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Too bright to look at, yet giving almost no heat, the shrunken welding-arc sun Rigilkent hung in the purple northern sky as bloated orange Agena sunk in the west. When the army truck driven by Captain Raziel topped a pass high on a terminal moraine he saw a sheer wall of slowly retreating ice across a wide zone of freshly uncovered land still being carved by melt.

Thirty ji tall, the blue-white ice barrier stretched left and right to sink over the horizon. This was the edge of the awesome Northern Ice that covered almost half their world. Behind Raziel's truck lay a mere twenty-five hundred ji of unfrozen land and then the Southern Ice. It was slowly melting over the centuries. Only in one place, near the capital city, did the two ice packs come close together across the narrow equatorial belt of Lemnos and kiss, but in the distant past, in the time of Talishi and the World War, there were three such bridges, dividing Gorpai into three lands.

The four-lane concrete ribbon wound down the other side of the pass and straightened out, a low elevated highway that disregarded the shifting waters under it on a beeline for the base of the wall.

Raziel's passenger, Beleth, was his older sister and only surviving wife. Once he had four wives, two of them his sisters, befitting his rank in the middle eschelon of the Army of Belial. But as was so often the case in a harem situation, jealousies erupted, one wife was murdered by another, and Raziel himself strangled the guilty wife to death, more out of wrath that she had brought his career to an abrupt halt than to avenge his dead younger sister.

A third wife died after an extended illness. She had been the sister of his opponent in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system mandated by the Law of Belial. Now, with only one woman to wager, advancement to flag rank was out of the question. Raziel was damaged goods and even his promotion to major was long overdue.

Raziel had been diverted from combat to a more sedate role in logistics, and in the supply world, after the self-reinforcing bravado of battle command fell away, he a healthy fear of death returned to him.

Raziel drove closer to the blue and white wall until it grew to half their world. They could see the cliff was literally vertical, and even a little more than vertical.

If one of those overhangs decide to sheer off right now, he pointed out needlessly, we're dead. A high ridge of ice and snow on both sides of the road attested to the constant clearing that was needed.

Experimentalism, Beleth said, without any sign of worry about the ice, contrary to popular belief, can, if implemented properly, allow one of the freest possible societies.

The dangerous period was short. Soon the highway entered a tunnel melted into the very base of the ice. The pale blue translucent walls grew darker until they were black. They were safe, but to Beleth the tunnel was a kind of death anyway. The shrinking glow behind her could well be her last sight of Gorpai. From now until they departed the planet she would know only caverns.

Raziel sighed. Push for Experimentalism and you rank up there with King Haniel, who rallied his city under the banner of Talishi and killed thousands of his own people.

I rather think it was your own Army of Belial did the killing.

Suicide by Belial. You have to be pretty stupid and gullible and naive to think Experimentalism can work.

Why can't everyone determine what is good for the public in Experimentalism? Beleth suggested. You can have Democratic Experimentalism. What do we have now? Traditionalism. One person can determine what is good for many, but the many cannot determine what is good for themselves?

Beleth, there is a fatal flaw at the heart of Democracy. People are naturally lazy. They want free stuff. In a pure democracy, everyone will simply vote themselves sustenance from the Commons and no one will contribute. The whole structure will come crashing down. This has happened many times before, which is why only Traditionalism has survived.

Construction in ice was simple; it needed only a source of heat and a flexible conduit to whisk the melted water away. Deep within the ice the road twisted this way and that, finally dumping out in a multilevel city of burrows, bristling with security.

Look up tunnel 610 on the map, this isn't familiar to me.

It's coming up on the left. Ugh, I'm carsick now. I never could read and ride.

I was thrown off by that sign for 910.

This map has a blurb at the bottom that says, 'with apologies to Zelebsel.' Who's Zelebsel?

Probably some poor yang who trusted an earlier edition of the map.

Tunnel 610 was interrupted by a series of several checkpoints and it was only Raziel's credentials as a supply officer that got him through the gates with a long skinny gray box of ordnance strapped down on his flatbed trailer. His manifest was not in order. It would not do to allow even a quick glance inside the box.

The road dead-ended in a large illuminated cave that was the lay-down area for supplies coming in and going out of the facility. He was expected. The box was quickly forked off the truck and disappeared inside the bowels of the facility.

Raziel and Beleth themselves were taken to a well-lit conference room deep within a maze of passageways carved into the ice. They were given warmer clothes to wear, because the chill was eternal and omnipresent. Space heaters would only melt the walls.

Presently they were joined by three yang and a yin, and Raziel was mildly surprised when the yin began speaking rather than one of the males. She said, My name is Tabaet. These yeng are members of my team. They are Malkiel, Senciner, and Xaphon.

Your team? Raziel gasped. They answer to you? And Belial permits this?

She smiled. Belial permits much, because we do many things for Belial that he could not have otherwise. The...equipment...you have delivered for us was designed and assembled right here.

Raziel took her awkward speech as a signal that someone might be listening to what was said in the room. And that presented a problem. It would be difficult conveying what had to be said while dancing around the actual words. He nodded his head to indicate he understood the situation.

Tabaet said, I would extend a full welcome to you, but this is a classified project, and the yin is uncleared.

I will not send my wife away away, Raziel insisted. Where I go, she goes. You will have to get her a clearance. She must be...fully involved...in the project.

That is impossible, Malkiel said. You must be content to train one of us to operate the ...equipment. The project is of such a nature that only four people can be...fully involved.

It was a condition of bringing the...equipment...that I remain the sole operator. If you do not accept that condition, then you'll have to content yourself with an inert mass.

Time grows short, Senciner objected. With any delay the risk grows.

Raziel smiled. It is the unique nature of this...equipment...that any reasonable delay is irrelevant.

Tabaet sighed and came to a decision. Very well. We have a simulator. Xaphon will instruct you in his role, and Malkiel will instruct your wife. I will retain Senciner on the team. When you are both fully involved in the project, there will be opportunity to discuss this further.

The yeng exploded simultaneously with loud objections but a glance from Tabaet quickly silenced them, and to Raziel that was an impressive thing to witness. Beleth concealed a smile behind her hand.

Tabaet: ...zero, we have commit, and we have liftoff at oh-two-thirteen universal time.

Raziel: Go all engines.

Beleth: We appear to have good thrust at this point.

Senciner: Talishi, we're go here on the ascent. Begin your roll maneuver.

Raziel: Tabaet, at three clocks the dynamics computer says the trajectory looks good.

Beleth: I show ten ji in altitude at this time.

Tabaet: Roll complete and we're pitching.

Beleth: Altitude twenty-two ji, velocity seven ji per clock.

Raziel: Ten clocks. The trajectory on my plot board is right on the preplan line.

Senciner: Through max vibration, and we're go, Talishi.

Beleth: Husband, feel that weight!

Raziel: And the booster computer reports we are now through the region of maximum dynamic pressure.

Tabaet: We're EDS MANUAL.

Senciner: Thirteen clocks and we are go.

Beleth: Altitude now two hundred seventy ji.

Raziel: Engine two out.

Tabaet: Raziel that inboard out was way early.

Raziel: Acknowledged.”

Tabaet: Senciner, confirm number two engine down.

Senciner: Affirmative, Talishi.

Raziel: You don't see any problem with that though, do you?

Senciner: Negative, not right now Raziel. All the other engines are go.

Tabaet: The early shutdown of the second engine will cause no problem, we will burn a little longer than normally scheduled.

Beleth: Coming up on five hundred ji altitude.

Senciner: Seventeen clocks. Trajectory's good, thrust is good.

Beleth: We're now six hundred ten ji high, seven hundred eighty, correction, seven hundred ji downrange.

Tabaet: Guidance initiate.

Senciner: And telemetry reports the guidance system is correcting our eighty ji error.

Raziel: The guidance is good and the lander computer is go.

Beleth: We're now at an altitude of nine hundred thirty ji.

Tabaet: The little red lines are right back on the little white lines up here.

Beleth: We are currently about up to four hundred ji per clock, twelve hundred fifty ji in altitude...two thousand two hundred ji downrange now.

Raziel: And our cabin pressure is sealed at point six one, which is normal. Senciner, what was the story on engine two?

Senciner: I don't have a story on why that shutdown was early, but the other engines were go, and we're go, we're still looking good, our gimbals are good, trim is good.

Tabaet: Level sense arm time four eight clocks, nominal, predicted second stage cutoff seven zero clocks.

Beleth: We are now six thousand two hundred in altitude, eighteen thousand ji downrange.

Tabaet: Standing by for crew report of main engine shutdown.

Beleth: MESD.

Raziel: Confirm MESD, Captain.

Senciner: And the radar at first glance says we look good on the ascent ellipse and the boosters are in 'safe' so thank you, everyone. We are clear of the planet and you are free to move about the cabin.

Tabaet said to Raziel and Beleth, You are also free of being overheard by anyone on Gorpai, so do you have any questions?

Senciner called you Talishi a couple of times back there, Raziel mentioned.

That's my real name. It wouldn't do to be called that in the heart of Belialdom.

Did your parents have a soft spot in their heart for the Talishi of the scriptures?

I am the Talishi of the scriptures.

How can I accept that as true? Raziel asked. Talishi hasn't made a dent on history since the days of the scriptures.

It was out of self-preservation. Every act of possession dilutes the personality of the one who possesses.

Belial has possessed the Gerash Patriarch generation after generation since the World War.

And Belial has reaped dissolution. Little remains of his original psyche except his malevolence.

Then why do you risk dissolution, if you are truly Talishi?

Bat-El found that possession of an infant avoids this problem. A baby has no well-formed personality to contaminate the one who possesses her. But now I have a question to ask you, Raziel. Belial has exactly ninety-two special weapons configured as missiles. How did you, a mere captain, manage to obtain one of them?

Your question tells me you do not doubt the weapon is genuine.

That should come as no surprise, she said. We ourselves created and assembled all ninety-two of these weapons, and Senciner has remotely verified the presence of the radioactive core. The only thing we do not know about this round is the code that is now required to arm it. So if you would only arm the round at this time, we can proceed to the next step.

Raziel floated to Senciner's console and replaced him at that position, where he entered the code on a keypad. When Senciner resumed his place, he confirmed the warhead was armed.

Thank you Raziel. Talishi's relieved glance took in both him and Beleth, and she smiled. Senciner and I welcome both of you aboard this historic flight, the first penetration into space by nephilim since Kandiel's ill-fated flight long ago, and the first without direct aid from the elohim.

Indeed, Raziel said. With the weapon now armed, we could go head-to-head against the avatar of Belial right now.

But that is not our purpose and you know it, Talishi said. Senciner, begin moving to intercept the comet, accelerate to point zero three gravities.

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