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Deep inside her stellar body where heat and gravity were hammer and anvil transforming star-stuff for power, Chokhmah carefully assembled her avatar. She flooded the reality microfracture between herself and her avatar with dark energy, inflating it to a millimeter. With the hairline wormhole fattened the substance of her own body could work as propellant, emerging anywhere the avatar would go. Chokhmah ejected the dense nuclear raindrop she had constructed into the cooler upper regions of her own atmosphere where it unpacked itself.

The seed unfolded itself into a probe like a kernel of popcorn, changing from tightly-packed nuclear matter to fluffy chemical matter and drawing ambient electrons from the solar atmosphere. It separated from the sun and rapidly began to cool from a brilliant blue-white. White changes to yellow which in turn changes to orange, then red, and after shifting through a brief plastic state the droplet grows spines, becoming at last a hot solid object which approaches the planet Mercury. There Chokhmah explores vicariously, living as the avatar.

Mercury is a sun-blasted landscape where metals are soft or even liquid in the heat, lying in dull puddles. Venus, further out, is even hotter. At night the ground glows with a dull red heat and corrosive rains of sulfuric acid fall. Chokhmah's avatar remains unharmed. The blue and white third planet is much more interesting. Unlike Venus a moving crust constantly tucks carbon dioxide captured by green plants under the surface, controlling the greenhouse effect. The avatar drops below the clouds and cools off in an ocean of liquid water.

Chokhmah crossed the shoreline and reached dry land thick with green trees. The artifact plowed through some of these trees and Chokhmah observed frightened apes fleeing. Some of the apes fled over the ground using all four limbs to move. One was eaten by a predator.

The artifact did a suborbital arc to explore another continent of Earth. There was a grassy plain with a single mountain dominating it for miles. Chokhmah observed another group of apes that walked on just two legs. She changed her shape into a white rock to watch them. Chokhmah observed a burial ceremony for a recently deceased hunter. Females polished elaborate bone tools with stone tools. Males fashioned animal hide tents to live in during the hunt. At night a tendril of the avatar snaked into a cave occupied by the group of apes.

A female ape applied pigment to the wall to produce a beautiful painting. Chokhmah observed resin boiling in a pot over a fire. The resin was then used to fix a stone spearhead to a shaft for hunting. Chokhmah reported all these observations to her parents Keter and Daat.

Neither Chokhmah nor Daat realized the full importance of this discovery, although it profoundly stirred their instincts as Watchers. But Keter was terrified. Here was nothing less than the fabled world of Students elohim were commanded by Ein Sof to seek without a pause. Keter's problem was akin to that of a marijuana breeder who stumbled onto a variant that cured all cancer and birth defects and conferred immortality with a single puff, yet could never be announced because that would reveal the illegal grow operation which was its origin. Keter could ensure the silence of Chokhmah by simply refusing to pass her messages through to Ein Sof, but Chokhmah's mother Daat was still open to Ein Sof through Hod. To close the hole Keter offered his daughter Chesed as a mate for Daat, knowing Daat would not refuse.

Any eloah could be a mother exactly once. The very act of giving birth resulted in a gender change from female to male. Since elohim had life spans in the billions of years all but a tiny fraction of their lives is spent as male. This put an incredible premium on females. The only way for an eloah to interact with others was through the pair of one-dimensional wormhole umbilicals that always connected them to their parents and could never be severed. But any eloah at any time could choose to block the message traffic that passed through.

Elohim reproduction was ripe for abuse. Individuals could be sealed off from the greater community of elohim with no one the wiser. It was the greatest crime known, and carried the penalty of oblivion, yet the temptation was so great that a third of all stars had fallen. Daat was the orange sun in the Alpha Centauri system. Chesed was the star that men would one day call Epsilon Indi. Keter arranged their liaison and they mated, with Daat fully informed that he was partaking in the most forbidden of all transgressions among the elohim.

When a sun has an orgasm there are about eight contractions but it takes a month for the organized nuclear matter in the star to compress. The ecstasy of each contraction peaks with a spherical wave that rings out into space at the speed of light like a ripple on a pond.

In just over four years the first contraction-ripple from Chesed reached the wild star AX Microscopii, an orange-red dwarf. The information stored holographically on the spherical wavefront collapsed to a point, becoming a hypermassive single particle, a true God Particle.

At the center of AX Microscopii is a core of hot nuclear matter. This core has a Goldilocks layer with just the right temperature and density for elohim. The God Particle initiated the process of turning the raw material of this stratum into a living and conscious being. By the time the second ripple arrived a month later Netzach was already well along the process of becoming the newest female member of the elohim, so the wavefront did not collapse again. Instead, four months later, it reached Lacaille 9352 and began to quicken life there. But Lacaille 9352 and two other red dwarf stars beyond it were too cool for any elohim to thrive. They formed a trap for the remaining generative waves, repeatedly quickening followed by a stillbirth. When the orgasm was over the mother of Netzach had become forever male.

With Netzach’s father Daat silenced, there remained the threat of the strange chemical creatures circling Chokhmah, the animals that were as awake as the elohim themselves. But there was no way for Keter to destroy them with an avatar like the one manufactured by Chokhmah. Without a second sun to anchor the other end, a foldspace line that connected an eloah to an avatar could be stretched to just less than a single light-year before it snapped. In real space the elohim ruled their own systems absolutely, but they could not go much further.

Keter knew dealing with the running apes on Earth would require Chokhmah’s cooperation at every step. He tried the research project gambit: "Of all chemical-based lifeforms, only the tool-making creatures you found are potentially dangerous to us because they are awake."

Chokhmah did the stellar equivalent of a silent view askance.

"If they are not dangerous now," Keter explained to his daughter, "then perhaps they will be dangerous in the future. They could be the Students, but they could just be deceptively clever monkeys. We must learn more about them before it is time to reveal them to Ein Sof."

"How can I evaluate that statement, father," said Chokhmah, "if I have no experience with this Ein Sof whatsoever?"

"Our tradition is to introduce the young to Ein Sof by slow degrees, lest they be overwhelmed. I can set aside this cautious approach if you are willing.

Contact with Ein Sof was offered in return for Chokhmah's full cooperation in setting up a human colony on a planet in Keter's system. The caveat was that she could only listen to Ein Sof, never speak. And the colony was to come first because Ein Sof would preoccupy her.

When the Church of Green Dome went into schism, "Prophet" Klaus Hansen laid down the law. He said no more card playing, no more dancing, and no more Demon Rum. The Bunners started to roll in sawdust on the floor of the barn that was the meeting place of the Reformed CoGD. Parishioners babbled in tongues to be saved from hell fire. Deacon Paul Bergin was appointed Apostle to the Whites and went to the homes of former Bunners who weren't seen at the barn with tracts threatening eternal damnation if they didn't bring their money and come home.

Jerry Shybear put out feelers to the breakaway faction of the Church and arranged a parley at what he judged to be neutral territory. Che chose the Lt. Lambert Welles Battlefield Memorial near a line of low hills east of Headwater where the Squaw River cut a steep canyon. At the battlefield site was a small museum with exhibits and a gift shop, but it was closed soon after Pearl Harbor when automobile touring by sightseers dried up and was later prohibited by law. Jerry obtained the museum keys and permission to use the conference room.

So those two exemplars of the master race arrived, both five foot six, Paul Bergin with a fringe of hair he tried vainly to comb forward, Klaus Hansen with a full head of brown hair but two chins and the making of a third. Gluttony wasn't a sin he preached about very much.

The native population of the Great American Desert were already the tallest in the world as a demographic, but Jerry Shybear had the extra juice from his Z chromosome which took hem a foot taller than Paul or Klaus. Che was eighteen but looked eleven, stretched way out. If you looked at Jerry's ear close-up you would swear it was a girl's ear. Same thing with hez hands. A layer of fat hides the contours of hez underlying musculature and che had not a strand of facial hair. Hez high piping voice never broke. The overall effect is striking.

But far more striking was Jerry's companion: seven foot two, eyes of blue, a black-haired walking copy of Michaelangelo's David. Jerry was dressed in his Sunday best, as befitted the solemnity of the meeting, but the newcomer's impeccable threads looked expensive indeed.

Jerry said, “Hello Mr. Hansen and Mr. Bergin, please allow me to introduce Mike, who is the new Prophet of the Church.”

“Just Mike?” barked Hansen. “No last name?”

“Mike,” insisted Mike.

"Where's Peter?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Twofeathers are in a better place," assured Mike.

"They're dead?" asked Paul.

"Gentlemen, please," objected Jerry, "we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Please bow your head in prayer and I will make the Invocation." When everyone complied Jerry went on. "Lord, we are gathered in this place during a difficult time."

“Bless your followers here today, and may the peace that surpasses all understanding fill our hearts as we reason together to restore the wounds to your holy Church. This we pray in the name of Yeshua, the son of the living God.”

All around the maple table is heard “Emn."

Mike was the first to break the silence after the prayer. "Peter and his wife are well, Mr. Hansen, but he assumed responsibility for the division of the Church and resigned. His final action was to designate me as the Prophet."

"And yet I've never heard of you, Mike."

Mike said, "Mr. Hansen, have you forgotten that our first Prophet was martyred during the First World War bringing succor to parishioners in Europe? The Green Dome Church is much larger than just the local fellowship here in Headwater where every face is known to you."

Klaus Hansen threw up his hands. "Ah well, at least Twofeathers stayed with tradition and picked a white fellow. I half expected him to put this fairy in the big chair."

"Then you should know that my first action as Prophet was to make Jerry Shybear here the Apostle."

Hansen said, “I don't recognize your appointment. The office of Prophet was null and void when Twofeathers proposed to marry Jerry off to that whore. The union of Jerry and Kim is still disgusting to think about. They're not cousins, they're not even of the same race.”

“What would you say,” Mike put in, “if I told you the cousin-marriage thing was simply Mark Lange setting out a doctrine that would distinguish his church from the other new ones in 19th Century America, and it conveniently coincided with an attraction to his own cousin?"

"I would say go to hell," Klaus said, "if you told me that. Our founder Prophet Lange received the doctrine directly from God in his vision on Cemetery Ridge. Teaching it led to persecution in state after state and his pilgrimage halfway across the country to this place."

"We don't want to waste your time any more than is absolutely necessary, Mr. Hansen," Mike told him. "So I would ask you, is the historical Church doctrine of requiring consanguineous marriage a non-negotiable for you? No reunion of the Red and White Wings without it?"

"Never to be," Hansen said. "Paul, please illuminate our new but unlearned friend Mike."

Bergin flipped open his Bible to the appropriate page. "And they made an end with all the men that had taken strange wives by the first day of the first month. Ezra ten seventeen."

"No strange wives," Jerry said to Mike, holding up his hand with a wedding band. "How very unfortunate because Robyn is incomparably strange."

"Agreed," said Mike, shaking his head sadly. They stood away from the table and buttoned up their coats to make ready to leave.

"That's sick," Paul Bergin said. "The body of your fiancée hasn't yet been through the Final Rite and you're already married to another?"

"Some might say Robyn is another, but when you do see my wife, Paul, you might agree she's close enough to being Kim as never mind."

"Hear me out, Mike," said Klaus, "I think I see a way out of our dilemma. This all started about five years ago when your Apostle Shybear here started sitting in the same pew with Kimberly Zinter and those two bulldykers. Before that red and white kept to themselves."

"So when I'm the Prophet, and I trust that's what we're getting to here, 'Mike', otherwise you are wasting my time, the White Wing will meet in the temple on Sunday morning, the Reds on Wednesday and ne'er the twain shall meet. Of course it means we share the Golden Gift."

"Never!" Jerry objected. "The Golden Gift was received by Chief Wanica directly from God. We share it in the Last Rite but it remains a family heirloom, now and forever. That's my non-negotiable!" But Jerry saw that Mike had raised a finger and che trailed off to silence.

Mike returned to the table and seated himself. Only when Jerry did the same did Mike address Klaus. "So you want the office of Prophet for yourself, segregated worship for the flock, and Jerry hands over the Relic for a whites-only Final Rite. What do we get for all this?"

Klaus said, "What you get is the White Wing and Red Wing as one big happy church again."

Jerry chuckled. "That's already happening, Mr. Hanson. Remember when you walked out with the Bunners? Most of them have already come back after watching your circus in that barn."

Klaus grinned. “How’s your back feeling these days, Jerry?”

“Almost like new. Better’n I can say for your goon squad."

Paul Bergin spoke up into the awkward silence. "I've been reminding the backsliders you mentioned of their obligation to practice racial holiness."

Mike said, "Racial holiness? By all means, share the relevant proof text with us."

Paul said, "In Leviticus twenty-one seventeen the LORD said, 'Whosoever he be of thy seed in their generations that hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God.'"

“Do you really believe melanin is a blemish, Paul, and not just an adaption?”

“We believe scripture teaches the grievous sin that brought Noah’s flood was the amalgamation of humans and animals using a science that is lost to us now. The darker races resulted from that.”

Mike said, “So summing it all up: I step down, Klaus becomes Prophet, Jerry gives up the Relic on Sundays, Ponies with jobs on Wednesdays must change their schedule, quit their jobs, or quit temple, and for all this everyone gets the bitter-enders of the White Wing back.”

“Another thing,” Klaus added. “The Golden Gift doesn’t leave the temple, Jerry. I don’t want to find out you’ve been loaning it out to some one-armed fuck to dig tunnels under the mountain. And you, Mike, after this, I don’t want to see you again. Go back to wherever.”

“Thou hast spoken well,” Mike told him. “I will see thy face again no more, neither in this life nor in the life to come.”

“Whoopsie,” muttered Jerry.

Mike continued, “And I will grant that the Golden Gift should remain in the hands of the Apostle, be he red or white.”

Klaus caught the keys to the temple and to Peter Twofeather’s 1941 Chrysler woodie when Mike tossed them over the table top. “You’ve killed my church, Prophet Hansen. Contention, assault, even murder. It only remains for the flock to see whose hand it was did the deed.”

“None of that shit matters now,” Klaus sneered, holding up the keys. “Right now you’re just an out-of-towner on his way back out of town. Git.”

“As you wish,” Mike said, and something like a glass sphere grew in the conference room until it reached from floor to ceiling.

The edges of the transparent sphere distorted light but blue-green vegetation could be seen inside. Part of the conference room table and one chair were within. Mike entered the sphere until he stood in the center, where he said, “You know what to do, Jerry. Farewell!”

Mike was speaking about the upcoming Final Rite with Kim’s body, but Jerry put his hands to his ears and opened his mouth. The sphere disappeared with a sudden loud bang taking Mike, the chair, one corner of the table, and even a large quantity of the room’s air with it.

Klaus and Paul were simply not prepared for such a dramatic exit. The front of both men's trousers were soaked.

"I forgot to mention that Mike was actually the seraph Michael," Jerry said. "We three have read about hym in the Buron but that never compares to real life."

A fierce prairie storm hurled lightning, rain, and hail. A man clad in animal skins picked his way to the base of the same mountain once visited by Chokhmah that one day would be named Green Dome. His mate carried a child as she followed him and she was also wearing skins. The man found a cave in the mountainside to shelter from the storm. The woman sat on a boulder and breastfed her child as her mate started a fire. A noise other than the crackling fire startled both of them. The man moved deeper into the cave with a torch to investigate. The cave narrowed to a tunnel that meandered and grew lighter when intuitively it should have grown darker. The man was joined by his woman and her child. They reached another cave mouth deep within the interior of the hill that revealed dark cyan bushes and a purple sky.

A branchless tree resembling a whip stirred into motion and struck the ground before them. The whip tree grabbed the man's torch and hurled it away, where it started a fire. The couple could not emerge from the cave entrance by reason of the whip tree and the growing fire. The man and woman edged back into the tunnel away from the heat. When the whip tree caught fire it began to thrash more intensely than they saw it do before. They retreated deep inside the cave until the tree burned to a lifeless crisp, and returned when the fire abated.

A black patch of land lay before the man and woman and continued to smolder. They stepped across the hot burnt soil and carefully watched for any movement. When they gazed back towards the tunnel they were startled to see it was set it a low ridge. The mountain was gone.

When the sun set a second brilliant light remained in the sky, tinged with orange, far brighter than any star. Still, it began to grow cold. The man used some of the smoldering embers to rekindle a fire in the tunnel entrance and returned to the other world to hunt game. So supper was two hares caught by Adamu and skinned by Chava, milk for little Kayin. In the morning they saw the burned acreage was already sporting shoots of bluegrass that was literally blue. The next day the grass was tall enough for the couple to run barefoot and free.

It was a whole new world. Adamu and Chava thought it belonged to them, solely, but that was not to be. A small herd of bison emerged from the tunnel and proceeded to eat the alien grass, driven by a tall figure in the shape of a man but without a face, black as obsidian. The black figure carried a twin-headed ax to the edge of the burn where a native plant took root in the burnt area. It laid the ax to the base of the plant and chopped it cleanly off, then flipped the ax around and used the handle's tip to pry the weed out of the soil.

The black figure interposed itself between the cave entrance and the human family and approached them. They backed away until they reached the perimeter of the burned area. The man-shape held forth the tool and motioned for the man to take it until he did as he was bid. As the black figure watched, Adamu found another plant that was growing on the edge of the grazing ground for the bison. He duplicated the actions he had seen to kill the intruding plant. And the black figure taught him how to restore the keen edge of the ax with a stone.

The faceless black figure returned to the tunnel entrance to be joined by the avatar of Chokhmah, which had become identical in size and shape and make, except that it was white. "Interesting geometry," Chokhmah said. "The link to my avatar passes through our umbilical."

The avatar held up a hand for Keter riding within to reflect upon it. He replied, "I find this whole mode of being much more fascinating, daughter. Liquid drops of separated star-stuff buffeted by clouds of electrons. So very slow, yet the combinations are without end."

"Here are the animals," Chohkmah said, "transplanted to a body you can reach with your avatar to do with them as you will, that you may ascertain whether they are a danger to our kind. Now fulfill your word, father, and allow me to listen to the song and lore of Ein Sof."

"All you have given me," said Keter, "is three creatures in a place that will kill them if they try to leave their small garden. I need forty more such families before you get access to Ein Sof, for that will capture your psyche for many turns of this rock around my body."

Chokhmah could do nothing but comply with her father's demand to populate the world he called Heaven. She did not even voice an objection. For it was a facet of the elohim, quickened stars who measured out their lives in billions of years, that they had patience to spare.

In the aftermath of her father’s death Kimberly Zinter stopped going to school. Sofie and Dory came over after a couple of days to see if their friend was well. She was not, but their visit elevated Kim from her grief a microscopic bit and her mother Clara noticed that. After Sophie’s mother came to pick her daughter up Clara asked her to wait until Dory's parents arrived as well, because she had a request to make of all of them. When everyone was together Clara said, "I'd like Sofie and Dory to be with Kim for her father's funeral."

Susan Krause shook her head. "I don't think so. They're just school girls and a funeral is a very solemn thing."

Dory's father Seth agreed. "Clara, this should be a private family time for you and Kim."

"But we have no family here," Clara said. "My folks are back east."

Jaden Twofeathers pointed out that Clara still had in-laws, but she shook her head. "They're Bunner Incarnate. They always held me at arm's length. Kim is taking the death of Erik very hard but when Sofie and Dory came over today I saw how they were like a family to her."

Seth said, "I'm not worried about Dory. I'm worried more about Sofie and Kim. When you are on the other side of the Final Rite, Clara, you will no longer have the childlike faith that our Lord said was more blessed than the faith of who believe because they have seen."

It was a gentle and friendly negotiation. Clara got permission for Kim's friends to be with her for the funeral, Seth persuaded Clara to have Kim sit out the actual Final Rite, and rarely in history have so many future lives been so deeply affected by so trivial a choice.

It would have been unseemly to run around and play while the body of Kim's father was sent to his long home along with three other Greendomites from around the country, so they sat around in the Temple basement while volunteers prepared dinner for the families of the dead. Jerry Shybear joined them after breaking away from a group of boys smoking outside. Che seemed to know a lot of secrets about the Temple. Jerry led the girls into a supply room which wasn't locked. Kim, Sofie, and Dory tagged along because there was nothing else to do.

There was no electric light in the temple attic, only a window with blinds and it was a gloomy January day outside. There was an old piano which was probably broken. Kim avoided the urge to play it. There was a map of Headwater and many of the usual church odds and ends. The kids found unused hymnals, stacks of old temple bulletins, empty mason jars, and dozens of stacked folding chairs. Sofie found a cane carved from gnarled wood and shifted it from hand to hand to get the feel of it. Jerry stopped moving and went, "Shhh! What’s that?"

The children froze but the only thing they heard was organ music and the choir bleeding through the ceiling from the main sanctuary upstairs.

"Very funny," Sofie said, giving Jerry a friendly shove.

One of the walls was unfinished. Jerry moved aside a piece of plywood.

The plywood had concealed another dark space beyond. It was so black inside it drank their vision like a sponge. "I've never been in there," Jerry admitted.

None of the girls wanted to go in there but Jerry dared them to go. Naturally Sofie was the first one through. Jerry immediately followed Sofie to show che wasn't afraid. Dory and Kim were afraid of the dark hole and unafraid to admit it, but they didn't want to be left behind so they squeezed in also. Jerry burned through ten matches before Dory brought in a candle from the attic.

The kids found they were in a space that was about four times larger than the attic but there was no wooden floor, just natural stone and dirt rising halfway to the ceiling. Something like a rocky igloo reached nearly to the ceiling from the center of a circle of stones.

The ceiling creaked as someone walked to and fro overhead. Jerry did a complete circuit of the space, then said to Dory, "This is part of our family history!"

She said, "This must be the very summit of Green Dome. Wanica built that cairn, and the altar right over it."

When Jerry saw the blank faces of Sofie and Kim che was astonished. "Did you forget what they taught us in Sunday school? This is the Island in the Sky where God gave Chief Wanica the Golden Gift."

"And God gave Moses the stone tablets," answered Kim. "I read that too."

Dory pointed to the ceiling. "What do you think is happening up there right now?"

Kim considered her answer, because she didn't wish to offend her friends. Then: "It's a simple cremation of my father's body and the bodies of three other Greendomites, spiced with ritual."

Dory said, "Kim, you saw Jerry when we went swimming once at Lake 13 and you still think the Buron is just a bunch of stories they invented?"

"I went to the library and looked that up," Kim replied. "Jerry's a hermaphrodite. It's not a big deal. Sometimes it happens."

Jerry rolled up hez sleeves and approached Kim, flipping both hands over a few times to show they were empty. Che said, "Hold out your hand." Jerry clasped her hand, and when he took it away again there was a stack of 1942 silver half-dollars. "Explain that, if you can."

Kimberly put the coins in her purse because money was money and if Jerry wanted to give her ten bucks then so be it. She said, "Magic tricks, Jerry, just like what they're showing Momma upstairs right now. Why can't people just be amazed at God for what he really did do?"

Dory threw up her hands in mock despair at her heathen friends. "White Wingers," she muttered.

Jerry moved toward the cairn. "We'll never have the chance to be in here again," che said. "I want to see if it's really there."

"And you'll go straight to hell," warned Sofie.

"There's no hell in Greendomism," Jerry snorted, and che picked the boulder most likely to be easily moved. As soon as it did a mouse escaped. Dory and Kim screamed together when they saw it. Without a word Sofie let her cane fly in an arc over her head upon the creature.

Sofie was just hoping to scare the mouse away but she ended up hitting the critter instead with a lucky shot. “This is a church right? So there's your church mouse.”

Dory shifted immediately from fear to maternal concern. The animal was in obvious pain. "You crippled it!"

“I didn't mean to actually hit it!”

They all took a closer look at the creature. The head of the mouse was misshapen with a huge white bump on the back that was nearly as large as the mouse's head itself.

"Look what you did, Sofie!" Dory complained. "Look at that bump!"

"That isn't from anything she did," Jerry said. "He didn't go in the cairn like that. He must have waited for someone to crack a gap in the rocks wider so he could get out, the poor little guy."

Sofie finished him off with the end of her cane. "This is better for him."

Its head was now a flat furry coin. Nobody knew what the white bump meant. Sophie scratched the dirt with her cane and dug a little grave for the dead mouse "Rest in pieces," she said, then remembered, too late, that they were at the funeral of Kimberly's father. "Sorry."

Jerry returned to the cairn and tugged on the stone once more. Sophie gave him a hand, and the boulder slowly swung open like a hinged door, just enough that they could squeeze inside the stone igloo one at a time. Dory brought light. A featureless white dome lay inside.

"So that's God," said Kim.

Jerry shook hez head. "No, but God made this. And don't say God made everything, Sofie, even you know better."

The skin of the dome was dotted with thousands of little holes. Some of these sported needles, like a cactus. Kim touched it. That was something Kim ought not to have done. With a sound like a tiny squirt of steam her fingertip was instantly skewered. Kim pulled her hand away involuntarily before the pain even registered. After that the white dome sported another extruded spine from its surface.

Dory was a little more wise. She grabbed a pencil out of her purse and leaned over the artifact with the eraser tip prudently standing in for her finger. She verified it was ready to defend itself at any time. Jerry thought about kicking it but che was wearing moccasins.

Sofie was not afraid. She allowed her own finger to be skewered by the white dome and doesn't even wince. "Here we go, Kim. Whatever trouble you're in for getting stung by this thing, I'm in the same trouble." So she has the final victory over Jerry in the test of courage.

After that they began to slide back out of the cairn, but they heard footsteps in the storage room next door. Dory put out the candle as everyone held their breath and tried not to make a sound. Deacon Paul looked into the dark gap and could just make out two silhouettes. Paul Bergin screamed at them to get out. Blushing, Jerry, Kim, Sofie and Dory scrambled out from beneath the altar, then out of the supply room. They sat together in the basement lunchroom. The deacon locked the supply room tight, and true to Jerry's words they never return.

Dory's only casualty was a pencil with a soggy eraser. She said, "Thanks for that little adventure, Jerry. I always knew the avatar of Chokhmah was real, but actually seeing it is something I'll never forget."

Just then the attendees began to filter in from upstairs.

During the meal after the Final Rite Kim thought her mother seemed very different. The grief was gone. Clara said, "It's all true, Kim. Everything in the Buron, it's really true!" She no longer needed a leap of faith to give her assent to the things taught in the Buron. Kim knew her mother had been a nurse in the First World War and had seen things in France so terrible she refused to even talk about them, things which would crush the faith of anyone who believed in a good God. It was good to see some semblance of hope restored in her.

But Kim and Sophie needed more convincing. Over the next few days they grew bumps at the back of their head just like that poor church mouse. Dr. Wahkan said not to worry but Clara disagreed to the point of quitting her job at the little hospital and taking Kim to Lusk. Two days later Sofie's parents brought her to Lusk as well but the doctors there could do little more than watch the girls get worse. The bumps opened up like flowers to reveal stiff black hairs inside. By June 1942 the girls were under federal quarantine in parts unknown.

In the awkward silence after Dr. Trochmann decapitated Kim Zinter's body and Dr. Wahkan's anguished objection to that, Sheriff Roddy Walker heard Special Agent Mark Felt's stomach growl and guessed the man might not have eaten since breakfast. He invited Felt to dine out. Felt heartily agreed, so long as the sheriff remembered not to talk about the case in the restaurant. That gave Roddy very little time to bring Felt up to speed. He had decided on Bea's Chicken Inn only five blocks east of the hospital. Headwater wasn't a large town.

Roddy took him over in the half-ton truck and Felt invited him to spill out what he had uncovered up to that point. Roddy said, "We have what is very likely the murder weapon, and it has fingerprints. We have many photographs of the scene with tire and boot marks in snow."

Roddy pointed out of the windscreen to the left. "That house coming up is the home of the deceased. I made contact with her twin sister there, one Robyn Zinter, who is not a resident of Headwater. She already knew Kim was dead and described circumstances of that death. I didn't bring her in because I knew this was going to be the Bureau's case from the gitgo. And some of the things she said were pretty crazy."

"After we eat I want to visit a judge. I want you to get a warrant to arrest Robyn Zinter. Let's see how crazy she is then."

Bea's Chicken Inn was kitty-corner to Robyn's house. When Roddy pulled into the parking lot he gave Felt one more item from the case. "I wanted to let you know we have a lead on getting the owner of the weapon. My deputies are set to move tomorrow unless you call it off."

“Why would I do that?”

“The source of the lead was the aforementioned Robyn Zinter. But the lead is too good to risk passing up.”

“Do you think she’s indulging in misdirection, sheriff?”

“I can’t figure her out at all. She expresses zero sorrow for her sister. None. If I understood her correctly, Agent Felt, this Robyn is not choked up over her sister’s death because she’s literally a copy of her sister from just before she was murdered. She’s intelligent and sweet but half the things that come out of her mouth make no sense at all.”

"I can't wait to meet her," he said. "But first, Bea's Chicken Inn, you say? Did you know I haven't had a bite since early this morning in Witchita?"

"Then you're in luck, Agent Felt, homestyle fried chicken is Bea's forte. I wanted to put Headwater's best foot forward."

When they went inside and were seated in a booth Roddy remarked that the place was much less busy that it used to be on weeknights. "Coal mining was the mainstay of the town and that's drying up."

Felt said, "I heard wartime meat rationing will start in a month or two."

Roddy nodded. "Places like this won't close up, but they'll have to collect ration cards from customers and put them all together to get resupplied. I suppose it'll be even less crowded then." He shrugged. "Tell me about yourself, Agent Felt. Why did you choose the FBI?"

"I have a law degree," Felt said, "and I was leaning toward the intersection of business and government, but the war intervened. In wartime our country becomes, temporarily, a military dictatorship with all hands on deck. So as with your coal miners here my work dried up."

"So your background was not criminal law," Roddy surmised.

"Well, make no mistake, Sheriff Walker, I was immersed in criminal law at Quantico. But the crimes that draw my attention aren't the kind that happen in little towns like Headwater. I want to go after spies."

The waitress came to take their order, and both men, knowing they would later visit a judge at his own home after working hours, refrained from ordering wine. She took the menus but left the two silver half-dollar coins that had been on the table when the men were seated.

"The people who ate at this table before us were from the Red Wing of the Church," Roddy said confidently.

"How do you know?"

He gestured at the two coins. "Those half-dollars. 1942. The mint mark should be D for Denver, but they'll both be O because the die was worn."

Mark Felt looked at both coins and confirmed that Roddy's guess was true. "How strange. But what's the connection to the Red Wing?"

"There's a fellow I know who runs a pawn shop, he brought these to my attention. Normally a mint mark of O would make these collectible. This fellow looked into it and found out the Denver Mint had struck about a hundred of these flawed fifty-cent pieces before their quality control spotted the problem and halted the run. But there are many more than a hundred of them circulating here in Headwater. Everywhere you go in Headwater you’ll see them, always from the Red Wing, usually retirees living on social security, this old fellow gets a tube for his radio at the hardware store and leaves some half-dollars, that old lady gets her hair done and leaves another stack."

"Do you think somebody in Headwater is actually counterfeiting coins?"

"If they are, Agent Felt, I really don't see how they would profit by it. If you melt a silver half-dollar you get about a half-dollar's worth of silver bullion. These aren't silver-plated base metal."

“But Pawn Shop Guy says the little O under 'In God We Trust' makes it collectible.”

“Sure, if there was only a hundred of them. There’s probably a hundred thousand of them now and they’re breeding. I chalk it down to one of the many unexplained things about this town."

“There’s more?”

“There's much more, Agent Felt, as you’ll find out after we eat and the judge eats and Robyn eats and we go visit them. Take Squaw River for one. It's the only stream in the tri-state area that flows year-round from its source. Geologists cannot explain.”

Felt chuckled at that. "So the Church is named for Green Dome, but nobody knows what makes it so green. You might be right about all the unexplained things in Headwater. Just before we met I was reading that Chief Wanica and one boy somehow fought off a dozen armed men."

The waitress arrived with their food. The sheriff withheld his reply until after they were served.

He said, "My guess is Special Agent in Charge Tolson is running that mystery to ground. But I don't want to break your rule and talk about active cases while we're eating."

They stopped conversing and ate while Mark Felt expressed his appreciation for the food with grunts and eyebrow gestures. After a time Roddy asked, "How many spies have you caught, Agent Felt?"

"None so far," Mark admitted. "I've only been with the Bureau for one year. Half of '42 was spent at the Academy and in DC, and for the rest of the year I was in Texas in hot field offices doing little more than interviewing references people had listed when they applied for government jobs. Hardly the exciting life of a G-man that I envisioned."

"How's the pay?"

"About sixty a week,"

"Not shabby at all, Special Agent Felt."

"What is shabby is having to pick up and move every few months. My wife Audrey and I were in the middle of another move to DC so I could catch spies like I wanted, but I got diverted here."

"How long have you been married?"

"Just four years, Sheriff Walker. The Director moves G-men around for no better reason than to 'toughen them up' and he will never understand the toll it takes on the families of those agents. Somehow my beautiful girl puts up with me."

Over the course of time the elohim planted several dozen gardens in heaven, and nearly a hundred human children had been born away from Earth. There had been many deaths, for the native flora was unrelenting in its hostility, but man in his turn was the monster of Earth. In the first garden the eldest sons of Adamu and Chava were of an age to have wives of their own. Chokhmah emerged from the tunnel escorting a woman from Earth as Keter observed from the cliff overhead. Chokhmah and the woman approached Kayin, who had been born on Earth.

Kayin was harvesting vegetables. He bowed to Chokhmah and offered his best ones. The woman turned up her nose at the food. So Chokhmah ignored Kayin's sacrifice and took the woman to see the younger son instead, Hebel, the firstborn of heaven. He was barbecuing bison.

Hebel bowed and offered a stick with meat cubes to Chokhmah, who in turn handed the stick to the woman. She ate the meat greedily because a fertile female instinctively goes for iron. Chokhmah placed the hand of the woman in the hand of Hebel as Kayin looked on with anger.

Kayin began to braid native vines for a long rope. Near the time of the setting of the white sun Kayin paused to watch the woman preening outside and he looked upon her with lust. Hebel emerged to gather his woman back inside his hut with a haughty glance at his brother.

In the morning Adamu and Chava brought clothes they made for their younger son's wife, but they ignored Kayin, who continued to make his rope. All day Hebel and his wife pawed at each other in full view of Kayin, who smiled calmly until he finished his rope, then departed.

Only one safe path led away from the Garden. Along this trail was a quivering whip tree which had not yet been cut down. It was bent away from the path and secured by a clever knot to a stump. The rope ended in the hand of Kayin, who meditated upon a new thing in heaven.

Near dusk Hebel and his wife walked the path away from the Garden. Kayin tugged on the rope, freeing the whip tree just as his victims approached. The tree beat them into the ground. It broke their bones and bruised organs. Blood flew from their mouths as they cried out. The whip tree only stopped thrashing when Hebel and his bride were not recognizable as once-living humans. Adamu and Chava ran up to investigate their screams and were horror-struck. Chokhmah and Keter arrived soon after. Rope in hand, Kayin glared at them with defiance.

Chokhmah refused to watch Keter's response to the first murder in heaven. She returned to the tunnel in the Garden wall, and thence to the hillside cave on Earth. The avatar of Chokhmah did not return within the lifetimes of Adamu, Chava, Kayin, nor any of their children. Chokhmah clambered to the summit of the peak the Kuwapi would one day name the Island in the Sky, and white trappers would name Green Dome. There she beheld the unobstructed view, and Keter soon joined her. He said, "How very instructive of humans, would you not agree?"

Chokhmah said, "I cannot answer without comparison to our own kind, which you still deny me. You have made subtle changes to the animals that persist in their offspring without studying them to learn how it could be done. Such knowledge could only come from this Ein Sof."

Keter said, "You have given me the colony I ordered, and my word is true. Lower your center of gravity, daughter, it is unbecoming a goddess to have her avatar fall on its face. And do not forget you will never be able to make targeted queries of Ein Sof as I have done."

Chokhmah did as her father suggested and seated her avatar upon the summit of Green Dome. Keter seated himself next to Chokhmah and for a moment they took in the same view. "I envy you this world," he told her. "How very much unlike heaven with its narrow unfrozen band."

But Chokhmah made no answer, for she was already in contact with Ein Sof. As Keter had predicted, it was overwhelming. For many years her silent white avatar sat motionless atop the Island in the Sky as the seasons changed, as winds buffeted her and snows blanketed her.

Kim and Sofie had no idea where they had been taken, but it was a new place. There was no use mincing terms, they were in prison, but it doubled as a clinic. It was an odd combination of almost magical science and shabby construction with nails sticking through the walls. There were no windows in the clinic where they were held, but from June to August of 1942 the girls could hear furious construction outside that only ceased at night. During those months their captor, Dr. Ian Trochmann, learned maddeningly few things about their condition.

The white D-shaped cup emerging from their scalp was made of bone. The cups had exactly fifty-five graphite bristles growing out of a floor. If the bristles were crushed or snapped off they grew back like the lead in a mechanical pencil. Dr. Trochmann had two cables made. The b'nei elohim would call them Purple Cables, even after many copies were made that weren't actually purple. But for Dr. Trochmann's purposes the cables proved to be useless. He would print squiggles from the girls on a fat roll of paper but didn't know what they meant. When Trochmann put a 15 millivolt level on the pins both Kim and Sofie reported strange total-body sandpapery sensations they found very unpleasant and refused to endure again. Hooking the girls together with the Purple Cable was thought too risky in the early evaluation.

One time Kim and Sofie were playing Eights, and Kim heard a silent shout in her head that, despite its silence, sounded exactly like Dory. She said, "DISCARD THE QUEEN!"

Kim replied to the voice with a mental shout of her own. "IT'S NOT EVEN THE RIGHT SUIT!"

"DO IT!"

Kim obeyed the voice, dropped the queen, and Sofie's eyes went much wider than it should have done from a bad play. Dory's voice now told Kim, "SOFIE WILL DISCARD A SIX OF HEARTS, WATCH!" And that's exactly what she did. Now they both knew their friend's voice was real.

Lest watchers suspected something meaningful in their mutual glances (and they were being watched) Sofie covered by saying, "You don't even know how to play this simple game." She retreated to one corner of the clinic, Kim to another, and they both conversed through Dory.

Dory had to smooth over some hard feelings about keeping this strange talent a secret. She did this by calmly pointing out that both Kim and Sofie would have thought her plain nuts if she said she could hear voices, plant voices, and even ride behind another person's eyes.

When Sofie asked about Jerry, and what his talent was, Dory replied, "DO YOU REMEMBER THAT TRICK YESHUA DID WITH THE LOAVES AND FISHES? JERRY COULD PULL THAT OFF!"

It didn't sound like something that would help them get out of the windowless clinic that was their prison.

Kim suggested punching every number on the lock until the door opened. Dory relayed that to Sofie, who shook her head. They were being watched. One time she killed the lights in their space and saw a glow coming from the "mirror" that stopped soon after. It was a window.

Kim came up with an idea to end the surveillance. They had to embarrass Doc Troch by making him think that two girls, ages seventeen and confined together for months in a small space, had fallen in love with each other. Sofie thought she could swing it. Dory said behave.

Kim and Sofie went on strike and did not cooperate with their captors at all. They said no words, but just sat in the clinic all day doing nothing. There were two ways of dealing with all the dead time. Kim let the clock appear to race and her heartbeats to become a low hum. Kim sped up, cruised for a while, then slowed back down. Her muscles got sore from staying in one position but four hours were burned up in as many minutes.

Sofie thought the time-lapse method was gross because she could feel her bladder fill up and food moving inside. She preferred to take a series of hour-long jumps in time with her consciousness simply turned off. After four meals, two showers, and many other stops to use the restroom or drink some water Kim and Sofie had a rather busy day that compressed a full week of real time. Another three weeks and the lunatics won. The asylum-keepers brought in their biggest gun, the self-styled Controller of what he styled DECON. It was the only time Clyde Tolson ever met Kim Zinter and Sofie Krause in person. He said, "Ladies, time for a heart-to-heart."

“Fine,” said Sofie. “Start by telling us who the hell you are.”

“My name is Clyde Tolson. You and Kim are under the jurisdiction of a branch of the US Department of Justice called DECON, which is short for Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization.”

Kim was pissed off. "Domestic enemies? You must be joking. My father lost an arm fighting the Hun in W.W. One. My mother was a Red Cross nurse Over There. Every Sunday morning after Temple I lead the whole congregation in a rip-roaring rendition of God Bless America."

“You and Sofie have contracted an unknown contagion in a time before there is a proper federal response for that. Bad luck for you, bad luck for everyone. But there are certain Presidential executive orders which could be read, very loosely, as offering such a response.”

"You don't seem afraid to talk to us face-to-face," Kim pointed out. "Doc Troch and Nurse Ramsey ain't scared either."

"If we thought it was transmitted by sneezing you'd be totally isolated. Telling us how you got sick would do much toward getting you home."

"Alright Mr. Tolson of DECON," Sofie said, "you've explained why you won’t unlock the door, now please tell us where we are."

"You're not very far from Headwater," he said. "Just one state over, in fact, near Cody. This is called the Heart Mountain Relocation Center."

"Relocation center? I don't understand. Who's being relocated?"

"It's easy to understand, Sofie. Last December after Pearl Harbor FDR authorized the incarceration of Nips living on the West Coast. In January DECON stood up. Last February the first camps were built."

Kim said, "When you say 'Nips' I presume you really mean American citizens with a Japanese ethnic background."

When Tolson had nothing to say to that Sofie said, "Hey Kimmie, I think I'm in the wrong camp. My great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaddy was a German."

Tolson wagged a finger. “This camp is the third biggest city in Wyoming but only seven undesirables out of every ten are Nips. The President’s executive order was the kind of gift that comes around only once in a generation, but strike while the iron is hot, they say.”

Sofie said, "So I'm one of your 'undesirables' but I don't even feel sick."

"Sophie, your brain isn't even alive anymore!"

"Then how could we even be having this conversation?"

Tolson turned to Dr. Ian Trochmann. "Please tell the young ladies what we've learned so far."

"It spreads like a virus," the doctor said, "but I've never seen anything like it before. It literally remodels nerve and brain cells. No more potassium and sodium ions pumped by ATP through a membrane. Your neurons are now little gadgets with sliding levers and the like."

"What do you mean by gadgets?" asked Kim.

"Both of you girls have been hooked up to an Offner Dynograph and it shows nothing. You're literally brain dead. Special Agent in Charge Tolson thinks you may be the first victims of a nasty Nazi weapon we've never seen before."

"I don't like you very much," Sofie said, directing her glance at both men in turn, "But I can see you want something. Well, we want something first. We want the windows disguised as mirrors removed from our living space."

Dr. Trochmann tried to play dumb. "What mirrors?"

"Come now, Doctor," said Sofie, "you must think we're just stupid girls. But we've had a lot of time on our hands locked up in here. Naturally we found your two filthy peeping-Tom mirrors and people looking in on us."

"I see there's no fooling you, Sofie," Tolson said.

"Sometimes I call Sofie a scrub," Kim said, "and she knows I'm only kidding. But Mr. Tolson, I'll match a scrub at Green Dome against any B student among the publics anywhere."

"It damn well better be that way, Kimmie, the amount of money daddy shells out for tuition."

"The one-way mirrors are not used for what you think they are."

Kim said, "Look, Clyde, yeah maybe we're infected and you have some order that says you can hold us in this quarantine of yours, but we still have one fundamental right."

"What do you mean? What right?"

"Like plain old-fashioned privacy!"

For the first time Tolson and Trochmann became aware that Kim and Sofie were holding hands. The doctor blushed.

Sofie saw the opening and moved tighter up against Kim. "What did you expect? We're seventeen and cooped up together."

"I hope you get what we're trying to say here fellas," Sofie said, fluttering her fingers. "I hope we don't have to spell it out."

"I know exactly what you mean," said Tolson, and he truly did. "We've started out on the wrong foot."

"Let's begin once more," offered Kim.

The mood of the men brightened visibly at this breakthrough. Tolson said, "I need to tighten up security a bit but I'll let you have your privacy. Curtains on your side of the mirrors."

When Tolson left the clinic he never saw the girls again, but not for lack of trying.

The girls were attentive to the tighter security arrangements Tolson mentioned, but the only real change seemed to be how their tormentors would look at a scrap of paper from their pocket before punching the buttons that would let them out, which meant a daily code change. Sofie almost despaired but Kim explained (via Dory to maintain secrecy) that the change did not make their task any harder at all. They just had to pick a range and try all the combos in it night after night until the daily shifting combo happened to fall into that range.

Next to the door leaving the clinic was a square keypad with the digits 0 through 9, and the letters A through F, and Kim knew from listening that the combo was only four keystrokes. But as soon as she started trying them a very vivid daydream of time appeared in her mind. To Kim her future was like a self-assembling house of cards. She could see the top, ten nights later, when doing the range from 7000 to 7FFF she punched 7BC6 and the door clicked open. But Kim wanted out that very night, so she started trying the range from 1000 to 1FFF. The house of cards collapsed and assembled itself again. This time the answer was four days away. Kim began trying higher ranges, and got jackpots ranging from two days to two weeks. Then in her mind she saw the number that was their ticket home that very night: D1FC.

But it was November and they were wearing nothing but slippers and hospital gowns. That in itself was part of Tolson’s security. Kim told Sophie to gather blankets and towels and whatever else she could find to create makeshift extra clothing to shield them from the cold.

“This is going to frighten Agent Tolson to no end,” said Kim as they both bundled up. “This, and especially what we do after this.” She could visualize the events leading to their escape from the camp stacking up in her mind.

“Good," said Sofie, "let him shit his pants."

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