Draft96

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CHAPTER 96

The Jovian moon Europa was smaller than the Earth's own moon, with an area of only six percent of Earth's total extent and no atmosphere, but despite all that there were almost no craters visible. The entire surface of the satellite was comprised of water ice about six hundred feet thick existing at a temperature of only a hundred degrees above absolute zero. Underneath that ice was a saltwater ocean sixty miles deep and every bit as warm as a heated swimming pool.

Racked by tides as Europa orbited 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 moon a chaotic jumbled mess. There were icy ridges two hundred feet high alternating with ravines just as deep, all oriented at crazy angles. And this terrain was constantly chang- ing.

So it was impossible to smooth out a road on Europa. Sections of the pathway would soon fall into new crevasses or be blocked by new ridges. So despite being one of the smoothest bodies in the Solar Sys- tem, with absolutely no mountains to speak of, Europa was perhaps the most difficult place in the Jupiter system for colonists from Centauri system to get around, except by flying in arcs from 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. They went for what they assumed was the sweetest meat. Apollyon, the latest incarnation of Keter, thought only of all that water, which hyz ships with their fission reactors required for reaction mass as propellant. And they soon found there were absolutely no other resources on Europa within easy reach. All the metals they required had to be imported from the other moons, or even from Heaven itself. The only advantage Europa had over Ganymede or Callisto (which also had a mix of ice and rock) was that to provide water the ice didn't have to chiseled out and melted first.

Europa was a black hole sucking up Apollyon's treasure to keep the large, scattered population alive, and returning so little in the way of water revenues, that it essentially broke even year after year. Apollyon operated Europa, therefore, perhaps only as a prestige show- case, just to say the Black Beards had a growing toehold at Sol.

Power was plentiful to be sure, obtained by taking advantage of the large thermal gradient between the frozen surface and the warm under- ground liquid reservoir, but on Europa it was an existence where al- most 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 Apollyon thought of it sel- dom, if ever. Europa rarely figured in the military conflicts of the colonies. Despite having a far larger total population than the rest of Jupiter's system combined, the largest towns on Europa numbered only in the hundreds of souls. The colonists of Family Gerash on Eu- ropa shattered into thousands of individual families living in home- steads or small communal farms with very little communication between each other.

But it did not escape their notice that part of the surface of Europa was streaked with color. 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. In short order the ones who did not only went entirely off the Gerash dole, they even turned a tidy profit in their own right.

Apollyon naturally demanded a cut of new 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. But they forgot the ancient principle of "kill one to warn a thousand". Their operations were easily spotted by the navy of Apol- lyon from orbit by examining the waste stream. The melted, discolored waste water was dumped on the surface to freeze, leaving a tell-tale sign someone was living and working below.

Apollyon sent warships on random raids to cow the rest of the home- steaders with mining operations into paying up. Whatever else was taken in these raids was pure booty for the ship's crew.

There were, however, a few devout families who required no such intim- idation. One such family belonged to Ithuriel, husband of Anael and father of Remiel. Hy paid the Gerash tax out of loyalty to Apollyon as the tribute due a seraph, and, the truth be told, hy paid primarily out of loyalty to Michael who commanded it when he first sent Ithuriel and hyz family to build a homestead on Europa.

But their substantial tax payments did not redound directly to the account of the offers and men of the Exiler. To the captain of the frigate this made them perfect candidates for a raid, off the books.

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