Chapter 65

Earl Roland is faux pissed. Billing himself to Doctor Amanda Chase as the Deputy to the Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control, Roland fumes with steadily mounting fake rage as Dr. Chase unspools her presentation, and he murmers all along that this is just a Pharmadigm screwup that has nothing to do with the CDC. Roland also murmers that he and his team have flown all the way out from Atlanta for nothing.

“Let me get this straight,” he fully interrupts when Mandy is less than ten minutes into her slide show. “You’ve got a new anesthetic you’ve made from the venom of black mombas or some shit. Phase zero trials with microdoses went okay, so next was phase one, volunteers on full doses with forty-eight hours of monitoring. Something went wrong and now you want CDC to quarantine the folks. Well, how about you bite the bullet and just pay them out? Lawsuits are part of doing business. Take it up with your shareholders, not the government.”

We are not even talking about money, Dr. Roland,” Mandy objects. “The subjects have all signed releases holding Pharmadigm harmless from any side effects.”

“This should be the Food and Drug Administration sitting here,” Roland counters. “Who’s idea was it to call in the CDC?”

Mandy’s eyes drift to Doctor Ian Trochmann, who has been with the project longer than she has, and was focused on the changes to Lilith’s brain. Trochmann was in on Roland’s scam, of course. He said, “The board called you in, Doctor Roland. This isn’t just Pharmadigm’s problem anymore.”

“There are genetic changes,” Mandy put in, “including changes to sperm and ova. Our drug created two little monsters, and if they get out into the general population they’ll be everyone’s problem, as I will shortly make clear. So please, Dr. Roland, allow me to resume the presentation.”

“Do make haste, Dr. Chase.”

“Thank you, Doctor. As I was saying, the first volunteer was a fifty-year old woman by the name of Lilith Gervasi. She holds dual citizenship in the UK and Israel, but was working here as an academic. She’s a Holocaust survivor and a reserve officer in the Israeli Defense Force. The company did a complete physical before the clinical trial in Denver. She is remarkably fit for her age, but bears marks of torture from the death camps. The reason Lilith volunteered was to avoid deportation.

“As you already know, gentlemen, anesthesiology is more of an art than a science. We’re trying to bring the person on the operating table as close as possible to dying without actually crossing the line so they miss out on all the gory, agonizing parts. Our new drug targets only the gray matter of the brain. It completely shuts down the higher functions of consciousness, but leaves the involuntary functions like breathing completely alone. You don’t even need to have an anesthesiologist attend the surgery. During the drug trial she reported a long and rather vivid dream.”

“But that’s impossible!”

“Yes, Doctor Roland, it is. Naturally the company was disappointed when Lilith reported having a dream. But the benefits of this drug as a general anesthetic were judged to outweigh that side effect. After observing the woman for two days the company did a complete physical on her again with no changes noted, and I mention that because those two physicals will be important later in my brief.”

“Maybe the woman lied about the dream,” Roland suggested.

“I was not yet working for Pharmadigm when this testing was taking place, but the company prepared a second volunteer and brought me on board to advise. But as it turned out, it doesn’t matter if Lilith was lying about the subjective side effects of the drug, because there are objective side effects. As promised, Pharmadigm obtained for Lilith the required paperwork blocking her deportation and sent her home.”

“Then why is she here at Hanford?’

“A month after the drug trial she sought us out because she was scared. But I’m getting ahead of myself, Doctor. Let’s back up to the day Lilith was discharged. The following day I was hired. After being briefed, and reviewing the results with Lilith, I wanted to try a male for the follow-on test because there could be a gender differential in the response to the drug. I chose Fred Aspin, who is to be executed for the crime of killing Oboe Man for his spare change. Next slide.”

An image of Freddy Aspin slides into view, waving the stump of his bad arm, which is missing a hand, at the camera.

Roland is mock-astonished. “You wanted to flush out Lilith’s lies by using a convicted criminal?”

“I chose Freddy Aspin, Dr. Roland, because I realized we might have to abort the trial after two or three tests and he was the most anxious to continue. Jerry has every incentive to be truthful. He is on death row for killing Oboe Man. The company found an appellate court that was willing to give him a lighter sentence if he participated in our drug trial.”

“So what happened?”

Mandy gave a hand signal and the audio tape rolled.

Freddy could be heard saying, “I knew I was dreaming even while I dreamed, and I thought, what a complete bummer! I thought I was moving through a dark tunnel and getting closer to a bright white light. The light wiggled. It was just a flashlight being held by a New Confederate soldier who was waking me up in a tent. He said, ‘Aspin, get your dumb ass up on the wire, you’re late!’

“So it was just a dream about al-Berta. It was, in fact, the day I got fucked up, in rewind. I grabbed my rifle and my gear and stumbled my way toward the business end of the observation post. There was no volition in any of my movements. Somehow I was just riding behind my own eyes.

“The whole prairie was lit up by a flare, but it was fading. Corporal Street said, ‘We got ourselves a visitor.’ He nudged the bayonet-tipped muzzle of his rifle toward a certain spot just as a fresh flare cast enough light for me to see what he was pointing at. There was the headless body of a Canuckistani fighter lying there, and an up-ended pot of pink and yellow stew where his head and helmet should be.

“I’d seen this sort of thing countless times before. ‘Adios motherfucker!’ was all I had to say to the Canadian. To Corporal Street I said, ‘How’d he get through the perimeter?’

“‘Probably started crawling at sundown,’ the Corporal said. Now we know why they started irrigating this particular bean field this morning. The water covered the sound of him crawling. After this asshole came calling we’ve been watching with night scopes, but we haven’t seen anyone else moving out there.’

“Famous last words. A dozen Islamists had been crawling toward the observation post inside the irrigation canal, invisible to the sniperscope under the cool water even as other jihadis drew the attention of my unit by land. When the flares started this only slowed them down, forced them to move only between bursts. There were eight NC troops in the position, and two of them were sleeping. When the enemy came over the sandbag wall they outnumbered us two to one. I’m the only one who survived the initial assault. They wired one of my arms to some nails in a stump, tight! Another Islamist brandished an axe. ‘God commands this, you understand,’ he said. And the axe fell. I screamed in pain. I was the victim of a certain militia in al-Berta devoted to spreading a very nit-picky version Sharia law throughout Canada. In their interpretation of the Qu’ran, New Confederates occupying any portion of the rapidly expanding Dar al-Islam were stealing the land, and faithful Muslims knew what to do with thieves. Off with their hands! Dreams aren’t supposed to hurt! It felt like the real thing, this dream. So you know what you can do with your so-called anesthetic!”

“I didn’t die there in Canada, but in my dream I guess I did. I went to heaven, which was a forest with a pool surrounded by a wooden deck. The Savior was shorter than I always imagined He would be, and not nearly as good looking as the Hollywood versions. He had brown skin, black eyes, and no beard, but His leather sandals were right out of the gospels. He looked like a kid, really. He was seated at a wooden desk near the Sacred Pool, drinking wine and reviewing paperwork.

The Lord pointed his hand, and I settled in to a wide wicker chair in front of Him. Two armed female guards in green garb complete with bird feathers stood behind Him, to his left and right, flashing thigh, but they made a point of ignoring me with intense military bearing. I’ve been in prison a long time and I couldn’t help saying, “Both of you girls got pretty nice sticks.”

Jesus said, “I’m reading about the slow-motion train wreck that was the life of one Frederick Aspin. Oboe Man had, what, seventeen dollars in quarters?”

“I’ve paid my debt to society, Lord.”

“I’m a busy man, as you can imagine. Normally you get your outbrief from a close relative who preceded you. I only get the hardest of the hard cases. But they said to Me, ‘here’s another one like Lilith Gervasi.’

“And Jesus, reading the last page of my file, shuffled all the papers together and closed it up. He looked at me with infinite sadness and shook His head. He said, ‘It would do a great disservice to you were I to take a life like yours and extend it indefinitely.’

“I just chuckled, and said, ‘Normally a final decision like that would set me to worrying a little bit, but this is all just a bad trip. I’m hallucinating all of this! I just have to wait until the drug wears off and goodbye to You. In fact, I can feel it wearing off already.’

“Jesus said, ‘Ahhh…it’s a drug. That explains what’s going on. Clever! Chokhmah told me you people in the Twentieth would probably stumble on to something like this. We must craft an appropriate response.’

“‘Craft away,’ I said, “neither you nor your followers can stop me from doing this.’ And I shed my white terry cloth robe, dove into his Sacred Pool and swam headfirst into darker waters, far away from the light. What a crazy dream. That’s some powerful stuff you whipped up, Dr. Chase! But never again!”

The audio ended of Freddy’s interview.

Dr. Amanda Chase said, “The most interesting thing in that interview, Dr. Roland, was that somehow Freddy knew the name ‘Lilith Gervasi’ To the best my knowledge he had never met the woman.’”

“Can you state with absolute certainty that no one on your staff spoke of her to Freddy?”

She started to blurt out an answer in the negative, but thought better of it, and shook her head. Then she said, “After the second test, the clinical trial of this drug as an anesthetic was officially called off. The memory of Freddy’s pain was so vivid he refused to take the drug again. And no one is going to sign up for a guaranteed Near Death Experience or even a lucid dream when all they want to do is sleep straight through an operation.”

“Dr. Chase, I’m sorry your research failed and your company wasted money. But what does any of that have to do with the CDC?”

“Lilith came back in to Pharmadigm. At the back of her head is a little white oval cup with stiff black hairs inside, or bristles, and it looked curiously artificial.”

The next few slides were photographs of the cup taken from various angles.

“Doctor Roland has already been thoroughly briefed on this structure,” Dr. Trochmann tells her.

“Does he know that Lilith’s story of what happened to her doesn’t match what happened in reality at all?”

“What do you mean?” Roland asked.

“She said, she still says, there was no drug trial with her at all. She doesn’t know what Pharmadigm is. She says she went to a hospital with the bone cup, and they referred her to the federal government.”

“Obviously a delusion that is part of the brain changes,” Dr. Trochmann weighed in.

“But that isn’t all. Lilith Gervasi now possesses two sets of female genitalia.”

The slides Mandy showed next were decidedly gynecological in nature.

“Movie make-up,” Roland says, knowing full well he had once seen the same thing with Kimberly Zinter’s body. “You folks are just having a big laugh at the government’s expense.”

“But that doesn’t explain the genetic studies. Here is an image of one of Lilith’s X chromosomes from a white blood cell in a sample taken before the trial. You see that it is perfectly normal, a long capsule and a short capsule joined at a constriction called a centromere. This next slide shows one of Lilith’s X chromosomes after the trial. You can see that it is now three identically short capsules joined by two centromeres.”

“Neocentromeres in humans are associated with chromosome breakage during cell division,” Roland points out, spouting something from his prior research. “It’s a deadly mutation.”

“We have seen no evidence of genetic damage in Lilith, other than this structural change, outside of the radical modifications to her brain, which Dr. Trochman says he is still puzzling out. We are attempting to sequence the chromosome to verify that the change is purely structural, but the results will take some time, and it will take even longer to identify any new genes. Meanwhile, we are calling this changed chromosome a Z chromosome because the two constrictions are like the joints of a three-section set of numchucks. The chromosome can literally drift into the shape of the letter Z, or N.”

“What about the other subject?

“Jerry, being male, only carried a single X chromosome with two thousand genes, paired with a shorter Y with only eighty genes. His Y chromosomes are unaltered, but they are now paired with Z’s. Now that we know what is happening, we need to draw samples from another subject on a set schedule, stain the slides, and watch the changes to the chromosomes in more or less real time. For that we need to do a final drug trial with the third volunteer”

Roland expresses a parody of exasperation. “Your drug causes genetic damage and you want to give it to yet another subject?”

“Michael Morrich is black,” she says, and Roland’s objection melts away. But he tells Dr. Chase he still thinks Pharmadigm is pulling his leg.

“Then we will administer the drug with yourself attending, and you can define the parameters of the experiment any way you like.”

“And assuming that convinces me, Dr. Chase, Dr. Trochmann, what is it, exactly, that you’re asking the CDC to do?”

“It should be obvious,” Mandy replies. “Every X chromosome is their body is changed. Even in their gametes. They can pass these changes along to their children. So we’re really talking about a new species here. I’m asking for sterilization, right after you see what it does to Mike.”

After Dr. Earl Roland of the CDC pretends to examine Lilith, Freddy, and Mike for himself he takes Dr. Chase up on the offer and conducts the final drug trial on Michael Morrich under conditions totally of his own design. Roland chooses the operating room and brings in his own cameras and recording equipment. Of the Pharmadigm team, only Amanda Chase is permitted to attend, and that only in the role of an observer who is not permitted to touch any of the apparatus. Of the CDC, only Roland is present.

When Roland satisfies himself that Mike Morrich is fully human he makes sure Amanda watches him transmit two copies of the chart to his office in Washington by two different routes, fax and hand courier, using someone he knows and trusts. Then he administers the drug to Mike himself.

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Chapter 64

The Baron Bayard is wounded and lies at Lord Kirodiel’s feet, but hy is not unaware that sweet Victoria stands between hym and certain death on the keen edge of Gerash steel. And hy thought her to be insanely reckless, for she bore only the broken hilt-shard of the diamond blade known as Dragonthorn, and it would shatter once again should she attempt to block a single blow from the White Beard patriarch’s blade.

But both Victoria and Kirodiel, and everyone else for that matter, are gazing skyward at Joy, who has appeared in the sky above the queen’s barge riding on the shoulders of Demonstroke. Joy has caused the dragon’s deadly mouth to aim directly at Queen Aurra, who is helpless, confined inside a wooden cage on the ship’s main deck.

Victoria rushes into the sky bearing the remnant of Dragonthorn and sets her flight path to lead directly at Joy.

For the first time Joy becomes aware that her niece has come to Barbelo to stop her. B’nei eloah on b’nei eloah violence, but that is not unprecedented. As Ariel, after all, Joy’s first death in the skies over Luna had come as the result of a Brushfire missile loosed by some other member of the b’nei elohim. Perhaps it had even been Victoria did the deed.

Joy does not for a moment deceive herself that Yeshua will give her yet a third chance. To protect herself, Joy causes the mouth of the beast to drift away the queen and point instead at Victoria. A burst of white fire from the belly of the orange sun over Barbelo roars out, and Victoria alters her course directly upward to evade it. Like an arrow that has missed, the flame strikes the house of the king of Menkant and sets part of it ablaze.

Then Joy causes the dragon to rise into the sky and follow her niece. When his flight path matches that of Victoria’s, he bends his snake-like head and neck under his belly and looses a continuous blast of fire, and Joy is thrown back against his collarbone as the acceleration mounts like a rocket.

By a supreme effort of will Baron Bayard stands again and draws hyz blade, but hy is an honorable yang, and hy will not strike at his foe in hyz distracted fascination at the drama unrolling far above the queen’s barge.

“Killing you wouldn’t be murder,”Bayard says, and Kirodiel turns hyz gaze from the sky to the baron once more. “It would be atonement for allowing a monster such as yourself to exist among us for too long.”

The two yeng salute together once again in mock ceremony and the dance begins anew. They circle, waiting for an opening.

Bayard lunges forward suddenly in a ferocious attack and forces hyz opponent to the defensive momentarily. Kirodiel’s counterattack focuses the baron’s whole attention on the patriarch’s blade flashing forward in a blur. Forced to give ground, the baron keeps speaking to attempt a distraction.

“Frankly, I’m quite astonished that you’ve done so well, Gerash so-called Lord. More than once Lady Haziel regaled us with tales of how you held har captive much like you’re holding my mother, because you were afraid of what another yin, Princess Khondiel, might do.”

Kirodiel rewards hym with a prickly scratch from shoulder to left breast. Bayard risks a glance down at the blood beading up there and in that moment Kirodiel is in the air leaping high and aiming a foot blow at the baron’s head.

Almost instinctively Bayard puts both hands together as a single fist and sideswipes the offending boot. Lord Kirodiel sprawls badly and lands on hyz back. Both yeng recover their stance but they have a renewed respect for each other.

Victoria can only fly so high. She isn’t Hunky, after all, she can’t make her own oxygen for her body to use. So she stops accelerating and tops out at about four miles high, bending back toward Menkant in a broad arc. Joy sees this, of course. Demonstroke stops his burn and brings his head forward to bear on Victoria again. Short bolts of fire race out like tracers from World War II fighter airplanes over Midway.

Victoria dodges randomly as she falls to avoid being struck by the fire. When she has descended far enough to see individuals on the ships commandeered by Kirodiel she deliberately flies toward them to draw the dragon’s fire, allowing Joy herself to set four of the soldiers ablaze. Then she flies through an open hatch on the deck of a fifth vessel which had been a cargo vessel, but now carries only troops.

The hatch clearly isn’t big enough for Demonstroke. But Victoria isn’t to escape that easily. Joy commands the beast to burn his way through and make the hatch bigger. Then Victoria and Joy are briefly together inside the large hold of the ship as screaming men are crushed under the feet of the thrashing dragon.

“This is the part of the movie where you tell me why you did it, Aunt Ariel,” says Victoria, but Joy lets Demonstroke open his mouth and answer for her.

Kirodiel and Bayard face each other anew, focusing on probing each other’s defenses. Gaging the changes, at the same time seeking not to be changed. Bayard, slowed by hyz wound, fights with calculated risks but never rash ones. Kirodiel is rash, and attacks with supernatural speed. The blades thrust just here, or there. Bait or blow? The combinations are infinite. It becomes a game of looking for the opponent’s hesitancies through a net of deception and decision.

Bayard tries to ignore the pain of hyz wound, but the whole point of pain is that you cannot ignore it. Pain is a priority organizer. Yet one thought keeps hym going. Victoria has become hyz highest priority. Bayard longs to see how she was doing, but hy dares not tear hyz eyes away from the fight for an instant.

When Kirodiel says, “You lousy cunt,” Bayard merely continues the high tension ballet. However, when Kirodiel describes the things he will do to Bayard’s mother the queen when hy was finished here Bayard does an unexpected thing: Hy throws hyz blade away.

Astonished, Kirodiel tracks the errant blade with hyz eyes as hyz training required. In that split second Bayard blasts the White Beard lord with a kick squarely and solidly in the face.

Then they are rolling and thrashing on the ground. Faces are punched. Fingernails and teeth go for eyes and other soft spots. Kirodiel pulls the classic move of aggravating Bayard’s wound, which makes the baron howl in agony.

Briefly, just briefly, stopping the pain becomes a higher priority to Bayard than Victoria is. And knowing that makes hym fly into a rage. Hy literally sees red, and isn’t entirely clear exactly what happens next. Hy ends up kicking Kirodiel’s head again and again until Kirodiel’s son Hovan and crosses the deck to restrain hym. Hovan says, “Baron, stop. You got hym.”

Young Hovan, leaning over hyz father, confirms hy is dead. Yet there is no anger. It has been an honorable death match, and the Baron has prevailed. But Hovan is fully confident the expedition would yet attain victory. The dragon Demonstroke remains the most powerful weapon of House Gerash.

The dragon sets half of the ship’s hold ablaze, condemning a hundred soldiers of House Gerash to burn alive, yet Victoria escapes by rising through a second open hatch. Joy commands the dragon to exit the ship through the same hole he has just made. Yet Demonstroke is less agile than Victoria, and even as the dragon’s neck and Joy clears the burning hulk, Victoria seats herself neatly behind her aunt, with the point of Dragonthorn resting on Joy’s back next to a kidney.

“If you choose to commit suicide, dear aunt Ariel, you are just seconds away from True Death. Or you can decide to live, and we can talk about whatever it is that you think is your problem. So what will it be? I recommend you live, because if you die it’s really going to smart.”

For an answer, Joy tries to slam her right elbow back into Victoria’s face.

“Then I guess my daughter is right,” Victoria said, “and you really are Jill.” So with a shrug she presses the jagged tip of Dragonthorn smoothly into Joy’s back and deep into that kidney.

Disabling pain.

Joy’s scream of agony is inhuman. The only mercy she receives is her instantaneous death after she falls five hundred feet to thud like a sack of wet garbage on a cobblestone city street.

And Demonstroke, free at last of Joy’s overweening control of his movements, doesn’t much like having Victoria crawl up his neck to get within striking distance of his head. He thrashes as violently as he can to shake her off, but she holds on for dear life. Dragon fire doesn’t help him, he can’t very well aim his mouth at his own head. And his arms are too short to swat her off.

When Victoria has shimmied high enough to reach, she buries the fragment of the diamond blade in the dragon’s brain.

Demonstroke falls to the surface then, and if his brain had been working any better he would have thought to give Victoria a parting spray of fire on his way down, out of spite. Because that was the sort of dragon he was.

When the dragon Demonstick falls from the sky and in his death throes belly-flops upon the river Sabik, and the last embers of hope for House Gerash have been thoroughly extinguished, Baron Bayard turns to Hovan the son of Kirodiel. And hy says, “Now carry out the terms of the death combat and release my mother Queen Aurra from har captivity, and get your ships hence, for neither shall you bring Lady Haziel into a cage once more.”

Then Hovan nods hyz head once, and bows, and orders hyz yeng to cut the ropes that secure Queen Aurra in har confinement.

With as much dignity as sha can retrieve, sha emerges from the cage and moves to within a few paces of har son, but har gratitude and pride in Bayard cannot be contained, and hy sees that.

Then from the air Victoria alights on the gopherwood deck of the queen’s barge and in the same movement is swept into the arms of Baron Bayard Sala. Both are overjoyed that the other has prevailed against their respective foes. Gently, gently, the baron embraces Victoria, and though hy winces with the pain of hyz wound as she squeezes hym back, the fact that she did squeeze hym back was a very encouraging sign to hym. Hy asks her, “Victoria, is it possible for a mere nephil to fall in love with one of the b’nei elohim?”

“I see no reason why not,” she replies. “As I’ve told you before, we b’nei elohim are mere human beings or nephilim ourselves, with a few fancy tricks up our sleeves grounded in what you call alchemy and natural philosophy.”

“I am very relieved to be reminded of that,” hy tells her. “Thank you! For now I can say with utmost confidence that I have fallen irretrievably in love with the b’nei eloah named Victoria.”

“Then there must remain only one more thing for you to say, Bayard, so let me hear it. Come on, you’re among friends. Lay it out there.”

“Victoria, will you consent to become my wife?”

“The thing seems to be written in the living stars,” she says with no trace of hesitation. “But let me ask a question of you, Bayard, and of your mother, and when I have your answers, then you will have mine.”

“Proceed with your questions, Victoria, but beware, I cannot foresee any that would deter me from what my heart has already resolved to do.”

Victoria catches the eye of the Queen. “Is it safe to say, Your Highness, that with the whole House of Sala now moving at your command from their cities to many thousands of scattered faith assemblies, that there is no longer, in a real sense, any kingdom for you to rule, or for Baron Bayard to inherit?”

“Alas, Victoria” answers the queen, “that is true, and were you to marry my son and had your heart set on the title of Baroness, I’m afraid it would be little more than a figment, just an empty title. Our society is being profoundly transformed even as we speak. The irony of the situation is not lost on me, of course. For most of hyz life I have sharply rebuked my son for hyz taste in commoner women. I was trying to guide hym to wed one of the Highborn, and now at the very end I find that the very word Highborn is a sound without meaning.”

“Thank you, Queen Aurra,” says Victoria. “And for my part let me say that my ability to fly, which is the biggest thing that sets me apart from humanity as one of the b’nei elohim, is not a power that can be sustained outside of the land of Haaretz, save it be on Earth. Soon I must lay this power down again, and if I stay in the west of this land I will be little more than a commoner woman, something that might interest the Baron of course, but I had thought you might have an intractable objection to that.”
“Victoria, you are far too modest! You have killed the dragon called Demonstroke and brought an end to the world war on Barbelo. Such a deed, which will be memorialized in songs for ages to come, makes you entirely uncommon.”

“Thank you once again, Your Highness Queen Aurra. And so I am led to ask my question of the yang who has asked me to become hyz wife. Bayard, would you be willing to quit this world forever, and dwell with me on Earth?”

“Victoria I would eagerly follow you right out of this world if you consent to marry me.”

“I do consent to marry you Bayard! But I warn that it will be absolutely bewildering to you at first, and you will find yourself to be what we frequently call a ‘fish out of water’. For we do not merely live on the surface of the Earth, but in the skies above and in the ground below.”

“I am full willing, Victoria, if the Queen will give har blessing.” And hy turns to face hyz mother, who at first thinks to roll har eyes, but thinks better of it and nods har head yes.

Then the Baron, filled with happiness beyond hyz capacity to bear, fall to the deck of the queen’s barge in a dead faint from hyz wounds.

“I have done everything I can,” Haziel says after sha has tended to Bayard and restored hym to consciousness. “Hy has lost very much blood and I marvel that he still slew Kirodiel. Do not permit hym to stand on hyz feet until we have taken hym downriver to Yeshua, who can provide a temporary blood substitute.”

“Lady Haziel, there remains a slight problem with carrying out that order,” the Fallen Angel Ambe Omphal says, pointing to many of the Gerash nobleyeng and officers who remain standing on the deck of the barge all around them.

Queen Aurra stands forth to confront them. She says, “Your dragon is dead.” And the yeng muttered aye, for the queen speaks a truth.

The Queen catches the eye of Hovan just then. “You have killed my husband.” And Hovan’s eyes fall. Hy nods in assent and says aye.

Sha says, “You are in the middle of Haaretz with a greatly diminished force, and the long road home will be much longer if you must fight your way there. The war is over, young Hovan, do you not agree?”

“I do agree, your Highness,” says Hovan.

“Then get yourself and your yeng to another one of my boats and depart this land!”

When evening falls and the queen’s barge has reached the place where the rivers Sabik and Arhena become one, Haziel climbs, somehow, to the top of the highest mast where few would dare to follow har, and there sha meditates on many things. Victoria, returning to the ship from a night flight she took for the sheer pleasure of it, sees Haziel sitting in that precarious place and asks to join har.

“By all means, Victoria, please make yourself as comfortable as you can.”

Then Victoria, knowing that no one could overhear, says, “Aliwe told you, didn’t che? That you and Yeshua find a way to win.”

“Aliwe told me things that would have been perfectly safe for our companions to overhear on the way to the Catwalk,” Haziel replies. “But I obtained the detailed update directly from hem in the way that you and the other b’nei elohim already know so well. Yes, we found a way to beat Thaumiel, both my daughter and I.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“It’s a very curious thing, Victoria. It is like I have a splinter of wood that bears a tiny flame, and I must walk that small flame to a great pile of wood and kindle it to keep my loved ones from freezing to death, yet it is windy, and I dare not do the slightest thing to let the flame go out.”

“I think I understand what you mean. Even after Aliwe assured me I would defeat Demonstroke, I did not relax my guard for a single instant. It still required the utmost effort.”

“That is precisely what I’m trying to convey to you.”

“Lady Haziel, will I meet my daughter Aliwe again?”

“You will, after that big bonfire really gets going. But if you and Bayard have a child, even a jist child, che will not be the same Aliwe. Not even if you name hem that.”

“I understand. Aliwe already said as much.”

“I will go with you and Bayard to Earth,” Haziel reveals. “It’s very strange, you know. My real body is the sun that warms the Earth and drives all life and movement there, but in this body, as Haziel, I have never been there.”

“And will you return to Barbelo someday?”

“Just once, as an important part of that successful way Aliwe spoke of. I must save this planet from a second deluge, many centuries from now. As Haziel I will not survive it. But Aliwe tells me the other Chokhmah, the one I must soon merge with once more, is already making arrangements to live in another body.”

“Please do not make that into a habit, Lady Haziel. “We have seen what serial possession has done to one among us named Jill.”

“I will not make that mistake, and Aliwe told me that the other Chokhmah is making arrangements to deal with that problem as well. Thaumiel is about to fall into that trap. I knew long ago there would be no real joy in bringing Thaumiel to defeat. Imagine contriving a total victory over your bitter lifelong enemy only to discover the fellow, in the end, was in the advanced stages of dementia.”

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Chapter 63

The replicase enzyme

Haziel appears to Lilith one final time after she has returned to America, while the country is busy tearing itself apart in the wake of the limited nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. Sha knows har own adopted nation of Israel is a radioactive shambles. It is December of 1973. Haziel brings a coat to bundle up Lilith. The yin seems to be sad and listless, and says nothing, letting Haziel whisk the two of them to wherever sha wishes to go. Certainly the novelty of traveling in this way has worn off.

In a flash the two yen are looking across the steep gully of Indian River at Greendome, covered in snow. Even as they watch, the water of the very upper reaches of the river slows to a mere trickle. Haziel leads the way down an icy footpath to the edge of the river, and Lilith follows, still not speaking any words.

Ever since sha was pricked in the finger by the white walking avatar of Chokhmah just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Lilith has been radically changed. A bump at the back of har head grew and opened up like a flower, revealing a hard little cup. It was difficult for Lilith to see it, but sha could feel the growth with her fingers, and sha wore her hair in a way to cover it. But other changes happened.

Over the course of the short war, Lilith developed a second set of female genitalia just above her original organ.

Most radical of all, Lilith found that sha had the power to change the shape of any part of her body at will. Sha could become very large, like a piece of furniture, or very small, like a purse, but sha could not alter her total body weight.

Using this strange new ability, Lilith causes both of har genitals to close under a layer of skin, leaving only a small hole in her original organ for urine to escape. In this way sha enforces physically the celibacy she has chosen for herself since the camps. When from time to time she feels the need for sexual relief she can still touch both of her clitorises through the skin. Lilith soon finds, as every yin eventually does, that having two orgasms at the same time is almost as amazing as alternating between the two for continuous bliss.

Haziel has somehow turned the Indian River off like a spigot. This exposes a wet but walkable ledge of rock that acts as a trail leading into the cave that was the very source of the stream. Inside, Lilith can see a pool of water. Haziel says, “Were you to go for a swim, Lilith, and dive to the bottom of that pool, you would find you had swum right out of this world into another one. But I wanted to show you another thing.”

They crouch at the far end of the cave and enter another chamber that would have been blocked by the water had the river been flowing as it usually did. There Haziel flicks a switch and lights come on, for the room has been prepared with electric power, yet the floor and walls and ceiling remain stone.

On a long blue table that nearly fills the space from end to end, a white scroll lays completely unrolled. Haziel turns to Lilith and says, “I call this the Scroll of Lael, after the name of the author who has penned a portion of it. Please give me your first impression of the scroll, Dr. Gervasi, as an academic, of course.”

Lilith emerges from her silent sulk and says, “It looks fake. It doesn’t look like any scroll I’ve ever seen. It’s as white as a wedding dress for one thing, and the thing’s shiny, like a sheet of plastic.”

Haziel says, “Yet it is not plastic, it is biological in origin. Under the microscope you would see plant cells, but no one on Earth would be able to identify them for you. If you were to cut off a corner of it, say about the size of a postage stamp, and submit that fragment for carbon-14 dating the labs would report that it is 2,600 years old, plus or minus fifty years. Please take a closer look here.”

Haziel steers Lilith to a section of the unrolled scroll in the middle of the long table.

Lilith examines the characters written there and says, “This is Paleo-Hebrew, from before the Babylonian Captivity, when it was just a variant of the Phoenician alphabet without contamination from Aramaic. And yet I see a smooth evolution of the characters consistent with a natural progression across many centuries. I cannot even detect Samaritan influences.”

Haziel says, “Then if it is a forgery, would you not say it is one of exquisite subtlety?”

Lilith nods her head in the affirmative, but says, “Okay, but who ever heard of a scroll that was more white than modern paper? What kind of plant looks like that?”

“If you were a shrub on a dog-eat-dog planet that was all ice and snow,” Haziel said, “and you didn’t want to be dinner, what color would you be?”

Lilith examines a part of the scroll a little more than a quarter of the way from the left end and after reading it for a time, gestures for Haziel to look. It is that cowboy story with Chief Wanica and Mark Lange, written in English in a neat hand. Lilith says, “Unfortunately, Haziel, someone has vandalized your scroll with some western pulp fiction. Actually it reads more like science-fiction than a Zane Gray yarn.”

“For your entire life your story has unfolded separate from the one on this scroll,” Haziel says, unwrapping the Purple Cable from around har waist. “I think it is time you were grafted in.”

Sha plugs one end into har own head, and offers the other to Lilith. After much silent deliberation, including moments when sha stares at the empty walls of the cave anteroom, Lilith accepts the other end of the cable and plugs in.

Haziel speaks to har directly, mind to mind: This planet alone has the combination of a stable sun, a self-moderating climate, a magnetic field to shield it from cosmic rays, a large moon to dampen wobble due to precession, a large gas-giant planet to vacuum up most stray comets and asteroids, the optimum rate of spin to moderate both temperature extremes and stormy weather, an active geology to rebuild eroded lands, and a fully functioning water cycle.

Each one of these things are shown to Lilith in turn. After that sha sees harself plunge into the sea.

Haziel says: In the beginning the ocean of Earth was saturated with the ingredients of life. These are the amino acids and nucleic acids which form naturally on many planets or even in deep space following to the exquisitely tuned laws of chemistry selected by the Old One for this universe.

And Lilith watches some of the amino acids slam into each other and stuck together for a short time, forming random shapes, but these rickety structures are soon torn apart again. Floating underwater in the sunlight of a new star, buffeted by chains of wiggling crystal maggots that were amino and nucleic acids, Lilith watches the Old One assemble an enzyme Haziel calls ‘replicase’ from raw amino acids.

The Old One grabs a handful of hydrogen end caps from one amino acid and tears them away, preparing it for assembly into a larger structure. As the Old One adds amino acids together one at a time, the object folds up like a long phone cord tying itself into a knot.

Lilith watches the Old One busy itself for a time making a few dozen identical replicase enzymes, and soon it has all the hardware it needs.

Haziel says, The Old One turned to making the software. The shortest strand of RNA that can reproduce itself is a mere 4119 nucleic acids long. Omit a single one, and the strand is worthless.

Haziel goes on to tell Lilith the only thing the strand codes is replicase and also smaller molecules that deliver stored solar energy for breaking and forming chemical bonds. But there is something rather like a ‘Catch-22’ because even with the little energy-providers on hand it takes replicase to read the old strand and build the new one. So Lilith watches the Old One turn one of its hand-crafted replicate molecules loose on the strand and away it goes, zipping along in fits and starts, powered by second-hand solar energy.

If the replicase machine finds the nucleic acid it is looking for in the ambient soup floating all around, it adds it to the growing child RNA strand. If it find the amino acid it needs, it adds it to the growing child replicase structure. Two structures emerge from this process, a second, identical RNA strand, and a second, identical replicase enzyme. And along the way, dozens of energy providers are also spit out to gather sunlight.

Two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes sixteen. Life on Earth had begun. Random thermal collisions still destroyed the fragile structures, but now they could replace themselves with identical children faster than they could age.

Haziel says, In just a few years the entire ocean was filled with copies of these RNA strands floating in a soup of replicase.

Lilith watches competition begin. Replicase is hoarded and these hoards are raided by eating. The single-strand RNA creatures gradually give way to more sturdy double-stranded DNA creatures with a kind of error-correction that can resist mutation and aging. And after the sea has filled with life even the land is colonized by them.

Haziel says, Here on this planet, alone in all the universe, did a species evolve whose natural gait was to walk on two legs, leaving two hands free to manipulate its environment. It is a tragic misfortune that the first meeting of elohim and humans took place under the cloud of sequestration, but Milcom and Thaumiel set up a community of elohim isolated from the greater community as a kind of harem.

Haziel goes on to say, I am committed to reversing that and restoring humans, nephilim, and the other elohim in this bubble to full union with El, and even one day with the Old One who is father of all. I am a living star, but I must become one with a planet-dweller again. As Chokhmah I did this once before with a brave and intelligent yin of Barbelo named Haziel, but now the time has come for myself, as Haziel, to lay down my life to discredit Thaumiel once and for all, and also to save the people on Haziel’s home world from extinction. And yet, to bring Thaumiel to utter defeat I must unite with the flesh and mind of a planet-dweller once again, this time with a human being of Earth who is fully willing to make such an eternal decision. Will you be that human being, Lilith Gervasi?

And Lilith, thinking of the dark wreckage of her life and of her whole world, replies, “Let it be as you have said, Haziel. You not only have my freely-given assent, you have my eager willingness to do this thing.”

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Chapter 62

Immediately after the death of Princess Khondiel and the destruction of the avatar of Chokhmah on the battle plain west of the Nine Mile Wall, High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash divides hyz forces in twain. Half of the Army of Thaumiel is rushed back home to the Middle Land in the east, leaving the other half of hyz soldiery to complete the occupation of the lands of House Bellon and to garrison the Magodon peninsula.

When the White Beard army reaches the city of Salem once more they are transferred completely across the Middle Land by relays of many horses like a bucket fire brigade. And it comes to pass that even as Lady Haziel is just arriving at the city of Jelaket on the other side of the world, Lord Kirodiel assails the ice bridge between the lands of the House of Gerash and the House of Sala with an exceedingly great force. But Duke Evandr Sala of Saharad, the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Aurra, rushes to defend the border, where hy is joined by Countess Ayani Sala.

On the eve of the battle Ayani asks Evandr, “How did you survive the countless battles you have fought, Sire? For it is well known that you never lead your forces from the rear, but share the physical danger and hardships of the front.”

Evandr replies, “A cowardly general thinks only of his personal survival, Countess Ayani. Thus hy endangers hymself and hyz entire army, and indeed hy puts the existence of hyz entire state in jeopardy. But when I advance on the battlefield I have already reconciled myself with death. I go into every battle, no matter how great or small, as though I were certainly doomed to die. And because the thought of dying has already been accepted in my mind, this frees me to focus only on fighting well. Thus I retain my life. Keeping my life, I gain the victory. Gaining victory, I preserve the state and save the life of the people.”

In the battle Evandr gives a good account of hymself, and the aid of Ayani is vital, yet Lord Kirodiel, despite hyz numerical losses, simply continues to feed more troops into the battle until the Gold Beards begin to yield. The battle takes place while Lady Talishi and her traveling party on the far side of Barbelo reach the city of Vaska, the capital of House Antero.

Duke Evandr rallies hyz forces once more on the edge of the plain at the foot of the ice bridge, near the city of Galcha. There the Countess, asks, “Sire, why have you camped your army on this plain, letting Kirodiel attack from the high ground?”

“Because in this battle,” Evandr replies, “we are the guest, and Lord Kirodiel is the host. Therefore I yield the hill of honor to hym and accept this lower station.”

“But hy can see our entire force, Sire,” Ayani objects, “while we cannot know what strength he has hidden in the ice!”

“Ah, but Ayani, that would only be important if we were the attacker. In that case we would tire ourselves fighting uphill and possibly be surprised by hidden forces waiting to ambush our yeng. Instead, my army is deployed like water, dwelling in the low places considered to be of negligible military value.”

“Why is that an advantage, Duke Evandr?”

“Is not water itself vital if people are to live?” hy answers. “Do not people seek it out in wells and rivers and even swamps? By our mere continued presence on this plain Kirodiel will begin to covet this plain.”

“But Sire, we are ringed by ice on three sides, and hy has taken all of that high ground. When hy attacks, we will not know from which direction hy will come!”

“Yes, Ayani, but hyz forces are, as you say, spread like a ring around us while down here we have the interior lines of communication. Anywhere hy attacks I can order reinforcements within minutes. And anywhere I counterattack hy will be weak, while hyz own signals will be slow to propagate around this ring. Do you see, Countess, how we assure ourselves of victory merely by humbling ourselves and keeping to the lowland?”

And Evandr does gain the tactical victory in the battle of Galcha that day, yet Kirodiel has many more yeng to spend. By throwing their lives away with no absolutely no remorse Kirodiel is able to grind out a strategic victory by forcing Evandr and Ayani to withdraw deeper into the lands of House Sala.

When Ayani and Evandr assess the battle of the previous day, Ayani says, almost in despair, “Duke Evandr, why do yeng love combat so much?”

“As long as a child is growing hy is filling out his potential, Countess Ayani. As long as hy has not reached hyz limits, hy remains a child. Hyz limits remain unknown unless they are met and even exceeded somewhat. Combat is the crisis by which yeng come to know their limits and obtain maturity.”

“For many yin this maturity is attained in a very natural way,” replies Ayani. “Motherhood. Maturity means acknowledging your limits and returning to your root. It is a yin’s nature to make harself still and embrace har center. So even without the experience of motherhood, yin are naturally mature.”

“But young yeng are always reaching out,” says Evandr, “always moving, always extending, until they know their breaking point. And while they are on this personal quest to find their limits, they can be enlisted in stupid vainglorious campaigns to defend the honor of warlords and kings and patriarchs who themselves never attained adulthood. And many of these young yeng, of course, needlessly die.”

“That’s what makes a female warrior different from a male warrior,” Ayani says. “Sha is primarily interested in the survival of the people sha protects.”

So Evandr and Ayani fight a noble fighting retreat for many days until the fighting draws nigh to the Gold Beard capital itself, the city of Saharad. At that moment Lady Haziel and har companions are in the city of Gerazan in the far west of the West Lands.

Queen Aurra joins her husband on the field. Sha says, “Look at that, Evandr! Ten times ten thousand arrayed against us! Did you ever see such a host?”

“A large force does not assure the enemy a victory, Aurra. What are the stakes? Kirodiel is fighting to add yet another tax-paying province to hyz empire. But our people can barely make ends meet as it is. Paying the Gerash tribute would kill them. They are fighting to survive.”

“But leading them are the most famous generals and captains on Barbelo!”

“And how did they get so famous, Aurra? By their reckless aggression. If I present our shock troops to them as bait they will rush out to engage them, thinking how this will advance their reputation.”

“But behind them are the best fed and best trained troops in the world!”

“But they aren’t fighting for their wives or cities or farms in the Middle Land, they are fighting to prop up a bankrupt culture and a fragile economy of arms trading. When they see the carnage wrought by our extraordinary force, they will hesitate. And in that moment we will strike with our main force. The Sala army will prevail because it is humble. Our soldiers do not think of self-aggrandizement or the aggrandizement of their leader.”

Once more Evandr’s words ring true, and the captain of Ayani’s forces bring the White Beard patriarch into captivity, but Hovan the son of Kirodiel goes into the camp of Ayani with a squad of Eyes of Thaumiel and releases his father.

And Kirodiel comes once again after Ayani with hyz dwindling army. Their forces clash in the ravine of Anixi, and Ayani is driven down the brook to the plains of Nolesh. Then Countess Ayani, aided by the timely arrival reinforcements commanded by Evandr turns and drives the Gerashi army to the brink of the gorge of Armak.

But for the first time since the invasion the strange Earthwoman Joy comes to the aid of the Gerash forces with dragon fire. And in this battle the chief lieutenant of Kirodiel slays Evandr, but in hyz death throes Evandr sorely wounds this lieutenant in his thigh.

Following the death of Evandr, Queen Aurra, in har grief, sends a curse upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the White Beards set objects down at night, in the morning they are found to have disappeared.

Lord Kirodiel says the missing goods are not a sign of the power of Chokhmah, but indicate only thieves, and on that point hy is correct. The thieves are a number b’nei elohim tunneling unseen under the ground. Everyone starts keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but the invaders are steadily impoverished even as they loot the land of the Gold Beards.

These events transpire while Lady Haziel and har diminishing party are crossing the ice bridge to the city of Belen in the land of the Black Beards.

“Queen Aurra,” despairs Countess Ayani, “how can we, numbering only in our thousands, hope to prevail against our enemies numbering in their tens of thousands?”

The Queen says, “A light commando force wreaking havoc behind enemy lines will tie down a much greater force hunting for it. A small army that is still and rested with have the better of a large army that is worn out marching double-time to meet it.”

“But there must be a limit to how small a unit can be before it is ineffective no matter how intelligently it is employed.”

“Too light,” the Queen says with a nod, “and we invite aggression. Too heavy, and our army becomes unwieldy. The excellent commander coordinates the small with the great, the strong with the weak, the eager with the reticent, balancing opposites to obtain the perfect middle way.”

And nothing would have pleased Queen Aurra more than to see har words of encouragement to the Countess hold true, and House Sala waylay the forces of Kirodiel in vengeance for har fallen mate, yet sha can also see there are not enough b’nei elohim to aid har. The very tinders har army cuts to form bulwarks against House Gerash are just so much kindling for the dragon.

Worst of all the queen judges that Kirodiel has assailed har land at a horribly inopportune time when har subjects are fleeing the cities at har earlier command to spread themselves across the entirety of the lands held by House Sala, as was suggested by Lady Haziel. The enemy knows everything har people possesses they have taken with them on the road, and all these possessions are ripe for Kirodiel’s forces to plunder.

Yet Queen Aurra also knows that at a word from har the whole House of Sala would flock into har army; yea, even the yen, the infirm, and the children. Sha foresees the war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land would be covered with dead bodies, but no one would even take the time to bury them because they would be too busy marching to make more dead bodies, and the land would exceedingly stink. This, sha resolves, would not be.

So Queen Aurra rides across the plains of Nolesh and meet Lord Kirodiel for a parley on the hill of Ronmok, and there the queen negotiates the surrender of har forces for the sake of the lives of har people. And as part of the deal the queen turns over to the forces of House Gerash every seaworthy vessel of the Gold Beards on the river Loenna.

Lord Kirodiel takes the queen captive after the parley, putting har in a wooden cage identical to the one which had once held Haziel. Lord Kirodiel journeys with all hyz remaining forces down the winding river Loenna to the great sea known as Thalury. This voyage takes place even while Haziel is lodging in the castle of the Larund king in the city of Peshast.

Yet Queen Aurra, who still deeply mourns the death of har mate, and finds the indignity of har captivity almost too much to bear, counts House Sala fortunate, since most of the people will now complete their emigration from the cities unmolested by the army of the White Beards. And sha has appointed Countess Ayani to guide them to the new faith communities in har stead.

Two divisions of the Army of Mastema are left in the West Lands to carry out of the occupation of House Bellon. During the invasion of the East Lands, Lord Kirodiel sustains casualties at the hands of House Sala equivalent to a full division. So only a single division, reorganized from the survivors of the original two, remain available for action.

These yeng are put on every boat and ship that can be commandeered from the Gold Beards and they drift down the river Loenna to the great sea named Thalury. Kirodiel hymself embarks on the royal barge and takes the lead position of the expedition, with Queen Aurra confined to a cubical wooden cage on the main deck in somewhat less comfort than sha has come to expect. Yet Kirodiel is not interested in humiliating the queen beyond har basic captivity, and hy does not hold har in a state of undress as hy had once forced Haziel to do.

After the expedition reaches the mouth of the river the prevailing winds suffice to take them halfway across Thalury, but over the whole land of Haaretz is a stagnant air mass created as the winds pile up against the barrier that is the Wall of God, and there the fleet is becalmed. So oars are broken out and distributed to the yeng, and the army begins to row day and night. When they grow fatigued this is remedied by whips.

At length the Gerash expedition rows past the Isle of Avior and Murzi Bog to enter the wide mouth of the river Sabik, and the people of the city of Sadl throng the bank to watch the parade of ships toil upstream. Then, after passing the place where the river Nanki enters from the south, they row through Canterwood, and Yeshua, who has been expecting them, even waves from the beach together with many of hez followers as the White Beard fleet continues on.

Victoria finds Wazol, which is snuggled up against the Wall of God, to be extraordinarily beautiful during the night, and many of the people of Hamar call their city the Queen of Lights. The Hamorites know Haziel well, and take har every vague whim to be their most succinct command. Haziel’s whim at this time is a supply of horses.

Victoria could have flown by herself to the capital of Menkant in a relatively short time, but Haziel wants to maximize the element of surprise, so sha insists everyone go together by land. Victoria has never ridden a horse before, so there is a brief but necessary period of familiarization before they can set out. Baron Bayard finds it within himself to volunteer to hoist Victoria on the animal and in other ways make her ready. One hundred twenty folks begin the journey, but only one hundred nineteen animals are embarked, because Bayard, who is sincerely concerned about Victoria’s inexperience with handling horses, wants them to ride pretty much glued together.

They ride north down the upper reaches of the Sabik, taking most of the day to cover some forty miles, with many stops to rest the horses and rub their own sore asses. Haziel does not rush them at all. The dense forest begins to thin out, and great vistas can be glimpsed through them at last. Haziel calls a halt to that day’s riding.

In the morning when Haziel’s party resume the ride the trail turns to the east away from the river a small distance and ascends a gently rising slope of grasslands where the trees disappear altogether. In the distance ahead, as the sun climbs toward the zenith, the travelers see large herds of cattle grazing, and beyond them, as a short dark line that slowly grows to encompass them, is the city of Menkant itself.

When Menkant was originally platted out the founders prided themselves that they retained the original belief of the House of Israel, which was God as a mighty warrior king, one who didn’t have a son as men have sons, and certainly one who didn’t come as a woman. But belief is only important in the absence of the object of that faith, while on Barbelo the existence of the elohim was a basic physical fact, like gravity or the weather.

Eventually even the Menkalites concede that Haziel really is their God, the same God who spoke to Abraham, and Yeshua really is har son. So when Haziel arrives in Menkant with Baron Bayard, Victoria, and over a hundred Fallen Angels, room is quickly found for all of them. Haziel, Victoria, Bayard, and Ambe Omphal, the senior officer of the surviving Fallen Angels, are invited to stay in the house of the king.

The king dwells nigh to the bank of the river. Thus Haziel and har inner group have a front row seat when the lead ship of the White Beard expeditionary force rows smoothly into position and ties up nigh to the house of the king. Queen Aurra is in her cage on deck as Kirodiel intends, and as Kirodiel also intends, this is what har son focuses upon to the exclusion of all else.

“Baron Bayard Sala,” bellows Lord Kirodiel from the rail of the ship. “Although it pains me to place your mother in such straits as you now behold, I find there is no avoiding it, for I wish to make a simple trade, the common criminal called Haziel for Queen Aurra Sala. What say you, Gold Beard Baron?”

Bayard draws his blade and bellows in reply, “Such a cowardly proposal from one who styles hymself the Patriarch of the oldest family on Barbelo! This yen for that one, as though bartering in serving wenches! I say, rather, that both yen shall go captive, or both shall go free, and that the one yang of us who remains alive, be it yourself, Lord Kirodiel, or me, shall be the one to give the order!”

Kirodiel draws hyz own blade and orders hyz men, “Let the Baron step aboard!” By making this order both hy and all hyz men are held to the terms outlined by the Baron. By the same token, the freedom of Haziel is now conditioned on Bayard prevailing in the personal combat to immediately follow.

A plank of wood is thrown to bridge the gap between ship and land. The Baron fearlessly crosses over the rail and stands on the deck of the royal barge in full view of hyz mother and Lady Haziel and Ambe Omphal and (most important in the mind of Bayard) Victoria.

The Baron salutes the Gerash lord with a sharp military slash vertically downward, and Kirodiel returns hyz salute. Then they start in with fairly standard stuff, just simple thrust and parry from safe distances.

Suddenly, without a word, Kirodiel literally pounces upon hyz challenger, with hyz blade slicing down with bewildering speed. But Bayard has studied well in hyz many practice bouts and especially upon the field of battle. Hy doesn’t fall for this simple trick for an single instant. Hy fends off Kirodiel’s first attack with ease.

So the patriarch attacks again. At each one of hyz parries Bayard feels hy is striking stone. There is simply no give. Hy backs out of range and they begin the usual circling of each other, testing with probing thrusts.

Kirodiel pauses and a sudden oxygen debt forces hym to draw hyz breath in a sharp gasp. Bayard makes hyz own first attack then, a clumsy but forceful pounding of blade-on-blade that starts to wear the White Beard patriarch down.

The auxiliary noises of their fighting are the only sounds to be heard. A resonant back-slide of steel-on-steel and CLASH! Nick, slide, and CLASH! The Baron is moving Kirodiel back now but the Gerash lord’s defenses prove more and more unyielding as Bayard sweeps hym closer to the far rail of the ship.

When hyz back touches the rail Lord Kirodiel unexpectedly counter-attacks with frightening violence. Bayard is a few moments gaining hyz original stance at the cost of a few feet of ground. Bayard tries to prevent Kirodiel from circling around hyz to force hyz own back to the rail.

During the struggle the two combatants speak no word one to the other. Both yeng would have found such a thing far too effete.

Bayard presses an attack. Lord Kirodiel counters with a deft flip of hyz sword down along the back of hyz arm. It becomes a shield allowing hyz arm to bear the brunt of the Baron’s blows.

Kirodiel is well beneath Bayard’s high two-handed thrusts and the Baron realizes, far too late, that hy is dangerously vulnerable to a bloody touch from the Gerash patriarch in the form of an elbow jab with hyz blade’s tip.

First blood to Kirodiel then, who savagely pierces the spleen of Bayard. The Baron sinks to the deck with the shock of hyz wound.

Victoria sees this and flies the short distance over the rail to stand between Lord Kirodiel and his prey, holding the shard of Dragonthorn that is little more than a knife, and would probably shatter against the steel of Kirodiel’s blade anyway.

Joy in turn sees that and moves slowly into view riding Demonstroke, who hovers on great flaps of his wings. At every instant the hellish mouth of the beast is pointed directly at the cage of Queen Aurra.

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A Conspiracy Theory Theory


Linux Gal: Windows Guy, there’s no space aliens. We would have heard their equivalent of the World Series and seen their version of “I Love Lucy” first, and then after setting up a two-way conversation over many years, teaching each other to speaka zee lingo, we would have made an appointment to meet in The Hague or something, where they would announce that Al Gore is right about global warming , and it would all be under the sunshine policy, out in the open, on CNN and no conspiracy stuff. It would NOT be just the UFO and some hayseed on his combine in Idaho or some shit like that.

Windows Guy: You see, Linux Gal, that is exactly what the theory says has happened, more or less. The government knows, you don’t. That’s what this disclosure business is all about. Breaking it gently to the masses.

Linux Gal: It’s always like that, these silly claims, whether they be religious ones or claims about UFOs or faces on Mars or grassy knolls or WTC #7s falling down after a controlled demolition, you name it. There’s always a tidy explanation for the lack of evidence. God has to hide so people can believe in him rather than just look up and say, hey, look, there’s God. The UFOs are covered up by the CIA because if the Russians knew we were getting all our technology from Alpha Centauri they’d initiate a nuclear first strike before our perfect reverse-engineered Centaurian missile shield was ready. One faction in NASA sent the Mars probe to cash in on the contracts, and the other one caused it to “fail” with buggy software to keep it from seeing the Martian monorail system, because if society saw how efficient mass transit worked on Mars, they’d demand it here on earth and the Oil Lobby mightn’t like it.

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Taoteching 37


The nameless way appears to signify inactivity, yet it enables the completion of all things.

If the sovereign cultivates the undifferentiated “mind-at-its-beginning,” the people become without desire.

Without desire, they attain serenity. And affairs naturally grow calm.

The Mediocre Man goes to war for the common good, because he believes a benevolent society must sometimes impose righteousness by force. He trumpets names for his missions like “Operation Just Cause” or “Operation Enduring Freedom” and broadcasts campaigns by television news. He clobbers the enemy with overwhelming force to the accolades of the whole world. Everyone calls him a skillful general.

The Woman of Wisdom goes to war only when all other avenues have failed. When she arrives on the field her heart is heavy, as if she were attending a funeral. Unseen by friend or foe alike, she arranges alliances, supplies, and the disposition of her forces in such a way that a wise enemy general will concede defeat without fighting, and a foolish enemy will be defeated before he even begins to maneuver. So the Woman of Wisdom never receives the recognition of the world, because her enemies seem to melt away without providing the spectacle of a bloody battle.

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