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Tabaet: …zero, we have commit, and we have liftoff at oh-two-thirteen universal time.

Raziel: Go all engines.

Beleth: We appear to have good thrust at this point.

Senciner: Talishi, we’re go here on the ascent. Begin your roll maneuver.

Raziel: Tabaet, at three clocks the dynamics computer says the trajectory looks good.

Beleth: I show ten ji in altitude at this time.

Tabaet: Roll complete and we’re pitching.

Beleth: Altitude twenty-two ji, velocity seven ji per clock.

Raziel: Ten clocks. The trajectory on my plot board is right on the preplan line.

Senciner: Through max vibration, and we’re go, Talishi.

Beleth: Husband, feel that weight!

Raziel: And the booster computer reports we are now through the region of maximum dynamic pressure.

Tabaet: We’re EDS MANUAL.

Senciner: Thirteen clocks and we are go.

Beleth: Altitude now two hundred seventy ji.

Raziel: Engine five out.

Tabaet: Raziel that inboard out was way early.

Raziel: Acknowledged.

Tabaet: Senciner, confirm number five engine down.

Senciner: Affirmative, Talishi.

Raziel: You don’t see any problem with that though, do you?

Senciner: Negative, not right now Raziel. All the other engines are go.

Tabaet: The early shutdown of the center engine will cause no problem, we will burn a little longer than normally scheduled.

Beleth: Coming up on five hundred ji altitude.

Senciner: Seventeen clocks. Trajectory’s good, thrust is good.

Beleth: We’re now six hundred ten ji high, seven hundred eighty, correction, seven hundred ji downrange.

Tabaet: Guidance initiate.

Senciner: And telemetry reports the guidance system is correcting our eighty ji error.

Raziel: The guidance is good and the lander computer is go.

Beleth: We’re now at an altitude of nine hundred thirty ji.

Tabaet: The little red balls are right back on the little white lines up here.

Beleth: We are at roughly four hundred ji per clock, twelve hundred fifty ji in altitude…two thousand two hundred ji downrange.

Raziel: And our cabin pressure is sealed at point six one, which is normal. Senciner, what was the story on engine five?

Senciner: I still don’t have a story on why that shutdown on five was early, but the other engines were go, and we’re go, we’re still looking good, our gimbals are good, trim is good.

Tabaet: Level sense arm time four eight clocks, nominal, predicted second stage cutoff seven zero clocks.

Beleth: We are now six thousand two hundred ji in altitude, eighteen thousand ji downrange.

Tabaet: Standing by for crew report of engine shutdown.

Beleth: ESD.

Raziel: Confirmed ESD, Captain.

Senciner: And the radar at first glance says we look good on the ascent ellipse and the boosters are in ‘safe’ so thank you, everyone.

Tabaet said to Raziel and Beleth, “We are also free of being overheard by anyone on Barbelo, so do you have any questions?”

“Senciner called you Talishi a couple of times back there,” Raziel mentioned.

“That’s my real name. It wouldn’t do to be called that in the heart of Mastemadom, even if Mastema himself knows.”

“Did your parents have a soft spot in their heart for the Talishi of the scriptures?”

“I am the Talishi of the scriptures.”

“How can I accept that as true?” Raziel asked. “Talishi hasn’t made a dent on history for two thousand years.”

“It was out of self-preservation. Every act of possession dilutes the personality of the one who possesses.”

“Yet everyone knows Mastema has possessed the Gerash Patriarch generation after generation since before the World War.”

“And Mastema has reaped dissolution. Little remains of his original psyche except his malevolence.”

“I do not understand,” said Raziel. “You say you avoided serial possession to avoid the fate of Mastema, yet you appear to be a woman of about forty years of age, not two thousand forty.”

“I will explain myself shortly, but first I’d like to ask you a question. Mastema has exactly ninety-two special weapons configured as missiles. How did you, a mere erel, manage to obtain one of them?”

“Your question tells me you do not doubt the weapon is genuine.”

“That should come as no surprise,” she said. “We ourselves manufactured and assembled all ninety-two of these weapons, and Senciner has remotely verified the presence of the radioactive core.”

“Why would a Gold Beard like Senciner help do such a thing for Mastema?”

“House Sala is uniquely immune to such weapons,” Senciner said, “and with the design of these warheads, Mastema was obliged to support the development of the means of delivery, such as the first and second stages of the round itself and even this vehicle we are traveling in right now. That was Talishi’s deeper purpose.”

“So you’re playing the long game.”

Talishi nodded. “The only thing we do not know about your warshot is the code that is now required to arm it. So if you would only arm the round at this time, we can proceed to the next step, and I will answer your other question.”

Raziel floated to Senciner’s console and replaced him at that position, where he entered the code on a keypad. When Senciner resumed his place, he confirmed the warhead was armed.

“Thank you Raziel.” Talishi’s relieved glance took in both him and Beleth, and she smiled. “Senciner and I welcome both of you aboard this historic flight, which is the first penetration into space by human beings since before the Battle of Rumbek, and the first without using an avatar of the Elohim.”

“Indeed,” Raziel said. “With the weapon now armed we could go head-to-head against the very avatar of Mastema right now.”

“But that is not our purpose and you know it,” Talishi said. “Senciner, begin moving to intercept the comet, accelerate to point zero three gravities.”

After Senciner complied with this order, Raziel prodded Talishi. “Well?”

Talishi said, “It is true that Senciner and the rest of my people in the launch complex know that I am the original Talishi, and even Mastema knows it, but I will now reveal something that even Senciner does not know and Mastema must never know: El Shaddai, that is, myself, and my daughter Bat-El have the ability to independently locate the ends of a wormhole anywhere in the Sol system in time as well as in space.”

Even Senciner was shocked at this. He had assumed El Shaddai had simply taken possession of another woman in his own time.

Talishi continued. “So, Raziel, Beleth, when you gaze at me you are indeed looking at the Talishi of the scriptures, thirty-eight years old thank you very much, because I shaved two thousand years off the clock with just a wink, then came back to Barbelo through Canterwood.”

“You say Mastema knows you are that Talishi,” said Raziel, “yet it is known you are bitter foes. Why would he allow you, a woman no less, and Gold Beards as well, free run of a White Beard missile complex?”

“This flight is a crucial turning point in human history,” she said, “which is to say, a pivot in the long story of the conflict between myself and Mastema. I’m here to make sure nothing goes wrong. And so far, I can say both Mastema and myself are quite satisfied.”

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