45 – KIM
The sinking of Reina Regena with the End Dome Church’s first prophet Mark Lange aboard, along with seven hundred other souls who could not take to lifeboats, was one of the biggest factors that changed US public opinion about the Great War from an attitude of cynical isolationism to moralistic idealism. A month later Congress approved a declaration of war against the Central Powers, and a month after that forced conscription began.
Despite Church of End Dome roots in the pacifist German Brethren, and the slight bias in favor of the Central Powers by many Americans of German descent, very few Endomites availed themselves of Conscientious Objector status after receiving their draft notification. Erik Lokken of Franklin accepted the call to go “Over There” along with nearly five million other Americans. Besides, he wasn’t German, he was Norwegian. After a brief period of the most rudimentary military training Erik found himself on a troop ship on the way to Bayonne, France.
America was late getting into position for the First World War, and as General “Black Jack” Pershing trained the American Expeditionary Forces to operate independently of the Allies, they would be late getting into battle. The war was in it’s final two months before Erik entered combat as part of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the third and easiest operation to straighten out the remaining German salients in the Western Front before the main Allied thrust to break the Hindenburg Line could begin.
The Americans were tasked to attack the German left flank against static positions they had held for more than three years while France, Britain and Belgium bled themselves white. But now the allies were getting a fresh shot in the arm from the merry but homesick doughboys who went into battle singing and whooping with all the enthusiasm of a football team pouring out onto the field before kickoff.
The Germans knew the Americans were coming and began to pull out, but the Americans attacked before the Germans estimated they would, with 600 aircraft and 144 tanks commanded by Colonel George S. Patton Jr. For St-Mihiel was Patton’s first battle as well.
Casualties in this battle were very light as battles went in the Earth’s First World War, but the weather was miserable. The nearly three thousand pieces of field artillery unleashed by the Allied side as well as the bombs dropped from the air tore the battlefield into a pock-marked pig sty filled with mud.
The Germans might have been withdrawing, but they were quite capable of fighting a rear-guard action with a deadly bite. Erik took two rounds from a German Bergmann Maschinenpistole 18/1 that shattered the bone in his upper left arm and he was sent by truck to a War Department field hospital in the rear just beyond German counter-battery fire.
Due to the development of gas gangrene, which was part and parcel of the mud and generally unsanitary conditions on the front, the army doctors decided to amputate Erik’s arm, leaving only a two inch stump, which unfortunately would too short to be usefully fitted with a prosthetic arm.
Since the amputation was performed in non-ideal circumstances, Erik was sent by a hospital train to Paris for follow-up care. It was there he met Clara Lokken, who was a Red Cross nurse. They made a connection because the name Lokken was stenciled on Erik’s uniform and also engraved on Clara’s name tag. It was an uncommon surname.
They talked for a bit, and Erik learned that Clara was from a branch of Lokkens who had stayed behind in Pennsylvania, so she knew very little about the End Dome Church. They talked for a bit more and discovered they shared the same great-grandmother. They were second cousins. That and her all-American girl-next-door good looks interested Erik.
What interested Clara was Erik’s attitude in the face of his life-changing injury. He didn’t feel sorry for himself after losing an arm. There was pain, but he kept a wicked sense of humor. They couldn’t talk for long, but Clara passed along to him the address of her parents in Pennsylvania, because he said he wanted to be pen pals after they both got back home.
A pen pal relationship gradually blossomed into love, and in 1922 Erik drove nearly all the way across the country in his 1916 Model T. He took the Yellowstone Auto Trail and it took a month to get to Erie, Pennsylvania, averaging ninety miles and five dollars a day, not counting the cost of two major automobile repairs. This came out of his twenty-five dollar per month Veteran’s pension, which had been supplemented by a job as a painter in Franklin. He could do his job with one arm, although with some difficulty.
After arriving in Erie he sold his Tin Lizzie to defray the wedding expenses. Although Pennsylvania was the original “anti-cousin marriage” state, it only prohibited marriage between first cousins, not second cousins. Still, it took some doing by Erik and Clara to get her parents to sign off on it. In the end, they had the blessing of both parents, and soon the newlyweds were traveling west across the country by train to start their new life in Franklin, Washington.
When it came to Erik’s parents, however, they were a much harder sell, and he became more or less the black sheep of the family because he had passed over a perfectly good (if plain) first cousin who shared the same grandparents, and had to fall in love with Clara who only shared the same great-grandparents with him, never mind that she was pretty. Apparently love was very fickle. This was now permitted by End Dome doctrine under Prophet Peter Two Feathers, but some said it wasn’t a brave choice, because any heathen could do as much.
Kimberly Lokken was born to Erik and Clara in 1925. She would be their only child.
Kim had known her two best friends Sofie and Dory for as long as she could remember, perhaps as far back as the summer 1928, when they shared their days at the same nursery while their mothers also found work. This was nearly the peak of the Roaring Twenties, when unemployment dipped below five percent. Then came the stock market crash in 1929.
By 1930 the Great Depression was just getting started. Their mothers were soon booted from their jobs, followed by Kim’s father, as employers suddenly found many other men willing to paint who had two good arms. Still, Erik did not despair, but retained the good spirits that had caused Clara to fall in love with him at first sight in France. And it soon turned out that Erik’s optimism was justified.
Peter Two Feathers had been chosen by Prophet Mark Lange to be the successor to the Apostle Shy Bear upon his death. Peter in turn had automatically ascended to the chair of Mark Lange when he was lost at sea and he immediately appointed a new Apostle from among the elders of the White Wing of the End Dome Church named Peter Hansen. Thus the lifetime office of Prophet alternated smoothly between the White and Red wings of the Church, and assuming this rule was never broken there could not be a succession crisis.
Two Feathers had compassion upon Erik Lokken and gave him employment that involved a deep and sacred trust. With his single arm, he was to wield the Golden Gift to carve a network of tunnels under Franklin. For there were rich seams of coal under the townsite, but they were isolated by an overlay of hard volcanic rock that covered the area during the formation of the relatively young Cascade mountain range and it had never been feasible to reach and exploit the older layers of sedimentary rock underneath. With the Golden Gift, Erik Lokken could easily create passageways through this rock, and others followed in his wake to remove the coal.
While the rest of the country wallowed in unemployment that reached twenty-five percent, the area around Franklin experienced a boom that hadn’t been seen since the gold rush days after the Civil War, when the town swelled with the ranks of ’69ers. Great heaps of black gold from the Franklin mines piled up on docks as far away as San Francisco.
Financially, Erik Lokken did far better than he ever did as a one-armed painter in the Twenties. Soon enough he had a nice new brick red Ford Model 48, his first car since selling his Model T, and he also paid off his modest home. Erik set some money aside in a rainy day fund. There was enough left over to send Kim to the End Dome parochial school in Selleck rather than the free public school, so she could be with her friends, but especially because it was an excellent school that stressed getting students engaged in learning experiences outside of the classroom as well as within.
In 1937 Kim, Sofie and Dory were twelve, that wonderful last year of their “tweens” when their bodies were gathering power for the changes soon to come. They talked about boys in idealized, abstract terms that had little bearing on the clumsy, stinky, stupid little barbarians that happened to be actual boys. In slumber parties they would practice necking with each other, so long as it was understood that one of the neckers had to be a boy, at least in theory.
Sofie Krause at great personal sacrifice would play the role of beau nine times out of ten, especially when it was Dory Fuchs’ turn.
Likewise, in class, the tight trinity of friends would send flowery little love letters to each other. The girl-love of tweens was love of a high order that knew no jealousy. Share and share alike. But they dreaded having one of their masterpieces of amorous soliloquy discovered by a classmate, or God forbid, the teacher. So they created their own secret language called Relbimian. And in that language, the word for “group of three” was boda.
This, then, was the state of the Boda in seventh grade:
Dory Fuchs: Blue eyes, long jet black hair tied in the obligatory pony tail but with the cutest bangs ever. She was the skinniest member of the Boda but the first one to begin to grow breasts. She liked to read books by English authors about dragons and elves and wizards and unicorns. Already, at age twelve, Dory had pinup model stems.
Academically, Dory deliberately aimed at getting straight B’s to strike the middle ground between pleasing her parents and not appearing to be a bookish girl. In the Boda Dory took the middle ground, becoming “all things to all women” and she became the glue that held them all together. If the Boda could be said to have a leader it was Dory, yet the character of her role was persistently one of support. Instead of dragging them along she pushed from behind.
Sofie Krause: A tomboy who kept her ash-blond hair cropped short in a crew cut, with no pony tail in defiance of the Church. Not even her father had anything to say about that, for already Sofie had the physique of a wrestler. She was the only girl on the football team. One time a boy at school said her football uniform made her look fat and she flipped him to the ground and pasted him good. Knocked out his front tooth. No one said that to her again. She was, however, like all the girls at school, required to wear skirts rather than pants in the classroom, and this annoyed her to no end.
One Halloween morning Dory came to school dressed as a pirate’s wench and she had ripped her dress into long strips so that when she walked her slender legs would poke out now and again. Susan sat there with her mouth wide open and felt a sexual frisson from her face to her toes. In that moment she knew what she was. Sofie had graduated from the tomboy phase to full bore tribade. After that, Sofie lost all interest in sports, and everyone could hardly believe it. But chasing Dory had become the ultimate sport to her. Sofie was a scrub, but Dory eagerly helped her do her homework, which kept Sofie hovering in “D” territory rather than a hard fail.
Kim Lokken: Auburn hair about halfway between mahogany and carrot-top. Light green eyes. She had a pretty face but she was a little chubby. Or perhaps just Rubenesque. In temperament she was the most classically feminine member of the Boda, for she took after her mother. She was compelled to wear her hair in a ponytail at all times, of course, like her mother and father and elders and all other good little Endomites, male or female.
Kim was an infidel. She didn’t really believe any of that stuff about Chief Shy Bear and the Golden Gift written in the White Scroll, which was testimony to how tightly her father Erik was capable of keeping Peter Two Feather’s secret. But Kim wasn’t prepared to let her folks down. So she gritted her teeth, wore the damn ponytail, and when she ventured out of the Green River Gorge area she ignored the comments at the edge of her hearing like “Oh there goes another Pony. Look at her hair.”
In eighth grade science class the teacher paired everyone off for lab partners. Kim ended up with Sofie, and Dory ended up with one Jerry Shy Bear, the youngest grandson of the original Shy Bear who played a role in the early days of the End Dome Church.
“No offense, Pally,” Sofie muttered as she kicked Jerry out of his seat and send him shambling towards Kimberly. No one was going to separate Sofie and Dory.
Jerry was one of the few Original Inhabitants who attended the school in Selleck. He was a skinny boy, and shorter than Kimberly even, but the other boys were afraid to pick on him because he had already demonstrated a hidden wiry strength in a series of earlier fights, and all of them learned why young men in the Red Wing were called “braves”. He became the fourth member of the Boda, sort of, which was an oxymoron, like having a fourth novel in the Galaxy’s Fall Trilogy.
Jerry could tell right away that Sofie and Dory were a unit, so he gravitated towards Kim. At the ice skating rink in Issaquah they would even hold hands, since Sofie and Dory weren’t afraid to do so. He was not her first or even second cousin, and therefore he could never be her husband someday, so it was fun to experiment, but they both knew it could never turn into anything serious. Then again, thirteen year old kids never take anything serious.
There was absolutely no body modesty in the Boda, and if Jerry wanted to be a part of it, they would have to break him in. The first time they went skinny dipping at Lake 13 Jerry liked what he saw, and so did Kim. She began horsing around with him at every level short of a full jackpot. Naturally she had to keep Sofie and Dory appraised of every move.
“So what’s it like to kiss an actual, you know, boy?” Dory asked.
“Just like kissing Sofie. Same pressure. He smells different up close though. Not bad, just different.”
“Did you pitch woo?”
“We did indeed pitch woo. He feels like a rubber wet suit stretched out over a suit of armor. Soft on the surface but with a hard core underneath. I liked it.”
“They look like beer bottles instead of Coke bottles,” Sofie complained.
“There comes a time when you grow up and move from soda pop to beer,” Kim replied, but only Dory seemed to agree.
46 – VICTORIA
Mastema had a dragon, sure, but Bat-El had a woman who could fly. Her name was Victoria and she was a third-generation B’nei Elohim.
Yeshua got the idea of a flying woman from that one time when he departed from his followers in Jerusalem and ascended into the sky. On the summit of Mount Olive he had summoned a worm-tunnel mouth, stepped into it, and had remained entirely visible to the disciples as he physically moved the bubble into the air, riding along with it. The same mechanism was used to allow Victoria to fly on Earth and also on the moon, the only difference was that Bat-El handed full control of the position of the worm-tunnel mouth to her.
Talishi asked to borrow Victoria after learning of her existence during her long talks with Aliwe. And so Victoria had immediately come to Barbelo through the Sacred Pool. She dropped to one knee before Yeshua and said, “Command me, Lord.”
For it was written by Paulus that every knee will bow at the name of Yeshua and every tongue confess that Yeshua was Lord. The B’nei Elohim considered themselves the greatest servants of Yeshua.
“I need you to kill an errant dragon,” Yeshua told her, and not for an instant did Victoria blanch.
“Such a simple thing, Lord? I would love to whack a dragon for you, of course, but there is one small hitch. I can’t fly on Barbelo.”
Yeshua then ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be brought out and propped just above the dark wooden decking that surrounded the Sacred Pool. Then he told Victoria, “Touch one of the cherubim on the cover of the Ark.”
For the Ark, as the only remaining avatar of El Shaddai, was also a receptacle for the end point of a one-dimensional fold-space line. El Shaddai used the physical structure of the Ark as a reference to keep the end-point of the worm-line positioned within. But after Victoria touched the lid of the Ark, that worm-line began to track on her body like an invisible piece of string cheese she could never shake loose.
Now Victoria was the Ark. For the time being, the original Ark was just an inert piece of gold-covered wood, with no connection to El Shaddai at all.
Yeshua said, “The fold-line cannot act as a tunnel, that requires a continuous flow of dark energy and El Shaddai is only budgeted for the one that connects to this pond of water. But the end of the fold-line you now possess can balloon out like a pod, big enough to contain you, and of course you can now control where that pod takes you, in the usual way.”
“Which is to say, Lord, I can now fly on Barbelo. Where shall I go?”
“Talishi is waiting for you in the King’s castle in Peshast, the capital city of the Black Beards, east from here and over the Wall of God. There she will give you the weapon you will use to kill Demonstroke.”
Victoria bowed and said, “Thank you, Lord Yeshua, for giving me this opportunity to bring glory to our God.”
“El Shaddai doesn’t need glory, Victoria, he just needs the dragon dead. But I will say to you that you are entirely welcome for this opportunity to have more fun than any B’nei Elohim has ever enjoyed before.”
The demigod Victoria, daughter of Ariel, granddaughter of Robyn, exulted as she flew in the violet sky of Barbelo. Victoria soared over the River Armak, which flowed west from the place where it was joined by the river Arhena. She continued to fly along the Arhena east, always east, as the awesome Wall of God began to loom as a barrier before her.
Victoria looked down and saw trees with leaves of many colors, red and green, yellow and gold, such that the land looked to be perpetually in the full glory of autumn as it was known on Earth. Yet Barbelo’s trees were never bereft of leaves, for there were no seasons as there were on Earth. Instead the leaves fell from their trees individually after a span, and were replaced by another.
The source of the River Arhena was a perpetual rain that fell as a mist in the center of the Wall of God. Victoria became thoroughly soaked as she flew through this heavy drizzle. A little more than halfway up the dark Wall of God, at 10,000 feet, the mist became a solid white sheet of falling water. This was the greatest cataract known to man.
At 19,000 feet Victoria flew over the rim and turned horizontal once again, now following the chief waterway of the Black Beards, the River Bandar, east through high hills to the city of Peshast.
The guards of the castle saw Victoria alight and nearly fled in their fright. She said, “I am Victoria of the B’nei Elohim. I was summoned here by Talishi herself, gentlemen, so please take me to her.”
Victoria was brought to Talishi in the council chamber, and as she had done in Canterwood she knelt in worship, for B’nei Elohim were much more aware of the awesome difference of the Elohim than most other humans were. Talishi welcomed Victoria and told her to rise.
“My Lady,” Victoria said, “the Lord Yeshua told me you have a weapon to kill Demonstroke.”
“Aliwe, please do the honors.”
Aliwe unwrapped the black cloth from around the broken pieces of Dragonthorn, the blade Kari Antero once used to command Demonstick.
Talishi said, “This is the only heirloom we possess with which we can hope to even the odds against the dragon and it is nothing more than a pile of sharp baubles.”
Victoria stepped forward to gather up the diamond shards. The one still attached to the hilt could serve as a long dagger, or very short sword. She said, “I think I can fly behind the dragon and ram this into his brain.”
‘The covenant says she who wields Dragonthorn must be a virgin woman,” Baron Bayard declared. “Otherwise the dragon will not be mortally wounded.”
Which was the Baron’s way, of course, of saying he was interested in Victoria and wanted to know more about her. He wasn’t sure where a B’nei Elohim female fit on the spectrum between commoner and noblewoman.
“I have never known man,” Victoria declared in turn, with a wink at Talishi. She didn’t mention the crazy lesbian sex she once had with Chayn. Maybe that skirted the intent of the virginity requirement, but it was the Elohim, after all, who made their demigod servants such utter horn dogs.
After Victoria officially joined Talishi’s group they rode down the river Bandar to the town of Vesa, where the Fallen Angels camped outside the city. The royals reserved an inn. There, after supper had finished, the conversation turned to strategy. Victoria asked the first, most obvious question: “Where, actually, is this dragon located?”
Baron Bayard asked the innkeeper if there was a map of Barbelo at hand. When servants posted it on the wall of the dining hall, Baron Bayard walked up to it and said, “Behold the Wall of God. The woman Joy is said to keep Demonstroke in an aerie high above the Valley of Ten Thousand Creeks that come together to form the Alnitar river, approximately here. You can see this is the wildest region in Haaretz. No roads issue forth thither from Nath or Hamar. Yet we must start from Fatho because it is the nearest city to the aerie.”
“Hell. In the morning I can find this aerie myself and dispatch the dragon as I have been commanded,” Victoria said.
“That will not do,” Talishi countered. “I have no doubt you can do precisely as you have described, but it’s no good if you just kill the dragon in secret. People have to see you do it. That’s what this is really about. People have to see that we are resisting Mastema.”
Victoria bowed her head. “As you say, Lady Talishi.”
The Baron said, “Some of you might have surmised that I intend to use the Catwalk to reach Haaretz from here.”
“And what dear Baron is this Catwalk of which you speak?” Victoria asked.
“The Catwalk, Lady Victoria, is a path carved into the stone face of the wall which drops four air miles in one hundred Catwalk miles. But it is precarious beyond belief. There are places where the Catwalk is no wider than one of your feet is wide.”
“M’lord Baron, please tell me this Catwalk comes with a safety rail,” said Aliwe Halil.
“The Catwalk comes with no rail. We must take our own precautions. Oh, did I mention that one part of the Catwalk entails a rope traverse?”
“Naturally I do not fear this Catwalk,” Victoria said, “but have caution. If anyone falls, I will not be able to stave off your death. I can carry little more than this blade which I intend to use to slay Demonstroke.”
“I do not doubt the courage of anyone in this company to continue,” Talishi said, “but it may be the case that not everyone will be mentally prepared to negotiate it, as the Baron describes it. Let everyone turn it over in their mind as we ride to the rim tomorrow, for it shall be there that whoever freely elects to end their part of our quest must remain behind while the others go on.”
An awkward silence fell as everyone contemplated how they would react when they saw the Catwalk.
Talishi turned to the commanding officer of the Fallen Angels who was also present at the inn. “Tell the girls what they’re facing tomorrow and make the same offer. I am not ordering any of them to accompany me to Haaretz. But if they elect to stay behind here in the lands of House Larund they must disband as Fallen Angels, and not even form veteran societies. I will not have King Garand troubled by the presence of a regiment of foreign troops in his realm.”
47 – PALATO
It could not be hidden for long that the first space flight initiated by humans from Barbelo had been a suicide mission to avert an approaching comet and prevent a third Great Deluge. Nor could it be hidden that Mastema, now incarnated as the Gerash High Lord Patriarch Sartael, had prevented news of this comet from getting out to the other families. And the simultaneous secret flood preparations by the elite among the greater Gerash family also did not escape notice.
The rumor that elements of House Sala and Larund had conceived and carried out this flight to save Barbelo did much to win secret converts to El Shaddai. Some even said that Talishi herself had led the mission and had died in a successful attempt to divert the comet. All in all, Mastema had sustained a terrible propaganda defeat.
As Talishi herself had foreseen at the time of the flight, the event marked a major turning point in the history of Barbelo. From that day forward, Mastema was viewed as evil even by many members of Family Gerash, especially by those who were deemed unworthy to receive the same warnings that were given to the purebred family core. Mastema would still be obeyed from fear, but there would never again be any loyalty based on awe and respect. The incident ignited a deep and broad conspiracy lasting many decades to unseat family Gerash by any means. This conspiracy reached even into Mastema’s own armed forces.
Young Ithuriel departed the Canterwood Academy and traveled east to cross the River Sabik near Mount Menkant. A boy once known as Edgar Shybear, Ithuriel was the son and first child of Robyn and Jerry Shybear, but whether he was the eldest child was a matter of which timeline you were talking about and where you stood within that timeline.
Ithuriel was a second generation member of the B’nei Elohim, which was translated Son of God. This order was established by El Shaddai and Bat-El on Timeline Delta. The act of creating the B’nei Elohim created Timeline Epsilon.
Some people called the B’nei Elohim demigods, but they were really demiurges, craftsmen and craftswomen who tried to make the perfect vision of El Shaddai and Bat-El into reality. Each of them were each marked by a unique ability that set them well above human beings in some way. Call them real-life superheroes. In Edgar’s case his power was an extraordinary intellect.
On the Epsilon timeline Edgar Shybear, upon reaching early adulthood in 1964, penetrated the operating principle of the Golden Gift and duplicated it. He called his apparatus a macro, because it made quantum interactions manifest on a macro scale.
El Shaddai could have simply told Edgar how the Golden Gift worked, but then the young man would never have reached beyond his known limits to become Edgar. And Edgar was precisely what El Shaddai had been breeding for across four millennia.
Edgar’s macro was in turn brought back in time by Yeshua and inserted into 1947, which created Timeline Zeta. That was Ithuriel’s native timeline.
On the Zeta line young Edgar went to the Academy in Canterwood rather than recreating something his older self had already created. In this way advanced technology was pulling itself up by it’s own bootstraps. The ultimate goal was to break Mastema’s barrier isolating El Shaddai and Bat-El from the greater community of Elohim.
But that version of Edgar had gone rogue, and while he had not actually removed himself to the camp of Mastema, he no longer considered himself truly part of the B’nei Elohim. Yeshua allowed him to depart and renamed him Ithuriel. When Dory tried to contact him directly, Ithuriel simply ignored her.
The primitive space-going technology of the early period of expansion led to the complete remote reconnaissance of the two star systems belonging to the yellow and orange suns. Communications satellites were lofted. A permanent human presence in low orbit space stations followed, as well as tentative footholds on Barbelo’s nearest moon Palato. Underground water deposits, rich metal ores, and abundant sun power made the new colonies nearly self-sufficient.
It was not yet clear to the heads of the five families that human destiny lay in space. From the beginning space travel was militarized, and the nascent Navy of Mastema grew as rapidly as the off-Barbelo population grew. The avatar of Mastema formed the invincible heart of this Navy, and a powerful fort was constructed on the inner surface Palato with many guns and rocket emplacements orbiting ominously just over the heads of the entire Barbelo populace.
John Wayne once said, “Life is hard, it’s even harder when you’re stupid.” I follows that the inverse is true: Life is easy when you’re brilliant. Ithuriel had set himself the goal of reaching the land of House Larund, east of the Wall of God, and every decision he made led him inexorably closer to reaching that goal. Sometimes, unfortunately, those decisions came at the expense of less intelligent people he met along the way.
Knowing that Black Beard intruders always seemed to come to Canterwood from down the vale of the river Sabik, Ithuriel journeyed up that river to see what he could see. After tarrying for a time in the capital of Hamar, named Menkant, he dwelt in the city of Wazol for a year.
Every day Ithuriel explored a different part of the face of the Wall of God, which loomed just east of the city, looking for the fabled path that led to the top. He gnawed at the problem with his usual tenacity but looking for an end-point to the trail was a problem that could never be solved, since the end-point was deliberately obscured with heavy brush.
So Ithuriel thought outside the box and went off-trail, cross-country, marching through knee-high ferns in any direction he chose much like a ship sails at sea. He steered himself straight up the wooded slope that lay at the foot of the Wall and finally stumbled onto the very lower reaches of the Catwalk.
The Catwalk was a Cadillac of a trail, luxuriously maintained, but unexpectedly so. This was the fabled way Talishi herself had descended to Haaretz two thousand years prior.
Because Edgar was anything but stupid, he did not ascend the Wall of God on the Catwalk until he had properly prepared the tools and provisions he would need to make the attempt. Yet mental preparation was just as important, if not more so. Once on the Catwalk Edgar knew his world would be transformed from a plane into a single line. A single moment of panic, of giving in to the ever-present fear of falling, would be fatal.
Ithuriel’s immediate goal was to ascend out of Haaretz, but he had set for himself the ultimate goal of getting off Barbelo altogether. As he negotiated the Catwalk he tried to decide where he would go and what he would do.
At the Academy Ithuriel had learned the early settlements on Palato, which formed soon after Talishi’s suicide flight, had been grouped into three triads, each one under a triarch. Afterwards they were organized into a loose Palato League, which elected, when common action was necessary, a dictator appointed for a fixed period of time.
There was a federal assembly that levied taxes and troops from the triads. The Navy of Mastema occupied a large portion of Palato and requisitioned supplies and labor from the Palato League but otherwise stayed out of local affairs. Family Gerash also laid claim to tiny Rhene as a prison moon, and it’s even smaller sub-moon Minos to administer it.
Other immigrants who did not wish to attach themselves to the Palato League or the Navy of Mastema moved on to other, more sparsely-settled communities across the system of the orange sun. Chief among these was Xanthos, the largest moon of Barbelo, which lay beyond Rhene.
Others left the gravitational influence of Barbelo altogether and made the crossing to chilly Lemnos, the next planet out from Barbelo, or to one of Lemnos’ two very small moons, Unxia and Ianthe. Ithuriel considered all of these as possibilities for his ultimate destination.
The Academy at Canterwood was famed throughout Barbelo. Edgar need only to describe himself as alumni, verified by a single telephone call to Yeshua, and any job in Peshast was literallty his for the taking. So life for Ithuriel really was easy. The job he chose was spacecraft pilot for a Black Beard corporation called Astrodynamics.
A number of years before Talishi’s one-way flight to prevent a third great deluge a breathtaking feat of construction inside the Northern Ice of Barbelo had been initiated by House Larund, averaging fifteen miles a year. This resulted in the construction of a giant mass-driver, a sun-powered electromagnetic catapult for hurling vehicles to orbit. When this infrastructure was complete it became relatively cheap and easy to obtain access into space.
Simulators could only teach so much. After much classroom time it was time for Ithuriel to take his first flight, accompanied by a senior pilot named Nithael as instructor.
The shuttle was hexagonal in cross-section so it could fit inside the mass-driver. Wings and stabilizers lay folded up on the surface of the reusable shuttle for the launch, to be used on the return leg. The spacecraft typically carried six persons and a small amount of cargo, or in the case of Ithuriel’s checkout flight, just two persons and much more cargo.
After getting underway, there was two minutes and thirteen seconds of brain-flattening hell in the mass-driver tunnel at six gees. As the shuttle neared the end of the tunnel, it passed through a series of automatic airlocks designed to bring the local pressure from the near-vacuum of the majority of the tunnel to the full atmosphere at the tunnel mouth. During this sequence the shuttle slowed and Ithuriel and his instructor were hurled forward in their straps.
At 365 miles east of the boarding station the shuttle passed the final coil and broke into clear air, but with enormous horizontal velocity. The shuttle became surrounded by a teardrop of superheated air that thinned and cooled. Soon after that the sky appeared to turn black and the planet seemed to gradually drop away from the shuttle until orbit was reached.
On the whole was a frightening ride to the uninitiated but it was actually very safe and it led to the development of space at a far greater pace than would occur when Earth followed suit about one hundred years later.
Palato was roughly 500 miles across, and roughly 50,000 miles away from Barbelo, which made it appear roughly the same size as the Earth’s single moon did from the surface. When Ithuriel had performed a perfect landing at the designated place, and the metal roof had closed overhead to form a seal so the docking structure could be pressurized, he helped Nithael unload the cargo from the shuttle.
An Eye of Mastema appeared soon after that, and said the modern day equivalent of precisely the same query the Eyes had made of Sibelius outside of Salem when he was smuggling Princess Khondiel into the city: What man of ye be the loadmaster?
“I am Nithael, and I command this shuttle.”
“I know you, Nithael of the House of Larund, but who is the boy?”
“He is called Ithuriel, and my superiors at Astrodyne ordered me to check him out as a shuttle pilot.”
“One so young?”
“Ithuriel claims to have attended the Academy in Canterwood,” Nithuriel said with a shrug. “From what I hear of that school, his claim is not so far-fetched. He performed flawlessly.”
“It is said that no child of House Bellon or House Gerash may attend the Academy,” said the Eye. “And so I find it curious indeed to find a Canterwood graduate on Palato so close to the Navy of Mastema. What say you, boy? What is the truth here? Why have you come?”
“I came only to be certified to fly,” said Ithuriel. “Astrodyne said go to such-and-such a place with this cargo and so I came.” He stared steadily at the Eye of Mastema and began to silently count numbers in his head.
At the count of eleven the Eye said, “Nithael, you may return to Barbelo in your shuttle, but this boy will stay on Palato to answer all such further questions as I might have. If I find his answers to be unsatisfactory I will pass word to your employer below, which you should take to mean it would be unhealthy for you to return to Palato ever again. The Lord Sartael does not love accomplices of spies.”
Ithuriel did not learn the name of the Eye of Mastema was Hogarth until somewhat later after he had spoken to Sartael himself.
Hogarth was famous for a certain type of investigation internal to the Army and Navy of Mastema. It used to deeply cut into the Gerash annual budget for troops to go out on early retirement with a bogus disability claim, only to be seen the first weekend chopping wood in their back yard. Often a visit from Hogarth was all it took to make these ailments miraculously clear up and the man returned to duty, such that his nickname among the Eyes of Mastema became “Jesus” although this was never said in his earshot. And if the ailments didn’t clear up, he made sure they really had a disability to go out on. In either case (and Hogarth had no preference either way) the number of false claims fell to zero.
So Hogarth was something of a bogeyman on Palato. Men who passed him in the corridors glanced down at the floor and went out of their way to avoid brushing against him.
Ithuriel, per interrogation protocol, had been stripped completely naked and it was at that time that Hogarth discovered the bone cup breaking the skin at the back of his skull, complete with 55 dark pins about the diameter of the lead in a mechanical pencil. Brushing the pins had broken them off as easily as the aforementioned pencil lead, but in only a few hours they had grown back to the same length.
Ithuriel had nothing to say about the cup. So Eyes of Mastema manhandled the boy into a chair and bound him with straps.
Hogarth withdrew a gadget from a case for Ithuriel’s inspection. “This beauty shoots a little post under toenails or fingernails up to the first knuckle. Now usually, when you get injured your body lets you know with a shot of pain, but after a while your pain is handled with endorphins because your brain is saying, ‘Yes, I know about the damage, it’s being taken care of.’ But not with this toy. No, no, no, no! The post that will be under your nail is a particularly nasty toxin that takes many hours to dissolve away, so the body never stops getting messages that it’s being injured. Let’s just say no one ever volunteered for another one. But there is a first time for everything. Nothing would interest me more than to see how you do with all ten fingers and all ten toes on fire. So I have twenty questions, young Ithuriel. Let’s proceed. What is that white cup on the back of your head and how did you get it?”
Ithuriel said nothing. He was bored. Obviously this Eye of Mastema had no clue that torture simply didn’t work with the B’nei Elohim. And so Hogarth applied the device to Ithuriel’s forefinger, which went SNICK! And Ithuriel immediately slipped into self-induced general anaesthesia which would last for the duration of the toxin.
48 – THE CAMPS
The Germans were not complete idiots. Earlier in the year a U-boat captain, gazing at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope, noted that St. Catherine’s lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. He noted the start and stop time, and a clever intelligence agent in Berlin realized this matched the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby tower. A second and third observation over the next two weeks verified the anomaly.
In the early morning hours of June 3, 1944 a German submarine surfaced just offshore and commandos rowed ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as the political officer aboard the U-boat to ensure its loyalty to Hitler.
On this occasion Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would have on the Gervasi family.
With Lilith and Edith whimpering in terror, tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads, Benjamin demonstrated the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but to Benjamin’s great surprise the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor tried to remove it to their submarine.
Instead, Schaub identified each member of the Gervasi family by name, and he told them he knew they were Jews. He said whether they lived or died would depend on the correct answer to precisely two questions:
“What is the target of the planned invasion across the English Channel?”
Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay had given him. At the slightest nod from Schaub, the hammer was pulled back on the pistol pointed at Lilith’s head.
Gervasi gave in. “Calais,” he said, and let out the breath he had been holding for nearly a minute.
“Goot,” Captain Schaub said. “And the timing?”
The SS officer smiled. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “Neither you nor your wife nor your daughter will be killed. Here is what I want you to do, Mr. Gervasi. From now on, when you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be just a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much! Perhaps a fraction of one degree. Only enough to throw the bombing raid off by a few hundred yards. You will do this until the British government decides to no longer prosecute its war against the Reich. And more importantly, you will tell no one that you are sabotaging the raids.”
“Or you’ll come back and kill us?”
“Benjamin, I’m disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do? You have my word of honor that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith nor your beautiful young daughter Lilith will be killed. But they will be taken to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France were all the British Jews in the Channel Islands have been relocated.”
“No, I beg you!”
“They will not be unduly mistreated there. But if we learn that a future air raid on Germany using the transmitter at this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so good. But even then, my word will hold! Lilith and Edith will be simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France, perhaps even in Germany. It is astonishing, Benjamin, how much work you can get out of a Jew with a whip.”
Lilith and Edith were taken to Cherbourg, and by the evening of June 5 they were inducted into their first camp, a French farm that had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
The lighthouse on the Isle of Wight was not the only Clarinet system that had been raided by Captain Schaub, but it was the only one whose operator remained alive after the raid. Schuab’s report filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard was in place. Hitler reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only a skeleton force at Normandy.
It is common knowledge after the fact that Calais was a feint, and the real invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. Benjamin Gervasi’s weather forecast had tipped Eisenhower’s hand.
Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have driven the invaders back into the sea, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler, because he didn’t trust his own generals. Hitler himself slept until noon on that day, and didn’t release the Panzers until four PM, by which time the beachhead was relatively secure and Allied aircraft dominated the skies to the point of forcing German tanks to move only at night.
But for two months the Allies became tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempted to contain them. When they finally did, the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Lilith and Edith were being held. To prevent their premature liberation, the Germans moved everyone in the camp to another one in France far from the front lines.
Benjamin Gervasi continued to operate the Clarinet system when orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately altered the requested target angle slightly, believing it to be the only way he could save the lives of his wife and daughter.
The deception came crashing to an end in September when Lilith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came calling, who found evidence of the German raid, and notified army intelligence, who squeezed the truth out of Benjamin. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay intervened personally to keep Benjamin out of prison, but the bombing command insisted that the man be sacked from his lighthouse job for the duration of the war. Benjamin gradually began to despair of seeing either one of his loved ones again.
After breaking out of Normandy at Avranches, Patton’s 3rd Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace, performing a rapid right hook that nearly encircled Hitler’s forces opposing the invasion.
Lilith and Edith found themselves being moved at least once a month, which was encouraging in a way, but the camps grew progressively worse the nearer they drew to Germany itself.
The six digits 271817 were tattooed on Lilith’s arm.
Internment camps were abandoned for work camps. Work camps were evacuated and the Jews went to slave labor camps, and then to punishment camps, and finally to an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper, where Jews were to be worked to death constructing a railroad center that was never finished.
Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Lilith and Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing was given to needy German families.
Lilith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human evil she thought were possible to exist. And Ohrdruf wasn’t even the worst camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to the east, in Poland.
Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Lilith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. Some of this she ate herself, but it was purely business. The longer she could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more likely she was to have opportunities to trade her body for food. The rest of this extra food she gave to her mother.
This became a problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections that followed roll call and lasted most of the day, when Lilith and Edith were found to be wasting away at a slower rate than their companion prisoners. They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was more difficult to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised.
One time when the guns of Patton’s tanks could be heard only forty miles away, and the twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars for transfer to Buchenwald, Edith Gervasi was discovered in possession of a little extra food. What happened after that Lilith told no one but her father, years after the war, on his final day of life. The horror of it might have even been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Lilith was one of the few prisoners left standing.
After the war in Europe when Lilith had been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and had demonstrated her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship and sent home to her father. Meeting him on a dock at Portsmouth, Lilith gazed upon him as though across a great gulf which was the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she had somehow survived. They were utter strangers to each other now.
On the dock and when he took her home Benjamin tearfully begged his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith, but the girl would only shake her head.
A few days later, in his Portsmouth home, Benjamin caught a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s back.
Lilith was suffering from what would much later be termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would be a long time before she could summon the will to begin to recover from her experiences.
angel_venezuela2_bigFrom Peshast, Baron Bayard led Talishi’s dwindling party west through a maze of footpaths that wound around the hills that bordered the Wall of God.
With the baron went his commoner servant Aliwe, and from time to time Bayard would stoop to pick up an agate and hand it to the girl. Victoria noticed that his fingers would linger on Aliwe’s hand as she took the stone, and the expression on the girl’s face was hard to decipher.
For the first time since joining Talishi’s group, Victoria looked at Aliwe very carefully and was surprised to see that the girl’s face had features that strongly reminded Vic of her own. But there were also things in Aliwe’s appearance that reminded her of Baron Bayard. Vic didn’t know what to think.
The quest moved at the pace of the oldest and slowest person among them, Count Berek Antero, who was entirely aware that he was holding everyone up. He also missed his wife Losna who had stayed behind at Gerazan, and he was not entirely sure he was prepared to endure the Catwalk as Bayard had described it. Yet he was a thoroughly honorable man who wanted to aid Talishi in every way that he could. So he was torn by an internal debate as he trudged along.
Victoria looked at Talishi and saw how her legs had become muscled and wiry. The walk had aged her a decade. Talishi was more handsome now than beautiful. Victoria and Talishi knew full well that beauty has a sell-by date. Talishi regretted only that she would never grow old together with Princess Khondiel.
As El Shaddai she had war-gamed every scenario that he and Bat-El could imagine to determine whether Khondiel could be extracted before she died and in every case Mastema won all of Barbelo and their own cause was irretrievably lost.
Behind them went a single company of Fallen Angels, about two hundred forty women. Two of every three had elected to stay behind in Peshast and disband, and gloomy Berek warned Talishi that some of the women who elected were certain to fall. The law of averages would claim them and there was little anyone could do.
At length Baron led them south on a footpath that gently climbed up a long wooded ridge. It looked like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assured them it would become the Catwalk when they walked a bit further. They all looked back down the way they had come. They were at an altitude where the trees were stunted and sparse, so the views east were unobstructed and spectacular. But at the summit of the ridge the view west was absolutely beyond belief.
Nineteen thousand feet below them lay the land of Haaretz in it’s entirety, even to the sea known as Thalury. In one glance they could take in both the Northern and Southern Ice, walls little higher than the Wall of God itself, racing west and drawing together until both they and Thalury slipped over the horizon. Nowhere else on Barbelo was the spherical shape of the world so apparent.
To the south the ridge trail slipped below the ridge which became an ice-carved wall almost concrete smooth, and they could see the trail became the infamous Catwalk, a lip only three feet wide where the cliff jutted out and fell once more. All of this was far too much for Count Berek Antero. “I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I cannot go on.”
“I would say that you have made a noble decision, Highborn,” Aliwe said, and not a few Fallen Angels came to the same wisdom as Count Berek. Talishi’s party had been whittled down to some one hundred fifty souls.
Talishi commanded that they make camp and embark on the Catwalk in the morning when everyone was well fed and fully rested. But rest would not come. In the morning there was little speech, for the enormity of the task ahead had weighed in everyone’s mind all night.
As Count Berek had feared, the law of averages began to take its toll. About once an hour the silence of the trek was broken by the terrified scream of a woman somewhere far behind Talishi slipping off the Catwalk and falling to her death. Waiting for the next one to fall became a constant and living horror that none would ever be able to banish from their memories.
There came a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard made a move to fondle Aliwe, and Aliwe tried to back away from him. The problem was there just wasn’t much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she, like some of the Fallen Angels behind her, slipped off the face of the Wall of God.
There was no scream but Victoria saw everything and flew down after her, not even taking the time to think that Aliwe’s weight would be too much and there was no saving her. Hadn’t she said as much before they embarked on the quest?
Below the Catwalk the Wall of God was not perfectly vertical. Victoria could not stop Aliwe’s fall but she could push Aliwe out of the way of any stony outcroppings as she approached them. Aliwe told Victoria to let her go, and reluctantly, Victoria had to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff.
Victoria continued down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe’s body bounced so she could attempt to bury her. But when she found her, Aliwe was smiling, none the worse for wear. She was standing in a small woody glen at the base of the Wall of God. They were at least three thousand feet below the Catwalk where the rest of the party waited for any sign of them.
Victoria finally guessed that Aliwe was a B’nei Elohim like herself, but one she never knew.
“I’m the daughter you haven’t had yet,” Aliwe explained. “Mom.”
Victoria smiled back. “It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones.”
“And I have Baron Bayard’s eyes.” She knew the implication of that statement sunk in when Vic stopped smiling. “Sorry I ‘slipped’ off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and I wouldn’t be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my own particular talent is indestructibility.”
“Similar. I can heal myself with supernatural speed but I can’t heal anyone else. Aren’t we superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like Kryptonite? And even Del can only fix so much.”
“You are here so it means we win, right? Bat-El and El Shaddai survive?”
“We win, they live, Mastema dies. This quest is important. Mastema has this weird passive-aggressive thing going on with his dragon where he can assail any city or army on Barbelo and it’s all Keri Antero’s fault for getting laid and breaking the Dragonthorn. After you kill the dragon he has to decide whether to use his first avatar in the same way, and either way, he loses. If he uses it, people stop following him because he’s a violent and malevolent god. If he doesn’t, then there’s peace on Barbelo. Win, win, for us.”
“So why are you back here?”
“Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for Talishi’s group. It’s already paid off to an extent. On the original loop Kari killed Kirodiel with Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with her lord still alive Joy simply had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant of course that I was the only survivor.”
“So who is that Joy woman? I’ve never seen her up close.”
“Joy is really your aunt Chayn, killed in the Moon War and living out her afterlife here. She’s not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask me. Joy has been possessed by Jill, and even before that Jill went completely over to Mastema, so don’t hesitate to kill the dragon even if it means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she’s basically screwed because Yeshua won’t give her a third chance.”
“A long as I don’t fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know.”
“That whole virginity thing was part of Mastema’s scam all along. It’s all lies. You could fly straight out of a week-long orgy and still kill Demonstroke with that shard.”
“One thing still bothers me,” Victoria said. “You said on your loop Joy killed everyone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where the hell do you come from?”
“I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council chamber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex with Luzea. I don’t blame him for that, actually. Luzea ain’t one of the B’nei Elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! On your timeline I interrupted them because Luzea is mine, and Dad went back to see Gramma Aurra. All this this was before you got here, but you’ve heard the accounts so you already know I saved Kirodiel’s life by intercepting the diamond blade with a metal tray. On my timeline Dad was the only surviving noble on the planet, outside of the Middle Land. He became something like a renegade while House Gerash started to take over the world.”
“So how did I meet him on your timeline?”
“Pretty much the same way you did this time around, Mom, except the quest was just you and him. You took the Catwalk, went to Menkant, the dragon shows up, and you fought Joy pretty much the same way you will again. As for how you fell in love with Dad I don’t really know, and do you know what? I don’t even want to know!”
“I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, fifty-fifty you’re a boy instead of a girl and very few of the events that formed your memories on your timeline will be present again in this timeline.”
“You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have nothing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me on my timeline. But all I want to do right now is get back to the talented Luzea. Now this next part is going to seem strange to you, because I know you but you don’t know me, but here goes.” And Aliwe pulled Victoria close for a kiss and a hug.
“Love you, baby,” Victoria said. “Will we meet again when it’s all over?”
“I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but it’s not the same.”
Then Aliwe left to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a less hardy person. On the coast she would try to find someone willing to take her to Saharad.
Victoria soared directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return to the Catwalk. Everyone sat around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard, who looked guilty. Victoria would tell them only, “Aliwe is in a better place,” which considering the nature of the Catwalk was absolutely true. Besides, it would keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got down off the face of the Wall of God.