40 – RAZIEL
Too bright to look at, yet giving almost no heat, the shrunken welding-arc white sun hung in the purple northern sky as the warmer bloated orange sun sunk in the west. When the army truck driven by the Erel named Raziel topped a pass high on a terminal moraine he saw a sheer wall of slowly retreating ice across a wide zone of freshly uncovered land still being carved by melt.
Thirty ji tall, the blue-white ice barrier stretched left and right to sink over the horizon. This was the edge of the awesome Northern Ice that covered almost half their world. Behind Raziel’s truck lay a mere twenty-five hundred ji of unfrozen land reaching to the Southern Ice. The Ice was slowly melting over the centuries. Only in one place, near the capital city, did the two ice packs come close together across the narrow equatorial belt of Barbelo and kiss, but in the distant past, in the time of Talishi and the World War, there were three such bridges, dividing Barbelo into three lands.
The four-lane concrete ribbon wound down the other side of the pass and straightened out, a low elevated highway that disregarded the shifting waters under it as it made a beeline for the base of the wall.
Raziel’s passenger Beleth was his older sister and only surviving wife. Once he had four wives, two of them his sisters, befitting his rank in the middle eschelon of the Army of Mastema. But as was so often the case in a harem situation, jealousies erupted, one wife was murdered by another, and Raziel himself strangled the guilty wife to death, more out of wrath that she had brought his career to an abrupt halt than to avenge his dead younger sister.
A third wife died after an extended illness. She had been the sister of his opponent in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system mandated by the Law of Mastema. Now, with only one woman to wager, advancement to flag rank was out of the question. Raziel was damaged goods and even his promotion to Hashmal was long overdue.
Raziel had been diverted from combat to a more sedate role in logistics, and in the supply world, after the self-reinforcing bravado of battle command fell away, he felt a healthy fear of death return to him. Raziel drove closer to the blue and white wall until it grew to half their world. They could see the cliff was literally vertical, and even a little more than vertical. “If one of those overhangs decide to sheer off right now,” he pointed out needlessly, “we’re dead.” A high ridge of ice and snow that lay on both sides of the road attested to the constant clearing that was needed.
“Experimentalism,” Beleth said, without any sign of worry about the ice, “contrary to popular belief, can, if implemented properly, allow one of the freest possible societies.”
The dangerous period was short. Soon the highway entered a tunnel melted into the very base of the ice. The pale blue translucent walls grew darker until they were black. They were safe, but to Beleth the tunnel was a kind of death anyway. The shrinking glow behind her could well be her last sight of Barbelo. From now until they departed the planet she would know only caverns.
Raziel sighed. “Push for Experimentalism and you rank up there with King Gordiel, who rallied his city under the banner of Talishi and killed thousands of his own people.”
“I rather think it was your own Army of Mastema did the killing.”
“Suicide by Mastema. You have to be pretty stupid and gullible and naive to think Experimentalism can work.”
“Why can’t everyone determine what is good for the public in Experimentalism?” Beleth suggested. “You can have Democratic Experimentalism. What do we have now? Traditionalism. One person can determine what is good for many, but the many cannot determine what is good for themselves?”
“Beleth, there is a fatal flaw at the heart of Democracy. People are naturally lazy. They want free stuff. In a pure democracy, everyone will simply vote themselves sustenance from the Commons and no one will contribute. The whole structure will come crashing down. This has happened many times before, which is why only Traditionalism has survived.” Construction in ice was simple; it needed only a source of heat and a flexible conduit to whisk the melted water away. Deep within the ice the road twisted this way and that, finally dumping out in a multilevel city of burrows, bristling with security.
“Look up tunnel 610 on the map, this isn’t familiar to me.”
“It’s coming up on the left. Ugh, I’m carsick now. I never could read and ride.”
“I was thrown off by that sign for 910.”
“This map has a blurb at the bottom that says, ‘with apologies to Zelebsel.’ Who’s Zelebsel?”
“Probably some poor fellow who trusted an earlier edition of the map.”
Tunnel 610 was interrupted by a series of several checkpoints and it was only Raziel’s credentials as a supply officer that got him through the gates with a long skinny gray box of ordnance strapped down on his flatbed trailer. His manifest was not in order. It would not do to allow even a quick glance inside the box.
The road dead-ended in a large illuminated cave that was the lay-down area for supplies coming in and going out of the facility. He was expected. The box was quickly forked off the truck and disappeared inside the bowels of the facility.
Raziel and Beleth themselves were taken to a well-lit conference room deep within a maze of passageways carved into the ice. They were given warmer clothes to wear, because the chill was eternal and omnipresent. Space heaters would only melt the walls.
Presently they were joined by three men and a woman, and Raziel was mildly surprised when the woman began speaking rather than one of the males. She said, “My name is Tabaet. These men are members of my team. They are Malkiel, Senciner, and Xaphon.”
“Your team?” Raziel gasped. “They answer to you? And Mastema permits this?
She smiled. “Mastema permits much, because we do many things for Mastema that he could not have otherwise. The…equipment…you have delivered for us was designed and assembled right here.”
Raziel took her awkward speech as a signal that someone might be listening to what was said in the room. And that presented a problem. It would be difficult conveying what had to be said while dancing around the actual words. He nodded his head to indicate he understood the situation.
Tabaet said, “I would extend a full welcome to you, but this is a classified project, and your woman is uncleared.”
“I will not send my wife away away,” Raziel insisted. “Where I go, she goes. You will have to get her a clearance. She must be…fully involved…in the project.”
“That is impossible,” Malkiel said. “You must be content to train one of us to operate the …equipment. The project is of such a nature that only four people can be…fully involved.”
“It was a condition of bringing the…equipment…that I remain the sole operator. If you do not accept that condition, then you’ll have to content yourself with an inert mass.”
“Time grows short,” Senciner objected. “With any delay the risk grows.”
Raziel smiled. “It is the unique nature of this…equipment…that any reasonable delay is irrelevant.”
Tabaet sighed and came to a decision. “Very well. We have a simulator. Xaphon will instruct you in his role, and Malkiel will instruct your wife. I will retain Senciner on the team. When you are both fully involved in the project, there will be opportunity to discuss this further.”
The men exploded simultaneously with loud objections but a glance from Tabaet quickly silenced them, and to Raziel, coming from a tradition that held women to be little more than personal property, that was an impressive thing to witness. Beleth concealed a smile behind her hand.
41 – END DOME
After Shy Bear, 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. The Scroll of Lael was removed and unrolled to reveal the Hebrew letters written thereupon.
“They taught me how to read this,” she revealed, and when Mark asked who “they” were she recited a bare outline of the Elohim, the B’nei Elohim, and the world of Barbelo. But both she and Shy Bear kept the explanations short, because one of the most important things they learned in the Academy was how to keep their mouths shut.
Although Inge and Shy Bear 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 called the Endomion, Mark would have much more scripture to teach from.
In the meantime Shy Bear, 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 Shy Bear 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, Shy Bear 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!”
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.
Shy Bear 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 any potential race-mixing.
Later the rumor of gold was heard tell in the Green River Gorge, and the newly platted town of Franklin swelled with an influx of men 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.
Chief Shy Bear died at age sixty-six from smoke inhalation in a poorly-prepared sweat lodge, with four other men losing their lives as well, a tragic sign that knowledge of the old ways was slowly being degraded and lost. He lay in state in the temple sanctuary for thirty days. Many Endomites scattered across the country journeyed by train and even by the new horseless carriages to pay their last respects.
Also attending the funeral were four Menkalese men who had come to Franklin by way of the Sacred Pool. They bore on staves what they claimed was the authentic Ark of the Covenant spoken of in the Hebrew scriptures, and they said to Prophet Mark that it was to be hidden under the altar of the temple, and that only the Prophet, the Apostle, and such deacons as they could trust were to know of its existence.
When Prophet Mark Lange committed the Chief’s body directly into the hands of God it was a sight that few but the oldest members present had ever seen, for the Church had grown beyond the dreams of her founders. And the Prophet named a young deacon from the Red Wing of the Church named Peter Two Feathers to become the new Apostle and replace Chief Shy Bear.
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. The war was the first truly industrial war in the history of the Earth, raging across much of the world, and it resembled in many ways the Techno War that had broken out on Barbelo some number of years before.
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 elderly Mark 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 and the Ark of the Covenant, physical evidence of the existence of God which he had been so fortunate to witness. It was a God whose only Son had actually spoken to Inge and Shy Bear face to face, not merely in prayer. And Mark 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 Atlantic 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.
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 between first cousins and the first serious persecution of Endomites began.
42 – LAUNCH
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.
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.
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.”
43 – LILITH
In 1928 a girl child was born to Benjamin and Edith Gervasi in London while Benjamin was attending Imperial College. He named her Lilith because it was an interesting name.
“Interesting in the way ‘Jezebel’ or ‘Medusa’ or ‘Typhoid Mary’ is interesting,” Edith complained, but she knew she could do nothing to change Benjamin’s mind, so her daughter was Lilith.
In Jewish legends, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, created from the soil at the same time as Adam rather than from his rib like his second wife. Lilith left her husband when she refused to accept the missionary position that Adam insisted on doing, since it left the man on top. She wanted to do reverse cowgirl. Cursed by God, Lilith became a she-demon who roamed the night looking for souls of newborn infants to steal, but the prophet Isaiah foresaw that even Lilith would find rest in the Messianic Age.
As the decade of the 1930s wore on, Jews were systematically stripped of their civil rights on the Continent, and began to be moved into work camps that evolved into racial hygiene (extermination) camps, but nothing like that happened in Britain. There were even Jews in Parliament. The Gervasi family had been royal subjects for many generations, and Benjamin Gervasi was a meteorologist with a specialty in numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting. He lived, unfortunately, before the proper tool for his work, the computer, had been invented.
Jews on the whole were rather rare in the United Kingdom. During the years of the Great Depression Benjamin Gervasi could only find work as a lighthouse keeper at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, just a few miles off the southern coast of England.
This job, however, had several good points associated with it Benjamin thought. First, his wife and eventually also Lilith aided him in his work. It became a family endeavor. Second, the lighthouse grounds doubled as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, they sent by Teletype hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London. This allowed Benjamin a small amount of satisfaction, to work within his chosen field.
Once a week when Benjamin was paid his salary, a small amount of petrol was delivered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse shaft. He was never tempted to divert even a small portion of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had no motorcar, but he did have to keep an eye out for certain neighbors who did.
Every weekday morning Lilith trudged up the hillside to the nearest village for her Primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. On Shabbat they ceased from their labors and remained indoors. Very rarely, Benjamin would arrange transportation by bus and ferry, and they took such holidays as they could afford, sometimes to the beautiful Lake District, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains in England.
The horrors that confronted the Gervasi family during the last year of the war could be attributed to their Jewishness, certainly, and to Hitler’s insane hatred of Jews. But it was also the result of Benjamin’s chosen profession, and his decision to moonlight for His Majesty’s government as part of the electronic “Wizard War” against Hitler’s regime that culminated with the deception leading up to D-Day.
But perhaps the three biggest factors that contributed to the terrible things that befell Benjamin, Edith and Lilith were location, location, and location. The Isle of Wight lay in the English Channel, and the English Channel was the chief arena of contest between the UK and Germany. That is not to say the Gervasi family would have been immune from tragedy if they had moved upcountry; the town of Coventry, for example, was severely damaged in an air raid. But there would have been no German frogmen.
In the lead-up to World War II British scientists were tasked to create a death ray based on radio waves to take down German bombers. They never quite managed a death ray, but in their research they found that metallic objects at great distances could reflect a radio pulse and the time delay displayed on an oscilloscope was a very accurate indication of distance. Rotating an antenna could pin down a target’s position.
Thus was born RDF, or Range and Direction Finding, that later was dubbed RADAR. A network of RDF stations called Chain Home made all the difference in the Battle of Britain, which occurred over the summer of 1940.
Numerically the Luftwaffe had an edge over the Royal Air Force, but when the Luftwaffe attacked they had to hunt for RAF fighters, while the RAF (aided by Chain Home) knew exactly where the Luftwaffe was and could concentrate planes.
The Luftwaffe also had an edge when it came to the quality of their aircraft, but with Chain Home providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots could rest until they were scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear and tear on their aircraft.
As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and also their fighter cover, they tried to attack some of the Chain Home stations, including one that was constructed nigh to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. But as the Gervasi family could attest, the antenna towers with their open structure were not very susceptible to blast damage from bombs. The few antennas that actually were knocked down were repaired within days while operators from nearby ‘dummy’ stations broadcast signals that fooled the Germans into thinking no damage was done at all.
The Luftwaffe tried flying lower, approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations, but the British used smaller RDF systems intended to direct gunfire against ships, and German losses continued to mount at an unacceptable rate.
So the Luftwaffe switched to night raids, knowing that even if they were detected, the RAF could do nothing about it, since the defending planes could not see the bombers in the dark when it came to the actual combat. The British quickly miniaturized the RDF systems and installed them on fighter planes, which rapidly ended German night bombing over England.
Since the battle took place over United Kingdom home turf, if an RAF plane was shot down, the British pilot could bail out and be back in the air flying another plane, perhaps on the same day if he was not injured. But if a German pilot bailed out over land, he was invariably captured, and if he bailed out over the Channel he was likely to die from drowning or exposure to cold.
When the Battle of Britain came to an end in October 1940 the British had lost only about 500 airmen while the Germans lost eight times that number. Nearly a thousand German pilots were captured. The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely.
In hindsight the invasion plan, called Operation Sealion, was never realistic. Even if Germany had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain was a maritime nation with an unmatched Navy that would have checked any sea crossing of the channel, which Germany was ill-prepared to make in any event. Hitler had been thwarted for the first time in the war. So instead he turned his gaze to the East and began preparing the Barbarossa campaign against the Soviet Union.
The UK shifted emphasis from defense to offense, and during the course of 1941 it became clear to Bomber Command that night navigation to the correct target was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet was developed that used two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying in the lead of the wave (to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane). They flew out along the dots, and when the lead plane encountered the strongest part of the dashes it dropped a load of marker flares, and the bomber wave dropped their bombs on these flares.
A Clarinet antenna was constructed inside Benjamin’s lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the white structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans would never suspect a thing.
From time to time a targeting order came to Benjamin over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information. The message gave him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration in time, and whether he was to use dots or dashes. The Gervasi family found themselves quite busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley.
In 1944 a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops had been transported to the south of England to join the Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France, and to ensure their success a monolith of operational deception was built up that the world had never seen before nor since. False radio traffic was created to give the Germans the impression that Patton was gearing up to take the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from Calais. False plans were planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a French beach.
Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, left nothing, absolutely nothing to chance. In the run-up to D-Day Sir Ramsay even paid a visit to Benjamin Gervasi in his lighthouse on the southern-most point of England.
The weather was quite murky and wet, so the Admiral’s inspection of the exterior of the lighthouse was necessarily cut short. While his driver waited in the car, Benjamin showed the Admiral the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter was installed. Ramsay thanked Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received from his wife and daughter. Then the Admiral’s eyes were captivated by a wall chart, and he asked Benjamin to identify it.
“That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, Sir. That would be this little strip of land where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow, if you will. The weather here is typically not quite as immoderate as it is for you Overners.”
Benjamin led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna. He took him spiraling up the ninety-four steps to the top, where the huge crystal lens (chipped by a 1943 air raid) slowly rotated, and they could see for thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel in fact was roiling with whitecaps from high winds which threatened to derail the invasion.
“And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?”
“Perhaps a bit more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsey. I’m trained as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind me carrying my own chair, so to speak. But with the war I find myself . . . over-qualified for the task I currently occupy. Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop Jerry, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same predicament, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or one’s mind gets in a bit of a rut.”
“It’s not a purely sterile pursuit as you might imagine it to be. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse, which can be quite different from the rest of England or even the rest of the Isle of Wight, almost always corresponds to the weather across the Channel on the coast of France, in the Normandy area. I’ve checked it for years, in every season, and the match is very good, more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the possibility of coincidence. I plan to publish a paper about it after the war.”
“Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you predict for Undercliff?”
“A twenty-four hour break in this weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. This forecast holds for here and the Normandy coast. Everywhere else along the English Channel there will be no twenty-four hour break. There will be only fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots.”
Sir Ramsey was suddenly filled with great admiration for Benjamin Gervasi, because Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist had predicted the very same short break in the weather over Normandy, using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data, but General Eisenhower was dithering. The Admiral knew if he told the General the dough-nut hole in the bad weather was confirmed by a second independent source, it might be enough to make him decide to launch the invasion of France on the morning of June 6, just when the Germans were letting their guard down with intelligence of a solid week of terrible weather.
The Admiral asked, “Does the strange correlation of weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the Pas-De-Calais?”
“Alas, no. I’m afraid that predicting the weather for Dover and Calais is more like a jigsaw puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece.
The Admiral sighed, reluctant to proceed. There was one final duty Mr. Gervasi could perform for England, and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no choice. It was, in fact, the main reason for his visit. The net of operational deception woven around Operation Neptune had to be watertight. He said, “Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send a staffer. What I’m about to tell you has the highest possible classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your wife or daughter.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Mr. Gervasi, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, I’m afraid. You are no doubt aware that most of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops and all their supplies. As we get closer to the invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for June 20, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate.”
“Daily rather than weekly?”
“Twice daily, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the landing areas more or less continuously. Now is the time we must make our greatest effort. I needed to tell you this, Mr. Gervasi, lest you think something has gone terribly wrong. And I could not trust this information to others.”
Benjamin assured the young admiral he understood his duty perfectly. And with that they parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.
44 – COMET
Talishi tried on some sunglasses during one of her ten hour down times. “How do these look?”
She and Senciner were in the center of three compartments in the tall, narrow space vehicle. Below them was the engineering space. Raziel and Beleth were on the top deck, having been minimally trained to operate the Big Board. If they encountered any emergencies they couldn’t handle, they were supposed to come below and alert them, but it was Talishi’s sincere hope that nothing more complicated than propellant re-balancing cropped up.
Senciner replied, “Blessed are the cross-eyed for they shall see God twice.”
“You blaspheme, Senciner.”
“Okay, then how about, ‘Blessed are the skeptics, for they make great scapegoats?’”
Talishi chose a video spool from a wall cabinet and threaded it through the viewer.
“Agent Y is a genetic freak,” Senciner said when he noted her choice of entertainment. “He’s got YY sex chromosomes.”
Talishi shook her head. “There are no YYs, only maybe YYXs”
“If I say he’s YY, then that’s what he is.”
“Well there’s XX’s, XY’s and XYY’s. But YY is impossible.”
“Talishi, no, besides, Agent Y is a fictional character.”
Talishi said, “Is it true what they say, Senciner, that too much testosterone makes men bald?”
“That’s absolutely one hundred percent correct. That’s why baldness is a sure sign of virility. You’re sweating, Talishi.”
“Women don’t sweat, we glow. Besides it’s hot.”
“Ship’s internal temps are well within specs.”
Talishi dropped into bed like falling timber, so very slowly under the very low acceleration. “Come here, I want to test the testosterone theory.”
“You want a short little stub like me?”
“I know some fairly tall Fallen Angel babes who are married to tiny little runts.”
Blessedly, Beleth didn’t come below until their lovemaking was well over and they had covered up once again. When she did arrive she said, “Please come upstairs, Raziel is very upset about something.”
What Raziel was very upset about was the amount of remaining propellant. A week of low but constant acceleration had depleted the tanks to 68%, and he had just discovered that fact on his watch. “You failed to mention that we almost at the point of no return,” he complained bitterly. With almost a third of their velocity-change expended, they would need another third to come to a halt, and the final third to return to Barbelo and successfully land.
“Because we were at the point of no return the instant we launched,” Talishi replied sweetly. “I thought you knew. And if you didn’t know, I’m still not going to feel the slightest bit guilty about it, Raziel, because you were the one insisted that you and your wife replace Malkiel and Xaphon.”
“How could I possibly know?”
“Because your special weapon is set to detonate the instant it is detached from the ship,” Senciner put in, his glance upwards indicating the long needle fixed to the very top of the ship like a church steeple. “You, in fact, were about to advise us of that fact to force us to abort the mission and return to Barbelo.”
Raziel held his expression in check, but a slow grin infused his features. “Fine, it’s all out in the open now, that merely pushes up my timetable a bit. Proceed with turnaround.”
“We will do no such thing,” Talishi said. “If the comet is allowed to strike Barbelo there will be a Third Great Deluge and millions of people will die.”
“Then I will detach the special weapon and allow it to detonate now, in deep space. The Deluge will still happen, but we four will all die as well.”
“Husband!” Beleth exclaimed. Such talk was well out of character for him. She feared his mind had somehow broken. And she feared for her own life.
“By all means do as you have threatened to do,” Talishi said. “But your very presence aboard this spacecraft tells me you do not have the courage to take your own life. Your plan was to ride out the Deluge up here, then return to Barbelo when it began to ice over, perhaps forage on Larund or Sala food caches.”
“If you do not turn this spacecraft around I’m dead anyway.”
“You are dead even in that case,” Senciner said. “Yes we knew the special weapon would detonate the instant it came off the rail, but we also know it will detonate after a very short amount of time under one full gravity. If we land on Barbelo, there no way you can run fast enough to get far enough away from the ship to survive the blast.”
“That last part is a little surprise from Mastema,” Talishi said. “He didn’t tell you that, did he? You’re an intelligent man, Raziel, but did you really think Mastema would permit you to carry off this particular sort of weapon unless it suited his purpose?”
“And what purpose was that?”
“To destroy whatever enclave you thought to seek refuge in after the Third Deluge,” she said. “You know what we’re saying is true. Consider! We discovered the approaching comet, but did Mastema allow us to warn anyone outside of the House of Gerash?”
Raziel shook his head. “No, and Mastema is content to let perish the less desirable parts of even the House of Gerash.”
“Such as the ones who married outside of Gerash,” Talishi muttered, “or soldiers like yourself who do not have a full retinue of wives. When I said this flight was a turning point in human history, Raziel, I meant exactly that. The people of Barbelo will learn that we sacrificed our lives to divert the comet that Mastema was content to allow to strike the planet. He has no idea what’s coming. Everyone, even those in House Gerash, will know once and for all that he is an evil god.”
“We still have time,” Raziel dared to hope. “You can set down on the planet and let Beleth and myself run free, and depart again before the timer detonates the weapon!”
“You just told me that Mastema is using the comet as an opportunity for selective genocide. Does that sit well with you, Raziel? Do you really feel no obligation to try to thwart such an evil god?”
Senciner added, “I’m not blindly following Talishi, and neither were Malkiel and Xaphon. We knew full well this flight was to be a one-way trip. It’s a fighting chance to prevent a third Deluge and save the lives of millions of people.”
“In a way, Raziel, I’m glad you insisted on coming,” Talishi said. “I am quite fond of Malkiel and Xaphon back at the armory, who were displaced by yourself and Beleth, and now they will survive, if we succeed in changing the path of the comet.”
Raziel was miserable. He turned to Senciner. “This is easy for you in House Sala, with the irrational beliefs you have been taught by Talishi, but for me death is oblivion. When I’m dead I won’t even know that I’m dead or that I ever lived. So I must grasp every additional moment possible, no matter how great the cost to others.”
“Yes, well our lives and the lives of millions of men and women on Barbelo do mean something to us,” Talishi gently asserted, “and so does this mission. Whether that is also true for yourself and Beleth is entirely up to you. The thing has been set in motion. Nothing you can say or do will coerce myself or Senciner to turn this spacecraft around. Your greatest possible remaining span of life is now measured in hours. But whether we succeed or fail is entirely in your hands.”
When Raziel and Beleth showed signs of failing to understand, Senciner said, “We cannot watch you every moment of the remaining time. You could sabotage the ship, perhaps blow out a panel and let all our air escape into space, or launch the weapon, which you assure us will result in instant obliteration. We couldn’t stop you, if you decided to thwart the mission out of spite. No one would ever know.”
Raziel sighed. He could see it was going to happen no matter what he said or did. “Exactly how do you intend to deflect the comet?”
“We will ram directly into it,” Talishi revealed. “The weapon will go off on impact and vaporize at least half of it. The other half will enter a new orbit and miss the equatorial zone of Barbelo, or perhaps even miss the planet altogether. Mastema has no idea what’s about to happen. Already Yeshua Bat-El has departed Barbelo, giving Mastema the impression that he knows what’s coming and is afraid. The Ark was recalled to Earth long ago, my avatar was destroyed, and when I die my fold-line will retract through the passage and Mastema will finally be able to close it. That too will be a turning point that will open the next act in our long conflict.”
“But as you draw near to the comet, you and Senciner will be very preoccupied, I imagine.”
“Very busy,” Talishi admitted. “I’m afraid we will regret our missing Malkiel and Xaphon very much before the very end. And that end will be better than most, Raziel. It will be very quick, and you will not suffer in the slightest way.”
“Then we will do what we can to help,” Raziel said, and he permitted himself a wry grin. “It will be . . . the excellent thing to do.”