Inbound

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Everyone expected something dramatic and mind-bending when Lahatiel turned the key triggering the FTL Pod, perhaps something like the psychedelic light-show in the remarkable human film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the travelers aboard Exiler felt absolutely nothing. A bloated Sol from just 0.44 AU away was suddenly centered on the forward viewport, and the liquid crystal layer polarized it to bearability but still no one dared look directly at it.

“As I suspected would be the case,” Hashmal Ithuriel said, “there’s no physical sensation of the faster-than-light hop, other than a shift in the view.”

“Is everyone all right?” Lahatiel asked.

Nobody reported anything wrong except Barakiel, who said, “Sir, we’ve got eighteen miles per second of velocity differential to dump that we’ve carried over from Barbelo.”

“Star to star, maybe,” Lahatiel said. “But our destination is Earth.”

“That makes it worse, sir. Almost twice as bad. We’re not even on the same orbital plane.”

Ithuriel said, “This system has two gas-giants and two ice giants. We don’t have those kind of planets at Centauri. If the Navigator is up to it we can use them as brakes.”

“I am up to it,” he said. “This job isn't just connect the dots, it's art.”

“Then the word is given,” Lahatiel said.

Barakiel set aside the star data provided by Ithuriel and started to thumb through an ephemeris of the Sol system compiled by the Navy.

Adnarel had her moment to shine getting them to Sol, now it was Barakiel’s turn. He knew he could do this without spending more than a few drops of propellant.

The first part of the job was a hop of 30 AU to deep blue Neptune, the furthest planet from Sol. Exiler emerged from the hop 665 thousand miles above the planet and ten hours later, Barakiel skipped over the dark cloudtops streaked with white clouds, allowing the upper atmosphere of the planet to slow the ship down some, but he didn’t enter so deep as to heat the rear of Exiler beyond its ability to tolerate. “The important thing isn’t so much the braking,” Barakiel told Lahatiel, “but the bend in our course, which sets us up for the next encounter.”

Then it was twelve hours back out to the edge of the bubble where they could make the next hop.

During the time the Exiler spent approaching and departing Neptune, Suriel used the Big Eye to survey the moons of the planet. At that time NASA was preparing but had not yet launched the robotic probe called Voyager 2, which would conduct humanity’s first survey twelve years later.

The largest moon had an atmosphere, Suriel found, and orbited Neptune in such a way that suggested it was a Kuiper belt object like Pluto that was subsequently captured. During Suriel also found four other moons that were larger than about a hundred miles, and she had no doubt there were many more that were smaller.

The next hop was to pale green Uranus, the next planet closer to the sun from Neptune. This world was somewhat less attractive, since it has a very low internal temperature and therefore almost no weather. Cloud features were present, but difficult to spot, Suriel only saw a handful of them during the encounter, even at the closest approach, and she wasn’t entirely sure about those.

Exiler emerged on the gravitational bubble of Uranus at a distance of 613 thousand miles, so it was another full day spent in transit, broken up by a terrifying bit of aerobraking in the middle. Suriel found a total of six moons larger than a hundred miles, but no very large ones. The biggest was about a thousand miles across.

Uranus had a system of rings. It wasn’t nearly as extensive as the one boasted by Saturn, but the sight of it got Ithuriel and Jabniel reminiscing about their younger days, and the story fascinated the crew. They had no idea a person could survive a sub-macro.

At length the Exiler burst through into gravitationally clear space over Uranus having dumped about thirty miles per second of differential velocity they carried over from Barbelo, relative to Luna, and Barakiel had done this using less than a mile per second of delta-V. “So now we know,” he said. “With planets as slingshots, and an FTL Pod and a very clever navigator can get you where you need to go and it’s all very easy on the propellant.”

Everyone was suitably impressed, although Adnarel would never admit so. Lahatiel was not unduly surprised, he had put together his crew and knew they were the best of the best. “Our next stop, Erel Barakiel, is Earth’s moon Luna. Line us up on where the Moon will be in the three hours or so of light travel-time that separates us and I’ll turn the key.”

The Point Four Four AU rule, applied to Luna, dumped Exiler just 18,000 miles above the moon. The carrier Tresspasser was a half-million miles away but lighting up the space around her with search radar to prevent any counterstroke by the B’nei Elohim. This radar appeared on Suriel’s instruments and she reported the contact to Lahatiel.

“Now that’s damn puzzling,” he said, and he pulled a wired microphone out of the overhead. “Give me a tight communications beam from here to Taurus City on Luna. Three hundred thirty four megahertz and clear.”

“I can carry out that order, sir,” Suriel said, “but will I require Barakiel to give me the exact location of Taurus on the surface of the Earth’s moon.”

From the display at his own console, which was mirrored at Suriel’s station, Erel Barakiel used his finger to circle the location of the city on the rim of Mare Serenitatis, which was in the northern hemisphere, facing the Earth. From where the Exiler emerged after the FTL hop, it was on the far left limb of their vantage of the Moon.

Suriel nodded to Lahatiel when it was ready, and Lahatiel began his transmission. “Taurus City, this is Ophan Lahatiel of the frigate Exiler, please respond.” Little did he know, although the directed beam entirely missed the Tresspasser, it would be easy for the nephilim remaining aboard Asmodeus’ transport ships in the Taurus-Littrow valley to intercept the call and know Exiler was nearby, but they were too busy monitoring their own battle frequencies to scan the entire spectrum.

“Ophan Lahatiel commanding Exiler, this is Hunky of Taurus City. I am aware you desire to make personnel transfer, but unfortunately this must be delayed. We are currently fending off an air and ground attack from other elements of your Navy and it wouldn’t be safe, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, do you require assistance? We are prepared to help you in any way we can. Over.”

“Exiler, this is Hunky, We have already dealt with the air assault in suitable fashion, and believe we can deal with the ground invasion in pretty much the same way, but the Patriarch has arranged for a diversion on Earth, an invasion of Israel by the Egyptians. This has had the effect of dividing our forces. If you could help us out on that front you would have our undying gratitude, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, is there anything specific you have in mind, over?”

In the space of less than a second, a sphere of water appeared directly in front of the frigate, and this contained a small object within it. “Exiler, this is Hunky, do you see a ball of water floating in front of your vessel? Over.”

“Direct from Canterwood,” Ithuriel mused. “Courtesy of Yeshua Bat-El.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, affirmative, over.”

“Exiler, this is Hunky. Contained within is a very special warhead along the lines of what the Beaters used to surprise the Emperor at Hybla and Dia recently. This is what we would like you to use against the Egyptian buildup in the Sinai Peninsula. Over.”

“Can we do it, Adnarel?”

“Yes sir, if they thought to miniaturize the weapon to fit in a torpedo forebody. We still have one air-to-ground warshot. But I will need help from Kushiel to swap it in.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, we will comply with that strike order, over.”

“Exiler, this is Hunky, thank you, but also I would also ask if there is room to squeeze two more travelers aboard your ship before you arrive at Taurus, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, there is indeed, over.”

“Exiler, this is Hunky. Excellent! Then I would ask for you to remain in low Earth orbit, with an inclination of at least 47 degrees, and wait for a rendezvous with a very small shuttle, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, will this shuttle require special communications with us to make the approach? Over.”

“Exiler this is Hunky, as a matter of fact, the pilot of the shuttle will not. She will know where you are and how to draw near to you. I’ll let her explain how she is able to do so when she arrives. Thank you, Lahatiel, and take care, Hunky out.”

Lahatiel said, “My wife and I will suit up for EVA just like we did at White Rock and retrieve the warhead. Sar Adnarel, you are relieved of duty here on the flight-deck, I want you back in Engineering working with Kushiel, putting together everything you need to build up the warhead into that torpedo. Suriel, you will stay on watch, and look for any sign that Tresspasser knows we’re here. Barakiel, after we have completed the EVA you will move out of the gravitational influence of Luna and do a short FTL hop to Earth, then drop us into a very low orbit, maybe ninety miles, something that will hold us for a day or two.”

“I will stand by to return to the flight-deck, sir,” Adnarel said, “in case the Navigation Officer has trouble hitting the bubble around the Earth.”

Barakiel said, “Funny.”

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