Tiger

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During the five day wait for the return of Ithuriel’s space truck with the FTP Pod aboard, and during the two weeks following that as the Pod was removed and reinstalled aboard Exiler, some of Lahatiel’s crewmembers made a series of flights to the surface of Barbelo to fetch their dependents using Exiler Sidekick, the ship’s independently-maneuverable lander held in an inverted position at the bottom of the stack opposite the flight deck.

Hashmal Ithuriel, his wife Jabniel, and their son Hadraniel were invited to sleep in Lahatiel’s stateroom, which was twice the size of the other four staterooms. For the duration of the initial “Tiger Cruise” or “Dependents’ Cruise” Lahatiel and his wife Noriel slung hammocks in Kushiel’s workspaces in the aft end of the ship.

Suriel had already set up house with her wife Orifiel in her own stateroom. Her sister Camael and two other booty-wives, Auriel and Chobaliel were brought up from Barbelo and seated comfortably in the common room. They said this was satisfactory for them. Finding a place to sleep in free fall was not an intractable problem.

As was the case with Suriel, the ship’s navigator Barakiel had already set up house with his lover Peniel in his stateroom. It remained only to bring up his sister Anafiel and his other two dependents Sachiel and Gedael from Barbelo and berth them temporarily in the Banquet Room as well.

Ravmalak Kushiel of the House of Bellon and his two wives, Adriel and Neriah were already ensconced in his stateroom, and they were to stay together for the entire voyage of Exiler. Kushiel’s wives even helped their husband work in the engineering spaces.

The third flight of Exiler Sidekick was to the island of Danya to obtain Adnarel’s mother Ananchel and one wife, Zuriel. These two were to stay with Adnarel in the fifth stateroom. The fourth flight was to the Navy base located near the Larund mass-driver to pick up Adnarel’s three other wives, Sariel, Zotiel, and Gidaijal. These nephilim women took the remaining seats in the Banquet Room for the first leg of the journey.

So things were crowded at first. Twenty-one nephilim in all embarked on Exiler as she crawled stately away from the station and the observatory using only attitude thrusters to avoid contaminating the nearby space telescope. There was a shared meal to celebrate what had traditionally been called a Tiger Cruise. The fare was as good as space food gets considering it had to be eaten in free fall.

Everyone learned that the “Banquet Room” was not named in jest, though it was too small to accommodate everyone simultaneously. Those who ate first offered up their seat to others who were waiting to eat, and the character of the lively conversation slowly changed as the configuration of dinner guests changed and the food just kept coming. Finishing off was a chopped, steamed danis from Barbelo in a spicy rapha sauce, and for dessert, a delicious two-layer raam cake.

After the meal Ithuriel and the senior officers went forward to prepare for the hop. Barakiel turned Exiler to face the constellation called by humans Cassiopeia, which resembled a large “W” when you connected the dots (the nephilim called it the Serpent Root). The last and brightest dot in the “W” was Sol. Using the new data from Hashmal Ithuriel, he found the blank spot in the sky where the star Sol was supposed to be in real time and had the computer circle it in red.

Aft in the engine room Kushiel revved up the two macros and feathered the other four engines until he found a sweet spot around one-ninth of a gee where most the vibration canceled itself out.

A yellow dot representing the computed real-time vector sum of the ship’s acceleration was buzzing around on the view port heads-up display like a fly as Barakiel fired the side thrusters and tried to keep it centered inside the little red circle. But the best he could manage was to get the yellow dot to make repeated clumsy passes through to the edge of circle, giving Lahatiel no time to safely turn the key.

“This is impossible!” Barakiel muttered as the minutes wore on and intense performance pressure began to mount. He was trying to hit a lousy one AU circle, less than one AU actually, viewed telescopically from 266,353 AU away.

“When the Commodore is ready to actually go to the Sol system,” Sar Adnarel said after nearly an hour had passed and there was still no sign Barakiel was getting lucky, “he will order the Navigation Officer of the Exiler to be relieved by the Weapons Officer.”

Lahatiel looked at Adnarel and considered her suggestion. He hated to undercut Barakiel’s confidence, but this was turning out to be far more difficult than anyone thought. Finally he said, “Erel Barakiel, stand down. Sar Adnarel, take the Navigation station please.”

“Yes sir,” Barakiel said with a sigh, and he was quickly clear of his post before Adnarel could draw near, lest she accidentally brushed his hand with her own. Adnarel floated over to Barakiel’s console and took over the controls for the helm, which were really just a pair of large joysticks, dark red and dark green, bristling with buttons.

“Damn,” she muttered to herself as the yellow dot indicating the vector sum of the ship’s acceleration just missed the circle, and Barakiel developed a smug look on his face. But she quickly learned the trick of it and soon with little taps on the ship’s thruster controls she just nudged the dot into the small circle, where it seemed to linger. Barakiel merely gaped at her. Ophan Lahatiel knew it was the perfect moment and turned the key.

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