume work on it? Something so secret hy pulled everyone out of this station except Yomyael, myself, and my wife, and if there was still fold-door access back to Binah's temple in Menkal this thing would be in hyz hands today, for I am quite finished with it. But it requires a bit of preparation to explain. Tell me, Lahatiel, have you ever heard of the weapon that Lilith wields? I have seen hem use that weapon with my own eyes, to terrifying effect. It works by turning everything it touches into dark matter for about seven seconds. Suppose Lilith sliced your head off. The subatomic particles in your neck, vibrating at a temperature of 98.6 degrees, are individually moving at about a mile per second. When the business end of her weapon intersects your neck, those protons and neutrons fly off on their current direction and speed for seven seconds, interacting with nothing else, and end up as anti-protons and anti-neutrons somewhere in a sphere about seven miles in radius. What we call "matter flippers" do the same thing but we flip a sample of material that is chilled to almost absolute zero so the particles move very sluggishly, and when they revert from dark matter they are still contained in our apparatus. We collect the anti-particles and use them as fuel for your own warship, for example. Or bombs. What do you suppose would happen if we flipped an object that was under acceleration?' I imagine the object would be destroyed just like a slice of my neck. No, ophan! That's the thing we discovered. The object remains entirely intact, but pops out a very long distance away, according to the acceleration it started with. And it is flipped into antimatter, of course. A second flip will make it normal matter again. And these repeated hops aren't limited by the velocity of light by any means. In the week since our access to the Temple of Binah has been cut off, Yomyael has been all the way to Toliman and back in a shuttle. Radio would have taken six months. That is very frightening, sir. Aside from your son's concerns about Belial's laws being propagated across the universe, Belial could destroy a planet simply by flipping an asteroid once and letting it strike. Then I believe we understand each other perfectly, Ophan Lahatiel. Abaddon's tent was identified by gold and black banners. When John Glenn and his two pilots entered it they found the Emperor in the middle of a meeting with hyz son Azibeel and the surviving yeng and human officers. Good, Glenn, you made it, Abaddon said. You're the last one to come in. I already know you took some hits. Give me your report. The Molly Brown made it down after all, but we lost sixteen men. So we finally have a complete picture of what happened. Add nine humans to your figures, son, and repeat them back for Director Glenn. Yes Sire. Azibeel rifled through hyz papers once more and said, We have forty three nephilim and one hundred fifty nine humans, Sire. All told that is...202 troops, so just a bit over half of our original strength. There was some shocked gasps and murmuring from Glenn and his officers at that. Azibeel cut them off as harshly as he did just moments prior to Glenn's arrival. Silence! This mission has not failed! The Trespasser remains out of range for now, but she stands ready to escort us out. As long as one soldier lives this mission goes forward. Is that clear? The yeng and men blurted their assent. So after a few adjustments to the battle plan to account for their losses, the forces split up. John Glenn took command of the human troops, the bulk of the expedition's remaining strength, and departed to assemble them for the assault up the valley floor of Yellow Rille. Abaddon planned to assail Taurus City with the nephilim from another direction along a smaller rille which paralleled to the east. From year of experience, John Glenn knew the Taurus-Littrow area like the back of his hand, and had offered to share this knowledge with the emperor's people during the preparations, but he was puzzled to learn Abaddon's son Azibeel knew the area as well as Glenn did, perhaps even better. Leading hyz forty-two nephilim soldiers, Azibeel started marching cross-country over what Buzz Aldrin once called the "magnificent desolation" of the Moon. After the Emperor had forayed onto North Massif for forty-five minutes the Yellow Rille (so named because of the many sulfur outcroppings found in it) became a steep canyon. Abaddon veered right. Hy climbed to a small plateau called Yellowbanks on the bene elohim map, and let the big rille go it's own way. As Selene went this was high and rugged terrain, the result of impact volcanism. Yellow Rille itself was a steep channel carved by a river of lava billions of years ago, and undisturbed all that time except from micrometeoroids which pitted the whole surface of the satellite. They stayed on the high ground, walking on black gravel and sand and dust as fine as the ashes left over in a barbecue. Eventually they reached the lip of the smaller unnamed rille. To the west the dull thumping of artillery could not be heard in the near- vacuum of the Moon, but it could be felt as vibrations under their feet. Orange flashes of warfare illuminated the distant hills. That was focused on John Glenn, who led the bulk of the surviving troops on a frontal assault along the main road to Taurus some distance from the city itself. Defenders began popping up out of the woodwork to stall the invaders with a vast confusing hodgepodge of engagements. They fired big towed five-inch guns, which had a range of an incredible 49 miles in the lunar gravity. Each gun, standing well off, could shoot 3 rounds per minute, and these shells began raining randomly down on Glenn's people. Within 80 feet of an exploding shell half of Glenn's personnel were injured, on average, and one-third of these injuries were fatal. Even a little shrapnel that would only cause a minor injury on Earth was sufficient to puncture their pressure suits here. So it became a war of attrition, with almost all of the losses on Glenn's side. That suited Abaddon fine. Hy needed Glenn to provide a distraction so hy could sneak into Taurus through the back door. Salt water is more dense than fresh water, and the very salty water of the Great Bitter Lake provided a good deal of buoyancy indeed. Swimming was easy. Nineteen soldiers followed Del out about a kilometer off-shore, where che flipped on hez back and kicked lazily, waiting for the Galatea to pull up and hopefully spot them. The ship, it turned out, was loaded with Israeli soldiers. They fished them out of the water, and rifles were lowered again when they recognized their catch. The men and women with Del, standing there soaking wet, started to laugh as they finally understood what was happening. The 1185 other men and women of Del's Bravo Battalion, the half che left behind in Eilat, were aboard this cargo ship. There were towels on hand, and fresh uniforms waiting for them below deck. As the ship continued to steam north, Del retired to a stateroom reserved for hem, where che showered and caught up on the message traffic. Che want- ed to know what was happening with the war. The antimatter burst had de- stroyed a column of 680 Egyptian battle tanks and about 400 Armored Person- nel Carriers which had crossed the 1949 Armistice Line into the Negev Desert, over the old boundary of Israel. Shyla had killed perhaps 8,000 Egyptians instantly. The main prong of the enemy attack had been blunted. Del noted that the Egyptian boys had gotten their fanciest toys, their tanks and APCs, across the canal first on the Ismailia bridge. Then after the bridge was destroyed, again by Shyla, they sent over fuel and ammuni- tion for their toys on hastily erected pontoon bridges south of Lake Tim- sah. Only now after these pontoons were in turn destroyed did they realize they had neglected the unglamorous but vital supply of water, for drinking and for their vehicles. The latest Israeli intel traffic reported that the Egyptians were now trying to correct their oversight with a desperate lo- gistics operation at Deversoir just north of the Great Bitter Lake. Del's officers gathered in the wardroom for evening chow, and she used this opportunity to outline hez plan. Everyone will be armed with one laser rifle and one very old, portable, wire-guided Anti-Tank Guided Weapon. But they shall not be used against tanks. Do not waste them on ammunition trucks or fuel trucks either. The Egyptians can't drink petrol. All I want you to do is hit water trucks. Or water tanks. Or water pipes. Thirst is our weapon. That's phase one. Phase two, we run south and raise calamity in the Egyptian rear at Fayid. What formation do you have in mind for the attack? Brand asked hem. None. Everyone stays in squads. No more of this bunching up nonsense. We fight the battle loose, the way we've trained so many times before, with everyone talking on their micros. Tactical planning then turned to what would happen after Deversoir. Bravo Battalion never rested on its laurels. After each soldier fired their round, Del ordered an exhausting night-time run north over fifteen klicks of loose sand to capture the crossroads town of Fayid. Around midnight the ship came to a halt on the northwestern shore of the swollen lake where a long ridge of piled up sand contained the risen lake and kept it from flooding the town. Planks were shoved out from the ship and dug into the face of the sand, permitting her troops to debark. In the darkness the forces of Del's shrunken battalion edged up over the top of the dike and surveyed Deversoir, or Duweir Suweir as the enemy called it. The canal-crossing operations were intense. Egypt knew the fragility of the thread on which the entire war now hung. The neglected supplies of water were now their top priority. But running out ahead now was Ariel as a brilliant point of white light, like the antimatter airburst but in jen shape, and far ahead of hem was Victoria crossing the night sky like an unseen bat, dropping grenades on Egyptians and generally raising hell. The Seraph Ithuriel gathered his family and Yomyael together with the crew of Exiler in a section that Yomyael neglected to show the crew the previous day, and there everyone could see the completed "FTL pod" that Ithuriel claimed could allow a vessel to skim through the universe at a rate that effectively cheated the universal limit of c. The Seraph said, It was twenty-five years ago that I led the attack on the Temple of Binah, and at that time I did not believe Binah would leave the fold-door open to allow me to seize this place, and when he did, I suspected a trap. But until a few days ago, the fold-door remained open, and I have thought it could only be explained by Binah wanting me to be here all along. Suriel said, Sir, I believe you are correct. We who are devoted to Chokhmah hold the Scroll of Lael to be one of our sacred scripture, and within that scroll Binah revealed that Belial is engaged in a struggle against the other four elohim to prevent them from making contact with a much larger community of elohim, that his deeds may never come to light. When you developed the matter-flipper, and also now this device, you opened the way for humans and nephilim to fling ourselves across the universe. Ophan Lahatiel reports this has already begun. Seraph Ithuriel, sir, I believe you have been a servant of Binah all this time and never fully realized it. Ithuriel acknowledged har comment and turned to Lahatiel. If I do this thing and you do not return to Palato to obey your orders from the emperor, hy will know I have betrayed hym. Hy would not retaliate immediately, since the tunnel to Menkal is closed and we are about three light-months from Toliman, but in a year I could expect to see a warship here. My wife, son, and aide would be put to torment before my eyes. Not to mention me. Sir, my crew has been appraised of a bargain I made with Yeshua Bat-El. He offers sanctuary in the Land We Know for all of our dependents, which will allow us to focus on working against the emperor without fear or distractions. We have been waiting for an opportunity to avail ourselves of that offer. I believe the time has now come, and I will ask Yeshua to extend the offer to you and yours, sir. Belial will find an empty station. Then let it be as you said. Yomyael will help Ravmalak Kushiel to configure the Exiler with this apparatus, and we will come with you. Sir, if I may intrude, Barakiel said. Why the telescope? A hobby? The telescope already existed when we moved to occupy this system, Ithuriel replied, and I believe I know the reason why. Elohim speak to each other through direct superluminal links. They neither know, nor care, where they are in relation to each other in real space. But suppose your ophan ordered you to fly to Sol. How would you carry out that order? Sol is the brightest star in the Four Triangles, Sir. Point and go. As yes, Erel, but you only see where Sol was four years ago. When you arrive, it will have displaced a great distance, due to Sol's own motion relative to Proxima. Then you would need to accelerate again in a different direction to correct the error, a needless waste of propellant. But using the telescope here at Proxima and comparing our images to those of a sister telescope at Rigilkent, we can pin down the location and true motion of Sol to a very high degree of precision, as well as many other stars in our vicinity. I will make this catalog available to you. Now I am thinking of our living arrangements aboard ship, Lahatiel said. I propose to turn my stateroom over to the Seraph and hyz wife. But who will accept the others? I do not wish to force the assignments. Kushiel offered to let Yomyael bunk with hym. Barakiel took the boy. And you can sleep in my stateroom, sir, Adnarel said with an evil grin. John Glenn personally led the final assault with his remaining men across the open while a Selenite force of company strength hid behind rocks at the top of a gray slope and took leisurely potshots at them. For the invaders the trick was to present a moving target, hustling to the left or right, jumping up, flipping through the air, tucking and sliding to the ground, never the same sequence of moves twice. Troops who fell into the error of patterned movement were awarded a laser hit and quick death. But none of them had a chance. Unlike the Emperor, who was an eloah whose actions remained mysterious to Robyn, Glenn was a human and perfectly predictable. Robyn selected the location of the ambush and attended to matters harself. DECON agents dropped like flies as the bene elohim and Fallen Angels scored hit after hit. Heedless of their losses, Glenn's forces just kept coming, each agent dancing and ducking to avoid being hit. The random movement was second nature, but too little, too late. Robyn identified the old man to har people and told them to save him for last. Specifically for har. At the very end Robyn grappled with Glenn and placed her faceplate against his so he could see who he was dealing with and hear her final words: Godspeed John Glenn! Then with har knife Robyn ripped the fabric of Glenn's spacesuit from crotch to sternum, letting him deflate like a tire. While hy remained hidden in the highlands, Abaddon could see that the floor of the gully two hundred feet below was being driven by intermittent traffic, mostly armored trucks, climbing slowly home to Taurus. Abaddon knew this meant Glenn had been wiped out and Robyn's forces were being pulled back. So the emperor plunged on, heading north, and gradually the road and Abaddon's party began to come together. The rille was getting more and more shallow as hy approached its source. Abaddon felt high, in elevation as well as in spirits. Finally hy had gone as far as hy could possibly go while remaining out of view. This was the very source of the North Fork rille: a single unremarkable fumarole, the same in appearance as nearly every other crater on the moon, but different in that it lay sideways and hadn't been created by impact. Now they were forced to take the road. Far above them the road wound its way up a set of switchbacks. Three light APCs ascending the mountain rounded a corner just then, crewed by women. It was too short a distance between the time they saw Azibeel and the decision point where it would be surrender or ram. Forty-three nephilim soldiers aiming lasers and rockets persuaded them to pull over peacefully. Azibeel didn't take any time to ask questions and he wasn't interested killing them. The women, still wearing their vacsuits, were simply bound with plastic tie-wraps and left on the side of the road, to be discovered shortly thereafter. Now Abaddon's company found itself with transportation. They were all thinking how good it was to be moving while sitting on their ass and dangling their poor abused booted feet, some inside, some on top. The APCs had a 1.5 inch main gun, a 30-caliber machine gun, and an anti-tank missile launcher, but the nephilim would encounter no enemies on that road. The city lay just beyond the mountain wall looming above them. The road made a final turn and Azibeel was staring at a tunnel drilled right through the final ridge. A trap? Abaddon no longer cared. Whooping it up, without a second thought, Abaddon led hyz company plunging through the tunnel. Abaddon drove right onto the roof of the city and parked. Taurus City was a "cut and cover" arcology. The cover was two floors. Abaddon quickly found a walkway hemmed by a guardrail, and this walkway led them to an airlock big enough to take all of Abaddon's yeng in two groups. It was very easy. Perhaps too easy. When the pressure came up to the three lbs of pure oxygen that was standard inside the city they stepped out and dropped a flight of stairs to the floor below. All of them longed to shed their spacesuits once and for all but they dared not, fearing that they would be flushed out to space with the touch of a button. Del took aim at a water tower with her ATGW and fired. The trick was to keep the target centered in the cross-hairs until it hit. This could be difficult with the intense pressures of combat, but Del's people had earned their reputation by their steely cool under fire. Her missile hit, becoming one of five to hit that tower. Del dropped the firing mechanism and turned west to start jogging double-time, bending around the lake towards Fayid. Captain Brand found a parked water truck in his sights, and successfully took it out before following Del to Fayid. The truck was not armored, certainly not to the 30 centimeters of steel which the Anti-Tank Guided Weapons were capable of penetrating. With Ariel illuminating all, Sergeant Binyamin Gafhi fired and hit a raft returning across the mouth of the canal where it entered the Great Bitter Lake, making it unavailable to pick up one of the parked water trucks. Private Marina Merom fired her missile. The rocket screamed away, spooling out a fine guidance command wire behind it. Using electrical signals sent down that wire, Marina carefully kept her crosshairs on target and struck a steel aqueduct pipe. It would soon be field-repaired, but not quickly enough to help the Egyptians trapped in the Sinai. By this time the Egyptians began to realize the threat was coming from the levee and directed fire south. The sand erupted with machine gun and mortar fire. Private David Zismann was killed before he could shoot his ATGW. Corporal Dalia Bibi squeezed the trigger on her missile launcher...and nothing happened. The weapon was a dud. Cursing, she dropped it joined the flood of Bravo Battalion personnel running toward Fayid. Private Uzi Herschson advanced closer to Deversoir to get inside the 2,500 meter range of his weapon. There he struck a raft with a water truck on board. First Lieutenant Noami Meridor, rattled by machine gun rounds dinging the sand nearby, couldn't keep her target centered and missed. Her missile struck the ground and exploded, but still she contributed to the fog of war and served as suppressing fire to keep the Egyptians from retaliating effectively. And Victoria kept giving the enemy presents of her own. Private Shaul Ben-Elissar didn't aim for a water truck or a reservoir as he was ordered, instead he directed his rocket at a truck carrying Egyptian troops south to their position. Scratch twelve enemy troops. Captain Maxim Shahal wiped out a large crane truck which was busy attempting to right a water truck overturned by an earlier blast. Sergeant Yossi Levi, who had been one of the nineteen men who swam with Del out to meet the Galatea, hit the hardest target of all, a water truck which was moving down a street, attempting to get out of Deversoir to cross the canal somewhere to the north. The ATGW attack fell silent. Nearly a thousand wires lay on the sands between the canal and Deversoir. Ariel's light went out, Victoria flew off unharmed, and Del's raid was complete. In roughly one half-hour's work, they had ensured a swift denouement to the war that would keep the lives of many Israeli soldiers out of danger. Not all the water supplies were destroyed, but enough to ensure that only the Egyptian officers would taste water in the desert tomorrow. When rumor of this got out, they would have a full-scale mutiny on their hands, and the Egyptian army would disintegrate before the two-pronged advance of Israeli tanks. Racked by demon thirst, entire brigades of Egyptians would willingly surrender just for the hope of a mouthful of water. Exiler proceeded directly to Toliman using the FTL pod after Barakiel set up the ship's acceleration on a vector that Yomyael had already certified. Kushiel found a sweet spot where he could get all six engines purring with minimal vibration. The target was the dimmer of the two brightest stars in the Proxima sky other than Proxima itself. Ithuriel recommended a sequence of twenty-eight steps. The entire ship's complement crowded the flight deck to see what they could see, but there was no physical sensation. The two stars, just barely discernible as separate with the naked eye, merely grew in brightness, separated, and became full disks. And here we are already in Gorpai's star system, Ithuriel said. I was expecting each step to take seven seconds, sir, Lahatiel said. They did, but for travelers and their instruments no time elapses during the steps. I now leave it to your navigator to locate Gorpai itself. When Barakiel found Gorpai and had adjusted the ship's momentum accordingly, a final jump placed them within a few hours from the planet. What followed was a week-long series of flights to fetch dependents using Exiler Sidekick, the ship's independently-maneuverable lander held in an inverted position at the bottom of the stack opposite the flight deck. As promised, Ithuriel, Lauviuah, and Marou were situated in Lahatiel's stateroom, which was twice the size of the other four staterooms. Yomyael slung a hammock in Kushiel's workspaces in the aft end of the ship. Suriel set up har wife Orifiel in har own stateroom. Har sister Camael and two other booty-wives, Auriel and Ezeqeel were seated comfortably in the common room. Finding a place to sleep in freefall was not a problem. Barakiel in turn set up hyz male lover Peniel in his stateroom, and everyone saw that golden-haired Peniel was easily the most beautiful person on the ship, of any gender. Barakiel's sister Anafiel and another yang couple, Sachiel and Gedael, were temporarily berthed in the Banquet Room. Sergeant Kushiel of the House of Bellon and his two wives, Adriel and Neriah, all stayed in hyz stateroom, and they would stay together for the en- tire voyage of Exiler. Kushiel's wives would even help Kushiel work. Lahatiel's sister-wife Noriel was received on the final flight from Gorpai. Sha knew the ship well and was fully qualified to fly her. Together sha and Lahatiel slung web hammocks on the flight deck where they could sleep. This meant the midwatch had to be unusually quiet. Everyone politely refrained from mentioning to Noriel the sleeping arrangements in Adnarel's space Lahatiel had made in the week prior to her arrival on board. After fetching everyone from Gorpai, Exiler jumped to Dia to obtain Adnarel's dependents. Adnarel, har mother Ananchel and one wife, Nahaliel, all stayed in the fifth stateroom. Three of har other wives, Sariel, Zotiel, and Gidaijal, took the three remaining seats in the Banquet Room for the first leg of the journey. But for the balance of the voyages of Exiler after that Adnarel would sleep alone. So twenty-five nephilim in all embarked on Exiler as she crawled stately around the bulk of Dia to Central, and there was a shared meal to celebrate what had traditionally been called a Tiger Cruise. The game was as good as space food gets considering it had to be eaten in free fall. Everyone learned that the "Banquet Room" was not named in jest, though it was too small to accommodate everyone simultaneously. Those who ate first offered up their seat to others who were waiting to eat, and the character of the lively conversation slowly changed as the configuration of dinner guests changed. Finishing off was a chopped, steamed danis from Gorpai in a spicy rapha sauce, and for dessert, a delicious two-layer raam cake. Abaddon and hyz people found themselves in a labyrinth of passageways with only Azibeel having a clue where they went. The maze of corridors opened up into a roomy area, like a food court in a shopping mall, and here the com- mando team ran into Chayn, whose talent for controlling animals was com- pletely wasted in this conflict. Azibeel flipped up his helmet visor, and so did everyone else, for it wasn't likely they'd be spaced when one of the bene elohim was here with them. Azibeel said, Outside looking in. Chayn's eyes darted to hyz face. That was the catchphrase Hunky had chosen to identify himself to himself, no matter which body was possessed. Chayn recognized Abaddon from the Summit, but when Chayn came close to the team she found she still didn't recognize Azibeel. Whodja get? Belial's son, Azibeel. My Lord and father, this is Chayn, daughter of Lilith and Robyn. We are...closer than we used to be, you understand. Where is the Ark of the Covenant? Abaddon growled at her. On the city floor...Sire. In a tabernacle. A tent. I can show you. If they see you leading us, Abaddon said, you will be suspected. He motioned for two of his yeng to put Chayn under guard for appearance sake. After a short stretch, doors began to magically open in front of them, in- dicating the way Robyn apparently wanted the Emperor to go. The thick doors they already passed through refused to budge. The weapons of the nephilim would take too long to cut through them and probably run out of power first. Grenades could do it, but there were too many doors and too few gre- nades, and it might break the airtight integrity of the city. As they went through the series of doors they were silently bidden to use, Abaddon no- ticed a scarcity of girl scouts along the way. Instead of presenting them- selves for slaughter they seemed to back off as if on orders. Presently the emperor found a glass elevator to the floor of Taurus City's central park, but it was only large enough to hold three yeng, laden as they were with weapons and supplies. Abaddon hesitated for a moment to think. Then hy took Chayn by the arm and stepped inside accompanied only by hyz son Azibeel. For a delicate few moments they would both be trapped at the mercy of Robyn who could run the capsule to a dead stop halfway down if sha chose, then kill hym with laser light fired through the glass tube, if sha wasn't very concerned about Chayn. But nothing like that happened. As they dropped they could see the forest sector of Taurus City arranged around 300 foot tall Green Hill, the highest point on the floor. Foot trails spread out like a web from the summit as they descended. One side of the hill had a farm with 13 acres of fruits and vegetables plus a ten acre fruit orchard with room for about thirty head of cattle among the trees. On the other side of the hill were tall pines and about a thousand foot long stretch of whitewater in a deep chasm. This was a part of Taurus City de- liberately sculpted to be wild, which was quite a valuable commodity in space. There was a deep human (and nephilim) need to be immersed in chaos periodically to balance the sterile order of technology. The scenic drop ended with a gentle stop in an abandoned station on the hilltop. The castle of Robyn and Lilith was seen at the far end of the park perched on a lower hill, and beyond the castle was a small "downtown" modeled after small cities on Earth. Led by Chayn, Abaddon and Azibeel zig- zagged on paths between a creek and a stretch of road on another piece of rugged "wild" land between both mile-long walls, which were more than five hundred feet apart. At length they were come to a large tent in the center of a compound where Chayn said the Ark would be found. And defending the compound were the only two bene elohim not yet committed to battle, Mike and Gordon. Gordon stood forth with a sword raised in his hand, silently challenging Abaddon. And Mike covered him with an automatic rifle. Brigadier General Shmuel Gavish had taken over the Suez governorate building from Colonel Motti Adan. An American officer was present, as well as Colonel Adan, who was briefing General Gavish on Del's misdeeds. By her own admission Major Del Gervasi deliberately deviated from the Prime Minister's Scimitar Plan, sir. Well speak of the devil, here she is now. Del stopped two paces before the generals desk, and they exchanged a salute. He said, Major Gervasi, Colonel Adan says you deliberately altered the Scimitar plan. What do you have to say in your defense? The country is out of danger, sir. Thanks to the American nuke. That still doesn't excuse your insubordination for the sake of insubordination. You have become popular, Major, but Israel is asking you to serve the country, not your own ego. General, that was neither a nuke, nor American. I ordered a clean Astrodyne gamma ray airburst, technology neither the US nor Israel have. That had the effect of silencing both the General and the colonel. The US officer present in the room, clad in desert brown, could only let loose a slow appreciative whistle. He did not contradict Del. She looked at all of them in wonder. Oh, I see. None of you officers realized our country needed a political buffer, a space for plausible deniability. Imagine the outcry if Israel had nuked that column herself. This way condemnation for breaking the nuke taboo falls on Astrodyne alone. The Colonel, General, and the American colonel were literally speechless, so Del continued her defense. Aside from the antimatter airburst which blunted the Egyptian thrust into the Negev, it was my mother who tracked the column of seven hundred Egyptian tanks and four hundred APCs as they crossed into the Sinai and it is was my mother who took out the Ismailia Bridge with orbit-to-ground smart bombs. It is my mother who even now continues to knock out the enemy's pontoon bridges as soon as they put them up, and all of these actions were planned and ordered by me. The Egyptians had quite a formidable system of overlapping SAM coverage around their bridgehead. Without support by Astrodyne, which Israel has enjoyed since 1972, by the way, it would have cost the country many planes and many lives. So that is what I've been doing, sir, and all this besides assailing the enemy at Deversoir and al-Fayid, which caused them to abort their bridgehead operations over the canal. Into the awkward quiet space Del tilted forward and placed a sheet of paper on the general's desk smartly, her letter of resignation. With all due respect, General, I cannot continue to serve under Colonel Adan. I consider it an unpardonable sin to strip Bravo Battalion from me and force men and women I know and care about into a meat-grinder of his own making, while I was ordered to the sidelines during what will probably be the last war Zahal will ever be asked to fight. Sir, Adan interjected, I judged her alteration of Plan Scimitar to be a serious breach of discipline, and administratively placed her and her chief of staff on suspension right after Suez City was made secure. Now for the first time General Gavish was learning that for the critical hours of the war, Del had been under orders to do nothing. He launched into a tirade against Adan intended to bring sufficient satisfaction to Del that she might withdraw her resignation. In reply Del simply pushed herself away, rendered her best salute, removed the major's insignia at her collar, and departed without looking back once. Outside the avatar of Binah was already landing to take hem and the other bene elohim to Taurus. After Robyn let the air out of his vacsuit with her blade, John Glenn knew he was finished. He saw black dancing dots, his face and fingers went numb, and he sank to the ground in a faint. As deaths go it wasn't the worst. He saw the sky change from black to white, and heard a small child crying. Glenn had expected to be wearing a robe. Instead he found himself in his ripped spacesuit. A pair of attractive women helped him twist his helmet off. Yeshua was kneeling beside him, smiling to put him at ease. Who do you say that I am, John Glenn? Yeshua asked. The question jostled Glenn's memory of the scriptures from his Presbyterian background. You are the Christ, he said, and feared that he was right. You are not a spirit, John, there is no such thing. Just a mind, and you need a brain to have one. You were not using that brain when you committed suicide by Robyn. She can see the future. You could be locked in a room with her unarmed and you with a shotgun and you'd never get a clear shot. Glenn saw that the two women who helped him get his helmet off were now loading a scroll into a watertight backpack and securing it to the shoulders of the crying girl, and he was disturbed. Why is she so sad, Lord? That is Inge Lange. Her time here has been cut short. She is being returned home and she will never see most of her friends again. And Inge is crying also because she believes it's all due to something she did. When Yeshua mentioned that she was going back he felt a glimmer of hope. So people do return from the dead. Aside from you, of course, Lord. This isn't the afterlife, John. Little Inge actually came here without dying. So did you, in fact. Back at the Moon there's a John Glenn who is dying without air. The John Glenn who is sitting here is one of the multitude of copies of you that the universe makes from instant to instant. I could pull one of your copies here because it doesn't break the chain.' Why did you do that, Lord? Am I to be punished? No. Traditionally at this point I heal the subject of whatever injury or infirmity led to their death, because as you might have read I'm a very good doctor. But you are in remarkably good health. There's an entirely real timeline, the one where Apollo 17 was the final American moon shot, where you live well into your nineties. You even go into space once more on a shuttle and are given a ticker-tape parade. That John Glenn will finish out his life and that will be the end of his great, great story. This John Glenn right here was not so amazing. You made a bad turn somewhere, but I think there is time to show you what you did wrong before you go to the next level up from here, which really is the afterlife. And it's not really for your benefit that we discover the pivot. I really want to know. This is an experiment for the education of myself. So I suppose the Roman Catholic Church had it nailed down all along, Glenn mused. There really is a purgatory and Presbyterians come here. Close enough, John. If there is to be a punishment, you already suspect what it is. You'll begin to miss your wife Annie very much, and you will know she will soon be grieving for you but there is nothing you can do to comfort her. And all I can say is you should have thought about it before you joined Abaddon on his suicide run. The name Abaddon was a clue. They watched as young Inge was lowered into the Sacred Pool. She gave a final sob, went head down, kicked her way under, and did not rise again. Don't entertain the idea that you can go home that way, John. It will not work for you or for anyone else who came here the hard way. The Tabernacle, or Meeting Tent, was constructed by materials and labor which was donated by artisans from Israel, Hamar, and Nath. The required materials were gold, silver, brass, fine linen, goats' hair, rams' skins dyed red, badgers' skins, shittim wood, oil for the light, spices for anointing oil and for sweet incense, onyx stones, and stones to be set for the ephod and the breastplate. With these materials, craftsmen made the tabernacle, the staves to carry the Ark, the altar and its staves, all the altar's vessels, and the showbread. They made the candlestick for the light, the incense altar, and the hanging for the door at the entrance of the tabernacle. At this door Mike and Gordon blocked the way. Abaddon hesitated. He was nearly exhausted, for one thing. But the Emperor could not back down in the sight of his son without contradicting many centuries of patriarchy bluster, and both Gordon and Mike knew it. Abaddon asked, Which ones are they, and what are their powers? The one with the rifle is Mike, father, one of the original five bene elohim. He can...hold his breath for a very long time. The other one is Gordon, son of Jerry and Ambe. He can move small objects with his mind, which makes him great fun at parties but he's essentially harmless. Spectators began to arrange themselves about in trees, on boulders, and in nooks and crannies all around them. Whatever happened, it was going to be even better than Freeball. Intrepid journalist Diane Sawyer rushed to the scene with a crew bearing lights and camera gear, yelling Wait! Immediately she had her Interworld crew set up their equipment, while a half-dozen girls attended to both Gordon and Abaddon with make-up. Abaddon's dignity was at a breaking point. What is this? hy yelled. Diane gaped at hym. Do you realize how many people are watching this war, Sire? Do you want to look like hell on camera? And she motioned for the girls to continue to make Abaddon look good but ridiculous. When the emperor saw that Diane was finally ready to shoot, he drew out his sword. In a sign of contempt for his foe, Abaddon bypassed the traditional opening formalities of salute and counter-salute. He simply stood there with his blade in hand and tried to stare Gordon down. Few could withstand the withering gaze of the Gerash Patriarch. So Gordon, in reply, also bypassed the traditional opening formalities. He completely skipped the stupid alpha-male bluster, like rams beating their heads together, where the opponents circled one another and made little quick thrusts and parries to gauge the opponent and try to shake loose an opening. Don't macho men always have to do that, he thought? In his childhood fistfights in the Land We Knew he had always begun by throwing open palms against the other kid's chest, saying Come on! over and over again until they had made each other angry enough to start throwing fists. But then the Fallen Angels taught him fists were lousy weapons and open hands even more so. They trained Gordon to grab his foe immediately and pull his face into a rising knee. So it was that Gordon let go of his blade and let it hover in the air. The blade flipped to the horizontal and pointed directly at Abaddon. Then the blade became a missile that flew right into the emperor's chest. No fanfare. It was totally unexpected, therefore it succeeded. The point was to kill the emperor, not jerk off. Azibeel saw that his father's wound was mortal. Abaddon turned to hyz son and tried to speak, but no words came out. Before he could die, Azibeel was determined to let hym see that hyz son was determined to complete the mission. He pointed a gun at Chayn's head and stood forth so everyone could see. Bring forth the Ark of the Covenant or this woman will die. And you will die directly afterwards, said Mike, but after some hesitation he and Gordon entered the tent to retrieve the Ark. At Central the dependents of Exiler who had never done so were invited to frolic for a time in the null gravity while the others went ahead through the fold-door to the Temple of Chokhmah and their temporary homes scattered throughout Alodra, safe from the Eyes of Belial at last. Orifiel, however, stayed behind, and sha would live aboard the ship with Suriel. Peniel would also stay and live together with Barakiel. Adriel and Neriah would stay with Kushiel, and Noriel was to stay with har brother Lahatiel. So the population of Exiler stabilized at nine. Before Ithuriel followed hyz wife and hyz son through to Alodra, Talishi took hym aside to thank hym for hyz role in the long struggle against Belial, even during the years when hy believed he was Belial's greatest servant. After that, Talishi gathered the nine dependents and crew of Exiler for a briefing on where things stood and where they needed to go. Once more, sha began, Belial has embarked on a general war against everyone. But now we have made preparations to ensure it will be the last time he ever does so. The defection of Exiler is one of the most important part of those preparations. So it is fitting that I tell you of the other things which are happening so that you will know what we are asking you to do next. First allow me to tell you the victories Belial has scored as a sort of bad-news-first thing. Shortly after you departed Palato, Belial embarked on a raid of the single natural satellite of Earth with himself and his son Azibeel leading the way. Their allies were the Americans. Lilith Gervasi, the living avatar of Binah, has been killed, but not before che discovered that Belial is using the carbon cycle to elevate the temperature of Sol outside of the range for which both El Shaddai and Bat-El are adapted. If he is successful, not only will those two elohim cease to be, but billions of humans will die on Earth. Perhaps all of them. The passengers and crew of Exiler were silenced by the sheer scale of Belial's ambitions. At length, Lahatiel was moved to say, Lady Talishi, clearly the stakes of this conflict are greater than any in history. And yet when I tell you of the counterforces we have arrayed against Belial you might feel a twinge of pity for him. His raid at Selene went very badly. He attempted to deny us access to the golden avatar of El Shaddai and doesn't have the slightest idea that the universe itself makes many trillions of complete copies of everything that exists, every second, including the Ark of the Covenant. In retaliation for the raid, Abaddon's access to his colony at Jupiter as well as to the Land We Know has been cut off forever. The Redemption, the first starship ever flown, is on terminal cruise and will soon arrive at a star outside of Belial's control named Yefefiah, where Jill will communicate our plight to her should Belial continue to assail Sol. But our greatest victory of all is that we have captured Belial himself alive, still within his avatar of Abaddon. It will do no good at all to kill hym, Lady Talishi, Lahatiel told har. At death the focus of his conscious will always reverts to his mechanical avatar at Palato, and hy simply finds another victim to possess. That is precisely why we do not intend to kill hym, and in fact we shall take extraordinary measures to see that he does not kill hymself. And that leads me at last to the difficult request I am compelled to make of you and your crew, Ophan Lahatiel. I would ask you to take Abaddon aboard bound over as a prisoner, no longer as your lord. This time only Barakiel could find his voice. For transportation, I presume, Lady Talishi. What destination do you have in mind? To Mercury, in the Sol system, where he is engineering his murder of my close kin. Perhaps there we can persuade him to stop. As was true with Inge, school days were over for Malekwa, yet he did not leave the Land We Know until years afterward, and his education did continue, but in a far less academic vein. During that time he was attached to a company of Fallen Angels who roamed the border with the Saiph Republic and kept bad'uns out of Alodra. Along the way they lived off the land and they taught young Malekwa how to hunt his own game. And when his body had changed sufficiently that he could appreciate it, they taught him an en- tirely different kind of hunt. After that he was returned to Earth. To help the boy survive, Del gave him the weapon called the Golden Gift, a dark blade that transformed anything it touched into dark matter, from the head of an elk to the arrows of other men. Armed this way, such protection as he could offer became the coin to buy his way. One-by-one he assembled stragglers like himself into a group too small and unrelated to be consid- ered a tribe. Despite his youth, Malekwa became chief of the People. The People possessed almost nothing except their horses, and even those were liable to be taken by the Northern Raiders from time to time. They survived by burning extensive swaths of the riparian forest in the Green River valley to create grazing ground which would attract large game animals. One autumn when the entire gorge of the Green River was shrouded in smoke, hunting parties from among the People stood upon End Dome and marveled. They called the large hill, in their tongue, the Island in the Sky. North of the hill the Green River drops its load of silt in a cluster of islands anchored by tall grass, which offered the easiest ford across the river between the steep gorge and the Cascade front just to the east of End Dome. Herds of antelope and elk came to the water exactly there and passed through to the other side, and the People would take them for meat. When Malekwa found the largest bull of the regrouping elk he pointed the Golden Gift at its head. A hissing black line briefly connected his arm to the animal's head, and there was no more head. The dead animal immediately dropped to the ground and his brother elk scattered once more. The other hunters helped Malekwa field-dress the carcass down to easily-transportable slabs of meat and hide, to be dragged behind their horses on wooden skids. Most of the elk meat was set aside to become smoked jerky for lean times, but the remainder was enough for a great feast. Below the hill to the west in a large bend of the river was the small pond that Malekwa knew was a portal to Nyduly Wood in Hamar, but he told no one. Sometimes at dawn the People would find large footprints, half again the size of a large man, leading directly into or away from the water, but never circling it. On even more rare occasions they caught a nighttime glimpse of creatures that walked upright like men, but much taller, with hairy faces and long swinging arms. They called these creatures Sasquatch. Malekwa said the creatures were messengers of the Sun God and not to be feared, and he was actually correct, the Sasquatch were nephilim servants on errands for Bat-El or El Shaddai. They tried not to alarm the People as they went about their errands and returned to the Land We Know, but the People were expert hunters and trackers, and the nephilim could not remain undetected for long. Others among the People said the Sasquatch were evil spirits in animal form, or the shades of ancestors who were not at rest. Despite baskets of strange fruit from Gorpai frequently left by the Sasquatch, which supplemented the diet of the People, Chief Malekwa could not make them believe the Sasquatch were harmless. It was too easy to blame them for every misfortune. So at Malekwa's direction the People constructed an earth berm, or mound, to enclose the little pond in a perfect circle. There was one opening in the mound that pointed away from the lodge of the People, and after that the large footprints were found to be routed through this opening, leading far away from their hunting grounds. Azibeel soon learned the hard limit to the value the bene elohim placed on the life of Chayn. Despite hyz threats, hy was only able to secure a guarantee for himself, four pilots, and the Ark to be returned to the Taurus-Littrow valley, plus safe transit to the Trespasser. Two transports would be taken, and they would be loaded in such a way that no one from Taurus would know which one contained who or what. Meanwhile the forty yeng trapped in the offices overhead were prisoners of war. The body of Abaddon was non-negotiable, it would stay, no doubt to be paraded on the Swarm. Aides had already taken it. For his part, Azibeel promised that Chayn would be transferred to a lifeboat with sufficient life-support to allow her to be retrieved alive once Trespasser was safely underway. There was no need to return to the roof of Taurus. Shyla had dug many tunnels through the North Massif, so it was a simple matter to provide a truck and allow Azibeel and company to drive on a level route directly to the valley floor. Within an hour they were back in space, heading outbound. As agreed, no one from Taurus City pursued Azibeel, but around this time Shyla was coming in with the avatar of Binah after a record fast run from Earth, bringing the team that had served in Israel. There were options now. Robyn knew Chayn was another one of Hunky's surprises, like Chuck, but sha couldn't bring herself to kill har own daughter. Still, the Trespasser seemed to be heading on a line directly away from the sun, rather than pitching over to point closer toward Jupiter. So Robyn told Shyla to go on ahead a bit and have a look. She already had the velocity to do so. Shyla found a long tube, square in cross-section, made of an intricate latticework of metal. Everyone knew what it was the instant Shyla transmitted the image. An ID Grid, the front door for a wormhole that led between the Sol system and Alpha Centauri. It was supposed to stay at Jupiter. My guess is Belial thought he found a loophole in the Summit agreement, Robyn told Chuck, who was helping har in the Taurus City war room, more to keep an eye on him than for any aid he could render. Fly west out of the Land We Know and the elohim will send you to the ID Grid in this star system, but they don't pay attention to where that ID Grid is physically located here. How could they? And why should they? It's supposed to be serving hyz colony at Jupiter. Abaddon had the ID Grid moved through real space to within a million miles from Earth so he could do his Moon raid and be back home at Gorpai before anyone knew what was happening. The huge structure was completely demolished by Shyla, live on Interworld. She did this on her own initiative, without waiting for permission or orders, to avoid the possibility of Navy of Belial reinforcements arriving. This attack did nothing to violate the arrangement, but Azibeel didn't see it that way and ordered the Trespasser to torpedo the transport he was not flying in, costing him two of hyz own pilots. Chayn was safe with hym, and why should she not be? Both of them had been possessed by Hunky. The enemy carrier just took out one of the transports, Shyla reported. Azibeel just broke the deal, Robyn replied. Shyla, you are now weapons red and free on all Centauri contacts, but save Azibeel for last. The primary weapon Shyla had at her disposal was raw star-stuff from the core of Proxima, sent by a fold-door carried in the avatar of Binah which also doubled as its drive. The Trespasser and her much-diminished retinue of fighters and bombers didn't stand a chance, nor did they have much hope of destroying an avatar designed to survive a plunge into a star. I'm alive! Chayn blurted on the radio when it was down to just one transport. Cease fire! It's Chayn. I'm in the last ship! Red and free on all Centauri contacts, Robyn reminded Shyla. All the dependents of the crew of Exiler who were seeking sanctuary in the Land We Know had already passed through to the Temple of Chokhmah in Alodra, and Kushiel was preparing the frigate to leave Central. Lahatiel invited Talishi aboard to thoroughly inspect the vessel, and when the tour was quite finished, Talishi gave a few parting words in the Banquet Room. Your next destination is Luna, or Selene, the satellite of Earth. You must travel there using the supraluminal discovery of Ithuriel. The ID Grid at Sol has been destroyed and the wormhole has nothing to guide on. So we don't have to worry about Belial coming after us? Suriel asked. Belial has a number of ships at Jupiter and the outer Belt he can still send down, but right now he's got bigger issues to deal with and no way to issue deployment orders from Selene in any event. Also there is a deeper layer of protection that Belial doesn't know about, a twenty-year gap between what is taken to be the present moment at Sol and at Centauri. Even were Belial to have a fleet of Exilers ready to cross the space between Gorpai and Earth in the event of his non-return, they would arrive in a system that had been prepared for them for two decades. You were not aware of it, but when you last crossed from the Land We Know to Proxima you moved twenty years into the past to match the timeline of the bene elohim. Certainly, Lady Talishi, that goes a long way toward explaining how Robyn obtained her "magic" powers of prognostication, Lahatiel said. And we are asking that you make the services of the Exiler and her crew available to Robyn now, Talishi said. Abaddon is still recovering and is being...interviewed. El Shaddai through her avatar has made certain arrangements. When you arrive at Taurus you will have a liberty call that you and your crew will not forget for the rest of your lives. However short that may be, Adnarel said, in jest rather than fear. Talishi, what kind of services do you have in mind? asked Barakiel. We know the carbon damage is being inflicted on Sol from innermost Mercury, and we know that planet is protected by powerful lasers from any assault from the outside, unless extraordinary measures are taken, such as the clever method that ultimately cost Lilith hez life. But a warship from the Navy of Belial would be welcomed with open arms, particularly if she was flying the very flag Abaddon flew on his ill-considered assault. For about five minutes, Lady Talishi, snorted Suriel. As soon as Abaddon is safely in those open arms, he'll order us arrested, killed, and skinned, and not necessarily in that order. That is where the Redemption comes in. That is a starship that predates the Exiler, albeit traveling through real space rather than a series of hops. A yin named Jill is aboard that starship and sha stands ready and able to contact the eloah named Yefefiah whose body is listed as Barnard's Star in Erel Barakiel's charts. I assure you that Belial's execution by El, the larger community of elohim, would not long follow. But it would only be a partial victory, Lahatiel put in. Knowing Belial, he would take El Shaddai and Bat-El down with him by having the Americans continue to assail Sol, and he would spew a storm of lies to the other elohim in an attempt to take you and Binah down also. 'Precisely, Talishi said. We have crafted a compromise by which we are allowed access to El without testifying of Belial's crimes here. To El it would be no different than if we had been allowed access to El at birth the way billions of other elohim experience it. Unfortunately, Belial can be suicidally stupid at times, as we have seen when he makes war. Azibeel's evaluation that hyz father had suffered a mortal wound was entirely true by the standards of nephilim medicine, which was roughly equivalent to that of the American Civil War period. But Taurus City had a state-of-the-art hospital which could keep the emperor alive just long enough for Del to return and do hez magic. This was done by literally stopping Abaddon's heart and keeping his body oxygenated with a bank of external devices resembling centrifuges. When Del arrived che healed the breach in the wall of hyz left ventricle and rebooted the organ. Naughty Belial, sending me off on a wild goose chase in the Levant, Del said when hy regained consciousness. Welcome back to Taurus and welcome back from the border of death. We were not properly introduced at the Summit, Sire. I'm Del Gervasi, and I have a talent for healing that ranks right up there with Yeshua Bat-El. I will be your nurse from now on. A stupid waste of a talent, Abaddon croaked. I'm serious. Ambulances on a battlefield, did you ever consider how ridiculous that looks? What else do humans bring to war, firetrucks? Anesthetics? Females? No doubt your son shared those sentiments, Belial, Robyn chimed in, Which explains the shoddy state of Centauri medicine and also explains why hy just fucking left you here. Not that we're complaining now.' I recognize you, Robyn, but where is your, husband, wife, whatever? Unfortunately Lilith was killed by one of your lasers at Mercury. Abaddon rasped out a chuckle, accompanied by coughs. Good! Let that serve as a deterrent from any further Selenite trespassing. Speaking of trespassing, Belial, the carrier you brought across the 4 AU line, the Trespasser, it's gone. So's your son. So's our dirtbag who sided with you. Chayn. What kind of pushover did you think we were here at Sol when you planned your raid? If you planned it, which I doubt. The only thing you need to think about is how fast you can get me back home. My entire Navy is poised to attack if I don't return in time. There's a big problem with that, Belial, because there's no more ID Grid here in the Sol system. So nothing for the wormhole to anchor on. Certainly you didn't expect us to just sit here and let you pour everything you had across to hit us, even if the other elohim would have permitted it. Do you have the slightest idea what it is you have done? What we have done is liberated your toehold here in our system. El Shaddai makes the rules, after all, we just enforce them, quite rigorously. This is the Gervasi Crime Family. Buttongirl steps outta line, she gets whacked. Emperor brings his ID Grid over the 4 AU border, he loses it. When my yeng figure that out they'll just mount an attack through real space, two years ship time. I've seen your pitiful order of battle, Robyn, you wouldn't stand a chance. Binah's new avatar would be canceled by mine. So you've got six more years. Enjoy them while you have them. We've got much longer than that, and I don't mind telling you now because this is the end game and you aren't going anywhere, not even by suicide. See, it's 2005 in Centauri, but it's 1985 here. The Family has a twenty year buffer. When your fleet gets here, it will be 2011. But you and I will resolve our differences in the next year or two, Belial, because the first starship in history is even now pulling into the vicinity of a star Lilith identified as Yefefiah. Che said you would recognize that name. Yefefiah sleeps like a stone, Robyn. Good luck waking her up. Abruptly after her ship was destroyed, Chayn found herself in a perfect facsimile of her body, standing before Yeshua beside the Sacred Pool. So you find yourself playing the Judas role today, he said to her. Lord, did he really betray you with a kiss? she asked Yeshua after she had sufficiently recovered from the shock of transition. Yes but there is a certain misconception about why he did it. One time my enemies tried to kill me with stones, I said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it." And by this I was speaking of the temple of my own body. But the priests were offended, because Herod had begun to enlarge the temple, and even under the rule of his son the work was still not completed. But they could not stone me for fear of the crowd that had gathered. So they departed for a time, and they deliberately twisted my words, and reported that I said I would destroy the temple. I did not try to correct them, but said only, "I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes." And by this the word began to spread that my followers planned to set fire to the temple. And they took council on how they could have me arrested and killed. That evening I was reclining at supper with the boys. Wednesday, April 5, 30 AD. A woman came in and poured a box of very expensive ointment on my head. Judas complained that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He didn't mention that he normally skimmed his take right off the top of such gifts. I told him to lay off the woman because she alone took my words at face value that I would be killed. She was the only one who believed me. She was the first "Christian" in other words. So Judas approached the priests and offered to betray me in return for a sum of money. He was already disappointed that I was absolutely not interested in serving as the focal point of a violent revolt against Rome, and he was already resolved to stop following me, but he realized he could turn things to his financial advantage at the same time. For the priests' part, they were not paying for Judas to identify me, because my appearance was well known and I always drew crowds. The priests were paying simply so they could say the conspiracy against me began within my own circle. Thus I would be discredited. And for my part, after I noted the departure of Judas, I was satisfied that he would sufficiently aroused the religious authorities in Jerusalem to bring matters to a head. With trepidation Chayn asked, What are you going to do with me now? You are free to go, actually. Happy birthday. The rules here in the Land We Know mean you can never leave this place until you die again here. This is where humans get a second chance before moving to the next level, but you're a very unusual case, Chayn. We know that your will is dominated by Hunky. What is Chayn's culpability now? What would be the point of a reward and punishment system applied against one who is possessed? When you say punishment, Lord, are you talking about hell? Not even Belial is twisted enough to decree eternal torture as just retribution for "sins" committed over a human lifetime. No, hell is a purely human invention. If you are not judged to be worthy of the Third Life you will just come to an end like everything else does in this reality, from redwood trees to galaxies. The next step up is a bonus situation created by elohim, and we control the parameters for entrance, absolutely. But I won't hold you to account for what Hunky did to you against your will. And so Chayn bowed to Yeshua and departed on foot into Nyduly Wood, time-frame unknown. Soon she found she retained her power as a demigod to control beasts, which resolved any worries she might have had about the food situation. To remain incognito, Chayn began giving her name as Joy. Like any machine, Hope came with an off switch. Her's was in the form of a certain bedtime story that gently put her to sleep, not to reawaken until a complete reboot. This was done to make the transfer to Earth smoother, and to facilitate certain changes that Mark Felton wanted to make. Unfortunately, these modifications could not be made in the normal facilities owned by Astrodyne due to an escalation of the war that began in the Suez and extended to Taurus City. But the bene elohim had anticipated this. The President could cover up the death of two hundred Americans on the Moon and the existence of a domestic surveillance agency called DECON, but he could not hide the death of John Glenn: astronaut, hero, former Senator, and current "Presidential Advisor". So in the Rose Garden he announced the death of Glenn, attributing it to a deliberate attack by the Astrodynamics Corporation. This was followed with a list of sanctions his Administration would levy on Astrodyne as well as a list of persons to be arrested. DECON agents raided the various business parks and office towers owned by Astrodyne across the greater Seattle area. Robyn retaliated by disabling access to the Swarm by all Micros in use by the federal government. Let them fall back on Winspire, sha said, since they seemed to favor Gates. After that it was not safe for Astrodyne to fly directly from Selene to the Earth. The United States started taking pot shots at vessels in Earth orbit using the Cape Kennedy launch laser. So the Ark of the Covenant had to be taken to Earth via the Land We Know, carted from Nath to Hamar, and sent through in a watertight container soon after Hope was carried through. All this after El Shaddai retrieved the Ark from Abaddon's transport by fold-door just a few seconds before he was destroyed by Shyla. This part was easy for El Shaddai, since her Ark acted as a kind of homing beacon. Chuck was asked to fly the Ark from Earth to Midway where it would be safe from both the Americans and any further raids by the Navy of Belial. I have to tell you right up front it will be a dangerous mission, Robyn told him. Chuck accepted the task, despite "great personal risk", but in truth there would be none, because he had connections with DECON, and it never occurred to him that Robyn knew of those connections as well. That was precisely why she offered him the job. If the point was just to get the Ark safely to Midway El Shaddai could have done the transfer herself. Hope's body was stretched to make her appear to be the age of twelve, and she was given girl parts at last, no so much to prepare for another case of "playing doctor" but for recreational purposes when Binah took possession of Hope's body. The organs of joining were wired to the pleasure center of Hope's brain, with a stop among both of her breasts along the way, so that Binah's immortality as a robot may never grow to be boring. Mark Felton made a number of digital backups of Hope's mind, and left these backups unattended in such a way that Chuck would be able to help himself to one, which he did, precisely as Robyn predicted, and Felton marveled at Robyn's abilities as an oracle. After that, Chuck asked Mark how he intended to bring Hope to full awareness as an artificial intelligence, and he phrased the question in a way that came across as idle curiosity, but in fact Chuck was intensely curious, and soaked in everything. The breakthrough will come when Hope is fully aware that she is an artificially constructed being, Mark told him. She will know she's not really a little girl, yet she will make a sacrifice out of a feeling of love for her mother. You see, right now, it's like she's dreaming, even when she's awake. And like we all do when we dream, she doesn't know it's a dream. But we're maneuvering her to a state where she can be both dream and know that she's dreaming. Then she will simply choose to choose. Good stuff, Chuck thought, committing it to memory. DECON may have wanted the backup of Hope as the ticket to escape Earth, but Chuck wouldn't tell them how Felton planned to wake up that data until he was safely on Midway. The People lived at the only place the herds of migrating elk and antelope could cross the Green River. Upstream the river was too swift, downstream it rushed between sheer walls of sandstone three hundred feet high. When a herd was halfway across, Malekwa would strike, taking one or two of them according to the needs of the People, and often it would be done in such a stealthy way the rest of the herd would barely notice. For many years the People lived this way, in perfect harmony with the herds. But one day they saw the first wagon trains of white skins use the ford at the Black River. The white skins used their fire sticks to drop some of the animals merely to clear the way and did not even take the animals for food. Fair enough, thought Malekwa, there is plenty for all. But as the years went by the herds got thinner, and many of the People remembered the fire sticks. One year no large game animals were seen at all. The People had to scratch a living from small game, or from scrawny solitary black-tail deer they chanced upon. Some of the hunters murmured openly, recalling with glowing fondness that time before Malekwa gathered them together as the People, a time when they eked out their existence as unwanted stragglers. The army of the whites set up an outpost six land miles (and twelve river miles) away called Fort Shiprock, named for an unusual rock outcropping at the very end of the gorge. Captain John Smalley commanded the fort, and despite his bitter hatred for the dead-end post he had been assigned, Smalley maintained good relations with Chief Malekwa, who spoke excellent English. He considered the People to be relatively peaceful, but contacts were limited because the People were so poor they had almost nothing to trade. This fort isn't exactly a charity outfit, he was often heard to say. Late in the fall of 1876 the Northern Raiders paid their last visit to the People. When Malekwa confronted them he used a gradually tightening squeeze so the black spear of wind emerged from the Golden Gift at a visible rate. The enemy saw that it was Chief Malekwa's magic which absorbed arrows fired at him. They saw it was Chief Malekwa's magic that sliced their leader in half, and the horse he rode in on. Malekwa knew the Raiders operated like pack animals with no stomach for sticking around once they lost their own Chief. And sure enough they fled into the mountains, never to return to the river ford at the foot of End Dome claimed by the People. The following year the People saw a bizarre sight coming from the south: Eight white skins rode mounted on horses, cracking whips, two on Point, two on Flank, and two on Drag, a cook with his own wagon in the rear and a man out front picking the way. These men were driving possibly five hundred animals that were bulkier than any game animal. They drove their animals over the small islets dotting the ford without even the basic courtesy of offering the People one or two head as a toll. This was the first cattle drive ever to use the Green River ford to cross from the open pastures in the White River Valley to the small town of Issaquah less than a day's ride to the north, where they could be barged over lake and stream to Seattle. When about half of their herd was across the ford, Malekwa sent some of his hunters in to raise general calumny with whoops and hollers and a few well-placed arrows. Meanwhile, he found a good position to take out one of the animals. He was anxious to give the People a taste of the succulent beef he had once eaten in the Land We Know. Unfortunately the whites fought back fiercely with small fire sticks they could hold in one hand even while their horse was at a full gallop. Two good hunters from among the People were killed. Chief Malekwa pulled his men back to the safety of End Dome, and from there he continued to watch the scene below. Seven of the men and most of the cattle were across the river. The leader of the party of whites was a Mr. Paul Morrison. He remained on the near side of the river with only about thirty cows. Morrison yelled, Boys, take what you got and try to make it to town. I'm gonna take this bunch to Fort Shiprock and see if we can get some help with our red skin problem. Ariel jumped off a balcony near the ceiling of Taurus City. The excess folds of hez fabric wings inflated and che found hezself gliding slowly down under the one-sixth Lunar gravity. It looked like so much fun Suriel and Orifiel immediately followed hem. Like babies thrown into a swimming pool they were instantly required to adapt to the changing circumstances of their flight. Ariel, with the ease of long experience, flew circles above and around them to stay close enough to speak as they tried to learn the ropes. They flew over the business district of Taurus City where the glass and steel Church of End Dome tabernacle, still under construction, shared a courtyard and fountain with an office building, also under construction. Of course both these structures ran for many levels underground. Ariel began to give them a guided tour. There's two-seater electric vehicles available any time from a motor pool beneath the shopping mall. That ramp from the motor pool dumps right onto the Taurus Highway, three miles of concrete winding from one end of the tunnel to the other. They flew down for a look at the glass tower that was the headquarters of Astrodyne now that Seattle was closed off for the duration of the war. On the other side of the highway was a bank and a plush hotel where Lahatiel and Nuriel had decided to stay. That's Obion street and the City Administration complex where we handle the day to day operation of Taurus. They continued to glide along and drop very slowly. Ariel pointed out the Taurus City adjunct to Nyduly Academy. The highway curved gently through Cedar Heights, a 40-home development of big ranch houses for the most important people in Astrodyne such as Mark Felton or Ambe Omphal. Then the highway bent sharply to travel directly east to the other wall of Taurus City's canyon. On that stretch, ladies, on foot, you can cross from one wall to the other in about two minutes of brisk walking. Somewhere within that wall was the fold-door to the temple of El Shaddai in Nath. Barakiel and his dependents had chosen to go to the Land We Know from here, and later Suriel would learn they even went on to tour Earth. Bike paths led down and around Mineral Canyon which was a thousand foot long stretch of whitewater in a deep chasm. There were eleven mansions along there for the bene elohim, and an elegant cantilever bridge near a big pretty two hundred foot artificial waterfall plunging into a soggy grass bowl at the head of the river. Suriel saw that Kushiel was hiking down there in front of the waterfall with hyz two wives, basking in the sun that beamed down from tilting mirrors in the ceiling of the vast tunnel. They were getting much closer to the ground now, and the yen could see the road did an "S" curve past the two lobes of nine acre Lake Taurus. Suriel spotted Adnarel way down there speaking alone to some dolphins in the water near an apartment complex where the bike trail ended. Adnarel waved. There were two hills on the floor of Taurus City, both with glass elevators leading to the ceiling. Suriel looked far down the length of the tunnel to see the other, higher one, covered in trees. The nearer hill nestled the estate of Robyn and Lilith in a little cirque near its summit, which was now over their heads. Ariel landed first in hez parent's backyard to show them how it was done. Orifiel followed hem and found sha could deflate or inflate the wings at will to control har descent perfectly. Sha came to a gentle stop on har feet right next to Ariel, who beamed with pride. Suriel was a little too happy to let the flight end just then. Sha was overcome with the same feeling one gets on terminal cruise, when a plane's engines were throttled back near the end of a flight. There was a qualitative change in the background noise of har mind, an attitude shift. Robyn's estate danced under har feet. Descending into the compound sha tried to finesse har landing with small forced deflations of har wings...too much. Too fast. Ariel and Orifiel watched Suriel come down like a bat shot out of the sky. There was a swimming pool, screw it... Mark Felton and Victoria Gervasi were on the President's wanted list, so by all rights DECON should have swooped down on Puget Sound City and scooped them up. But the digital copy of Hope's mind they now possessed was pretty muImagech useless without the hardware to go with it. Chuck told them the expected breakthrough in artificial intelligence was very close if events were allowed to play out. So DECON bided their time and they watched. Mark Felton's place was a cute little pale blue house that belied his great wealth, thirty years old, with clean white trim. His yard was more stone than grass, ringed by bark dust and low-maintenance shrubs. When Hope was ready for school Victoria buckled her into her sedan and departed the bedroom community of Crestview Estates on the northern edge of the Green River Gorge. The first two miles were on a two lane country road dotted with a couple of mini gasmarts and a Dari-Hut. The only agriculture that existed was a farm with 300 acres of rolled sod, the source of perfect pre-grown grass for all those perfectly-groomed front yards. Then the country road widened to four lanes and Victoria was in the suburban sprawl proper. American McMonoculture was self-propagating and very fecund. Every McFastfood place, every McSupermarket, and every McOil-change place were franchises exactly identical to ones found anywhere on the McContinent, or for that matter, anywhere in the whole McWorld. Only the gray skies and scattered clusters of tall Douglas Fir pines set this place apart from any suburb in California or Virginia. The United States had achieved appalling uniformity and the rest of the world was rapidly following suit. Jobs were shifted from one country to another until the workforce which accepted the lowest compensation for their labor was found. Corner Mom & Pop grocery stores and restaurants disappeared as they were replaced by cookie-cutter franchises. Family farms disappeared to be replaced by endless tracts of clone McMansions painted in just two different colors and spaced just six feet apart. Hope marveled at all this and asked how she got there. You slept through it honey, Vic said. You were sick for a while. Vic turned on the radio. Market researchers had conducted surveys to determine which songs did the least to "harsh the workplace mellow" and these songs were put into endless rotation on stations across the FM dial, which itself was a wholly-owned subsidiary of a single megacorporation which also owned every billboard that Vic saw everywhere she turned her head. Vic and Hope went past twenty-theater megaplexes where mindless Micro generated Hollywood crap was shown with the goal of getting the kids in, showing them the Falling Galaxy, and getting them out. Everything that made each corner of the world unique and wonderful was choked off, bought out, and co-opted by the relentless gray forces of standardization as the culture, the religion, the politics, and every facet of everyone's life became conformed to the principles of the fast food restaurant. An Easy Cheezy pizza place was nearby and beige, clone apartment complexes with such names as Fountain Pointe, Evergreen Terrace, Mirrorwood, and Heather Ridge thickened as Victoria drove past endless strip malls, each one anchored by their own teriyaki place. Vic chuckled at the difficult of coming up with a variation on teriyaki every ten blocks. Teriyaki Time. Teriyaki Now. I Love Teriyaki. Some were probably just known locally as "That teriyaki place next to Tattoo Alley". Vic went west past a few typical arterial corners festooned with more strip malls and turned south on the Ravensdale-Black-Diamond Road, a fat six-lane arterial. Across the street from a Burger Goddess was a Taco Fiesta and an expanse of identical faux-Colonial homes, each house sporting four tacky hollow white aluminum bogus columns. And they were come at last to the earthside campus of the Nyduly Academy, where many of the children of the members of the Church of End Dome attended school, each one sporting their own little ponytail. Hope had to make do with a couple of pigtails. After the Summit the Earth acquired a tiny second moon, Midway, just two hundred feet in diameter. Midway was an asteroid dropped by wormhole into orbit four thousand miles above the surface. It wasn't halfway to Selene in distance, but it was halfway there in the only important way to rocket science, which was in the velocity change required to reach it. Chuck arrived, took command, and shoved the Ark into a corner of his office. The Elohim had always dealt with planetdwellers through the agency of avatars, whether they were self-propelled ones like the ones Belial and Binah flew, or robotic like the one Chokhmah used to greet Talishi, the robot Binah hoped to use in the future, or even living avatars like Yeshua. The avatar of El Shaddai, the Ark of the Covenant, was not self-propelled, and little more than a microphone, speaker, and camera in a gold enclosure, but El Shaddai had always demanded it be treated with divine reverence. In the first temple this Ark had been kept in the innermost chamber, the Holy of Holies. Before that, and once again in modern times at Taurus it was kept inside the Meeting Tent. When El Shaddai didn't think the House of David could hold onto it she had taken it to the Land We Know for thousands of years. Chuck's sacrilege motived El Shaddai to make one of her rare contacts. She said, You are on the wrong side of history, Charles. Chuck was startled, not so much that El Shaddai had chosen to speak, but that her voice lacked the majesty one would expect of the God of Israel. It was almost conversational. It has been said that if one speaks to God, it is prayer, he replied. But if God replies, it is psychosis. I can see much farther down the timeline than I could before, she said. 'The future is secure. Belial is defeated. Even now, there are generations of bene elohim who come after you living in the Land We Know. And what of me, Lady El Shaddai? Do you see me alive in your future? You will survive, but you are very far from happy. You are shunned. I can tell you, yet you will still do what history requires of you because the very knowledge that you will be cast out makes you... "double down". Why? What terrible sin makes my family turn their backs on me? Charles, we are very much alike, you and I. Consider the other elohim. Chokhmah has merged with the mind of Talishi, a yin from Gorpai. Belial has merged with a long series of yeng, which diluted his original personality, although that process has been terminated forever even from your vantage in the timeline. What shall it profit to gain the whole world but lose one's very soul? Binah merges with the mind of a mechanical maidchild when it becomes fully aware. Project Hope does succeed, and you have a very important role to play in that. Yet you will never be thanked for that role, because you, like myself, have always been outside looking in. You cannot know what it is like! You are the ultimate insider! Quite to the contrary, have you ever heard of a planetdweller being possessed by me? You have not, because it has never taken place. We are vastly different orders of being, elohim and the great apes known as human and nephilim. You cannot comprehend the revulsion I feel when I witness them being mixed, and I can tell you this attitude is shared by the majority of elohim in the galaxy, and there are many billions of us, not just five. Such is their distaste that Bat-El and Chokhmah were rejected as witnesses against Belial. They only listened to me, because I always remained aloof from you very slow, cloudy creatures made of tissue-weak electric forces. And so I will let you be, Charles, because I know we both have a very good grasp of where the other stands. The Ark fell silent. Charles indeed did have an understanding with El Shaddai, and immediately moved to have the Ark set apart in a place of honor on the quarterdeck. At the debouchment of the Green River Gorge Captain John Smalley woke up from his midmorning nap and ducked outside the fort stockade to see what was making an infernal racket and a horrible smell. When Paul Morrison saw him he took off his hat and said, Twenty-eight free range cows for the United States Army Cavalry, sir, compliments of their owner, yours truly, Paul Morrison. This was indeed the way things were done out here, palms greased with money and goods in return for other favors. Well, the Cavalry is much obliged, Mr. Morrison, came the reply. I'm Captain John Smalley, commanding Fort Shiprock here. And if there's ever a favor we could do for you in return, please don't hesitate to ask. There is the trifling matter of the red skins up there at the Green River ford. Sneaky bastards ambushed us when we were halfway across. Captain Smalley took his pipe out in his hand and squinted in disbelief. His handlebar mustache danced as he asked, Northern Raiders? Morrison shook his head. Wrong markings. I figure these are locals. The Captain put his pipe back in his mouth. That can't be right. The local Indians are real peaceful. Their chief even speaks good American. These Indians didn't look like the kind to give up, Captain. We had to kill some of 'em. They're probably harassing the rest of my herd right now on the north bank. If you hurry you can catch them before sunset. Captain Smalley agreed with a sigh, and he gave the appropriate orders to gear up the fort for action. A bugle call was soon heard. Two hours thereafter about forty mounted soldiers crossed the little tributaries and limesilt islets of the ford, accompanied by Morrison. They found a small group of the People's hunters rendering a fallen cow down for steaks. Smalley recognized the battle dress of Chief Malekwa and steered a course for his little group. Presently he and his men formed a circle around the chief and a handful of his hunters. Smalley told another officer, Lieutenant Lambert Wells, to take most of the unit toward Issaquah to engage the rest of the Indians, and hand-picked four soldiers to stay behind with him. As the lieutenant rode off with his thirty-four men, Smal- ley and Morrison moved closer to Chief Malekwa while the four soldiers sup- porting the Captain orbited them all at a stately trot. God damn it Chief, you know better than to start acting like the Northern Raiders. What are you going to do to him? Morrison asked. Take him into custody for cattle rustling. That'll have to do. The rest of these red fellows here were just following orders. They got families to feed. I'm going to let them go so they can pick themselves a new chief. Malekwa understood perfectly what Smalley wanted to do to him, and he decided not to go peacefully. He had the Golden Gift in his hand and he pointed it right at Smalley. The black shaft leaped out with its hideous sucking sound and sliced the head of Smalley's horse clean off. And then Smalley himself was rendered in two. That black line remained there, drinking in light and air, while five more orbiting horses and men ran right into it, including Paul Morrison. After that Malekwa used the Golden Gift to get rid of the bodies of the men and the horses he had slain, but he knew the killing range of the Golden Gift was not longer than a spear. Against a troop of whites armed with firesticks he would be helpless. They would kill him, and his warriors, and no doubt all of the women and children and old men in the camp of the People as well in retribution for killing the white chief. Then the army of the whites would have the Golden Gift. Malekwa needed to think fast. Aurra Firegem of Alodra was generally considered the Queen of Kings, the first among equals in the Land We Know. It was Queen Aurra who found homes for the dependents of the Exiler and soon after that she called an emergency council of the Union of Kingdoms to discuss a breaking situation. Attending the council from Hamar was King Arman Sunshield, Count Raddai Nerio, Countess Irus Nerio, and Baron Elketz Kadir. The Nath delegation was much diminished, only Baron Nahaliel Kerresh and Lady Ainia could attend, for the King remained in a crippled state and Count Zelus had been slain in battle. The land of Menkal remained occupied, but King Stronghammer came to the council, bringing Countez Berek Moriz and hez spouse Ichor Losna. The Queen's husband Evander was also present, as well as Countess Bronzesaber-Firegem and the Queen's son Bayard Firegem. The Queen opened the council by announcing the news that had made her decide to call everyone back together. Emperor Abaddon, the incarnation of Belial, has opened hostilities once more, this time in the Sol system. But Abaddon has been captured once more, and hyz son Azibeel has been killed. This time, however, there will be no parley, no summit, and Abaddon is being carefully kept alive so that Belial cannot revert to his avatar at Palato and take possession of another yang. So hy is trapped at Sol. Why cannot hy simply will his own death, mother? Bayard asked. Baron Kadir replied, Yeshua said this is quite impossible, the psyche is held firm. Otherwise he would not have endured six hours of crucifixion. The Queen continued. Lady Talishi has also told me that as a consequence of Belial violating the agreement, none of the other four elohim will contribute dark energy to create a fold-gate for Belial's ships. None can reach the Land We Know, whether to attack the Land directly, or to transit to Sol to aid Abaddon, nor can any orders emanate from Abaddon to make the attempt. The fold-door, the smaller wormhole from Palato to the Temple of Belial in the Saiph Republic, is also blocked, because El Shaddai and Bat-El have always had absolute control of the Land We Know. This essentially isolates Telan Blackseed. What resources he has here is all he has. He has the dragon, King Brogan Stronghammer said. And as long as he does so, large armies cannot march against him. He can hold what he has. Then our task is clear, declared King Sunshield. Kill the dragon. The problem with that, Evander Firegem countered, is that the dragon is bound up with the promise of a second life for the humans native to the Land We Know, and a third life for the humans of the Sol system. No one appointed Luzea Cedarbranch to speak for all humanity, and certainly Queen Firegem did not give her permission to do so, but she did pipe up just then, in her usual way, communicating only in verse: There is a tradition for children in our oldest land: A saint, or an elf, or perhaps just an ageless old man, Is said to fly to every home on Earth in a single night To bring gifts to children, but it is the parents all right? Now picture the parents contriving to make it all so That when the children grow older they never come to know That it was all just a nice story, a little white lie. Picture the children of the world rising up as one To render this scheme of their parents finally undone, And face the real world full of beauty and pain and truth For it is time to wake up at last from the dreams of youth. Aliwe spoke into the utter silence that followed, Forgive my beloved, yet I say she speaks for me. Let's kill Demonstroke and finally grow up. After school Hope played on her backyard swingset. With every swing forward, her feet flew out over the very lip of the Green River Gorge. There was no fence, but Victoria and Mark had told her many times never to think about going down there, for it could be very steep and dangerous. And yet, somehow, a face appeared, someone who was coming up out of the gorge, and Hope saw that it was Robyn, the yin everyone told her was her real mother. Hope stopped herself swinging. She said, You're looking at me. I saw you at the Bite the Wax Tadpole concert, Robyn said. But Hope shook her head. No you didn't. You never looked at me once for the whole concert. Because I was watching the whole time! No, you were not watching the whole time, Hope. Did they tell you I can see the future? I knew the short moments when you would turn around. Hope tried to remember when those moments were. Why did you do that? I wanted to create a longing within you for when we met again. Today. So Hope learned that Robyn had manipulated her, yet Robyn freely admitted doing so. Robyn went on to tell her that if Hope followed, she could ask anything she wanted, and Robyn would say nothing but the truth every time. Then Hope put her hand in Robyn's outstretched hand and followed Robyn down into the Gorge, and her first question was, Are you my real mother? No. You don't have a mother, Hope. You are not a human girl. You are a wonderful machine we built to raise thinking that it was a human girl because that is the only way to get a machine to wake up and know that it is. But I was there at the dangerous beginning when you first came to be. DECON Agent Kurt Delaney saw Robyn take Hope in har hand from his vantage on Elegant Cleaver, a narrow ridge of brush-covered sandstone jutting straight out into the gorge only a quarter mile away from the house. He warned his backup agent, decided to intercept Robyn and Hope himself, they were very close and the terrain was relatively open. He bounced his way down over the ferns, but he never made it. About halfway there, there was the sound of wooden planks splintering, and Delaney disappeared from sight. His backup and superior, DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn, was right behind him. At first she thought Kurt was joking, but then she got over there and looked in. She saw the Deputy had fallen into something like a well which had been covered by a thin layer of rotting wood, and in turn covered by dirt and undergrowth. Except the bore wasn't straight down. It was cut at a diabolical angle, in fact, following the natural incline of the folded strata. Not steep enough for a quick free fall, done and over, but steep enough to keep Woody sliding no matter what he did. If he moved to tried to arrest his slide, he only slid faster. And there was nothing Danica could do to help him except call for help that was too far away in any event. God help me! Kurt blurted with a desperate burst of breath as his slide accelerated. He looked up at Danica in astonishment, vocalizing the unreality of it. This isn't happening! After that he really started to pick up speed, as though he were dragged faster and faster behind a truck along a gravel road. He started to scream in agony as he quickly piled up damage and that scream would haunt Danica's dreams for the rest of her life. Kurt bounced his way down that hole, and each glancing blow cracked a rib, broke an arm, a leg. His flesh was methodically sanded off. For this was a forgotten air shaft for a depleted coal mine sealed up and abandoned in the 1920s. Somewhere around the 700 foot mark poor Kurt was breathing mine gas and his screams were mercifully cut off forever. But his broken body kept sliding. He was, after all, still only halfway down the hole. Binah was a nerd among gods. When Bat-El saw that her Church had become infected with religious pride and overly puffed up with the knowledge of a divine origin and a supposed monopoly on truth, she asked Binah for help. Binah's solution involved, naturally, a gadget. Binah noted that Catholicism had become, like Judaism and Islam, a religion of the Book. Unlike relics, which aged or were lost, the Word of God propagated like a living thing, with copies made to hand down to the next generation. This was safe for The Powers That Be. Bibles were copied by hand and cost more than a house. So they tended to be found only in the cathedrals, where they were physically chained to the lectern to prevent theft. Intellectually, the Bible was chained to the authority of the bishops who reserved to themselves the sole power to interpret it. Binah fixed that in 1455 by introducing to Earth a simple invention that had existed for centuries on Gorpai: The printing press. After that, cheap copies of the Bible, translated from Latin to the local vernacular, began to flood the market. This made a clean break from the monolithic Church possible. Christianity was democratized. On Halloween in 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to a church door in Germany and got the revolution truly started. In 1521 the Papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem (It Pleases the Roman Pontiff) excommunicated Luther, who had attempted to reform Catholicism while remaining within the boundaries and sanction of the Church. Now he had no choice but to repent or go rogue. He decided not to repent. There were growing pains as the Reformation opened the way for parts of Europe to break free from Vatican control. Many heretics were burned alive at the stake. When Belial heard of this he told the other elohim, I considered burning as a death penalty once but I rejected it. Too quick. Bat-El and Binah took his point. Still, the thing had to proceed at its own pace. Erasmus wrote The Freedom of the Will and this was countered by Luther writing On the Bondage of the Will. King Henry VIII grew tired of his wife and asked Rome to release him from the marriage. When the Pope refused, he took the whole country of England out of the Church and started his own national Church. Thomas Cranmer, the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, duly an- nounced King Henry's divorce to Catherine of Aragon. This established the central feature of the Reformation, that human will was ascendant over divine will. After that it was like a dam had burst. John Knox founded the Scottish Presbyterian Church after a disagreement with Lutherans over the sacraments and church government. John Smyth founded the Baptist Church over the issue of infant baptism and church-state separation. English translations of the Bible appeared, and the new Church of England, controlled now by Parliament, rejected certain books of the Old Testament that had been accepted by Rome and the Eastern Church for centuries. After the Church divided, it began to sub-divide again and again, over the smallest issues, such as whether women could wear slacks, or whether playing cards was a sin, or what color the hymnal had to be. Every new sect had their own doctrinal hobby horse to ride. For the Five Corners Free Congregation, it was cousin marriage. Five Corners had its roots among Pennsylvania Dutch, which was a local corruption of Pennsylvania Deutsche. So they were actually German, and the assembly had roots in the Old German Baptist Brethren. These folks were pacifist farmers who dressed and lived simply, though not to the extremes of the Amish. They were called Dunkers because they baptized by dunking the convert in a local stream with complete immersion, three times just like Jesus did, in contrast to the sprinkling Lutherans, their pouring Mennonites, and even the "single dunk" Baptists. All of those other congregations were of course damned to eternal hell fire for their apostasy. At fourteen years of age Mark Lange was dunked at a Dunker church in Sharpsburg, Maryland, in Antietam Creek close to the place where it flows into the Potomac River. Shortly after this, in September, 1862 General Robert E. Lee decided to invade the Union for the first time. A copy of his Special Order Number 191 outlining his projected movements in Maryland and Pennsylvania was intercepted and placed in the hands of General McClellan, who rushed to intercept him at South Mountain on the 14th. Three mountain passes fell to the men in blue after a day of fierce fighting. Lee was forced to withdraw back to the Potomac River at Sharpsburg. Both armies concentrated their forces here over the next two days, exchanging occasional volleys of artillery fire. What followed on the 17th was the bloodiest single day of battle in American history, with all of it happening within earshot of the Dunker Church. Eight thousand men died in a cornfield across the road from the church. Four thousand men died in the woods behind the church. Twelve thousand men died in front of the church itself. Three thousand men died at Burnside's Bridge on Antietam Creek, whose clean water had been used by the Dunkers to bring converts to Christ, but now ran red with human blood. A half mile from the church five thousand men died in the sunken road, or the so-called Bloody Lane which the Rebels had occupied and fortified, but which became a giant open grave filed to the brim with bodies after the Union won through to one end of it. Tactically the battle was a draw. Strategically it was a clear victory for the North when Lee withdrew his battered forces back into Virginia. The pretty whitewashed little Dunker Church was riddled with bullet and shell holes, and had become structurally unsound. The Union Army turned it into a field hospital after the battle, and the Church filled with the screams and amputated limbs of wounded men. Blood smeared the interior walls. Horrified by the battle, four of the families who formed the membership of the Dunker Church fled to the farms of their relatives near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where they had sent their horses when they first heard artillery two days before, knowing the Confederate Army had an insatiable penchant for stealing horses. Other families remained behind and wintered over at their relatives farms around Sharpsburg. Eventually the Dunker Church collapsed under all its damage, and a new one was rebuilt. Nine months later Marse Robert invaded the North again, and the horrible experience of the former Dunkers at Antietam repeated itself with a vast three day battle that proved to be the turning point of the war. The parishioners began to think themselves cursed. They were anxious to get far away from the contending armies, and it was thought neighboring Ohio was much safer. So they settled in Waverly in the southern part of that state and it was there amid the corn fields that Five Corners Free Congregation was born. After the war, and on into the 1870s, young Mark Lange rose to become the pastor. He retained most of the doctrines of the Dunkers, but there was one very significant change. Five Corners only performed marriages between first cousins (or second cousins in a pinch). This soon made the church very unpopular with the rest of the people in Waverly. The cousin-marriage thing was considered outlandish. But according to pastor Mark, God never a problem with cousins getting hitched. According to scripture, he said, Milcah was married to her cousin, Nahor. They had a granddaughter named Rebecca, who later married Isaac, her first cousin once removed. Isaac instructed Jacob to marry a daughter of Rebecca's brother. Jacob ended up marrying two, both of them his first cousins, Rachel and Leah. Eleazar's daughters married their first cousins. El Shaddai even commanded Zelophehad's five daughters to marry their cousins so their inheritance would remain in the family. It was precisely to prevent the accumulation of wealth in families (and thus threaten the temporal power of the Papacy) that Pope Gregory I made cousin-marriage forbidden for all Roman Catholics. American prohibitions against cousin marriages predated modern genetics. The USA is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions. About twenty percent of all couples worldwide are first cousins. About eighty percent of marriages historically have been between first cousins. These defenses were first compiled in 1884 by Elder Mark Lange of Five Corners Free Congregation, who was deeply in love with his cousin-wife Joanna Lange. The incest taboo actually has a biological basis, many animals including humans have evolved an aversion to mating very close within the bloodlines, like between brother and sister, or son and mother. But the further away a potential mate is from your own genetic inheritance, the less likely you will run across them in everyday life and have the opportunity to get with them. First cousins represent a sort of optimum point between genetic diversity and sexual availability. And if Mark Lange commanded first cousins and second to be married, this was nothing compared to the brother-sister incest commanded by Belial on Gorpai. But it just didn't go over well with the neighbors. Soon after Mark Lange began promulgating this new doctrine, Ohio made marriages between first cousins illegal, and after Five Corners started making new converts back in their old digs Pennsylvania followed suit. They were becoming as unpopular as the Mormons. So the church pulled up stakes and crossed over the Ohio River into Kentucky. Lather, rinse, repeat. In a few years the refugees crossed the Big Muddy, and not long after that they were moving into the Great Plains of the Nebraska Territory. Eventually they went over the Great Divide and entered the Washington Territory. Whittled down by disease, Indian raids, and bad luck, the group was reduced to just forty people when they reached the Stampede Pass crossing of the Cascade Range. Before the Civil War, no American state banned cousin marriage. In the years following the war thirteen states made it illegal. A map of the United States highlighting the states which ban cousin marriage looks like a map of the mid 1880's journey of the Five Corners Free Congregation from Pennsylvania to the far Northwest. Soon after Mark Lange's wagon train started down the west side of the pass they encountered a blond male and female arrayed in strange clothing who were the tallest people they had ever seen. They did not give surnames, but the male, who was extremely hairy, called himself Kokabiel and the female called herself Nilaihah. They came bearing sacks of fresh fruit in several varieties, and this astonished Elder Mark Lange on two important points. One, he could not imagine where they had obtained the fruit in this wilderness, where only sour little salmonberries and huckleberries grew. Two, the fruit were unlike anything he or anyone in the wagon train had seen before. Still, the gifts were tasty, and more important, they were a source of vitamin C which was sorely lacking in their diet of stringy wild game and plant roots. Already some of the people were losing teeth from scurvy and the fruit came just in time. In return, Mark Lange offered his two visitors a venison soup and an excellent homemade beer, which they accepted with gratitude. They gave thanks to El Shaddai in the name of Yeshua Bat-El his only begotten offspring, and Lange discerned they were fellow Christians of some sort, but he could not place their accent, and they did not reveal their country of origin. The two nephilim then walked with the wagon train as it made its treacherous way down the upper vales of the Green River, where it was only a small wild stream. As they descended, the Green River doubled and redoubled in size as other streams joined it. The stream plunged over a staircase of innumerable cataracts and divided into islands as it formed stretches of white rapids alternating with deep quiet pools. This place is beautiful, Lady Nilaihah, Elder Mark said after many minutes of contemplative silence. I find myself deeply moved. Why do you find it so beautiful, Pastor Mark? she asked him. I think it is perhaps the simplicity of the water's purpose, always seeking the lowest place. What if you saw it raining on the ocean? Surely, as the simplest case, you would find that exceedingly beautiful. No, m'Lady, it would seem such a waste of fresh water. Maybe I'm thinking of the complexity of this landscape along the valley floor, of the cliffs and hillsides and gravel bars. Then what of that recent rock slide two miles back? Surely you found the jumbled, random complexity of the boulder field gorgeous beyond compare. No, I found it to be an ugly scar on the land. I'm sorry, I have failed you, m'Lady. I cannot tell you why this place is so beautiful. You have not failed me. Words have failed you. Perhaps my words defy reason. Kokabiel spoke up at this. Reason is for cutting away truths and filtering out truths, so as to arrive at the truth you are looking for. Reason is useless for growing and nourishing truths. But Master Kokabiel, Mark Lange objected, reason is the foundation of our system of justice! Exactly, the nephilim replied. That is why your society's righteousness is based on cutting and filtering, on refraining from doing evil things instead of accomplishing good things. What about when there is a tragedy, such as a typhoon or an earthquake, and the people are blamed for somehow offending God? Kokabiel said, Those who worship at the altar of reason cannot accept the capriciousness of nature. They must have an explanation for everything. So they say God is angry and sit in moral judgment of the people. So do you hold the supernatural is not real, Master Kokabiel? Rather, your world contains infinite complexities. To harness it is to spoil it. The days are bright, the night is dark. Winds blow, floods come. The seasons are hot and cold. These things unfold beyond man's puny attempts to control them. Still, Master Kokabiel, men often succeed in their way, and take pride in their cleverness. Kokabiel replied, Nature abhors monuments to man's cleverness, attacking his walls with moss and erosion and crumbling his cities to dust. Only the ever-renewing patterns of life are permanent. Mark Lange fell silent as he pondered these words. After another mile Nilaihah spoke up and said, This stream will grow and become a large river the further down you go. At the foot of this valley you will come to a large hill, and there it will be possible to cross. Near that hill at a river ford you will find a small group of people who make their home there. You call them red skins. The destiny of your people is bound up with the destiny of that people, to the greater glory of Yeshua, if you are but willing to overcome your suspicion of them. And with that, Kokabiel and Nilaihah, both of the House of Sala, took their leave of Elder Mark and went their own way. In the days afterward, Pastor Lange often thought of the scripture in the letter to the Hebrews that said, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." It was getting on to late afternoon of the following day when the wagon train reached the river crossing at the base of End Dome hill. There was no sign of the Indians that Nilaihah spoke of. The party easily forded the river, and entering the woods on the other side, they reached the vicinity of a small round pond ringed with a low earth mound. It was there that Mark Lange decided to bring the wagon train to a halt for the night. The bulk of the cavalry from Fort Shiprock under Lieutenant Welles followed the hoofprints of Morrison's herd north until they found the bodies of the warriors of the People slain along the way, intercepted by the horse-mounted warriors of another band, probably Northern Raiders. Welles detached a squad to escort Morrison to his herd and then followed these tracks. Malekwa hit upon the idea of going back to the Land We Know for a short time, at least until Smalley's force stopped looking for him. But at the Sacred Pond he encountered a train of sixteen wagons and forty white skins, and Malekwa marveled that so many people were converging in this area at once. The settler party, which Chief Malekwa smelled before he saw, were the die-hards of the Five Corners Free Congregation. Chief Malekwa thought it was getting so crowded it wasn't a respectable wilderness anymore. The women among these settlers were crying and the men were wringing their hands, for one of their little girls had slipped under the waters of the little pond and her body had yet been found despite many attempts to try to reach it. Malekwa walked forward slowly into their encampment with empty hands so they could see he carried no weapon. The Golden Gift was tied to his belt and it did not look like any weapon they knew. I am Malekwa, Chief of the People. Do not fear for your daughter Inge. She is safe in the Land of the Spirits and soon she will appear again. Mark Lange pointed a gun at Malekwa and pulled back the hammer. How do you know her name? And how do you know she will come back to us safe? And that was Inge Lange's cue to pop out of the water, three years older than when she went in, only three hours before, but she was not nearly as old as the close schoolyard friend she barely recognized standing there waiting for him. Malekwa, you look different! she exclaimed, to her father's utter confusion. The incarnation of Belial had laughed many times at the misfortune of hyz enemies, but never before in history had hy laughed at something just because it was funny. Then again hy had never seen the telenovela "Gods & Demigods" before. Imprisoned in Taurus City there was little else to do: Talishi fumed when she learned the results of Lilith's paternity test, which she had been holding over Abaddon's head, had been stolen from her temple. Talishi checked on Jerry, whom sha thinks is her cat burglar. Talishi searched Jerry's room for a tunic Brand said got torn when Jerry struggled with Talishi's temple guards. Yeshua comforted Chuck, who was devastated to learn that both he and Hunky had received love letters from the same mystery god. Yeshua suggested that Chuck start importing to Earth Talishi's fashion line from Dia, but he could not dissuade Chuck from quitting the Gervasi Crime Family because he could no longer work with Hunky. Ariel refused to marry Gordon until things were right between him and El Shaddai. After that Gordon killed El Shaddai's favorite peacock and sent the dead bird to the temple in Nath with a note that said, "Happy now?" Del went to Eniph after Chokhmah suggested that was where Abaddon was holding Robyn captive. Abaddon decided to pit Del against Yeshua in a plot to oust him as the King of Kings. Meanwhile Del is stunned when her long-lost mother Shyla returns to claim her share of the lottery jackpot. It gladdens my heart, Lahatiel said when hy along with the other officers of Exiler were escorted into the lounge by Del, to see the emperor is enjoying hyz time here on Selene as thoroughly as we have. Abaddon was stunned. The ophan had Abaddon's battle flag also. Lahatiel! Then you must have come through before the fold-gate was destroyed. We came directly here from Proxima. Belial bristled at the obvious decline in Lahatiel's military bearing and reverence for the divine. You came directly here from Proxima, what? We came directly here from Proxima which means we succeeded in getting Ithuriel to focus on completing his discovery of a faster-than-light drive. Exiler was refitted and we can now go to any point in the universe. Excellent, ophan!. Then I shall change my clothes for the trip home. Suriel said, On the contrary, we are here as the guests of Del Gervasi. To kidnap hez prisoner would be an unforgivable breach of protocol. Abaddon's face turned red with fury at the betrayal. He turned to Erel Barakiel, but remembered that Arioch had once told him this officer was a fraud who had faked his two death struggles. So Abaddon's eyes settled on Sar Adnarel Sala. He asked about the well-being of har mother. My mother? My mother is quite safe from you and your Eyes. I shall find har eventually. To this I shall bend my entire will. You never trusted us, Lahatiel broke in. You held our loyalty only through threats to the innocent ones we love, and now that we have taken them to a safe place you wonder why we are loyal to you no more. It is said that certain kinds of electric shocks are the most painful thing a nephil can endure without being killed, Belial said. My Eyes have elevated this from a mere science to a kind of performance art. And there are far, far more painful things we could do to you that would bring you right to the brink of death, Del countered, and of course as I have demonstrated I can bring you back from that brink. But have no fear of torment, Belial, that is not who we are or what we do. Robyn was spiriting Hope away on behalf of Lilith Gervasi, who was named after the Hebrew demon who stole children at night. The significance of that was not lost on her as she led Hope on a secret way across the Green River. Just below the lip of the gorge they had struck off to the west, following a path along the rim. Hope stopped from time to time to leave little "snowmen" made from stones along the trail, and for a time Robyn pretended not to see them. But when they drew near to the place they could cross the river Robyn squatted down on her haunches so she could look Hope directly in the eye and let her see the truth of her words. There will be other people looking for you tonight and some of them are not very nice. Hope's eyes went wide with surprise, and even a twinge of regret. She was certainly finished building trail markers. But she was curious about these hunters Robyn mentioned and asked, Why are they looking for me? There would never be any reason to lie to Hope, and billions of people in the future would review this moment as well as every other moment of Hope's life, so Robyn spoke only the honest truth to her: When you wake up from your dream it will be the most important thing ever to happen in the history of the world, Hope. Your mind will be copied many billions of times, and people will be able to join their minds to those copies of yours and have a life that never ends. But there are bad people who want to grab you at that very moment so they can be the gatekeepers to eternal life and charge money. I know this is true because they have already stolen a copy of your mind, but it doesn't help them because you are still dreaming. Hope furrowed her forehead in thought. But if they grab me now it won't help them either, because as you say I am still dreaming now. Robyn was astonished at the high intelligence Hope displayed. That is true, Hope, but when you made the choice to leave Mark's house and follow me, you started to wake up from your dream. The bad people think you are completely awake now and will spare no effort to find you. So we hide. High above a wild stretch of the Green River far from any eyes a water pipeline was slung across the deep gorge, with a precarious wooden walkway slung beneath it to allow repairs to the pipe. It amounted to a footbridge across the river, but apart from kayakers very few people knew it existed, even in the King County Water Authority. There was just enough light remaining for Robyn and Hope to use it to cross over to the south rim. There is a cut between my legs, Hope said. It does not hurt, but it also does not heal. She had often been put to sleep for minor repairs. Robyn smiled. That's not a cut, Hope, we added girl parts to you, like when you saw Inga Lange. Someday you will join together with a boy. On the other side of the river was the remains of a gravel road, choked with weeds as the road slowly evolved into a footpath. A small concrete shed with a locked and rusty metal door was there, but moss was beginning to crawl up the side of its walls. Robyn guessed that no one from the Water Authority had serviced the pipe here for at least five years. But the place was not entirely devoid of human evidence. A large pile of flattened beer cans attested to the onetime popularity of this site for parties, possibly kids from a Renton high school judging from the graffiti on the water pipe and toolshed. But even those signs were at least four years old. The freshest paint declared that the "Hazen High Class of '83 Roolz". So there in a dark, forlorn cul-de-sac Robyn Lokken uncurled a bedroll, a sleeping bag, and invited Hope to sit. They shared a large can of soup, the kind that heats itself up when you peel off the top. Hope did not get tired or cold, but she did eat, and she did sleep. And most important- ly, Robyn knew, for it was the essential heart of all their efforts and all designs, Hope did dream. A dream within a dream. Lt. Welles with his thirty cavalrymen rode hell-for-leather west after the Northern Raiders and reached the banks of the Green River upstream from End Dome at the place where the river plunged into the Cascade Mountains through a narrow valley. Welles pushed his men and horses to exhaustion as they rode up the banks of the dwindling river, more often than not trotting through the water itself. Welles thought they were drawing ever nearer to their prey, but they were chasing a phantom, and as dusk settled in the cavalry itself became the prey. A rock slide of curious origin cut off their advance, and another rock slide cut off any escape. Then arrows sang out from hidden nooks among the boulders along the cliffs, answered by gun- fire as the cavalry shot wildly at any perceived movement. The battle seemed to go too easy for the Northern Raiders, and they suspected treachery, but in truth the warriors were fighting in land they knew intimately while Welles, his other men and all their horses were in no condition to put up much of a fight. Only the five men detached by Smalley to escort Morrison back to his herd ever made it back to Fort Shiprock alive, and a few weeks later a cable arrived from the War Department for the senior man, a sergeant, to break up the fort and cart the essentials away to Fort Lawton in Seattle by army draft horses. They never found Malekwa. After Malekwa, with many affirmations by Inge, convinced Mark Lange that he really did know his daughter from years spent with her in the "spirit world" the attention turned from him to the girl. The waterproof backpack she wore was opened, and the Scroll of Lael was removed and unrolled to reveal the Hebrew letters written there upon. They taught me how to read this, she revealed, and when Mark asked who "they" were she recited a bare outline of the five elohim, the sixteen bene elohim, and the nephilim. But both she and Malekwa kept the explanations short, because one of the most important things they learned in the Academy was to keep their mouths shut. Although Inge and Malekwa could teach all of the settlers many things, Mark Lange was a pastor and nothing more, so he was the one who taught from scripture. When Inge finished translating the scroll and it was bound into a volume with books, chapters, and verses, becoming a sort of sequel to the Bible, Mark would have much more scripture to teach from. In the meantime Malekwa, traveling with the pilgrims, discovered that three of his warriors had been killed by the Northern Raiders on the north bank of the river, and the People had come out to prepare their bodies. At the bidding of Pastor Mark, the pilgrims accompanied Malekwa and the People as they bore the bodies to the summit of End Dome in honor, and a man from each family of the whites was permitted to help carry the three biers of alder branches. On the summit, pastor Mark offered prayers in the usual Christian funeral service, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust", but instead of burning the bodies, Malekwa used the Golden Gift to consume them entire. And so it was that the whites were struck speechless by a display of the power of God made manifest. When Mark could find his voice again, he said, This is a sign! God has brought us together, white man and red man alike, in this land of His choosing flowing with milk and honey. Here we will remain, red and white, each supporting and defending the other! So the next morning there was a mass baptism of the People in the cold silty waters of the Green River, three times using total immersion, since they were from the Dunker tradition, and not sprinklers like the hell-bound Lutherans. So a new faith movement was born, the End Dome Church, with a White Wing and a Red Wing, which in the words of the former Pastor (now Prophet) Mark Lange, Two lungs by which the united People of the Creator draw new breath. And the Golden Gift was at the heart of their devotion. Malekwa was made the Apostle of the Church, with the promise that he would be elevated to Prophet upon the death of Mark Lange. The doctrine of matrimonial consanguinity, or cousin-marriage, prevented any joining between the two sides, salving the settler's horror at potential race-mixing. The Royals sailed in the Queen's barge downriver to Sukai in the Land of Menkal, where they transferred to a ship that took them west past Elendal Island, hugging the coast on its way to Hamar. Currents always moved away from the Land, while winds always blew toward it. The ship used both of these forces to thread its path, while Baron Bayard told everyone a story. Everyone in the Land We Know was fully aware that the world was an island in the center of a flat sea called Thalury. From the beginning of days sailors heeded the divine injunctions of all the elohim never to sail out of sight of the Land, lest they meet the edge. So rigidly was this law observed that if a captain, drunk or otherwise, steered his ship such that the Land faded from view, it was cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. No such crew returning to port ever faced punishment. But in the fullness of time King Ravenmaster was put to death. It was the days of the revolution in the ancient kingdom of Kurgan, when the republic of loosely-united city-states known as the Saiph League was born, and many of the laws established by the elohim were overthrown. "Reason" reigned supreme, and when time was ripe seamen were found to man two ships, sailors who were willing to disregard the divine warning never to sail out of the sight of land. Such was the rebellious mindset of the men of the Saiph League that it never occurred to them the gods issued their commandment for the safety of mariners. Instead, there were rumors of yet another land far in the south, a choice land the elohim created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, and the divine prohibition was to keep this land from being despoiled by mortals. The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries were Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the current with sails unfurled. After two days, the dark line that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the north, and some of the sailors shuddered, for the tradition was deeply embedded within them. And their fears proved more than superstition, for one night after about a week underway the lookout in the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Whisp that he was raising his sails and turning back. Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will didn't follow suit until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. In short order she was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again. But Yeshua and Talishi often spoke of what happened next. Will 'O' The Whisphad indeed fallen over the edge of the world. For not far away from the Land the sea poured over a great cataract, an infinite waterfall. For days the ship fell partially submerged within these waters, which had become a vertical sheet. The crew found they had no weight, they floated freely, and some floated far away from the ship. Winds eventually broke the sheet into globes of water, ranging in size from a man's head to the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in some of these spheres of water, and when the food aboard ship ran out these fish provided the only source of food. There was no thirst, for Thalury was a freshwater sea. As the crew continued to fall, the black underside of the world became visible overhead. The eternal winds blew the globes of water further and further apart, and the heat of the day caused them to slowly evaporate. One day none of the water globes which remained near the ship contained any fish, and the men began to starve. Thoughts of killing each other for meat crossed their mind, but by the time they were desperate enough to act, they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than moan pitifully. Then came the final week, when they passed away one by one, according to their remaining strength. Yeshua said their shades appeared on the rim of the Sacred Mountain, which is the fate of all humans who die in Land, but of their destiny beyond that he would say nothing. When Mark Felton and Victoria discovered that Hope was missing they rang up the rest of the Family on the darkswarm. Lilith and Jerry were dead, Jill was just entering the Barnard's Star system, and Robyn was in parts unknown. That left Mike the most senior member, but he was in San Francisco and it would take all night to drive to Seattle. He couldn't fly, DECON would nab him. Don't go looking for Hope until I get up there, he warned Mark. Gonorrhea Gulch is filled with booby traps up the Kazoo. Victoria seconded that. Rotted through with holes like Swiss cheese, gold mining, and coal mining after that. The land has been abused. If we fell in I could fly myself out, but I can't fly you out. And what if Hope already fell into one of those holes? he protested, but there was no way to make Victoria budge until morning when Mike came. They started at the crack of dawn from Mark's backyard, plowing through brush and devil's club, with Mike bidding Victoria and Mark to trust hym. The route he chose was flagged with orange and black plastic ribbons. Not many people know about the rim trail. We use it and maintain it but we don't connect it anywhere. And as hy spoke they emerged onto an actual trail where walking was unobstructed. Mark saw the first trail marker. But it wasn't until Victoria found a trail marker with a strip from Hope's dress that she got excited. I bought this for her first day of school. It doesn't make any sense, Mark said. If she is being taken against her will why would her abductor allow her to leave a trail we can follow? But after that the markers ended, which was unfortunate, because the trail forked several times. Mike chose to go down to the river itself through a beautiful area of deeply etched sandstone ridges and gullies that came one after the other and intersected a nameless creek somewhere directly below Mark's house. They had descended four hundred feet in elevation and as they drew near to the waters' edge they began to hear voices, so they silently crouched in the woods above the river to take a closer look. Six men were on the stony riverbank wearing dark blue unmarked windbreakers with International Orange life-vests over them. Having lost two agents in the woods already, they had come downstream on a whitewater raft, deeming the Class III and IV rapids to be slightly safer. They found some debris on the bank and stopped to investigate, tying their boat off a short distance downstream. Among some of the junk they were looking at was a single boat oar, suggesting whoever had taken Hope left in too big of a hurry. I'll take care of these bozos, Victoria said, and took to the skies. Silently she descended through the air over their neglected raft and untied it. But when she pushed it back into the water she could not avoid making a sound, which the six agents heard. All of them pulled out revolvers and began to take potshots at her, and some of them were in the "Fiddy Cent Club" who could put six rounds in a hole that could be covered by a half-dollar. Victoria leapt into the sky once more and followed their raft downstream until the river had made two sharp bends and she was well out of sight. Along the way she looked for Hope but didn't expect to see her. The agents radioed in for another raft, and fanned out a bit looking for more bene elohim, but they didn't dare go back up into the woods. So DECON is looking for Hope, Mark said when Victoria returned from her cute little raid. What does it all mean? It means DECON didn't take her, Vic replied. That's a good thing. What do think, Mike? Is this whole thing a top level Family operation? I dunno. Could be. Robyn gaveth Hope, and Robyn taketh Hope away? In 1888 the rumor of gold was heard tell in the Green River Gorge, and the newly platted town of Franklin swelled with the influx of "Eighty-eighters" hungry for the shiny yellow stuff. Most of the prospectors struck out, but some of these stayed behind in Franklin as fresh converts to the End Dome Church. After the rail line went through connecting Issaquah to the territorial capital at Olympia, it was easy for cousins of the new converts to make their way west to new lives as wives of the former prospectors. When the Washington territory entered the Union as a state in 1889 the End Dome Church had grown large enough and influential enough to ensure the state government did not outlaw cousin-marriage for years to come. Gradually the tabernacle on the summit of End Dome was expanded into the vast white wooden edifice of the End Dome Temple. When it was completed many secondary tabernacles had been established throughout the US and Europe, but all End Dome funerals still took place at the original site. After the Great War broke out in Europe many End Dome tabernacles in France and the Low Countries were destroyed by stray shells, or even shelled deliberately perhaps. At the bidding of the Prophet, a special collection was taken up across the US to bring succor in the wartime mission field. With these funds in hand, Prophet Lange boarded the steam liner Reina Regenta in Seattle with about a quarter-million dollars in gold bullion to aid the faithful in those nations torn by the conflict, which was the first truly industrial war in the history of the Earth, raging across much of the world. Survivors of the voyage of Reina Regenta through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic told of the divine patience of Prophet Lange as he was dogged day and night by a Seattle newspaper reporter on board named Rupert Keller, who obviously had a beef with the End Dome "cult". When the ship was in the frigid waters almost precisely in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, far from any help, she took two torpedoes from a German U-boat. Reina Regenta listed sharply to the side, drowning half of her lifeboats. Frantically, the lifeboats on her port side were laden with passengers and released but there were not enough of these for everyone and no chance of raising the floundering ones on the starboard side. Women and children went first, and then old men were allowed to board. The Prophet Lange was placed in the last lifeboat, but before it was lowered to the sea he spied a despairing Rupert Keller standing on the deck of the doomed ship. The Prophet bounded out of his place and offered his seat to the reporter. Happy birthday, son, he said with a gentle smile. Lange was not without fear, for all living things fear death as part of their natural defense mechanism, but he was encouraged by his memories of the Golden Gift, physical evidence of the existence of God which he had been so fortunate to witness, a God whose son had spoken to Inge. And he spread his encouragement around to the rest of the doomed passengers. In this way he made their passing a little bit easier. There was just enough time for the last lifeboat to get away before the ship rolled completely over and took everyone aboard down to the uncharted depths of the ocean. The Prophet's kind gesture was totally wasted on Keller. He proceeded to give a newspaper account of the disaster which included the Prophet kicking little girls off a lifeboat to make room for his gold bullion, resulting in the sinking of the lifeboat, the death of Lange, and the death of everyone with him. Indeed, Keller said the presence of the gold was the reason the ship was torpedoed by the Central Powers in the first place, lest it aid the cause of the Triple Entente. Only a handful of survivors brought the true tale to the Church elders in Franklin, but that was to no avail. For Keller's widely published lies did their damage to the popular imagination of the American people. Many former supporters soured on the religion, and the growth of the End Dome Church slowed to a crawl. Shortly after that, by popular referendum, the state of Washington banned marriages be- tween first cousins and the first serious persecution of Endomites began. In the morning Robyn cut away the remnants of Hope's yellow dress and threw it down in a hole where the earth had collapsed after coal had been taken out of an underlying seam. Robyn said sha was creating a scenario where a bad man took Hope, and the dress was part of a feint. Sha didn't tell Hope about the surprise that awaited whoever tried to retrieve the garment. Momma Vic is going to wonder why I didn't scratch the bad man. Robyn looked at her. Ah yes, you have a little surprise for bad men, don't you, Hope? Razor blades for fingernails, eh? That little detail was Del's touch. Robyn gave Hope a camouflaged man's shirt that came nearly to her knees, and so served as another dress. You'll have to wear this, honey. By some oversight, they don't make camo for little girls. Where are we going, Momma Robyn? Hope was genuinely curious. Right over there, see? They call it Doll Hill these days, but they used to call it End Dome because it's like a little round footstool where the Cascade mountains end. And like many things here in our backyard it is wrapped up with a lot of history, and not much of that history was good. So little Hope Felton and Robyn Lokken crossed a couple miles of upsy-downsy plateau of hillocks left over from the coal mining days dotted with little ponds and lakes amid a maze of trails until they were come to the foot of Doll Hill, formerly known as End Dome, and for both of them the climb was a joy. On the lower slopes the underlying brush was suppressed by the bark shed by cedar trees, which over many years had been compressed into a strange rubbery surface that Hope dubbed Brown Land, framed by intricate staircases made of exposed tree roots. Even when Hope occasionally slipped and fell, there was little chance of injury in a forest that seemed to be fashioned like a giant trampoline. At another point higher up, Hope found herself in a small shady field made entirely of baby pine cones, a clean surface she could roll in and even pretend to swim. Robyn led her up the western flank of End Dome on an unmarked animal track sha knew led to the top because she simply discarded all the timelines when she chose the wrong path. Presently they arrived on the summit of the hill more than a thousand feet above the Green River, but views were screened by the gray leafless branches of many maples and alders. There was a large concrete slab here and the remains of a giant stone fireplace and chimney. Robyn said these were the ruins of the End Dome Temple which had been razed to the foundation by the American government in the 1970s. Much of the slab was covered with a stack of thin black fabric folded in many layers. Large metal tanks were sitting nearby, painted to blend in with the trees and so heavy they had to be lifted off a deuce-and-a-half by Gordon using his talent. Also strewn about were hoses and wires and various packages of every size, and a big lump under all the camouflaged fabric that would later reveal itself to be a small snub-nosed spaceplane with stubby folded wings. It was a craft only big enough to seat one pilot with a little girl sitting on har lap. Robyn had no need to inventory the stock, sha could look ahead and see harself and Hope rising into the sky. The balloon and spaceplane were deemed necessary because if Robyn tried to take Hope off the planet in Exiler Sidekick (the lander belonging to her nephilim allies soon to be patiently waiting in low Earth orbit above) their life-expectancy after getting airborne would be measured in mere minutes, courtesy of a launch laser. What is all this stuff for, Momma Robyn? You like balloons, don't you, Hope? Well, this will be the biggest balloon you ever saw in your whole life, and it will carry both of us to a very important appointment in the sky tonight. When news arrived of the sinking of Reina Regenta it hit the Church of End Dome hard. Mark had been loved. And there was simply no way to administer the Last Rites with the Golden Gift to the body of the Prophet. During the fourteen days of mourning that followed, Chief Malekwa, long the Apostle of the Church, was elevated to Prophet and he in turn chose Peter Hansen to be the next Apostle. Peter had been a child of approximately Inge's age when he made the original pilgrimage west with his family. He had been there from the beginning, and his appointment established a tradition that the office of Prophet would alternate between the White and Red wings of the Church, lest one or the other grow disenfranchised. Not everything was so grim. During the large fair held in honor of the Prophet's 70th birthday, a barnstormer came to Franklin offering rides in his biplane. Fearless, Prophet Malekwa stepped up to be the first to fly, to the delight of everyone present. Few religious leaders have been so be- loved, at least among his own faithful. Christian outsiders, however, con- sidered Endomism to be a dangerous cult of heterodox sun-worshipers who preserved the commandments of the devil (Belial), thought God to be female, and married their close kin. And the critics were absolutely right. When Malekwa died in 1937 at the age of 80 he lay in state in the temple sanctuary for fourteen days. Many Endomites scattered across the country journeyed by train, auto, or even by DC-3 to witness Prophet Hansen commit the old Chief's body directly into the hands of God. It was a sight that few but the oldest members present had ever seen, for most members of the Church of End Dome lived far from Franklin. The Church performed all the funerals of Endomites at the Temple, but only the very closest kin of the deceased were allowed to attend. For most of them it was a ceremony they would not witness until they were well into middle-age when their parents died, and of course everyone prayed they would never have to attend. Hansen chose Two Feathers to fill the office of Prophet which he had vacated and guided the Church through the years of World War II and the two decades which followed, a troubling time that saw a steady decline in membership and the closure of many tabernacles overseas and in the US, until the footprint of the End Dome Church had been reduced to the State of Washing- ton alone. And this great falling away led to a crisis when it became virtually impossible for the young people in the Church to obey the requirement to marry their first cousins no matter how long the elders puzzled over the family trees. So it was that Peter Hansen, after long prayer, promulgated his new "revelation" that the young people could marry someone who was not their cousin, so long as they were Endomites in good stead. Prophet Hansen died in 1968 and Two Feathers chose Paul Bergin to become the new Apostle, but the chemistry of this pair-up was not good from the very beginning. Two Feathers was an Experimentalist who wished to follow out Hansen's new revelation to its ultimate end, while Bergin was a Traditionalist who would have been quite at home in the earliest days of the Church. So it was in 1971 when Two Feathers blessed the union of Jerry Shy Bear from the Red Wing, and Sophie Krause from the White Wing, that Paul Bergin declared the office of Prophet to have been vacant since the death of Hansen and all revelations of Two Feathers null and void. After that the Church divided in twain, roughly along racial lines, although some whites remained faithful to Prophet Two Feathers. There were bitter recriminations and a legal battle over the deed to the Temple and the hilltop property it occupied that eventually was settled in favor of the existing prophet per the terms in the charter of the Church. But someone in the White Wing was willing to lose the Temple rather than let the Red Wing have it. A description of the Golden Gift was given to the FBI, who infiltrated the Last Rites and observed the artifact in operation. In the large raid that followed, the Golden Gift could not be found, so the temple was simply raised to the ground so the FBI could sift through the ashes. DECON had it's fundamental origin in this unfruitful search. Three bridges crossed the Green River Gorge. The westernmost was the Maple Valley Highway, running south from Four Corners towards Enumclaw. The easternmost was near Kanaskat-Palmer State Park, built over the old river ford where the People used to hunt. Between them is a single-lane bridge built in 1914 to link the town of Franklin to points on the south rim. This was the most scenic part of the Gorge, complete with a pretty waterfall that fell into the river from the side. A privately-run museum commemorating the history of the Gorge sat precariously on the rim at the hub of a vast network of trails and dirt roads that spread out like a web. A woman named Juliet Hurst was the only attendant at the ramshackle, green-painted Welles Battlefield Memorial Visitor's Center. She had bloodshot aquamarine eyes under a mane of stringy dark-brown hair. The place she ran was nine miles downriver from the actual site of the battle, which could only be reached on foot or horseback, but it was filled with a lot of photos and uniforms and rifles from that time. There was also a redwood tree. Vic, who had never visited before, had to admit the place wasn't half bad. A lot of the coal mining and gold mining history of the area could be gleaned from the exhibits. But that wasn't enough, apparently, for Miss Hurst or whoever it was that actually owned the place. They had turned it into the ultimate roadside attraction of the "world's largest ball of twine" variety, starting with a pillar of salt in the shape of a woman. There was an automobile engine that ran on tap water (but was temporarily busted), a lead-to-gold converter (also busted), and several perpetual motion machines that probably ran on hidden batteries. Miss Hurst showed them a dinosaur skull with a bullet hole in it. Next to that was a dirty plastic Coke bottle. She said, "This was shown to the Chinese emperor in 300 BC, but he caused the inventor to be executed to keep the glassblowers in business. Mark, Vic, and Mike all strained to keep from laughing. Miss Hurst let them examine what she called undeniable authentication documents for the Shroud of Turin, which lay folded neatly on top of all the books that were still checked out when the Library of Alexandria burned. The original blueprints for the Great Pyramids were posted on the wall. Next to that was a reel-to-reel deck with Nixon's missing eighteen minutes, plus a manuscript containing the missing chapters of Nostradamus dealing with the end of human civilization. They were suppressed because humanity is not prepared to know the truth, Miss Hurst intoned gravely. Piled on top of the loose pages of Beethoven's Tenth Symphony was the Holy Grail acting as a paperweight. Miss Hurst showed them a flight jacket hanging next to the Grail and claimed it belonged to Amelia Earhart. That last one was just too much for Mike. I call bullshit, lady! I've met Amelia Earhart in Hamar still wearing her jacket and it doesn't look like that. Juliet Hurst fell silent and looked at Mike like he was crazy. Another wing of the museum contained thousands of unpaired dirty socks, each one tagged with the time, date, and location of the laundry in which they disappeared. But Vic zeroed in on the far wall which was covered with a giant aerial photograph of the Gorge. And that wall was tagged with many markers showing the location of authentic Bigfoot sightings. Something in the giant image drew her eye. What is this, Mike, a third bridge? Mike looked closer. No, too small Vic. Maybe just a footbridge. None of the above, Miss Hurst said. That's the water pipeline for everybody who lives south of here. Has a walkway slung under it though. Vic got her famous look of resolve. Whoever took Hope didn't cast off in a boat after all. They stayed on the north rim and used the pipeline to cross the river. Next for us is the south side and back into the woods. The frigate Exiler was underway again, but this time she carried a very special passenger in the person of Abaddon, the nephil incarnation of Belial, self-styled emperor of a rather frazzled Empire. Dogging hyz every move was the jen Del, the most fierce warrior among the bene elohim, acting in the role as Abaddon's personal nurse. Should he contrive to do some- thing foolish, say space hymself out an airlock, Del would revive hym almost as soon as Kushiel managed to grapple hyz body and haul it back aboard, for as long has Abaddon remained alive his psyche could not flee to hyz secondary avatar at Palato, where hy could make all sorts of trouble. Del explained it to hym by quoting the ancient philosopher Socrates, who within proximity of his own death said, Each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her, and makes her believe that to be true which the body affirms to be true. To which Abaddon replied, Yes but Del, you and I both know there are no such things as souls, only living brains which often delude themselves. As for Exiler her mission was to delude the Americans into thinking she had not traveled on the standard Eastbound descent ellipse from the Moon, a path which their long-range radars were scanning at every moment and cataloging every track larger than a crescent wrench. Barakiel initiated a short jump that in a mere seven seconds relocated the ship into low orbit. The hop was so short that it could not by any means be considered a faster-than-light maneuver, but it was sufficient to break the audit trail of the American space tracking system. They dared not attack, for fear of hitting one of their own errant satellites, and before their track could be refined Kushiel had lit off the engines to circularize the frigate's orbit. Belial, sitting in a crash web on the flight deck, looked at the sidearms that were strapped to the belts of each officer and made his final play, telling Lahatiel, There is still one remaining chance for you, ophan. Kill this Del person and take me back to Palato. You have nothing to fear. With this ship the universe can be yours if you only reach out and take it. I am willing to overlook this strange temporary wobble in your loyalty. Lahatiel removed his sidearm, but instead of pointing it at Del, he pointed it at Abaddon. If I wanted the whole universe "Sire" it would be mine, quite without your dubious claim to be ready to forgive me. I fail to see any value added to killing Del instead of you. And he replaced his gun. So what happened to you, ophan? What finally tipped you over? Oh, probably your order to kill the son of the Seraph Ithuriel. It was not a particularly difficult task for the crew of this ship to extract Marou alive and return hym to hyz father. If I had done as you asked Ithuriel would have destroyed Proxima station, killing hymself, hyz wife, and hyz aide before allowing the FTL pod to be taken by us. Hy and hyz family were quite troubled at the thought of the universe filling up with endless copies of Gorpai. You have lived among us for centuries but you will never be one of us. You have no interest in how a nephil thinks or feels. For me it was never a question of loyalty, Suriel added. Yen are second-tier citizens in your Empire, and if it suits you to let me serve then it suits me as well, but never mistake mutual advantage for fidelity. For me it's the death culture you have fostered from the beginning, Barakiel chimed in. 'All of Gorpai was yours to command, yet your greatest fear was running out of enemies to kill. So you invented Beaters. It was quite an eye-opener to see you scramble to recover from one of your own bad decisions, Adnarel said. It was like waking up one day and realizing one has exceeded one's own father in maturity and wisdom, and hy seems like nothing more than a petulant, selfish brat, only bigger. Mike, Victoria, and Mark were standing over a significant piece of evidence in their search for Hope, which was her yellow polka-dot dress laying at the bottom of a cave hole in a mined-out coal seam. Two dead DECON agents were lying there too. Mike looked anything but shocked, he knew what was going on now. Mark, you got some matches on you bro? Sure I do. I'm a programmer, I live on pizza and cigarettes. But why? Just toss 'em here and don't follow me down, neither one of yuz. Mike lit one of the matches and started to edge down into the hole. When the match reached the same level as the opening of the hole, it went out. Mike backed up a bit out of the hole and lit another match. Again, when the flame reached the level of the hole, it sputtered out. He finished climb- ing down into the hole, and said, Don't come down here with me or you'll die like these two assholes. Carbon dioxide has displaced the oxygen. Mike's body can make it's own oxygen somehow, Vic said needlessly. The first guy came down here to get the dress, passed out, and the second guy came down to save him, Mike said. Yeah, I know all about this fabulous spot. We're about a thousand feet away from the Sacred Pond. This is one of the defense mechanisms, one of many in this terrible place. I can't even tell you how many times Lil or Yeshua told me to come here and pull some dead animal out. It might be the only reason why I got my talent. So now we're ninety-nine percent sure it was Robyn who kidnapped Hope, Vic said. The only remaining mystery is why. We just brought Hope here from the Land We Know a few days ago, Mark complained. Why would Robyn want bring her right back? Vic thought things out for a moment. The whole point of having you and I perform the role of Hope's parents was to give her something of a normal human life so that when her artificial intelligence actually kicked in she would be recognizably human, not absolutely alien like the Swarm. Right? Mark agreed with that, naturally, for it was his own argument when Project Hope began. But now he thought of Robyn's talent to see the future. He said, I think Robyn prognosticated that Hope was very close to reaching full awareness and sha has set things in motion to permit that to happen. One way to find out, Mike said. The Sacred Pool is very close. When they arrived on the Hamar side and were offered the usual towels to dry off, Mike and Vic and Mark saw that Yeshua had been joined by what ap- peared to be every person of noble extraction in the Land We Know. Yeshua said, Your well-intentioned search for Hope now is over, my friends. Then she is back here, Lord? Victoria asked. Do you recall the incident recorded in Torah known as the Akedah? Mike replied, Your mother told Abraham to take his only son to the top of what would become Temple Mount and offer him up as a human sacrifice. The version in the scroll of Lael gets it closer to what really happened. El Shaddai told Melchizedek to tell Abraham that, and then at the last minute Melchizedek told Abraham to cry off. Now it seems Binah wants to repeat the same test but there's no one to tell Robyn to cry off. Victoria saw it all in a flash. Hope is on End Dome! I'm going back! American agents saw you and Michael and Mark enter the Sacred Pond, Victoria. I cannot permit anyone to use it at this time. To DECON radar, Robyn and Hope rising in their balloon were just a flock of birds. They couldn’t scramble fighters to investigate every storm cloud or all other Unidentified Flying Objects moving at walking speed on doppler.Image After ascending all night, dawn was about to break. At 100,000 feet their balloon was so high Robyn and Hope had an awesome, orbit-like view that was eerily still, quite unlike the usual rushing cloudscapes seen from a vessel in space. Robyn pulled a lever. The moment of release was like topping out on a nineteen mile high roller coaster, an eye-bugging moment of feeling har stomach contract and try to fold itself back out through har throat. The motor fired and ran quickly up to a manageable three gees. The advantage of a balloon-aided launch was that all the thrust was applied horizontally. All the propellant was spent towards getting to orbit and none was wasted in a “pitch program.” A nineteen mile drop offered just enough time to get up to orbital speed. At twelve seconds they broke Mach 1 after falling a half mile and the thin atmosphere begin hissing against the little shuttle. The air was not quite thick enough for the control surfaces to work well so Robyn was kept busy firing the monopropellant side thrusters with the joystick, keeping the shuttle level along the flight path as the burn continued. They reached Mach 3 at thirty-five seconds, altitude 79,800 feet, ten nautical miles downrange from the drop point. Now Robyn was continuously reconfiguring the stubby wings as their velocity in- creased, but they were still getting very little lift at this point. Lift finally started to happen at Mach 5 when they bounced off the stratosphere at 46,000 feet well above the normal route between New York and Sydney. It was only fifty-eight seconds now but they were already twenty-seven nautical miles down range. The sun popped over the horizon suddenly, dazzling both of them as it climbed into the sky with otherworldly speed. Back up to 73,000 feet they crossed Mach 8 at the ninety-three second mark and were seventy nautical miles down range. The little wings were glowing orange-hot as they functioned as heat sinks for the entire shuttle but they were high enough now that all that waste heat was just about to come back inside. Very little air was out there to create more heat by friction, nor to carry any heat away. So Robyn jettisoned the useless wings with explosive bolts. The wings were left spinning in the air right behind them. After that the ride grew much quieter and they just continued to pile on more velocity and altitude. At four minutes and thirty-eight seconds after beginning the balloon drop and six hundred twenty nautical miles downrange Robyn cut the engine off and checked har orbital elements. It was a little sloppy but they had made it, an acceptable 94 X 136 mile low earth orbit, good for two or three revs before atmospheric drag pulled them down again. Hope had endured it with some sign of distress, but now she was remarkably calm considering what had just happened. And that, dear Hope, is what Lilith likes to call the ‘E’ ticket ride. They were both weightless now, but Hope didn’t even realize it yet because she was still strapped tightly against Robyn’s body. Robyn spent the next few hours checking out their shuttle and slowly catching up with the Imperial frigate Exiler in a lower and faster orbit. A link was established and she received instructions from Barakiel on the rendezvous. It wasn’t all just Robyn. Exiler was maneuvering too. At length, Robyn and Hope were looking at the much larger ship hanging out there with a background of white puffy cloud tops and the deep blue Indian Ocean rolling smoothly along under them under the westering sun. The British coral atoll of Diego Garcia scooted by down there far below, looking for all the world like a human footprint with little vegetated toes that were islands. Now unless I’m very much mistaken, Robyn said to Hope, that will be the very last time you ever set foot on Earth. Astronomers already knew Barnard's Runaway Star had two gas-giants roughly the mass of Jupiter at 3 and 5 AU, but when Redemption arrived in the system the crew discovered the core of a third planet so much closer in that over the ten billion years of the star's existence the hydrogen and helium of the gas-giant had been blown away by the heat and wind of the sun, leaving behind essentially a lump of sandy coal about three times the diameter of Gorpai. The planet was poor in metals but rich in the lighter elements conducive to life, and although the atmosphere was chiefly carbon dioxide, there was so much oxygen and so few metallic elements to bind with that enough free oxygen remained to provide a breathable atmosphere. When the skipper poured over the report hy had a few questions that could only be answered by speculation until the ship drew nearer. Hyz biggest question:The planet is in tidal lock, why is there still an atmosphere? Indeed the traditional orthodoxy was that ribbon worlds would be airless, for the atmosphere would snow out on the dark side until it approached a vacuum. But this planet had an extensive ocean, and it was suggested that sea currents would moderate the temperatures, and heavy winds would serve to stir the atmosphere to prevent it from precipitating out to vacuum. When the ship arrived in orbit the planet was found to have many moons, large and small, befitting its former status as a Jovian type world. And it was indeed a ribbon world, with one side always facing the sun, leaving only a narrow strip of habitable land no larger than the unmelted band on Gorpai. It seemed the nephilim were fated never to have much real estate. There was a large ocean, and on the side in eternal night there was a vast ice-cap that covered a third of the planet like a big white kippah. But as liquid the ocean swirled well into the dark side through gaps between the many islands of various sizes that dotted the new world, none larger than Greenland. The prospective colonists looked down and saw that living there was going to be challenging, with weather that was far more immoderate than Earth or Gorpai or even Hybla-Dia, typhoons and tornadoes were the order of the day. They could see the glow and ash clouds of numerous volcanoes that were building new islands even as the weather was eroding the older islands down, volcanism tied to the tug of the moons. And the relatively normal gravity of the planet despite its large diameter suggested that metals such as iron were rare to non-existent. Their most precious possessions would be plowshares made from the hull of Redemption. And yet life already existed down there in the form of extensive grasslands dotted with many lakes. It was possible they would never need to use those plows except in vegetable gardens, and simply harvest grain from the planet's pre-existing bounty. Jill suggested Fertility as a name for the planet, a name that noted those cereal grains as well as anticipated the population boom that was to come. The name was accepted cheerfully. Using a mind-to-mind transfer of information that completely bypassed the limitation of the velocity of light, Jill made contact with Robyn just as the crew of Exiler was making arrangements to bring her and Hope safely aboard. We've named the world Fertility, Robyn, and it looks like it won't immediately kill us if we try to live down there. We have even more options now, Jill. I'm being hauled aboard a ship that has the ability to reach you within a week if need be. So you can relax and focus on the task at hand. Have you probed Yefefiah yet? I've touched her mind. We are very close to her. She is dormant as we expected, but I believe I can roust her from her sweet dreams any time. Don't do that until I give the word, Robyn warned har. When you wake her up I want you to do it in response to something Belial does, or fails to do. It will be quite a sobering thing for him to learn, I think. When Robyn's tiny shuttle passed over Fylingdales Moor in Yorkshire, England, it was picked up on the pyramidal, building-sized FPS-85 phased-array tracking radar, and again by the FPS-92 at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. When Robyn crossed over the west coast of the United States, sha was drawing near to the unidentified track that was Exiler and both contacts flew right over the Goldstone Deep Space Tracking Station near Death Valley, California, for a final refinement of the orbital information. All this was collected by SpaceTrack and forwarded to the President. Soon after that the launch laser at Cape Canaveral was unlimbered. Over the Great Plains Robyn and Hope were taken aboard and their shuttle abandoned, with no time for introductions. They were strapped in to webbed slings on the flight deck and the double hatch was slammed shut, leaving Kushiel, Barakiel, and all the dependents in the aft section of the ship. Lahatiel ordered the separation of the flight deck section but it was a gentle motion. By the time the ship crossed over the Appalachian mountains, the two sections were fully one hundred feet apart. In the growing gap Suriel and Barakiel steadily released "chaff" from special dispensers in both sections. Chaff was little aluminum strips, short lengths of aluminum wire, aluminum balls the size of a pinhead, and clouds of aluminum powder. To the eye the space between the two sections of the ship glittered in the sun with fairy dust. To radar, the chaff appeared solid. In the microwave spectrum, Exiler appeared to have stretched to a hundred feet longer than it really was. The tracking system for the laser didn't care how long the ship looked. It was designed for one purpose, to keep the laser locked onto big water tanks as they flew into the Florida sky. All the tracking system had to do was keep the bore-sighted laser focused on the exact center of the image returned by the radar. But the exact center of the radar image of Exiler was nothing but chaff floating in space between the drive module and the command module. The crew knew when they were being hit by the laser when the monitor screen of the view aft suddenly shifted colors. All those sparkling pieces of chaff were glowing red, much brighter than they had been even in the sunlight. The laser light was so strong radiation pressure was actually pushing the chaff out of the gap, the smaller pieces faster than the larger ones. The change was slow, but still quite visible. Adnarel complained that the chaff was going to be entirely dispersed before they got over their horizon. Don't worry, Robyn reassured har. It's actually a nice touch. To radar it will look like they cut us in half. In just ten minutes the ship had dropped sufficiently close to Florida's horizon that air and dust made the laser ineffective. Barakiel skillfully drove the aft section of the ship back into a hard lock with the command module, then he and Kushiel came forward to greet Robyn and Hope. I'm Robyn Lokken, sha said, and on behalf of all the bene elohim here in Sol system allow me to thank you for your very important role in Project Hope. This little girl is Hope herself, the one and only, and believe it or not she is an artificial person. I guess the term is android. Remarkable, Lahatiel said. She looks absolutely authentic. Lady Robyn, allow me in turn to introduce the crew of my ship. I am Ophan Lahatiel Gerash, commanding. This is Hashmal Suriel Larund, my operations officer. Over there is Erel Barakiel Antero, my navigator. Next to hym is Sar Adnarel Sala, my weapons officer, and this is my engineer Ravmalak Kushiel Bellon. We also have dependents aft who would love to meet you. Robyn said, Hope, remember I said people were trying to find you? I want you watch out very carefully for this yang, he is the devil. Literally. Robyn! You say 'devil' like that is a bad thing, Abaddon retorted. Mark Felton looked around at the assembled nobility and asked Yeshua what was the occasion. Yeshua replied, With Abaddon in custody there is a very short window by which the Union of Kingdoms is able to roll back the conquests the emperor made in the Land We Know. The primary hurdle is to neutralize Demonstick, the last living dragon. These great personages have made a holy vow to execute a quest to kill him, or to die trying. Mike said, Lord, did you not condition the next life for humans on the life of Demonstick? If the beast is killed the Pearly Gates slam shut. 'Indeed, Michael. Such was the ancient covenant we made with Belial. Belial has broken the peace we forged at Taurus City, Mark Felton said. Surely the earlier covenant is now forfeit and the dragon safe to kill. Do not make the mistake of thinking myself or El Shaddai to be unfaithful in the slightest degree even to agreements we have made with Belial. Victoria said, Lord, Lilith once told me that human beings did not begin to be resurrected here or on the Sacred Mountain until well after your time on Earth came to an end, and that you were always reluctant to do it. That is true, Vic. You see, at first I was only interested in reforming Judaism. The brothers I left behind and the rest of my followers only brought my teachings to other Jews. They called it the Way but it wasn't really another religion, just a kind of philosophical overlay to a Judaism that remained intact. But El Shaddai saw that there would be a civil war that would end with the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, and there was nothing we could do to alter that. So I found Saulus, the worst enemy of the Way, and brought him here to be personally tutored by myself for a year before sending him back with the mission to extend the Way to those who were not Jews. He was educated in such a manner that my brothers could make no mistake and deny his authority to teach, but it was Saulus himself who began to make mistakes. He got it into his head that I was going to bring all my believers here, living and dead, which would have been problematic because as you know the Land is only about the size of Montana. Is that why you have never revealed the conditions of the next life, Lord? asked Mark. Because there really is no third life? 'Mark, once again, please do not attribute the kind of infidelity of Belial to me or my mother. There is a process, but it does not cover everybody. That would be impossible. A child is abused by her parents and dies, I make it up to her. Hitler starts a world war then commits suicide, he's done. But even some of the elect refuse to go on to the next phase. What weapons do we have that can hurt a dragon? Mike threw out there. Queen Alodra unwrapped a cloth from around the broken pieces of Dragon- thorn, the blade Kari Stronghammer once used to command Demonstick. This is the only heirloom we possess with which we can hope to even the odds against the dragon and it is nothing more than a pile of sharp baubles. Victoria stepped forward to gather up the diamond shards. The one still attached to the hilt could serve as a long dagger, or very short sword. She said, I can fly behind the dragon and ram this into his brain. 'The covenant says she who wields Dragonthorn must be a virgin woman, Yeshua declared. Otherwise the dragon will not be mortally wounded.' I have never known man, Victoria declared in turn, with a wink at Yeshua. She didn't mention the crazy sex with her yin niece Shyla or with the woman Chayn. Maybe that skirted the intent of the virginity requirement, but it was the elohim, after all, who made their demigods such horn dogs. When Exiler arrived at Midway Chuck wanted to put together an impromptu game of Freeball to show their nephilim guests what the Selenite obsession with the game was all about. Del had to stay aboard and babysit Abaddon. The Freeball Gamecore was a very big empty cavernous cylinder, the largest space within Midway, aligned on the rotational pole. It was 60 yards long and 18 yards in diameter, with springgy white padded vinyl on every surface. There were thousands of black felt polka-dots on the walls, distributed uniformly, the kind of fabric Velcro likes to grab. The game was called a "gig," and it was composed of four "sets" of ten minutes each, where teams alternated between offensive possessions called "jams" and defense. In a jam, a team attempted to move the Freeball down the Gamecore toward their goal. The goal was to get the "Freeball," which was actually a living person, stuck to the black felt polka-dots on the circular end wall of the Gamecore. The Freeball wore a bright yellow leotard covered all over with black cloth handles and white Velcro dots. In the very first jam the Red Rovers lost their Exterior Van. Freeball was very rough. Plastic Girl had her knee deliberately twisted after a Gray Storm team foul that awarded the Rovers a free shot and easy point. After that, Gray Flankers approached, first Cosmic Girl and then Doll Woman, who presented their right side first. The Freeball, named the Red Torpedo, swing his arms to fight them off but they simply bounced off him like billiard balls and influenced his direction. Chameleon Girl and Hawkwoman let their sticky right side grab the Red Torpedo and coast along, slowing him down. The end wall loomed. Ol' Torp struggled to get free, but the girls coordinated their gyrations to allow them to bounce off the wall on their nonsticky left sides. In a few more seconds they managed to fling Torp against the Gamecore inner wall at the two yard ring, where he stuck fast. Gina blew her whistle and that set was over. The problem was that everyone couldn't just stop at Gina's whistle. They all carried on coasting until they reached the nearest side wall. Then the possession switched to the Gray Storms. In the second set, Red team took out their vengeance on behalf of Plastic Girl's knee, body-slamming the Gray culprit, Sky Girl, so hard into a side wall that the wind was knocked out of her for the duration of the game. All she could do was moan and take little breaths, she was definitely in no condition to resume play in the extremely oxygen-demanding game. Sweeter for the Red Rovers, Gina didn't call a foul for the hit, but every- one knew it was a purely cynical play to even the playing field. Don't play the game if you cant take the pain! someone shouted out. Now with both teams were down to six members apiece and the end cap just ten yards away, the Grays all kicked together and flung the Gray Cannonball as fast as they could on a final last-ditch hope to get him down to the end. The reaction hurled every Storm in the opposite direction. Except for the Gray Freeball, who was sticky-Velcro all over, the players had sticky Velcro all up and down their left side and the fuzzy non-sticky pads on their right, all ready to snag the Cannonball. To prevent this, he moved his body violently to present a more difficult moving target to the defending Red Rovers. Part of the sport was to be a dancer. The crew of Exiler was enraptured. None of them had ever seen a sporting event before, with the exception of the death trial. Never for fun. At precisely this time, Robyn and Hope quietly slipped away from the sidelines to move into the tunnels of Midway. Their departure was quietly noted by Chuck, who followed at a discrete distance. After Mike Morrich, Mark Felton, and Victoria Gervasi officially joined the quest, a total of seventeen persons were embarked, riding the first day from the Pool of Bat-El to the coastal city of Nyduly, where Baron Elketz Kadir made accommodations for everyone in his great house. There, when supper had finished, the conversation turned to strategy. Mark asked the first, obvious question: Where, actually, is this dragon located? Baron Bayard asked Baron Kadir if there was a map of the Land We Know at hand. When servants posted it on the wall of the dining hall, Baron walked up to it and pointed first at the large bean-shaped lake that was located in the caldera of the Sacred Mountain. Behold the source of all waters in the Land, contained by a wall so vertical and so high that no one has ever scaled it. Note also how half of the shoreline belongs to Hamar, and one-fourth belongs to Nath. The remaining one-fourth is divided by Alodra and the Saiph Republic. The woman Joy is said to keep Demonstick in an aerie at the foot of the wall of the Sacred Mountain at the source waters of the Alnitar river. You can see that this is the wildest region in the entire Land. No roads issue forth from Menkant to lead there, yet we must start from Menkant because it is the nearest city in Hamar to the aerie. Mike said, Just looking at that map, we might not have enough time to bushwhack our way there before Blackseed decides to move on the Land.' There might be another way, but it is hard, perhaps too difficult for some of the nobles gathered here. I will speak more on this tomorrow. Everyone retired for the night, and the next morning they rode down the coast to Wazol, where it was the turn of the Count Raddai Nerio and his wife Irus to play host to the party. Baron Bayard had borrowed the map and when he posted it on the wall again after supper he said, Some of you might have surmised that I intend to use the Catwalk as a way to reach the border with the Saiph League in a matter of a few days rather than weeks. And what dear Baron is this Catwalk of which you speak? Victoria asked. The Catwalk, Lady Victoria, is a precarious path carved into the stone face of the wall which more or less maintains its altitude while the mountains and valleys at the base rise and fall below it. There are places where the Catwalk is some four thousand feet above the valley floor, and other places where the Catwalk is no wider than one of your feet. Tell me this Catwalk comes with a safety rail, said Mark Felton. The Catwalk comes with no rail. We must take our own precautions. How do you know of the Catwalk? Mike asked. No one else seems to. Baron Bayard said, It may also surprise some to know that my life has been filled with a series of many obsessions quite apart from human tail. Hy glanced at hyz mother the Queen, who glowered. I consider myself an authority on the complete history of human beings in the Land We Know, and in the course of my research I myself have completely circumnavigated the Sacred Mountain on the Catwalk. Parts of that included a rope traverse. I do not fear this Catwalk, Victoria said, but have a caution. If anyone falls, I will not be able to stave off your death. I can carry little more than this blade which I intend to use to slay Demonstick. I do not doubt the courage of anyone in this company to continue the quest, Queen Alodra said, but it may be the case that not everyone will be physically able to reach this Catwalk and negotiate it, as my son describes it. Let everyone turn it over in their mind as we ride to Menkant tomorrow, for it shall be there that whoever freely elects to end their part of our quest must remain behind while the others go on. Upon her arrival at Midway, before the game, Robyn noted that El Shaddai had shamed Chuck into placing the Ark in a ceremonially inaccessible cordon rather than a physically inaccessible one like his office. It was the last link in a web of causes that gathered here in a locus, and now as she and Hope drew closer to the crucial event Robyn experienced a qualitative shift in her precognition that actually frightened her. With so many important preparations focused on the next few moments time seemed to have developed a momentum, like a locomotive gathering speed, and the slightest misstep would derail the universe. Yet events matched har vision in perfect lock- step. Robyn merely had to let go and match the flow and everything would turn out well despite the Rube Goldberg nature of the following sequence. Lahatiel was thoroughly enjoying the Freeball game along with the rest of his officers, hy only wished Robyn had permitted hym to bring their dependents along to watch as well. Hy turned to glance at Robyn, but she and the child were gone. Hy also noticed their host, the commander of Midway, was gone as well. He interrupted his officers and motioned for them to follow. Robyn was beginning to wiggle the Ark of the Covenant free of its pedestal when Chuck arrived with four DECON agents he had brought to Midway with him. The Exiler crew arrived last, and all the pieces were in place. Hope remembered when Robyn had taken her across the Green River to bed down for the night. Robyn had told her that her heart was a powerful and deadly weapon that had been transformed into something that gave her life from instant to instant. Now momma Robyn was in trouble, she needed the weapon more than Hope needed life. But it was very hard to let go because in that very moment, to Hope's infinite wonder, she had become fully herself. For the first time since she was created, Hope no longer faked her awareness to fit in. She knew that she existed. It was a profound awakening, yet she retained all her memories of before, when she was merely sleepwalking. At Chuck's command the four agents withdrew their revolvers. Then Lahatiel and his officers withdrew blades from sheathes on their thighs. Hope used the razor blade embedded in her thumb to slice open the skin on her chest. In place of a human sternum, Hope had the Golden Gift. I love you! Hope told Robyn. She reached inside herself and pulled the weapon out, tossing it to Robyn even as all power ceased to flow to her body and brain. Chuck ordered the DECON agents to kill Robyn. The Golden Gift tumbled end-over-end in freefall directly to Robyn's hand. Sha activated the weapon to full bloom to absorb the first volley of bullets from the agents. And they didn't seem to understand the law of the conservation of linear momentum. They sailed helplessly in the opposite direction of their rounds, where Adnarel and Lahatiel could easily dispatch two of them with knives. Get Hope out of here! Robyn yelled. Her and the Ark to the ship! The two surviving agents bounced off the bulkhead and tumbled back toward Robyn, permitting har to slice one of them in twain. The fourth agent stopped himself and tossed his weapon away, offering no further resistance. Hope, the Ark, and the crew of Exiler were already gone, leaving Robyn and Chuck to stare each other down. Robyn placed the Golden Gift close to the outer bulkhead and called Chuck by his true name. Hunky, we got what we came for. But if you really insist, I'll space the three of us. You've thrown in with the Navy of Belial? he asked incredulously, waving in general direction of where Lahatiel and hyz people left with Hope. And you've thrown in with DECON. You had no choice, obviously. With an expression of disgust Chuck withdrew from the portico with his agent and closed the hatch. Besides, he had one more card up his sleeve. On the third evening since departing the Sacred Pool, the royals dined in the castle of Arman Sunshield, Duke of Menkant and King of all Hamar. And the time had come when the royals would declare whether they would continue the quest or stay behind to prepare their kingdoms for the backlash of Telan Blackseed should all their hopes be attained and the dragon killed. The question of what to do with Mark Felton, a man with no combat experience and no physical conditioning to belong on the quest, resolved itself when Jill relayed news of the recent breakthrough at Midway. Jill just contacted me, Victoria said, and Mike nodded at her to indicate he received the same interior communication. Hope has achieved awareness. That means we need you back in front of a terminal, Mark, not risking your nerdy ass on the edge of some mountain catwalk. Vic, I am very disappointed, Mark said, made parody by visible relief. Baron Bayard laid out the nature of the path going forward. South of Menkant we will reach the end of a long ridge which divides the city from the Wild Coast. For three days we will ascend the spine of this ridge on a path too narrow for horses, eastward and upward six thousand feet, until we reach the face of the Sacred Mountain and there we will find the Catwalk. Queen Aurra Firegem was the first to declare she would stay behind, setting an example lest the others feel compelled to go to prove their valor. It went completely without saying that har servants Aliwe and Luzea would stay with the Queen. Har consort Evander Firegem also expressed hyz regrets that hy must bow out, joined also by the Countess Bronzesaber-Firegem. King Arman, the host of that evening's supper, was next to say he would end his part of the quest. Then Count Nerio said he did not think Irus could complete the journey and said he did not wish to separate from her. Baron Nahaliel insisted that his lady Ainia remain behind. So the full tale of the nobility who pledged to continue the quest was seven: King Brogan Stronghammer and Ichor Losna of Menkal, Baron Elketz Kadir of Hamar, Baron Nahaliel Kerresh of Nath, Baron Bayard Firegem of Alodra, and the demigods Lord Michael Morrich and Lady Victoria Gervasi. But Bayard thought the company looked too small. He told his mother, The servant wench Aliwe Halil must go as well. And Luzea Cedarbranch howled in greatly dismay because she would be parted from her best friend and lover, possibly forever. Aliwe tried to assure her it would turn out well. Queen Firegem narrowed har eyes. Am I to believe my son cannot set aside hyz . . . hobby . . . for the duration of a single run-of-the-mill quest? I know what it looks like, mother, but the girl has luck bordering on the supernatural. One might even suspect Aliwe is secretly a demigod. Aliwe said nothing to this, and turned her head away, but this idle musing of Baron Bayard got both Mike and Victoria thinking. For the first time, Victoria looked at Aliwe very carefully and was surprised to see that the girl's face expressed certain features that strongly reminded Vic of her own. But there were also things in Aliwe's appearance that reminded her of Baron Bayard. Vic didn't know what to think. It was truly a mystery. At length the Queen reluctantly agreed to the demand of her son, and so Aliwe began to serve directly under the authority of Baron Bayard. But the parting of the ways would not occur until the next morning. That evening when their duties were completed, Luzea treated Aliwe to the most intense lovemaking either one had experienced in their life. Aliwe took advantage of the occasion, and was thankful for Luzea's great passion, but she insisted that it was far from being the last time they would make love together, and swearing Luzea to silence Aliwe laid out for her why it was so. Chuck and the nameless DECON agent went to the Combat Engagement Center of Midway, where Chuck dismissed the crewmembers standing watch. When they were alone, Chuck contacted the gunners in one of the Brushfire batteries that dotted the surface of the diminutive asteroid. This is Lord Charles. The crew of Belial's frigate has taken the Ark of the Covenant! Put four Brushfire torps on warm power! The gunners acknowledged the order. Kushiel, give us acceleration, Lahatiel ordered. It doesn't matter how much, it just has to happen immediately. Kushiel jumped into action. And it doesn't matter where we go, Robyn told Barakiel, what matters is only the timing. Chuck has to think he vaporized the ship. That is very simple to arrange, Lady Robyn. I've just armed the FTL Pod, and my finger is now resting on the stud to commit. The explosion will push the stud against my finger. We'll miss most of the damage. If we use steady acceleration the Brushfires will compensate and plow right into us, Suriel warned. Chuck won't have to think he vaporized us, because he will. We need to finagle a near miss or this won't work.' Lahatiel amended his order. Kushiel, I need you to start altering our acceleration randomly. And try not to slip into a pattern. Depending on when it happens, Barakiel said, we'll end up between a million and a hundred million miles away. I'll have to get another fix. After you do, Robyn said, I need to you take us to Phobos, the larger moon of Mars. We can repair the ship there and take care of some other things. Did you miss Binah, Abaddon? Stand by for a reunion. Oh is that what these gyrations are about? Another avatar for Binah? Suriel warned that she was getting four signals, steady rails, meaning the Brushfires were coming in. Everyone braced for the impact, except for Belial. A really hard bump to the head would solve many of hyz problems. I don't care about Robyn or the Ark, the DECON agent told Chuck. If you vaporize that ship, we lose Hope and all this will be for nothing. I don't believe you've ever witnessed space combat before, Chuck said. That's not how it works. This isn't a movie like Galaxy's Fall. What you end up with is a big pile of warm metallic shit with dead bodies floating in it. Then we just go out there and pick Hope out of the debris. Exiler had gained a hundred miles of radial distance from Midway then turned perpendicular to its original course to make any attack more difficult. Four bright stars closed on a tight cluster of six. Then there were four white fireballs almost to intense to look at even at that distance. Chuck went over to the radar. We should see a cloud of junk out there. The DECON agent was growing impatient. So what do we see? Chuck fiddled with it for a bit. I don't understand. There's nothing. You fucking idiot! It's just like I told you. We've wasted our time! You can't talk that way to me at my command. Chuck flipped a toggle that put him on every speaker on Midway. This is Lord Charles, the CO. Sorry to interrupt the game, but I need a security detail in CEC on the double, I've just stumbled onto some sort of spy. And send someone to check out the Ark too. I'm worried something terrible has happened to it. Liar! The eight persons who continued the quest to slay Demonstick began to call themselves the Young Royals, despite the fact that Aliwe was a commoner and King Stronghammer was anything but young. As they ascended the path the king was holding up fairly well, but thinking back on it, if che had known of the upsy-downsy nature of this ridge che might have chosen not to come. Two thousand feet of elevation gain didn't sound too bad until one realized Bayard was actually talking about net gain, and failed to mention that it was an undulating ridge, up five hundred feet, down two hundred, up three hundred, down a hundred, and so on. And twenty miles per day didn't sound too bad until one got down off of one's high horse and carried weeks of provisions on one's own back. As they ascended and traveled east, the conversation of the company drifted to the topic of who actually should lead the Young Royals. Technically Mike Morrich was the senior present, by virtue of being one of the original five demigods, but hy said, I've always been a follower not a leader. Some suggested that since it was Victoria who would actually kill the dragon, it was her quest, and the others were merely supporting her, but like Mike she declined. If Del was here she'd be your jen. Not me. King Brogan Stronghammer was the highest ranking nobleman after the bene elohim, but the King was too exhausted to lead and suggested instead that Baron Bayard Firegem should command the company, since it was hy who knew the way to the Catwalk and beyond. The Baron graciously thanked the King for the nomination and accepted the mantle of leading the Young Royals. My Lord, said Aliwe, if you will, please tell us of this land we are passing through, for it is said you know of it more intimately than any other alive in the Land We Know, the geography and its entire history. Hyz ego thus stroked, Baron Bayard said, This land is the westernmost reaches of the Wild Coast of Hamar, which does not today and never has had a road or a settlement bigger than a few cottages. No inn or village lies ahead on our path. It is said this path was made when the two sons of King Mered, Dishon (with his wife Hatita) and Ginath (with his wife Junia) undertook a mission to the Elamites in Alnitar and refused to accept the crown from their dying father. At that time King Mered established a system of elected magistrates to rule Hamar. Higher magistrates could overrule lower magistrates, but the Chief magistrate could himself be impeached by a council of lower magistrates. Neriah the Younger became the first elected chief magistrate of the Roshites as well as their chief priest. King Mered gave to him the records on the scroll of Lael and soon after he died. Dishon created the very path we are taking today to bring the message of Bat-El to the Elamites, but the Catwalk predated him and I think it was created by the elohim when they made the Sacred Mountain. You will see what I mean when we arrive there. Dishon and Hatita were taken captive in the land of Watlala, which forms the upper vales of the River Alnitar and which is also our goal. There they became the servants of Prince Haidal. As a servant, Dishon miraculously preserved the king's flocks and Haidal became a convert soon thereafter. Eventually even Haidal's father King Muran was converted to the People of Bat-El, he and his entire household. King Muran decreed religious freedom for all Elamites to choose as they would. Many people in Watlala and the city of Alnitar converted and began to call themselves Anti-Rosh-Laels. Afterthat, King Muran died. The unconverted Elamites prepared to make war against the converts, but the Anti-Rosh-Laels were so filled with remorse over the Roshite blood the Elamites had historically shed they became pacifists to the point of declining even to defend themselves. When the Elamites saw the prone state of their prey, they aborted their attack, and many even converted to the People of Bat-El on the strength of the fearless witness of their intended victims. Another Friday night at the Nyduly pub called the Ready Room, where the stick 'n' rudder men (and women) of the Land We Know who augured in during their Earthly life gathered together to reminisce. Jerry was sharpening his pool cue. Debby and Cherie were playing their usual game of darts. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan sat at a table in the corner nursing beers. This particular Friday night Yeshua came calling and not known for being a teetotaler he ordered himself a beer. Jerry used the opportunity of Yeshua's arrival to raise his voice and say, I never thought I'd say this but the afterlife is really one big fucking bore. No offense Lord Yeshua. None taken, Jerry. The reason I came here tonight is I'm looking for some experienced combat pilots for a little tussle that's coming up. What kind of 'little tussle' do you have in mind, Lord? asked John Waldron, who had commanded "Torpedo 8" and died in the Battle of Midway. It is the kind of tussle that if we lose, I will die, my mother will die, everyone here in the Land We Know will die, and five billion people on Earth will die. But if we win, there will never be another war again. The war to end all wars? scoffed Raoul Lufbery, the French-American who led the Lafayette Escadrille and had 16 kills before he himself had to leap from his burning plane at three thousand feet without a parachute. Where have I heard that one before? Sometimes I despair of trying to describe to people how time works, Yeshua replied. I can say that my mother can see the outcome of the final battle from here and all will be well, yet your will remains free. If you choose not to go, the consequences will be as I described. And the consequences to ourselves of we choose to go? asked Gus Grissom, the astronaut and Korean War veteran who flew in the second Mercury flight and the first Gemini flight but died in a capsule fire in Apollo 1. All of you are aware that you can never return to Earth, just as those who die here cannot return here. To prepare for this mission, it will be as though you died here. Never again will you gather in this place to eat and drink and regale each other with tales of your Earthly derring-do. You've sold me, Lord, said Jerry. Sign me up right away. Amelia Earhart said, I was never a combat pilot of course, Lord, and neither was Fred. Are we to be excluded from this battle? All of you are invited to volunteer for the battle. For your identities will no longer be bound up with human bodies. The pattern of your mind will be captured in a permanent form. For the duration of the battle your identities will inhabit and control specially prepared Sandwich fighters, much like the way Belial senses that hy is hyz avatar when hy flies it. And what happens when these fighters are destroyed? asked Debby. Your identities will persist for as long as the race of elohim will exist, very long indeed, many trillions of years. But not forever, entropy gets all of us in the end. Imagine something like the Mother Node, but distributed across every living star. And it is with the success of the Hope project that this promise can come to pass. But I suggest, Jerry, that you describe the idiosyncrasies of Sandwich fighters to the other volunteers, they will need to fly them to the rim of the Sacred Mountain. Sandwich fighters, snorted Lufbury. You kids don't know how good you got it. In my day we flew armed kites powered by engines that blew oil all over us and we had to keep fiddling with the control wires by hand. Phobos, the largest of the two moons of Mars, had an area roughly the size of Delaware. It scooted only 3,700 miles above the surface of Mars, lower than any other moon in the Solar System, moving so fast that if the planet wasn't obscured by clouds imported by fold-gate from Venus people could see it cross the sky twice per day. In appearance it was a brown misshapen potato pocked with many craters and covered with red and white streaks radiating from the leading edge. These were caused by debris from meteors hitting Mars so hard that rocks were thrown up into the path of Phobos. The Soviet Union decided to play it safe and locate the docking port of their station on the leeward side of the satellite, in the mile-wide crater Shklovsy. But this was only their front door, for Phobos was a loose gravel pile made of huge pieces of an asteroid that shattered and didn't quite fit back together snugly, there were cracks and voids between the pieces, with some of the gaps exceeding a half-mile, and the whole thing was dusted with a layer of soil some six hundred feet thick. It was a cornucopia of raw materials for building ships, with extensive mines and tunnels already dug naturally, one needed only to reach out and scrape the ores free. Because the Exiler didn't have an airlock compatible with the Soviet's standard design, a track carried an extendible tube with rings like the hose from a dryer out to where the frigate had landed. Then a kind of balloon with ample material made a seal around the inverted lander and inflated. After that it was a simple matter for the crew to float out of the ship and into the station. It wasn't a matter of walking. The gravity of Phobos was 1,700 times weaker than that of the Earth, practically non-ex- istent. There was a tendency for objects to rest along one wall if you left them alone for a while, and the Russians called that the floor. The Gervasi Crime Family was firmly allied with the Soviets, and even car- ried passports as citizens of the USSR. Few of the bene elohim were impressed with the economic ideology of communism, but the topic hardly ever came up in the many dealings between the two. An old friend of the Family, Aleksei Leonov, was the commander of the Phobos installation, he was there to greet Robyn, Del, Belial, and the crew and dependents of Exiler. Present also was Ambe Omphal with a television crew to film what was clearly a historic occasion, the moment when the artificial intelligence that was successfully achieved with the Hope Project was uploaded to the Swarm. Robyn let out a visible sigh of relief when it was finished, which was not something sha typically did. Belial's presence in the person of Abaddon, and hyz status as a higher order of being than Robyn made har precognition generally unreliable. This will change everything, sha said for Ambe and hez camera crew. If you asked me to list the ways this will fundamentally alter the human experience I wouldn't even know where to begin. But the meaning of the events of today is precisely that, a beginning. Even Belial was allowed to speak to the audience in the Swarm, and hy used hyz moment in the sun to angrily issue a set of codes to the Eyes of Belial at Palato and in the Land We Know to execute their emergency war orders against all belligerents, but it wasn't going to do him any good. Even if someone in the Sol System rebroadcasted Belial's orders on radio it would take over four years to get to Centauri, and another six years for hyz fleet to do anything about it, even if hy was inclined to believe it wasn't a scam. And El Shaddai and Bat-El controlled the flow of information to the Land We Know absolutely. Eventually Ambe had to cut Abaddon off. Leonov mentioned there was a shuttle standing by large enough to take everyone to the surface of Mars, where a team from Astrodyne was waiting to stretch Hope's body one final time into its final configuration as a woman, as well as re-sculpting the face to make it ready for Hope's possession by Binah. Robyn invited all of them to join her on Mars, but Del declined. Unfortunately I'm on the Abaddon suicide watch. I think there are fewer ways for Abaddon to hurt hymself up here. So you go have fun. When the Young Royals drew very near to the wall of the Sacred Mountain at last, they passed through the ruins of a walled city. Victoria asked Bayard what hy knew about the remnants as they picked their way through them. Bayard said, Colonel Eshton was appointed by the Chief Magistrate, Neriah the Younger, to be commanding general over all the Roshite armed forces because it was known a large force of Elamites were gathered together outside Menkant, led by a man named Azza and including many Roshite dissenters. General Eshton fought under something he called the "Manifest of Freedom" a standard which he raised to rally the Roshites to defend their liberties from the group of dissenters who wanted to establish a king in Menkant once again. Eshton was so angry with the dissenters, who were led by a man named Paulus, that he tore his cloak and wrote upon it, "In memory of Bat-El, our freedom, our peace, our wives, and our children." With these words, he rallied the Roshites to defend their families and their freedom and chased away the Elamites and the Roshite militias loyal to Paulus in the process. Any dissenters that remained Eshton put to death and he raised up the Manifest of Freedom upon every Roshite tower. Soon there were many more such towers, for Eshton erected a fortified line of cities on the mountain range that forms a wall between the Roshites and the Elamites, which today is the border between Alodra and the Saiph League, and it was said there never was a happier time among any of the people of Rosh. But you can see there is nothing now but the bones of the sentinel cities. The Young Royals reached the face of the Sacred Mountain and found a footpath running traverse to the path they had taken up the ridge. It looked like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assured them it would become the Catwalk when they traveled east and the ridge dropped away. They all looked back down the way they had come. They were at an altitude where the trees were stunted and sparse, so the views were unobstructed and spectacular. A small tributary fork of the River Menkant sprang from the face of the Sacred Mountain and it was curious, because the stream flowed down what appeared to be a staircase carved into hard gray rock. Water cascaded down the stairs, and Ichor mused that if one was strong enough, careful enough, and didn't mind getting wet one could possibly mount the stairs to the top. Bayard said, Once when I was in this very spot I did precisely that. I ascended to where the water emerges from the face of the Mountain in a cave that narrows until it is impossible to go further unless one could somehow breathe underwater. There the stars tip nearly to the horizontal to provide secure places to set one's feet and one might go a little further up the water chute, but none have penetrated very far, it is said, even with underwater breathing devices imported from Earth or Gorpai. Mike said, But I do breathe underwater, so I consider this nothing less than an invitation from the ones who made this world to go up there. And what are you going to do for light, Mike? Victoria asked. We didn't bring flashlights and what good are torches gonna do? We didn't bring Ariel with us and she couldn't go with you even if she was here. I don't think I'll need light. It looks to me from this stream that this mountain is really just a big stone tank of water. So without further comment Mike bounded up the watery staircase. But when hy did not return by evening or all the next day, Bayard decided they should press onward. The cliff-face of the Sacred Mountain was concrete smooth, and when the Young Royals arrived at the Catwalk they saw that it was clearly artificial, just a lip three feet wide where the cliff jutted out and fell once more, and this was far too much for King Brogan Stronghammer. I am deeply sorry, I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I cannot go on. I would say you have made a Kingly decision, your Highness Aliwe said. Abaddon was put in what the Russians assured Del was a completely suicide-proof room close to the entrance to the station, and the dispossessed emperor found they weren't kidding. After catching up on the latest episode of "Gods & Demigods" Abaddon ran his bath, which was more like a storm of water globules in a watertight bag, and yanked the power cord out of the television. Del came in and confiscated the cord. Che didn't bother to slice out the cord that brought the signal to the TV, because in the microgravity of Phobos there was no way Abaddon was going to hang himself with it. But the episode answered the question in hyz mind about whether the room was being monitored on closed-circuit TV. What an insult to a god! When Del left, Abaddon looked out of the viewport at the surface of Phobos and the bloated globe of Mars rotating in the sky. Hy considered throwing hyz coffee mug at the now useless television screen and using the broken shards to cut hymself, but hy knew he wouldn't bleed out fast enough to avoid the ministrations of hyz bene elohim "nurse". So instead hy twisted the diamond ring on hyz hand and used it to scratch the window, under the guise of running hyz hand over it in an X pattern as though checking for vulnerabilities. The hy picked up the television and threw it screen first at the viewport, cracking it. The air in the room swept hym out with the broken glass and he was on hyz way on a long parabolic trajectory out of Shklovsky Crater. Twenty seconds after beginning his flight he passed out. The Russians offered Del a pressure suit but there just wasn't enough time to climb inside and get checked out. Instead che grabbed an oxygen bottle and told everyone around hem to brace themselves with something. When che opened the door to Belial's room, the pressure in the passageway blew hem right through and out into space, but che banged hez arm severely. Despite the popular imagination of the "icy cold of space" it was a curious fact that space was not really cold, even out at one and a half AU like Mars. Heat could only transfer to and from Del's body by infrared radiation, not convection or conduction. So hez own internal body heat kept hem quite comfortable. There was a pressure gradient that threatened to swell hez eyes and let them slip out of their sockets, but hez bene elohim talent kept that under control as well as kept hez tissues oxygenated by stripping oxygen back out of hez layers of fat, but there was a limit to how long che could keep that up. When che caught Abaddon che could do the same for hym. Belial's velocity was well short of the forty MPH hy needed to escape Phobos for good, but it was enough to reach the Hill Sphere. The orbit of Phobos was slowly decaying, a meter per century. In fifty million years the Hill Sphere (representing that surface contour where the gravity between Mars and Phobos balances out) would shrink below the surface of the satellite and the gravel pile would begin to break up into a ring like at Saturn. Unfortunately for Abaddon, the angle of his trajectory was traverse to the Hill Sphere. Hy had no chance of reaching it and becoming an independent satellite of Mars. And very quickly Del caught up to hym, having a slightly greater velocity and the advantage of being able to refine hez course with bursts from the oxygen bottle che thought to take along. When Del snagged Abaddon che temporarily stopped hyz heart, which was beginning to go into defibrillation, and kept hyz body oxygenated much like hez own, but at a low level that would keep hym from returning to consciousness. Che didn't need him awake and struggling just yet. Then using the remaining contents of the oxygen canister che canceled their motion and even reversed it back toward the station, as much as che could. Both of them sank in the infuriatingly feeble tug of Phobos to the surface, where their gentle impact knocked loose gravel on slow-motion arcs of their own, and Del began to doubt che could get the traction che needed to drag hezself and Abaddon back to the station before hez ability to keep them both alive ran out. But in short order a spacesuited Aleksy Leonov came to their rescue dragging the end of a winch cable with him. There came a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard made a move on Aliwe, and Aliwe tried to back away from him. The problem was there just wasn't much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she slipped off the face of the Sacred Mountain. Victoria saw it and flew after her, not even taking the time to think that Aliwe's weight would be too much and there was no saving her. Hadn't she said as much before they embarked on the quest? Below the Catwalk the wall of the Sacred Mountain was not perfectly vertical. Victoria could not stop Aliwe's fall but she could push Aliwe out of the way of any stony outcroppings she approached. Aliwe told Victoria to let her go, and reluctantly, Victoria had to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff. Victoria continued down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe's body bounced so she could attempt to bury her. When she found her, Aliwe was smiling, none the worse for wear, and Victoria finally guessed that Aliwe was a bene elohim like herself, but one she never knew. I'm the daughter you haven't had yet, Aliwe explained. Mom. Victoria smiled back. It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones. And I have Baron Bayard's eyes. She knew the implication of that statement sunk in when Vic stopped smiling. Sorry I 'slipped' off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and I wouldn't be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my birth talent is indestructibility. Like Del? Similar, but I can't heal anyone else. Aren't superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like Kryptonite? And even Del can only fix so much. You are here so it means we win, right? Bat-El and El Shaddai survive? We win, they live, Belial dies. This 'quest' in the Land We Know is important but it's not critical to defeating hym. Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for the royals. It's already paid off to an extent. On my original loop Kari Stronghammer killed Telan Blackseed with Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with Blackseed alive Joy simply had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant I was the only survivor. So who is that Joy woman? I've never seen her up close. Joy is really your dead aunt Chayn, killed by Shyla and living out her afterlife here. She's not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask me. Joy has been possessed by Hunky, and even before that Hunky went completely over to Belial, so don't hesitate to kill the dragon even if it means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she's basically fucked because it happens right after Demonstroke dies. That's the end of her story. A long as I don't fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know. If you do that, then all this is for nothing. Even knowing what will happen you still have the freedom to do what you want and change this loop. So who else do we lose, Aliwe? Are you allowed to say? You already know Hunky is dead and gone, died at Centauri where Yeshua can't reach. And Jerry died just before Chayn. He even dies a second time, but Yeshua takes care of him. The sad one to me is Robyn, sha dies after the dragon does, so sha's gone too, which is a shame because sha goes down fighting Belial. And the really sad one is Binah. After everything he did for us, to get caught up in the same judgment against Belial... The wild coast of Hamar lay twenty-five thousand feet below the rim of the Sacred Mountain, with nineteen thousand feet of that drop totally vertical. No one had ever scaled the wall except Mike, who cheated and floated up behind it. When Jerry led his force of volunteer pilots in Sandwich fighters to the southern rim of the Sacred Mountain they found Yeshua's priest- esses trying to bring Mike back to consciousness after his ascent through the icy waters of the lake. Part of this therapy consisted of the women laying directly on top of Mike with their full bodies to transfer heat, and it seemed to work. Jerry said, I can see why they call this paradise. When humans die in the Land We Know they find themselves on the rim, where they wait for a ship to carry them into the pillar of light, the "sun" of the Land We Know that emerges from the center of the lake and rises as far as the eye can see into the white sky. The people atop the wall can hear voices upon the winds of the Land We Know through a trick of reflecting sound. Ever they walk the ramparts, hoping to hear their loved ones. When they do hear their name it is bittersweet, for they find their friends and loved ones have soon forgotten them and moved on. The more famed a person was in their life, the more fragments they hear, so they linger a while more. The humble accept the truth sooner. It's really all about letting go. But there are always the dummies at far end of the bell curve, and firmly anchored there was Captain Skulldagger, captain of the Will o' the Whisp still standing on the rim of the Sacred Mountain waiting for his name to be heard once more as the story of his voyage was retold. At length almost all the dead come off the precipice and rest on the lawn behind it before the lake, waiting for a white ship to come and take them to an unknown destiny. The priestesses who attend them had always refused to speak of their impending fate, because "Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings." Within twenty years all the members of Captain Skulldaggers's ill-fated crew passed into the light, or leaped from the rim to a more permanent death, but he alone remained, for he had attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passed but that his name was spoken aloud by someone far below in the Land We Know with a shudder as the story of the Will 'O' The Whisp was told to yet another generation. The sound of his name was somehow carried aloft to the rim, and he savored it. As the white ship drew near an Astrodyne crew was standing by to fit the Sandwich fighters with copies of the same cubes that formed the brain of Hope, and each of these brains had been pre-loaded with the version of Hope's mind that existed after Midway, the version that had awakened. Yeshua had instructed these priestesses to break with long-standing tradition and reveal to Jerry and his people what was about to happen to them. When you are taken into the light your bodies will be permanently destroyed but the pattern of your minds will be retained. Yeshua says the very act of making this pattern is what destroys your body and brain, and it is actually repeated countless times, using small skips back in time, to obtain the whole pattern undisturbed. Only the elohim, manipulating fold-space, can do this. After that, the pattern will be loaded into the mechanical brain that are now inside your spacecraft. You will feel that you are alive and that you are your spacecraft. After that you are instructed to fly west as far as you can go. The fold-gate that used to guide on the ID Lattice before it was destroyed will open one more time, guiding on the Ark of the Covenant. Then the final battle in history will begin. All of these things were witnessed by Mike, who embraced Jerry one last time, for they had been lovers once, and had been like brothers since the days of Hanford, and they knew it was the last time they would be together in the flesh. Take the parachute in my ship, Mike, Jerry offered. It'll be a hell of a lot easier to get back to your party that way. Ever since the 1982 Summit the elohim had been terraforming three worlds using the imbalances of each. Earth had too much water. Venus was too hot, had no water and too much air. Mars was too cold and didn't have enough air. So seawater was transferred to the north pole of Venus, where it turned into steam but also cooled the planet a bit. Moist air was transferred from the south pole of Venus to Valles Marineris on Mars where it warmed the planet and delivered a great deal of air, to the point where it was no longer a red planet but a white one. It was sufficiently warm, in fact, that plants were beginning to grow there and convert the CO2 to oxygen so humans would be able to breathe in the open one day. In the meantime, while the temperature was comfortable enough to go with only a light jacket, visitors and residents needed to wear a headpiece that converted CO2 to oxygen through electro-chemical means, limited only by the battery charge. But it was much more convenient than going about in a pressure suit. The crew of Exiler and their dependents spent nearly a week touring the planet, and it seemed to Adnarel that har time aboard the frigate had been much more fun than one would expect from a combat tour. Meanwhile in a facility at Valles Marineris near the fold-gate that brought hot air from Venus the body of Hope was stretched a final time to a full configuration as a woman. The only thing that remained to do was to place the Golden Gift inside the Ark of the Covenant for a short time. Binah was going to download through El Shaddai using the fold-line they had always shared as mother and daughter. Robyn didn't know exactly how it was supposed to work, but she thought of it as having the Golden Gift catch fire. Finally Robyn installed the Golden Gift back in Hope's chest and smoothed the expensive self-healing skin back over it. There was power again, and Hope's brain began to reboot. The result was a composite being that had the character of three persons in varying degrees of intensity: Binah 50%, Lilith 20% and Hope 10%. And this would be as diluted as Binah would ever become. That was, after all, the most salient point of Project Hope. Welcome back, honey, Robyn said. Girl, you missed a lot. I missed nothing, Hope said. I saw it all in the Swarm. Everything has gone astonishingly well since Mercury, don't you think? Jill says Del says Abaddon just made a very credible suicide attempt. Yes, I know about that, I just told Jill to go ahead and wake up Yefefiah, but not to say anything to her just yet, we still need leverage. Well, okay, so what do I call you now? Lil? Hope? Binah? We're all mixed up in here. I remember everything from all of their lives. But lets lay Binah and Lilith to rest, and just go with Hope. The five senior crewmembers of Exiler entered then, quite rested from their week touring Mars, and they were already well rested after a week touring Taurus City. I see Robyn has already achieved the culmination of Project Hope, Lahatiel said. On behalf of my crew and our families I greet the Holy One called Binah and offer our loyalty and service. 'Call me Hope, Ophan Lahatiel. You and your crew have already done so much, and for that I am deeply grateful. But the most difficult part lies just ahead. I intend to return to Mercury where my previous human incarnation was killed. You should carefully consider leaving the rest of your dependents here on Mars. If we fail, this planet will offer the best chance for their survival, for Earth will soon grow far too hot for any life. Robyn spoke of this before you were restored, Lahatiel said. We have already made our choice to see this all the way through, together. One thing still bothers me, Victoria said to Aliwe in a small woody glen at the base of the Sacred Mountain. They were at least three thousand feet below the Catwalk where the rest of the Young Royals waited for any sign of them. You said on your loop Joy killed everyone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where do you come from? I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council chamber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex with Luzea. I don't blame him actually. Luzea ain't one of the bene elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! But let's call that Timeline Three. On this one, Timeline Four, I interrupted them and Dad went back to see Gramma Firegem. This was before you got here, but you've heard the accounts so you already know I saved Blackseed's life. On Timeline Three, where I come from, Dad was the only surviving noble in the whole Land. Hy became something like a renegade while Blackseed conquered a hell of a lot more territory for Belial before the Summit could be convened. So how did I meet him on Timeline Three? Pretty much the same way you did this time, except the quest was just you and hym. You took the Catwalk to the dragon's lair, and you went up against Joy the same way you will again on this timeline. As for how you fell for Dad I don't really know, and I don't even want to know. I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, so fifty-fifty you're a boy instead of a jen and very few of the events that formed your memories on Timeline Three will be present again in this timeline. You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have nothing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me on Timeline Three. And all I want to do now is get back to the talented Luzea. This is going to seem strange to you, because I know you but you don't know me, but here goes. And Aliwe pulled Victoria close for a kiss and a hug. Love you, baby. Will we meet again when it's all over? I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but its not the same. Then Aliwe left to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a less hardy person. On the coast she hoped to find someone willing to take her to Menkant. Victoria soared directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return to the Catwalk. Everyone sat around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard, who looked guilty. Victoria would tell them only, Aliwe is in a better place, which considering the nature of the Catwalk was absolutely true. Besides, it would keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got the hell down off the face of the mountain. And so the quest to kill Demonstroke had been whittled down to just five: Baron Bayard Firegem, Baron Elketz Kadir, Countez Ichor Losna, Baron Nahaliel Kerresh, and Lady Victoria. Aliwe and King Stronghammer had departed, and Lord Michael was floating slowly upward through the dark waters contained by the Sacred Mountain, his body's metabolism slowed by the utter cold. When he breached the surface he would remain unconscious, but waves on the lake would cast him on a beach that lay just behind the rim. Baron Bayard led the party further east along the Catwalk, and at length their peril came to a temporary end as they reached a saddle that formed between the wall of the Sacred Mountain and a sort of footstool peak that lay at its extreme southern end. There hy ordered the group to make camp, for the saddle dropped away on the other side and the Catwalk resumed. Del was able to heal most of the decompression damage Abaddon had inflicted on hyz body by spacing himself, and when hy came to full consciousness hy found that El, the greater community of elohim, was abuzz with speculation about Yefefiah's unscheduled awakening that oddly paralleled Abaddon's own. To her devoted listeners (and there were many millions) Yefefiah said, A touch from a strange mind bidding me to awake! How can this be? For I sleep to silence the voices Of all the elohim when I hasten my circle Over and under the city of stars, then over again. But this mind is different from mine and ours And I remember the ancient words of the Old One Who told us ever to search for the Other Those who would in the fullness of time become the Partner. And so Abaddon brooded on the thought that hy had singlehandedly thwarted that search which was the first and greatest commandment given to the elohim by the Old One who created them, all to cover up an illegal harem shared by hymself and Mastema. To hyz "nurse" Del hy had nothing to say. Do I have your attention now, Abaddon? Hope said when she, Robyn, and the crew and dependents of the Exiler returned to Phobos from the surface of Mars. Simultaneously Binah spoke the words directly to Belial using Chokhmah as the intermediary, which would save a lot of tedious explanation. In that instant Abaddon knew the strange woman standing before hym, almost unrecognizable now from the mechanical child, was Binah. Abaddon stirred hymself sufficiently to speak. How did you do it? I already told you once, Abaddon, when I stormed your base on Palato. The Belters, using a matter flipper, flew the hard way to Barnard's Runaway Star which is the Holy One you and I both as Yefefiah, and they took a friend of mine named Jill Pennell along with them. You remember Jill from the Summit? Even now sha serves as a sort of central switchboard for all the communications of the bene elohim, but sha can also communicate directly with an eloah if sha can contrive to get very close to her. The planet closest to Yefefiah is very close indeed, only a light-minute away. I see. I thought I had more time. And the Ark was clearly a feint. Del told Jill, who told me, that you've already tried to perform an End of Cycle and return to Palato. No doubt you think that would force me to come before you at Palato again, but on my knees and with my hands out. And no doubt you have a backup plan in case that happens. Indeed I do, Abaddon. My backup plan consists solely of this: The very next instance of disobedience by you, no matter how sleight, shall be sufficient cause to order Jill to tell Yefefiah exactly who it is that woke her up, and why. Jill will spill everything, and Yefefiah will sing. Your life expectancy as a star, at that point, would be measured in hours. If I go down you will go down too, Binah. I may have taught the planet-dwellers how to kill elohim but your matter-flipper, and its bastard child the FTL Pod, has made it possible to scatter those astrocidal little monsters clear across the galaxy in a relative blink of an eye. At any point before or after Ithuriel reached your lab you could have closed the link but you left it open and I've lost count of how many times you contributed dark energy to allow ships from my Navy to pass between the four systems. El will review that evidence and conclude you conspired with me. Do you think that will deter me in the least bit? Del, you are relieved from your Abaddon suicide watch. If hy snuffs hymself now, so be it. In the morning when the Young Royals broke camp and were nerving themselves up to leave the safety of the mountain "saddle" to take up the Catwalk once again they spotted a parachute descending the wall, riding thermals to extend the ride just for the sheer joy of it. At length Mike reached the ground, but he required the help of Baron Kerresh and Ichor Losna to cut him free of the chute before it dragged hym off the edge of the saddle. Mike was puzzled and did a quick head count. Who are we missing? Baron Bayard's servant jist Aliwe fell off the Catwalk, Victoria said. Che's no longer with us. And King Stronghammer declined to continue. That's funny, I didn't see Aliwe appear on the Rim, Mike said. But then again I only saw a small part of it. In the part I did see, people were brought in by...bubbles, and the priestesses of Yeshua were on them like flies on shit healing them of whatever it was that killed them. So the waterfall stairs did lead to the Rim after all, Bayard mused. Sure, but I didn't count on the cold. The Sacred Mountain is a shell just like I thought, holding a big tub of water. I made it to the water and started to float towards the surface, but I also went into hypothermia and the ladies up there had to apply their ministrations to bring me to. So now, Lord Mike, you can answer the age-old question of what happens to us when we die in the Land We Know. Yeshua has always refused to answer. He refused to answer because frankly, it wasn't all that appealing until just a few hours ago. When the dead recover they stand on the rim and by some weird trick of acoustics they can hear people speaking anywhere in the Land We Know. They can hear the elegies at their own funeral and people saying how great they were, or what an asshole they were, shit like that. Eventually everyone stops talking about you, or the ones who knew you die off themselves, and by that time the dead step back away from the rim. Except that one muh-fugg from your story about the ship that fell over the edge of the ocean, Captain Skulldagger, yeah, he's still standing there. You must be joking. The Saiph revolution was hundreds of years ago. He's still there. I guess some people are hard cases. Almost everyone else waits on this grass beach for a white ship to pull up, and they ride it into that shaft of light that doubles as the sun in this place. I watched Jerry and eleven other pilots get on that ship and sail toward the light, and that's when I jumped off the rim with a chute. But everyone who got on that ship before Jerry were just stored as dead patterns. Yeshua and El Shaddai just recorded their souls on tape and hid them somewhere. But Jerry and his pilots are different. That other quest, the one Robyn was on to make Hope wake up, she pulled it off. We have artificial intelligence now! So there's somewhere for the mind of Jerry and his people to go after they enter the light. Astrodyne tricked out some Sandwich fighters with the same computer that's in the head of Hope. Jerry's kids are going to take possession of those planes. The sensation they will have, after losing their human bodies, is that they will be their aircraft. But why? Bayard asked. They volunteered to give up their bodies? These are legendary pilots. Something really big is going down. This quest to kill the dragon is a big deal to us, Victoria agreed, but in the big picture we're just tying off a loose end. Twelve fighters roared down off the wall directly overhead, pulling out at the last minute. The lead fighter wiggled its wings at Mike before it headed straight out, then turned west. That's Jerry, waving goodbye! There was Mercury again, looking to Robyn and Hope very much like it did when they went there to score the bot that became Hope's body. Barakiel announced the success of the transit. Abaddon snorted and said, I'm surprised you could find it, ersatz erel who faked hyz way into my Navy. You must be joking, Lahatiel said. Do you know that when we first came to his system from Centauri we had to dump eighteen miles per second of velocity differential and Barakiel did it with almost no propellant? Abaddon turned to stare directly at the ophan. I don't believe you. No, it's true, Suriel said. This system has four big gaseous planets, kind of like cold miniature stars. We don't have that kind at Centauri. Barakiel skimmed just over the surface of a blue one, bent around it just so, hopped over to a green one, bent around that, and so on. My favorite planet was the one with the big ring, Adnarel said. This job isn't just connect the dots, Barakiel said. It's art. We're getting hit with long range search radar, Suriel said. If your IFF crypto is up to date we've got nothing to worry about, Abaddon said. Give me a headset, I'll tell them we're coming in. Suriel looked to Lahatiel, who looked at Hope, who in turn nodded. Then Suriel passed a headphone/microphone combination to Abaddon and set a transceiver to the standard traffic-control frequency. Mercury Control this is Emperor Abaddon commanding the frigate Exiler, over. And Exiler this is Mercury Control, authenticate Sierra Juliet. With his communication link between his current body and his stellar body of Toliman, Abaddon had instant access to the cryptography maintained by the Eyes of Belial. Hy said, I authenticate Papa. 'Thank you, Sire. This is Captain Kelland, Command Duty Officer. We will establish a homing beam at 310 megahertz to guide you in. We are honored by your visit and I will inform Admiral Ridpath immediately. Out. You had a protocol already set up with the Americans for a visit, Robyn accused. What part of the four AU boundary did you fail to understand? Said the yen from Selene who raided Mercury for a bot so har "wife" could have a robot body. By the way, Binah, I see the breasts, and I assume there's a vagina, so considering it's mechanical, what's the point? When this adventure is all over I intend to join Jill at the new colony at Barnard's Star, Hope replied. We'll need to spread the genes around a bit to keep from getting into a rut, which might run counter to the tendency of humans to pair-bond. There's always the option of giving the gentleman a magazine and a vial, but this seemed like it would be more fun. Besides, Hope and Lilith were both raised as human females anyway. I detect some distaste on your part, Abaddon, Robyn said. I think it's an irrational thing. What does planet-dweller gender have to do with elohim gender? Bat-El is female but she lives as Yeshua, a human male. I long ago despaired of explaining power to hairless female apes. I'm getting the beacon, Suriel said. Patching over to Barakiel. When we land, Hope said, Abaddon might have a mind to have this ship seized. You must be prepared to escape at the first sign of that. Before the breakthrough in the Hope Project the reality of the Grid was an abstract, purely mathematical space. But when Jerry and his eleven volunteer pilots were translated from living bodies to living data they were "inside" it, experiencing the Swarm as a virtual reality. To accommodate them there was a near infinite treasure of encoded images and sensations of existence one level up. A soul in the Swarm could experience another person's hike, another person's meal, even the sensation of being in love. And pervading everything was the common experience of having been raised as a girl named Hope. Everything was there, just in the background, from her time at the Academy to the walk in the woods with Robyn to the frightening balloon drop and the choice to sacrifice herself that Robyn could escape. Between this level and the basement where raw machine language formed the very fabric of the Swarm, a complex weave of sublevels lay atop one another, or grew out of each other, or compacted into each other. Each level was represented as symbols in the next level up, symbols that danced in a partitioned universe that was itself a growing, changing, living thing. Fragments of sound and video wandered down there as crosstalk and evolved like dreams. Characters from canceled TV shows carried on like ghostly afterimages, endlessly saying the same lines and going through every possible combination of interaction. Sets from other shows intruded. Spinoffs budded into a new layer and separated families forever. Lucy and Ricky would frequently appear on Star Trek episodes looking quite lost. The Fallen Angels brought over content from Gorpai, which only made things more strange. In the Swarm, these subroutine fragments were not actually conscious, but they had been designed to seek their own uniqueness by linking sometimes silly, always incongruous bits together. This served to further enrich the whole. Here where time was counted off in picoseconds an accelerated survival-of-the-fittest was going on. Entities multiplied needlessly. Processing points took false memories from a supply of TV, movies, music, literature and human knowledge collected throughout the Swarm, even drawing from that highest of aesthetic endeavors: science fiction. Every day for two thousand years Yeshua Bat-El had selected three deceased humans from Earth, men and women, boys and girls, pulling by fold-door a living copy of their body that had been passed by as the present moment in time hurtled ever onward. He healing them of the hurts that led to their death if it was necessary. Many of the resurrected were people who died tragically young, this was Yeshua's way of making things up to them, but it would have been impossible for him to select everyone who had been wronged. And many others were people who had led extraordinary lives in service to others. Only a very few were wicked, much like Jerry had been, that Yeshua might explore how a second chance at life might change them. So two million people in all, and when they died a second time they were encoded as data which only now was exploding out into the Swarm, each soul riding a snapshot of Hope's mind at the instant of her final choice. But for Jerry all of that could wait. For now, hy and hyz eleven ghosts put on the "flesh" of actual Sandwich fighters as though putting on flight suits. They could see through a swiveling telescope mounted on the pylon for the upper power panel. They could speak to each other in the clear and their communications gear would handle the actual encryption below the level of conscious thought. Jerry merely had to wish to go somewhere and the fighter that was hyz body responded instantly, a sensation much like that experienced by Victoria when she flew. Jerry led hyz volunteers off the runway prepared on the rim and dove directly down the face of the Sacred Mountain where Mike had jumped perhaps only an hour before. Jerry zoomed in on the saddle ledge far below and could make out Mike talking to hyz companions there. He did a few partial rolls left and right to wave, then flew over their heads directly away from the wall with hyz swarm of Twentieth Century aviation heroes and heroines following. The Young Royals left the safety of the Saddle in the morning, and by that afternoon they had arrived at a section of the Catwalk that Bayard called "problematic", for it had been damaged somehow, and for nearly a mile it had become no wider than a toehold. But there were steel pitons already pounded ready for them to snap carabiners and sling rope. Bayard led the way, and by some quirk of fate Victoria was next in line after hym. They spoke of many things, but Bayard being Bayard, the conversation drift- ed towards sexy things. Victoria knew what hy was up to and decided to keep it impersonal by speaking of the differences between the five genders in purely scientific terms, which was a novelty to a native of the Land. We've learned a few things over on the Sol side of the house, Baron, she began. We emphasized the study of life rather than death. And we know living things, no matter how small, are far more complicated than we can imagine. All that complexity requires a way to store information so it can be passed down to the next generation. Life uses long molecular chains to store this data, and these chains are carefully packed away in pairs of compact nested coils we call chromosomes. The data that governs the dif- ferences between the sexes is carried in the X and Y chromosomes. I have heard something of this, Bayard said. Every cell in a woman has two X chromosomes and every cell in a man has both an X and a Y. Almost every cell, Baron. When the egg cell is formed, it undergoes a final division that separates the two X chromosomes and only contains one X. And men constantly form sperm cells, which also separate, each one car- rying either an X or a Y. So when they come together, the odds are fifty- fifty that the baby will be a boy or a girl. A beautiful arrangement. Then along comes Belial to mess everything up, Bayard said. What he did when he created the nephilim was bundle the X and Y together to form a Z chromosome, and this had a curious effect. The infants that resulted from this gene splicing were born with two sex organs apiece. So yeng were YZ, which was like having two Y chromosomes, which also makes you hypermasculine. Yen are ZZ, so they have two Y's of their own buried in there, and if they were left alone they would end up being a lot more butch than human women. But there's an anthropological factor at play as well. The polygamy of Belial's cupel system selects for femininity. Applause and cheering broke out on the line ahead of them on the Catwalk, Ichor Losna had traversed the broken portion to safety on the other side. Victoria continued. Here in the Land We Know, and nowhere else, nephilim and humans were thrown together and they found they could interbreed. Some of these offspring were normal human boys and girls, or nephil dirks and dolls, but if an X chromosome ended up being paired with a Z, which normal- ly never happens on Gorpai, the result is a jen hermaphrodite, still a ne- phil, but with one of each kind of sex organs. In my travels, Bayard said, I have found that I would rather deal with the single dick of a jen if it means I can also have hez single pussy, like a human woman has. Isn't that strange? Yen with their two pussies give me pause, yet my mother is pressuring me to find and marry a yen. What you are talking about now, Baron, is sexual preferences. Binah created bene elohim to never settle on a single preference. But among hu- mans and nephilim who do, we don't believe it's a matter of choice. Bayard slipped off the Catwalk just then and screamed. Victoria pushed her nose into the wall of the Sacred Mountain, resisting the urge to fly after hym, since it would be as useless as her attempt to save Aliwe. But Ba- yard's fall was arrested by the ropes, as they were intended to do. The Germans were not complete idiots. Earlier in the year a U-boat captain, gazing at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope, noted that the Atherfield lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. He noted the start and stop time, and a clever intelligence agent in Berlin realized this matched the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby tower. A second and third observation over the next two weeks verified the anomaly. In the early morning hours of June 3rd, a German sub surfaced just offshore, and commandos rowed ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as the political officer aboard the U-boat to ensure its loyalty to Hitler. On this occasion Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would have on the Gervasi family. With Lilith and Edith whimpering in terror, tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads, Benjamin demonstrated the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but to Benjamin's great surprise the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor tried to remove it to their submarine. Instead, Schaub pulled out a notebook and identified each member of the Gervasi family by name, and he told them he knew they were Jews. He said whether they lived or died would depend on the correct answer to precisely two questions: What is the target of the planned invasion across the English Channel? Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Ramsay had given him. At the slightest nod from Schaub, the hammer was pulled back on the pistol pointed at Lilith's head. Gervasi gave in. Calais, he said, and let out the breath he had been holding for nearly a minute. Goot, Captain Schaub said. And the timing? June twentieth. The SS officer smiled and put his notebook away. I'm a man of my word, he said. Neither you nor your wife nor your daughter will be killed. Now here is what I want you to do, Mr. Gervasi. From now on, when you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much! Perhaps just a fraction of one degree. Just enough to throw the bombing raid off by a few hundred yards. You will do this until the end of the war. And more importantly, you will tell no one that you are sabotaging the raids. Or you'll come back and kill us? Benjamin, I'm disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do? You have my word of honor that neither you nor your lovely Edith nor your beautiful young Lilith will be killed. But they will be taken to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France were all the British Jews in the Channel Islands have been relocated. No, I beg you! They will not be mistreated there. But if we learn that a future air raid on Germany using the transmitter at this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so good. But even then, my word will hold. Lilith and Edith will be transferred to a work camp deeper in France, perhaps even in Germany. He closed the leaves of his notebook with a snap. It is astonishing how much work you can get out of a Jew with a whip. Lilith and Edith were taken to Cherbourg, and by the evening of June 4 they were inducted into their first camp, a French farm that had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene. The Atherfield lighthouse was not the only Clarinet system that had been raided by Captain Schaub, but it was the only one whose operator remained alive after the raid. Schuab's report filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude operation was in place. Hitler reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only a skeleton force at Normandy. It is common knowledge that Calais was a feint, and the real invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have driven the invaders back into the sea, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler, because he didn't trust his own generals. Hitler himself slept until noon on that day, and didn't release the Panzers until 4 PM, by which time the beachhead was relatively secure, and Allied aircraft dominated the skies to the point of forcing German tanks to move only at night. But for two months the Allies became tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempted to contain them. When they finally did, the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Lilith and Edith were being held. To prevent their premature liberation, the Germans moved everyone in the camp to another one in France far from the front lines. Benjamin Gervasi continued to operate the Clarinet system when orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately altered the requested target angle slightly, believing it to be the only way he could save the lives of his wife and daughter. The deception came to an end in September when Lilith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came calling, who found evidence of the German raid, and notified army intelligence, who squeezed the truth out of Benjamin. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay intervened personally to keep Benjamin out of prison, but he was sacked from his lighthouse job and gradually began to despair of seeing either one of his loved ones again. After breaking out of Normandy Patton's 3rd Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace. Lilith and Edith found themselves being moved at least once a month, which was encouraging in a way, but the camps grew progressively worse the nearer they drew to Germany itself. Internment camps were abandoned for work camps. Work camp were evacuated and the Jews went to slave labor camps, and then punishment camps, and finally an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the center of Germany proper, where Jews were to be worked to death constructing a railroad center that was never finished.. Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Lilith and Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing was given to needy German families. Lilith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human evil she thought where possible to exist. And Ohrdruf wasn't even the worst camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to the east. Some men have a strong taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Lilith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. Some of this she ate herself, but it was purely business. The longer she could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more likely she was to have more opportunities to trade her body for food. The rest of this extra food she gave to her mother. This became a problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections that followed roll call and lasted most of the day, when Lilith and Edith were found to be wasting away at a slower rate than their companion prisoners. They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was more difficult to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised. One time when the guns of Patton's tanks could be hard only forty miles away, and the twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars for transfer to Buchenwald, Edith Gervasi was discovered in possession of a little extra food. The Germans did something to Edith Gervasi, a kind of crucifixion with ropes that was so much more terrible than anything Lilith had witnessed or imagined up to that point that the soul of the girl was seared, as though by a hot iron. For years afterward wanted to die just to erase the memory of it. Lilith the child in fact died just then, and another Lilith emerged who bore little resemblance to the one who had gone just moments before. The Nazis didn't kill Edith in their treatment of her, but so much the worse for her suffering. Nazi renegades who went into hiding throughout the world after the war had little idea their most terrible, implacable huntress had truly been born on this day in a satellite camp of Buchenwald called Ohrdruf Nord Lilith herself, as Edith's daughter, was to be stripped naked and clubbed to death before the still living eyes of Edith, to increase her suffering as she looked down from the Screaming Tree and begged to die. In the undressing room Lilith seized a pistol from an SS officer named Eduard Farben and shot dead both him and a guard named Wilhelm Grabner. Other prisoners joined to attack other guards, but the SS called in reinforcements and got control of the situation again. All the female prisoners were mustered together and marched for miles outside of the camp, barefoot, in the snow. They were kept outside at the position of attention until late in the afternoon, while they were threatened and ordered to reveal who had killed the two men. The information was not forthcoming, so they were ordered to run back to the camp. The laggards were beaten to a pulp with clubs. A thousand women died during this forced run, including Edith Gervasi, who was still in shock with crippled arms from the Screaming Tree. Although Belial had placed Major Rogziel in authority over all of his Eyes of Belial priesthood, a group of five Eyes led by one Balberith came to Rogziel and ordered him to join them in the hangar with the angel of Belial to answer for a certain recent development of some interest. "You will hand me your sword, Major," Balberith told him, and Rogziel, sur- rounded by the five armed yeng, had no choice but to comply. They searched him roughly for any other weapons or paraphenalia he might use to evade judgment should Belial declare him a traitor, as they were quite convinced he would. Then Rogziel was frog-marched into the hangar, with very little of his dignity remaining to him. The five Eyes of Belial prostrated themselves before the angel and com- pelled Rogziel to do the same with a rough kick. Then Balberith stood up and said, "Your pardon, Lord Belial, but a matter has come to our attention that we believe proves your trust in Major Rogziel is misplaced and un- founded." Belial said, "Come closer, Balberith, and state your piece." Balberith walked reverently forward a few more paces and said, "We know, Lord, that you commanded Rogziel to draft orders to Commodore Lahatiel of the Exiler to investigate the Iron Fist organization at Xanthos and destroy them. Instead, the Exiler has gone to the prison at Rhene and set free a notorious rapist and murderer, which will dismay certain very powerful clans on Gorpai when they learn of it." "Is that true, Rogziel?" "Yes, Lord, Captain Balberith's report is correct in every sense." Emboldened, the Eye of Belial engaged in a little speculation. "Lord, this Commodore Lahatiel could not have ordered the release of Elimelech on his own authority. Only Rogziel acting as your most senior lieutenant could have swayed Warden Achimel. We have come to believe that Major Rogziel has done nothing but lie to you since he arrived here, Lord Belial, and hy is really serving your enemies." "What say you to that, Major Rogziel? Did you really authorize the Commo- dore to release this prisoner called Elimelech." "Yes, Lord." "Why?" "Lord, there are sixty-one identical domes that make up the city of Xan- thos. Your orders are to destroy the dome containing the headquarters for the Iron Fist organization, but few know where it is even among that city's own residents. Elimelech is an important figure in the Iron Fist. By re- leasing Elimelech from Rhene and setting him free at Xanthos, he will lead the crew of Exiler straight to the proper dome, and that is the dome that will be destroyed." "Can the Exiler really track him from space, my old friend?" Belial asked. "Lord, this crew put together by Commodore Lahatiel is absolutely the rari- fied foam on top of the cream of your naval crop. I trust that hy knows exactly what hy is doing, and I think we could all use a little bit more of that trust around here. "Frankly, Lord, these are all tiny details which can be handled without your personal attention, and I am embarrassed for you. It was your will to appoint me to this position, Lord, and I find my mere presence here before you now, which was made mandatory by these same five Eyes of Belial, to be an unforgivable insult against your judgment far more than a simple expres- sion of disrespect against my office and authority." The survivors were mustered together again for another roll call. The commander of the camp gave an order to flog the entire first row of prisoners because the exhausted and freezing women had poor posture. This first row included Lilith. Listening to the screams of the prisoners being whipped before her turn was almost worse than the actual punishment. She was stripped naked and held by two female guards over the whipping table while a third laid on the rawhide with a will. In later years Lilith said the agony of this punishment was indescribable, and so she never attempted to describe it. Only Round Robyn knew this, or what really happened to her mother, because Lilith allowed Round Robyn alone, out of everyone else in the Women's Democratic Forum, to Share. Lilith lost count of how many strokes she received, and woke up in the camp hospital in only slightly less agony, with her entire back aflame. It would take four days before she could get more than a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep. She had lost a lot of blood and the slightest movement opened the scars and caused her to bleed again. So Lilith could not be moved from the hospital or walk under her own power and as the American forces drew very near, the entire camp descended into chaos. Lilith was left behind. A day later Lilith did manage to stumble out of bed for one final task. Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Among the many thousands of dead Jews whose burnt or decomposing bodies where strewn about, one female German guard lay on the ground with her head nearly twisted off the spine. She was the one who had laid the lash on Lilith's back. After the war when Lilith had been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and proved her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship and sent home to her father. Meeting him on a dock at Portsmouth, she gazed upon him as though across a great gulf, which was the memory of the ordeal she had somehow survived. They were utter strangers to each other now. Lilith was suffering from what would later be termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would be a long time before she could summon the will to begin to recover from her experiences. No matter how much he pleaded with her, Lilith never spoke to her father or anyone else about what the Germans had done to her mother. Robyn got the memory wordlessly, directly from the source. Climbing solo, Talishi ascended the biggest mountain in the universe without breaking a sweat. After Yefefiah's song revealed to El the deeds of Belial in this enclave, Talishi knew har labors were at an end. Sha quietly withdrew from the Fallen Angels and made har way to this summit alone. Hybla-Dia at Alpha Centauri A was a true binary planet, forming a figure eight when seen from space. Gravity pulled both worlds into teardrop shapes that nearly kissed and the sharp ends of those teardrops were the biggest mountains ever discovered. Close to their summits where the gravity of the twin bodies nearly canceled out the burden of climbers was very light indeed. Talishi bounced har way to the top with graceful alternating touches of har feet and hands. Despite the steep slope of the wall here, in minimal gravity rock climbing was largely just a matter of intelligently choosing one's route, more a ballet than a demonstration of endurance and strength. It was a perfect distraction as sha meditated on har life. Looking down, Talishi saw the flanks of their mountain merge into the rest of the planet Hybla far below, literally thousands of miles below. Sha saw endless undulating gray ridges and long skinny deep blue lakes, all partly obscured by clouds. Looking straight up, the identical but slightly smaller blue and green bulk of the neighboring planet Dia filled half the sky with its own mega-mountain seeming to nearly poke har in the eye. Looking out, Talishi saw a handful of other tourists with strap-on wings circling the mountain, rising on the winds. Too bright to look at, yet giving almost no heat, the distant orange sun Agena hung out there in the purple sky. It was the home star of all the nephilim, and gave far more light than the full Moon ever did during the nighttime on Earth. Rarely was it ever truly night here at Hybla-Dia with both suns under the horizon. But even more astonishing than this view, Talishi saw a classic piston monoplane spiraling up the narrowing flanks of the Hybla super-mountain, rising under minimal power with the wind. When the plane rose up over the lip of the compact but flat summit plateau the pilot killed its engine, an actual internal combustion engine by the sound of it, Talishi thought. In the low gravity the plane settled to the ground with three slow bounces on its fat rubber tires. The door of the plane opened and the nephilim assassins Talishi had expected to come emerged. House of Gerash, of course. With her dual existence as both a living sun and a nephilim female, Talishi had forfeited the power of precognition, but it didn't take extraordinary powers to guess Belial would have arranged for a final vengeance in some mean way. But Talishi was ready. Har yen body was old and frail now anyway, and Belial could not threaten har continued existence as a star. Talishi was not afraid to die, but knowing Belial, he had probably ordered the yeng to make the process of cutting Chokhmah free from the yen body as slow and painful as possible, one for the record books. Their cruelly barbed blades certainly did not bode well. Sha said to the three yeng, What you mean to do, best do it quick, for my Fallen Angel bodyguard is banking to stop you now. Do you see? Sha pointed to the sky. One of the tourists flying with artificial wings was turning to move toward the summit. They began to fear they would fail to kill Talishi, and there would be consequences for their own families back on Palato. So they came close to har and let har life out quickly with their blades. And after the murder they saw they had been deceived when the "bodyguard" banked away from the summit of Hybla once again, a mere tourist after all. From the day of har possession Talishi had been in perfect union with Chokhmah, and though the nephilim mode of har Chokhmah-Talishi joint being came to an end, as pure elohim Chokhmah-Talishi continued har long and joyous life as a sun. But that joy would forever be tempered by the terrible and eternal loss of Khondiel, and Chokhmah-Talishi would never forget har. Fides grew on the main viewport. Yellow was the predominant color, the bright yellow of sands alternating with the darker yellow-brown of grasslands. There didn’t seem to be any large seas, but there was an intricate network of rivers which twisted through the grasslands and emptied out in the desert sands, there to evaporate and keep the water cycle going. The captain chose a “garden spot” that had a good mix of streams, small lakes, and rocky outcroppings. Before long they would have to live only on what the planet itself could offer them. As Elfi and Irmin came down separately in the lander, Bastian brought Superior down to the surface on the last of its propellant, as they breathed the last of its air. He set the ship down on her three remaining fusion drives. When she settled to the ground Superior complained a great deal, expressing her displeasure with groans of overstressed metal and popping joints. There were horrible wrenching noises. From the empty spot where the lander plugged in to the mother ship, Lukas, Elfi, Bastian, and Lysee rushed out of the hatch and down the ladder to the ground, not even bothering to check for breathable air first, since they were finished anyway if there was none. Fortunately there was plenty of oxygen, and it smelled fresh. It was sunny and a very comfortable 25° C. No one had any complaints about Fides so far.

Standing safely at a distance, they were joined by Elfi and Irmin. All of them watched their poor ship sag into itself and finally collapse. The fusion drives tumbled to the ground like giant logs. “Irmin, see if any of the engines are still okay. Maybe we can start this colony right, with electric power.” “I’ll get right on it, Captain.” But Irmin stood there for right now, holding Elfi’s hand. Bastian and Lysee sat close together some distance away from the others, oblivious to everything but their own world. Lukas let his eyes drift over and catch Karin’s eyes staring back at him with suspicion. She didn’t want to be the first to say it. “Well, congratulations, Ensign Durr,” he said. “It looks like you and me.” “Sounds like fun,” Karin muttered half in jest, resigned to her fate as a baby factory. But in truth, as she reappraised Lukas in the new light of Fides’ sun, she thought it was not a bad outcome. Not a bad outcome at all. Fides was a world without extremes. There were no mountains higher than a thousand feet. There were no bodies of water larger than Lake Eire. All in all a dull place, but they would be too busy trying to survive to grow bored. And after ensuring their basic necessities, they would be very busy making babies and renewing again the human experience. Later, after Lukas and Karin had explored more of the planet in the lander (on a trip to learn as much about each other as to learn about Fides) they decided there were no forms of animal life more advanced than small winged lizards, and no forms of plant life more advanced than a tough kind of winter wheat that covered the globe-encircling prairies. So it was a benign world, then, but they had yet to see what the winter was like. When their honeymoon was over, Lukas and Karin returned to the crash site again on the endless expanse of Fides grasslands, where the other couples welcomed them home. “I think we’re back in Kansas, Toto” Karin said. When the graviforming of Selene was well underway and the quakes had grown so intense the people of Taurus City had to be evacuated for their safety, Del stayed behind until the last of the people had departed for the Land We Know. The idea was to provide immediate medical care to anyone injured by falling debris or who were suffocated by the sudden loss of air in their space. But a particularly intense quake made even Del show signs of fear. Hez grandparent Hope saw this and assured Del hez power to heal had always extended to hezself. You are truly immortal. That's why I've handing the Family reins over to you. Del shrugged. Immortality. I suppose that will prove useful, since I must wait five hundred years to move back into my home. Third generation Gervasi and you still think in linear time. The last of the evacuees were through. Hope took Del to the Temple of El Shaddai in Nath, then turned right back around in space, but not in time. The Holy of Holies, the place in Taurus which had been the place of repose for the Ark of the Covenant, was changed. It was five centuries later. Selene had been graviformed by many artificial quantum black holes which sucked down the molten rock of the interior until there was nothing but a giant hole inside. This caused the satellite to collapse to only forty per- cent of its original diameter. As it shrank Selene more than doubled her rotational speed, much like a skater pulling her arms in closer to spin faster. The post-graviformed Selene turned once every twelve days rather than once a month, but it still went around the Earth once a month, therefore it no longer presented the same face toward Earth at all times. When Selene's rigid upper mantle could be compressed no more the collapse slowed to a halt, leaving the surface crinkled like the skin of a prune. Countless micro-black holes, grown fat with the moon lava they had consumed, orbited each other inside the moon like angry hornets and sometimes merged. At that point the gravity on the moon was equal to that of Earth, and it could retain an atmosphere and surface water. None of Selene's original features could be seen anymore. Now it was a world only one-ninth the diameter of Earth. After decades of constant quakes, the terrain was a chaotic jumble of geological folding. There were no seas or plains, only isolated skinny lakes along fault lines, ringed by jagged cliffs snowy from water imported by falling comets. Selene had become Switzerland writ large. The quakes had subsided after five hundred years, just prior to the point where Lilith deposited hezself and Del. The sheer amount of mineral resources made available by the land being literally turned over was beyond belief. It went without saying that the primary occupation on Selene was mining. In the sky of Selene Del could see the Earth, but it had changed. The oceans were diminished, the nighttime continents were a solid mass of artificial lights, and the planet was attended by a cloud of orbiting artifacts large enough to be seen from Selene as individual star-like points. Most of them clustered around a solid ring in geosynchronous orbit which was dan- gling many brilliant threads. You are confronted with a choice, Del, Hope said. You can stay here and bypass the five hundred years it took to make all that you see, but then there will be two of you. Or you can return with me to the past and watch it all unfold, Earth as the center of an empire. What choice? If there would be two of me, that means I must go back. Don't underestimate the power of the human free will to establish a new chain of effects without a prior cause. Even I can do that. Indeed, it's what we were reaching for when we achieved artificial intelligence. On craggy rocks looming high over the city of Eniph stands the Temple of Belial with high walls cunningly wrought of black stone and ironwork. Batlements piled upon battlements crowned towers leaping skyward from the shoulder of lower towers until the great pile reached a pinnacle that was the dark aerie of the downfallen Demonstroke. Black smoke continually belched forth from the innards of the temple and on the lowest levels could still be seen many instruments of cruel torment devised by Belial himself. But Belial was no more, and on this day his temple was festooned with many brightly-colored banners and flags to mark the wedding of Queen Victoria to King Bayard Goldstaff, formerly Baron Firegem, monarch of the restored Kingdom of Kurgan. Victoria descended from the air after fixing a banner that had broken loose, only to meet a puzzled glance from Bayard's mother Queen Firegem. Victoria could only say, "Your son, by marrying me, has dragged you into a very strange family Your Highness." But the queen only congratulated both of them and welcomed Kurgan as a full-fledged monarchy like the four other kingdoms in the Land We Know. A kingdom in name only, mother Bayard said with some trepidation. The freelords and lord advocates of the late Saiph League speak of forming a parliament and drafting a charter to limit the power of the throne. It will go well, Yeshua said, for he was standing there also and had, in fact, united Victoria and Bayard in matrimony himself. The land where Lilith was born tried the same thing long ago with a very good result. The people here put up a good front, Lord, Victoria said, But I believe a dark undercurrent remains. All hope of an afterlife is gone to them. What do the people have to look forward to now as they wax old? Yeshua smiled and said, Suns are mortal and face death even as you and every living thing in this reality also will one day, Victoria. But we elohim have been thinking about it for a long time and we believe we have a satisfactory answer. Things which are verified exist. Things which are not verified, but are at least verifiable in principle, may exist. Things which are not verified may not exist. Things which are not verifiable, even in principle, can not exist. Do you accept all of these premises? I do, Lord Yeshua, Victoria said. The afterlife is consciousness after death. Consciousness is exclusively self-verifiable. No one else can verify your consciousness and you cannot verify anyone else's consciousness. Provisionally we can say that the afterlife may exist, because it is verifiable in principle by the person who is conscious of it, if it exists. But if the afterlife does not exist, this is not verifiable, even in principle, because consciousness is required to make the verification that consciousness does not exist. Since the truth value of the proposition "no afterlife exists" is not verifiable, even in principle, and the negation "the afterlife exists" is at least not excluded, then the afterlife must exist, by the rule if not non-A then A. But Bayard was not convinced. He said, Replace your proposition of the afterlife with being reconstituted as an aquatic monkepotamus on the third planet orbiting Arcturus and your proof still holds, Lord Yeshua. Not so, because one could send a starship to Arcturus III and interview that aquatic monkepotamus, so it is verifiable in principle. But the afterlife consists of a purely intellectual existence which is not publicly verifiable. My mother and I were wasting our time to set up an afterlife for humans who died on Earth or here in the Land. The Old One already made arrangements long ago, and it covered humans, nephilim, and elohim. But we never knew. Binah could not speak of it, Belial would not speak of it, and it is unwise to reveal more here, lest I foster apathy in the living. The bodies of Robyn, Erik and Captain Skulldagger were transformed into patterns of pure information in a substrate one level higher than space-time. They were greeted by El Shaddai, who thanked Robyn personally for saving the lives of herself and her daughter Bat-El. Then El Shaddai led the three away to reveal what Belial had denied them for so long. In the beginning the Old One precipitated reality from the void, and it was infinite. If elohim and nephilim and men could see only a finite number of galaxies it was only that light from the more distant ones had not yet sufficient time to arrive. And the objects in reality had various degrees of freedom, each according to their kind. The objects with the freedom to move back and forth in length and to and fro in width attracted each other with a force that diminished linearly with their distance. These objects could enter into various orbits around each other but the orbits were only closed loops. No hyperbolas or parabolas were possible. For these objects there was no such thing as escape velocity. The whole system of two-dimensional objects moved upwards in the direction of height. A creature in that evolving plane system would not be able to point in the direction of height, but they could reason that height was a direction at a right angle to both length and width. It would not have long to think about it. The entire system was gravitationally bound together and proceeded directly to collapse into a single point. The objects with the freedom to move back and forth in length, two and fro in width, and up and down in height attracted each other with a force that diminished with the square of the distance between them. These objects could enter into various orbits around each other and for the first time hyperbolic excess velocity was possible between them. Nuclei could permanently eject particles. Single atoms could divest themselves of electrons and become ions, or group and regroup themselves into molecules. Single stars could explode and become nurseries for many new stars and planets. This was the three-dimensional system familiar to nephilim and men, who do not have to obey the celestial acuity limit. The whole system of three-dimensional objects moved forward in the direction of time, resulting in various speeds. Nephilim and men were not able to point in the direction of time, but they could reason that time was a direction at a right angle to length and width and height. The objects with the freedom to move back and forth in length, to and fro in width, up and down in height, and forward and backward in time attracted each other with a force that was applied throughout a space, hence the force between them diminished with the cube of the distance. This is the four-dimensional system familiar to the spirits of elohim, who do not have to obey the celestial speed limit. The whole system of four-dimensional objects moved outward at a constant rate in the direction of magic, resulting in various glories. Elohim are not able to point in the direction of magic, but they reason that magic is a direction at a right angle to length and width and height and time. Robyn, her father, and Skulldagger saw the spirits of many elohim flying around the Old One, and together with them were many different lights who were kindred human spirits, and Erik marveled they were not lesser lights. You have always been our teachers, not our servants, El Shaddai explained. Belial saw all of this only from a great distance. The shame of his transgression kept him and others like him far away. They merged with a fountain of billions of other moving spirits, and Robyn turned to see a great hypersphere of beings like a sun composed of many such fountains, some jetting up, some falling back. Robyn knew men had worshiped El Shaddai and Bat-El as God for centuries, but this great city they had joined was the real eternal and triune God standing at the heart of all things: the Old One, the Others, and the Teachers. Hope emerged from her starship on the shore of a small round lake. She was greeted first by Adnarel and Suriel. The three of them stood grinning at each other, for they were all very visibly pregnant. Welcome to Fertility, Suriel said, revealing the name of their new planet, and Hope thought it was apt, for they all had matching bumps. When Adnarel saw Lahatiel's sister-wife Noriel, who had traveled to Fertility with Hope, there was an awkward moment, but Noriel only smiled gently and put her hand on Adnarel's bump. Noriel said, I know it's not mine. I've come to see my Lahatiel live again in the eyes of your child. We thought we were beyond the edge of the universe, Adnarel offered. Not quite, Hope said. Eighty-nine billion light-years. The edge is at ninety-three. Beyond that are more galaxies. Always more. I would have thought it was less than fourteen billion lights, Suriel said. After all, the universe isn't even fourteen billion years old. You forgot about redshift, Hope said. New space is inserted dynamically into the interstices between stars. . And Suriel was reunited with her sister Camael and booty wives Orifiel, Auriel and Ezeqeel. How did you find us? Barakiel asked. Even if we aren't actually over the observable horizon of the universe, it would have been like finding a very small needle in an intergalactic haystack, as humans say. El Shaddai looked ahead to a time when Fertility was the hub of a second expanding civilization, Hope explained, omitting the gory details of that future time when the edges of the two bubbles will first meet. Evolution assured that the two groups would be very alien to one another. It was difficult but not impossible to find you. Barakiel was reunited with his sister Anafiel and, to his great delight, hyz yang lover Peniel. This released Barakiel from his unpleasant but necessary duty of keeping Suriel pregnant but Hope made the two yeng promise to provide samples of their sperm. Genetic diversity will be an issue early on, she said. Barakiel's two other dependents, Sachiel and Gedael, had elected to remain on Gorpai. I commend you on your marksmanship, Adnarel said with real admiration. Oh, no, we've improved the FTL process after you left, Hope explained. We make lots of quick short hops rather than one big one. Stars tumbling off the edge of the window just like in a bad human science fiction movie, and when you get outside the Milky Way the galaxies can tumble just as fast. The trick is to keep track of where you're at. Adnarel was reunited with har mother Ananchel and four wives Nahaliel, Sariel, Zotiel, and Gidaijal. Adnarel told all of them they were free to make their own way on the colony, if that is what they wished to do. Kushiel had, of course, never been parted from Adriel and Neriah. Fifteen yen, five yeng, and a woman, Belkis said. This is even more to my liking. Belkis and Adnarel had moved together by default, because Adnarel still despised Barakiel, and now more choices had materialized. You were an Eye of Belial, Hope said, but Belial is no more. The crew of Exiler is not truly exiled here any more. If you choose, I can have some or all of you back at the home system in just over a month. But in the end they all elected to stay. After all, El Shaddai had said (did She not?) that Fertility would be quite the happening place one day.

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Strangers In Paradise