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60 – KIBBUTZ

As a consequence of the victory over the Ottoman Turks in the First World War, Great Britain became the master of the whole Middle-East. In the closing days of the War the British Foreign Secretary. A.J. Balfour, declared that “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievment of this object.”

In 1922 the Churchill White Paper put forth the premise that Jewish immigration to Palestine could continue until such a time as there was a Jewish majority there. But by 1939 Britain bowed to threats to British oil extraction infrastructure from Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen and reversed this position. This reversal hit at precisely the same time that Jews were being exterminated throughout the growing Third Reich.

After the War, Polish Jews refused to be repatriated to their homes in Europe. Physical attacks on them continued, and several hundred were murdered in the first three months after hostilities ended. Hundreds of thousands of Jews ended up in Displaced Persons camps throughout Europe, where conditions were only marginally better than they had been in the Reich’s death camps.

For the balance of 1945, only eight small ships carrying a thousand Displaced Persons reached Palestine from ports in Italy and Greece. For the first half of 1946, another 10,500 immigrants arrived on eleven ships. Talishi took Lilith to the kibbutz at Yad Mordechai during this span of time.

From August 1946 to December 1947, 51,700 Displaced Persons tried to make their way to Palestine on thirty-five ships, but were captured by the British and taken to new camps on the island of Cyprus, where they languished behind barbed wire.

Many of the armed guards of these camps in Cyprus had liberated some of the same prisoners from the extermination camp at Belsen-Belson only eighteen months prior to this, and they were fully aware of this. During this period, clandestine immigration to Palestine fell to a trickle. The British proposed a plan to divide Palestine, but it was rejected by both Arabs and Jews, and the question was referred to the United Nations.

On August 31, 1947, the UN proposed the creation of two independent states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem under separate international control to administer the holy places of the world’s three major monotheistic religions. The Jewish side of the partition was to have 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs. The Arab side was to have 700,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews, and Jerusalem was to have about 100,000 of each ethnicity. The Jews would get the blasted wasteland of the Negev desert, and the Arabs would get the fertile upper Galilee region.

The UN thought all these arrangements were fair. So fair, in fact, that after Israel declared Statehood and the UN realized the Displaced Persons were being handed rifles as soon as they got off the boat at Haifa, another SC resolution was passed to prevent immigration of males from age 17 to 45.

David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency whose authority had been established by the League of Nations, knew the Jews would have to fight even for the lousy territory they had been assigned. He ordered every Jew in Palestine mobilized for war, men and women alike.

On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly accepted the partition proposals, by a vote of thirty-three votes to thirteen, with ten abstentions. The Jewish people, homeless since the days of the Roman Empire, were to have their own state again. There was rejoicing in the streets, but they danced while knowing war lay just ahead.

On the day after Partition, a bus carrying Jewish civilians to Jerusalem was attacked by Arabs with rifles and grenades, killing five people, including a young bride named Shoshona Mizrachi Farhi on the way to her wedding The bus attack came to symbolize the beginning of the war for independence, which would claim the lives of 6,000 Jews, or one percent of the total population.

In this period, after Partition but before the official declaration of the state of Israel, the armed forces were called the Haganah (Defense). Great Britain still occupied Palestine, and considered the Haganah an illegal organization. By the fall of 1947 Haganah had two thousand regulars and a thousand reserves.

Armed Bedoin nomads surrounded a number of isolated settlements in the south, including Lilith’s collective farm. The Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion swore that not one single settlement would be evacuated. Armored cars produced in Tel Aviv were used to secure the water pipelines that these settlements depended on, and to send weapons and reinforcements through the Bedoin lines.

After a Jewish convoy was attacked en route to reinforcing the kibbutz at Yad Mordechai, and all forty-six soldiers killed, the Haganah developed a plan to occupy those Arab communities that lay close to or directly between Jewish cities and the far-flung settlements.

In most cases, the Arabs fled their communities when they were besieged and occupied. In the case of the town of Dair Yassin where they did not, the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and the Stern Gang massacred all the Arabs, men, women, and children, to the shock and horror of most Jews, including the leadership of the Haganah. But the Haganah was not yet willing to cut off all ties to Irgun, because they had needed manpower and rifles, and they had the same enemies. In April they even conducted joint operations along the coast while the British accelerated their complete withdrawal from Palestine.

In reprisal for the Deir Yassin massacre in March, a convoy of armored buses was attacked on April 15, and seventy-seven Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients were killed. Only twenty-eight survived, and only eight of these were not wounded.

King Abdullah of Transjordan, who was the only real ally of the Jews in the region, offered Jewish autonomy, but only if it remained under his sovereignty. A Jewish Agency negotiator named Golda Meir was pained to disappoint her good friend the king, but she had to reject his offer. After all the Jews had suffered, especially in the Shoah (or Holocaust), it was simply not enough to be represented in a foreign parliament.

This led directly to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Eleven minutes later, President Truman officially recognized the state by cable, before he even knew what the name of the country would be.

At that time the country’s army boasted nearly 37 thousand troops, but 1,200 had already been killed in combat. Britain opened the detention camps on Cyprus and thousands streamed into Israel by ship, many having already been trained in the camps by the Haganah.

On the first full day after Independence was declared, Iraqi troops crossed over the Jordan River. Simultaneously, Israeli troops raided Lebanon to delay their entrance into the war. Syria came down from the Golan heights with thirty tanks and advanced to the sea of Galilee. Two 65 mm artillery pieces checked the Syrians at the kibbutz known as Deganya, then the guns were rushed south to attack the Iraqis besieging the old British police fort overlooking Gesher on the Jordan River, causing them to flee.

On the second day, Transjordanian and Egyptian troops joined the assault. Saudi Arabia sent a company of troops who fought with Egypt. And Egypt even landed troops on the beach at Majdal between Gaza and Tel Aviv.

The first Egyptian attack was against the kibbutz of Kfar Darom, seven miles south of Gaza, where thirty settlers held off elements of the Muslim Brotherhood with grenades. When their grenades ran out, they put explosives in bags and hurled them at the attackers. When Egypt rolled in tanks, the settlers fired anti-tank weapons at the lead tanks, destroying them, and causing the other tanks to withdraw.

Then Egypt bypassed Kfar Darom and moved to kibbutz Nirim, five miles away. Twenty defenders were killed but they held on. Not even an air attack the next day broke their will.

In January 1948, the first state-sponsored forces from Syria began to make raids, and in this instance, the Jews were aided by counter-attacks from the Royal Air Force, for the British remained the rulers of Palestine, at least on paper.

When the Haganah completely abandoned the coastal highway running south from Tel Aviv, Lilith’s kibbutz at Yad Mordechai was completely cut off. Only two private aircraft maintained contact between north and south, carrying basic supplies and newspapers.

Two other aircraft were flying saucers flown by B’nei Elohim , with Jill piloting one and Hunky and Dory in the other one. They made their first appearance at Yad Mordechai when the settlers were pinned down under Arab fire. Just the appearance of the two silvery disks hovering over the kibbutz was sufficient to drive the attackers off.

Lilith had flown in one of the disks before, so she was not afraid. When Jill, Hunky and Dory emerged carrying boxes of medical supplies Lilith was in the front of the crowd of settlers to greet them.

Hunky and Dory and Jill were called Mahal, or foreign volunteers, and they were held in awe by the settlers of Yad Mordechai, because their saucers could hover with no fuel and delivered supplies from a seemingly inexhaustible source.

Lilith herself was part of the Gahal, or immigrant soldiers. Most of the children in the kibbutz were Sabra. That is, they had been born in Palestine and knew no other home. Lilith was their guardian when their parents worked the fields, both before and during the war.

Lilith Gervasi’s kibbutz lay just west of the road that linked Gaza to the Egyptian beachhead at Majdal. Egypt hurled two infantry battalions, one armored battalion, and an artillery battalion against them one dawn for an attack that lasted five days.

It was Lilith’s baptism by fire, the battle that forged her into a fierce warrior. She would fight in every one of her country’s conflicts until orthodox Jews prevailed to remove her from the front lines, and after that she would personally train Del, the daughter of Talishi, to become the even more legendary commander of Bravo Battalion. It was Lilith’s unwavering belief that the Yishuv, the People, always came first.

Much enemy armor was taken out with the PIAT (Projectile, Infantry, Anti- Tank). Those tanks which managed to breach the Yad Mordechai perimeter were set alight at close range with Molotov cocktails or attacked with hand grenades whose fragments would enter the tank through the view slit, wounding the crew and forcing them to retire. Other tanks were taken out with mines, and still others broke down and were dragged out of range by armored cars.

But there were just too many Egyptians, and the shelling never ceased. After five days the settler’s ammunition was spent. Dory and Jill took the worst casualties out by saucer while Hunky stayed behind to help Lilith carry the rest of the wounded through the Egyptian lines under the cover of darkness, along with the remaining settlers.

Yad Mordechai was abandoned, and in the morning the Egyptians burned it to the ground. But during those five days of resistance Tel Aviv was saved from being overrun. The stubborn defense at Yad Mordechai gave Tel Aviv time to bring in reinforcements and firm up the defensive line on the road between the city and Gaza.

On June 11, a truce called by the United Nations went into effect and lasted until July 9. In nearly one month of war Israel had lost 900 soldiers and 300 civilians.

Between the first truce and a second one was ten days of fighting. The IDF captured Nazareth, the home town of Yeshua, which had grown much bigger than the original five hundred souls.

The second truce lasted until October 15, and was followed with one solid week of fighting against Egypt. On the first day of that week Israeli warplanes bombed the Egyptian air base at El Arish on the Mediterranean coastline of Sinai, and cut the railway from El Arish to Rafa.

After the third cease-fire took effect on October 22, Lilith and the Polish settlers who had taken her in moved back into the ruins of Yad Mordechai and began to rebuild. There would be renewed fighting in the winter, and a fourth and final cease fire, but Lilith judged the continued existence of her new nation was no longer in doubt.

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61 – DUAL DUEL

Baron Bayard was wounded and lay at Lord Kirodiel’s feet, but he was not unaware that sweet Victoria stood between him and certain death on the keen edge of Gerash steel. And he thought her to be insanely reckless, for she bore only the broken hilt-shard of the diamond blade known as Dragonthorn, and it would shatter once again should she attempt to block a single blow from the White Beard patriarch’s blade.

But both Victoria and Kirodiel, and everyone else for that matter, were gazing skyward at Joy, who had appeared in the sky above the queen’s barge riding on the shoulders of Demonstroke. Joy had caused the dragon’s deadly mouth to aim directly at Queen Aurra, who was confined to a wooden cage on the ship’s main deck.

Victoria rushed into the sky bearing the remnant of Dragonthorn and set her flight path to lead directly at Joy. For the first time Joy became aware that her niece had come to Barbelo to stop her. B’nei Eloah on B’nei Eloah violence, but that was not unprecedented. As Chayn, after all, Joy’s first death over Luna had come as the result of a Brushfire missile loosed by some other member of the B’nei Elohim. Perhaps it had even been Victoria did the deed.

Joy did not for a moment deceive herself that Yeshua would give her yet a third chance. To protect herself, Joy caused the mouth of the beast to drift away the queen and bear instead on Victoria. A burst of white fire from the belly of the orange sun over Barbelo roared out, and Victoria altered her course directly upward to evade it. Like an arrow that had missed, the flame struck the house of the king of Menkant and set part of it ablaze.

Then Joy caused the dragon to rise into the sky and follow her niece. When his flight path matched that of Victoria’s, he bent his snake-like head and neck under his belly and loosed a continuous blast of fire, and Joy was thrown back against his collarbone as the acceleration mounted like a rocket.

By a supreme effort of will Baron Bayard stood again and drew his blade, but he was an honorable man, and he would not strike at his foe in his distracted fascination at the drama unrolling far above the queen’s barge.

“Killing you wouldn’t be murder,”Bayard said, and Kirodiel turned his gaze from the sky to the baron once more. “It’d be atonement for allowing a monster to exist among us for too long.”

The two men saluted together once again in mock ceremony and the dance began anew. They circled, waiting for an opening.

Bayard lunged forward suddenly in a ferocious attack and forced his opponent to the defensive momentarily. Kirodiel’s counterattack focused the baron’s whole attention on the patriarch’s blade flashing forward in a blur. Forced to give ground, the baron kept speaking to attempt a distraction. “Frankly, I’m quite astonished that you’ve done so well, Gerash so-called Lord. More than once Lady Talishi regaled us with tales of how you held her captive much like you’re holding my mother, because you were afraid of what another woman, a Princess Khondiel, might do.”

Kirodiel rewarded him with a prickly scratch from shoulder to left breast. Bayard risked a glance down at the blood beading up there and in that moment Kirodiel was in the air leaping high and aiming a foot blow at the baron’s head.

Almost instinctively Bayard put both hands together as a single fist and sideswiped the offending boot. Lord Kirodiel sprawled badly and landed on his back. Both men recovered their stance but they had a renewed respect for each other.

Victoria could only fly so high. She wasn’t Hunky, after all, she couldn’t make her own oxygen for her body to use. So she stopped accelerating and topped out about four miles high, bending back toward Menkant in a broad arc. Joy saw this, of course. Demonstroke stopped his burn and brought his head forward to bear on Victoria again. Short bolts of fire raced out like tracers from World War II fighter airplanes.

Victoria dodged randomly as she fell to avoid being struck by the fire. When she had descended far enough to see individual men on the ships commandeered by Kirodiel, she deliberately flew toward them to draw the dragon’s fire, allowing Joy herself to set four of them ablaze. Then she flew through an open hatch on the deck of a fifth vessel which had been a cargo vessel, but now carried only troops.

The hatch clearly wasn’t big enough for Demonstroke. But Victoria wasn’t to escape that easily. Joy commanded the beast to burn his way through and make the hatch bigger. Then Victoria and Joy were briefly together inside the large hold of the ship as screaming men were crushed under the feet of the thrashing dragon.

“This is the part of the movie where you tell me why you did it, Aunt Chayn,” said Victoria, but Joy let Demonstroke open his mouth and answer for her.

Kirodiel and Bayard faced each other anew, focusing on probing each other’s defenses. Gaging the changes, at the same time seeking not to be changed. Bayard, slowed by his wound, fought with calculated risks but never rash ones. Kirodiel was rash, but attacked with supernatural speed. The blades would thrust just here, or there, bait or blow? The combinations were infinite. It became a game of looking for the opponent’s hesitancies through a net of deception and decision.

Bayard tried to ignore the pain of his wound, but the whole point of pain was that you cannot ignore it. Pain is a priority organizer. Yet one thought kept him going. Victoria had become his highest priority. Bayard longed to see how she was doing, but dared not tear his eyes away from the fight for an instant.

When Kirodiel said, “You lousy cunt,” Bayard merely continued the high tension ballet. However, when Kirodiel described the things he would do to Bayard’s mother the queen when he was finished here Bayard did an unexpected thing: He threw his blade away.

Astonished, Kirodiel tracked the errant blade with his eyes as his training required. In that split second Bayard blasted the White Beard lord with a kick squarely and solidly in the face.

Then they were rolling and thrashing on the ground. Faces were punched. Fingernails and teeth went for eyes and other soft spots. Kirodiel pulled the classic move of aggravating Bayard’s wound, which made the baron howl in agony.

Briefly, just briefly, stopping the pain became a higher priority to Bayard than Victoria was. And that made him fly into a rage. He literally saw red, and wasn’t entirely clear exactly what happened next. He found himself kicking Kirodiel’s head again and again until Kirodiel’s son Hovan and chief lieutenant Zadkiel crossed the deck to restrain him. Zadkiel said, “Baron, stand down. You got him.”

Young Hovan, leaning over his father, confirmed he was dead. Yet there was no anger. It had been an honorable death match, and the Baron had prevailed. But Hovan was fully confident the expedition would yet attain victory. The dragon Demonstroke remained the most powerful weapon of House Gerash.

The dragon set half of the ship’s hold ablaze, condemning a hundred soldiers of House Gerash to burn alive, yet Victoria escaped by rising through a second open hatch. Joy commanded the dragon to exit the ship through the same hole he had made. Yet Demonstroke was less agile than Victoria, and even as the dragon’s neck and Joy cleared the burning hulk, Victoria seated herself neatly behind her aunt, with the point of Dragonthorn resting on Joy’s back next to a kidney.

“If you choose to commit suicide, dear aunt Chayn, you are just seconds away from True Death. Or you can decide to live, and we can talk about what your deal is. So what will it be? I recommend you live, because if you die it’s really going to smart.”

For an answer, Joy tried to slam her right elbow back into Victoria’s face.

“Then I guess my daughter was right,” Victoria said, “and you really are Jill.” So with a shrug she pressed the jagged tip of Dragonthorn smoothly into Joy’s back and deep into that kidney.

Disabling pain. Joy’s scream of agony was inhuman. The only mercy she would receive would be her instantaneous death after she fell five hundred feet to thud like a sack of wet garbage on a cobblestone city street.

And Demonstroke, free at last of Joy’s overweening control of his movements, didn’t much like having Victoria crawl up his neck to get within striking distance of his head. He thrashed as violently as he could to shake her off, but she held on for dear life. Dragon fire couldn’t help him, he couldn’t very well aim his mouth at his own head. And his arms were too short to swat her off.

When Victoria had shimmied high enough to reach, she buried the fragment of the diamond blade in the dragon’s brain.

Demonstroke fell to the surface then, and if his brain had been working any better he would have thought to give Victoria a parting spray of fire on his way down, out of spite. Because that was the sort of dragon he was.

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62 – RINGS

Ithuriel dug a large chamber in the precise center of his ice ball, and there he constructed from scratch a number of research macros. He also built a pair of hand-held macros for defense, much like the Golden Gift (or the silver copies that were the newest armament of House Gerash) in the event of a home invasion by their neighbors.

Ithuriel remembered vividly when, as a five year old child named Edgar Shybear, Yeshua brought his older self back about fifteen years in time to explain the workings of the Golden Gift to Robyn and Dory. The older version of Edgar had ferreted out the secret with no input from any of the Elohim, to their great pleasure.

“There are two realities, ladies,” Edgar the Elder began. “The first one is our everyday world up here on this scale, where things change smoothly. The second one the sub-microscopic world where things act with little discrete jumps. Down there things behave in ways that go totally against common sense, and we usually never see it. But sometimes the strangeness of that quantum behavior is magnified up to our macroscopic level. That’s why I call this gadget a macro.”

“Like superconductivity?” Robyn suggested.

“Correct. We’ve known for decades that if we get a loop of wire cold enough, resistance falls to zero. An electric current will actually flow around inside it forever. Also if you get liquid helium cold enough, it will become super-fluid. Viscosity, which is the gooey property of syrup and ketchup, literally falls to zero. Start the stuff swirling around inside a beaker and it will never stop moving. Call it superfluidity.”

“How does that really work, Edgar?” Dory asked. She remembered these concepts vaguely from the excellent private school in Selleck operated by the Church of End Dome.

“That part is still not very clear, even today. The electrons in the loop, or the helium in the beaker, join up in pairs that talk to each other somehow, instantly, no matter how far apart they get. We say they are entangled. When one electron or helium atom zigs, the other one zags, and the result is no net resistance to their flow.” “How does that tie in to the Golden Gift?”

“Directly, mother, directly. I fired quantum-tangled pairs of electrons from a super-conducting ring at quantum-tangled pairs of super-fluid liquid helium atoms in a little glass lens, and I got quantum-tangled pairs of light bouncing off it, in the form of twinned photons of purple light.

“So it combines every form of super-blank-ity-blank-blank!” Dory said.

“Yes! One of the twin photons corkscrews right, the other one left, and if they hit a target atom, the atom doesn’t know what to do so it just sort of stands up at right angles to the rest of our universe, and for lack of a better term I’ll say it’s ‘phantomized.’”

And after that leg up the B’nei Elohim were off and running on a new track.

Chivalrous was well-stocked with canned and frozen food from Palato and the Jovian system, but even the large stores scattered throughout the ship and now also the interior of the ice ball were not sufficient to tide them over on the long inbound crossing that Ithuriel proposed to do. So Jabniel became something of a gardener. The prospect of starving to death halfway between Saturn and the asteroid belt focused her mind on this new hobby to a very intense degree.

In his man cave Ithuriel set up a sodium “fountain” with a laser trap, which was one of his favorite toys. This used a laser tuned just below the natural emission lines of sodium atoms to supercool them to the point where individual atoms could be seen by the naked eye. It wasn’t their small size that made atoms invisible (the eye only saw the individual photons they cast off anyway) it was their rapid motion. At room temperature, atoms in a gas buzzed around faster than a speeding bullet. With a laser trap like the one in Ithuriel’s lab they could be slowed to just a few inches per second, or even slower.

Ithuriel’s apparatus worked because the laser frequency he chose wasn’t high enough to cause the atom to immediately re-emit the light after absorbing it, so the sodium atom, seeking to drop to a lower energy state, made up the deficit with the excess kinetic energy of its own motion. Eventually the sodium atoms grew so cold that he could actually see a fountain of bright yellow dots rising in the vacuum, and if the ice ball was much bigger, or under acceleration, he would also see the atoms falling back under their own gravity.

But there was one thing Ithuriel had never found time to do before, and that was to combine a macro with his laser trap. He did this now because he was attempting to find a modification to the basic macro design that would convert the sodium atoms to dark matter on a temporary basis, rather than permanently.

Ithuriel pressed a button to cause a glass ceiling to slide into place in the middle of the fountain. The sodium atoms in the fountain struck the glass and bounced off (or adhered to the glass in some cases) but they went no higher.

After that, Ithuriel turned the macro effect on, which intercepted the fountain under the glass ceiling. After the sodium atoms passed through the black beam they no longer bounced off or adhered to the glass, but passed right through. All of this stuff he already knew. The macro made whatever the beam touched into phantom particles. The sodium atoms continued on their way, right through the glass barrier and even through each other, interacting only with gravity, of which there was practically none.

But to Ithuriel’s great surprise, almost seven seconds later the atoms reappeared again in the same position they would have been if they hadn’t been struck by the beam or blocked by the glass.

Interesting, he thought. The dark matter made by the Golden Gift had been unstable all along. How did I miss that?

The answer was immediately obvious. None of the samples he had phantomized before had been brought so close to absolute zero. In seven seconds, most of the atoms of a room temperature target would be scattered in a sphere between ten and twenty miles in radius, with half of that sphere under the surface of the Earth.

But something was bothering him. Phantom matter could lead to remarkable advances of propulsion and weaponry, as he alluded to Lord Kirodiel when he received his commission. But if the process of making matter into phantom matter was repeatable, in perhaps a closed loop, then it would lead to a situation where far more energy could be extracted than went into the setup.

Ithuriel’s favorite quote of all time, the maxim by which he composed his life, was written by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1915:

“The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”

With this bit of wisdom foremost in his mind, Ithuriel modified his experiment to cause the sodium atom fountain to pass through a second macro beam after the 6.8 second decay back to normal matter had transpired. And as he suspected, none of the atoms could be persuaded to undergo phantomization a second time.

And that by itself was remarkable because it revealed a property of subatomic particles that no one had stumbled onto before. There was a bit of information associated with each one (Ithuriel visualized it as a little mailbox flag) that was set when the particle was phantomized and could never be reset.

When Ithuriel had a chance to tell Mark Felton about this, Mark would probably proceed to make one hell of a dense read-only data storage system. In the meantime, he took great satisfaction at knowing he had solved the problem Lord Kirodiel had set before him.

But brilliant as he was, Ithuriel was still only human, not even nephilim. He made a small but crucial mistake during the assembly of the macros he built for himself and Jabs as personal defense.

One time when Ithuriel was working in the central chamber he was caught off-guard by one of Stratis’ henchmen, Azkeel, who had managed to get into the ice ball by stealth. He had Ithuriel in his cross-hairs, dead to rights.

But Jabs, working inside the Chivalrous, happened to see them together on a screen so it became her turn to be Ithuriel’s knight in shining armor. With a stab of her finger on a nearby button, the air quietly began rushing out of the central cavern. Ithuriel caught a ruffle of paper, realized what was happening, drew a breath, and held it.

Azkeel, however, did not know what was happening so he continued to breathe in and out as the air rapidly thinned. Black and white dots danced across his vision as he grew more and more confused, and too stupid to drop the faceplate on his helmet. In a few seconds after that he was unconscious.

Still observed by Jabs, Ithuriel grabbed his hand macro and turned it on the prone Azkeel. But nothing happened. The intruder’s chest did not disappear.

Ithuriel’s macro was working, but the beam used photons with frequencies a full octave down from factory-spec. Azkeel’s chest was phantomized, yet the atoms remained in place, and after that they could not be phantomized again, even if Ithuriel could lay his hands on a macro that worked according to the original prints.

Jabs hit another button to begin restoring the air to the cavern. In less than a minute Azkeel stirred back to awareness.

Generally, water inside the human (or nephilim) body is not free. It’s mostly trapped in the spaces between knots of proteins, which are like tangled phone cords. Even blood is just a thick syrupy mess, almost a gel. If Ithuriel had fired his faulty macro beam at Azkeel’s gut he might have just run a slight fever.

Instead Ithuriel fired the macro at Azkeel’s lungs once again and even though his chest could not be phantomized anymore, the fresh air in his lungs was being phantomized for the first time. All the air molecules in his lungs found they could drift right through each other instead of bouncing off each other like before. So there was no more pressure. His lungs became like bottomless pits ready to accept any additional amount of air.

So Azkeel took an involuntary final gasp that went on and on as long as the macro continued to fire, until maybe ten times his lung’s normal capacity was crammed with phantom molecules of air in quantum flux, all superimposed one over the top of each other.

Then, seven seconds after Ithuriel turned the macro off, all those molecules started obeying Pauli’s Exclusion Principle once again, which said they couldn’t occupy the same space at the same time. All that suddenly superheated high pressure air came roaring back out of Azkeel’s mouth like rocket exhaust, taking flaming bits of what used to be his delicate lungs along with it. It was an incredibly painful but relatively quick death. And that was the end of their intruder problem.

“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.” The same principle that had killed Azkeel was the principle Ithuriel would one day propose to drive Mastema’s warships.

Jabs entered the ice cavern armed with her own macro, and found that the stranger was already dead. “Who the hell was he?”

“Probably one of our nosy neighbors. I don’t know how he got in here, but I don’t want to wait around for another try by those guys. We have no choice. Get ready for departure.”

Some time later, Ithuriel realized the mistake he had made with his defensive macro. He actually considered it a feature rather than a bug. Ithuriel called a macro that did not break internal chemical bonds a sub-macro and thoughts of many future applications presented before his darting mind. It also stood to reason that if a sub-macro maintained molecular integrity, a super-macro would be able to break atoms apart.

There had been no news from Azkeel since Stratis dispatched him to Ithuriel’s iceball, but he knew something was up. Predictably, when Ithuriel started his burn, Stratis shadowed him with his own ship.

Ithuriel’s navigation calculations involved the use of a right triangle. One leg of the triangle was the 4 miles per second of velocity change Ithuriel needed to get from their circular orbit in the A-ring up to escape velocity. The other leg of the triangle was the 3 miles per second of velocity change he needed to get from Saturn to the Gravel Pile. The third leg of the triangle, then, 5 miles per second, was the bottom line, the total velocity change he needed to come up with. It was going to consume about half of the ice ball’s water as propellant just to get the journey underway.

Now anything in orbit around Saturn that wasn’t flying exactly along the equator will cross the equator twice on each circuit, once going from north to south, and again going from south to north. As the ice rock began moving away from Saturn, at every equatorial crossing Ithuriel skillfully wove through narrow gaps in Saturn’s A Ring where the sheet of floating ice was thin or non-existent.

It took many days. After each ring crossing he had a twelve hour rest period before preparing for the next one. During those down times, Ithuriel pieced together what happened with his macro and the intruder, and this suggested a narrow path out of their predicament, but he had to work quickly.

When they were free of the A-ring and emerged into empty space, Ithuriel stopped weaving the iceball by manipulating the exhaust stream and sailed straight and true.

Stratis saw Ithuriel’s random maneuvering cease. He said, “Loreth, you may now register our displeasure with this Jabniel bitch for the loss of our colleague Azkeel.”

They lobbed a shell from their railgun, which flew across the intervening space and hit dead-center, right between the six roaring engines of Chivalrous‘ hexagonal drive section. The back door was taken out in the explosion, and air began to rush out of the ship.

“We have lost hull integrity,” Jabs said, striking buttons that would close a series of hatches between the habitation module and the service tunnel to the rear.

“If we survive this little tussle,” Ithuriel said, “I’ll go back there in a suit and repair the damage.”

“Return the gesture,” Jabs told him. “I thought this was a Gerash warship.”

“I’d love to, dearheart, but this Gerash warship has its nose buried in six hundred feet of ice and its ass sticking out in space. We’re going to have to just try to evade them. All I can do right now is program random course changes and hope they won’t be able to connect with another round.”

And there was another problem looming. The F Ring, focused by shepherd moons, and even braided in spots, was too dense to plow through, and too wide to hop over on the ascending and descending nodes. It sat out there at the edge of the ring system like the Great Barrier Reef sat off Australia.

But the F Ring only blocked the slower descent ellipse used to get an ice ball from Saturn to the outer edge of the asteroid belt. The faster ice balls headed for Mars or Earth-Luna just missed grazing the outer edge of the ring. Due to this basic fact of astrodynamics, no one ever actually tried to send ice from Saturn to the outer asteroids until Ithuriel’s current stunt, certainly not Stratis and his ilk.

After setting the nav console to weave randomly when it flew, Ithuriel left with Jabs. They floated to the simple spherical cavern at the exact center of their ice ball, reached by a long thin tube melted into the ice.

As the ship whipped the iceball this way and that to evade more of Stratis’ incoming shells and the cave seemed to turn around them, Ithuriel and Jabniel suited up as they hovered in free fall next to a pair of new gadgets.

As they reached final approach to the F Ring, Ithuriel gave his wife a heads’ up. “Here goes.”

Ithuriel’s entire ice asteroid, including Ithuriel himself, his wife, and the Chivalrous, was sub-phantomized by an omni-directional burst from the first gadget. The air in the small room, no longer confined by collisions with the walls or by collisions with each other, rushed out almost instantly. Ithuriel and Jabniel found themselves in a total vacuum.

The actual passage through the F-ring took far less than one second.

Ithuriel and Jabs felt nothing. Nor did they see anything but a momentary blankness. With even their retinas sub-phantomized, their retina did not block photons of light, just as their bodies did not block the ice of the F-ring as they passed through. But seven seconds after Ithuriel’s gadget pulsed they could see again.

Some liquid oxygen prepared by Ithuriel beforehand was quickly brought to a boil by the second gadget and filled the room with air again so Ithuriel and Jabs could raise the faceplate on their vacsuits.

“We did it!” Ithuriel cheered as they accomplished their breakout to clear space beyond all further obstacles. “We made it through!”

“No collision,” Stratis’ one surviving henchman Loreth said on the pursuing ship. “The F-Ring wasn’t so much as ruffled by her passage!”

“Jabniel must have found a hole,” Stratis concluded. He recklessly steered his ship in after her. Not a glimmer of the truth, that they used a macro to penetrate the F-ring, registered in his mind.

“There’s no hole!” Loreth screamed at the last instant. “Veer off!” But it was far too late.

A red glow infused an arc of the F-ring. It came from kinetic energy as his unlamented ship disintegrated and the broken fragments ping-ponged through the ice, followed by secondary explosions as his disintegrating magazine of railgun rounds detonated. This time the F Ring was ruffled. And that was the end of Ithuriel’s Stratis gang problem.

“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.”

Hex

63 – RINGS

Nanoengineering is inspired by the molecular machines of life, but it bypasses the trial-and error watery sloppiness and superseded functions that are carried out by all cells and duplicates life’s useful functions with more deliberate precision. In 1943 no human being was anywhere near actually working on that scale.

What the Ark of the Covenant did to Kimberly Lokken, Sophie Krouse, and that little church mouse they found under the altar was infect living nerve and brain tissue. On a one-for-one basis this infection gradually replaced each nerve cell with a nanotechnology facsimile after “learning the ropes” and figuring out how it responded to hormones, nutrients, and signals from other cells.

Soon after their mothers discovered a bump on the back of their heads, Kim and Sophie were taken to a small hospital in Black Diamond. The doctors could not diagnose her, so the girls were handed off to the government and eventually placed in quarantine.

At that time, the United States had embarked on a vast but secret project to develop atomic weapons for use in the Second World War. These would be weapons of fearsome, unknown power, and to be safe, the research was conducted in the Great American desert east of the Cascade mountain range where population was sparse. But the medical facilities at the Hanford Reservation were very good, especially for treating radiation sickness. And Hanford was roughly the size of an entire county of a western state, with unprecedented security arrangements. The wildest portion of the Columbia River itself formed the northern and eastern border. So Kim Lokken and Sophie “Hunky” Krouse were taken there.

Both Kim and Hunky remained absolutely silent about the Ark of the Covenant. If there was one thing Endomites were good for, it was keeping a secret.

In a few weeks the bumps in their skulls cracked open and both Kim and Hunky were sedated so the doctors could take a close look at what happened to them. Apparently their brain wasn’t even alive anymore. Their heads were now opaque to x-rays. Part of the brain of both girls actually penetrated the skull and terminated in white oval cups made of bone. The cups had smooth inside walls and many short, fine black graphite bristles growing out of the cup’s floor. It was an electrical connector with exactly fifty-five pins. If the pins were crushed or snapped off they grew back just like the lead in a mechanical pencil. The doctors tried shaving off the whole external structure on one of the girls too. It just grew right back. They manufactured a cable that fit the connector perfectly. In time Kim and Hunky came to call it simply the Purple Cable.

The cable had proven mostly useless. The staff could read electrical signals from Kim and Hunky and print them on a roll of paper, but they didn’t know what to do with the information. Attempts to write information to the girl’s heads using the same 15 millivolt level that was present on the pins only gave them bizarre total-body sandpaper sensations they found very unpleasant and refused to endure again.

One time, very briefly, Kim and Hunky were hooked up together directly, skull-to-skull with the Purple Cable, just for perhaps a second to see what would happen. In that single second, they had the following wordless conversation:

Hunky: They’ll never let us out of here you know.

Kim: We could punch every combo on the door. It wouldn’t even be boring. After doing the first two or three numbers we could go automatic and snap out of the trance when the door clicks open.

Hunky: They will catch us. They are watching us on cameras. And if the outside door has a different combination your plan won’t work anyway, we’ll run out of time.

Kim: Where are the cameras?

Hunky: Up in the corners, flush with the ceiling. There’s four teensy little clear domes, one in each corner, and two of them are active.

Kim: How do you know?

Hunky: I’ve been doing experiments with wads of chewing gum. I know which two lenses get cleaned off while we’re marched off to eat and which ones they leave alone.

Kim: But now they know that you know.

Hunky: Shit. You’re right.

Kim: “They know that we know that we’re on camera. But I have a plan. We can turn this to our advantage.”

Hunky: How?

Kim: “It will take a little acting ability. We have to try to embarrass Dr. Trochmann. We have to convince him that after all this time together, confined in here, age eighteen, we’ve fallen in love with each other.”

Hunky: “I think I can pull that off.”

In the last few milliseconds while they remained united by the Purple Cable the girls agreed to go on strike. Meaning they would not cooperate with their captors at all. They would just sit there in the clinic all day and do nothing except eat, drink, use the restroom, and only speak to each other in Relbimian, the language of the Boda.

The girls were interrogated together and separately about the words they were speaking. They decided to keep the language to themselves as their own private thing. So the word thann, instead of a distance of about 1,700 feet, became “duck.” And the word chorzon, instead of a period of time of about six minutes, became “purfume.”

The girls kept these false words straight with their newly organized minds, and shared any new false words they invented between themselves by tagging them in Relbimian to keep each other updated. So there emerged two languages, a genuine Relbimian and the false Relbiman that Dr. Trochmann’s team was hopelessly trying to piece together from Kim and Hunky’s lies.

Finally, Dr. Trochmann got fed up and separated the girls totally.

There were two ways of dealing with all that dead time. Kim preferred to “get tall”. She would imagine herself growing in size and the clock would speed up before her eyes. Her heartbeats ran together in a butterfly flutter and became a quiet hum. She would speed up, cruise for a short while, then slow down. Her muscles would be a little sore from staying in one position for too long but four hours were gone.

Hunky thought that Kim’s time-lapse movie method was too gross because she could feel her bladder fill up and she didn’t like the way food felt moving through her intestines when she got tall. She preferred to take a series of hour-long “naps”–little jumps in time with her consciousness simply turned off. Either way they chose, both girls were well disposed to play this waiting game with Trochmann.

Some people eat unnecessary meals from sheer boredom, but that was not a factor here, even with Kim. They only ate about every two days. Large meals, to be sure, but the other times when the nurse arrived to escort them (one at a time) out their locked doors to their meals they refused to budge. Otherwise it would seem to them like they were continuously eating. So four meals, a couple showers, and many other stops to use the restroom or drink some water made for a rather busy “day” that compressed a full week of real time.

Trochmann surrendered.

“Ladies, time for a heart-to-heart, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Dr. Trochmann began, in what would be the girl’s last interview with this well-meaning technical director of the Kim & Sophie Project.

“Time for everyone to tell the truth,” Kim agreed. “So tell me, if we’re not contagious why are we still locked in here?”

“This thing is indeed contagious, otherwise how did you catch it?”

“You don’t seem too afraid to talk to us face-to-face,” Sophie put in. “Nor does Nurse Ramsey.”

“We know it’s not transmitted through the air, like by sneezing,” he explained. “Otherwise you’d be in total isolation. And telling us more would go a long way toward getting you out of here.”

“I don’t feel sick,” Hunky said.

“Sophie, your brain isn’t even alive anymore!”

“How could we be having this conversation then?”

“I’ll tell you what we know so far. Obviously it’s artificial. It spreads just like a virus, but we’ve never seen anything like it before. When it gets in a nerve cell it sits there and learns the ropes. It learns everything that the cell does in response to chemical signals from other cells, to nutrients, hormones… everything. And it takes over the cell’s job. It uses material found on hand to remodel the nerve cell into a white structure that straddles the length of the old cell but it’s skinnier, more compact. No more sloppy life. No more proteins floating randomly in water, more like a deliberate design. Like a machine.”

“What do you mean, like a machine?”

“All those cells are dead. Both of you girls have been hooked up to an Offner Dynograph and they show nothing. Both of you are brain dead. So far it’s only had an affinity for nerve cells but we’ve been watching to see if it changes, and starts attacking other tissues in your body.”

“Why can’t we see our folks, even through glass?”

“That’s a decision for Mr. Roland.”

“My father dotes on me,” Hunky warned, “and he said he was talking to our congressman to get permission to come here and see me.”

“Mr. Roland knows about that.”

“So you’re just going to keep us here forever,” Hunky snorted.

“Because we think this has happened to you for a reason and so far we haven’t learned what that reason is. That’s where a little more cooperation from you gals would be very helpful. For instance, we don’t know what the connectors in the back of your skull are really for.”

“Sometimes I feel like some hidden things are getting more and more clear,” Hunky offered after a sigh of resignation. “I keep having the notion that we’ve been picked to be go-betweens or something. Like translators. “

Kim nodded. “That’s true. We want to start keeping the Purple Cable with us overnight.”

He looked her in the eye, and shook his head. “That’s entirely out of the question.”

“In that event we want the cameras removed from our space,” Hunky said.

“What cameras?”

“Come on, Doctor,” said Sophie. “You think we’re just two stupid girls, don’t you? We’ve had a lot of time on our hands, being locked up in here, and we’ve found your two filthy little fisheye lenses peeping in on us.”

“I see there’s no fooling you two. But the cameras were not used for what you seem to be implying they were.”

“Look, yeah maybe we’re infectious, and you’ve got some law that says you can take away our liberty and keep us in this quarantine of yours, but guess what? We’re eighteen now. There are basic human and Constitutional rights we’re both entitled to.”

“Like what?”

“Like plain old-fashioned privacy! You wonder why we don’t want to play any of your games anymore? We’re tired of being watched on camera and we’re pissed off to find out you’ve been watching us all this time without letting us know.”

For the first time he became aware that Kim and Hunky were holding hands, and he blushed. And the realization that he was blushing made him blush deeper.

Kim saw the opening and drove her point home. “Look, we’re young women and you’ve locked us up in here together for a year, what did you expect?”

Hunky scooted tighter against Kim and added, “I hope you know what we’re trying to get at here, Doc. I hope you don’t make us have to spell it out.”

“I see what you mean by privacy issues,” Dr. Trochmann said, chastened by the realization that it had, indeed, been his fault that the girls were now much more than friends. “I think this whole spat between us has been due to nothing more than bad communication.”

“I agree,” Kim said. “We should clear the way between us and continue to talk.”

“OK!” he said, his mood brightening at this breakthrough. He seemed a different man. “There are some security things I need to change first, but then I’ll let you have your privacy. Honestly. You have my word.”

Hunky didn’t trust them to just turn the cameras off so she jammed more wads of chewing gum over the fisheye lenses in the corners of their room, even over the ones she decided were inactive dummy lenses, just to make sure. No one came to clean them off like they had before, so it was working so far.

That activity which Doctor Trochmann assumed they were doing with their new privacy they did not do. Kim knew Sophie was spoken for.

The girls remembered that he wanted to change the security arrangements, but there was only one change in routine as far as they could tell. In the past their tormentors seemed to have the code for the door memorized and they just punched their way out without a second thought. But now, very often they would take out their wallet, or look at a scrap of paper from their pocket before punching the buttons that would let them out. That could only mean that they were now scrambling the code more frequently, perhaps weekly, to balance the loss of their camera eyes.

Hunky almost despaired but Kim explained to her that the change actually did not make their task any harder at all. They just had to pick a fixed range and try all the combinations in it, night after night, until the daily shifting combo happened to fall into that range.

It was a hex keypad, a four-by-four square with sixteen buttons numbered 0 through 9 and A through F. The girls also knew from listening carefully that the code was always just four taps. The problem was that there was a ten second delay after trying a number before the red light would reset to the yellow light and it was ready to accept another try. Kim figured if they started at 6:00 pm and went all through the night to 6:00 am, trading off at midnight, they would just be able to do all of the “Lucky 7’s.” That is, the whole range from 7000 to 7FFF. Then the next night pick a different range.

Kim started pounding combinations, one after the other. And when she did, she could sense something like a tower of future moments stacking up on top of each other. Each floor of that tower was an attempt to punch the combination. This tower topped out in a moment of joy, five along the timeline, when she was to hit the right combination and the door unlocked. And the joyous number was 1DFC. She read it right out of her memory of the future, but that memory hadn’t presented itself until Robyn started actually trying to punch out.

So Robyn simply entered 1DFC and got the green light after only punching in about ten different combinations. Hunky was impressed. There was a click, and the girls stepped out into the muted light of the rest of the clinic, hoping it was deserted for the night. It was. But there was a closed-circuit television camera in the main room of the clinic, so now their captors could see them making the escape attempt and they would come calling very shortly.

Hunky scooped up the Purple Cable which was hanging from the wall in the main room of the clinic. She wore it around her waist like a belt. Then Kim did the same precognitive trick with the outer door. BF76 and click. They were out of the building.

crows

64 – AFTERMATH

When the dragon Demonstick fell from the sky and in his death throes belly-flopped upon the river Sabik, and the last embers of hope for House Gerash had been thoroughly extinguished, Baron Bayard turned to Hovan the son of Kirodiel. And he said, “Now carry out the terms of the death combat and release my mother Queen Aurra from her captivity, and get your ships hence, for neither shall you bring Lady Talishi into a cage once again.”

Then Hovan nodded his head once, and bowed, and Lord Zadkiel cut the ropes that secured Queen Aurra in her confinement.

With as much dignity as she could retrieve, she emerged from the cage and moved to within a few paces of her son, but her gratitude and pride in Bayard could not be contained, and he saw that.

Then from the air Victoria alighted on the gopherwood deck of the queen’s barge and in the same movement swept into the arms of Baron Bayard Sala, overjoyed that he had prevailed in his contest with Lord Kirodiel. Gently, gently, the baron embraced Victoria, and though he winced with the pain of his wound as she squeezed him back, the fact that she did squeeze him back was a very encouraging sign. He asked her, “Victoria, is it possible for mere human beings to fall in love with one the B’nei Elohim?”

“I see no reason why not,” she replied. “As I’ve told you before, we B’nei Elohim are mere human beings ourselves, with a few fancy tricks up our sleeves grounded in what you would call alchemy and natural philosophy.”

“I am very relieved to be reminded of that,” he told her. “Thank you! For now I can say with utmost confidence that I have fallen irretrievably in love with the B’nei Eloah named Victoria.”

“Then there must remain only one more thing for you to say, Bayard, so let me hear it. Come on, you’re among friends. Lay it out there.”

“Victoria, will you consent to become my wife?”

“The thing seems to be written in the living stars,” she said with no trace of hesitation. “But let me ask a question of you, Bayard, and when I have your answer, then you will have mine.”

“Proceed with your question, Victoria, but beware, I cannot foresee any that would deter me from what my heart has already resolved to do.”

Victoria caught the eye of the queen. “Is it safe to say, Your Highness, that with the whole House of Sala now moving at your command from their cities to many thousands of scattered faith assemblies, that there is no longer, in a real sense, any kingdom for you to rule, or for Baron Bayard to inherit?”

“Alas, Victoria” answered the queen, “that is true, and were you to marry my son and had your heart set on the title of Baroness, I’m afraid it would be little more than a figment, just an empty title. Our society is being profoundly transformed even as we speak. The irony of the situation is not lost on me, of course. All his life I have sharply rebuked my son for his taste in commoner women. I was trying to steer him to wed one of the Highborn, and now at the very end I find that the very word Highborn is a sound without meaning.”

“Thank you, Queen Aurra,” said Victoria. “And for my part let me say that my ability to fly, which is the biggest thing that sets me apart from humanity as one of the B’nei Elohim, is not a power that can be sustained here on Barbelo. Soon I must lay this power down again, and if I stay in this world I will be little more than a commoner woman, something that might interest the Baron of course, but I had thought you might have an intractable objection to that.”

“Victoria, you are far too modest! You have killed the dragon called Demonstroke and brought an end to the world war on Barbelo. Such a deed, which will be memorialized in songs for ages to come, makes you entirely uncommon.”

“Thank you once again, Your Highness Queen Aurra. And so I am led to ask my question of the man who has asked me to become his wife. Bayard, would you be willing to quit this world forever, and dwell with me on Earth?”

“Victoria I would eagerly follow you right out of this world if you consent to marry me.”

“I do consent to marry you Bayard! I warn you that it will be absolutely bewildering to you at first, and you will find yourself to be what we frequently call a ‘fish out of water’. For we do not merely live on the surface of the Earth, but in the skies above and in the ground below.”

“I am full willing, Victoria, if the queen will give her blessing.” And he turned to face his mother, who rolled her eyes and nodded her head yes. Then the Baron, filled with happiness beyond his capacity to bear, fell to the deck of the queen’s barge in a dead faint.

“I have done everything I can,” Talishi said after she had tended to Bayard and restored him to consciousness. “He has lost very much blood and I marvel that he slew Kirodiel. Do not permit him to stand on his feet until we have taken him downriver to Yeshua, who can provide a temporary blood substitute.”

“Lady Talishi, there remains a slight problem with carrying out that order,” the Fallen Angel Ambe Omphal said, pointing to Hovan Gerash and Lord Zadkiel and many of their officers who remained standing on the deck of the barge all around them.

Queen Aurra stood forth to confront them. She said, “Your dragon is dead.” And the men muttered aye for the queen spoke a truth.

The queen caught the eye of Hovan just then. “You have killed my husband.” And Hovan’s eyes fell, and he nodded in assent and said aye.

She said, “You are in the middle of Haaretz with a greatly diminished force, and the long road home will be much longer if you must fight your way there.” Then she caught the gaze of Lord Zadkiel. “The war is over, do you not agree?”

“I agree, your Highness.”

“Then get yourself and your men to another one of my boats and depart this land!”

When evening fell and the queen’s barge had reached the place where the rivers Sabik and Arhena became one, Talishi climbed, somehow, to the top of the highest mast where few would dare to follow her, and there she meditated on many things. Victoria, returning to the ship from a night flight she had taken for the sheer pleasure of it, saw Talishi sitting in that precarious place and asked to join her.

“By all means, Victoria, please make yourself as comfortable as you can.”

Then Victoria, knowing that no one could overhear, said, “Aliwe told you, didn’t she? That you and Bat-El found a way to win.”

“Aliwe told me things that would have been perfectly safe for our companions to overhear on the way to the Catwalk,” Talishi replied. “But I got the detailed update directly from her in the way that you and the other B’nei Elohim already know so well. Yes, we found a way to beat Mastema, both my daughter and I.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s a very curious thing, Victoria. It is like I have a splinter of wood that bears a tiny flame, and I must walk that small flame to a great pile of wood and kindle it to keep my loved ones from freezing to death, yet it is windy, and I dare not do the slightest thing to let the flame go out.”

“I think I understand what you mean. Even after Aliwe assured me I would defeat Demonstroke, I did not relax my guard for a single instant. It still required the utmost effort.”

“That is precisely what I’m trying to convey to you.”

“Lady Talishi, will I meet my daughter Aliwe again?”

“You will, after that big bonfire really gets going. But if you and Bayard have a child, even a girl child, she will not be the same Aliwe. Not even if you name her that.”

“Aliwe already said as much.”

“I will go with you and Bayard to Earth,” Talishi revealed. “It’s very strange, you know. My real body is the sun that warms the Earth and drives all life and movement there, but in this body, as Talishi, I have never been there. But I must go that there may no longer be two separate locii for the El Shaddai identity.”

“And will you return to Barbelo someday?”

“Just once, as an important part of that successful way Aliwe spoke of. I must save the planet from a third deluge. As Talishi I will not survive it. But Aliwe tells me the other El Shaddai, the one I must soon merge with once more, is already making arrangements to land in another body.”

“Please don’t make that into a habit, Lady Talishi. “We have seen what serial possession has done to Mastema.”

“I will not, and Aliwe told me that I’m making arrangements to deal with that problem as well. But I knew long ago there would be no real joy in bringing Mastema to his doom. Imagine contriving the total defeat of your bitter lifelong enemy only to discover the man was in the advanced stages of dementia.”

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