TC023

From CleanPosts

Jump to: navigation, search

110 – DEL

“Have a macro,” the newly-arrived young woman said. She passed to Hunky a silver copy of the weapon she held in her hand, probably snagged from a Navy of Mastema armory somewhere. “Kill that camera, please, Hunky.”

Hunky used her Silver Gift to make the slowly rotating video camera covering the space they were standing in to entirely go away.

Soon after that a squad of eight DECON troops dispatched by Conley entered the office space though the door, which seemed to work for them just fine. “Everyone lay down your weapons and freeze!” one of the newcomers shouted, and Hunky marveled that he even got the two commands in the correct logical order.

Then Hunky stepped in front of Del and blossomed her phantomizer blade to full umbrella mode, something the original Golden Gift couldn’t even do, causing a great wind to start. She used this as a shield to absorb the initial bullets of the guards, which came immediately after her movement.

In a perfect dance, as though they rehearsed it, which in fact they often did, Hunky collapsed her blade and stepped beside Del.

And Del, stepping a bit forward, fired exactly two rounds, center of mass, killing two guards. Lather, rinse, repeat. Two more guards down and then Hunky and Del were close enough to just hack the rest to pieces.

“How’d you get in?” Hunky asked Del.

“Well there’s this network of tunnels inside the mountain made by DECON,” Del explained, “and there’s the network of tunnels we made under the mountain as insurance. It was just a simple matter of making one well-placed connection.” She held up her Golden Gift and wondered if she she needed to explain to Hunky the actual mechanics of the entry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hunky said, “allow me to introduce the B’nei Elohim named Del, the daughter of the late Talishi. who was the incarnation of El Shaddai. Which, I suppose, makes her a half-sister of Jesus. Or something.”

“What did she give you just now?” President-elect Henry Jackson asked. “Is there more than one Golden Gift?”

“Naw, we call this a macro,” Hunky said, holding up hers. “Del’s mother God gave the Golden Gift to some very clever monkeys, and we very clever monkeys copied it and made it better.”

“What’s next?” asked Ted Hickey, choosing not to dwell on the God thing. “Our plan was to move down and out.”

“We will stay with your plan,” Del said, “except that we will backtrack along the path I carved on my way up here. I took the liberty of killing the cameras in every space I entered.”

“That’s just great,” Hickey said. “Now Conley’s got a trail of dead cameras leading directly to the last position he knew we were. So now he knows we have help.”

“There’s such a thing as the fog of war,” Del countered with a bit of annoyance. “Let’s see how bright this Conley fellow really is. Let’s see how far we can get before he puts it all together.”

“The President has arrived, sir,” the duty officer told Ed Conley. “He’s making his way to the summit now.”

“Good, when he gets here and authenticates, unlock the elevators. Meanwhile I want the bodies of these two agents put in the path of somewhere we know Jackson went. It’s called shaping the evidence trail.”

Ed Conley stepped back from the Big Board to allow his personnel to remove the bodies, and stepping back, he was able to take in the whole picture. There were hundreds of small screens showing mostly stationary views, some empty, some with idle DECON personnel, but about twenty random screens were blank static with no signal, and he wondered about that. He knew there was no particular relationship between the dead screens and the position of the corresponding camera within the mountain, but he thought if such a relationship could be made, it might speak volumes. When the bodies were dragged away, Conley approached the duty officer again. “Plot the position of this dead camera,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the duty officer replied, and presently a floor map of that level of the mountain was displayed, with the dead camera indicated by a flashing red dot.

“Can you plot all the dead cameras? Is there a PolyCode script ready to do that?”

“No sir, but I can whip one out for you. Just one moment.” Presently the duty officer hand completed his script and ran it. Twenty maps flashed on the screen, one after the other.

“Okay, now here’s the real test. I want you stack those maps in order, and then I want you to rotate the whole shooting match to an oblique view so I can see them from the side and up. Can you do that?”

The duty officer had to think for a bit before he could answer in the affirmative, and the script for this took somewhat longer than the first one. But in about ten minutes Conley was looking at a kind of x-ray view of Yellow Mountain, with a trail of red dots meandering through the center of the hill to the bottom. The top dot was the most interesting one of all, that was the camera covering the space where he had sent that squad of seven DECON personnel before losing contact with them.

“Do you see that?” Ed Conley said, tracing the line of red dots from the bottom to the top. “They’ve gotten help from outside.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, sir. How would they get in?”

“Who’s to say the whole mountain isn’t sitting on a network of tunnels they made, waiting for the right time, and they just punched through? Send everything we have to that bottom dot.”

In the space one level up from that bottom dot Del stuck her head through the hole she made in the floor just long enough to see it was filled with more DECON personnel than she could possibly deal with, even with her, Hunky, and the four Secret Service personnel in full berserk mode. She sat back up and said, “Well, we have our answer. This Conley dude put all the pieces together. We’ll have to get out another way.”

“Any ideas?”

“Actually, I’ve just had a brilliant one,” Del said. “I’ve called in our air assets. DECON will want to scramble to deal with them, so all we need to do is be in one of the helicopter hangers when they do. Then we just walk right out of the mountain.”

“Show me the body of the Vice-President,” said Gerald Ford after he had seen the cell-camera footage of the demise, not fully aware exactly what it was he was asking for, but Ed Conley dutifully took him up to the cell and showed him the pile of hamburger that used to be Earl Roland and it was everything Ford could do not to puke up his lunch right there. He wheeled away out of the cell and up against the rail looking down on the control bay to steady himself. “Where is the so-called President-elect?” the President asked when he was able to speak again.

“Mr. President, the President-elect together with the assassin are being taken out of the complex by six Secret Service agents, against my better wishes. Apparently there was a disagreement among those six agents as well, we’ve found the bodies of two of them they shot up and left behind.”

The President looked to his own Secret Service agents. “See to it.” And it occured to Ed Conley just then, much too late, that the dead agents were fill of DECON lead, and he hadn’t thought about that. So he started thinking about making his own way out of the mountain.

The duty officer said, “We count twelve incoming bogeys, possibly Church of End Dome air assets come to pull the assassin out.”

The President said to Ed Conley, “You handle it. All I want right now is a private office with a computer terminal and total access to the files. And by that I do mean all of them.”

TFTR_1989











111- THE REVEAL

Accidents happened all the time on Mercury and for the most part no intervention by the nephilim was necessary. Sunset Chasers that failed to keep up with the setting sun went dormant and became Dawn Racers six months later, and vice versa. If a refinery fell into disrepair it was no big loss since the machines reproduced themselves. But a traffic jam at a choke point did require manual attention.

What was unusual about this particular traffic jam was that it occurred precisely at the terminal end of one of two dozen ion cannons radiating out over the surface of Mercury from the north pole, and even more unusual was that the cannon in question was the currently active one. A pair of technicians were scheduled to investigate the scene when the ground had sufficiently cooled.

Nadab and Danyel rode a tram out to the end of the cannon on a rail slung under the tube. During their ride they witnessed the bright flare of Robyn’s lander as she made good her escape and Nadab called it in. His superiors weighed whether to recall the technicians and send armed nephilim out there instead, but in the end they decided to let the technicians continue to the site to make their inspection, and added instructions for them to check for any damage to the tube itself which might have been made by intruders.

When their little pressurized capsule reached the end of the rail, Danyel cycled the air back into storage and led the way outside in his pressure suit to begin the inspection of the mouth of the tube. They were careful not to intrude their head or limbs into the carbon ion beam, which would have immediately ripped their suit. They found no damage and reported that fact to the control room, then proceeded down the ladder mounted on the pylon to reach the dark surface of the planet.

Before he even touched the ground, Nadab was sliced in half across his midsection by Lilith wielding the Golden Gift. She then touched the end of the black beam to the base of the antenna on Danyel’s pack to disable his radio transmitter. Raising a finger, she gestured for Danyel to climb back up the ladder once more. Shocked by the sudden death of his companion and fearing for his own life, Danyel moved deliberately to make sure the intruder did not suspect he was going to make a break for it and use the tram to get away from her.

Lilith seated herself in the tram where Nadab had been seated, then motioned for Danyel to follow after her. After more sign language, Danyel gathered that Lilith wanted him to close the exterior hatch and pressurize the little capsule so they could speak. As he did so she retracted the macro effect of the Golden Gift so it wouldn’t consume their air faster than it could be supplied.

When the capsule was fully pressurized Danyel removed his helmet to show it was safe to do so. “Why did you kill poor Nadab like that?”

Lilith removed her own helmet so Danyel could see he as dealing with a human woman. “Because you’re trespassing.”

And Danyel had no reply to that. Every nephil in the Sol System was fully aware of the Four AU Rule. No Centauri settlements were allowed on any body with a heliocentric orbit whose semi-major axis was not greater than four times the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

“What is this tube?” Lilith demanded to know, pointing upward with the inert ingot that was the Golden Gift.

“It’s a very, very long ion cannon,” Danyel said.

“I already know the payload is carbon, but why is it so long?”

“Because it has to develop a speed of thirty miles a second.”

The picture was becoming more clear to her. That was the speed of Mercury itself as it went around the sun. “Is this the only tube there is?”

“There are twenty-three more just like it, radiating out from the very north pole of the planet. But this is the only one that is operating right now.”

Lilith saw it now. “Let me guess. Each tube operates for about a week, then shuts down and the one next door starts to operate, again for a week.”

“Correct.”

“What is your name and what do you do?”

“I am Danyel. I help maintain all this hardware.”

“Very well, Danyel, and I am sure you are a good technician, but now it is time for you to become a good actor. Whether you live or die will depend on how well you do. You will tell your boss that you need to return to base and have someone drive a crane out here to right the fallen Refinery that’s blocking the way. That part will be easy because it’s entirely true. The hard part will be to avoid mentioning that Nadab is dead and that I have taken his place.”

“That’s not much of a choice. When they find out I have helped an intruder they will kill me anyway.”

“You may be right, Danyel, so allow me to amend my statement to, ‘whether you live or die right now will depend on how well you do.’ And when they have allowed you to return in the tram, you will stop in a place where I will find nobody waiting for us. Then, and only then, I will permit you to go unharmed.”

Lilith did not feel an overwhelming sense of remorse for killing Nadab and threatening Danyel. After all, they were doing much more than merely trespassing, they were helping to kill her.

The carbon beam emerging from the tube overhead was moving at precisely the speed and direction it would require to cancel out Mercury’s rotation and speed of revolution around the sun. When the carbon left the pipe, it was motionless with respect to Sol. Gravity then began to pull the gas directly down to the sun. The nephilim were injecting carbon into the stellar body that was shared by El Shaddai and Bat-El. But why?

A quick survey of the Lore of the El soon provided a possible answer. There was a process inside all stars called the carbon cycle:

   Carbon-12 fuses with a proton to form Nitrogen-13.
   One of the protons emits a positron to form Carbon-13.
   A proton capture produces Nitrogen-14.
   Another proton capture produces Oxygen-15.
   An energetic alpha particle is emitted to return to Carbon-12.

The cycle made the star a little bit hotter, and the carbon which was consumed was completely replaced. The carbon acted as a catalyst, much like the way man-made chemicals containing chlorine were slowly depleting the ozone layer over the Earth.

So what Mastema was having the nephilim he planted on Mercury do (Lilith refused to entertain the idea that nephilim like Nadab or Danyel really knew what they were doing) was stoke the stellar fires of Sol with an irreversible process.

Mastema couldn’t get the sun to go nova, Mercury would be vaporized long before that. But the delicate nuclear reactions which were manifested as the life of a living star depended on a stable temperature. Raising the baseline through the carbon cycle would kill the existing Elohim occupying Sol, both El Shaddai and Bat-El, and prepare the star for the quickening of a newborn.

That would solve a lot of problems for Mastema raised by the launch of Redemption toward Barnard’s Star.

After he was released as Lilith had promised, Danyel realized that although he was probably a dead nephil for allowing Lilith to enter the complex centered around the north pole of Mercury, the commanding officer of the installation would probably make it a much slower death if he failed to report Lilith’s presence as soon as he was free. So Danyel called it in as his least worst option.

The Cherub Thausael had been appointed personally by Asmodeus to command the operation on Mercury, and he was the only one fully appraised of its purpose. Before he could move, he needed to know who the intruder was. Subordinates began searching the displays of hundreds of security cameras looking for movement. For the time being any thought of reprisal against the technician who made the contact was an item far down on Thausael’s list of priorities. Besides, the technicians wasn’t even an ish, he had never faced the death combat. No one really expected him to lay down his life to thwart an intruder, even if it was expedient to let the technicians think so.

In short order Thausael had his image and Lilith’s face was presented to him in a freeze-frame. “Ah, Nithael,” he said to the ophan who was his chief of staff. “Do you know who that woman is?”

Nithael recognized her as well. “Our visitor seems to be Lilith Gervasi, sir,” he said. “The human incarnation of El Shaddai, even as Asmodeus is the nephil incarnation of Mastema.”

Thausael nodded his head. “I have a terrible dilemma, Nithael. Did you know that one time this same woman stormed into the throne room on Palato and killed all the Eyes blocking the way between her and our Lord, yet he did nothing? Or that he had nephilim tortured to death who spoke of her in a tone of contempt? She is, after all, his own daughter.”

Nithael said, “I heard of that incident on Palato, sir, and it makes me wonder what the Lord Asmodeus would say right now, with Lilith walking around on Mercury freely. I do not envy your position.”

“Have our security forces attempt to surround her, Nithael, but advise them their macros will not work against her. They are not authorized to kill her in any event, by macro or any other weapon. They are authorized only to try to stun her and restrain her.”

“Yes sir!”

Lilith knew she was being shadowed by squads of nephilim here and there, lurking behind corners and moving in such a way as to try to steer her away from the place where all the ion cannons came together at a single point. No snipers tried to take a shot, which told her they had orders to take her alive, something she was prepared to make singularly difficult for them to do.

Lilith did not marvel at the seeming coincidence that Robyn’s “situation” that allowed them to steal some Bots had occurred precisely at the end of the one ion cannon out of twenty-four that was currently operating on Mercury, allowing her investigation to proceed this far. The current track in reality, which Lilith called “Timeline Paydirt”, had been chosen precisely because it was the one where Mastema’s murder plot was finally laid bare. And Lilith had fully unraveled it. There remained only the task of setting the killing operation back for a short time, a temporary reprieve that would give her as El Shaddai and Yeshua Bat-El the space to carry out a more permanent victory.

And so, with the armed forces under Ophan Nithael finally closing their noose around her, Lilith found herself staring down into the heart of the operation, a vast and intricate mechanism at the core of the twenty-four ion accelerators, built under the surface of Mercury precisely on the north pole.

Nithael called out, “Lady Lilith Gervasi, lay down your weapons and surrender. You have nowhere to go. We honor you as an eloah and the offspring of the Lord Mastema, but you will not be permitted to harm our operation here.”

In response, Lilith said nothing, but armed a macro grenade and threw it down into the pit. Immediately, dozens of shots were taken by the nephilim security forces, and some of these hit the grenade. The detonator was disabled, and the grenade bounced down into the machinery harmlessly, failing to explode.

After that, the nephilim surrounding her drew a bit nearer, and pointed their weapons directly at her, but Lilith still suspected they were not authorized to fire. That led directly to her final option, which was to take her last macro grenade and leap into the pit herself, balling up into a fetal position to allow her own body to serve as a human shield to protect the grenade. This time the weapon did detonate, and it was far from harmless.

As Robyn had foreseen, so ended the human life of Lilith Gervasi, concentration camp survivor, Nazi hunter, IDF officer, born in 1928 in the UK, dying forty-nine years later on Mercury, the second and final human incarnation of the living sun El Shaddai.

tomahawk-sea-launch-cruise-missile-everett

112 – XANTHOS

A day after departing the double moon Rhene-Minos the navigation officer Erel Barakiel reported, “We have achieved synchronous orbit over the city of Xanthos, sir.”

Suriel was summoned from a nap back to her station on the flight-deck, where she focused the big imported 500mm Fairchild refractor down onto the city and threw the image up on the main viewport’s liquid crystal layer.

Lahatiel climbed down into the locked lander with Elimelech and prepared for separation. A series of thumps announced their departure. The time of flight to the surface was about an hour. Several domes on the outskirts of Xanthos, separated from the main city, were landing bays for ships.

With Exiler’s crew watching intently from high overhead, the metallic half-sphere that covered one of these domes rolled completely over on huge gimbals, opening to allow the lander to settle to the surface inside. When it closed again the dome quickly re-pressurized. Since it was a lander from Mastema’s navy, there were no debarkation charges. It was all on the house.

Standing outside the lander after they both emerged, Elimelech shook hands with Lahatiel and thanked him for his role in securing his freedom. “I did not trust you at first but now I believe you are a good nephil, Ophan.”

“Thank you, Elimelech. I think.”

“Please feel free to move around the city at your pleasure, sir. The hot springs are justifiably famous.” Then he went on ahead into the port of entry offices to arrange a ride. Lahatiel made a point of not following him. He stayed with his lander for an hour conversing with Suriel by encrypted text before seeking his own ground transportation.

Before the coming of macros very little underground tunneling could be accomplished anywhere on the rocky surface of the moon. Travel within the city of Xanthos was by special airtight electric vehicles sporting rear hatches which made a tight gas seal with any one of the dozens of standard ports located at ground level around the circumference of each dome.

Whatever Elimelech’s crimes were, he was a nephil, with kin who loved him, kin who couldn’t bear to think about what was happening to him at Rhene. They were utterly flattened by surprise when Elimelech showed up unannounced at the home of his mother and brothers high within in the Gnome Dome in the southwest quarter of Xanthos. Their condominium was a unit with an exterior view. There Elimelech was soon also reunited with his ecstatic wife Oeillet.

The wild festivities at Elimelech’s place, the traditional music and dancing and drinking and eating, were abruptly cut short by the arrival of one Remadiel Sala, head of the clan which dominated the Gnome Dome. And through his dreaded “Iron Fist” criminal organization Remadiel totally dominated all of the city too, but few have spoken of it openly, because Remadiel brutally enforced a code of total silence, and even their victims would say only that the associates of Remadiel paid a visit.

Elimelech and Remadiel embraced with the traditional double touch of cheek to cheek, boss and underboss together again. A cold glance from Remadiel at the nephilim all around the room was the unmistakable signal for them to clear out so he could speak to Elimelech alone.

“I learned just now,” Remadiel said, “that some Imperial navy ophan is sniffing around the Cabala Dome asking embarrassing questions.”

Elimelech laughed. “That is the very dome I marked for him as the secret heart of power in Xanthos.”

“As payment for your reprieve?”

Elimelech nodded. “Obviously the Emperor has decided he must flatten a Xanthos dome, any dome, to quiet the nobility on Barbelo. If he happens to take out Cabala Dome, the stronghold of his own accursed loyalists, so much the better.”

“How can Cabala Dome be marked for destruction, when the same officer who flew you down here is nosing around inside that very dome?”

“Perhaps he’s seeking to verify my identification of that dome. In any event, this ophan named Lahatiel will find nothing. No one will dare speak a single word to him about the Iron Fist nor the Gnome Dome, and if in his frustration he slaughters the innocent civilians of an entire city dome that will be no surprise because we already know the Empire is sufficiently barbarous to do such a foul deed. Things will go on exactly the way they did before, except now I am free.”

“But alternatively, Elimelech, it may be that this ophan is rallying the Jetrel loyalists even as we speak.”

“No, Remadiel, those so-called loyalists’ are too timid to be rallied for a bake sale, let alone a revolt. But if you command me, I will go over to Cabala Dome in force, my brothers and myself, my captains and all my associates, and we will eternally silence this ophan right before the very eyes of the Jetrel clan.”

“The command is now given, but do not use members of your family and do not go yourself. Send someone you can trust, Eli, yet someone it would not upset you too much to die as a martyr for our Cause in the very likely event Asmodeus does something rash. As for the ophan, do not kill him.”

“Do not kill him?”

“No. Have him confined somewhere inside the Cabala Dome. Should the Empire be so foolish and bold as to carry out an air strike, I want his final thoughts to be that it is his very own fleet which is killing him. And if the Empire sends down troops to occupy and search the city, the ophan will be our hostage, and if they do not withdraw the ophan can die together with the Hadraniel boy. I’ll send him along presently.”

Over the next hour Elimelech raised a small army of Iron Fist soldiery in the Gnome Dome, in case there was any trouble with the loyalists, but he was confident a strong show of force would be sufficient to cow them into submission as it had always done before. Iron Fist associates throughout the dome were pumped up when they saw their former underboss free from Imperial clutches and barking orders once again.

Presently a convoy of ground vehicles went out from the Gnome Dome led by one of Elimelech’s more aggressive captains, and this movement was registered in the corner of Hashmal Suriel’s eye.

Some of these vehicles went to other domes to gather more Iron Fist yeng. They were told to put their shopkeeper shakedown rackets on hold temporarily so they could participate in a major spoiling raid. A trickle of cars from these other domes joined the main parade and converged around the rim of the Cabala Dome in southeast Xanthos, and this too was observed by Suriel, though perhaps she was not aware of everything on a conscious level.

All of these maneuvers were tabulated by Suriel’s mind as she watched from above, which gradually built up for her a gestalt impression. Back on Palato Asmodeus had doubted his son Apollyon that Elimelech could be followed through the city from a warship in orbit, but Asmodeus had no idea Suriel could do it in this unique way.

“I know which dome the ringleader is in,” she finally said after a solid hour of watching the screen. Suriel spoke with a shaky confidence she knew would quickly erode if anyone pressed her to prove it. She went to Adnarel’s fire control gear and selected a nondescript dome three rings in from the southwest edge and painted a red video smudge on it with her finger against the touch-sensitive screen.

“That’s perfect,” Adnarel said, studying the image at her own fire-control station. “I can come up this canyon at eye level, right between these domes here and here, Hashmal. There won’t even be collateral damage.”

“Commence your attack, Sar Adnarel.”

“Yes ma’am.” Adnarel did not feel the slightest twinge of remorse that she was about to kill a thousand people. Guilt was not listed in her position description.

Adnarel deftly flipped the switches that armed and released the torpedo. One Mark 64 Mod 2 torpedo configured as an orbit-to-ground smart bomb jumped from the aft end of Exiler, near the lander, with a burst from a small attached pyrotechnic squib. Designed to penetrate the atmosphere, it was made of heat-resistant titanium wrapped in an even more heat-resistant ceramic case, protecting a thousand pound macro warhead. Here at airless Xanthos the heat shielding would be redundant. After its engine ignited, the torpedo pulled away from Exiler on a descent ellipse whose projected orbit just touched the ground at the city.

After taking a taxi to the Cabala Dome and paying with Solyad, which was much more readily accepted than he had anticipated, Lahatiel wandered around the shops in the dome’s main gallery asking questions that were politely ignored, but after persisting for a while more he found one friendly face. Someone who was willing to talk.

He was an old nephil named Orus who was a food vendor in the Jetrel clan. The Jetrels were part of a second wave of Antero settlers, and they had been struggling to make their own way on Xanthos for two generations. Orus smiled when he saw Lahatiel’s Imperial uniform and became quite free with his information. It was though Orus were a dam, Lahatiel thought, at the very point of bursting.

“But enough about me,” Orus said. “It has been several weeks since an actual tourist has dared to show his face here, and it’s especially heartening to see a tourist in uniform.”

“I imagine times have been tough, especially after the Great Ones officially shunned this place.” Lahatiel could see that Orus seemed to find comfort in his presence.

Orus said, “It’s this damn impatience for the Emperor to change his policy about letting us go home. They pushed it and pushed it, some people got abducted, some people got killed, and all they really did was pushed most of the tourists right out of here.”

“Making things unpleasant for tourists is not a good path for a place like Xanthos to take. You’ve got volcanic underground hot springs and a smaller gravity. That’s medi-tourist stuff. You don’t have much else.”

“That’s what I said too, at the time. Now who’s left? We’re down to maybe thirty percent of our original business.”

“Surely this anti-Asmodeus sentiment isn’t taken up by everyone in Xanthos.”

“Nearly everyone. I blame this Iron Fist gang running around the city. They’re the ones milking the unrest. And now after frightening away seven out of every ten of our former customers, the Iron Fist has turned to become a parasite on us.”

“Don’t they realize if they draw too deeply from the well their whole parasitical structure will come crashing down, and you their hosts along with it?”

“Since when has prudent foresight been a characteristic of organized crime?” Orus saw something over Lahatiel’s shoulder and fell silent, immediately regretting being so free with information to the ophan. He tried to slink away as Iron Fist soldiers entered en masse and cordoned off the gallery of shops.

Lahatiel found himself surrounded by a circle of toughs who motioned for him to turn over his sidearm. He was cast, none-too-gently, into a windowless room in one of the commandeered shops. It could not be locked, but a 350 lb. mountain of a nephil sat on the floor on the other side of the door, which amounted to very much the same thing.

For his crime of talking to the ophan, Orus was severely beaten and thrown into the room with him. Some time later the missing youth was also thrown into the room with Lahatiel and Orus .

He was beaten and bruised as well, but Lahatiel was glad the boy was still alive. “I’m Ophan Lahatiel Gerash of His Majesty’s Navy, at your service.”

“I am called Hadraniel, sir.”

“Your father will be pleased to see you again, young Hadraniel. The Imperial Observatory will be my very next stop.”

The boy’s face fell after an initial show of excitement. “What are the chances of that ever happening?”

“They are far better than you think right now,” he said, assuring both him and Orus. “The thing has already been set in motion.”

Below 100,000 feet the onboard electronics took control of the final approach of the thing that had already been set in motion. When Adnarel’s torpedo dropped a bit lower it passed directly over the town of Sonneillon, some three hundred miles southwest of the Xanthos capital. Her weapon screamed over the jade plains near Danae five times faster than any airliner. Soon it even dropped below the level of the rim of the long, straight, mile-wide canyon leading northeast to Xanthos.

With telemetry linking it back to Exiler, the analog computer flying the torpedo knew exactly where it was within 15 feet of error, and it knew exactly where its target in Xanthos was, and its sole purpose was to bring those two numbers together. Adnarel’s only regret was that this attack was not a very good first demonstration of her fire-control skill set. The hardware was doing most of the work.

By the time the warshot hit, the four officers aboard the ship and their dependents (for no one wanted to miss this) had a perfect bird’s-eye view from directly overhead displayed on any number of screens. Some watched from the flight-deck, some watched from engineering, and others watched from the Banquet Room.

The torpedo entered like a lightning bolt on the first floor, immediately detonating and punching through with a cone of destruction that was fully blossomed 10 milliseconds later. Many of the residents were on Elimelech’s spoiling raid, but most of the eight hundred remaining occupants including Elimelech, his whole family, Remadiel, and the senior figures of Iron Fist, were killed instantly by the concussion.

Molten droplets of metal and concrete flew everywhere, twice as fast as any bullet, ricocheting off of floors, walls, ceilings, through the bodies of the dead and through the bodies of those nephilim who had somehow lived through the initial blast. The fury of this shrapnel was expended by the middle of the third second after impact when the whole physical structure of Gnome Dome began to collapse in on itself. No one survived.

Vehicular traffic around Xanthos looked like an ant-hill after throwing a boot into it. Suriel, monitoring battle frequencies, said to the other officers, “It looks like we got the right dome. We knocked their jiste off the board. They seem to be in total disarray.”

Gnome Dome’s destruction could not be heard through the vacuum, but at Cabala Dome Lahatiel felt a great deal of vibration and had a good hunch what had just happened. Later he heard a commotion outside the door, including several gunshots, which ended when the door was opened and four strangers entered. “Orus, you’re safe!”

“You know these people, I take it,” Lahatiel said, grinning at Orus.

“Ophan, this is Freelord Jetrel, the head of his titular clan.”

“And these are my sons,” Jetrel added. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Ophan Lahatiel. You seemed to be just the trigger we needed to do what we’ve put off doing for much too long. The Iron Fist is soon to be no more, their dome been completely flattened. We’re just picking off their loose remnants now.”

Indeed, flashes of light were seen on the streets of Xanthos throughout that evening, but it tapered off by early the next morning. Lahatiel made ready to depart.

“It’s just the Iron Fist bitter-enders,” remarked Orus when Lahatiel and Hadraniel prepared to enter the lander while sporadic gunfire continued outside. “They saw the destruction of Gnome Dome and realized they had nowhere to go. A whole city is out for their blood.”

saucers

113 – EGRESS

“Have a macro,” the newly-arrived young woman said, and she passed to Hunky a silver copy of the golden weapon she held in her own hand. It was probably snagged from a Navy of Mastema armory somewhere. “Kill that camera, please, Hunky.”

Hunky used her Silver Gift to make the slowly rotating video camera covering the space they occupied to entirely go away.

At that point the squad of eight DECON troops dispatched by Conley entered the office space though the door, which seemed to work for them just fine. “Everyone lay down your weapons and freeze!” one of the newcomers shouted, and Hunky marveled that he even got the two commands in the correct logical order.

Then Hunky stepped in front of Del and blossomed her phantomizer blade to full umbrella mode, something the original Golden Gift couldn’t even do. This caused a great wind to start. She used this black shield to absorb the initial bullets of the guards, which came immediately after her movement.

In a perfect dance, as though they had rehearsed it, which in fact they often did, Hunky collapsed her blade and stepped beside Del. And Del, stepping a bit forward, fired exactly two rounds, center of mass, killing two guards. Lather, rinse, repeat. Two more guards down and then Hunky and Del were close enough to just hack the rest to pieces.

“How’d you get in?” Hunky asked.

“Well there is this network of tunnels inside the mountain,” Del explained, “and there is a network of tunnels we made under the mountain as insurance. It was a simple matter of making one well-placed connection.” She held up her Golden Gift, as though she needed to explain to Hunky the actual mechanics of the entry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hunky said, “allow me to introduce Del, daughter of Talishi, which, I suppose, makes her the sister of Jesus.”

“What did she give you just now?” President-elect Henry Jackson asked. “Is there more than one Golden Gift?”

“Naw, we call this a macro,” Hunky said, holding up hers. “Del’s mother God gave the first one to some very clever monkeys, and we very clever monkeys copied it and made it better.”

“What’s next?” asked Ted Hickey, choosing not to dwell on the God thing. “Our plan was to move down and out.”

“We will stay with your plan,” Del said, “except that we will backtrack precisely along the path I carved on my way up here. I took the liberty of killing the cameras in every space I entered.”

“That’s just great,” Hickey said. “Now Conley’s got a trail of dead cameras leading directly to the last position he knew we were. So now he knows we have help and he knows where we are going.”

“There is such a thing as the fog of war,” Del countered. “Let’s see how bright this Conley fellow really is. Let’s see how far we get before he puts it all together.”

“The President has arrived, sir,” the duty officer told Ed Conley. “He’s making his way to the summit now.”

“Good, when he gets here and authenticates, unlock the elevators. Meanwhile I want the bodies of these two agents put in the path of somewhere we know Jackson went. It’s called shaping the evidence trail.”

Ed Conley stepped back from the Big Board to allow his personnel to remove the bodies. Stepping back, he was able to take in the whole picture. There were hundreds of small screens showing mostly stationary views, some empty, some with idle DECON personnel, but about twenty random screens were blank blue with no signal, and he wondered about that. He knew there was no particular relationship between the dead screens and the position of the corresponding camera within the mountain, but he thought if such a relationship could be made, it might speak volumes. When the bodies were dragged away, Conley approached the duty officer again. “Plot the position of this dead camera,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the duty officer replied, and presently a floor map of that level of the mountain was displayed, with the dead camera indicated by a flashing red dot.

“Can you plot all the dead cameras? Is there a PolyCode script ready to do that?”

“No sir, but I can whip one out for you. Just one moment.” Presently the duty officer hand completed his script and ran it. Twenty maps flashed on the screen, one after the other.

“Okay, now here’s the real test. I want you stack those maps in order, and then I want you to rotate the whole shooting match to an oblique view so I can see them from the side and up. Can you do that?”

The duty officer had to think for a bit before he could answer in the affirmative, and the script for this took somewhat longer than the first one. But in about ten minutes Conley was looking at a kind of x-ray view of Yellow Mountain, with a trail of red dots meandering through the center of the hill to the bottom. The top dot was the most interesting one of all, that was the camera covering the space where he had sent that squad of seven DECON personnel before losing contact with them.

“Do you see that?” Ed Conley said, tracing the line of red dots from the bottom to the top. “They’ve gotten help from outside.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, sir. How would they get in?”

“Who’s to say the whole thing isn’t sitting on a network of tunnels they made, waiting for the right time, and they just punched through? Send everything we have to that bottom dot.”

In the space one level up from that bottom dot Del stuck her head through the hole she made in the floor just long enough to see it was filled with more DECON personnel than she could possibly deal with, even with her, Hunky, and the four Secret Service personnel in full berserk mode. She sat back up, looked at Agent Hickey sheepishly, and said, “You were right. This Conley fellow you mentioned put all the pieces together. We shall have to get out another way.”

“Any ideas?”

“Actually, I’ve just had a brilliant one,” Del said. “I’ve called in our air assets via Neutroninet. DECON will want to scramble to deal with them, so all we need to do is be in one of the helicopter hangers when they do. Then we just walk right out of the mountain.”

“Show me the body of the Vice-President,” said Gerald Ford after he had seen the cell-camera footage of the demise, not fully aware exactly what it was he was asking for, but Ed Conley dutifully took him up to the cell and showed him the pile of hamburger that used to be Earl Roland and it was everything Ford could do not to puke up his lunch right there. He wheeled away out of the cell and up against the rail looking down on the control bay to steady himself. “Where is the so-called President-elect?” the President asked when he was able to speak again.

“Mr. President, the President-elect together with the assassin are being taken out of the complex by six Secret Service agents, against my better wishes. Apparently there was a disagreement among those six agents as well, we’ve found the bodies of two of them they shot up and left behind.”

The President looked to his own Secret Service agents. “See to it.” And it occured to Ed Conley just then, much too late, that the dead agents were full of DECON lead, and he hadn’t thought about that. So he started thinking about making his own way out of the mountain.

The duty officer said, “We count twelve incoming bogeys, possibly Church of End Dome air assets come to pull the assassin out.”

The President said to Ed Conley, “You handle it. All I want right now is a private office with a computer and total access to the files. I mean all of them.”

The cliff on the east side of the base of Yellow Mountain was pierced with eight large four-story high helicopter hangers opening on a large landing area. Here was where DECON’s dreaded black Sikorsky H-5 helicopters were maintained and stowed. Hunky noticed that close up they weren’t really black at all, but dark green.

A small company was guarding the hanger where Del’s party happened to emerge, with about fifty alert troops. Del squeezed Hunky’s hands to assure her, then stepped out to try a supreme bluff.

“Report!” Del snapped to the company commander.

“Lieutenant Ross, Ma’am. Hangar Six all secure. All personnel present and accounted for.” He did not question her bizarre uniform or her strange, unknown accent. After all, it was Protocol Red. If she was still moving around, then she obviously had the authority to do so no matter who she was. But Hunky’s orange prison uniform raised eyebrows.

“Do you recognize this civilian?” she barked, pointing at Hunky.

“Yes Ma’am, it’s the reporter we took into custody at Mount Rushmore.”

“The alert was called away because the Vice-President of the United States is dead and his killer has escaped,” Del told him. “The enemy is already here and they want this woman. Do you understand?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“They will try to get this woman come hell or high water.”

“I understand the danger, Ma’am.”

“Then I turn her over to you, lieutenant.”

“What?” Hunky wailed as Del turned away, thinking that this was some kind of double cross, like when Edgar the Younger went over to Mastema’s camp. “But Del looked back again, her attention caught by the appearance of the company commander’s rifle. She came strolling right back and ordered the man to present arms. Then Del did a thorough inspection of the exterior, with sarcastic military flair. Then all kidding aside, with practiced motions she broke the weapon down to it’s component parts while muttering “Mm-hmm…mm-hmm…” Finally she turned back to the officer. “Lieutenant, tell me why is there light machine oil all over everything in your rifle except where it belongs?”

“Ma’am, I have no explanation.”

“How about your men? Round them up. Let’s have a quick personnel inspection.”

They left their posts in the nooks and crannies of the hangar and formed up on Del’s makeshift parade grounds right in the middle of the hangar. Del, Hunky, the President-elect, the four Secret Service agents and the company commander got halfway down the first rank before Del stopped and shook her head sadly. “Lieutenant this is a major safety hit. I won’t have any of your soldier’s half-assed work, inspired by you, causing a hang fire.”

“My apologies, Ma’am. I can offer no excuse.”

“If this was a drill I’d let it go. But this is Protocol Red! It’s the real thing! Instruct your men to disassemble and quickly clean their weapons. Handguns too! Everything!”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“It’s a disgrace. And in front of civilians too! I’ll tell you what, Lieutenant Ross. I’ll make you a deal. I won’t report this.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“But I am going to take the prisoner to Hangar Seven.”

“I understand, Ma’am.”

Del’s team were nearly all the way across the hangar floor when a hundred security men finally caught up and entered, anxiously looking for them. Some of these men were pilots who piled into the helicopter. But what they all saw defied belief: the DECON duty officer had started rolling up the large hangar door leading outside to the landing pad in preparation for the launch of the helicopter. And fifty soldiers had let Del’s people slip past them because they were all sitting flat on the floor, legs spread out, with their weapons disassembled in tiny pieces all around them.

Ed Conley was watching it now on the monitor in the control bay. He screamed for an override on the door, and got it. The door began to shut again after opening only three feet.

The bursts from the DECON security men’s rifles began to hit around them, some very closely. Under fire, partially protected by Hunky’s macro in full mushroom bloom, Del, the President-elect, the four Secret Service agents and finally Hunky dropped and rolled under the closing hangar door just before it slammed shut.

They were safe for perhaps one minute.

Three flying saucers arrived on the landing pad, piloted, respectively, by Dory, Jill, and Mike Morrich. Mike had miraculously survived the nuclear annihilation of Washington DC on Timeline Zeta and became a member of the B’nei Elohim, but he had never accepted the Name Ritual.

“I was about to give up on your ass,” Mike said as Del and one of the Secret Service agents sat in the webbing slung across the central core. In Dory’s second saucer the President-elect and two more agents piled in. Jill got Hunky and the last agent. Then everyone’s stomachs clenched as the saucers accelerated sharply upward, and the ground dropped quickly away.

“Seriously?” the President-elect said, “am really I seeing this? Flying saucers?”

“And why not?” Dory said. “It’s the same trick as the macros. Make the air go away over the roof and you get a bubble of low pressure, hence lift. And a macro makes its own power the more it eats. Basically we’re just like a helicopter but with unlimited fuel.”

DECON already had three birds of their own in the air, and they had five more getting prepped to fly. But Del’s wing had twelve units already in the air. Del told everyone flying them, via Neutrinonet, to play a little Three Card Monte, and the twelve flying saucers mixed it up like gnats for a while, until nobody watching could be sure which one held who. They even made a point of mixing up any attempt to track them on radar by briefly pointing the top of the saucers back toward the transmitter at DECON now and again. If air molecules disappeared, it went without saying that radar pulses did too. Then in one coordinated move the twelve saucers split up to every point of the compass.

In a thirty mile circle centered on the point where Wyoming, South Dakato, and Nebraska all came together a dozen dilapidated trucks had been prepared, waiting on the side of various dirt farm roads. Most of these were decoys. Hunky and one of the Secret Service agents named Gwen Scott was set down by Jill on the Wyoming side, and Hunky jumped out to get in the truck, but Special Agent Scott said, “Whoa, whoa, we got a problem now. We’ve fulfilled our mandate to protect the President-elect but now our mandate is to investigate the death of the Vice-President. You’re a material witness, Hunky, perhaps even the perp, I can’t let you out of my sight. You must know how it is.”

Hunky said, “You were right there, you came into my cell before you let the President-elect come in, it was a polywire web. Yeah I set it up but what is there for you to investigate? I didn’t want to get any more electric shock torture from Roland. How about you investigate that? Shit. Me, I’m for out of here.”

Gwen pointed her gun at Hunky. And Hunky, with intense sadness, pointed her macro right back at her. Hunky said to her, “This entire operation was put together to get me out of that Yellow Mountain shithole, I’m not going to let you follow your stupid rules and put me back in there, which is exactly what would happen. So we part ways right here, Special Agent Scott, like it or not. Jill, take her to meet the rest of her team.”

Already five of the decoy saucers had stopped for a few minutes by five decoy trucks, then the saucers and the trucks went their merry way. Del had been dumped off on the Nebraska side and started heading for Crawford. She saw two black helicopters crossing the sky as she drove across the Ogala National Grassland, green from recent rains, but the choppers were looking for flying saucers, which, of course, was the whole point of the B’nei Elohim using the trucks.

On the South Dakota side, Dory was speaking to Ted Hickey and the President-elect when Jill and Mike came in, bringing their one agent apiece. Dory said to the President-elect, “He got to you, didn’t he? The Vice-President? Pulled out all the DECON stops?”

Jill arrived just in time to hear the President-elect admit that it was true. “Sex videos. Stuff that would have killed my campaign.”

Dory said, “You see, that’s how America rolls these days, and we don’t like it. We never did. They call us the enemy within, Domestic Enemies, right? But that crap you saw up there in the mountain? Torture? Extortion? That’s what we’ve been fighting since ‘43. And I’m telling you to stand by for heavy weather, Mr. Jackson, because we saw the President go in to DECON just as you were coming out.”

Mike came up, caught the jist of what Dory was saying, and threw in his two cents. “Best case scenario, Ford deletes whatever crap the Vice-President had on him, goes home, and in two days you and Jeane Kirkpatrick are sworn in. I presume you are going to dismantle DECON if that’s the case.”

The President-elect said to Mike, “You are absolutely right. I’m going to tear DECON down to molecules and hold everyone who put it together responsible. If that was the object of this entire exercise, folks, then consider it a resounding success.”

“Well, let’s not celebrate just yet,” Mike cautioned. “Worst case scenario, Ford calls off the inauguration and uses DECON to squash any impeachment flack he might get from Congress. At that point all you will have is a sort of government in exile. You’ll be like the Dalai Lama. We consider ourselves real American patriots, so we will offer what help we can, which is considerable, but it is pathetic that the United States has come to this. And historic, any way you look at it. How does the ancient Chinese curse go? May you live in interesting times? We might be looking at a second American civil war.”

Jill added, “Between the best and worst cases are scenarios that are a mix of the two. We’ve gamed all this stuff out. In most of our scenarios, President Ford releases whatever crap DECON had on you to the media. You will have to be prepared for that to happen.”

“Hunky suggested to me that whatever it was that I thought was crap wasn’t really crap,” the President-elect said, “and I’ve started to think she might be right. The stuff I saw in Yellow Mountain, now, that really was crap. But you, Special Agent Hickey, where do you come down on all this?”

Hickey said, “I am carrying out my oath to protect the President-elect of the United States. Until such time as you are sworn in as Commander-in-Chief, I will continue to carry out that oath, and I will expect the agents under me to carry out theirs.”

Special Agent Gwen Scott said, “Yes sir, but I think I just made an enemy out of Hunky. I tried to keep her from leaving my sight because I knew she was mixed up with the assassination of the Vice-President but it quickly came to an armed standoff and she left. Threatening a federal officer is another offense, by the way.”

Henry “Scoop” Jackson crawled into one of the waiting farm trucks, one driven by a third Secret Service agent, rolled down the passenger-side window, and said, “I was in that God-forsaken mountain. I watched Earl Roland torture Hunky and she was simply doing what she could to keep it from happening again. If it comes down to it, when I’m President I will pardon Hunky myself, and also any of you for helping me if the Secret Service tries to retaliate for you going rogue. Now lets get the hell out of Dodge.”

hope

114 – PROJECT HOPE

The greatest secret of El Shaddai and Bat-El is that they could manipulate time, and this secret was shared with the B’nei Elohim, but to protect this secret a deep inhibition against revealing it by any word or deed was part and parcel of the Change. So when Aliwe returned to Taurus City she chose a time when she could speak to her mother the Baroness Victoria outside of the earshot of her father Baron Bayard Sala. Aliwe chose 1970 on Timeline Iota, around the time of NASA’s aborted Apollo 13 moonshot, and her mere entry made it Timeline Kappa.

The Executive Lounge was empty except for Victoria, who was sitting in one of three plush chairs which formed a triangle, all facing askew rather than directly facing each other. There was a elegant rounded glass coffee table that doubled as a display monitor between the chairs, projecting reams of military data. In this case, Victoria had chosen to monitor the feed from her husband, flying on patrol a million miles out in space in a Sandwich Fighter.

“Aliwe!” Vic said when her daughter came in, and she extended her arms, but elected not to stand up to hug her because she was, at that moment, very pregnant, and even in the light lunar gravity she wasn’t keen on scrambling to her feet every time.

Aliwe embraced her mother, then put a hand on her belly. “Hello, me!”

“Okay, so it turned out to be a girl, we saw that on ultrasound, but I refuse to believe this is really you.”

“Actually, Mom, it is me. This is the timeline where we win, the one where I was born.”

“What if I prove you wrong? What if I name my baby Anita instead of Aliwe?”

“But you won’t. You’ll name me Aliwe, and Daddy will be pleased. He’ll think you’re a sentimental woman who wants to honor my ‘death’ when I fell from the Catwalk.”

“But when I asked, you didn’t seem to know if we would ever meet again.”

“I was confused by your question. I thought you meant on that Timeline. I’m not a prophet like Robyn. Obviously we met on the timeline where you gave birth to me, and of course, the me sleeping there inside your womb doesn’t know I’m standing out here, so how could she know we met as adults?”

“If you’re not a prophet like Robyn then what is your job, daughter?”

“I’m a historian, mother. This is now Timeline Kappa, that makes a grand total of ten tracks. I’m a messenger. I’m the only B’nei Eloah allowed to move between them, mostly to keep El Shaddai and Bat-El synced up so they’re all on the same page. But this time I brought someone with me.”

“Lilith, I hope. She seems to have gone missing.”

“Lilith died on Timeline Iota, on Mercury, in 1977. That presents a problem because this reset is moving the clock back to what is ‘now’ for you, 1970. If Lilith continued to live on this timeline, then the backup she made of her human memories up to 1977 would need to be integrated somehow with the ones she continued to pile up here, and there’s absolutely no way to do that. So she elected to die here on Kappa also, so there won’t be two Liliths when she lands in her next body.”

“And when will that be?”

Aliwe fell silent for a short span, trying to find a place where she could begin to explain it all to her mother. Then she said, “We’ve been moving technology created on one timeline back a few years in another timeline, over and over, creating a feedback loop that drop-kicked the world into the future, but we still can’t make a computer program that can convince us that it is aware it even exists. Still, Mark Felton back on Iota says we obtained artificial intelligence when the Swarm crossed a certain threshold of connectivity. The Swarm is aware, but that awareness is too alien for us to recognize it as being aware.

“Robyn had the idea that an artificial intelligence had to live as one of us, at least through the crucial early years of childhood, or it would never think like we do. I remember that Mark rolled his eyes when he heard that. He said, ‘That’s been tried many times. We can’t get silicon to work like living brain cells. An electronic switch is either on or off, but a brain cell sputters. It doesn’t fire every time it’s supposed to, it makes mistakes. Our brain runs at ninety watts, like a dim incandescent light bulb. We evolved to work with low-power switches that have a high error rate by screening every decision through layers of filters.’

“’But we can still use brute force methods,’ Robyn countered. ‘Numerical methods. With a micro we can simulate every misfiring neuron in a human brain, and all of its connections.’ And Mark complained that it would run at five thousand watts, where would Robyn get the power, and how would she shitcan the waste heat? So Robyn just held up a macro, and Mark said, ‘Oh.’”

Vic said, “I don’t understand any of this, kiddo. I feel like I’ve been cut out of this conversation.”

“I’ll make it more clear, Mom, but first you have to understand that what you are about to see is not a real girl. It’s a machine. We made her right here on Timeline Kappa from a frame I brought over from Iota. Mostly Mark Felton made her, using tech we dragged in from other timelines. He doesn’t know how that works, that we can move in time. He doesn’t need to know. The important thing is this kid thinks she’s a real little girl, and it’s doubly-important that for these crucial early years no one ever tells her she’s not real. Will you agree to that, Mom?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, I’ll go fetch Mark and his daughter.”

When Aliwe came back a few minutes later, a smiling little girl was walking beside him with her hand in his, wearing her dark brown hair in two pigtails. The girl’s apparent age was about five.

The machine child was certainly beautiful, and her little round face was absolutely authentic, triggering no instincts of revulsion in Vic that have plagued the creators of artificial people (both movie characters and physical objects) ever since the problem was documented by a Japanese researcher in 1978 on Timeline Eta and labeled the Uncanny Valley. The revulsion invariably happened when the virtualization was almost, but not exactly perfect, and the effect seemed to be buried deep, grounded in human evolution itself. Something in the limbic “lizard” brain screamed: FAKE! FALSE! COUNTERFEIT! But not here with this little girl.

Mark said, “Vic, I’d like you to meet my lovely daughter Hope.”

Vic told her hello, but she felt funny talking to her, knowing that she wasn’t really real.

David went on to say, “Hope, this is my B’nei Eloah friend. Her name is Victoria.”

Hope came up to shake Vic’s hand. Her skin was a perfect replica of a girl’s hand, Vic was astonished, but the simulacrum was so exact Vic began to suspect the whole episode was a practical joke on Aliwe’s part and this really was a real girl.

Hope was totally without guile. She said exactly what was on her mind, and this was what was on her mind today: “Victoria, are you going to marry my daddy?”

There was a yelp, but Victoria recovered in time to turn the yelp into a laugh. She said, “No honey, I’m already married to somebody else.”

David said, “Hope, don’t be silly. Now say goodbye to Victoria, and I’ll take you back down to the park.”

“Goodbye Victoria!”

“Goodbye, sweetheart.”

When Mark left with the girl, Vic turned to Aliwe and said, “That was a robot?”

Aliwe nodded. The base system is something Robyn stole from Mercury last year, and that wasn’t easy. The power and cooling is handled by a copy of the Golden Gift from one of the other timelines. But the really difficult and expensive thing was getting the look just right.”

“Why did you make it a girl?”

“Number one, because she has no sex organs and no body hair, just like a Barbie doll. With her clothes on she has no genital bulge like a boy does. There seemed no need to add a penis. She doesn’t urinate. And number two, eventually she will become the host for Lilith’s personality. The merger will go much more smoothly if the host is the same gender as the client. So we socialized Hope to be a girl. Mark dresses Hope in little girl’s clothes, gives her little girl’s toys and lets her do little girl things. Hope’s brain was programmed to accept either choice easily enough, but after a few weeks the pathways for a feminine brain were well-established and impossible to reverse.”

“So you’re thinking about Talishi’s Number.”

Aliwe nodded. “The square root of one-half. Point seven zero seven one. That’s the strength of what memories and personality you retain whenever you do a mind-transfer. Leaving about twenty-nine percent of the host’s memory and personality intact. Or rather, a new composite personality is formed, and those are the relative strengths of the personalities involved. There’s no way around it. Even the gods themselves, when they possess human beings, are subject to Talishi’s Number. It’s built right into the physics of the process.”

“Do it enough times,” Vic said, “and your original identity can actually be lost. That’s what Lilith said has already happened to Mastema.”

“Or you can get what’s happening now with the Jills. One single greedy personality distributed across many bodies, at the expense of diversity. But with artificial intelligence you could do one final transfer and be done with body swapping forever.”

“And I can see a side benefit,” Vic said. “When we are between bodies, we can have a place to land instead of timeless oblivion as ones and zeros in a flat-pack. We could live inside a virtual reality until a new artificial body was made available, maybe even live inside the Swarm itself.”

Vic said, “It’s an incredible dream, but we have such a long way to go. We’ve spent billions to make Hope’s eyes and skin absolutely real, but the part that money can never buy is loving parents. Mark has taken the role of her father, and in a way he really is her father, because he created Hope’s brain, but he’s going to be too busy. Hope needs the influence of a mother, and I can think of nobody better suited than my own mother!”

“But after I give birth to you I’ll be busy too,” Vic objected. “I can fly!”

“Not for very much longer, Mom. Your power is based on moving the end of the fold-door, and that’s going to be employed doing something else in a few years. So you’re going to be bounced down to just housewife and mother. Sorry Mom.”

“How ironic,” Vic said. “I bring Bayard here from days of dragons and castles, he’s out flying on patrol, and I’m about to be grounded.”

And so Hope, after the initial trauma of being handed off from Mark to her foster parents Victoria and Bayard, embarked on what would become a legendary childhood, the common shared childhood of eventually countless B’nei Elohim after they merged their own memories with copies of Hope’s electronic mind. But Hope’s presence stressed the marriage of Vic and Bayard in a way they hadn’t thought of when they agreed to adopt. They came to realize that through Hope’s memories their marriage was literally being filmed for a potential audience of millions.

But Bayard and Vic were attentive parents, perhaps too much so. It was easy for them to think of Hope as a child as real as her little baby sister Aliwe. Only a few things stood out to remind them of her artificial origin, such as the fact that she was not a picky eater. Anything Hope ate, within reason, could be turned into the electricity which gave her power. Even garbage or spoiled food, but her parents tried to get her to stick with real food. Acids or things which would damage her internally were out. And she never had to go potty.

When Hope was really only two years old, her parents gave her a birthday cake with seven candles and seven presents. They got away with it because most people don’t remember very much about the first few year of their life unless something very dramatic happened in that time. There was nothing to set Hope wondering much about her missing years and when Hope grew older and talked about it with her sister and friends, they too would be unable to recall very much about when they were three or four years old.

Vic and Bayard followed Aliwe’s admonition to keep Hope in the dark about her origin as long as possible. Hope was learning many things very quickly, but if Hope learned she was not a real human being too early, the psychological damage would be incalculable.

Occasionally Hope was taken to Mars (ground zero for Project Hope, to keep it far away from the Jills) where she rendered unconscious. The damage Hope had accumulated by horsing around at Taurus City was repaired, and her frame was stretched a few inches. This happened every summer between school years. The trip was by wormhole at first, but by spacecraft after Charybdis appeared. It was something Hope learned to look forward to, becoming a bigger girl literally overnight.

Different kids rotated in and out of Hope’s life every few months, or even on a weekly basis. Two or three years later Hope could not even recall the names of her old friends at school. And that was actually very good, because only robots had perfect memories. Schoolgirls did not.

In the fall, when Hope returned to school, she was slightly taller than most of her classmates, and they put it down to a normal growth spurt over the summer, and most of the kids didn’t remember how tall she was the preceding year anyway. Because she didn’t grow naturally, by the end of the school year, Hope would be slightly shorter than most of her classmates.

When she was on her service call at Valles Marineris at age eight, Hope was given a double-blind Turing Test, though she didn’t know what it was all about. She successfully fooled a panel into mistaking her for an eight year old girl, and therefore passed the test. It was a historic moment in the search for artificial intelligence, something that would have won Mark Felton global professional accolades if it was more widely known, but that had to wait. Hope had been accepted to attend Canterwood Academy on Barbelo.

Personal tools