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123 - AIR WAR

In the wake of the parley between John Glenn and Robyn at Taurus City in the autumn of 1974 on Timetrack Theta 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 the province of 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 general 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 predations of a secret agency called Domestic Enemies Classification, Observation, and Neutralization, or DECON. Domestic enemies were defined as those American citizens who embraced the imcomprehensible changes brought by the B'nei Elohim. Mere possession of a micro, for instance, was a felony no different from possession of heroin.

It was a curious fact that partisan politics had very little to do with it. Control of DECON had passed between Republicans and Democrats several times and the agency had been created by FDR in the first place to manage the internment camps of Japanese-Americans.

Two hundred DECON agents making up an expedition to invade the Moon were lofted using a new launch laser constructed at Cape Kennedy. 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 the well-traveled space veteran John Glenn had to close his helmet before the smell made him puke.

The troop transports accompanying Asmodeus and Apollyon was joined by seven more largely empty one, and all of these flew in formation with the spacecraft carrier Trespasser, whose name, at this particular time, was apropos. The Solar ID Grid normally orbited Hyperion. Hyperion orbited Jupiter, Jupiter orbited Sol, Sol orbited the galactic center, the galaxy orbited the Vega supercluster, and the whole shooting match was flying toward the Great Attractor. So neither El Shaddai nor Bat-El knew precisely where the ID Grid was with respect to Jupiter, all they had to do was send vessels presenting themselves within the metallic structure at Palato to the ID Grid at Sol wherever it was.

And where the Tresspasser and its troop transports popped out this time, due to the perfidy of Asmodeus, was the Earth- Sun L2 point, about three-quarters of a million miles past the moon. There the nephilim made rendezvous with John Glenn's people.

On their second day of patrol Baron Bayard Sala and Debby were about five thousand miles away from the radio observatory operated by the Organization of the Nations of Earth at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point. Their red and gray square Sandwich fighters linked together by a long thin cable so they could talk without revealing their presence by radio.

Bayard and Debby wore helmets with their name on them, primarily to keep their hair from floating into their eyes, but the helmets also held their earpieces and microphones and kept them from bumping their head if they took a surprise hit. Other than that, they wore no pressure suits, but instead they sported comfortable red and gray cotton uniforms.

Behind their seat in the angular flight-deck (Hunky and Dory insisted on never calling it a cockpit) was a tunnel providing access to the main subsystems of the fighter, and it was long enough to stretch out in and go to sleep.

"Deb?" Bayard said tentatively. "Deb, I know it's not your watch yet but I have a contact."

Deb stirred awake at the sound of the baron's voice. She floated all the way forward, placed her seat in the upright locked position, and put her helmet on. "Okay, I'm awake, Baron, what do you got?"

"Search radar, in band seven, off our starboard beam and down a little bit in Z."

Debby booted up her Electronic Surveillance Measures system. "All I see is the telescope at one seven five, and you at zero eight zero."

Wait a few seconds. It's a long-range radar so the pulses are spaced far apart.

Presently a diamond symbol was displayed on Debby's screen, captioned with the small amount of information her instruments had gleaned so far.

Debby said, "Okay, now I got the enemy symbol on ESM. I'm slewing my telescope over to have a look-see."

On the stubby cylindrical post that attached the top solar panel to the rest of her fighter the telescope spun over to the right on the lower gimbals while Debby's primary weapons, the twin lasers, remained locked straight ahead. Soon Debby saw on her screen a distant winged brown bulb trailing glowing smoke against a hailstorm of stars. She said, "Now I see him!"

Deb, "I want you to move off about a hundred miles to get a good baseline so we can triangulate and get a range."

Okay, breaking the wire, talk to you when I get back.

Their contact was the spacecraft carrier Trespasser of the Navy of Mastema, and no less a personage than the Emperor himself, Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash, was aboard that ship, together with his son Apollyon.

"Sire, we have something," the Cherub Belphegor called, and the Emperor drifted over to him in the large but cluttered space of the Combat Engagement Center, or CEC.

Their human host John Glenn was also present in CEC, for combat operations were about to commence, and he joined them as well. When Asmodeus, Apollyon and Glen all hovered in freefall nearby over his shoulder the Cherub said, "Sire, we assumed Tracks 4022 and 4023 were just boulders, but now Track 4022 is showing independent movement."

"We've been detected." Asmodeus pointed at the cherub's screen. "Commence electronic countermeasures against lunar communications and send everything in this octant against the hostile tracks. They must not escape."

While the attack on Bayard and Debby got underway, a number of specially configured and previously deployed Imperial bombers assailed the Moon with such a heavy bombardment of broadband radio and neutrino noise such that no broadcasts from space above the farside could be discerned at all. But Bayard and Debby were still above this electroweak storm and knew nothing of it.

"What the…? Sorry to break radio silence, Baron but I just took a hit."

"Are you all right?" They were both broadcasting in the clear to avoid the small delays involved with encryption, but that hardly seemed to matter now.

A big ragged smoking bite was taken out of Debby's solar panel, and debris glittered around her like so many twinkling golden stars. "My top panel is fucked. Just one second…"

Debby swung her twin laser mount to bear on the offender, an insect-like dark brown Imperial fighter. After few rounds expended on target she was rewarded with a satisfying hot ball of expanding gas where the fighter and its two pilots used to be. First blood went to Debby. "Oh yeah! Now I'm okay!"

It was fifty miles away but Bayard saw the bright explosion of the enemy fighter with her own eyes as a little puff ball. Nice shot. Then Bayard tried to raise his people on the Moon to report the attack, but no one answered, which was strange.

"For what it's worth," Debby said, sending raw data over to Bayard, "here's my angle on the intruder."

The baron played around with Debby's numbers for a bit. "Damn, that thing is twelve hundred feet long! It must be one of the Emperor's fleet carriers come out to play."

"I have more bad news, Baron. There's a whole swarm of Imperial bugs between here and the Moon, fighters and shuttle-bombers all."

"Get back here with me so I can cover you!"

"Too late. I'm gonna punch a hole for you right through the bastards. Look how tight they're bunched up, the morons. Honestly, doesn't the Empire know anything?"

"Uplink your memories to me as long as you can," Bayard said.

See you in the next life! And that, for the B'nei Elohim, was not a matter of faith or an idle hope. But the jamming made it problematic for both of them.

Bayard and Debby had run into Squadron 21 from the Trespasser, about a dozen two-man fighters like the one that assaulted Debby plus a handful of larger five-man bombers with their articulated insect heads that could send a flat, powerful lase in any direction.

Admiral Belphegor ordered all of them to hold station about a thousand miles nearer to the Moon than the radio observatory to block any escape to there.

Debby came into range and Admiral Belphegor ordered Squadron 21 to fire at will. Deb was killed instantly, but Bayard safely obtained the entire stream of bits which represented her final memories.

Debby's ship broke up under the withering Imperial firepower, but included in the debris was one fully armed 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, antimatter, destroying most of the planes, disabling all of the others, and clearing a neat hole for the baron to escape through.

When the spherical fireball had grown to fill half of the sky and dimmed to invisibility the baron dared to look again, and in his telescope she saw the ellipsoid of the enemy carrier looming ever closer. There was a second capital ship following as well. This was the Imperial destroyer Persecutor, escorting the carrier.

As she neared the Moon the baron found himself entering the various cones of Imperial jamming and she understood why he had been unable to warn Taurus City of their danger. When he got very close he put her laser on low power and locked onto a solar panel in the city's roof to talk through the radio noise by modulating the light. "Taurus, this is Bayard flying Illustrious. I've been in a scrap, and Debby is gone. Prepare to receive me."

It was a long shot but they must have heard him. Hunky probably thought of this trick too, at the same time. A docking port slid open and Bayard Sala entered a hollow space in the two-story ceiling structure that covered the entire city.

Under withering anti-aircraft fire from the city the two Imperial fighters in the van of the pursuit veered off and returned to Trespasser.

Taurus had been built using an economical cut and cover technique of tunnel construction, and most of the materials for Taurus had been manufactured from local resources, but it was still an expensive property.

Bayard climbed backwards out of the rear hatch of his fighter, near the twin nozzles, marked with blue arrows and EGRESS in bold letters. Already his ship was being topped off with more water for the macros.

"What hornet's nest did you stumble into?" Asked Hunky, who was large and in charge at Taurus while Lilith was dead and Robyn off doing something else.

"It's the Empire boys," Bayard said when he let his long blond hair fly free of his helmet, and there was a hint of joy on his face when he said that. He wanted it to happen. Bayard had drilled endlessly for this day, and couldn't wait to roll out everything the B'nei Elohim had laid away in preparation for it. "They've finally come out in force, breaking the agreement between the gods. So Hunky, it looks like we've got to show them a little deterrent of our own."

"Actually it's going to be a lot of deterrent," Hunky said with a grin of her own, even with Del out of the picture for now.

At the precise moment when Del was storming the beach south of Suez City, three hundred and eight American and nephilim troops aboard fourteen Empire of Belial shuttles approached the Moon in their great gamble to destroy the Ark of the Covenant so it could not be used to contact an eloah outside of Mastema's harem. And the irony was the Ark wasn't anywhere near the Moon.

The curious timing of their attack was by design, of course. Asmodeus knew he would have absolutely no chance of victory if he had to face Del, who seemed to be exactly like Kandiel in a second life as a human. So knowing Del's priorities, he arranged for the Egyptians, aided by the Americans, to stir the Levantine shit pot one more time as a distraction, to their own everlasting regret.

The invasion force was launched from the Imperial carrier Trespasser, together with a mix of thirty fighters and bombers to provide air cover, as it was still called even in the vacuum of space. Additional muscle was provided by the guns and missiles of the destroyer Persecutor.

Then the Trespasser hung back about a hundred thousand miles from the Moon, with another third of her fighters and bombers circling on CSP, or Combat Space Patrol, and the final third still aboard the carrier in reserve.

The Persecutor and Asmodeus' invasion force whipped around the other side of the Moon from the city of Taurus and entered orbit. In defense, all Hunky could do at that point was transmit the signal to arm hundreds of space mines which had orbited the moon like silent, tireless sentries for years.

Mines were a dangerous nuisance but they were not really considered a game-changer. Admiral Belphegor, who had already transferred his flag to the Persecutor, considered them to be good target practice for his gunners whenever one popped up from behind the limb of the moon.

The space mines deployed by Taurus City were officially referred to as Semi-Maneuverable Anti-Spy Satellite satellites (SMASSS). None had nuclear warheads, but macro warheads were nasty enough. Mines were generally easy to avoid, being in orbit where they marched to the precise laws of physics and gravity and their positions were known to all parties at all times, B'nei Elohim mines had 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 Imperial ship immediately noticed the discrepancy on radar and changed their own course to swing clear.

After a few near-misses, the fleet began constantly doing random course changes to avoid becoming more predictable to the mines than the mines were to them. It took one more orbit around the moon before the orbital pattern of the mines could be crafted by their internal micros, working as a team, into a concentrated phalanx.

The invaders were gathered close in to the Moon. They were a loose cluster of ships less than fifty miles in altitude, but the sharply bending lunar horizon was still distant enough to allow time for emergency evasive action when hundreds of the space mines popped up over the lunar limb in a gigantic surprise.

Evasion began immediately but many of the devices had actually repositioned themselves to take advantage of the most likely evasion plans. The mines were thinking ahead.

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. The shuttles Conqueror and Brutalizer actually collided, crippling each other for the remainder of the battle.

Six nephilim officers from both ships salvaged what they could of the fiasco, jettisoning themselves in their command sections and making their way down to the prearranged rendezvous point on the surface of the Moon. But the forty-four angry American troops left behind would continue to flounder in orbit until the B'nei Elohim captured them a week later.

Fourteen of the other transport ships successfully evaded the mine attack. But the shuttle Harasser was not so lucky and seemed to walk right into them. The artificially intelligent mines were ecstatic that they could finally fulfill their intended purpose and explode. Harasser was struck by the cresting wave of mines and all twenty-five nephilim soldiers aboard her died. Hunky had definitely grabbed Asmodeus' attention now. So much for the cakewalk he had in mind.

Next Taurus City unleashed hundreds of surface-to-space missiles from hidden batteries all over the Moon. 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 pure trash the real live Brushfire missiles in- side the threat cloud were completely hidden by an opaque white smear on radar, made even worse by the Imperial's own jamming from a higher orbit which backlit the whole mess.

When Admiral Belphegor realized this and ordered everyone to switch to visual acquisition on telescopes hyz list of potential threats was ten times larger than the number of real threats, thanks to the B'nei Elohim deployment of decoy inflatable missiles. By the time Belphegor figured that out the real 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.

Odd that these formidable preparations on the part of the B'nei Elohim seemed to slip the Emperor's mind when he planned his raid.

Cherub Belphegor tried jamming the Brushfires. He tried substituting the real radar reflection of Persecutor with an electronic impostor and then moving that impostor blip off to a new course hoping the missiles would follow. And it did seem to work. Many of the Brushfire rounds did go off course.

Then the Imperial fighters protecting Persecutor (and Persecutor herself) 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 the shuttles Degrader and Immolator, which were destroyed in spectacular, silent explosions with all hands aboard.

The Persecutor had escaped damage for the time being, but the fireworks show was just getting started.



Seven B'nei Elohim Sandwich fighter pilots leaped into the Lunar sky from the roof of Taurus to enter the fray. Baron Bayard established good old-fashioned encrypted radio contact on a UHF frequency. "This is Illustrious, radio check, over."

They reported in by rank. Ash-blonde Stephanie leveled out her fighter and said, "Illustrious, this is Valorous, roger, over."

Red-headed Amanda checked in saying, "Illustrious, this is Ardent, roger, over."

When it was her turn pretty dark-haired Adirael Larund said, "Illustrious, this is Resolute, roger, over."

Blonde pixie Suzanne set her fighter busy doing a Built-In-Test and piped up saying, "Illustrious, this is Lancer, roger, over."

Shaven-headed Tori got her buggy transmitter working just in time and said, "Illustrious, this is Tornado, roger, over."

Dark-haired, slender little Candra looked through her canopy at Bayard's fighter nearby and chimed in, "Illustrious, this is Talon, roger, over."

"Pink Wing this is Illustrious, roger, close it up tight ladies. I want visual contact with all of you. Illustrious, out."

From the first day these women joined his team, Bayard made them drill. And drill. Bayard drilled because he wanted no hesitancy to remain. Combat must be learned in the muscles. 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.

The Persecutor was easily identified. Each enemy ship had a radar with unique "fingerprints", which were certain defects in the transmitter. These defects, which were little dips on the tops of the pulses, or slightly ringing pulses, lent an electronic "personality" to the signal going out. The Beaters had long ago matched the radar fingerprints to the ship, and they had also shared that information with the B'nei Elohim. Stephanie said, "This is Valorous, I have identified the destroyer, designate track one zero niner."

Soon after the seven fighters had all gathered close together Bayard barked his initial orders. "So let's get them interested in us. 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 a jamming device unlike any other. Most jammers filled the enemy's radar picture with clouds of static. But the Multiblip Repeater simulated the echoes of real contacts. So mixed in with the real blips of Bayard's seven randomly flying fighters were the false blips of a dozen ghost ships in a precise "V" attack profile. This was Attack Formation Delta.

Belphegor directed his arsenal toward the juicy targets of all those blips lined up in a straight "V". He instructed the ships under his command to ignore the other blips, the randomly moving blips, as silly attempts to jam their search radars.

The Multiblip Repeater was even more clever in that it deleted contacts one by one as the invaders thought they scored "hits." Not until Bayard's people actually passed to within visual range did the cherub realize he had been tricked, but by then it was much too late. The first pass had to count. Bayard's people made sure to hit all the good stuff, the missile racks and most of the gun mounts.

Still, the Persecutor reached out and slapped Candra as she passed by, crippling her ship with close-in laser fire. "I'm hit!" she screamed as her fighter spun wildly out of the zone of combat. But eventually her nerves settled down and she was able to bring her ship under semi-control.

"This is Talon," she said when the immediate crisis had passed. "I'm all right."

"Can you make it back to the city?" Bayard asked her.

"I don't know. I'm going to set down on the surface until I can check out the extent of my damage."

"If it's bad, Candra, don't try to limp back into the battle."

"Roger, out."

Candra didn't know it yet, but the Battle of Luna was over for her. The damage was far worse than she realized, and when she suited up and went over the exterior of her ship she would marvel that she had made it down to the ground in one piece.

At the same time that Candra had sustained her disabling hit, Amanda and Suzanne's blows combined to score a fatal hit on the Repressor. It fell like a stone to the surface of the Moon and impacted on the hard regolith, killing all twenty-five men aboard. Then the six remaining sandwich fighters headed back out and regrouped, tearing a path away to free space.

Bayard had set out to interest the destroyer in his tiny force. Persecutor was definitely interested now. With the small shreds of dignity it had left remaining to it the wounded warship and her own retinue of fighters, bombers, and shuttles turned to stately pursue their attackers.

Bayard said, "Pink Wing, execute Formation Delta. Scramble your repeaters." Everyone expertly complied. Now it was the actual fighters which were in a precise V pattern and the false electronic blips which were moving randomly.

Cherub Belphegor had picked up on things right away. Now he scoffed at the primitive attempt to fool his radar with a V of dots all lined up with (it was so obvious now) machine precision. Not the rough formations to be expected from inexperienced human women pretending to be combat star pilots like the battle-hardened nephilim aviation officers of House Gerash. This time he directed his ship's missile and gun-fire to the randomly moving contacts.

"It's electronic warfare," Bayard said to himself when he watched his deception work. He was in a rhythm with the other five gals. They all functioned as one unit, and more important, they were all having enormous fun.

Bayard allowed the burning destroyer to pass into the zone of space defined by himself and the five planes under his command. The cornered Persecutor slowly withered away under Pink Wing's continuing attack. Belphegor's smooth brown ellipsoid was on fire and had giant ragged bites taken out of it. Parts of the hull had been exposed to vacuum, sucking some unstrapped personnel out into space.

Command shifted to a secondary bridge deeper within the highly compartmentalized interior where pressurized and undamaged work spaces were still to be found, but it was a fool's errand. Persecutor could no longer run nor see nor fight. There remained only vengeance.

In her death throes Persecutor, true to her name, lashed out with a blind Bulldog missile which found its way to the Resolute. Impact. The dense knot of water held in a phantom quantum state inside her fighter went up all at once, creating a vast white explosion completely out of proportion to the fighter's tiny size, much as a macro-bomb punched well above its own weight.

"Poor Adirael!" Suzanne cried, breaking radio discipline in her grief, because she knew the Fallen Angel, not having been Changed, would never live again.

Bayard smiled through his own tears. "This never was about us trying to live as long as we can," he said. "Don't you see? Avoiding death never was the glue that bound us together."

Suzanne nodded to herself. No, that glue is love!

When the overlapping glowing swirls of water vapor from Adirael's demise grew and faded to invisibility all eyes turned to the final doom of the imperial destroyer. None of the officers and crewmen of Persecutor survived the final blow, a ship-to-ship Brushfire-B missile fired by Bayard through a gap in the hull with a thousand pound macro warhead, blowing the ship into bright glowing embers which scattered to every corner of the sky.

So ended Cherub Belphegor, victor of countless campaigns in the Eggbeater at Alpha Centauri, at the hands of a Gold Beard and four human females pretending (as the cherub supposed) to be star pilots.

After only a few moments of shaking themselves and checking for broken bones the troop transports and their escorting wings turned and lumbered hell-for-leather after the B'nei Elohim fighters to avenge the Persecutor. Gradually the battle became strung out on a line only fifty thousand feet above the Moon, making a beeline for the city of Taurus.

"There's gotta be an idiot in charge," Bayard told her girls over the coded channel. "This is too easy. No way a worthy foe just walk into our triple A over the city."

The line of Pink and Blue beads lengthened and thinned out. Blue forces slowly found themselves isolated with small enemies on two sides. The five gnats became four. In the slug-match that ensued Tori aboard the Tornado suffered a disabling hit. It wasn't as serious as the damage to the Talon, but she had to withdraw from the battle and return to Taurus.

Still, the forces of Asmodeus were strung out along one vulnerable line. Configured this way, one-dimensionally, each ship could assist only it's two immediate neighbors or assail at most two fighters. Meanwhile, the entire formation passed directly over Taurus City, which attacked the enemy ships from below using its heavy defensive lasers with impunity. Asmodeus dared not return fire because he assumed his unnamed objective was somewhere inside Taurus and he needed the city intact.

This 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. Asmodeus had allowed the B'nei Elohim to cross his "T". And what made it even more unforgivable was that it was a stationary city bristling with cannon (and not a line of maneuvering warships) that did the crossing.

In the ensuing storm of fire the invasion fleet broke formation, went into complete disarray, and individually set course to get to the Moon's surface as quickly as possible. All of the enemy ships took damage, 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. All hands aboard died in the crash.

Hunky noted this sparrowfall from the War Room in the heart of the city and said, "I get the impression the Empire came out here with their second-best football team and expected to go up against nothing but cheerleaders."

So only nine Imperial troop transport shuttles successfully landed in the predesignated place, a small valley in the Taurus-Littrow highlands about ten miles from Taurus. Very close by was the actual landing spot of the 1972 Apollo 17 expedition, where the initials of Gene Cernan's daughter had remained intact as Robyn had promised him.

Bayard came in low over them and scored a direct hit on the troopship Oppressor before they could debark, killing or seriously wounding sixteen of the Americans aboard.

Asmodeus saw this and his anger, already smoldering from the loss of Persecutor, burned white hot. When Bayard came around again for another pass, this time with his surviving girls in formation behind him, Asmodeus prepared to let Bayard have it with a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile (although the Moon had no air, so a different name for his weapon would have been more appropriate).

With effortlessness derived from countless opportunities over two centuries affording him experience, Asmodeus shouldered his rocket canister and took meticulous aim while the rest of his people dove for cover.

From Bayard a laser touched the ground at the feet of Asmodeus, visible only as a glowing, searching orange cloud of dust. Azibeel took aim and fired, unperturbed and undeterred by Bayard's attack. The passive, IR-homing, radar-silent surface-to-air missile found its way unerringly toward the intense heat of Bayard's underthrusters.

Two objects crossed in the black lunar sky: Asmodeus' missile and Bayard's spacecraft. The intervening factor was a hot puff ball at the point of closest approach only three feet away from Bayard's wildly evading fighter.

"I'm hit!"

Bayard's fighter tumbled in a flat spin to the surface of the moon like a tile thrown out a window. And so passed the second son of Queen Aurra, though she was long gone herself, two thousand years gone. Bayard was dead and the sudden loss of their leader frightened the remaining three star pilots off.

The so-called "air" campaign was largely over. Now the surviving Imperial shuttles could unload Asmodeus' people and supplies unmolested in the vale of Taurus.

130 - MOON WAR

Emperor Asmodeus set up a perimeter with some of John Glenn's DECON troops stationed at the four points of the compass armed with shoulder-launched SAMs, in case any of the remaining sandwich fighters returned. Inside that perimeter the half-bubbles of many pressurized tents dotted the plain 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 least take their helmets off for an hour or two. No one could spend all their time inside a spacesuit, no matter how disciplined they were, not even the disciplined officers hardened by the constant violence of Barbelo.

Asmodeus' command tent was identified by gold and black banners. When John Glenn and his two senior officers entered it and passed through the vestibule sealing the air inside, they found the Emperor in the middle of a meeting with his son Apollyon and the surviving nephilim officers.

"Good, Glenn, you made it," Asmodeus said. "You're the last one to come in. Give me your report."

"Our transport took hits from fighters and from the city but we landed with no casualties."

"Then we finally have a complete picture of what happened. Give him the latest figures, son."

"Yes, Sire."

Apollyon rifled through his papers, did some figuring, then he said, "Punisher and five troop ships are total losses. A sixth transport was attacked on the ground and we only saved nine human troops troops from that one. We have a total of forty-four human troops stuck in orbit aboard the Conqueror and Brutalizer who can't land but six nephilim officers from those two ships are here now. All told we now have just forty-three nephilim troops and one hundred eight-five human troops ready for action."

There was some shocked gasps and murmuring from Glenn and his two men at that. Casualties were at forty-three percent! Asmodeus cut them off harshly, and barked, "This mission has not failed. The carrier Trespasser remains out of danger, and stands ready to pull us out when we achieve our objective. As long as one soldier lives this mission goes forward. Is that clear?"

The nephilim and men blurted their assent. Then the forces split up.

John Glenn took command of the human forces, the bulk of their remaining strength, and departed to assemble them for the assault up the eastern face of the North Massif mountain.

Emperor Abizeel planned to assail Taurus with his nephilim from another direction along a small rille which crossed the mountain to the west. Leading his forty-two nephilim soldiers, Asmodeus started marching cross-country over what Buzz Aldrin once called the "magnificent desolation" of the Moon.

After the Emperor had forayed north into the Sculptured Hills for an hour the Yellow Rille (so named because of the many sulfur outcroppings found in it) became a steep canyon. Asmodeus veered right. They climbed to a small plateau called Yellowbanks on the B'nei Elohim moon map, and let the rille go it's own way for the time being.

As the Moon went this was high and rugged terrain, a combination of a classic crater rim and the extensive volcanism in the wake of the large asteroid that created the Sea of Serenity over three billion years ago. The rille itself was a steep channel carved by a river of lava after the impact and undisturbed all that time except from micro-meteoroids which pitted the whole surface of the Moon.

They stayed on the high ground, walking on black gravel and sand and dust as fine as the ashes left over in a barbecue. Their backpacks and various portable weapons were enormous loads for each of them but the seventeen percent gravity helped. They made good time.

Presently the rille finished its wide bend and rejoined them from the west. Dull red and green minerals formed layers in the walls of the gorge, dotted by bright yellow sulfur deposits. There was a certain stark beauty to it all, Asmodeus thought. Io didn't have a monopoly on this.

Twice during the march they buried themselves under gray camouflage at the sight of sandwich fighters. It wasn't a concerted search. Asmodeus hadn't made his dent in this country yet and the B'nei Elohim probably didn't have a clue he was up here. Still, the fighters seemed to be either using the rille for a navigational guide or they were actively patrolling it. He decided to march overland away from the rille again, so they began peeling away from it.

Returning to the edge of the rille again some hours later, Asmodeus cast his gaze "upstream" and noted that the rille had shrunk to just a third of its normal depth yet was still coming out of the north and a little east of north. If they stayed on this side of it, it would continue to bend east and take then away from Taurus rather than toward it.

Consulting his map, he said to his troops over the radio, "The rille has forked. This is just a feeder gully. We cross here."

There was a dirt road at the bottom of the gully, the main road to Taurus, but traffic was sparse.

The problem of fording a chasm without specialists, even a relatively small one such as this North Fork of the Yellow Rille, was going to have to be overcome with a little creativity. There was no question of hiking down one side and up the other, the pumice stones littering the whole area would make it like walking on marbles. Most of the officers paced around, at a total loss for ideas.

Asmodeus asked around if anyone had packed some cable. There was a flurry of searching and finally someone produced a coil with about four hundred yards of it. The cable wasn't very thick or heavy, but it would be strong enough to support the weight of a nephil in the lunar gravity, Asmodeus decided.

The Emperor attached the long cable to a surface-to-air missile and took aim at the far side of the rille, aiming near the top where it began to flare out and become level with the land on the other side. He chose his target carefully, trying to get as high as possible but not too high, lest the missile skip off the soil instead of diving into it. Then he pressed the firing stud.

Success! The rocket dug itself deep into the lunar regolith before burning out, taking the cable with it. The tunnel it made collapsed behind it. Asmodeus tugged hard on the cable to make sure it was snugly anchored. He ordered his men to anchor this side of the cable around a boulder and snip the excess off.

The next part was easier. Asmodeus repeated his trick with the rest of the cable, but this time he aimed about four feet below where the first cable had buried itself, making doubly sure it was snug because this was the one that would bear the most weight. Soon he had two wires stretched tight across the gap, one wire for under the boots and another at chest level for balance.

Asmodeus hymself made the first crossing to prove it was safe. An hour later the entire group had made the crossing. The last nephil to come over cut the two cables and let them fall slack against the steep western wall of the tributary rille.

This was virgin land, inaccessible to all without taking extraordinary measures. They had placed themselves far beyond reach.

After another mile following the small tributary rille on its west bank Asmodeus authorized an hour of such rest as could be taken while wearing a pressure suit.

On the next march Asmodeus continued to follow the North Fork of the Yellow Rille again, ever higher toward its source. It curved needlessly, often back almost on itself, but it gradually and inexorably drew nearer to the high volcano in the north which they had begun to glimpse from the hill-tops.

These were the doldrums of B'nei Elohim territory. The combination of the terrain and the angle of the sun and Earth gave the land the appearance of being moody, as if the Moon itself were taking a nap. The heavy shade, almost totally black in parts, made it seem secretive, even gloomy.

The dull thumping of artillery could not be heard in the near-vacuum of the Moon, but it could be felt as bursts of vibration under their feet. The light-flashes of warfare never lagged far behind. It had to be Glenn who led the bulk of the surviving troops on a frontal assault along the main road to the city. Asmodeus was feeding Glenn's forces through the shredder to keep the B'nei Elohim from checking their back door.

For the American invaders the net effect of wearing their heavy suits and the small lunar gravity was to be fighting under roughly the same gravity as Mercury, which was a major consideration when the Emperor planned this raid and chose Glenn to participate.

For protection their spacesuits were covered entirely with mirrored reflective surfaces, but some joints and parts of the life-support backpack, despite the best efforts of design engineers, were vulnerable to a laser hit.

Glenn personally led an assault with all of his men across the open while Ambe Omphal and a force of Fallen Angels with 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.

Glenn's troops dropped like flies as the scored hit after hit. Heedless of their losses, Glenn and his DECON forces just kept coming, each trooper dancing and ducking to avoid being hit. The random movement came as second nature to them. Presently some forty of them overran the Fallen Angel position, led by Glenn himself.

Ambe grappled with Glenn and placed her faceplate against his so he could hear. "You took our position but it was awful, just awful! You lost a third of your boys, easy! Godspeed John Glenn!"

Then with her knife Ambe ripped the fabric of Glenn's spacesuit from crotch to sternum, letting him deflate like a tire.

While they remained hidden here in the highlands, Asmodeus could see the gully road about two hundred feet below was now busy with the traffic of war, mostly B'nei Elohim armored trucks all climbing slowly in single file.

Asmodeus scrambled up a small rise to get a clear view back the way they'd come. From there he could see all the way to the plain where they began this little hike. The entire area was intermittently lit with reflected laser flashes. Binoculars revealed B'nei Elohim vehicles exchanging colored lightning with unseen adversaries.

On the eastern side of the North Massif summit plateau B'nei Elohim defenders began popping up out of the woodwork to stall the DECON forces with a vast confusing hodgepodge of engagements. They fired their 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 three rounds per minute, and these shells began raining randomly down on Glenn people.

Artillery was called the "troop killer" for good reason. Within eighty feet of an exploding shell half of the DECON personnel were injured, on average, and one-third of these injuries were fatal. Even a little schrapnel that would only cause a minor injury on Earth was sufficient to puncture their pressure suits here. So it became a grinding war of attrition, with almost all of the losses on the American side.

If Glenn was detained for some time or even defeated that would suit the Emperor just fine. At that point he didn't know Glenn was already dead. The Americans were just cover all along. Asmodeus' objective was to seize or destroy the Ark of the Covenant, and if the raid became a huge suicide run, he would still consider it a success if the Ark was taken out of the picture.

Asmodeus had given the front door of the city to Glenn after pretending reluctance, but the Emperor knew it would be defended ferociously. So he and his nephilim plunged on, heading north, and gradually the road and Asmodeus's party began to come together. The rille was getting more and more shallow as they approached its source. Asmodeus felt high, in elevation as well as in spirits.

Finally they had gone as far as they could possibly go while remaining out of view. This was the very source of the North Fork rille: a single unremarkable fumarole, nearly the same in appearance as 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 to the broad summit plateau of North Massif. There were no straightaways longer than three hundred feet. Three light APCs ascending the mountain rounded a corner just then. It was too short a distance between the time they saw Asmodeus and the decision point where it would be surrender or ram.

Forty-three nephilim soldiers aiming lasers and rockets swayed them to pull over peacefully. The girls in the three trucks were stragglers of the big caravan Asmodeus had seen from the edge of the rille.

Asmodeus didn't take any time to ask questions and he wasn't interested killing them. The girls, still wearing their vacsuits, were simply bound with plastic tie-wraps and left on the side of the road. Then Asmodeus's platoon 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.

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 more enemies on that road. Taurus lay just beyond a stony fault scarp looming above them.

The road made a final turn and Asmodeus was staring at a darkened tunnel drilled right through the final jagged wall. A trap? Asmodeus no longer cared. Whooping it up, without a second thought, Asmodeus led his company plunging through the tunnel. They were the first (indeed they would be the only ones) to crack Robyn's final line of defense.

Asmodeus and his nephilim drove right out onto the roof of Taurus and parked. They quickly found a walkway hemmed by a guardrail, and this walkway led them to an airlock big enough to take all of Asmodeus's men in two groups. It was all very easy. Perhaps it was too easy.


When the pressure came up to the three pounds of pure oxygen that was standard inside the city of Taurus, the High Lord Patriarch Asmodeus, his son Apollyon, and the forty-one officers accompanying them stepped out and dropped a flight of stairs to the main floor below. All of them longed to shed their spacesuits once and for all but they dared not, fearing that they would all be suffocated by Robyn with the touch of a button. Soon Asmodeus and his nephilim found themselves in a labyrinth of passageways without a clue of where they went.

The maze of corridors opened up into a roomy area, like a food court in a shopping mall, and there Asmodeus's commando team ran into the first members of the B'nei Elohim prepared to stop them. It was a small squad led by Chuck, the son of Chayn and Gordon and the cousin of Victoria. Chuck and his three Girl Guards pointed their weapons directly at Asmodeus face, and no wonder, his elaborate regalia clearly marked him as the most senior nephilim present.

Chuck made signs for Asmodeus to lift the faceplate on his helmet so he could see who he was. When Asmodeus complied, Chuck recognized his fuzzy face and uniquely braided white beard. He said, "Well, well, it's the Gerash Patriarch himself. Tell your team to let their guns drop to the floor, Asmodeus, or you'll get it. Now!"

Asmodeus carefully complied. He and his team did nothing which might make Chuck or his girls squeeze the trigger on their weapons.

"Good, Sire, now reach over and slowly unsheathe your sword halfway out with your right hand. Halfway out only, mind you Sire. That's perfect. Okay, now grab the hilt with your left hand so that when you pull it out, the sword's tip is pointing back your way and not my way."

When Asmodeus had done all this Chuck motioned for him to pull the sword the rest of the way out of its sheathe.

"Slowly, Sire. Slowly now! I know you're tricky, Lord Asmodeus. Okay, now hand it to me."

When he was about to give Chuck his blade, Asmodeus's thumb hit a switch on the hilt and the cap on the very bottom flipped up to reveal a lens. Chuck looked at it in astonishment. A powerful laser in the hilt instantly blinded him. Her eyes slammed shut, but there were bright spots dominating his vision, and there was also great pain. "Ah, dammit! Damn you! I'm blind!"

What followed was a fierce tussle where Chuck's three squad members had the better of it at first because they were still armed, while Asmodeus's people had to scramble on the floor for their weapons. Asmodeus ducked and rolled and swerved to avoid being burned.

Eventually Asmodeus' sheer numbers prevailed, as they must. Seven members of his group were hit before Dory's three girls were shot. As for Apollyon, he was hiding behind an obstacle.

Chuck was still alive, but he groped around in his blindness. None of his girls were left alive to provide imagery of the scene to Dory via the Swarm. Asmodeus decapitated Chuck with his sword without a word of warning while he was crawling around on the floor, blind as a bat. Then he put his still-living head, dripping with blood, into a gray translucent metallic bag and closed it with a yellow sticker.

"I know you can still hear me, man of the B'nei Elohim," he said to him through the bag, not knowing precisely who he was, "but as you have discovered by now, it's hard to upload your memories with neutrinos through the material of this bag. You're my insurance. So let's see what extraordinary lengths your friends will go to in capturing your final memories to let you avoid the True Death."

And he gave the bag containing Chuck's head to young Apollyon to carry for him while some of his other officers carried took point and rearguard.

Obviously the whole area was rigged for sound, because now doors magically opened in front of them, indicating the way the B'nei Elohim wanted the Emperor to go. The thick doors they already passed through refused to budge. The weapons of the Imperials would take too long to cut through them and they would run out of power at any rate. Grenades could do it, but there were too many doors and too few grenades, and it might break the air-tight integrity of the city. Only two floors separated the bulk of the city with its park-like flora from the hard vacuum of the surface of the moon.

As they proceeded through the doors they were silently bidden to use, Asmodeus noticed a scarcity of girl scouts along the way. Instead of presenting themselves for slaughter they seemed to back off as if on orders. The only exception to that rule was Chayn Shybear, the mother of Chuck, who approached Asmodeus with arms raised and palms forward to show she had no weapons.

Asmodeus thought she closely resembled the woman named Joy who served him long ago on Barbelo, but her hair was very different.

When she had drawn near, she sank to one knee, lowered her face, and said, "I am Chayn, Lord, the daughter of Robyn. Command me."

Asmodeus thought the resemblance to Joy extended even to the woman's voice. He said, "Command you? Would you attempt to deceive a god?"

"Deceive you, Lord? Far be it from my mind. Not all of the B'nei Elohim share the same aims of El Shaddai and Bat-El, as my Lord has already discerned by the service of my brother Edgar. Name the thing you seek, Lord, and I shall try to get it for you with no further violence."

"I have come for the Ark of the Covenant."

Chayn suddenly raised her face to see if Asmodeus was serious. "The Ark? My Lord has been tragically deceived if he thought the Ark of the Covenant to be here on Luna."

"Then where is it?"

"In a space station we call Midway, Lord, which is in orbit some four thousand miles above the second planet of this star system."

"I don't believe you!"

"I speak only the truth to my Lord," Chayn protested. "He will not find the Ark of the Covenant in Taurus City."

"And yet, I would see the tabernacle, the meeting tent where El Shaddai always insisted the Ark should be kept. Where is this tabernacle, woman of the B'nei Elohim?"

"I can show you that, Lord,"

And there was a place in the two-story thick structure that comprised the ceiling of Taurus where the floor had been replaced by thick glass, such that one could look down past one's feet at the floor of the city. It was easy for Asmodeus to identify what he was seeking.

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.

There was a glass elevator leading to the floor of Taurus but it was only large enough to hold two nephilim, laden as they were with weapons and spacesuit backpacks and a bag carrying Chuck's head.

Asmodeus hesitated for a moment to think. Then he stepped inside accompanied only by his son Apollyon, who carried the head of Chuck. For a delicate few moments they would both be trapped at the mercy of B'nei Elohim operators who if they chose could run the capsule to a dead stop halfway down the tube, then kill both of them with laser light fired through the glass tube. But nothing like that happened because Chayn was being covered by the officers Asmodeus left behind, as the Emperor's life insurance.

The forest sector of Taurus City was arranged around 300 foot tall Green Hill, the highest point on the surface. Asmodeus could see foot trails spreading 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 deliberately 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 was at the far end of Taurus's central park perched on a slightly lower hill. Beyond the castle was a small "downtown" modeled after small cities on Earth, and beyond that was the far end of the city.

Asmodeus and his son zigzagged down Green Hill on paths between a creek and a stretch of road on another piece of rugged "wild" land between the two mile-long walls, which were more than five hundred feet apart. Soon they found themselves surrounded by perhaps fifty well-armed members of the Girl Guard in a large level area at the base of the hill, where the Tabernacle had been set up. A tall, muscular woman with short hair was at the center of the ring of women, and she pulled a sword from a sheath held in the hands of another woman and stepped forward to meet the intruders.

"I'm Hunky," she said. "Robyn is indisposed at the moment, Emperor Asmodeus Gerash, so if you came all the way here because you want a piece of B'nei Elohim ass you'll have to settle for Number Two."

Asmodeus hesitated. He was nearly exhausted, for one thing. And for another, while Hunky was no substitute for Lilith or Del as a commander on the field of battle, in a one-on-one situation Hunky was said to be far more fierce than either of them. Still, despite Hunky's nephilim Amazon body frame, in Empire dogma she was nothing but a silly and weak female. The Emperor could not back down in the sight of his son without contradicting many centuries of patriarchy bluster, and Hunky knew it full well. This situation was reinforced when the rest of the officers in the party of Asmodeus arrived to observe, with Chayn in tow, after having come down to the city floor two-by-two.

Humans, demigods, and Fallen Angels arranged themselves as spectators on balconies and alcoves, in nooks and crannies all around the open space. Whatever happened, it was going to be even better than a game of Freeball, which was the official sport of the B'nei Elohim.

Intrepid television journalist Andrea Mitchell 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.

"Asmodeus' divine and imperial dignity was at a breaking point. "What is this?" he yelled.

Andrea 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 Asmodeus and Hunky look good but ridiculous.

Finally Asmodeus and Hunky were left unmolested by the make-up crew. In a sign of contempt for his foe, Asmodeus bypassed the traditional opening formalities of salute and counter-salute. He set down the macro and simply stood there with his blade in hand and tried to stare Hunky down. Few could withstand the withering gaze of the Patriarch of the White Beards.

So Hunky, in reply, also bypassed the traditional opening formalities. She skipped the stupid alpha-male bluster that always reminded her of rams beating their heads together. She was thinking of that crap where the opponents circled around one another and talked trash while they made little quick thrusts and parries to gauge their opponent and tried to shake loose an opening. Don't men always have to do that? she thought. Even in a fist fight they will always begin by throwing their open palms against each other's chest, saying "Come on!" over and over again until they make each other angry enough to start throwing fists.

But the B'nei Elohim Girl Guard knew closed fists were lousy weapons and open hands even more so. At Shangri-La in the Green River Gorge, also known as Boot Camp, they were trained to grab their foe immediately and actually pull them closer, bringing surprised male face (or testicles) into raised female knee or lowered female skull.

So it was that Hunky, in her very first move, simply threw her sharp steel blade into Asmodeus' chest like one of those oriental throwing stars. No fanfare. No boasting. No playing with her food which from much past experience even her B'nei Elohim associates expected her to do. In fact, Hunky's move was totally unexpected, therefore it could not fail. Some of the women gathered there were disappointed, but when Del reviewed this memory later on the Swarm she would have high praise for Hunky indeed. The point was to kill the emperor, not jerk off.

Standing there with Hunky's sword penetrating his heart, Asmodeus's face was a grimace of pain and shock. He could not believe what had just happened to him, yet the agony was so intense he could not even speak.

It's not fair! I wasn't ready! Hunky cheated and skipped all the customary preliminaries!

Apollyon saw that his father's wound was mortal. Asmodeus turned to his son and tried to speak, but no words came out. Before he could die, Apollyon was determined to let his father see that his son was determined to complete the mission. He pointed a gun at the bag containing Chuck's severed head and stood forth so everyone could see him. Bring forth the Ark of the Covenant or this man's final memories will be lost forever.

Chayn caught Hunky's eye. "I tried to tell them the Ark wasn't here."

Hunky, for one, was not willing to allow Chuck to suffer the True Death. She yelled, "Everyone hold! Point your weapons at the deck. Nobody try anything."

"Excellent," Apollyon growled. This move was the only way he could save his life, but he also saw a chance to at least salvage his father's mission, now that his father's life was forfeit.

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Strangers In Paradise