Giving the lander to Karayan means that Turel and his family cannot return to their homestead to get their possessions. On very short notice they are forced to leave almost everything they owned behind. All they have left is the clothes on their back, the frigate, and everything aboard her. Lahatiel and Noriel go through the ship cataloging whatever they find while Turel flies on to the distant outskirts of the Jupiter system to see if he can find Greidi’s father.
As Turel and Greidi take Exiler spiralling away from Jupiter they try to teach their son Lahatiel and daughter Noriel as much as they can about flying the frigate. Once when Greidi struck below to sleep, Turel explains to his offspring why it was important they learn the ropes.
We’re going out to see your grandfather Naseth, but it has been years since either we or Naseth has had the means to travel through space and truth be told I can’t be entirely sure he won’t try to take the ship. I don’t know what his financial situation is right now, you see. I plan to leave one or both of you aboard to give us more options if he tries something. Please don’t tell your mother I said this, she would never forgive me for doubting her father.
Lahatiel and Noriel promise their father they will not say a word.
There are many captured asteroids in the outer reaches of the Jupiter system that orbit the planet as so many small moons, sometimes in retrograde orbits, but only tiny Green Rock has a greenhouse. An artificial black hole in its core creates a full gee of gravity on the surface of Green Rock, but that gravity falls off so rapidly with distance that the asteroid cannot hold an atmosphere for very long, unless the air is glassed in, as Green Rock is.
Unfortunately any glass house is vulnerable to people throwing stones at it. Hence the current proprietor of the Green Rock operation, Naseth, the father of Greidi, is ever in the market for armaments.
The Navy of Thaumiel had approached Green Rock twice before, and Naseth resorted to bluffing them to survive the encounters. The first bluff was a suicide bluff. Naseth told the approaching warship that if they came any closer his family would blow up the glass enclosure and eject the black hole, killing themselves in the process but ensuring that no one could ever use the asteroid.
The second bluff occured after Naseth and his entire family had been captured by commandos and were already being taken away to be tortured. When Naseth was put under torment aboard the destroyer Chastiser, Naseth “confessed” to have arranged a timed blast take out their greenhouse. Since Chastiser’s commanding officer was ordered to gain Green Rock intact, Naseth and his family were returned to their asteroid alive, but with life changing injuries from the torture. If Greidi had not been married off to Turel and still lived in the household of her father she would have been one of the victims.
Naseth knows the Navy of Thaumiel never gives up on their problems. He is well aware his only remaining option is to give up the asteroid, walk away from his life’s investment, and try to live somewhere else. But when Turel arrives at Green Rock in the Exiler to pay his father-in-law a long overdue visit, more opportunities present themselves to Naseth’s mind.
Access to Green Rock is through a landing pad atop a tall glass-enclosed gantry where the gravity was only half a gee. Nuriel, following the wishes of her father, stays aboard the frigate. When Turel and Greidi and Lahatiel descend the ladder they feel the weight begin to pile on. Then they are through the glass and in.
Naseth has something of a nostalgic streak. Amid the two hundred acres of forest and gardens wrapped around the tiny ball of rock is a big lawn, with a white two-story farmhouse and an old gnarled moving tree from Barbelo, complete with a tire on a rope that the tree itself keeps swinging.
Naseth is overjoyed to see his daughter again after many years, but Greidi is horrified to see that her father and indeed every member of her family has been maimed in some random but permanent way.
Under the artificial lights and heat lamps used to supplement the diminished and faraway sun they sit in chairs on that lawn, just Naseth, Turel, Greidi, and Lahatiel, and they have themselves a cozy chat. In the opening round, Turel offers the Exiler entire in return for sanctuary for himself and his family, although on second thought, looking at Naseth’s disfigurement, Turel isn’t too confident that Naseth really could offer sanctuary.
Unfortunately your ship is a liability to me, Turel. I know Asmodeus gave it to you long ago, but then later he repented of his gift, as you just indicated to me. You must know as well as I do that he will never stop looking for it.
In that case, sir, I offer the four fully armed and fueled Bulldog ship-to-ship missiles we found stored in the tubes aboard.
That will pay for such protection as I can provide for only two other souls, aside from my daughter of course, who is always welcome in my home.
Turel smiles sheepishly, but then his smile changes a bit as he guesses the man’s game.
How did you know this was not my entire family, Naseth?
You wouldn’t feel right leaving the frigate empty. I knew because I would have felt right doing it myself. There’s no shame involved here, Turel.
Young Lahatiel already knew from his father’s tales that Naseth was a tough negotiator, but now he sees an opening that can sweetened the deal and also answer the yang’s concern about being caught with an imperial frigate.
I will take the ship far away from here, sir, if my father will also release Nuriel to me.
TUREL (gaping at his son)
And where will you go, Lahatiel?
Directly to Palato of course. The High Lord Patriarch Asmodeus will be very interested to hear how his most honest and loyal subjects are treated by his own Navy here in his Jovian colonies.
Then you not only have my approval to take your sister with you, but you have my immense gratitude. I am thinking of the well-being of Greidi of course.
The dirk will need more training to fly the frigate. We will help.
After Lahatiel and Nuriel make their tearful farewells and depart Green Rock in Exiler their parents Turel and Greidi do well as they settle into their new home. Green Rock is like a toy planet. There is no want for food. The inhabitants can work and play in the lush gardens of the sharply-curved surface under greenhouse glass that becomes the exact shade of the purple Barbelo sky by “day” and permits one to admire the stars at “night” as the tiny asteroid rotates upon its axis once in 22 hours. Climbing trees is particularly fun, as one’s weight perceptibly drops upon reaching the higher branches.
At times, Naseth takes Turel and Greidi in the family runabout to visit other homestead rocks in the vast halo orbiting Jupiter willy-nilly, but this small vehicle is not powerful enough to land on and return from the larger Galilean moons, explaining his failure to visit Greidi on Europa for so long.
Turel knows the paterfamilias of some of these spreads, and wishing him well in his change of life they extend to him gifts that help lighten the burden on Naseth. And there are scattered bits of news and rumors of what happened to the men they had cast off in Exiler Sidekick. Karayan was murdered as was expected. The lander was sufficiently small enough that it was sold to a Ganymede chop shop and reconfigured in such a way to make it absolutely unrecognizable as once belonging to the Navy of Thaumiel. It is also said that the three men burned through their shares from the sale of the lander and had already sold themselves into indentured servitude.
Though he doesn’t know it yet, Lahatiel is free to lie with impunity to Asmodeus about what happened on Europa, for none of the survivors of Exiler would ever approach the Navy to contradict him, although lying is not his intention.
But as the saying goes on Earth as it is in Barbelo, all good things come to an end. Less than a month after Turel made Green Rock his new home the asteroid is attacked by the destroyer Chastiser, which is the same vessel where Naseth and his family and servants had been tortured. Naseth took great pleasure launching one Bulldog missile from the four he had obtained from Turel.
The crew of the Chastiser are blindsided. They do not expect a military attack from a mere greenhouse asteroid. The Bulldog splits Chastiser neatly in two. The crew is killed almost instantly, but Green Rock is not completely out of danger. The pieces remain floating out there like two moons of Green Rock. The debris is sufficiently intact to allow the Empire to identify them should they came looking for their missing warship.
So Naseth, to his great regret, is forced to use two more Bulldogs to render the pair of burning hulks into glowing splinters. This gives the people of Green Rock a few more weeks of life as the Navy attempts to ascertain the fate of the destroyer.
But after that time Green Rock is attacked again by the cruiser Punisher. Naseth fires his last remaining Bulldog missile, but Punisher is fully alert this time, and the automatic close-in weapon system on the cruiser easily destroy the missile with no harm to herself.
After that, the centerline 80mm gun on the cruiser begins to rain shells down on the asteroid. First to go is the gantry that pokes above the glass shell where the Bulldogs have been mounted, where also Naseth stows the family runabout. Naseth and his large extended family, including Turel and Greidi, are stranded on Green Rock with no means to escape. More shells pierce the greenhouse itself, letting out all the atmosphere. That is a death sentence right there. Unless there was a miracle, they would eventually run out of food.
With nothing left to lose, Naseth ejects the core black hole on a course straight for the hovering cruiser. As soon as the black hole is free of the electromagnetic coils in the asteroid’s center which had held it in place, Hawking radiation begins to evaporate it away. It grows exponentially hotter and hotter as its mass decreases. This runaway process reaches its climax inside the Punisher itself, as Naseth intended. The cruiser explodes into a billion cinders that scatter to every corner of the sky.
Turel, Greidi, Naseth and his family still remained alive deep inside the asteroid, but they are stranded with no way to grow food or escape. They might survive for a few months on what they had stored away, but the Navy quarantined the rock and kept salvagers away. The bill for taking out the greenhouse and turning it into a gigantic tomb is two ships of the line.
The Navy of Thaumiel does not possess advanced digital computers like the ones Robyn saw a few years along on the Watergate timeline. Such tools as the nephilim do have operate on analog principles. Certainly there is no massive electronic database holding the current position of all the moons in the Jupiter system. In lieu of that is a big fat printed ephemeris in a blue cover that can fold out to four feet wide, containing the position of all the bodies in the Jupiter system for the next Barbelo standard year. Lahatiel uses that information and his analog navigation tools to calculate a burn that brings Exiler to the orbit of Hyperion, where a second burn would stabilize the ship’s orbit there.
Lahatiel knows that with the minimum energy trajectory he has chosen it would take days for the passage. So after the descent burn he joins Nuriel in the common space which is a combination dining hall and sitting room and parlor containing many tunnel openings in the deck, overhead, and bulkheads leading to other parts of the ship. Instead of a common table there are six smaller individual tables and chairs facing each other in a ring along the wall.
The frigate was originally designed for a crew of twelve. Underway, half the crew would be on watch while the other half messed here in the Banquet Room or hot-bunked it in one of the six staterooms. Everything aboard the ship is a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, as is typical when it came to space travel.
Six hatches in the Banquet Room lead to the six main drive modules, each with a space for performing engineering duties and more hatches leading to access tunnels aft. Forward of each one of these engineering spaces is a supply room corresponding to the domed enclosures that capped each engine. Access ways in these spaces are shaped by the stored material itself. They are simply the voids between boxes, a bewildering three-dimensional maze. The previous crew had plundered most of the useful supplies and sold them on the black market.
The flight-deck is all the way forward. This is the ship’s “bridge,” and it is somewhat more cramped than the common room. Arranged around the rim were empty tubes for Bulldog missiles, radar, communication equipment, and the F/1 Fairchild 500mm optical tracking system called the Big Eye, an expensive import from Earth.
There is also a thick circular window dead center with a layer which can be electronically polarized or even made opaque in the event of a laser attack or if Lahatiel tips the ship directly at Sol or one of the Centauri suns. Nuriel marvels that no sizable flat space along the interior bulkheads is wasted as merely a bare wall.
The crew’s berthing is between the Banquet Room and the flight-deck, shaped like a pie cut into six pieces with a wide hole taken out of the center. These six “staterooms” have some nine hundred cubic feet inside each one, quite roomy as such things go. One enters through blue curtains secured with runners and magnets sewn in the hem. Each stateroom has a large rectangular picture window looking out the side of the ship.
Lahatiel and Noriel are two young heterosexual nephilim of the opposite sex alone on a frigate during a long transit through Jovian space. They already know and loved each other deeply as siblings, and they are born in a culture that has absolutely no incest taboo. As might only be expected, nature takes its course.
In one of the staterooms Lahatiel takes his sister to bed, formally claiming her for his wife. He hasn’t come by her strictly by the rules of the Law of Thaumiel with the ritual death combat called Laraji, but in the story he planned to tell Thaumiel (which would be embellished with a tale of the death of his parents to keep them safe as well) the capture of Exiler would fulfill the forms of the ritual nicely.
As they slowly enter a state of total undress Lahatiel and Noriel spent hours enjoying each other’s body. She moves rhythmically against him while he cups his sister’s breasts in his hands or runs his fingertips over her smooth thighs, shiny now with a layer of sweat.
The way Lahatiel fills her and moves relentlessly inside her triggers Noriel to have the first orgasm of her life. Her very enthusiastic vocal response in turn triggers his own orgasm, there is no way to delay it any further. For about a full minute, a long time as such things go, the two of them literally go crazy wrapped in each other’s arms and legs, but it is such a sweet crazy.
Lahatiel felt like he literally boiled over inside his sister. Noriel would certainly never forget the electric frenzy of her body. She had no idea such a wonderful thing existed.
Maneuvering Exiler into the ID Grid over Hyperion is more difficult than Lahatiel has bargained for. He ends up colliding with the lattice-work twice. But apparently it is a skill much lacking among the navigation officers of the Navy of Thaumiel, since no eyebrows seem to be raised before they are through.
When Lahatiel and Nuriel emerge from the fold-gate over Palato, traffic controllers at the naval station take control of the Exiler and bring it down to an empty hanger sufficiently far from the secret and ever-changing location of the avatar of Thaumiel that it precludes any damage from a booby-trapped ship. It speaks volumes of the nature of the regime of Asmodeus that such a precaution is deemed necessary.
Lahatiel has no illusion they would survive an escape attempt from the heavily fortified moon of Palato, which is riddled with tunnels and sports so many missiles and guns it resembled a giant gray spherical cactus.
After landing, the Eyes of Thaumiel swarm over the interior of Exiler and find, to their astonishment, that there is no one present but a dirk and a doll. The commander of the Eyes and chief lieutenant of Asmodeus, one Balberith, decides to forgo the usual session of rusty pliers applied to nails and teeth and brings the children before Abaddon directly to provide an explanation, but this is done with no small amount of rough treatment.
Five Eyes are deemed sufficient to guard the children while simultaneously not irritating God with a crowd. The five Eyes bow face-first before the throne and with hard kicks ensure that Lahatiel and Nuriel bow as well.
Then Balberith arises at the Emperor’s bidding.
Forgive us, Lord, but there is a curious happenstance which requires your personal attention. The imperial frigate Exiler has returned without orders from the Sol System, and we have found it to be crewed with only two children!
Rise and explain all of this, dirk.
Lahatiel gets to his feet.
If you please, Sire, I am called Lahatiel, the only son of Turel of Europa. My father was an honest and loyal yang who distilled the waters of that satellite for metals and sold them for a small profit. He never failed to send the fourth part of the increase to the crown, according to Your Majesty’s holy law, and this was always done out of gratitude and loyalty more than obligation.
What rank was your father in my armed forces, young Lahatiel?
None, lord. My father lived outside the Cupel system of testing under the dispensation Your Majesty allowed for the first two generations of colonists in the Sol system. But he was preparing me well for the death combat and dreamed of the day when I attained the ranks of ishim.
At this the Eyes of Belial grumbled, and Balberith even protested openly.
Lord, we have very good reason to believe this boy has slept with his sister on the ship before the ritual combat demanded by your holy law. This makes him a rank heretic of the highest order.
Thaumiel had never really cared about any of those sexual prohibitions himself, and merely used them to try to pit the planet-dwellers against their own instincts. Asmodeus ignores Balberith
You remind me of a nephil I admire named Ithuriel. Tell me of how you came into possession of the Exiler.
Yes, my Lord. The High Lord Patriarch Sartael Gerash of happy memory gave the vessel to the father of my father, the Hashmal Araphiel, who was one of the first men from Barbelo to settle in the Jupiter system.
Ah, now it grows clear! This Araphiel I do remember. Yes I gave him the frigate to begin his settlement in the Jupiter system, but unfortunately it was required from him once again to put down the Beaters, and I do not recall returning the vessel to him again, nor to any of his sons. So again, I command you, young Lahatiel, tell me how exactly how you came to be in possession of it.
There is a foul stink of corruption on Your Majesty’s fleet in the Jupiter colonies, Lord! All of the homesteaders know this, but our family learned of it first-hand when the frigate Exiler engaged in a naked invasion and robbery of my father’s operation. We resisted, of course, even as other colonists on Europa have resisted, and the crews of your capital ships have taken many losses in this way. Before my parents died fending off the attack my father suspected Your Majesty’s Navy has covered up these casualties, because a colonist had been forced to serve aboard Exiler as a replacement crewman. Send aides, Your Majesty, to examine the books kept by the crew, and the booty we found stashed throughout the ship.
Asmodeus turns to face Balberith to see what his Chief Eye would say to this.
Sire, the claims of this boy are doubtless nothing but juvenile fantasies. Even if there have been casualties taken by the fleet at Jupiter it only speaks of how deep-seated the insurrection is there.
Yet I would see the books the dirk mentioned.
And Asmodeus bids Lahatiel to tell the full tale of how his mother and father came to die. Lahatiel puts forth the elaborate lie he had invented during the passage to Hyperion. He makes no mention of Green Rock. So delightsome is the tale to Asmodeus that he elevates Lahatiel to the rank of Sar on the spot, taking his victory over the Exiler mutineers to count as his first death combat elevating him to ish.
You may take your sister to be your wife from this day forward, with my approval.
Balberith suddenly grew angry at this.
What manner of B’nei Elohim are you, boy? How did you bewitch the Lord Asmodeus?
Asmodeus replied to this outburst by asking the boy a question with uncharacteristic control.
Sar Lahatiel, do you now desire anything of me? Anything at all?
Lahatiel faces Balberith and draws out the yang’s own blade from the sheath dangling from his side, which Balberith at first allows to do simply because it was so unexpected and continued to allow to do since to attempt to stop the theft would only cut his hand.
LAHATIEL (to Balberith)
You speak of heresy and then go on to imply it is possible for our God to fall under the spell of mere nephilim!
And with that blade Lahatiel brutally butchers the nephilim where he stands.
After wiping the gory blade on the fallen man’s cloak he plunges it yet one more time, point first, into his dead corpse to let it stand hilt up.
The life of this fool is all that I desired from you, Lord.
The other Eyes of Thaumiel waited for the angry command of their Lord to torture this boy to death for killing Balberith, but Asmodeus only laughs and orders them to bring his own son Apollyon before him.
Do you know, Lahatiel, that in the thousands of years I have ruled Barbelo as the Gerash Patriarch, never has a son of my loins survived the death combat I appointed in my law. Not once!
My Lord is very busy governing the Empire. It is only a question of having sufficient time to train your son.
I thought as much at first, Sar Lahatiel. But even when I put my mind to training him, I fail, and the dirk is killed. It’s beginning to weigh overmuch on my mind, if only because it’s become something of a running joke.
Apollyon enters the throne room just then and approaches to kneel before his father. Lahatiel saw that the dirk seems to be entirely beat down, as though resigned to his inevitable fate. But he thought that could easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and might even be the reason for the patriarch’s perfect track record of zero successes.
Asmodeus motions for his son to rise, then turns to face Lahatiel again.
I will not dwell on all the vicious back-room dealing that goes on among the leading families of the greater House Gerash, but suffice it to say there are certain benefits that acrue to that family whose son defeats my son to replace him as the heir apparent to the throne. The leading candidate at this time is named Uzziel. Once, Lahatiel, just once, I’d like to see the blood of my blood, the bone of my bones win his Laraji and become the next Gerash Patriarch when this body dies.
If my Lord will insist on the right to establish the conditions of the match, and will release Exiler to me once more as a practice ground, I will train his son in such a way that he must prevail in the death combat.
You have already impressed me with the return of Exiler, and you have impressed me a second time with the way you dealt with Balberiths’ effrontery. Impress me yet a third time, Sar Lahatiel. Teach my son Apollyon to win his Laraji as you claim you can do. Then we shall see what we shall see.
It will be done as you have said, my Lord.
Then Lahatiel and his sister Noriel bow and depart the throne room.