TC2W

TC2W-CROSSING

What follows for Ithuriel and Jabniel is a three-year transit from Saturn to the Gravel Pile without the benefit of phantomizable water. Every single drop of water contained in Ithuriel’s ice ball had been phantomized once and for all just to get it through the F Ring barrier. Phantomization is a one-shot deal. Nothing in the universe will get those molecules to stand up ever again. So Ithuriel could not use a macro to generate heat or power to shorten their time of flight.

With some foresight on the part of Ithuriel, however, he had used his big macro to separate a considerable amount of water into hydrogen and oxygen, which was stored as liquid in various ice voids scattered throughout their miniature comet. This could be combined again to make a flame for heating and cooking, or to produce electricity in a fuel cell to keep the batteries of Chivalrous charged up. And there remains a small nuclear thermocouple power supply on Chivalrous to help tide them over. Still, three years would be pushing the limit, and strict conservation was observed at all times.

With the ship’s nose buried deep inside the ice ball their only view of outside space was through the remote cameras Ithuriel had placed on the surface. But there was nothing to see at any rate.

To save power, often Ithuriel and Jabs stayed in just one of the staterooms of Chivalrous and kept each other warm, moving to one of the other four staterooms when it started to smell too funky in the first one. Clutter from months of lousy housekeeping hangs about them. There are tools, publications, and personal items floating about to no end.

All the misplaced objects that briefly caught their fancy, all their reference-only discarded junk tumbles in the air like the contents of an attic, filling every available space. To reshelf half of it would be an exercise in three-dimensional polyominos: possible, but impractical. However, they dare not throw anything overboard yet no matter how trivial. Not with the journey only just getting underway.

So the Crossing becomes a dreadful self-imposed torture for Ithuriel and Jabniel. But it isn’t all misery. Sometimes they come out of hibernation in their current stateroom and catch up on the work that the ship demands.

In their routine aboard the ice ball, their days blend from after-work fatigue to late afternoon relaxation to evening lovemaking without any sharp transitions. There is a low intensity sexiness with every moment together and at no instant could either one of them say now we are making love or now we are not.

Gradually Jabs takes on more than her share of the work maintaining their home, letting the constant activity fill her mind. She makes routine inspections of forgotten corners of the ice ball and marveled at the reliability of some of the components of Chivalrous, despite the ship’s age.

Hadraniel is born at the end of the first year of the journey to the Gravel Pile. He was not yet born when Ithuriel and Jabs had phantomized themselves, yet every atom in his little body has already been phantomized.

The labor is agonizing for Jabs, of course, since Ithuriel has little in the way of painkillers, and in free fall it is very messy, with globules of amniotic fluid going everywhere in the stateroom they had used for the delivery room. But the child arrives in apparent good health.

It is only with constant watchfulness that Ithuriel and Jabs and baby Hadraniel continue on with their mini-ecosystem intact. Everything is recycled. Air, water, and even their own solid wastes are turned into compost for Jab’s little garden. The ship has dried fruits, beef jerky, and canned foods stocked in odd corners which Ithuriel digs out now and then to prevent them from starting to despise eating the same old foods. From the Jupiter system of moons Ithuriel had once bought a supply of meats, which he keeps frozen in nooks of the ice ball to supplement their diet, but these are rationed too.

In terms of recreation there is plenty to do. Since they are not going to Earth, and his ultimate goal was actually Ceres, Ithuriel decides not to rotate the ice ball. He decides to remain in free fall for the entire Crossing. There is no need to maintain physical fitness under a full gee. Free fall play is readily available at any time. The ten-foot wide hole down the first four decks of Chivalrous is like a miniature Freeball gamecore once Ithuriel has lined the edges of the decks with padding.

To exercise the brain there are many books from Barbelo in the form of spools of thread stored aboard Chivalrous. For atmosphere, he plays good old fashioned rock music from Earth. He hates the crap that was all over the Swarm lately, weird schizophrenic disco that Jabs likes but he despises. It is mostly songs about people slitting their wrists and trying to clean up after themselves as they died, and things like that.

When it is Jabs turn to listen for alerts on the alarm board she nurses Hadraniel and watches television broadcasts from Earth, which she finds endlessly fascinating because they were so alien. As Hadraniel grows to become a toddler (if toddling is possible in free fall) the scenes of Earth on Jab’s screen are only vaguely understood by him at best. But he does enjoy seeing movies with animals.

A year and a half after departure they are just crossing the orbit of Jupiter. Petty little perceived slights and injuries boil up and spill over. Jabs goes on a sabbatical. She takes Hadraniel, gets in the captain’s gig and moves off for a while, claiming she needs to take the machine out for an extended inspection of the ice ball’s exterior. But she goes much farther afield than Ithuriel expected her to, and that alarms him.

The controls of the little shuttle comfort her as she sulks. Oh, she would still talk to Ithuriel on the radio but there was always the psychological refuge of the off switch and the symbolic You-cant-reach-me-from-there-and-sweet-talk-me-into-quitting-my-temper-tantrum.

When she doesn’t come back within the first twenty-four hours the war of words escalates and Jabs takes the runabout further and further out to punish Ithuriel.

Of course, she regrets playing this game after they finally make up, especially after realizing how long it is going to take to get back to Ithuriel now that her tantrum had already been thrown and all she wants to do is see him as soon as possible. At the height of Jabs’ folly she is a hundred thousand miles away, far beyond visual range of the ice ball, and the time lag was actually noticeable.

She can’t hurry back because the runabout’s energy source was their precious hydrogen and LOX. Her little snit is going to be very costly.

Sweet conversations resume between them. The delay gives Jabs just enough time to compose each of her words before she speaks them. She constructs her response to be as sexy and provocative as she knew how, but she missed the simple spontaneity of actually being with Ithuriel.

When the big day arrives Jabs docks at the aft end of Chivalrous (which was still pretty ragged from Stratis’ artillery round) and delivered Ithuriel’s birthday present: herself. Ithuriel didn’t even wait for her to get out, he pressed into the runabout and virtually attacked her.

Hadraniel at age two was a little too young to really understand what his parents were doing, and he wouldn’t remember it anyway. After his father kissed him, Hadraniel goes back to sleep, for the excitement of the final approach had kept him up all night, and Ithuriel stuffed him in a bedbag in one of the staterooms. Then it was on to the business at hand.

Jabs had criss-crossed herself with red electrical tape like a present and she lets Ithuriel devour her. The runabout becomes the scene of zero-gee gymnastics as they welcome each other back to the heaven of their joined bodies.

ITHURIEL
I really missed the smell of you. I didn’t appreciate it until it was gone.

He was referring to to subtle scent Jabs always had after he had given his lady her first orgasm. When the end came they can only lie there wrapped in each others limbs, whimpering I love you to each other. Every inch-pound of sexual torque inside them had been wrung out. They were astonished anew at the amount of sensual joy they had given each other and the complete satisfaction they felt.

As Ithuriel and Jabs and Hadraniel finally near their destination the word got around about what was going to happen. Two Water Guild ships start harassing the incoming ice ball with laser strikes. They desperately want to prevent Ithuriel from getting to the Gravel Pile. The Water Guild knows full well the ice ball would allow Roth Wardian break their local monopoly and wipe out their already razor-thin profit margin.

The attack pisses Ithuriel off, so he decides to play his hole card. He melts the ice around Chivalrous and works the ship free. Her fangs are brought out to bear on the offending Water Guild vessels. But it is all a bluff. There was very little power remaining to fight.

As soon as they were painted by fire control radar the Water Guild ships recognize the Chivalrous as one of Sartael’s fighting spaceships and they moved off to a safe distance to wait.

Ithuriel actually considers the interference of the Water Guild a stroke of luck. Now he has a valid explanation for his inability to finesse the iceball into the Gravel Pile. He had Jabs radio their buyer, Roth Wardian, and tell him that her engine has been damaged in the attack so she needs his help.

Roth comes out with four ships and lets loose a missile at one of the Guild gnats. When it is destroyed the remaining one departs the area with its metaphoric tail between its legs. Then with a huge carbon-fiber net Ithuriel’s ice ball was taken under tow with Roth’s ships flying at the four points of a tetrahedron. They weren’t trying to slow the ice ball down, they were merely guiding the ice in for the last few million miles.

At one point Mr. Wardian himself pays a short courtesy call to Jabs aboard Chivalrous, where she introduces little Hadraniel and also her boyfriend who is billed as definitely the junior partner in the operation. Jabs doesn’t mention Ithuriel’s name to Roth, because the deception was still on, but for the ruse she was pulling off, his name wasn’t important anyway.

For his part Ithuriel acts cool towards Roth, as though flexing his muscles. The idea is to put completely out of Roths mind any idea he had of pushing Jabs around when it comes time to pay up. During this visit Jabs gives Wardian the information for the account which she expects him to credit upon actual delivery of the ice. At that point the delivery was less than three weeks away.

As planned, Roth Wardian allowed the ice ball to crash deep inside his Gravel Pile, which swallows it up with hardly a ruffled stone. In fact, only a few boulders are knocked loose forever from the Gravel Pile, and only a fraction of the water is lost as steam. He gladly pays the account of Jabniel Bat-Naseth her agreed-upon amount.

Ithuriel and Jabs didn’t want to stick around and join Wardian to celebrate their recently concluded joint venture. They wasted no time flying aboard Chivalrous to the asteroid Ceres, the largest body in the Belt. Were it not for the perturbations of the gravity of Jupiter, Ceres would be a full planet and there would be no asteroid belt.

Little Hadraniel quickly grows overwhelmed there. He has lived his entire short life on a six hundred foot wide asteroid made of water ice, and now he is jumping around on a ball that is six hundred miles across. Ceres even has a little gravity, about three percent of Earth’s, not enough to beat Hadraniel down, but more than enough to get him used to the basic concept of gravity. Ceres is a genuine world. In fact, Ceres was to the Moon in size what the Moon was to the Earth.

The settlements on Ceres, which are half above the surface and half underground, are still rather chaotic. There is a Wild West flavor to the place, and no one political entity rules the entire asteroid. However the B’nei Elohim quarter of the town of Tasker is said to be fairly civilized. Ithuriel steers well clear of it.

In the first order of business Ithuriel takes Jabniel and his son to a restaurant to indulge in real food, not something that has been freeze-dried and stored somewhere on his ice ball or grown in the garden fertilized by their own shit. But when the food arrived, Ithuriel realizes something, and he asks the server to box everything up so he could take it to his ship.

It occurred to Ithuriel that he and Jabs and Hadraniel were in a unique situation should anyone attempt to kill them with a macro. The body of Ithuriel and his wife had already been phantomized when they escaped the F-Ring, and Hadraniel, coming entirely from Jabs body, was pre-phantomized by default. And since the entire ice ball had been prephantomized, all the food they had eaten during the Crossing was in the same state. As long as they continued to phantomize their food before they ate it, they would continue to be immune to a macro, unless they triy the stunt he had already used to kill the intruder at Saturn, and blast a macro continuously at their chest. So Ithuriel runs their take-out food through a cycle and they proceed to eat it.

Living aboard Chivalrous on the outskirts of Tasker, they invest their fortune in something they can operate to provide a continuous source of income, a relatively large-scale macro power plant for the growing town. They build it at some remove from where they had landed the ship, and by so doing lay claim to a large unit of land encompassing both.

In the Gravel Pile Roth Wardian reasons out the sudden haste of Jabniel after she has fulfilled her contract. Her entire ice rock is somehow already phantomized, making it totally useless as a source of power in the ships of the Navy of Thaumiel, which are rapidly becoming the largest consumers of water in the Belt.

The possibility of such a thing happening never makes the slightest glimmer in his mind. It never occurred to him that Jabniel’s ice ball would be made entirely of phantomized water, because as he understood the technology now used by the ships of the Empire, all that is all thrown overboard as propellant, a natural waste byproduct of the process of macro propulsion.

He has no idea exactly what Jabniel had done, but he sees now that her collision idea was really just a way to mask the lack of any unphantomized water on her ice ball to slow it down.

Even what little good water there is to start with in the Gravel Pile before the collision is now thoroughly mixed with the bad water, requiring an elaborate, time-consuming test, and essentially making all his water worthless. Soon the word gets around that the Gravel Pile’s water is tainted. No one comes calling anymore to take delivery. Roth has a great deal of money stashed away from the sale of water up to that point, but there would be no more coming in.

His misery is compounded further when he learns who the boyfriend of the Jabniel woman really is: Ithuriel. The schmuck he had ripped off years before. So that was it. Ithuriel has his vengeance. He had to admit it was all beautifully played. Roth Wardian swears to use even the last dregs of his resources to hunt down and destroy Ithuriel and his whole family.

Wardian has a small set of favors hed been banking since the day he ditched his B’nei Elohim girlfriend and went renegade, and all of them were as good as gold. He had already cashed one of these markers in to find out where Jabniel lives and who her companion is. The other markers are called in when Wardian arrives on Ceres to carry out his vengeance.

When he decides to strike it is initially against Ithuriel’s son Hadraniel. He works through third parties, with men unknown to Ithuriel and Jabs, men who can watch Hadraniel all the time for a moment, any moment, no matter how brief, when Hadraniel wasn’t being watched like a hawk by his parents.

They get him when the family is shopping in Tasker. Ithuriel and Jabs stop to admire some blown glass art in a window along the main tunnel. One man whisks Hadraniel into a tube car with a hand over his mouth. Another man, unseen within, whisks the car away.

Ten seconds is all it takes. And it takes another ten seconds for Ithuriel and Jabs to notice Hadraniel is missing. Jabs becomes an inconsolable wreck. She cannot sit down for the rest of that day. She wants Ithuriel to call the Eyes of Thaumiel, call the fleet, call the B’nei Elohim, call anybody. But Ithuriel decides to wait until whoever it is that kidnaps his son contacts him. This sort of thing can be expected to happen to a wealthy man in a largely lawless settlement.

The next day the driver of the getaway car arrives at the Chivalrous and gives Ithuriel an envelope.

DRIVER
I work for Mr. Roth Wardian. The kid is safe. Mr. Wardian wants a refund for the bad ice, plus damages and incidentals. He’ll be in touch.

Ithuriel was in a terrible rage at this low blow but he understands it as an logical escalation of the long-running war between him and Wardian.

JABNIEL
So Wardian made his move. I just never thought he’d stoop to hurting Hadraniel.

Inside the envelope is a picture of Hadraniel, his face wet with tears, tied up in a room somewhere.

JABNIEL
Now contact the Navy!

ITHURIEL
Strangely enough, I want Hadraniel back alive too, Jabs. We can hand this without the Navy, without the Eyes. Did you notice the background behind Hadraniel?

Jabniel examines the photograph again and on a second look even she could see it.

JABNIEL
That’s the power plant.

ITHURIEL
So you see we have to do this alone. We can’t trust anyone at the plant. He must have bribed his way in there.

On that single point Ithuriel is in error. Wardian had simply bribed everyone to leave. Ithuriel would need to fire a lot of people later.

When Ithuriel and Jabniel arrive at the plant, which is on their property some distance away from the main house, they enter a set of doors and stand in a large glass-enclosed gallery looking down on a dozen consoles that are supposed to be attended by technicians. The glass is very thick and they can hear no sound through it.

Just behind the far wall of the control room, Ithuriel knows, is one of two jumbo sub-macros which provide the power. Should one of those macros go down for any reason the technicians (when they weren’t playing hooky) can quickly shift operations over to the other line until the faulty one is repaired.

Ithuriel leads Jabniel out of the gallery and down a sloping walkway leading under the surface of Ceres. In this place a window looks into a round room with a two-foot diameter rotating shaft running from the metal-grated floor to the ceiling.

ITHURIEL
This is the space between the steam turbine in the ground beneath us and the generator above. The steam comes directly from the macro expansion chamber and turns huge blades. The rotation is geared down to sixty RPM, as you can see.

They walk further down echoing concrete passageways and take a glass elevator which faces back toward the exterior of the plant. It bursts from underground and rises eight floors to a skybridge which goes clear across the gigantic space of the power house. They walk halfway along the skybridge and look over the edge eighty feet down onto the generators. There are two red-painted generators down there, and each generator is the size of a house. But there is no sign of little Hadraniel.

The skybridge leads to a broad observation deck. Here the floor is covered in luxurious thick orange plush carpet and the walls and handrails are trimmed in bright blue.

There are various science exhibits scattered around, like a little museum of electricity and physics, since this was where Ithuriel entertained tours of visiting dignitaries and customers. Jabs pushes the button on a Jacob’s ladder, a pair of rods like an old TV antenna. A series of electric arcs start climbing up it. There is another exhibit with a screen activated by a button which is supposed to roll a video thread spool of the power plant in operation. A yellow sticky is posted next to this button, and on that sticky is printed the name Ithuriel So Ithuriel pushes the button.

The screen shows a live image of his little boy, who is tied up alone somewhere in the plant and in tears. For the rest of his life, four-year old Hadraniel would tag this traumatic event as his first memory, not his life in deep space, and that was truly a shame.

ROTH
Where’s my god-damned money, fucker?

Ithuriel fires a shot at the screen in a tantrum.

ITHURIEL
I know where Hadraniel is being kept now. It has to be the inactive macro, the one on standby in case the active one goes down.

They both rushed down the stairs, taking six or seven at a time in the three-percent gravity.

Ithuriel and Jabs enter the chamber. Hadraniel cries from relief when he sees them. There is no sign of Roth.

Roth Wardian sees them all on camera from the control room. He calmly activated the phantomizer, but Jabs and Hadraniel and Ithuriel were all unharmed. You can’t phantomize something twice. Lucky bastard, Roth says to himself, thinking Ithuriel had somehow disabled the macro when he entered.

Just as it didn’t cross his mind at the time of the buy that Jabs ice ball had been pre-phantomized, it doesn’t cross his mind now that Jabs and Ithuriel had been pre-phantomized also, and Hadraniel too, by proxy. Surviving a macro goes against everything he knows. He has no clue there was such a thing as a sub-macro that was much more gentle with its samples.

So Roth Wardian comes running down the ramp with his gun in hand, ready to kill all of them. And the instant he crossed into the chamber, he disappears.

Jabs rushed to pick up Hadraniel for a motherly embrace

All and all, it was much too quick a death for Wardian, in Ithuriels opinion. But it is the end of their Roth Wardian problem. He kills the power to the macro.

ITHURIEL
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Then he swept Jabs and Hadraniel both into his arms for extended kisses. Jabs absorbs this for a moment, then sums it up.

JABNIEL
So this was a family affair. We solve our own problems.

ITHURIEL
That’s what we do and all we do, Jabs. Look at the great little kid. Son you have no idea what a happy, rich, spoiled brat you’re going to be!

JABNIEL
I want Hadraniel to be a happy, rich, spoiled brat. He’s got nothing to prove to himself. He can grow up here and fall in love the traditional way and spend the rest of his life with no worries about anything.

ITHURIEL
You see it then, don’t you Jabs? Hadraniel himself, and you his mother and your happiness are my life’s reward!

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