55 – SECOND FRONT
Immediately after the death of Princess Khondiel and the destruction of the avatar of El Shaddai on the battle plain behind the Nine Mile Wall, High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash divided his forces in twain. Half of the army of Mastema was rushed back home to the Middle Land in the east, leaving the other half of his soldiery to complete the occupation of the lands of House Bellon and garrison the Magodon peninsula.
When the White Beard army reached the city of Salem once more, they were transferred completely across the Middle Land by relays of many horses, like a bucket fire brigade.
And it came to pass that as Lady Talishi was just arriving at the city of Jelaket, Lord Kirodiel assailed the ice bridge between the lands of the House of Gerash and the House of Sala with an exceedingly great force. But Duke Evandr Sala of Saharad, the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Aurra, rushed to the west to defend the border, where he was joined by Countess Ayani Sala.
On the eve of the battle Ayani asked Evandr, “How did you survive the countless battles you have fought, Sire? For it is well known that you never lead your forces from headquarters in the rear, but share the physical danger and hardships of the front.”
Evandr replied, “A cowardly general thinks only of his personal survival, Countess Ayani. Thus he endangers himself and his entire army, and indeed he puts the existence of his entire state in jeopardy. But when I advance on the battlefield I have already reconciled myself with death. I go into every battle, no matter how great or small, as though I were certainly doomed to die. And because the thought of dying has already been accepted in my mind, this frees me to focus only on fighting well. Thus I retain my life. Keeping my life, I gain the victory. Gaining victory, I preserve the state and save the life of the people.”
In the battle Evandr gave a good account of himself, and the aid of Ayani was vital, yet Lord Kirodiel, despite his numerical losses, simply continued to feed more troops into the battle until the Gold Beards began to yield.
The battle had taken place while Lady Talishi and her traveling party on the far side of Barbelo had reached the city of Vaska, the capital of House Antero.
Duke Evandr rallied his forces once more on the edge of the plain at the foot of the ice bridge, near the city of Galcha. There the Countess, asked, “Sire, why have you camped your army on this plain, and let Kirodiel attack from the high ground?”
“Because in this battle,” Evandr replied, “we are the like the guest, and Lord Kirodiel is like the host. Therefore I yield the hill of honor to him and accept this lower station.”
“But he can see our entire force, Sire,” Ayani objected, “while we cannot know what strength he has hidden in the ice!”
“Ah, but Ayani, that would only be important if we were the attacker. In that case we would tire ourselves fighting uphill and possibly be surprised by hidden forces waiting to ambush our men. Instead, my army is deployed like water, dwelling in the low places considered to be of negligible military value.”
“Why is that an advantage, Duke Evandr?”
“Is not water itself vital if people are to live?” he answered. “Do not people seek it out in wells and rivers and even swamps? By our mere continued presence on this plain Kirodiel will begin to covet this plain.”
“But Sire, we are ringed by ice on three sides, and he has taken all of that high ground. When he attacks, we will not know from which direction he will come!”
“Yes, Ayani, but his forces are, as you say, spread like a partial ring all around us while down here we have the interior lines of communication. Anywhere he attacks I can order reinforcements within minutes. And anywhere I counterattack he will be weak, while his own signals will be slow to propagate around this ring. Do you see, Countess, how we assure ourselves of victory merely by humbling ourselves and keeping to the lowland?”
And Evandr did gain the tactical victory in the battle of Galcha that day, yet Kirodiel had many more men to spend. By throwing their lives away with no absolutely no remorse, Kirodiel was able to grind out a strategic victory by forcing Evandr and Ayani to withdraw deeper into the lands of House Sala.
When Ayani and Evandr had assessed the battle of the previous day, Ayani said, almost in despair, “Duke Evandr, why do men love combat so much?”
“Because as long as a child is growing he is filling out his potential, Countess Ayani. As long as he has not yet reached his limits, he remains a child. His limits remain unknown unless they are met and perhaps even exceeded somewhat. Combat is the crisis by which men come to know their limits and obtain maturity.”
“For many women this maturity is attained in a very practical and natural way,” replied Ayani. “Motherhood. Maturity means acknowledging your limits and returning to your root. It is a woman’s nature to make herself still and embrace her center. So even without the experience of motherhood, women are naturally mature.”
“But young men are always reaching out, always moving, always extending, until they know their breaking point. And while they are on this personal quest to find their limits, they can be enlisted in stupid vainglorious campaigns to defend the honor of warlords and kings and patriarchs who themselves never attained adulthood. And many of these young men, of course, needlessly die.”
“That’s what makes a female warrior different from a male warrior,” Ayani said. “She is primarily interested in the survival of the people she protects.”
So Evandr and Ayani fought a noble fighting retreat for many days until the fighting drew nigh to the Gold Beard capital itself, the city of Saharad. At that moment Lady Talishi and her companions were in the city of Gerazan in the far west of the West Lands.
Queen Aurra joined her husband on the field. She said, ““Look at that, Evandr! Ten times ten thousand arrayed against us! Did you ever see such a host?”
“A large force does not assure the enemy a victory, Aurra. What are the stakes? Kirodiel is fighting to add yet another tax-paying province to his empire. But our people can barely make ends meet as it is. Paying the Gerash tribute would kill them. They are fighting to survive.”
“But leading them are the most famous generals and captains on Barbelo!”
“And how did they get so famous, Aurra? By their reckless aggression. If I present our shock troops to them as bait they will rush out to engage them, thinking how this will advance their reputation.”
“But behind them are the best fed and best trained troops in the world!”
“But they aren’t fighting for their wives or cities or farms in the Middle Land, they are fighting to prop up a bankrupt culture and a fragile economy of arms trading. When they see the carnage wrought by our extraordinary force, they will hesitate. And in that moment we will strike with our main force. The Sala army will prevail because it is humble. Our soldiers do not think of self-aggrandizement or the aggrandizement of their leader.”
Once more Evandr’s words rang true, and the captain of Ayani’s forces brought the White Beard patriarch into captivity, but Hovan the son of Kirodiel went into the camp of Ayani with a squad of Eyes of Mastema and released his father.
And Kirodiel came again after Ayani with his dwindling army. Their forces clashed in the ravine of Anixi, and Ayani was driven down the brook to the plains of Nolesh. Then Countess Ayani, aided by the timely arrival reinforcements commanded by Evandr turned and drove the Gerashi army to the brink of the gorge of Armak.
But for the first time since the invasion the strange woman Joy came to the aid of the Gerash forces with dragon fire. And in this battle Zadkiel the chief lieutenant of Kirodiel slew Evandr, but in his death throes Evandr sorely wounded Zadkiel in his thigh.
Following the death of Evandr, Queen Aurra, in her grief, sent a curse upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the White Beards set objects down at night, in the morning they were found to have disappeared.
Lord Kirodiel said the missing goods were not a sign of the power of El Shaddai, but indicated only thieves, and on that point he was correct, only the thieves were a number B’nei Elohim tunneling unseen under the ground. Everyone started keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but the invaders were steadily impoverished even as they looted the land of the Gold Beards.
These events had transpired while Lady Talishi and her diminishing party were crossing the ice bridge to the city of Belen in the land of the Black Beards.
“Queen Aurra,” despaired Countess Ayani, “how can we, numbering in our thousands, hope to prevail against our enemies numbering in their tens of thousands?”
The Queen said, “A light commando force wreaking havoc behind enemy lines will tie down a much greater force hunting for it. A small army that is still and rested with have the better of a large army that is worn out marching double-time to meet it.”
“But there must be a limit to how small a unit can be before it is ineffective no matter how intelligently it is employed.”
“Too light, and we invite aggression. Too heavy, and our army becomes unwieldy. The excellent commander coordinates the small with the great, the strong with the weak, the eager with the reticent, balancing opposites to obtain the perfect middle way.”
And nothing would have pleased Queen Aurra more than to see her words of encouragement to the Countess hold true, and waylay the forces of Kirodiel in vengeance for her fallen mate, yet she could see there were not enough B’nei Elohim to aid her and the very tinders her army felled to form bulwarks against House Gerash were just so much kindling for the dragon.
Worst of all the queen judged that Kirodiel had assailed her land at a horribly inopportune time when her subjects were fleeing the cities at her command to spread themselves across the entirety of the lands held by House Sala, as suggested by Lady Talishi. The knew everything her people possessed they took with them on the road, and all these possessions were ripe for Kirodiel’s forces to plunder.
Yet Queen Aurra also knew that at a word from her the whole House of Sala would flock into her army; yea, even the women, the infirm, and the children. She foresaw the war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land would be covered with dead bodies, but no one would even take the time to bury them because they would be too busy marching to make more dead bodies, and the land would exceedingly stink. This, she resolved, would not be.
So Queen Aurra rode across the plains of Nolesh and met Lord Kirodiel for a parley on the hill of Ronmok, and there the queen negotiated the surrender of her forces for the sake of the lives of her people. And the queen turned over to the forces of House Gerash every seaworthy vessel of the Gold Beards on the river Loenna.
Lord Kirodiel took the queen captive after the parley, putting her in a wooden cage identical to the one which had once held Talishi. Lord Kirodiel journeyed with all his remaining forces down the winding river Loenna to the great sea known as Thalury. This voyage took place even while Talishi was lodging in the castle of the Larund king in the city of Peshast.
Yet Queen Aurra, who still deeply mourned the death of her mate, and found the indignity of her captivity almost too much to bear, counted House Sala fortunate, since most of the people would now complete their emigration from the cities unmolested by the army of the White Beards. And she had appointed Countess Ayani to guide them to the new faith communities in her stead.
jupiter i sus anillos56 – JABNIEL
At length the research department on Palato, using Edgar’s guidelines, duplicated the macro effect. All middle and upper eschelons of the forces of Mastema were issued silver copies of the Golden Gift, putting them in rough parity with the B’nei Elohim.
Then High Lord Sartael summoned the boy and said, “You have done what you said you would do, Edgar Shybear, so I take your oath of loyalty to be fullfilled.”
“Thank you, my Lord!”
“You are not of the House of Gerash, yet I consider you like a son. And I would consider it a terrible waste to pit you against another boy who has trained for his entire life to survive the death combat. So I will take your torment at the hands of Hogarth, and his subsequent execution, to be the struggle you surmounted to attain the rank of ish. There remains only the question of who is to be your wife.”
And Sartael summoned before his throne the four widows of Hogarth, Ananael, Yelena, Jabniel, and Nedra, who had been Edgar’s servants for nearly a year, and bade Edgar to choose any two of them.
Then Edgar saw the wisdom of Mastema in having them function has his servants for these many months, for it gave Edgar the opportunity to come to know the four women, and judge whether he could love or only despise them.
He said, “Lord Sartael is very generous to his servants, but if it pleases the Lord, let only the one woman Jabniel stand by my side, and send the others away, for in their term of service it was plain for me to see that three of them could never hide their resentment as they toiled for me.”
Then Jabniel, at the command of Sartael, moved to stand next to Edgar, and Lord Sartiel, as Mastema, god of Barbelo, declared them joined together as husband and wife. They sealed the impromptu wedding with a kiss, but Jabniel had to bend down quite a bit. She was nephilim and seven feet tall.
Abanael, Yelena, and Nedra were dismissed from their servitude in the house of Sartael, yet all four of the former wives of Hogarth smiled, including Jabniel, for each of them had received exactly what they were hoping for.
And Sartael said to Edgar, “Now it remains only to find you a place of your own here on Palato, that you may begin work on developing my macro bomb.”
But Edgar said in reply, “I beg the Lord’s indulgence this one final time. In the year that I have lived under the Lord’s roof I have closely watched those nephilim he calls the Eyes of Mastema, as perhaps only an outsider truly can. They are an ancient order, and if they were once a noble and efficient organization, I fear that the centuries have taken its toll on them. I say this not as a resentful victim of Hogarth’s torture, but as an honest appraisal of my Lord’s official investigative body.”
“I appreciate your candor, young Edgar. Do go on.”
“My Lord, never have I seen such a lethargic mass of bureaucratic back-biters and back-stabbers and pole climbers outside of perhaps the Roman Curia that governs the Catholic Church on Earth, which is nearly as old. The internal politics of the Eyes of Mastema remind me of nothing so much as the bickering in any run-of-the mill harem, my Lord! That you tolerate such a festering hen party is a wonder to me. It is a good thing that I already knew the principle of the macro. I doubt I could have focused long enough to stumble on it under the insufferable conditions I find here on Palato. I know of a surety I would find it impossible under the same conditions to achieve a macro that produces unstable dark matter. The distractions would prove too great. So I beg you, Lord Sartael, send me and Jabniel far from here, to any point in your realm that is not quite so thick with the moral rot of palace intrigue.”
And instead of becoming wroth, Sartael broke into a bout of laughter, for no one had dared to say what he himself had concluded about the Eyes of Mastema for many years now. He said to Edgar, “I will provide for you a ship, and stock it with any such equipment as you direct. You may use this ship to journey to any point in my empire and there build your research facility. Yet do not take yourself to be completely immune from the Eyes, for they will be sent from time to time to collect the results of your work, as you agreed. I ask only that you accept a new name. That way your B’nei Elohim may never learn where you are and what you are doing for me.”
Edgar Shybear bowed, and his new wife Jabniel took this cue to bow along with him. “If it pleases my Lord, let my name be Ithuriel, which means ‘brilliant one of God.’” He neglected to tell Sartael that Yeshua had already chosen that name for him.
And the name did please his Lord. But Ithuriel had earned the eternal emnity of the Eyes of Mastema.
Long ago, well before the time of Talishi, Mastema had struck a bargain with El Shaddai to mirror the permanent worm-tunnel that terminated at the Sacred Pool with another larger one that terminated at Jupiter, the fifth and largest planet of Sol. Yet he did not call in this marker until the nephilim had learned to penetrate into space and could make the second tunnel useful.
Since the tunnel was to be operated entirely by Mastema himself, he needed only to associate the Sol side of the fold-line with a physical object that would serve as a constant position reference. El Shaddai linked his side of the line with a spacecraft that was named after the man who first discovered the moons of Jupiter. After this spacecraft became the first man-made object to be placed in orbit at Jupiter, El Shaddai’s involvement with the project was done.
Mastema ballooned out the Sol end of the line and sent men through to begin construction of a structure he called an ID Grid. This object looked a bit like the towers of steel that carry high-voltage electricity over the land on Earth.
The fold-door was detached from the Galileo orbiter as a reference and locked instead on the newly built structure. The ID Grid was a physical gate that would identify each vessel before passage. An identical ID Grid was constructed over Palato. Only warships of the Navy of Belial, or freighters and passenger vessels registered with the Navy of Belial, would be permitted to cross after passing through this Identification Grid.
The Solar ID Grid was permanently positioned near the moon Hyperion, which became the location of the largest Jovian base of the Navy of Mastema.
Both El Shaddai and Bat-El, who co-owned the system, were interested in allowing the humans of Earth to develop naturally (which is to say, under their own divine manipulations) without being dominated by the slightly more advanced nephilim. They jointly decreed that nephilim could only settle those bodies whose mean distance from Sol was greater than three times the distance of Earth from Sol.
They reserved to the humans of Earth all of the inner planets and half of the asteroids, while the nephilim of Barbelo were given the gas-giants, all their moons, and the other half of the asteroids. Earthlings were also permitted to settle any object in the Sol system no matter what the distance, but they were more than a century away from taking El Shaddai and Bat-El up on that offer.
That last detail was not provided to Mastema, lest he wonder how the Earthlings managed to produce something like the Galileo spacecraft decades before its time.
At Sol two-way radio communications were not possible with Barbelo. It would take more than eighty thousand years for each response. So in that system the colonists began to feel themselves to be more Solarian than Centauri, and they soon lost their connection to the great families of their roots.
So it was that the Bellon and Gerash families who settled Ganymede mixed together and produced a new family that called itself Krenek. The Larund and Sala families merged on Callisto to form family Ushnel. It worked this way on the other moons as well. Family Antero settled Io but soon shattered into many smaller clans that eventually were dominated by Family Sonad. Europa started as a Gerash project that was divided into many clans as well, but no unified order emerged there.
Mastema could never swallow the independence of the Jovian League, so he harassed them constantly with raids by warships arriving through the Fold-Gate, but for a number of decades he could not amass sufficient forces to bring the colonies back under his complete control.
But Mastema thought long-term, and he thought incremental. Every passage of a tanker or passenger liner to Jupiter was accompanied by one or two fighters, or a bomber, or possibly even a corvette, all for “security reasons” and none of these spacecraft returned to Palato.
Solbrig was made Prime Minister of the Federal Assembly to remedy rates of inflation which rose as high as 28 percent under the Jovian League’s fiat currency, a local version of Mastema’s stater. All members of the Jovian League unanimously agreed to give this wildly successful financier complete powers of reform.
After an astonishingly deep but relatively short economic depression and other painful measures, Solbrig put inflation and interest rates back in check. The economy of the outer Solar System achieved a long-term pattern of gradual, stable growth.
But after a devastating large-scale and simultaneous surprise attack with the corvettes, bombers, and fighters which had slipped the notice of the colonists, the Navy of Mastema invaded Ganymede. Survivors with the means to do so tried to flee into space, but these refugees as well as the entire Jovian League fleet was bottled up in low orbit by Barbelo’s naval forces.
A large fraction of the Jovian colonial fleet had been underway on widely separated maneuvers and was caught off-guard by the Imperial attack, but ironically this preserved that portion of the fleet from destruction. When these stragglers returned to wartime readiness, Callisto, Io, the smaller moons, and the Ganymede government in exile placed themselves under the direct military rule of the cherub Leonor.
After a long period of quiet the Imperial naval base at Hyperion was suddenly fortified by the Emperor with many large warships. The Jovian League grew disgusted with Leonor’s complacency in the face of this buildup, and made an alliance with Ariyama (“The Fair”), a disgruntled ophan in Leonor’s force.
Ariyama vowed the expulsion of the Empire from all Jovian territory. Each ally was to contribute a quota of ships and money. Ariyama assessed the tribute at 2 billion staters at first but the money was poorly supervised and even more poorly spent. Every month the tribute Ayiyama demanded went up, until the Jovian League began to tap into a fund laid aside for extreme contingencies. They had little choice.
Suddenly the Emperor sent his swollen fleet against every site of military value on Ganymede, Io, and Callisto. By the time the Jovian delegates could agree to so much as declare the peace broken, Ariyama’s fleet was already a smouldering orbiting demolition alley of lifeless wrecks and every Jovian city lay at the mercy of being nuked from space.
Memmar Krenek, Patriarch of Ganymede, wished to carry on the conflict with guerrilla tactics, laying waste the entire moon. But the provincial governors, hoping to protect their territories, forced him to take a stand at the broad Memphis Facula plain, where together with the levies from the house of Ushnel and the house of Sonon the Jovian League was completely defeated by Lord Sartael.
When Ithuriel and Jabniel departed Palato with a full tank of water, they had to decide where to go. All Ithuriel knew was he wanted to get very far away from the Eyes of Mastema. That ruled out Xanthos and Hippo. And the Eyes even were starting to creep into the Eggbeater too.
The ship he had been given bore the malevolent name Insolent, typical of all the ships in the Navy of Mastema. Ithuriel renamed it Chivalrous. It was an early design, roughly cylindrical, somewhere in size between a corvette and a frigate.
By the process of elimination their choices were whittled down to basically just Jupiter. So Ithuriel sidled the ship into the ID Grid, his credentials were accepted, and Palato was replaced by Hyperion. As easy as that.
There was plenty of food aboard but no showers were possible during the voyage, only sponge baths, and once every two days Ithuriel and Jabniel would wash their hair in a plastic bubble with elastic collars for the neck and both arms to contain the water.
The bridge was lit with dim blue lights and the constant hisses and whistles and chatter on the HF band tended to lull them to sleep. Once every few days they would have an honest-to-God real contact, another ship passing in the night “only” a hundred thousand miles away or so.
Jupiter and its moons made a miniature solar system within the Solar system. It was some 32 million miles across if you counted all the asteroids scooped up in the planet’s gravity. For practical purposes it was a system only two million miles across if you considered it to be just Jupiter, four big moons, and small change. Still, even this smaller version was four times bigger than the Earth-Luna system and there was a lot more to see.
Ithuriel selected an elliptical orbit that allowed him to view all the major moons close up, one after the other. On one orbit, as Jupiter eclipsed the sun, Brand spotted a very thin back lit ring. Naturally he had known about the ring but it hadn’t occurred to him to try it until he actually saw it.
The ring was deep within the gravity well of Jupiter. When he circularized his descent ellipse the ship was running on fumes. Certainly he did not have sufficient water as propellant to escape again. So this move would be a gamble.
The ring was really just a narrow set of ringlets, far skimpier than the glorious rings of Saturn, but no one was mining the ice there. It was cherry! Ithuriel snuggled Chivalrous in among the floating pieces of ice and pulled up next to a thirty footer.
With a little hot water still in the ship’s tanks, a space-suited Ithuriel melted a hole into the ice and secured an umbilical between the ship and the ice ball. He got a cycle going, with hot water melting the ice, and cold melt water being sucked back into the ship’s tanks. Part of the new water was diverted, heated, and cycled back out to the ball to melt some more ice. In a week he had the tanks nearly full again, but the ice ball was a jagged mess.
Then Ithuriel got underway again, and found a hundred footer near the outer edge of the ring. He attached a transmitter to it, and gently rammed the front of Chivalrous against it before bringing the ship’s engines up to full power. The ice ball blocked the impact of the remaining smaller ice-balls on the ring’s edge as they plowed their way out into clear space.
When sufficient velocity had been obtained to send the ice ball towards Earth, Ithuriel started braking Chivalrous with retrofire. Through the front view port he watched his ice ball shrink to a point, destination somewhere in the asteroid belt. He would negotiate the sale of the ice later.
Ithuriel was about to pat himself on the back when Jabniel slinked into view with her long legs open for business to give him a bit more than a pat.
57 – CARTEL
Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization.
DECON was created in 1942 to administer the internment of Japanese-American citizens in the western United States. Later, with the invasion of Sicily, Italian-Americans came under DECON’s surveillance, but they were not officially detained, thus revealing the essentially racist nature of the program.
German Wehrmacht prisoners of war, however, taken in 1944 and 1945, were shipped to the United States and detained in DECON camps. And when Nazi agents attempted to commit sabotage inside the borders of the United States they were also placed in the custody of DECON for…questioning…after which they were summarily shot. As a result of these interrogations, DECON developed dossiers on every US citizen of German descent.
Three times in 1944 DECON interrogated Dory, and Jerry about Kim and Hunky. Two of these interviews were in an individual setting and one interrogation occurred when they were playing in Jerry’s backyard tree house, which truth be told had nothing on the spectacular tree house at Canterwood Academy.
During the second one-on-one interrogation Jerry and Dory almost broke when DECON lied about the prognosis of Kim and Hunky and said they were very nearly dead. But soon that was revealed to be lies.
Kim felt she was being unfairly treated by Doctor Trochmann and his team at the clinic, so in her letters, written of course in Relbimian, she ordered Jerry and Dory to say nothing about the Ark of the Covenant hidden under the Temple sanctuary.
Since Relbimian was a language the Boda created from scratch from their earliest days together, and used by them since then only on brief occasions, it was almost as secure as a one time pad, and there was little chance DECON would decipher it.
During the final interrogation of Dory and Jerry a DECON agent actually invaded their tree house and brought along another agent who was an expert at reading body language. The idea was to look for any signs of collusion between Jerry and Dory.
The interview turned sour very quickly. After a few minutes of their intransigence one of the DECON fellows said he thought recent high school graduates were a little too old to be playing in a tree fort. And to drive home his point he unveiled an army draft notice with Jerry Shybear’s name on it.
“I can make this go away, son, if you tell me how Kimberly and Sophia might have gotten sick. Otherwise you’ll have to show up at the draft board tomorrow morning.”
“Honestly, sir, I’ve told you everything I know.”
“Dory, will you help the gentleman out?” the other agent said. “War is hell. You might not ever see him ever again after tomorrow.”
Dory had nothing to say. Orders were orders. So the first DECON guy shrugged and placed the draft notice in Jerry’s hand. “Suit yourself, son. Go kill some Japs.”
Then both agents left the tree house in a huff. They would have tried a little bit harder if they hadn’t thought pushing the kids was really like drilling a dry hole.
Jerry’s father had been happy to go kill Germans in France in the Great War, but Jerry himself was a very gentle person and he didn’t want to kill Japs or anyone. He was willing to take his chances with the draft lottery the same as the next guy, but obviously DECON could pull strings behind the scenes and rig the game.
Jerry just wanted to stay home and wait for something to break so he could see Kim and Hunky again. There was only one thing left that he could do but he was embarrassed to ask Dory for help so Jerry suggested a game of Cartel instead.
“And by Cartel I mean strip Cartel of course.” That raised the stakes a notch from losing little colored pieces of paper.
The dice flew high, and round and round the board they went. Soon Jerry bought up 42nd Street, Broadway, and Park Avenue, and all he needed was Wall Street for a Cartel.
Dory scooped up the Appian Way, the Burma Road, and Easy Street, and all she needed was the Yellow Brick Road. But all along Dory was puzzled that Jerry wanted to play a stupid game when he’d just been drafted into the military. She didn’t seem to have her heart in it.
After a while Dory got a half-Cartel going with Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard, but she also bought Bourbon Street and Main Street on a whim, and soon she was short on cash.
As the game continued they both had serious Cartels going but Jerry had some lucky rolls and avoided landing on any of Dory’s properties, while Dory kept landing on Jerry’s stuff and started to have a serious cash flow problem. She auctioned off her belt and nylons for a little breathing space.
After that Dory started landing on Jerry’s Cartels over and over again and she was methodically stripped of most of her cash. She started showing more and more skin to stay in the game. Soon Jerry owned Dory’s dark yellow dress with white polka dots, and when she landed on Jerry’s properties again he got her knit rayon undies and bra.
But Dory rallied a little bit near the end. The properties associated with her knee socks and little black Mary Jane shoes, which Jerry didn’t want, were enough to complete a second Cartel, creating a kind of death row on her side of the board. Soon Jerry was shirtless, and after another round Dory demanded his pants. But Jerry simply put on Dory’s bra and dress, and when he was sufficiently covered, he dropped trou and handed them over.
“A man shalt not wear that which pertaineths to a woman,” Dory preached. “For all who do so are an abomination to the Lord!”
Jerry found that wearing Dory’s dress was a very interesting, perhaps even a life-changing sensation. Seeing Dory naked didn’t do nearly as much for his arousal as wearing her clothing did.
After that Jerry landed on the second part of Dory’s Death Row and, with Jerry having no more cash, she demanded his underwear, which he duly handed over. The game was over, but he was fine with that, because under the cover of Dory’s yellow dress he slipped into her panties and together with her bra he had everything he was looking for. He bid the girl adieu, left the tree fort, and went down to his house.
The next day Jerry showed up at the draft board downtown, and when he stripped for his medical examination they saw him standing there wearing Dory’s pink panties and bra.
“You want to tell me about it, son?” the doctor drawled. He was a local physician drafted to staff the entrance station.
He looked down at himself, then caught the doctor’s eye. “I guess I’m a…waddya callitt, homosexual.”
The Army NCO in charge of the processing station had heard this sort of thing before. The slackers thought it was an easy way out. He said, “Okay, then who’s your boyfriend?
Jerry had to think fast. He blurted out the name of the only male homosexual he actually knew, another boy his age from high school, “Aaron Anton.”
“That checks out,” the sergeant said. “We had that Aaron Anton guy in here last month. Queer as a football bat.”
So the doctor stamped Jerry’s paperwork 4F, which meant he could stay home. “Get yourself some help son,” he said, with a trace of disgust. Before 1973 homosexuality was considered a pathology by the medical community, perhaps a bit like schizophrenia.
Jerry thought he would indeed take the doctors’ advice and seek some help, but the kind of help he was looking for probably wasn’t exactly what the doctor had in mind. Jerry hunted down Aaron Anton and turned his lie into reality. He thought of it as deep cover.
Aaron was quite a specimen of male beauty who was a little famous in his own way. He had posed in various styles of Jockey underwear for an illustrated catalog. Aaron was not hard to seduce at all once Jerry had steeled himself to override a lifetime of inhibitions. But what they did together plainly was an abomination in the Code of Moses.
Jerry Shy Bear wasn’t a girl who felt she was trapped in a boy’s body, he was a boy who wished he was a girl. He had a simple case of Venus envy. That was why, growing up, he spent all his time playing with Hunky and Dory and Kim rather than other boys his age.
When he was penetrated by Aaron there was some pain, despite Aaron’s attempts to break him in gently, but growing from deep under the pain was a profoundly transcendental ecstasy associated with a direct stimulation of the prostate. It fit well with Jerry’s desire to be the passive, receptive one. Sweating from the pain, he writhed on the bed until Aaron boiled over inside him.
To Aaron’s extreme disappointment, however, Jerry found himself unable to reciprocate in the same way. So Aaron had Jerry lay on his back and pleasured him orally. Jerry let his back arch, legs stiffen, and mouth lay wide open as he felt a release far more satisfying than anything he had ever done for himself.
That was Jerry’s first sex. He had no idea it could be like that. As he lay there in his sore bliss was willing to let Kim go her own way and spend his entire life with Aaron Anton and said as much. But Aaron patted his ass with affection, lit a cigarette and said with a decadent purr, “Not much chance of that, boyo. I don’t much care about who I fuck, I only care about who else I fuck.”
58 – MENKANT
Two divisions of the Army of Mastema had been left in the West Lands to carry out of the occupation of House Bellon. During the invasion of the East Lands, Lord Kirodiel sustained casualties at the hands of House Sala equivalent to a full division. So only a single division, reorganized from the survivors of the original two, remained available for action.
These men were put on every boat and ship that could be commandeered from the Gold Beards and drifted down the river Loenna to Thalury. Kirodiel himself embarked on the royal barge and took the lead position of the expedition, with Queen Aurra confined to a cubical wooden cage on the main deck in somewhat less comfort than she had come to expect. Yet Kirodiel was not interested in humiliating the queen beyond her basic captivity, and did not hold her in a state of undress as he had once forced Talishi to do.
And after the expedition reached the mouth of the river, the prevailing winds sufficed to take them halfway across Thalury, but over the whole land of Haaretz is a stagnant air mass created as the winds pile up against the barrier that is the Wall of God, and there the fleet was becalmed. So oars were broken out, and the army began to row day and night, and when they grew fatigued this was remedied by many whips.
At length the Gerash expedition rowed past the Isle of Avior and Murzi Bog to enter the wide mouth of the river Sabik, and the people of the city of Sadl thronged the bank to watch the parade of ships toil upstream. Then, after passing the place where the river Nanki entered from the south, they rowed through Canterwood, and Yeshua, who had been expecting them, waved from the beach together with many of his followers as the White Beard fleet continued on.
Victoria found Wazol, which was snuggled up against the Wall of God, to be extraordinarily beautiful during the night, and many of the people of Hamar called the city the Queen of Lights.
She could have flown by herself to the capital of Menkant in a relatively short time, but Talishi wanted to maximize the element of surprise, so she insisted everyone go together by land. Victoria had never ridden a horse before, so there was a brief period of familiarization before they could set out. Baron Bayard found it within himself to volunteer to hoist Victoria on the animal and in other ways make her ready. One hundred twenty folks began the journey, but only one hundred nineteen animals were embarked, because Bayard, who was concerned about Victoria’s inexperience with handling horses, wanted them to ride pretty much glued to each other.
They rode north down the upper reaches of the Sabik, taking most of the day to cover forty miles, with many stops to rest the horses and rub their own sore asses. Talishi did not rush them at all. The dense forest began to thin out, and great vistas could be glimpsed through them at last. Talishi called a halt to that day’s riding.
In the morning when Talishi’s party resumed the ride the trail turned to the east away from the river a small distance and ascended a gently rising slope of grasslands where the trees disappeared altogether. In the distance ahead, as the sun climbed toward the zenith, they saw large herds of cattle grazing, and beyond them, as a dark line that slowly grew to encompass them, was the city of Menkant itself.
When Menkant was originally platted out the founders prided themselves on the fact that they retained the original belief of the House of Israel that their God, El Shaddai, was a mighty warrior king of a deity, one who didn’t have a son as men had sons, and certainly one who didn’t come as a woman. But belief was only important in the absence of the object of that faith, while on Barbelo the existence of the Elohim was a basic physical fact, like gravity or the weather.
Eventually even the Menkalites had to concede that Talishi really was their God, the same God who had spoken to Abraham, and that Yeshua really was her son. So when Talishi arrived in Menkant with Baron Bayard, Victoria, and over a hundred Fallen Angels, room was quickly found for all of them. Talishi, Victoria, Bayard, and Ambe Omphal, the senior officer of the surviving Fallen Angels, were invited to stay in the house of the king.
The king dwelt nigh to the bank of the river. Thus it was that Talishi and her inner group had a front row seat when the lead ship of the White Beard expeditionary force rowed smoothly into position and tied up nigh to the house of the king. Queen Aurra was in her cage on deck as Kirodiel intended, and as Kirodiel also intended, this was what her son focused upon to the exclusion of all else.
“Baron Bayard Sala,” bellowed Lord Kirodiel from the rail of the ship. “Although it pains me to place your mother in such straits as you now behold, I find there is no avoiding it, for I wish to make a simple trade, the common criminal called Talishi for Queen Aurra. What say you, Gold Beard Baron?”
Bayard drew his blade and bellowed in reply, “Such a cowardly proposal from one who styles himself the Patriarch of the oldest family on Barbelo! This woman for that one, as though bartering in serving wenches! I say, rather, that both women shall go captive, or both shall go free, and that the one man of us who remains alive, be it yourself, Lord Kirodiel, or me, shall be the one to give the order!”
Kirodiel drew his own blade and ordered his men, “Let the Baron step aboard!” By making this order both he and all his men were held to the terms outlined by the Baron. By the same token, the freedom of Talishi was now conditioned on Bayard prevailing in the combat.
A plank of wood was thrown to bridge the gap between ship and land. The Baron fearlessly crossed over the rail and stood on the deck of the royal barge in full view of his mother and Lady Talishi and Ambe Omphal and (most important in the mind of Bayard) Victoria.
The Baron saluted the Gerash lord with a sharp military slash vertically downward, and Kirodiel returned his salute. Then they started in with fairly standard stuff, just simple thrust and parry from safe distances.
Suddenly, without a word, Kirodiel literally pounced upon his challenger, his blade slicing down with bewildering speed. But Bayard had studied well in his many practice bouts and especially upon the field of battle and didn’t fall for this poly for an instant. He fended off Kirodiel’s first attack with ease.
The patriarch attacked again. At each of his parries Bayard felt he was striking stone. There was simply no give. He backed out of range and they began the usual circling of each other, testing with probing thrusts.
Kirodiel paused and a sudden oxygen debt forced him to draw his breath in a sharp gasp. Bayard made his own first attack then, a clumsy but forceful pounding of blade-on-blade that started to wear the White Beard patriarch down.
The auxiliary noises of their fighting were the only sounds to be heard. A resonant back-slide of steel-on-steel and CLASH! Nick, slide, and CLASH! The Baron was moving Kirodiel back now but the Gerash lord’s defenses proved more and more unyielding as Bayard swept him closer to the far rail of the ship.
Kirodiel unexpectedly counter-attacked with frightening violence. Bayard was a few moments gaining his original stance at the cost of a few feet of deck. Bayard tried to prevent Kirodiel from circling around him to force his own back to the far rail.
During the struggle the two combatants spoke no word one to the other. Both would have found such a thing too effete.
Bayard pressed an attack. Lord Kirodiel countered with a deft flip of his sword down along the back of his arm. It had become a shield allowing his arm to bear the brunt of the Baron’s blows. Kirodiel was well beneath Bayard’s high two-handed thrusts and the Baron realized, far too late, that he was dangerously vulnerable to a bloody touch from the Gerash lord in the form of an elbow jab with his blade’s tip.
First blood to Kirodiel, who savagely pierced the spleen of Bayard. The Baron sank to the deck with the shock of his wound.
Victoria saw this and flew the short distance over the rail to stand between Lord Kirodiel and his prey with the shard of Dragonthorn that was little more than a knife, and would probably shatter against the steel of Kirodiel’s blade anyway.
Joy in turn saw that and hove into view riding Demonstroke, hovering on great flaps of his wings. The hellish mouth of the beast was pointed directly at the cage of Queen Aurra.
59 – SATURN
Gambling that carbon was going to become expensive Ithuriel and Jabniel prospected for graphite. But misfortune struck once again. A large eruption on Io of almost pure carbon depressed harvest prices and wiped out all of their gains. Just one year after getting married Ithuriel was back to his original resources. And so, with the reluctant, hard-won agreement of his wife Jabniel, Ithuriel lit out for Saturn, which took the better part of two years on the ascent ellipse.
While they were enroute the little ice ball Ithuriel had sent hurling towards Earth from Jupiter’s ring reached the vicinity of the Moon but apparently “broke cherry” in the lexicon of ice ball cowboys. That is, the individual Ithuriel had contracted to receive the ice and make payment, a Mr. Roth Wardian, took possession of the ice but never came through with the money. Although it pained him greatly to do so, Ithuriel contacted Dory directly, (using the way available to all B’neil Elohim) asking for help.
On this occasion, there was an hour and forty minutes of round trip travel time for the neutrino transmissions. When Ithuriel spelled out what happened, he asked Dory if she could take care of his Roth Wardian problem. After discussing the matter with Robyn (who passed along that she loved and missed her son Edgar very much) Dory agreed to look into it.
As it turned out, Ithuriel was not the first ice prospector Roth Wardian broke cherry with. He had quite a bad reputation. No one in the inner system would do business with Wardian anymore, which was probably why Ithuriel found it so easy to get a contract with him.
With the money from Ithuriel’s hundred-foot ice ball from the Jupiter ring Wardian went out to the asteroids, where the B’nei Elohim initially lost his trail. When they picked his scent up again, they were ready to shove a Brushfire missile up his ass, but they ran into a little problem which Dory explained to Ithuriel several months after his first call.
“We know exactly where Roth Wardian is now,” she said. “I’m including the one-line orbital elements for his rock in this transmission. The thing is, Edgar, we can’t touch him. There’s nothing to hit. He lives inside this cluster of boulders called the Gravel Pile. They’re all just sort of floating there, more or less loosely held by gravity into a ball. It’s a lot like Phobos. If it was a solid rock we could crack it open maybe, but the Gravel Pile is already cracked. It’s one thing to strike this asshole from a destroyer in passing, but your mother is not willing to send anyone in there to dig him out. And I’m sure that’s not what you’re asking us to do. So accept our apologies and go with my love. Your mother sends her love too. Better luck next time. Dory, out.”
Saturn is almost a hundred times heavier than the Earth and deeply cold, something like 350 degrees below zero, because the faraway sun only gives about one percent of the light and heat to Saturn that it does to the Earth. But that is still about five thousand times brighter than the full moon in Earth’s night sky, and the eyes could adjust to that, so seeing wasn’t really a problem.
The ring system of the planet was truly big. In fact, if the famous braided F-ring was taken to be the outer edge, it took light a full second to cross from one side of the rings to the other.
The B-ring was the brightest one, because it was about six hundred feet thick. The second brightest was the A-ring, which was one hundred and fifty feet thick. These broad rings were made of countless pieces of ice, ranging in size from microscopic fragments of snowflakes to miniature moons.
When Chivalrous arrived in the ring system of Saturn, Ithuriel laid claim to a six hundred-foot ice ball sitting in the middle of a local thickening of one ringlet in the A-ring. The nearest neighboring ringlet was thirteen miles away and moved at only a brisk walking speed relative to Ithuriel’s ice ball, just three miles per hour. The narrow gaps between the innumerable ringlets were mostly clear of ice.
After his planned burn to send the ice ball closer sunward, a fourth of Ithuriel’s water would be gone. If his ice ball were re-melted at that point and allowed to become a solid ball again it would have a diameter of only 475 feet across instead of the original 600.
There didn’t seem to be any way around the requirement for a second burn at the destination. The end customer had to circularize the descent ellipse, or the ice ball would start to climb back out toward Saturn’s orbit again due to the conservation of angular momentum. A second burn would reduce the ice ball in mass yet again, and it would be as though Ithuriel sent down an ice ball only 380 feet across. But Ithuriel thought he knew away around this requirement,
According to Dory’s data there was a mile-wide collection of smaller rocks, boulders, pebbles, and sand, all spinning just fast enough to keep from sticking together, but not spinning fast enough to fly apart. Roth Wardian owned it, and he made a tidy profit mining its innards, because he could borrow around anywhere inside it without the expense of drilling solid rock. Wardian called it the Gravel Pile.
“Roth Wardian!” Jabniel said with some alarm. “Are you crazy? That’s the same guy who ripped us off!”
“Jabs, this time it’s different.” On the long hop to Saturn Ithuriel had shortened his wife’s name from Jabniel to Jabs. “We’re going to ride the ice down to market, and when you talk to him, you’re going to let him you’re coming down, with who knows how much muscle. That should keep him honest.”
He reckoned that his ice ball could crash into the Gravel Pile without blowing up. Oh, it would break up alright, but the fragments of ice would just be swallowed up inside the Gravel Pile and Wardian could go in there and grab ice chunks easier than other companies could drill for ice on asteroids that already had great veins of the stuff running through it.
The asteroids were all on different orbits with different periods, and the relationships between them were always shifting. Sometimes a lot of water-rich asteroids would drift close together. Supply would outstrip demand and water prices would plunge, at least for that region of the Belt. Other times a “desert” would form when few or no asteroids bearing water would be in a region, and the price of water would sharply increase.
All of these situations were compiled and documented in the Old Spacer’s Almanac (“Old” but really going on all of seven years old) that was transmitted to subscribers throughout the system. Ithuriel knew the Gravel Pile was entering just such a desert.
Ithuriel also knew Roth Wardian would remember his name, so he let Jabs negotiate the contract under her prenuptial name of Jabniel Bat-Naseth. Roth did know of Jabs’ father Naseth on Barbelo, and so he was eager to do business with her. He was also well aware of the coming dry spell, and that’s why he agreed to Jab’s idea to crash the ice ball into his Gravel Pile, and why he also agreed to pay Jab’s almost insane asking price.
Roth knew Jabs would be coming down with protection, possibly even an Eye of Mastema, so he didn’t plan to break cherry on her like he did to Ithuriel, but when all was said and done, Roth figured he would still make a killing. He’d have the only asteroid with water ice for millions of miles around.
The Gravel Pile was closer to Jupiter than to Mars, firmly in nephilim territory. Wardian had his start as a B’nei Elohim boytoy but he went rogue, and when he scammed Ithuriel on his first ice ball that gave him enough capital to move to the outer Belt. He was one of just a handful of humans who had set down roots beyond Mars.
But it was slow going, all the negotiations between Wardian and Jabs, because round trip for radio transmission at light speed between Saturn and the Gravel Pile was three hours.
In all of the vast area of Saturn’s rings, the arrival of Ithuriel and Jabs by all rights should have gone totally unnoticed. They should have made hardly more than a blip. But the radio negotiations with Roth Wardian, conducted entirely in the clear, attracted the attention of the Stratis gang, a small group of nephilim parasites.
Stratis could have never done the planning and the thinking for the stunt Ithuriel proposed to do, but he didn’t have to. After he sat there and listened in to everything Jabs said, Stratis got it into his thick head that if he moved really close to the Jabs kid, say only forty or fifty miles, and watched her like a hawk, it could be his ticket out of the Rings. When it was underway he could take over the iceball, kill Jabs, and ride the ice ball all the way down.
The Stratis gang was mobile. They had a taut little warship about the size of a corvette. It was a bit smaller than Chivalrous and could be controlled by just three men, or even just two men in a pinch. Stratis parked inside Ithuriel’s ringlet 75,000 km from Saturn’s cloud tops, but just forty miles to the east, or spinward, of Ithuriel.
By Saturn’s standards, this wasn’t being a good neighbor. It was akin to parking one’s mobile home flush up against another one. Ithuriel knew this sign couldn’t be good.
Ithuriel used the engines of Chivalrous to melt a small pond into the surface. Quickly, before the ice froze again, he sank Chivalrous into the ice until he struck bottom. He melted more ice and sank again, and again, using the retrorockets to push them all the way through the ice until the back of the ship was just poking through the other side of the ice ball, with only the engine nozzles and the back door sticking out into space. Then he let all the water freeze again, which unfortunately put some dents into his ship as the ice expanded.
For the next few months Ithuriel melted many veins into the ice of his snowball, which would allow hot water to make a slush to be used as propellant for the big burn. And once, just once, during all his preparations, Ithuriel and Jabs were paid a visit by some of their nosy neighbors.