90 – APOLLO
The timeline that Yeshua designated Eta was the one with the fall of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 2001, the one where President Nixon was forced to resign his office and Apollo 17 was the final moon shot. After the time track was created at the Watergate complex in June of 1972 Eta was allowed to run for six months before Theta was budded off from it.
That is not to say Timeline Eta ceased to exist when Theta was created. The time track simply bifurcated with the change, which then spread out into the rest of the cosmos as a spherical ripple at the speed of light. Everywhere the edge of that sphere touched, the universe split into two copies. It would be forty thousand years before this alteration or any of the preceding ones reached Barbelo.
At 5:26 PM EST on December 13, 1972, on Timeline Eta, six days after leaving Earth and their third day on the surface of the Moon, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt made the final moonwalk of Apollo 17.
Gene Cernan had flown to the Moon before, on Apollo 10, with his commander from his Gemini 9 mission, Tom Stafford. On that mission Gene had even flown a lunar module to within nine miles of the Moon’s surface, then returned to orbit, leaving the glory of the first landing to Neil and Buzz on Apollo 11.
He wasn’t exactly tight buds with his partner, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who had bumped one of Gene’s buddies from Apollo 17 just so the PR fellows at NASA could say they were shifting their focus from military test pilots as astronauts to scientists. But it was true. After Apollo 17 would come Skylab (on Timeline Eta), a joint flight with the Soviet Union, and then the Space Shuttle program after that.
Like the two preceding moonwalks of the mission, this third one was to last for about seven hours. But it was to differ from the first two EVAs in a very important respect, not counting the fact that it was about an hour late getting started.
Robyn had been following live television broadcasts of the mission from only a few miles away in Taurus City and she even followed the proceedings with the portable television in her truck as she drove down the flanks of North Massif to reach the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley. So many stations on Earth were airing the moonwalk the only trick was to pick one station out with a dish.
The landing site of Apollo 17 was on the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis where an asteroid hit the Moon nearly four billion years ago and created a basin a thousand miles across. The rim of Serenitatis was a ring of mountains which collapsed in some places to create long valleys like Taurus-Littrow aligned toward the center of the Mare. The pyroclastic flows that filled the “Sea of Serenity” had been accompanied by lava fountains which covered the whole area with tiny glass beads bearing bright colors such as orange and yellow.
The outer, southeastern end of the valley butted up against a large mountain called the East Massif. In the south, there was a narrow canyon that led to yet another valley. The west side of this canyon was the sheer wall of South Massif.
Crossing north to the other side of East Massif, the advance party of B’nei Elohim (scouting in 1956 with pressure suits purchased on Barbelo) found another canyon leading to still another valley. Beyond this canyon was the Sculptured Hills, and to the west of those hills was North Massif. Between North and South Massif was a narrower exit valley about four miles wide, partially blocked by Family Mountain and a sharp fault ridge about three hundred feet high.
The eastern foot of that sharp ridge formed a gentle ramp that led up around the western slope of North Massif to some rugged back country where it was difficult for landing craft to safely land. This high country on the back side of North Massif was where Lilith chose to build the city of Taurus as a “cut-and-cover” tunnel, with the Golden Gift doing the cutting.
Robyn drove her truck to the astronaut’s current position near a large, dark, shattered boulder wedged in the wall of North Massif where geologist Harrison Schmitt was gathering samples. She was careful not to run over their fragile little electric Rover parked nearby.
That Boeing-built Lunar Rover contained a built-in navigation system that kept track of every turn of the wheels and the total distance traveled. This system used a new four-bit microprocessor, which was essentially a computer on a single chip. As the decade progressed, this invention would undergo further advances and become the heart of the Micro, sparking the Information Revolution.
The boulder being examined by Schmitt, which was in five separate pieces, lay beneath a long furrow of dents showing it’s recent plunge down the face of the mountain. Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Alfred Worden had photographed the area in 1971 from orbit with a large panoramic camera. He captured photographic evidence of what looked suspiciously like tracks of wheeled vehicles and some debris that did not resemble stones at all. But after looking at the photos some analysts suspected the tracks and debris were simply from boulders that had fallen down the face of North Massif in a recent (probably less than 20 million years) moon quake.
The truth was, the staging area for construction of Taurus City was the Taurus-Littrow valley itself, and it was impossible to hide from NASA what twenty years of construction did to the pristine lunar surface.
Robyn pulled her truck to a stop, pumped the interior atmo down to a near vacuum, then popped the door open to wait for the boys to come in. They hadn’t heard her pull up, of course. They were so busy examining the boulder it was thirty-six minutes before they looked up from their task and noticed Robyn parked next to them.
At that very instant, Timeline Theta was created. Both of the astronauts uttered some expletives and the live feed was cut. CBS cut to Walter Cronkite for commentary. The live television blackout would last for about a half-hour. NASA claimed technical difficulties.
Commander Cernan described the situation to NASA. Phone calls were made to the Soviet Union asking them if they were operating in the same area and didn’t tell anybody (the Russians thought the Americans joke was in bad taste. “Is not enough you win Space Race,” they said, “now you rub it on?”).
Cernan and Schmitt, watching their oxygen levels slowly bleed down, reminded Houston they were still waiting for instructions. Houston said the mission commander, Cernan, could approach the truck, and perhaps even enter it, but Schmitt should wait outside and be prepared to hustle back in his Rover to the Lunar Module, which was about four miles away.
So Cernan walked over to the truck, where he performed a complete circuit around it. There was only one space-suited figure seated inside, who was waving at him, and motioning for him to come inside.
So Gene stepped inside, and Robyn motioned for him to have a seat. She closed the door and began to re-pressurize the interior of the truck with pure oxygen at just 3 psi.
When the dials read the appropriate pressure she removed her helmet, and invited Cernan to do the same. The sharp spent-gunpowder smell of the lunar regolith assaulted her nose, but she was used to it. And after two lunar EVAs so was Cernan.
When he removed his own helmet, his first words to her were, “You sound like an American.”
Robyn noted Gene was rather gaunt, and prematurely gray for a man in his thirties. She said, “I was born near Seattle, Commander Cernan. But my daughter Chayn was born right here.”
“Born. On the Moon.”
“On the Moon. But she has Barbuda citizenship in case she ever decides to go Earth-side some day. I’m Kimberly Lokken by the way.”
“Yes, but who are you?”
“One of my titles is Prophet of the Church of End Dome,” she said, bringing out a three-ring binder with many documents and photographs. “I am also the first member of what we call the B’nei Elohim. And I’m the Chief Executive Officer of the Astrodynamics Corporation. The names and faces in this binder will probably mean nothing to you, but they will mean a great deal to certain people in the United States government. I am providing this information package for you to take home and run up your chain of command.”
Cernan accepted the documents, and then searched Robyn’s face. She looked very much like an older version of his own daughter. He really wanted to like her.
“The information I have provided you also describes some of the operations my company is carrying out here on the Moon. I am sure the United States will find grounds to object, but since Astrodyne is incorporated in the new island nation of Barbuda there’s not much the US can do about it. You could try working with us instead of fighting us for a change.”
“You make it sound like this is an old argument,” Cernan said as he flipped through the sheets of paper to scan the information Robyn was asking him to pass along. Old argument indeed, it seemed to go back to the time of World War II. Inside the binder were five glossy color photos of the lunar surface that drew his interest. He pulled them out and asked what they were.
“Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken days or weeks after their departure. Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record.”
Cernan became quiet, and put the photos back on the clipboard on the inside cover the binder. He seemed to be a little sad. “So this meeting, what is it, a fancy sales pitch? I’m just to be your go-between?”
She smiled and nodded. “Basically, it all boils down to this, Commander: Everything the United States has done with its socialized government-financed space program, Astrodyne has already done faster and better with good old-fashioned capitalism. I can imagine this must come as a terrible blow to you, because your entire career has been building up to this moment, but that’s the raw truth, justice, and the American Way, so there you go.”
“How long have you’ve been up here, Kimberly?”
She declined to answer that question, despite her strong wish to do so, because it would lead to questions about how a woman who looked to be only about thirty could be forty-seven years of age. Instead she said, “Let’s just say John Glenn was not the first American to orbit the Earth, despite what you may have heard. Nor was Gagarin the first human to do so.”
“Then how many of you are up here?”
“Oh, not many right now. Only about forty. We’re just getting started. We are willing and eager to work with NASA on a contractual basis going forward. Our contact information is also in that binder.”
Cernan felt embarrassed. All the effort spent by America, all the national treasure, and in the end it all meant exactly nothing. The whole Space Race against Russia was just a fart in a hurricane.
“It’s twelve days before Christmas,” Robyn told him with a sly grin. I’ve got about a hundred and fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for your geologist Mr. Schmitt out there. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken from various depths up to six hundred feet below the surface. Sulfur from a channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation is provided with each sample with location, depth, everything. Hopefully it will compensate for all the precious minutes you’re losing talking to me.”
“I’m sure it will. For what it’s worth, thank you, Miss Lokken.”
“Well, time marches on and your backpack, which you kept running by the way, won’t run forever. So that’s pretty much all I wanted to say to you, Commander Cernan. Thanks for taking this time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. Perhaps we will meet again someday on Earth.”
“I would like that very much,” he said. “In the meantime, I would ask a small favor from you.”
“Just name it, sir.”
“My beautiful ten year old little girl’s name is Tracy,” Cernan told her, holding up again the image of the Apollo 11 site that was taken from very near the Eagle lander to underscore what he was saying in an oblique way. “I wrote her initials with my finger in the ground near the Challenger, but far enough away that the blast of our ascent won’t erase it.”
“I can tell you are a man who loves his daughter very much, Robyn replied. “These pictures were taken to impress your bosses, sir. But I promise no one will ever come near your own landing site across this valley, unless your own people do later. Tracy’s initials won’t last forever, of course, due to micrometeorites, but close enough. A million years at least. That’s much better than anything you could do for her Earthside. Take care and be safe, Commander Cernan.”
When the two men returned to Challenger and removed their helmets, Harrison Schmitt snapped a photo of Cernan for the history books. He looked haggard, exhausted, and just a little haunted. The young lady he met out there on the Taurus-Littrow valley floor with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks spelled instant doom for NASA’s manned moon program.
Apollo 18 and 19 were designated to explore the lunar far-side, but Cernan figured they would be canceled soon after he, Schmitt and Ron Evans returned to Earth. The twenty-five billion dollars that had already been spent on the Apollo project now seemed like the biggest waste of money in American history.
91 – INSPECTION
Ithuriel was a wealthy man, yet he maintained no estate on the surface of Ceres. His estate, instead, was a gray metal disk like a hocky puck in a high orbit over Ceres. It was about three hundred feet across, with fifteen levels arranged in concentric circles. The sensation of gravity due to centripetal force increased with each drop to a lower level, but even at the bottom it was never more than five percent Earth normal.
The disk was seventy feet thick, large enough to occupy newcomers for weeks exploring it. There were two miles of passageways, each one tall enough for a nephil like Jabniel to use, and there were more than two thousand compartments of various sizes and shapes. Five hundred of those compartments still contained personal belongings of humans and nephilim who had lived and worked here before.
Many of these people would return, but some of them were dead, and the son of Ithuriel and Jabniel, young Hadraniel, had spent much of his time growing up examining the clothing and personal effects accidentally or deliberately left behind by many people from Barbelo and the Jovian colonies.
But now High Lord Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash himself had come to the estate to examine it, and with him many Eyes of Mastema, armed with silver copies of the Golden Gift as they fanned out through the passageways looking for any unpleasant hidden surprises that might disturb the serenity of their Lord.
They found none, yet the serenity of Asmodeus was nevertheless greatly disturbed by yet another appearance of Lilith, who was making somewhat more commotion in Ithuriel’s estate than her previous appearance in the Emperor’s shipboard stateoom.
Outside of Ithuriel’s main workroom on the third level of his hockey puck the sounds of fighting were so loud it penetrated the door. Presently a hissing black shaft about a yard long penetrated the door and made a neat circle. A heavy slug of metal was pushed through and Lilith stepped inside.
Ithuriel and Asmodeus saw that there were many bodies of dead Eyes strewn about the passageway behind her, and these bodies were in two pieces. Yet Lilith herself was unharmed, and Asmodeus saw this shown forth to him when the last surviving Eye took a swing at Lilith with the black shaft emerging from his Silver Gift and nothing happened. Then Lilith swung back with her Golden Gift and cut the nephil in half.
“You are dead meat, Asmodeus!” Lilith shouted, and Abaddon lit off his own Silver Gift, more of a show of bravado than anything else, since the thing apparently didn’t work against her. Lilith smiled, deactivated her own weapon and snapped it to her belt with a carabiner. “Dead god walking.”
Asmodeus walked around Lilith and stared through the hole she had made in the door to Ithuriel’s work room to appraised the casualties she had left lying on the deck out there. “I thought you were a ‘good’ eloah, Lilith. There are less violent ways to communicate with me, you know.”
“Direct mindspeech doesn’t have the same dramatic character that befits this news,” Lilith said. “Nephilim have departed your binary system in the first starship.”
“So what is their destination, Lilith? It must be a very boring trip, I’d like to make it more interesting for your travelers, perhaps enliven their attempt to settle the new system.” But Lilith remained silent. Asmodeus said, “Come now, you always liked the bad news up front. Chances are they are just heading to one of the stars of the other harem I share with Mastema, the less troublesome one.”
“You can be quite sure they selected their target with that in mind.”
“Yefefiah then? You must be joking. She sleeps for a hundred and fifty years, wakes up for five minutes maybe, looks around with her orbiting avatar, then goes back to sleep to repeat the cycle. That’s why no male eloah in the galaxy has ever successfully courted her. Look how she slept right through the entire Golden Age of Earth radio and television. Completely missed Gunsmoke and Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island. Otherwise the entire community of Elohim would be on fire with the news. I reckon she’ll sleep for another fifty years and that is plenty of time for me to bombard your colony of nephilim to a pre-radio level of technology, and more for good measure.”
Lilith turned to regard Ithuriel. “And you, Edgar Shybear? Robyn’s kid? You sold your soul to the devil? You’re in the pay of Asmodeus now?”
“Only inasmuch as I draw a salary as a hashmal in his armed forces,” Ithuriel replied. “I sincerely hope, Lilith, that you are not about to bore me with questions about why I jumped ship,”
“I know why Asmodeus has come here,” she said. “He will command you to supply engines that are much faster than the ones installed aboard Redemption, so that he may overtake them. Perhaps I should kill you now before you obey your lord, to hedge my bet.”
“You are perfectly capable of doing just that,” Ithuriel said, “but that the thought even crossed your mind might be one of the biggest reasons I jumped ship.”
“Why is she immune to your weapon, Ithuriel?”
“Obviously Lilith phantomized herself with a sub-macro before her assault, my Lord. It’s entirely safe. I’ve done the same, years ago.”
“Interesting. And I had thought I still enjoyed a total monopoly on the sub-macro.”
“My Lord has seen how Lilith gets about,” Ithuriel pointed out. “I don’t think anything in this star system can be withheld from her, if she has her mind set on obtaining it.”
Lilith turned back to Asmodeus. “But perhaps you are right about Yefefiah being a dead end. When the humans make their own starship in the Sol system, I suppose they can bring something that will allow them to communicate directly with the target eloah, maybe even an avatar.”
Asmodeus snorted. “That’s an empty bluff, Lilith, and you know it. I destroyed your avatar at Nine Mile Wall and you cannot make a new one without killing Bat-El.”
“But you forget that long before that I had already caused an avatar to be made, by the hands of human beings no less. I’m referring, of course to the Ark of the Covenant.”
“The Ark of the Covenant? Do you have any idea what the conditions of the center of a star will do to a tiny artifact of wood and gold and whatever electronics you’ve clandestinely stashed inside?”
“And do I need to remind you there are ways to shield things from any conditions no matter how harsh?” She briefly touched the Golden Gift.
“Lilith, listen to me very carefully. If you allow the humans to make a crossing with your avatar you will violate our agreement never to travel to another star with an avatar.”
“The agreement was that I would never travel to another star using an avatar. But the humans will travel to another star using their own vessel, and my avatar will simply go along for the ride. That distinction, I am quite sure, will survive any review by El when it comes to a trial, which it will. So now my plan is laid bare. The clock is ticking, Asmodeus. The span of your existence is now measured in years, not eons.”
Asmodeus allowed his irritation to surface. “Are you going to come barging in on me this way every time I visit the Sol system, Lilith?”
“I think, no, Asmodeus, I don’t need to do this again.” And she departed from their presence in an instant.
“Was she close to the mark, Lord?” asked Ithuriel. “Did you come to obtain a way to catch this ship she called Redemption?”
“You are of the B’nei Elohim, you know the ancient controversy. I cannot command your thoughts, but I would ask you to provide a solution out of a desire to please your lord.”
“Then I will say, Lord Asmodeus, that I have embarked on a line of inquiry that I think will soon lead to a breakthrough far more significant than the sub-macro, although it uses the same basic principles. I think it will be possible to equip a ship with the means to travel at a speed greater than that of light. And so equipped, your fleet will be able to destroy this Redemption, and Lilith’s own proposed starship, and any other attempt my so-called family might make to thwart your will.”
“And what do you need from me to complete your research?”
“I have everything I need here, Lord, but I fear that Lilith or some of her people will storm in here just as you have seen today and hijack the fruit of my efforts the very instant I have reached a final breakthrough. And I fear that not even your Eyes will be able to stop her when she makes her move.”
“That is solved easily enough,” said Asmodeus with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I will simply have your entire estate relocated to my own star system where Lilith cannot reach you, and there you can work completely undisturbed.”
92 – TAURUS
When Robyn looked out along the new Timeline she saw that her idea of applying reverse psychology to the Americans was not enough. Apollo 18 and 19 were still going to be canceled, and the country was still going to turn its back on manned space exploration.
“So what do we do, Lil?” she whined, completely at a loss for ideas.
“I think we can fix it without creating yet another timeline,” Lilith replied after a moment of quiet reflection. “The whole Apollo program was a proxy battle in the Cold War, right?”
“Right, and just after Apollo 8 the Soviets, sore losers that they are, knocked all the chess pieces off the board. They took their ball and went home.”
“Well, then, Robyn, obviously all we need to do now is simply get the Soviets to come back to the game.”
In the days just before Christmas, 1972, President Richard Nixon sent 130 B-52s and hundreds of smaller bombers to lay waste to Hanoi, Haiphong, and the whole vicinity, including airfields, rail yards, and (although perhaps not deliberately) even residential neighborhoods. The North Vietnamese government said the Americans were insane.
There was a thirty-six hour pause in the bombing for Christmas, and then it resumed. Although fifteen bombers had been shot down and nearly a hundred airmen captured or killed, 115 B-52s continued to bomb indiscriminately, around the clock. By New Year’s Day the North Vietnamese couldn’t take the bombing anymore and returned to the negotiating table. A month later a cease-fire was announced, and the war shuddered to a halt.
A few days after the cease-fire in Vietnam, the judge in the case of the Watergate burglars, Maximum John Sirica, handed down ridiculously stiff sentences with the idea of making one of the defendants break and testify against their unknown handlers. Two months later the Quiet Man did break, and wrote a letter to Maximum John that there was political pressure to get the defendants to remain silent and that other men were involved in the operation who were not identified during the trial. This broke the cover-up wide open.
The Attorney General of the United States, the top law enforcement official in the land, had directed the whole operation to break into the headquarters of the opposing political party and bug their offices. Counsel to the White House was enlisted to pay hush money and lawyer’s fees for the defendants after the arrest. The head of the FBI was enlisted to steer the investigation by his subordinates away from the truth, and the President himself, only days after the arrests, claimed the break-in was a CIA operation in the interest of national security. And all of this was eventually dragged out into public view because Nixon had bugged himself. He had secretly recorded every conversation made in the Oval Office since becoming President.
Soon after Vice-President Gerald Ford had been sworn in to replace Richard Nixon after his resignation, fifty-three year old Astronaut John Glenn was asked to return to flight status with NASA after a hiatus of ten years. Although he had been preparing to make a run for the Senate, Glenn instead flew on the Apollo 18 mission in a special non-partisan observer role for the United States government.
President Ford gave Glenn carte blanche authority to make deals with the people already on the Moon who apparently were represented by Kimberly Lokken. This was not public knowledge at the time. Glenn was not assigned a role as Command Module pilot or Lunar Module pilot, but he checked out on both positions.
It was Richard Gordon who actually commanded the mission. He had already attained lunar orbit as the Command Module pilot for Apollo 12 but never walked on the moon. Now he was to land on the surface with Glenn and Fred Haise, who had almost walked on the Moon once before for Apollo 13 but had to turn back around following an explosion. He was played by Bill Paxton in a film of the incident made on Timeline Eta. Vance Brand and William Pogue were space virgins. They stood port and starboard watch aboard the Command Module in lunar orbit for the three weeks the teams were to be separated.
The Soviet Union transmitted to NASA the orbital elements for their Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl which parked over the Moon about a week before Apollo 18 arrived. They said the craft was currently unmanned and didn’t want the risk of a collision, no matter how remote. The part about the LOK being “currently” unmanned was strange, but the Soviets refused to elaborate.
Soon after Glenn, Gordon, and Haise landed, an electric truck identical to the one driven by Robyn and photographed by Harrison Schmitt arrived at the landing site and stopped. After that, the truck driver found the frequency the astronauts were using to talk to Mission Control and suggested, in English but with a Russian accent, that they follow him in their rover. Glenn and Gordon agreed to go, and Haise was left behind to watch the Lunar Module.
The route they took was like a long dirt ramp up the North Massif, but all the up-climbing took a toll on the battery of the Lunar Rover. At about the eight mile mark, Gordon got on the radio and said they’d have to turn around to recharge, or the rover would run out of juice. The Russian voice suggested it wouldn’t be a problem and they should keep going.
After thirteen miles, with many switchbacks, they rounded a hillock and saw something like a wide garage door, which opened at the command of the lead truck. Both vehicles entered, and the garage door shut behind them. It took about an hour to fill the space with oxygen, then two men got out of the truck wearing jumpsuits and boots, nothing more.
“Aleksei Leonov!” Richard Gordon said. “And Oleg Makarov! I recognize both of you from photographs in our briefing. I knew you were out here but I didn’t know you were landing. Where’s your LK?”
“No LK, Commander,” Leonov said. “Astrodyne. We hitch ride down here.”
There were brief introductions all the way around, then Makarov attached a power cable to the truck. He brought another power cable over to the Lunar Rover, and offered to plug it in, but first he had to convince Gordon it was safe. What sold Gordon was how the cable fitting was exactly tailored to fit the rover. Someone up here had done their research.
The next space after the garage was literally a locker room, with large lockers for the NASA crew to stow their pressure suits and keep the keys on their person. Makarov said, “This key for peace of mind, no?”
And the space after that opened on a balcony looking down upon the vast green interior of Taurus City, lit by clever sun reflectors in the ceiling.
“Damn that air smells good,” said Senator Glenn, taking a big breath.
“It better smell good,” Leonov said. “We pay for each lungful. They say, go fetch Americans, reduce line item on expense account.”
“They call this cut-and-cover tunnel,” Makarov, “but is big one.”
Glenn and Gordon got their first view of Taurus City from the south end, very high up near the ceiling. “One hundred sixty four meters wide, one hundred sixty four meters tall, nine hundred eighty four meters long,” Leonov recited from memory.
“Does it have an an ecological balance?” Glenn asked.
“Not yet,” Leonov said. “You can see how small trees are. But, I think, in time, yes. “
Gordon looked at all the apartment balconies running along all the walls all the way to the other end, almost a full kilometer away. “Is it dangerous here?” he asked.
“There’s no weather on moon,” Makarov said, “only moonquakes and meteors. Moonquakes are very small, you never feel one. Meteors bigger problem, but still small problem. Sometimes we patch ceiling.”
“I’m impressed,” Glenn said. “It’s a compact and carefully designed space habitat that somehow doesn’t look compact and carefully designed.”
“How do we get down there?” Gordon asked.
“That’s fun part,” Makarov said, and began to strap some wings on himself. Leonov strapped wings on as well, and showed Glenn and Gordon how to do it correctly.
Glenn looked at the folds of fabric he was encased in. “No time for flying lessons?”
“Wing it!” Makarov said. And he kicked free of the ledge. When he jumped, the excess folds of his fabric wings inflated and Makarov found himself gliding slowly down under the one-sixth Lunar gravity. It looked like so much fun Gordon immediately followed him, followed by Leonov.
Like a baby thrown into a swimming pool Glenn was instantly required to adapt to the changing circumstances of his flight as soon as he left the ledge.
Makarov, with the ease of slightly long experience, flew circles above and around the Americans to stay close enough to speak as they tried to learn the ropes. They flew right over the business district where the glass and steel Church of End Dome tabernacle, still under construction, shared a courtyard and fountain with an office building, also under construction. Of course both these structures ran for many levels underground.
Makarov began to give them a guided tour. “There’s two-seater electric vehicle available from motor pool beneath future shopping mall. Ramp from motor pool leads to Taurus Highway, three miles of concrete run from one end of tunnel to other.”
They all flew down a bit for a closer look at downtown.
“Astrodyne will not be run from there,” Leonov said, referring to an infant skyscraper. “Is just Potemkin village for bigwigs, so they think Robyn gives good meeting.”
On the other side of the highway a hotel and a bank were under construction. “You see Obion street and City Administration complex where Astrodyne handles day to day operation.”
They continued to glide along, and drop very slowly. Makarov pointed out the lunar branch of Canterwood Academy, right next to a one acre site with a grade school for the children of the B’nei Elohim. “Sometimes there you see girls kicking balls in effigy, and not just futbols.”
“How charming!” said Glenn.
The highway then curved gently through Cedar Heights, a forty-home development of big ranch houses for some of the middle-level B’nei Elohim members, and these homes, by contrast, were complete. The highway bent there to travel directly east to the other wall of Taurus City’s canyon. “Only eighteen second drive,” said Leonov. “On foot, cross from one wall to other in two minute walk.”
Bike paths led down and around Mineral Canyon which was a thousand foot long stretch of whitewater in a deep chasm. There were eleven mansions there for the top B’nei Elohim members like Hunky, Dory, and Jill. And there was also a bridge where the Americans could see a big pretty two hundred foot artificial waterfall plunging into a grass bowl at the head of the river.
They were getting close to the ground now, and Robyn’s estate loomed ahead on a little hill. On the other side of the mansion Glenn and Gordon could see the road did an “S” curve past two sections of nine acre Lake Taurus and an apartment complex where the bike trail ended. The last two parts was the farm sector and the forest sector. The farm was thirteen acres of fruits and veggies plus a ten acre apple orchard with room for about three hundred head of cattle among the trees.
The forest sector beyond that was centered around Green Hill. That was the highest point on the tunnel’s floor.
Makarov and Leonov landed first in Robyn’s backyard to show the Americans how it was done. Gordon followed them, and he found she could deflate or inflate the wings at will to control her descent perfectly. He came to a gentle stop on his feet right next to the cosmonauts and the Russians beamed.
John Glenn was too happy to let the flight end just yet. He was overcome with the same feeling one gets on terminal cruise, when a plane’s engines were throttled back near the end of a flight. There was a qualitative change in the background noise of his mind, an attitude shift.
Robyn’s estate danced under his feet. Descending into the compound Glenn tried to finesse his landing with small forced deflations of his wings…too much. Too fast. The three men watched him come down like a bat shot out of the sky. There was the swimming pool, screw it…
93 – CRYOSCAN
The Jills bought a house and quite a large chunk of land in the desert of Eastern Washington using Audrey’s old name of Morgan Brooklyn to keep DECON from snooping around. The house was partly underground, completely hidden from the access road but as you drove around to the back a wall of windows and a door were revealed, forming one face of a natural-looking mound.
The home had had been owned by a man, recently deceased in an self-inflicted gun accident, who considered himself, ironically, to have been a survivalist, someone who wanted to live through a nuclear war or the collapse of civilization. The property had an extensive bunker and a partially completed system of tunnels.
The Jills incorporated under the name CryoScan. They began converting the bunker of the Methow Valley home into a freezer bank. The house was remodeled with wheelchair access, not only for Jill’s sake but also for their first customer, an elderly woman named April Downs, who arrived at the house shortly after it was prepared. With their wheelchairs they were a matched set, Jill and April.
“You already know about the Cryo part of Cryoscan,” Jill told April after taking her on a tour of the house and the grounds. “Now let me tell you about the Scan part.”
“Do you really think it’s time?” Jade asked her. Jade was the newest B’nei Elohim, a young woman who came from the growing pool of fans of The Jills.
“It’s more than time,” Jill replied. “April doesn’t have any more time.”
April didn’t have any more time because she hadn’t caught her aggressive inflammatory breast cancer until her nipple inverted well into stage three, and the following mastectomy only removed the breast, not the cells that were already colonized in dozens of scattered lymph nodes around her body, which in turn, in stage four, recolonized her bone marrow. Despite her millions and the best treatment she could buy in the early 1960s, she was a goner.
Trish, the lead guitarist of The Jills, said, “What we’re going to do to you, April, is the old bait-and-switch. We’ve got this company we call Cryoscan that offers a freezing service. That filters out the ladies who aren’t really desperate. The ladies who come hunting for us, the ones who want to have their corpse frozen for two or three hundred years, they are already crazy enough to try the most harebrained schemes ever devised. No offense. That’s the bait. Now we’re going to do the switch. We’re going show you our real specialty.”
Then Trish and Jill and Jade began to explain to April about a better way, a way to continue her life without interruption by the death of her body. The explanation was partly show and tell. It was the distinguishing characteristic of the women who were in Jill’s orbit rather than Robyn’s orbit that their pony tails were piled up in a bun. The other B’nei Elohim had started to call them Bunners. The three Bunners lifted their hair buns to reveal their white skull connectors to the gaze of April Downs.
“For one million dollars,” Trish said, “you gamble that nothing will go wrong, you gamble that CryoScan will last for centuries without going broke or getting sued, that medical science in the future comes up with a way to safely unfreeze you and kill all the cancer cells that have spread through your body. And even then, as an elderly woman, you will only get a few more years or decades of life. But our other way gives you eternal life right now, guaranteed.”
“And how much would this different way cost me?”
“The whole $40 mil,” JIll said. “You become a full partner in Cryoscan..”
“And whose body will I get? Yours? More life in a wheelchair?”
“This one.” Jade stripped herself naked and turned her remarkable body slowly for her inspection. She had that fleeting smooth fullness of youth. And April’s ears blushed red, for she had been raised near the turn of the century. But she continued to mull it over.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jill said. “You’re thinking that this whole thing could be some kind of elaborate hoax. But you are a very important customer to us, April, so I’ve arranged a little demonstration that I hope will help you make up your mind. I sincerely hope it does, because I’ll only get one chance to do it.”
Jill wheeled out of the kitchen and they all followed. Trish and Jade had prepared the walls, floor, and ceiling of the living room with a layer of wax paper. The wheels of Jill’s wheelchair crinkled this paper when she rolled out into the room.
“I’m already damaged goods,” Jill said to April. “At least this way I can go out with a useful sales pitch.”
“How did you lose your legs, Jill?” April asked.
“My father had a doctor take them off, without anesthetic,” she said.
“What kind of father do you have? Why would he do that?”
“He wanted to learn the very things that we are telling you.”
Trish came over to where Jill was, sat on the floor and attached one end of the Purple cable to the back of her own head. Then she attached the other end to the same tape recorder they used to record their songs. Then as the reels began to spin, Trish continued to sit quietly.
“What is she doing?” April asked in a hushed tone.
“The connectors we showed you in the back of our heads weren’t part of some Halloween costume, April, there’s twenty-seven signal pairs and a guide pin. Each pair can transmit or receive tones of different frequencies, and those frequencies can be recorded. Trish is saving a copy of her memories to tape, everything that she knows and everything that she is.”
The backup took about an hour. During that time, as Trish dumped her memories to tape, Jill and Jade told April the whole history of the B’nei Elohim, all the events that led to them getting the Change.
When the tape ran out, Trish unplugged herself and stood with Jade on the far side of the room from Jill where they faced the wall. April thought this action was very strange. Jill said, “April, please wheel yourself closer to me.”
So she did, and Jill leaned in close to whisper, “Tell me your deepest secret, April, something that only you would know.”
After a pause, April did whisper a dark secret, but she still didn’t have a clue what Jill was trying to do.
Then Trish returned to the tape recorder and removed the cable from the adaptor they had added to the machine. She plugged that end of the cable into Jill, and she plugged the other end back into her own head.
“Please don’t take your eyes off of me, April,” Jill implored. Then Jade reached under a cushion of the living room sofa and grabbed a handgun. She put the muzzle in Jill’s mouth, aimed high, and pulled the trigger.
The sharp report hurt April’s ears and there was the smell of spent powder. Some of the contents of Jill’s skull cavity splashed against the wall behind her and the ceiling above her. Only her lower jaw and everything below it remained attached. Jill’s nearly headless corpse leaned forward and spilled out of the wheelchair onto the floor.
April screamed at the sudden, unexpected horror of the killing and began to vomit, overcome with revulsion, and this too ended up on the wax paper.
“I’m not dead, April,” Trish said. “I’m Jill!! I’m safe in here!” And she leaned close to April to whisper the very secret that she had whispered to Jill. Then April understood why Trish and Jade had faced the wall, so there was no question they might have read April’s lips and guessed the secret.
Jade went over to the couch and retrieved a white shape, the remnants of Jill’s modified brain. She showed it to April when she was ready to look. It was like a white wineskin. The neck of the funnel terminated in a 55-pin connector.
“This was in case you thought the connector was some kind of cosmetic appliance just for show,” Jill said with Trish’s voice. “No. This is all very real. I’m sorry about that overly dramatic scene, but it was the only way to prove to you that we mean what we say. Eternal life is yours, and it’s just a decision away. The choice is yours to make, April. Will you accept the Change? Shall it be Cryo, or Scan?”
April was shaken by the demonstration, but it was utterly convincing. When she calmed back down April realized that the reason for Trish and Jade eerie confidence, their ‘Thousand Year Stare’, was all very clear to her. Eternal life? In this world? It was real! But one thing still nagged her. She asked, “What about Trish, is she to remain forever without a body, as just a reel of magnetic tape?”
Jade said, “What we’re proposing to do, April, is start a system of time-sharing, kind of like when people pool their money together and build a vacation cabin which they occupy on a rotating basis.”
“What do you mean?”
Jill said, “As we gain new members, we’re going to lump them into three groups based on their seniority. Let’s call the oldest group the duchesses, the middle group the countesses, and the newest group the baronesses. Now the baronesses would be on a rotation schedule where they spent two years stored as tape like Trish, and one year in a new body. The countesses would alternate, one year on tape, one year in a new body. The duchesses would spend one year on tape and two years in a new body.”
“A new body?”
“We’re talking about a kind of pyramid scheme, but with bodies,” Jill said. “Do you see? We’re not only talking about eternal life, but eternal youth! You of course, April, as one of the first, will always be a duchess.”
And April knew that the alternative was a wretched death, now only a few months away. So she stepped over the edge, made a leap of faith, and came to a decision. “I want to accept the Change!”
The bloody remains of Jill’s body, the one born Rebecca Roland, was put into one of the four cadaver freezers in the house.
A month later on the End Dome summit in the Name Ritual, Robyn said, “Take control of your destiny, April Downs. Carve out your own free will. Discard your given names and choose for yourself a single new name. But consider it well, for it shall be your name for all eternity. All your actions have eternal consequences now. Choose!
“Let me be called Amber.”
“You are Amber, forever the ninth member of the B’nei Elohim. Welcome to your new family. This is the ceremony of belonging, Amber. You are now fully one of us!”
She wanted to shout Thank You! but no words would come out. The entire experience was too much for her and she burst into tears.
But the Name Ritual, as moving as it was to her, was nothing compared to what happened when Cryoscan kept their end of the bargain. Just as Jill had taken possession of the body of Trish through the Purple Cable, now Amber took possession of the body of Jade after the donor had made a safe copy of her own memories.
During the transfer there was a strange sensation of dual-awareness as Amber found herself in both Jade’s body and her own. Through the Purple Cable could see that, yes, Jade and Trish and Jill had been telling the truth all along. Amber pushed into Jade’s body until the final ratio of personalities that formed the new mix stood at 71% herself and 29% Jade.
The part of Jade who still existed within her could conceal no secrets, for they were now one being. It was sufficient to overcome the last of Amber’s doubts. In fact, Amber was now embarrassed that she had ever doubted.
Jill handed Amber a syringe so that she, while looking out from Jade’s eyes, could put her old pain-ridden body to sleep forever. Through the Purple Cable she experienced her own death, which she felt only as a sensation of the dual-awareness coming to an end, and now focused as only a single awareness in Jade’s body.
The cancer-ridden body of April Downs was laid to rest in the second of the four freezers in the Cryoscan house.
After that it was time to make the money transfer. Amber called Sid Drury, one of her accountants, into the room.
Forty million dollars was a lot of money for a single bank-to-bank wire transfer and so Amber had taken certain precautions. Both she and Sid had to give a verbal code. Amber didn’t know Sid’s code, and Sid didn’t know hers. Even Sid’s identity as the authorized accountant from a whole floor of accountants downtown was kept a secret from her until she saw his face just then.
The first transaction was the $40 million to CryoScan’s account in a bank on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.
The remainder, $1,348,767.54, went to Sid Drury for his silence. As far as Sid knew, there was only the Cryo option, he knew nothing about the Scan option which April had taken. The money was given to him with the understanding that he was never to reveal the location of April’s body.
“Her family might think she went nuts at the end,” Amber explained to him. “They might get a court order, thaw her out, and give her a proper burial. And then she would never see that future day when curing her cancer would be a trifling matter.”
The real reason was to maintain CryoScan’s anonymity. The wrong kind of publicity would mess up the next sale. Already April was thinking like a B’nei Eloah. She dismissed Sid from the room.
“Your family is going to be less than thrilled about the missing money,” Jill speculated.
“My children and grandchildren have wished me dead for a long time,” Amber told her. “When they learned I was terminally ill they could barely conceal their glee, hoping to soon come into their inheritance. Frankly, I wish I could see their reaction when they learn this news.” She focused on her most recent memories. The transition had been was perfect. Truly this was immortality. She considered the $40 million a bargain.
“How far back do you remember, Amber?” Jill asked her, and for a moment Amber suspected that Jill could read her very thoughts.
“I can remember, I think, 1903 or 1904. Back in those days it wasn’t a big deal to lose relatives at age forty or so.”
“You broaden and enrich our common pool of memories. Welcome aboard, Amber. Welcome home.”
94 – GREEN ROCK
As Terel and Greidi took Exiler spiralling away from Jupiter they tried to teach their son Lahatiel and daughter Noriel as much as they could about flying the frigate. Once when Greidi had struck below to sleep, Turel explained to his offspring why it was important they learned the ropes. “We’re going out to see your grandfather Naseth, but it’s been years since either we or he has had the means to travel through space and truth be told I can’t be entirely sure he won’t try to take the ship. I don’t know what his financial situation is right now, you see. I plan to leave one or both of you aboard to give us more options if he tries something. Please don’t tell your mother I said this, she would never forgive me for doubting her father.”
Lahatiel and Noriel promised their father they would not say a word.
There were many captured asteroids in the outer reaches of the Jupiter system that orbited the planet as so many small moons, sometimes in retrograde orbits, but only tiny Green Rock had a greenhouse. An artificial black hole in its core created a full gee of gravity on the surface of Green Rock, but that gravity fell off so rapidly with distance that the asteroid could not hold an atmosphere for very long, unless the air was glassed in, as Green Rock was.
Unfortunately any glass house was vulnerable to people throwing stones at it. Hence the current proprietor of the Green Rock operation, Naseth, the father of Greidi, was ever in the market for armaments.
The Navy of Mastema had approached Green Rock twice before, and Naseth resorted to bluff to survive the encounters. The first bluff was a suicide bluff. Naseth told the approaching warship that if they came any closer his family would blow up the glass enclosure and eject the black hole, killing themselves in the process but ensuring that no one could ever use the asteroid.
The second bluff occurred after Naseth and his entire family had been captured by commandos and were already being taken away to be tortured. When Naseth was put under torment aboard the destroyer Chastiser, Naseth “confessed” to have arranged a timed blast take out their greenhouse. Since Chastiser’s commanding officer was ordered to gain Green Rock intact, Naseth and his family were returned to their asteroid alive, but with life-changing injuries from the torture. If Greidi had not been married off to Turel and still lived in the household of her father she would have been one of the victims.
Naseth knew the Navy of Mastema never gave up on their problems. He as well aware his only remaining option was to give up the asteroid, walk away from his life’s investment, and try to live somewhere else. But when Terel arrived at Green Rock in the Exiler to pay his father-in-law a long overdue visit, more opportunities presented themselves to Naseth’s mind.
Access to Green Rock was through a landing pad atop a tall glass-enclosed gantry where the gravity was only half a gee. Nuriel, following the wishes of her father, stayed aboard the frigate. When Terel and Greidi and Lahatiel descended the ladder they felt the weight begin to pile on. Then they were through the glass and in.
Naseth apparently had something of a nostalgic streak. Amid the two hundred acres of forest and gardens wrapped around the tiny ball of rock was a big lawn, with a white two-story farmhouse and an old gnarled moving tree from Barbelo, complete with a tire on a rope that the tree itself kept swinging.
Naseth was overjoyed to see his daughter again after many years, but Greidi was horrified to see that her father and indeed every member of her family had been maimed in some random but permanent way.
Under the artificial lights and heat lamps used to supplement the diminished and faraway sun they sat in chairs on that lawn, just Naseth, Terel, Greidi, and Lahatiel, and they had themselves a cozy chat. In the opening round, Terel offered the Exiler entire in return for sanctuary for himself and his family, although on second thought, looking at Naseth’s disfigurement, Terel wasn’t too confident that Naseth really could offer sanctuary.
“Unfortunately your ship is a liability to me, Terel. I know Asmodeus gave it to you long ago, but then later he repented of his gift, as you just indicated to me. You must know as well as I do that he will never stop looking for it.”
“In that case, sir,” Turel replied, “I offer the four fully armed and fueled Bulldog ship-to-ship missiles we found stored in the tubes aboard.”
“That will pay for such protection as I can provide for only two other souls, aside from my daughter of course, who is always welcome in my home.”
Terel smiled sheepishly, but then his smile changed a bit as he guessed the man’s game. “How did you know this was not my entire family, Naseth?”
“You wouldn’t feel right leaving the frigate empty,” Naseth said. “I knew because I would have felt right doing it myself. There’s no shame involved here, Terel.”
Young Lahatiel saw that Naseth was a tough negotiator, but now he saw an opening that could sweetened the deal and also answer the man’s concern about being caught with an imperial frigate. “I will take the ship far away from here, sir, if my father will also release Nuriel to me.”
Turel gaped at his son. “And where will you go, Lahatiel?”
“Directly to Palato of course. The High Lord Patriarch will be very interested to hear how his most honest and loyal subjects are treated by his own Navy here in his Jovian colonies.”
“Then you not only have my approval to take your sister with you, but you have my immense gratitude. I am thinking of the well-being of Greidi of course.”
“The boy will need more training to fly the frigate,” Naseth said. “We will help.”
After Lahatiel and Nuriel made their tearful farewells and departed Green Rock in Exiler their parents Turel and Greidi did well as they settled in to their new home. Green Rock was almost like a toy planet. There was no want for food. The inhabitants could work and play in the lush gardens of the sharply-curved surface under greenhouse glass that became the exact shade of the purple Barbelo sky by “day” and permitted one to admire the stars at “night” as the tiny asteroid rotated upon its axis once in 22 hours. Climbing trees was particularly fun, as one’s weight perceptibly dropped upon reaching the higher branches.
At times, Naseth took Terel and Greidi in the family runabout to visit other homestead rocks in the vast halo orbiting Jupiter willy-nilly, but this small vehicle was not powerful enough to land on and return from the larger Galilean moons, explaining his failure to visit Greidi on Europa for so long.
Terel knew the paterfamilias of some of these spreads, and wishing him well in his change of life they extended to him gifts that helped lighten the burden on Naseth. And there were scattered bits of news and rumors of what happened to the men they had cast off in Exiler Sidekick. Karayan was murdered as was expected. The lander was sufficiently small enough that it was sold to a Ganymede chop shop and reconfigured in such a way to make it absolutely unrecognizable as once belonging to the Navy of Mastema. It was also said that the three men burned through their shares from the sale of the lander and had already sold themselves into indentured servitude.
Though he didn’t know it yet, Lahatiel was free to lie with impunity to Asmodeus about what happened on Europa, for none of the survivors of Exiler would ever approach the Navy to contradict him, although such was not his intention.
But as the saying goes on Earth as it is in Barbelo, all good things must come to an end. Less than a month after Terel made Green Rock his new home the asteroid was attacked by the destroyer Chastiser, which was the same vessel where Naseth and his family and servants had been tortured. Naseth took great pleasure launching one Bulldog missile from the four he had obtained from Turel.
The crew of the Chastiser were blindsided. They did not expect a military attack from a mere greenhouse asteroid. The Bulldog split Chastiser neatly in two. The crew was killed almost instantly, but Green Rock was not completely out of danger. The pieces remained floating out there like two moons of Green Rock. The debris was sufficiently intact to allow the Empire to identify them should they came looking for their missing warship.
So Naseth, to his great regret, was forced to use two more Bulldogs to render the pair of burning hulks into glowing splinters. This gave the people of Green Rock a few more weeks of life as the Navy attempted to ascertain the fate of the destroyer.
But after that time Green Rock was attacked again by the cruiser Punisher. Naseth fired his last remaining Bulldog missile, but Punisher was fully alert this time, and the automatic close-in weapon system on the cruiser easily destroyed the missile with no harm to herself.
After that, the centerline 80mm gun on the cruiser began to rain shells down on the asteroid. First to go was the gantry that poked above the glass shell where the Bulldogs had been mounted, where and also where Naseth stowed the family runabout. Naseth and his large extended family, including Turel and Greidi, were stranded on Green Rock with no means to escape. More shells pierced the greenhouse itself, letting out all the atmosphere. That was a death sentence for Starkad and all his people. Unless there was a miracle, they would eventually run out of food.
With nothing left to lose, Naseth ejected the core black hole on a course straight for the hovering cruiser. As soon as the black hole was free of the electromagnetic coils in the asteroid’s center which had held it in place, Hawking radiation began to evaporate it away. It grew exponentially hotter and hotter as its mass decreased. This runaway process reached its climax inside the Punisher itself, as Naseth intended. The cruiser exploded into a billion cinders that scattered to every corner of the sky.
Turel, Greidi, Naseth and his family still remained alive deep inside the asteroid, but they were stranded with no way to grow food or escape. They could survive for a few months on what they had stored away, but the Navy quarantined the rock and kept salvagers away. The bill for taking out the greenhouse and turning it into a gigantic tomb was two ships of the line.