65 – THE CROSSING
What followed for Ithuriel and Jabniel was the Crossing, a three-year transit from Saturn to the Gravel Pile without benefit of phantomizable water. Every single drop of water contained in Ithuriel’s ice ball had been phantomized once and for all just to get it through the F Ring barrier. As he had just recently discovered, phantomization was a one-shot deal. Nothing in the universe would get those molecules to “stand up” ever again. So Ithuriel could not use a macro to generate heat or power to shorten their time of flight.
With some foresight on the part of Ithuriel, however, he had used his big macro to separate a considerable amount of water into hydrogen and oxygen, which was stored as liquid in various ice voids scattered throughout their miniature comet. This could be combined again to make a flame for heating and cooking, or to produce electricity in a fuel cell to keep the batteries of Chivalrous charged up. And there remained a small nuclear thermocouple power supply on Chivalrous to help tide them over. Still, three years would be pushing the limit, and strict conservation was observed at all times.
With the ship’s nose buried deep inside the ice ball their only view of outside space was through the remote cameras Ithuriel had placed on the surface. But there was nothing to see at any rate.
To save power, often Ithuriel and Jabs stayed in just one of the staterooms of Chivalrous and kept each other warm, moving to one of the other four staterooms when it started to smell too funky in the first one. Clutter from months of lousy housekeeping hung about them. There were tools, publications, and personal items floating about to no end.
All the misplaced objects that briefly caught their fancy, all their reference-only discarded junk tumbled in the air like the contents of an attic, filling every available space. To reshelf half of it would be an exercise in three-dimensional polyominos: possible, but impractical. However, they dared not throw anything overboard yet no matter how trivial. Not with the journey only just getting underway.
So the Crossing became a dreadful self-imposed torture for Ithuriel and Jabniel. But it wasn’t all misery. Sometimes they came out of hibernation in their current stateroom and caught up on the work that the ship demanded.
In their routine aboard the ice ball, their “days” blended from after-work fatigue to late afternoon relaxation to evening lovemaking without any sharp transitions. There was a low intensity sexiness with every moment together and at no instant could either one of them say “now we are making love” or “now we are not.”
Gradually Jabs took on more than her share of the work maintaining their home, letting the constant activity fill her mind. She made routine inspections of forgotten corners of the ice ball and marveled at the reliability of some of the components of Chivalrous, despite the ship’s age.
Hadraniel was born at the end of the first year of the journey to the Gravel Pile. He was not yet born when Ithuriel and Jabs had phantomized themselves, yet every atom in his little body had already been phantomized.
The labor was agonizing for Jabs, of course, since Ithuriel had little in the way of painkillers, and in free fall it was very messy, with globules of amniotic fluid going everywhere in the stateroom they had used for the delivery room. But the child arrived in apparent good health.
It was only with constant watchfulness that Ithuriel and Jabs and baby Hadraniel continued on with their mini-ecosystem intact. Everything was recycled. Air, water, and even their own solid wastes were turned into compost for Jabs’ little garden. The ship had dried fruits, beef jerky, and canned foods stocked in odd corners which Ithuriel dug out now and then to prevent them from starting to despise eating the same old foods. From the Jupiter system of moons Ithuriel had once bought a supply of meats, which he kept frozen in nooks of the ice ball to supplement their diet, but these were rationed too.
In terms of recreation there was plenty to do. Since they were not going to Earth, and his ultimate goal was actually Ceres, Ithuriel decided not to rotate the ice ball. He decided to remain in free fall for the entire Crossing. There was no need to maintain physical fitness under a full gee. Free fall play was readily available at any time. The ten-foot wide hole down the first four decks of Chivalrous was like a miniature Freeball gamecore once Ithuriel had lined the edges of the decks with padding.
To exercise the brain there were many books from Barbelo in the form of spools of thread stored aboard Chivalrous. For atmosphere, he played good old fashioned rock music from Earth. He hated the crap that was all over the Swarm lately, weird schizophrenic disco that Jabs liked but he despised. It was mostly songs about people slitting their wrists and trying to clean up after themselves as they died. Things like that.
When it was Jabs’ turn to listen for alerts on the alarm board she nursed Hadraniel and watched television broadcasts from Earth, which she found endlessly fascinating because they were so alien. As Hadraniel grew to become a toddler (if “toddling” was possible in free fall) the scenes of Earth on Jabs’s screen were only vaguely understood by him at best. But he did enjoy seeing movies with animals.
A year and a half after departure they were just crossing the orbit of Jupiter. Petty little perceived slights and injuries boiled up and spilled over. Jabs went on a sabbatical. She took Hadraniel, got in the captain’s gig and moved off for a while, claiming she needed to take the machine out for an extended inspection of the ice ball’s exterior. But she went much farther afield than Ithuriel expected her to, and that alarmed him.
The controls of the little shuttle comforted her as she sulked. Oh, she would still talk to Ithuriel on the radio but there was always the psychological refuge of the off switch and the symbolic “You-can’t-reach-me-from-there-and-sweet-talk-me-into-quitting-my-temper-tantrum.”
When she didn’t come back within the first twenty-four hours the war of words escalated and Jabs began taking the runabout further and further out to “punish” Ithuriel.
Of course, she regretted playing this game after they finally made up, especially after realizing how long it was going to take to get back to Ithuriel now that her tantrum had already been thrown and all she wanted to do was see him as soon as possible. At the height of Jabs’ folly, she was a hundred thousand miles away, far beyond visual range of the ice ball, and the time lag actually become noticeable.
She couldn’t hurry back because the runabout’s energy source was their precious hydrogen and LOX. Her little snit was going to be very costly.
Sweet conversations resumed between them. The delay gave Jabs just enough time to compose each of her words before she spoke them. She constructed her response to be as sexy and provocative as she knew how, but she missed the simple spontaneity of actually being with Ithuriel.
When the big day arrived Jabs docked at the aft end of Chivalrous (which was still pretty ragged from Stratis’ artillery round) and delivered Ithuriel’s birthday present: herself. Ithuriel didn’t even wait for her to get out, he pressed into the runabout and virtually attacked her.
Hadraniel at age two was a little too young to really understand what his parents were doing, and he wouldn’t remember it anyway. After his father kissed him, Hadraniel went back to sleep, for the excitement of the final approach had kept him up all night, and Ithuriel stuffed him in a bedbag in one of the staterooms. Then it was on to the business at hand.
Jabs had criss-crossed herself with red electrical tape like a present and she let Ithuriel devour her. The runabout became the scene of zero-gee gymnastics as they welcomed each other back to the heaven of their joined bodies.
“I really missed the smell of you”, Ithuriel said, savoring the subtle scent Jabs always had after he had given his lady her first orgasm. “I didn’t appreciate it until it was gone.”
When the end came they could only lie there wrapped in each others’ limbs, whimpering “I love you” to each other. Every inch-pound of sexual torque inside them had been wrung out. They were astonished anew at the amount of sensual joy they had given each other and the complete satisfaction they felt.
As Ithuriel and Jabs and Hadraniel finally neared their destination the word got around about what was going to happen. Two Water Guild ships started harassing the incoming ice ball with laser strikes. They desperately wanted to prevent Ithuriel from getting to the Gravel Pile. The Water Guild knew full well the ice ball would allow Roth Wardian break their local monopoly and wipe out their already razor-thin profit margin.
The attack pissed Ithuriel off, so he decided to play his hole card. He melted the ice around Chivalrous and worked the ship free. Her fangs were brought out to bear on the offending Water Guild vessels. But it was all a bluff. There was very little power remaining to fight.
As soon as they were painted by fire control radar the Water Guild ships recognized the Chivalrous as one of Sartael’s fighting spaceships and they moved off to a safe distance to wait.
Ithuriel actually considered the interference of the Water Guild a stroke of luck. Now he had a valid explanation for his inability to finesse the iceball into the Gravel Pile. He had Jabs radio their buyer, Roth Wardian, and tell him that her engine had been damaged in the attack so she needed his help.
Roth came out with four ships and let loose a missile at one of the Guild gnats. When it was destroyed the remaining one departed the area with its metaphoric tail between its legs. Then with a huge carbon-fiber net Ithuriel’s ice ball was taken under tow with Roth’s ships flying at the four points of a tetrahedron. They weren’t trying to slow the ice ball down, they were merely guiding the ice in for the last few million miles.
At one point Mr. Wardian himself paid a short courtesy call to Jabs aboard Chivalrous, where she introduced little Hadraniel and also her “boyfriend” who was billed as definitely the junior partner in the operation. Jabs didn’t mention Ithuriel’s name to Roth, because the deception was still on, but for the ruse she was pulling off, his name wasn’t important anyway.
For his part Ithuriel acted cool towards Roth, as though flexing his muscles. The idea was to put completely out of Roth’s mind any idea he had of pushing Jabs around when it came time to pay up. During this visit Jabs gave Wardian the information for the account which she expected him to credit upon actual delivery of the ice, which at that point was less than three weeks away.
As planned, Roth Wardian allowed the ice ball to crash deep inside his Gravel Pile, which swallowed it up with hardly a ruffled stone. In fact, only a few boulders were knocked loose forever from the Gravel Pile, and only a fraction of the water was lost as steam. He gladly paid the account of Jabniel Bat-Naseth her agreed-upon amount.
66 – SUEZ WAR I
On her collective farm after the War of Independence Lilith Gervasi immersed herself in honest toil cultivating the fields and garden crops and occasionally defending the settlement from gunmen who infiltrated from the nearby Gaza Strip to kill Jews simply for being Jews. Sometimes these attacks on Yad Mordechai were followed up by fierce IDF reprisal raids. Lilith was mobilized as a sergeant in the IDF reserves to help guide the counterattacks.
Apart from her trusty British-made rifle Lilith owned very little in the way of personal possessions. She had only her clothing, a radio she shared with the others in the Women’s House, and other such modest things. There were tractors and jeeps, but they belonged to the whole community. All the profits of the kibbutz were pooled together for the needs of the laborers. The children ate and slept apart from their parents, and Lilith, who was attending university part of the time, helped to educate them.
On July 23, 1952 there was a coup in Egypt deposing King Farouk, who had ruled his country since 1936. One of the coup plotters named Colonel Gamal Nasser steadily rose in influence to become the usual President-for-life.
Lilith graduated from Hebrew University in 1953 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the IDF. During her physical examination the IDF doctors noted the mass of keloid whip scars on her back, which limited her range of motion somewhat. They also noted the six numbers tattooed on her arm and knew exactly how she had been disfigured.
In the fall, Lilith returned to Hebrew University to begin her undergraduate academic work. She was interested in the newly-revived Hebrew language, which had been essentially a dead tongue (like Latin) for more than two thousand five hundred years. After the Babylonian Vacation it had fallen out of everyday use by the Jewish people, and this had been true even in the time of Yeshua, who had spoken the Syrian tongue called Aramaic.
Over those twenty-five centuries Hebrew became a rather specialized language spoken only by the scribes and elders in synagogues, and in the Diaspora, when many Jewish communities lost contact with each other, the pronunciation of Hebrew naturally drifted somewhat.
There were marked differences between the way the Shephardi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews spoke Hebrew, and there had been some infiltration of influences from both Russian and Yiddish. When the Zion project was conceived, and European immigrants began to settle in the Levant with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland, the “official” pronunciation of Hebrew was decided by a committee.
But it was wrong at many points, and Lilith knew this because she had spoken to Talishi, who remembered how “biblical” Hebrew had really been spoken. It only remained for Lilith to prove it. This was the challenge that formed the heart of her Masters’ Thesis.
Soon after obtaining her advanced degree she received an elevation in rank to seren, which corresponds to captain.
On July 26, 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, seizing control from the British. He closed the Straits of Tirin in the Red Sea, which effectively put the southernmost Israeli port of Eilat under a blockade. At the same time he refused to allow any ships bound for Tel Aviv or Haifa to transit the canal.
The United Kingdom and France laid plans to take the canal back by force, and they were interested in getting Israel involved in this operation. Israel was already leaning toward a tussle with Egypt, the question was not if but when. Cross-border fedayeen raids from the Gaza strip had never ceased in the eight years Egypt had occupied it.
The French began to arm the IDF, especially the air force. And in the third week of October Nasser moved part of his army into Gaza, including a number of artillery pieces, which were used to shell the Israeli settlements near the border, of which Lilith’s kibbutz of Yad Mordechai was the closest. Nasser also moved troops into the Sinai Peninsula, supplied with the latest Soviet military equipment.
On October 29, four Israeli World War II vintage P-51 Mustang fighter planes flew into the Sinai and cut, with their propellers, all the telephone lines connecting the Egyptian forces in Sinai to their home office in Cairo.
On the same afternoon, 395 IDF paratroopers were dropped at Mitla Pass, only fifty miles from the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, a force commanded by Colonel Ariel Sharon crossed the border and seized (through very hard fighting) three Egyptian positions along the 150 miles from Israel to the pass. Sharon then disobeyed orders to halt and proceeded to take Mitla Pass, at a cost of 38 Israeli lives.
On October 31 an Egyptian frigate fired two hundred shells into Haifa from the sea, but a French destroyer drove it off. Two Israeli destroyers then chased it down and opened fire, and later two Israeli warplanes damaged it with rockets. The Egyptian ship surrendered, and it was boarded and towed into Haifa.
Israel fought a fierce series of tank battles for Abu Ageila, and after two days the Egyptians withdrew. From this position, Israel could supply its troops in the central Sinai without an attack from the rear.
On November 2 the IDF seized El Arish on the Sinai Mediterranean coast, which completely isolated the Gaza Strip. By that same evening, the Egyptian governor in Gaza surrendered. The Israelis penetrated to within ten miles of the Suez Canal and took possession of forty Soviet-made T-34 tanks and sixty armored vehicles which were left behind there.
Seren Gervasi’s part in the war began at Eilat and ran down the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. The objective was to seize the guns at Sharm el-Sheikh and lift the closure of the Straits of Tiran. Her commander was Colonel Avraham Yoffe, and she was part of a motorized infantry brigade of 1,800 soldiers and 200 vehicles.
Their route was along a camel track that was never designed to be used by wheeled vehicles. At one point at Wadi Zaala they all had to break out their spades, dig their vehicles out of deep sand, and push them uphill.
At Dahab Oasis they had their first firefight against the camel-mounted troops of the Egyptian Frontier Force. They also were supplied with fuel from boats sent down the Gulf of Aqaba from Eilat. Meanwhile, a detachment of Ariel Sharon’s paratroopers advanced in a pincer movement down the Gulf of Suez, nearly doubling the size of the Israeli assault force.
At Sharm el-Sheikh a huge battery of naval guns were positioned to block all shipping to Eilat. There, 1,500 Egyptian troops with their mortars and artillery held off the Israelis for four hours of intense fighting, and it was over the course of those four hours that Lilith put forth her supreme fighting effort. The big guns of the fort were disarmed by 9 AM that morning. The water route to Eilat was opened once more. Israel had achieved all of her war objectives in just one week. IDF losses were 172 killed and 817 wounded.
Having lost the war, Egypt was compelled by the terms of the cease-fire to allow Israeli shipping to pass through the Suez Canal once more. Immediately, an Israeli destroyer squadron passed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea to support Yoffe, his battalion commanders, Lilith Gervasi, and all their infantry at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
Not by word, correspondence, telegram, or phone call did Lilith Gervasi appraise her father in England of any of the things that she had achieved since she parted from him, nor any of the historic events that transpired daily around her.
67 – CERES
Ithuriel and Jabs didn’t want to stick around and join Wardian to celebrate their recently concluded joint venture. They wasted no time flying aboard Chivalrous to the asteroid Ceres, the largest body in the Belt. Were it not for the perturbations of the gravity of Jupiter, Ceres would be a full planet and there would be no asteroid belt.
Little Hadraniel quickly grew overwhelmed there. He had lived his entire short life on a six hundred foot wide asteroid made of water ice, and now he was jumping around on a ball that was six hundred miles across. Ceres even had a little gravity, about three percent of Earth’s, not enough to beat Hadraniel down, but more than enough to get him used to the concept of gravity.
Ceres was a genuine world. In fact, Ceres was to the Moon in size what the Moon was to the Earth. On Timeline Eta when Pluto was officially demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” Ceres was promoted from asteroid to the same category.
The settlements on Ceres, which were half above the surface and half underground, were still rather chaotic. There was a Wild West flavor to the place, and no one political entity ruled the entire asteroid. However the B’nei Elohim quarter of the town of Tasker was said to be fairly civilized. Ithuriel steered well clear of it.
Instead he reported to the Eyes of Mastema in his capacity as an Ish in the armed forces of Sartael. Kasbeel, the ophan who commanded the Eyes on Ceres, said with disdain, “We didn’t send for you.”
“The hell you say, sir,” replied Ithuriel with his usual annoyance when dealing with the Eyes of Mastema. “Check with Hyperion. They will tell you why I’m here and what to do with me.”
While he was waiting for the transmission to go out to Hyperion and the reception to come back, Ithuriel took Jabniel and his son to a restaurant to indulge in real food, not something that had been freeze-dried and stored somewhere on his ice ball or grown in the garden fertilized by their own shit. But when the food arrived, Ithuriel realized something, and asked the server to box everything up so he could take it to his ship.
It had occurred to Ithuriel that he and Jabs and Hadraniel were in a unique situation should any of the Eyes of Mastema attempt to kill them with a macro. The body of Ithuriel and his wife had already been phantomized when they escaped the F-Ring, and Hadraniel, coming entirely from Jabs’ body, was pre-phantomized by default. And since the entire ice ball had been pre-phantomized, all the food they had eaten during the Crossing was in the same state. As long as they continued to phantomize their food before they ate it, they would continue to be immune to a macro. So Ithuriel ran their take-out through a cycle and they proceeded to eat it.
When he returned to the garrison of the Eyes, Ophan Kasbeel had received his orders from Hyperion and a hard copy lay on the desk before him. Yet he chose to insult Ithuriel’s intelligence by barking, “Where have you been all this time, Ish Ithuriel? The Lord has begun to wonder about your enthusiasm for keeping your oath.”
“I have been in the space between Saturn and here, sir, carrying out my promise to the Lord.” But Ithuriel could not find it within himself to blame Kasbeel too much. The Eyes were trained thus, always to question, to accuse, and never to give the benefit of the doubt.
“So have you had a breakthrough? If so, my orders say I am to take possession of your documentation.”
“Everything is here, sir” Ithuriel said, producing a fat red three-ring binder with a copy of all his notes.
“My orders also say I am to take possession of those physical prototypes you have created to support this breakthrough,”
“They remain on my ship, sir,” Ithuriel said. “I will provide them when men arrive who can convince me they have the wit to handle them correctly.” When Kasbeel stirred to protest, Ithuriel raised a hand and said, “I intend no insult to you, sir. I say this for your own protection. Certainly you would not wish to explain to Lord Sartael any damage to the prototypes that might take place under your oversight of this garrison as its commander.”
“Then I will say there are also orders for you given in this document,” Kasbeel said. “You are not to leave Ceres until your work has been duplicated, as before when you were on Palato.”
“Such was not my intention, sir,” Ithuriel said. “In fact, I think to make Ceres my permanent home.”
“Also, you are enjoined from sharing this research with any of the the B’nei Elohim, or even to make contact with them.”
“That goes entirely without saying, sir,” Ithuriel said, and he had no doubt that order would be enforced most rigorously by the Eyes. After all, they needed something to do as well. To assuage his ongoing irritation with the Eyes of Mastema, Ithuriel quietly proceeded to dump everything he knew about the sub-macro discovery directly to Dory via the neutrino link in his Plug. He began to do this while standing before Kasbeel, yet made no sign it was happening.
“There is a large sum of money which is your back-pay as an ish in the service of the Lord,” Kasbeel continued. “ You may draw it from Disbursing when you have been dismissed.”
“Thank you, sir.” But Ithuriel was not overmuch excited. His jackpot from Roth Wardian would dwarf even years of accumulated salary as an officer, and the things he planned to do on Ceres very shortly would bring in more money yet.
“And one more thing is listed here, Ish Should your breakthrough be duplicated, and only then, Lord Sartael commands me to elevate you to the rank of sar. It seems you find great favor in his eyes that he would make such an exception to his ancient law requiring a death combat to attain that rank.”
“Perhaps the Ophan will think on that,” Ithuriel offered with mock passiveness, “the next time he demands an explanation of the doings of the apple of the Lord’s eye.”
While Lord Sartael’s military research wing was dinking around with his notes and prototypes, Ithuriel decided to proceed on his own.
Ceres was little more than a very large version of Ithuriel’s ice ball, covered in a dark patina of rocks and meteorite debris. But in certain places the ice came right out to the surface, seen as “white spots”. Ithuriel established his estate at one of these outcroppings of ice.
There he hired employees to drive about the ice with bulldozers, harvesting it like so much coal in the open pit mines of Wyoming or Montana. This ice provided the water that would fuel a new sub-macro power plant he caused to be built on his estate.
The ice was melted, and the water entered a chamber where it was phantomized and allowed to compress to a density approximately one thousand times greater than unphantomized water. Then in an expansion chamber it was allowed to decompress and drive a turbine, which in turn drove a generator. Ithuriel was in possession of the largest single source of electrical power on Ceres. In short order customers from all over the planetoid tapped in and the power grid began to spread over the worldlet like vines of ivy.
From his new income stream Ithuriel dutifully paid his contributions during the worship of his god, giving the Eyes of Mastema absolutely nothing to complain about.
Meanwhile, the weapons research division of the Navy of Mastema succeeded in duplicating the sub-macro on their own. Warships were fitted with sub-macro drives, greatly cutting down transit times between the planets, and sub-macro bombs and railgun shells began to proliferate. Per the orders of the Gerash patriarch Ithuriel was elevated to the rank of sar, with compliments from Sartael himself.
Shortly after that, Roth Wardian reasoned out the sudden haste of Jabniel after she had fulfilled her contract. Her entire ice rock was somehow already phantomized, making it totally useless as a source of power in the ships of the Navy of Mastema, which were rapidly becoming the largest consumers of water in the Belt.
The possibility of such a thing happening never made the slightest glimmer in his mind. It never occurred to him that Jabniel’s ice ball would be made entirely of phantomized water, because as he understood the technology now used by the ships of the Empire, all that was all thrown overboard as propellant, a natural waste byproduct of the process of macro propulsion.
He had no idea exactly what Jabniel had done, but he saw now that her collision idea was really just a way to mask the lack of any unphantomized water on her ice ball to slow it down.
Even what little good water there was to start with in the Gravel Pile before the collision was now thoroughly mixed with the bad water, requiring an elaborate, time-consuming test, and essentially making all his water worthless. Soon the word got around that the Gravel Pile’s water was tainted. No one came calling anymore to take delivery. Roth had a great deal of money stashed away from the sale of water up to that point, but there would be no more coming in.
His misery was compounded further when he learned who the “boyfriend” of the Jabniel woman really was: Ithuriel. The schmuck he had ripped off years before. So that was it. Ithuriel had his vengeance. He had to admit it was all beautifully played. Roth Wardian swore to use even the last dregs of his resources to hunt down and destroy Ithuriel and his whole family.
Wardian had a small set of favors he’d been banking since the day he ditched his B’nei Elohim girlfriend and went renegade, and all of them were as good as gold. He had already cashed one of these markers in to find out where Jabniel lived and who her companion was. The other markers were called in when Wardian arrived on Ceres to carry out his vengeance.
When he decided to strike it was initially against Ithuriel’s son Hadraniel. He worked through third parties, with men unknown to Ithuriel and Jabs, men who could watch Hadraniel all the time for a moment, any moment, no matter how brief, when Hadraniel wasn’t being watched like a hawk by his parents.
They got him when the family was shopping in Tasker. Ithuriel and Jabs stopped to admire some blown glass art in a window along the main tunnel. One man whisked Hadraniel into a tube car with a hand over his mouth. Another man, unseen within, whisked the car away.
Ten seconds was all it took. And it took another ten seconds for Ithuriel and Jabs to notice Hadraniel was missing. Jabs became an inconsolable wreck. She couldn’t sit down the rest of that day. She wanted Ithuriel to call the Eyes, call the B’nei Elohim, call anybody. But Ithuriel decided to wait until whoever it was that kidnapped his son contacted him. This sort of thing could be expected to happen to a wealthy man in a largely lawless settlement.
The next day, the driver of the getaway car arrived on the doorstep of Ithuriel’s estate and gave them an envelope. “I work for Mr. Roth Wardian,” he told them. “The kid is safe. Mr. Wardian wants a refund for the ice, plus damages and…incidentals. He’ll be in touch.”
Ithuriel was in a terrible rage at this low blow but he understood it as an logical escalation of the long-running war between him and Wardian.
“So Wardian made his move,” Jabs said. “I just never thought he’d stoop to hurting Hadraniel.”
Inside the envelope was a picture of Hadraniel, his face wet with tears, tied up in a room somewhere. Jabs screamed, “Now contact the Eyes!”
Strangely enough, I want Hadraniel back alive, Ithuriel told her, shaking his head. “We can hand this without the Eyes. Did you notice the background behind Hadraniel?”
Jabniel examined the photograph again and on a second look even she could see it. “That’s the power plant.”
“So you see we have to do this alone,” Ithuriel said. “We can’t trust anyone at the plant. He must have bribed his way in there.” On that single point Ithuriel was in error. Wardian had simply bribed everyone to leave. Ithuriel would need to fire a lot of people later.
When Ithuriel and Jabniel arrived at the plant, which was on their property not far away from the main house, they entered a set of doors and stood in a large glass-enclosed gallery looking down on a dozen consoles that were supposed to be attended by technicians. The glass was very thick and they could hear no sound through it.
Just behind the far wall of the control room, Ithuriel knew, was one of two jumbo sub-macros which provided the power. Should one of those macros go down for any reason the technicians (when they weren’t playing hooky) could quickly shift operations over to the other line until the faulty one was repaired.
Ithuriel led Jabniel out of the gallery and down a sloping walkway leading under the surface of Ceres. In this place a window looked into a round room with a two-foot diameter rotating shaft running from the metal-grated floor to the ceiling.
This is the space between the steam turbine in the ground beneath us,” Ithuriel said, “and the generator above. The steam comes directly from the macro expansion chamber and turns huge blades. The rotation is geared down to sixty RPM, as you can see.
They walked further down echoing concrete passageways and took a glass elevator which faced back toward the exterior of the plant. It burst from underground and rose eight floors to a skybridge which went clear across the gigantic space of the power house. They went went halfway along the skybridge and looked over the edge eighty feet down onto the generators. There were two red-painted generators down there, and each generator was the size of a house. But there was no sign of little Hadraniel.
The skybridge led to a broad observation deck. Here the floor was covered in luxurious thick orange plush carpet and the walls and handrails were trimmed in bright blue.
There were various science exhibits scattered around, like a little museum of electricity and physics, since this was where Ithuriel entertained tours of visiting dignitaries and customers. Jabs pushed the button on a Jacob’s ladder, a pair of rods like an old TV antenna. A series of electric arcs started climbing up it.
There was another exhibit with a screen activated by a button which was supposed to roll a video thread spool of the power plant in operation. A yellow sticky was posted next to this button, and on that sticky was printed the name “Ithuriel” So Ithuriel pushed the button.
The screen showed a live image of his little boy, who was tied up alone somewhere in the plant and in tears. For the rest of his life, four-year-old Hadraniel would tag this traumatic event as his first memory, not his life in deep space, and that was truly a shame.
“Where’s my god-damned money, fucker?”
Ithuriel fired a shot at the screen in a tantrum. “I know where Hadraniel is being kept now,” he told Jabs. “It has to be the inactive macro, the one on standby in case the active one goes down.” They both rushed down the stairs, taking six or seven at a time in the three- percent gravity.
Ithuriel and Jabs entered the chamber. “Mommy!” Hadraniel cried. There was no sign of Roth.
Roth Wardian saw them all on camera from the control room. He calmly activated the phantomizer, but Jabs and Hadraniel and Ithuriel were all unharmed. You can’t phantomize something twice. “Lucky bastard,” Roth said to himself, thinking Ithuriel had somehow disabled the macro when he entered.
Just as it didn’t cross his mind at the time of the buy that Jabs’ ice ball had been pre-phantomized, it didn’t cross his mind now that Jabs and Ithuriel had been pre-phantomized also, and Hadraniel too, by proxy. Surviving a macro went against everything he knew. He had no clue there was such a thing as a sub-macro that was much more gentle with its samples.
So Roth Wardian came running down the ramp with his gun in hand, ready to kill all of them. And the instant he crossed into the chamber, he disappeared.
Since the power plant used a sub-macro, Wardian was not immediately killed. His body was phantomized, but intact, and only the force of gravity could operate upon it. He immediately began to sink through the foundation of the power plant and into the ice beneath the surface of Ceres.
Jabs rushed to pick up Hadraniel for a motherly embrace.
Leaving the chamber, the clock started ticking. For seven seconds Wardian saw nothing, and floated in the dark. He began to wonder if he had just died, and that wonder turned to panic when he thought death might consist of nothing but contemplating the dark for all eternity.
At the end of the seven seconds his body materialized once again embedded in the ice. He never felt that part. And for Ithuriel, that was the end of his Roth Wardian problem.
All and all, it was much too quick a death for Wardian, in Ithuriel’s opinion. After he killed the power to the macro, he muttered, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Then he swept Jabs and Hadraniel both into his arms for extended kisses.
Jabs absorbed this for a moment, then summed it up. “So this was a family affair. We solve our own problems.”
“That’s what we do and all we do, Jabs,” Ithuriel affirmed. “Look at the great little kid. Son you have no idea what a happy, rich, spoiled brat you’re going to be!”
“I want Hadraniel to be a happy, rich, spoiled brat,” Jabs said. “He’s got nothing to prove to himself. He can grow up here and fall in love the traditional way and spend the rest of his life with no worries about anything.”
“You see it then, don’t you Jabs?” Ithuriel asked. “Hadraniel himself, and you his mother and your happiness are my life’s reward!”
68 – HANFORD
It wouldn’t do to have the girls locked up inside the clinic in the not-so-unlikely event of a fire, so for safety and also as a security precaution in the unlikely case they did get out, a guard was posted in a shack nearby with bright lights flooding the doorway.
The escapees stood there illuminated like deer frozen on the highway.
Fortunately for them the guard wasn’t expected to just stare at the outside of the clinic for the duration of his watch. Just staying awake was sufficient, it seemed. So he had his back turned, hunched over a newspaper.
Kim and Hunky crept around the outside of the clinic as quietly as they could until they were exactly 180 degrees around from the guard shack. Then they headed straight out in the long shadow of the building.
There was no outer perimeter of eight foot high barbed wire fences or rolls of concertina wire or dogs or land mines as they had feared, since the clinic was intended mainly for treating Hanford’s radiation burn victims. Soon they found themselves trodding through sand and sagebrush on a gentle slope down to the shore of the Columbia River.
Kim looked up into the clear and dark desert sky and gasped at the beauty of the white phosphor Milky Way above, and more stars than she had seen in her life. But she was just wearing a tan and white dress and began to shiver in the night time desert cold.
Shortly the girls came to a wire fence and Kim put her hand out to spread the wires apart so they could crawl through, but quickly pulled back again when she suffered an electrical shock. She looked at it for a moment and decided to try to roll under it. The task required a little bit of burrowing into the sand to get more clearance.
Soon they were both through the electric fence and standing at the river’s edge. In the moonlight they dimly saw the roaring whitewater of the untamed stretch of the river called Hanford Reach. They both knew they couldn’t set foot in the water right there, or they’d be swept away and drown.
Hunky asked Kim, “How did you solve the lock so fast?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Kim said. “It’s as though I can daydream the future. I saw the moment when I hit the right number, and then just read the number right out of my daydream.”
“So daydream our way out of here.”
“That’s not how it seems to work. We’re on this kind of railroad track, and I can see that we’re going to screw up if we keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re certainly gonna get caught if we do. But my daydream doesn’t show me what we need to do to not get caught.”
The interior of the clinic was monitored on one of the earliest installations of closed-circuit television in the United States. Only the best for the Manhattan Project. By 1:00 AM a call was made to the guard shack at the Allard clinic, and soon after that the word was out on the street that Kimberly and Sophia were gone.
Still half asleep, E. G. Roland fumbled with the phone receiver and there was quite a pause before he remembered he was supposed to bring it to his ear and say, “Hello?”
“Sorry to wake you up at this hour, Director Roland, but you wanted to be informed immediately if the Lokken or Krouse girls escaped. Both of them did.”
“What time is it?”
“One fifteen in the AM, sir.”
“And who are you?”
“Sergeant Jim Lasker in Building 1002 at Pearl.”
“How did she get out?”
“As far as we know, sir, she just punched the right combination on the door and walked out.”
“The sentry at the clinic dropped the ball. Have they been picked up yet?”
“Not yet sir. But we’ll get them. We’ve had some wires tripped on the riverbank near Nancy so we’re concentrating downstream and northeast of the clinic. There’s nowhere for them to hide.”
With 960 square miles the Hanford site was large enough to require “town” names to identify places within it. The Manhattan Project had chosen to use mostly women’s names. So there were places like Ruth, Edna, and Susie, which were nothing more than railroad junctions, really. The clinic was only a mile north of Helen, which was just a large electrical substation and a cluster of warehouses.
Kim and Hunky had been steered away from the Mulberry trees along the river by the electric fence and deep gravel pits connected by a maze of unpaved roads that made up the relative highlands of Nancy. There was a single rail line crossing the area from southwest to northeast.
The girls veered off the gradually ascending scrub-brush plain into a newly dug mile-long trench intended to hold contaminated water from the Q West reactor. This would prove to be a mistake. When they had walked about halfway down the huge ditch, which was only wide enough to hold perhaps four cars side-by-side, a pair of headlights appeared ahead and turned to line up on them.
Kim and Hunky threw themselves flush against the gritty trench walls. They could feel the cool moistness of the face of newly-exposed gravel, and smell a flinty odor. The tiny rocks were somewhere between sand and small pebbles in size, and they were held together loosely by a sheen of underground moisture.
Hunky thought about climbing, but it would be useless to try because the gravel face was unstable. In some places clods of dirt and gravel were actually overhanging. easily knocked down by the brush of a hand. In other places a single scrape would unleash a miniature slide of loose gravel, the tiny rocks piling around their feet. But that gave Hunky an idea. She began scraping the walls of the trench and deliberately pulling the gravel down over herself.
A third light mounted on the windshield and hand-operated by the driver was sweeping methodically up and down the slopes of the gravel pit as the vehicle slowly advanced.
Hunky pulled Kim close to her until they were close enough to kiss. They both scraped at the walls until enough gravel had collapsed to leave only their head and one arm free.
“Don’t ask me how I know this will work,” Hunky said, “But it will. Put your mouth against mine, Kim. My body will supply the air you need to breathe.”
Then, as the MP’s white jeep approached very close Kim and Hunky engaged in a kiss. Hunky completed their self-burial, hoping the soldier was too intent studying the sides of the trench to glance at the little ongoing rockslide ahead. Since the newly-dug trench was pretty unstable anyway there were many such piles of gravel along the walls.
Kim calmed herself as much as possible, and breathed what Hunky gave her. Hunky, in turn, breathed what Kim gave her. It wasn’t anything sexy. And it did seem to work, but like Kim’s ability to see the future there was no immediate explanation for how it worked and how Hunky knew it would work.
After a few minutes of being buried alive Kim and Hunky pushed back through the gravel and tentatively took a breath. They dared no loud gasping, because the jeep was still very near. But the red glow of tail-lights meant that it had passed by. In fact the driver had not even given the brand-new little landslides a second look, he was checking the nooks between the landslides where he figured someone could hide. Kim and Sophie patiently and quietly recovered. The crisis of the first security sweep had passed.
After the guard’s jeep had left them far behind Kim and Hunky continued on their way east along the dry floor of the future waste-water sump. Their ordeal had not gotten them very dirty. The gravel they had buried themselves in was a lot like wet sand at the beach, only with bigger grains.
After about fifteen minutes of walking they stood where the jeep had been when they had first seen its lights. Railroad tracks were there. A white sign said “Bettie” in stenciled letters. Kim and Hunky decided to walk along the tracks, and though they didn’t know it, the tracks were a good choice, because they would cross no trip wires, and there was no road paralleling the track, paved or not.
Two miles to the south across a sagebrush plain many yellow lights illuminated Hanford’s main cluster of tritium production reactors. They were preparing the Fat Boy bomb that would be used on Japan on August 9, 1945.
At about 3:00 AM the girls reached the halfway point across the wide, flat tongue of land they were crossing formed by a northerly bend of the Columbia. They reached a major rail junction identified as Ginger as well as a cluster of paved roads. In the distance to the southeast a few approaching vehicles could be seen by their headlights so Kim and Hunky hid behind some rolling stock on a Ginger side track.
They chose a low brown Union Pacific gondola car to climb into. With many other identical railroad cars sitting around it was a good place for them to hide as long as they laid down out of sight.
“Even if we do manage to contrive an escape somehow,” Hunky quietly said, “they will never stop looking for us. So you are going to have to change your name just like I did from Sophie to Hunky.”
“You’re right,” Kim admitted. “So from now on call me Robyn. With a ‘y’. But I’ll never risk going to a judge to make it official.”
Exactly right there, in that empty railroad car when Kimberly Lokken changed her name to Robyn, the order of the B’nei Elohim was born.
Out in the night the army police were setting up a tripod. Television had been nearly perfected, but World War II had intervened just before the technology could be rolled out to the public. Soon after the war TV would replace radio as the main source of family home entertainment. In the hands of the army, television permitted a kind of night vision. A bulky television camera could be modified to respond to heat rather than light, and when the image was displayed on a CRT, warm bodies would stand out in the night.
Once the camera was mounted on the tripod they stared at the green screen and began slowly sweeping the horizon all around Ginger. The dark boxes of many railroad cars crept across the screen. There was a pair of infrared sources out there in one car, but the cold steel walls shielded them well.
It was 3:30 AM. The second sweep by the military police was over and they bundled up their primitive night-scope and drove away. Kimberly Lokken had crawled into a rail car with Hunky to hide from them but she was forever dead. Only Robyn and Hunky would crawl out and go on.
They decided to stick with the train tracks and continue northeast. If anyone came again, with any luck they could hide in another one of the scattered rail cars.
In a mile they reached a place where the tracks, a paved road, and a gravel road all came together. Now the gravel one ran parallel to the tracks on their right, making the girls feel a little exposed.
A half-mile after that a paved road took its place alongside. They both could see a hint of the coming dawn in the eastern skies. Robyn sensed the available choices were becoming fewer and fewer.
The rail curved sharply north, then northwest for a quarter of a mile, then north again for about fifty feet before coming to a dead end. Here was an old forgotten boxcar, forlorn in the dim gray light of 5 o’clock in the morning. Now Robyn sensed clearly that there were only two paths open to them. They could hide in the boxcar and wait to be picked up, or they could hoof it across the sand.
They saw a line of white cliffs about two miles to the east and guessed that was the far bank of the river. They were hideously exposed and the light was getting slowly but steadily brighter. There was little else to do but to make for the water again and hope to find somewhere to hide.
They struck off due east. In eight hundred feet they crossed a row of fence posts and tripped over a single wire. The army cops had them on their lighted map again.
Five minutes after tripping the outer picket they crossed a wide paved road on the brink of a gentle slope down to the river. They heard sirens. Blue flashing lights were visible to the north and south. Almost the entire Hanford police force was closing in like the jaws of a steel trap. Robyn and Hunky ran downhill toward the river, kicking up sand.
They met that old electric fence again, and dropped to worm themselves under the bottom wire. They heard dogs but once they had gotten to the other side of the fence they figured they wouldn’t have to worry about them.
When they girls got their first good look at the river current they both knew they were in luck. Here it was not too fast and not too slow. Robyn sensed they had completely run out of other options. So Robyn carved out for herself a new option by simply wading straight out into the water, and Hunky followed her. A grin broke out on the faces of both girls. They were pleasantly surprised. It being the late summer, the water had baked in the sun behind a dam twenty miles upstream, and behind another dam before that. So it wasn’t too cold. More like old bath water.
At this particular stretch the great river slowed and silt had piled up to form several islands. Seven miles per hour. It wasn’t the dangerous speed of the whitewater at the rapids upstream, but it wasn’t still water backed up behind a dam, which would force them to swim for it. There was even a wide zone shallow enough to permit Robyn and Hunky to touch their feet on the bottom now and again. But their bobbing heads were very visible in the brightening dawn.
There was a hard splash in the water a fraction of a second before they heard the sharp report of a rifle.
Up until that point it had been almost a game for Robyn and Hunky. It never occurred to them at all that they would be the target of shooters. Quickly they both dived under the water and repeated the same breathing trick that worked at the gravel pit.
When they came back up again they hoped they were beyond rifle range. But the southern group of MPs were getting out of their jeeps to look at the river with rifles in hand, and the girls were coming up on them fast. So they submerged once more.
One of the itchy trigger fingers on the bank thought he saw something and fired a round. The sound of his shot sparked a barrage of blind fire by the other men. Robyn and Hunky passed through a gauntlet of instantly forming white bubble-lines as dozens of bullets laced the water.
After they surfaced again well downstream it would be followed by almost two hours of drifting along with their eyes darting and scanning the shore before the river carried them past a roadless marsh and they could begin to relax.
At the first community downriver from the Hanford site Robyn and Hunky crawled out of the water and shivered for an hour, dangerously near hypothermia as they dried out in the bright morning sun on the right bank of the Columbia River, just below the first few houses on the northern edge of the town.
Still soggy, their shoes squished as they slogged their way through back yards and side streets and emerged on a thoroughfare named George Washington Way. In the bottom of one of Hunky’s shoes was a damp ten-dollar bill from her mother, sent by mail on her birthday and it was all the money any of them had. But it was enough to get some food and a bus ticket home.
69 – SIX DAYS
Nineteen years after the creation of the State of Israel, Lilith Gervasi (having been advanced from seren to rav seren, or Major) was crucial for her nation’s success in the Six Day War. This was the third major conflict between Israel and the Arab nations that comprised the bad neighborhood of the Middle-East. Geopolitically this war would have greater ramifications than any other tussle in the Arab-Israeli conflict except on the Zeta Timeline, when the 1973 Yom Kippur War with its use of nuclear weapons would prove much more fateful.
The cause of the 1967 war was exactly the same as the cause of the First Suez War in 1956. President Nasser rolled the dice one more time. The Strait of Tirin was once again blocked by the heavy guns of the fortress at Sharm el-Sheikh, choking off the southern Negev town of Eilat from access to the open sea.
The biggest contribution of Lilith was the destruction of nearly two hundred Egyptian warplanes while they were still parked on their runways. This was accomplished by the B’nei Elohim at her request.
In just a quarter of an hour on the morning of June 5 many Egyptian planes which had been prepared to bomb Israel were mortally crippled, and powerful cluster bombs tore up the airfields where the planes were parked. Bomblets shattered the concrete of the runways down to the foundations and made them temporarily useless.
The B’nei Elohim attacked from high above the Egyptian air bases in flying saucers that were equipped with large macros. They could hover on station indefinitely in nearly total silence simply by making the air over the saucer into dark matter. The air above the saucer disappeared, creating a pressure differential, hence lift, not much different from a conventional helicopter, but much quieter and with virtually unlimited flight time.
The B’nei Elohim raid allowed the IDF to retain all their own fighter planes orbiting on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in Israeli airspace to defend from any counter-attacks in case Robyn’s people failed, but some of these were dispatched to Egypt after the attack to evaluate the damage. They reported that 180 Egyptian planes had been destroyed, and all the communications facilities of the Egyptian air forces were also out of operation. The first combat operation of the B’nei Elohim was a spectacular success.
President Nasser told King Hussein of Jordan nothing of the sudden and inexplicable loss of his entire air force. He told the king it was the Israeli air force, rather, that had been completely destroyed. Proceeding on the basis of this misinformation the king ordered his troops to cross the border and his planes to begin bombing targets in Israel. Syria and Iraq attacked at precisely the same time.
Within two hours, Israeli warplanes drove back the invading forces and destroyed the bulk of Syrian and Jordanian air assets with aerial dogfights and ground attacks. A grand total of four hundred Arab aircraft were destroyed in the first day of fighting, leaving them only 280 operational planes, but there were very few runways left operational with which to launch them. That fact alone decided the outcome of the war. The rest was just icing on the cake
On June 6th, Nasser made another phone call to King Hussein to tell him American and British planes had destroyed his entire air force on the first day. Nasser half-believed it himself. He still had no idea it was the B’nei Elohim who really carried out the attack. Nasser had no idea that the B’nei Elohim even existed. To admit the Israelis had somehow decapitated his entire air force would imply that mere Jews were militarily superior to Arabs, which was, of course, utterly unthinkable. So it must have been the Anglos went his thinking.
On the morning of June 7th Major Lilith Gervasi received orders to report to General David Elazar at his Northern Command, based out of Galilee, where she was given command of a full battalion. She spent the rest of that day and most of the night evaluating the readiness of her troops and briefing her staff.
On June 8th General Elazar drove to Tel Aviv to get permission from Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin to attack the Golan Heights, lest the Syrians be left in a position to shell settlers from there after the war drew to a close. At first the proposal was rejected, but overnight it became clear the Egyptian army was in a state of disintegration. Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, overruled Rabin and authorized the Golan attack.
By June 9th Lilith and her battalion found themselves in bitter hand-to-hand fighting against Syrians manning fortifications in the Golan Heights, which their enemy defended with impressive tenacity. But future President-for-life Hafez al-Assad, then the Minister of Defense in Syria, began to fear for his own hide. He ordered the Golan defenders to withdraw to reinforce his forces along the route to the capital city of Damascus, which lay only forty miles away from the front line.
As the Syrians gave ground through the night, Lilith’s battalion advanced, but the fighting remained fierce and exhausting. By the evening of June 10 it was all over. After only six days of hard fighting, Israel possessed three times the territory she did before the war.
No Egyptian forces of any strength remained to prevent the IDF from reaching Cairo if they chose to do so, which they did not. Egypt’s infantry had been reduced to thousands of thirsty, barefooted stragglers walking west to cross over the Sinai Canal. As long as they kept moving west, the IDF let them go. Israel was already burdened with 7,000 Egyptian prisoners as things already stood.
The whole Sinai peninsula was annexed by Israel, which completely isolated the Gaza Strip. Sharm was abandoned by the Egyptians in the face of a strong amphibious assault. A chain of IDF fortresses designed to block any future Egyptian attack was built along the east bank of the canal. This was called the Bar-Lev Line, but it would never be staffed by appropriate numbers of Israeli troops, and this foolish policy would allow Egypt to attack once again in 1973.
The ancient capital of Jerusalem fell completely into Israeli hands after nearly two thousand years. Jordanian forces were driven east across the Jordan River, leaving the entire West Bank, also called Judea and Samaria, under IDF occupation. The State of Israel now controlled the lives of a million Palestinian Arabs, and this was to come with its own host of problems well into the Twenty-first Century on every timeline El Shaddai and Yeshua created.
Syria lost their territory in the strategic Golan Heights. A helicopter took IDF soldiers to the summit of snowy Mt. Hermon to take possession of the radar facilities there. This broad and tall mountain, whose snows were the source of the Jordan River, would become the eyes and ears of Israel.
Total Israeli losses were about 700 dead. This butcher’s bill was far smaller than had been feared on the eve of the war, but it was still a heavy burden for their families and communities to bear. Arab losses were much higher. In the Sinai alone there were 15,000 Egyptian corpses left unburied on the desert sands.
Israel, despite her relatively small population, had stabilized as the regional superpower of the Middle-East. A roughly equal number of Jews dwelt in the United States, where they lived in conditions that were much safer than in Eretz Yisrael, but they were still of the Diaspora. They weren’t home, in the land that had been promised to Abraham, and if the Jews learned anything over the previous three thousand years, they had learned that seemingly favorable conditions abroad were liable to change precisely because they, as a tribe, as a people, never changed. Something buried deep inside the rest of humanity could never accept that.
After the war, when the reserves were being demobilized Talishi came calling to visit before Lilith had exchanged her Major’s uniform for the clothing appropriate for a collective farm. And Lilith marveled that Talishi appeared to be precisely the same age as when they first met on the beach at Underhill on the Isle of Wight.
Talishi embraced Lilith, then stood back a bit to regard the woman with a friendly but appraising gaze. She said, “Your father Benjamin will not live forever.”
And then Lilith lost her smile, for she knew what Talishi had come to ask her to do. It was something Lilith had dreaded for years. “I’m not ready to tell him everything,” she said soberly.
“No, but you are, I think, ready to tell him something, and that is a vast improvement.” She held out her hand. “Come. Please.”
Then Talishi whisked Lilith back to St. Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight in the same manner she had whisked the girl to Yad Mordechai twenty-one years prior. So it had not been a dream or a hallucination after all.
“Will you tell me what you really are, Talishi?” Lilith asked as they walked toward the lighthouse that was so familiar to her.
“I will tell you everything,” Talishi assured her. “Everything! But only after you have also told your father everything.”
Lilith stopped in her tracks. “Why Talishi? Why must it be so?”
“Have you not discerned by now that I am healing your soul?”
After a long pause, Lilith nodded her head, then resumed her walk.
“Good! That too is a sign that what I have been doing is working.”
Somewhere between the place where Lilith had paused and the front door of the lighthouse Talishi had slipped away. Lilith was quite alone when she knocked on the door of what had been her girlhood home. A strange, severe-looking woman with her hair tied back in a bun opened the door. “Yes, what is it?”
“Is my…is Benjamin home?”
“Who are you?”
Lilith’s father hobbled up behind the woman to see who had come calling. At first, when he saw the IDF uniform, he didn’t recognize who it was, and thought he was in some sort of trouble again. But his mind merged the two decades of changes on Lilith’s face with his memories of his daughter. Tentatively, he asked, “Lilith? Are you Lilith?”
His daughter’s face crinkled up in a way that Benjamin could not mistake, and this time there were tears, perhaps the first tears she had shed over all that time. Lilith sobbed, “Father, I’m so sorry!”
They embraced for a long time, and Lilith wept as she had never done so in her life, for she realized that her father had done nothing, nothing, to deserve the silence she had inflicted on him all those years. Lilith had rationalized to herself that she was punishing her father for refusing to emigrate to Palestine, but that was nothing more than a huge lie she had made herself believe all that time, and Lilith marveled at her own capacity for self-deception.
When Benjamin and Lilith separated from their long embrace, the strange woman held out her hand to Lilith. “I am Laura,” she introduced herself. “I am your father’s wife.”
“Life goes on,” Benjamin offered, as though in explanation.
Lilith was mildly shocked by the news. “Father. We have so much catching up to do, it seems.”
“Then let us do so, beloved daughter, over a cuppa.”
The three shared afternoon tea in the large common room of the lighthouse. It was the place that once held a Teletype that gave the family their orders to direct the Clarinet antenna for a strategic bombing run. Benjamin told Lilith he was old enough to retire, but operating the lighthouse was not so physically demanding, and he still enjoyed making his meterological observations and publishing articles in his field to various professional journals. At certain hours during the day he and Laura would guide tourists about the lighthouse grounds and even take them up to the top, something Benjamin forced himself to do despite a bit of arthritis in his knees.
Lilith, for her part, was necessarily vague on answering her father’s questions about how she managed to travel to Israel, since she herself didn’t know the mechanics of that. But everything else she related, in reverse order, starting from the recent Six Day War and going backwards to the birth of her adopted nation.
“And all this time, daughter, were there no gentlemen in your life? Have you never considered being married?”
Lilith came to a dead stop. All the heroic accounts of an IDF Major the Arab-Israeli wars were over. Her father’s innocent question had dumped her directly into the pit of agonizing memories that smoldered yet in the core of her soul. “How shall I proceed father? I am no stranger to the touch of man, but…let’s call it conditioning, shall we? The thought of physical love inevitably takes me back to the camps. You may draw your own conclusions, but that, I think is a mental scar far more long lasting than any of the physical ones I bear.”
“I am so sorry, Lilith!”
“Rather it is I who must apologize to you, father. At no time did you do or say anything that merited shunning from your own daughter.”
“Once,” he tentatively said, thinking of Lilith’s mention of scars, “just once, I saw the damage on your back. Will you say anything about what happened to you?”
Lilith lowered her head for a rather long time, gathering the painful memories into a narrative for the first time since it happened. This is it, she thought. And I dread it so, but Talishi wants me to do this.
“One time,” she began, “near the very end, before we were liberated by the American army, the survivors — and this was a death camp so there were not very many of us – the survivors were mustered together for a roll call, or what the Germans called an appel. We all wore very thin clothing, and it was very cold, as mornings often are in late March. The commander of the camp gave an order to flog the entire first row of prisoners simply because the exhausted and freezing women had poor posture! And I was in the first row.
“Listening to the screams of the prisoners being whipped before my turn was almost worse than the actual punishment. Almost. I vowed that I would not scream when it happened to me, and I begged God for the strength to make that vow hold true.
“I was stripped naked and held by two female guards over a table while a third laid on the lash. The agony of this punishment is…indescribable. I will not even attempt to describe it. But from the first stroke I completely forgot my vow, and I did scream.”
Both Benjamin and Laura gaped at her with horror.
“I lost count of how many strokes I received because I lost consciousness before it was over. But a flogging is a gift that keeps on giving, as the American trademark goes. I woke up in the camp hospital in only slightly less agony than during the whipping, with my entire back on fire, it felt like. It would take four days before I could get more than a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep at a time. I had lost a lot of blood and the slightest movement opened the scars and caused me to bleed again. So I could not be moved from the hospital or walk under my own power. When the American forces drew very near, the entire camp descended into chaos. I was left behind.
“A day later I did manage to stumble out of bed for one final task. Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Among the many thousands of dead Jews whose burnt or decomposing bodies where strewn about the camp, one female German guard also lay on the ground with her head nearly twisted off the spine. That guard was the one who had laid the lash on my back. She was my second one, father, but she was not my last one, not by a wide margin.”
Benjamin closed his eyes and howled in despair, as Laura tried to comfort him.
“And so you see, father, as I stand here in my IDF uniform, that the little girl you raised in this lighthouse is no more, replaced by a cold-blooded killer, and we do not really know each other at all, do we?”
“Please,” Benjamin begged, recovering just a bit. “I must know. Please. What happened to your mother?”
Lilith shook her head firmly. “You’re not ready for that, father. It would kill you. I’m not ready for it yet, and I was there.”