TC35


At length the research department on Palato, using Edgar’s guidelines, duplicated the macro effect. All middle and upper eschelons of the forces of Mastema were issued silver copies of the Golden Gift, putting them in rough parity with the B’nei Elohim.

Then High Lord Sartael summoned the boy and said, “You have done what you said you would do, Edgar Shybear, so I take your oath of loyalty to be fullfilled.”

“Thank you, my Lord!”

“You are not of the House of Gerash, yet I consider you like a son. And I would consider it a terrible waste to pit you against another boy who has trained for his entire life to survive the death combat. So I will take your torment at the hands of Hogarth, and his subsequent execution, to be the struggle you surmounted to attain the rank of ish. There remains only the question of who is to be your wife.”

And Sartael summoned before his throne the four widows of Hogarth, Ananael, Yelena, Jabniel, and Nedra, who had been Edgar’s servants for nearly a year, and bade Edgar to choose any two of them.

Then Edgar saw the wisdom of Mastema in having them function has his servants for these many months, for it gave Edgar the opportunity to come to know the four women, and judge whether he could love or only despise them.

He said, “Lord Sartael is very generous to his servants, but if it pleases the Lord, let only the one woman Jabniel stand by my side, and send the others away, for in their term of service it was plain for me to see that three of them could never hide their resentment as they toiled for me.”

Then Jabniel, at the command of Sartael, moved to stand next to Edgar, and Lord Sartiel, as Mastema, god of Barbelo, declared them joined together as husband and wife. They sealed the impromptu wedding with a kiss, but Jabniel had to bend down quite a bit. She was nephilim and seven feet tall.

Abanael, Yelena, and Nedra were dismissed from their servitude in the house of Sartael, yet all four of the former wives of Hogarth smiled, including Jabniel, for each of them had received exactly what they were hoping for.

And Sartael said to Edgar, “Now it remains only to find you a place of your own here on Palato, that you may begin work on developing my macro bomb.”

But Edgar said in reply, “I beg the Lord’s indulgence this one final time. In the year that I have lived under the Lord’s roof I have closely watched those nephilim he calls the Eyes of Mastema, as perhaps only an outsider truly can. They are an ancient order, and if they were once a noble and efficient organization, I fear that the centuries have taken its toll on them. I say this not as a resentful victim of Hogarth’s torture, but as an honest appraisal of my Lord’s official investigative body.”

“I appreciate your candor, young Edgar. Do go on.”

“My Lord, never have I seen such a lethargic mass of bureaucratic back-biters and back-stabbers and pole climbers outside of perhaps the Roman Curia that governs the Catholic Church on Earth, which is nearly as old. The internal politics of the Eyes of Mastema remind me of nothing so much as the bickering in any run-of-the mill harem, my Lord! That you tolerate such a festering hen party is a wonder to me. It is a good thing that I already knew the principle of the macro. I doubt I could have focused long enough to stumble on it under the insufferable conditions I find here on Palato. I know of a surety I would find it impossible under the same conditions to achieve a macro that produces unstable dark matter. The distractions would prove too great. So I beg you, Lord Sartael, send me and Jabniel far from here, to any point in your realm that is not quite so thick with the moral rot of palace intrigue.”

And instead of becoming wroth, Sartael broke into a bout of laughter, for no one had dared to say what he himself had concluded about the Eyes of Mastema for many years now. He said to Edgar, “I will provide for you a ship, and stock it with any such equipment as you direct. You may use this ship to journey to any point in my empire and there build your research facility. Yet do not take yourself to be completely immune from the Eyes, for they will be sent from time to time to collect the results of your work, as you agreed. I ask only that you accept a new name. That way your B’nei Elohim may never learn where you are and what you are doing for me.”

Edgar Shybear bowed, and his new wife Jabniel took this cue to bow along with him. “If it pleases my Lord, let my name be Ithuriel, which means ‘brilliant one of God.’” He neglected to tell Sartael that Yeshua had already chosen that name for him.

And the name did please his Lord. But Ithuriel had earned the eternal emnity of the Eyes of Mastema.

Long ago, well before the time of Talishi, Mastema had struck a bargain with El Shaddai to mirror the permanent worm-tunnel that terminated at the Sacred Pool with another larger one that terminated at Jupiter, the fifth and largest planet of Sol. Yet he did not call in this marker until the nephilim had learned to penetrate into space and could make the second tunnel useful.

Since the tunnel was to be operated entirely by Mastema himself, he needed only to associate the Sol side of the fold-line with a physical object that would serve as a constant position reference. El Shaddai linked his side of the line with a spacecraft that was named after the man who first discovered the moons of Jupiter. After this spacecraft became the first man-made object to be placed in orbit at Jupiter, El Shaddai’s involvement with the project was done.

Mastema ballooned out the Sol end of the line and sent men through to begin construction of a structure he called an ID Grid. This object looked a bit like the towers of steel that carry high-voltage electricity over the land on Earth.

The fold-door was detached from the Galileo orbiter as a reference and locked instead on the newly built structure. The ID Grid was a physical gate that would identify each vessel before passage. An identical ID Grid was constructed over Palato. Only warships of the Navy of Belial, or freighters and passenger vessels registered with the Navy of Belial, would be permitted to cross after passing through this Identification Grid.

The Solar ID Grid was permanently positioned near the moon Hyperion, which became the location of the largest Jovian base of the Navy of Mastema.

Both El Shaddai and Bat-El, who co-owned the system, were interested in allowing the humans of Earth to develop naturally (which is to say, under their own divine manipulations) without being dominated by the slightly more advanced nephilim. They jointly decreed that nephilim could only settle those bodies whose mean distance from Sol was greater than three times the distance of Earth from Sol.

They reserved to the humans of Earth all of the inner planets and half of the asteroids, while the nephilim of Barbelo were given the gas-giants, all their moons, and the other half of the asteroids. Earthlings were also permitted to settle any object in the Sol system no matter what the distance, but they were more than a century away from taking El Shaddai and Bat-El up on that offer.

That last detail was not provided to Mastema, lest he wonder how the Earthlings managed to produce something like the Galileo spacecraft decades before its time.

At Sol two-way radio communications were not possible with Barbelo. It would take more than eighty thousand years for each response. So in that system the colonists began to feel themselves to be more Solarian than Centauri, and they soon lost their connection to the great families of their roots.

So it was that the Bellon and Gerash families who settled Ganymede mixed together and produced a new family that called itself Krenek. The Larund and Sala families merged on Callisto to form family Ushnel. It worked this way on the other moons as well. Family Antero settled Io but soon shattered into many smaller clans that eventually were dominated by Family Sonad. Europa started as a Gerash project that was divided into many clans as well, but no unified order emerged there.

Mastema could never swallow the independence of the Jovian League, so he harassed them constantly with raids by warships arriving through the Fold-Gate, but for a number of decades he could not amass sufficient forces to bring the colonies back under his complete control.

But Mastema thought long-term, and he thought incremental. Every passage of a tanker or passenger liner to Jupiter was accompanied by one or two fighters, or a bomber, or possibly even a corvette, all for “security reasons” and none of these spacecraft returned to Palato.

Solbrig was made Prime Minister of the Federal Assembly to remedy rates of inflation which rose as high as 28 percent under the Jovian League’s fiat currency, a local version of Mastema’s stater. All members of the Jovian League unanimously agreed to give this wildly successful financier complete powers of reform.

After an astonishingly deep but relatively short economic depression and other painful measures, Solbrig put inflation and interest rates back in check. The economy of the outer Solar System achieved a long-term pattern of gradual, stable growth.

But after a devastating large-scale and simultaneous surprise attack with the corvettes, bombers, and fighters which had slipped the notice of the colonists, the Navy of Mastema invaded Ganymede. Survivors with the means to do so tried to flee into space, but these refugees as well as the entire Jovian League fleet was bottled up in low orbit by Barbelo’s naval forces.

A large fraction of the Jovian colonial fleet had been underway on widely separated maneuvers and was caught off-guard by the Imperial attack, but ironically this preserved that portion of the fleet from destruction. When these stragglers returned to wartime readiness, Callisto, Io, the smaller moons, and the Ganymede government in exile placed themselves under the direct military rule of the cherub Leonor.

After a long period of quiet the Imperial naval base at Hyperion was suddenly fortified by the Emperor with many large warships. The Jovian League grew disgusted with Leonor’s complacency in the face of this buildup, and made an alliance with Ariyama (“The Fair”), a disgruntled ophan in Leonor’s force.

Ariyama vowed the expulsion of the Empire from all Jovian territory. Each ally was to contribute a quota of ships and money. Ariyama assessed the tribute at 2 billion staters at first but the money was poorly supervised and even more poorly spent. Every month the tribute Ayiyama demanded went up, until the Jovian League began to tap into a fund laid aside for extreme contingencies. They had little choice.

Suddenly the Emperor sent his swollen fleet against every site of military value on Ganymede, Io, and Callisto. By the time the Jovian delegates could agree to so much as declare the peace broken, Ariyama’s fleet was already a smouldering orbiting demolition alley of lifeless wrecks and every Jovian city lay at the mercy of being nuked from space.

Memmar Krenek, Patriarch of Ganymede, wished to carry on the conflict with guerrilla tactics, laying waste the entire moon. But the provincial governors, hoping to protect their territories, forced him to take a stand at the broad Memphis Facula plain, where together with the levies from the house of Ushnel and the house of Sonon the Jovian League was completely defeated by Lord Sartael.

When Ithuriel and Jabniel departed Palato with a full tank of water, they had to decide where to go. All Ithuriel knew was he wanted to get very far away from the Eyes of Mastema. That ruled out Xanthos and Hippo. And the Eyes even were starting to creep into the Eggbeater too.

The ship he had been given bore the malevolent name Insolent, typical of all the ships in the Navy of Mastema. Ithuriel renamed it Chivalrous. It was an early design, roughly cylindrical, somewhere in size between a corvette and a frigate.

By the process of elimination their choices were whittled down to basically just Jupiter. So Ithuriel sidled the ship into the ID Grid, his credentials were accepted, and Palato was replaced by Hyperion. As easy as that.

There was plenty of food aboard but no showers were possible during the voyage, only sponge baths, and once every two days Ithuriel and Jabniel would wash their hair in a plastic bubble with elastic collars for the neck and both arms to contain the water.

The bridge was lit with dim blue lights and the constant hisses and whistles and chatter on the HF band tended to lull them to sleep. Once every few days they would have an honest-to-God real contact, another ship passing in the night “only” a hundred thousand miles away or so.

Jupiter and its moons made a miniature solar system within the Solar system. It was some 32 million miles across if you counted all the asteroids scooped up in the planet’s gravity. For practical purposes it was a system only two million miles across if you considered it to be just Jupiter, four big moons, and small change. Still, even this smaller version was four times bigger than the Earth-Luna system and there was a lot more to see.

Ithuriel selected an elliptical orbit that allowed him to view all the major moons close up, one after the other. On one orbit, as Jupiter eclipsed the sun, Brand spotted a very thin back lit ring. Naturally he had known about the ring but it hadn’t occurred to him to try it until he actually saw it.

The ring was deep within the gravity well of Jupiter. When he circularized his descent ellipse the ship was running on fumes. Certainly he did not have sufficient water as propellant to escape again. So this move would be a gamble.

The ring was really just a narrow set of ringlets, far skimpier than the glorious rings of Saturn, but no one was mining the ice there. It was cherry! Ithuriel snuggled Chivalrous in among the floating pieces of ice and pulled up next to a thirty footer.

With a little hot water still in the ship’s tanks, a space-suited Ithuriel melted a hole into the ice and secured an umbilical between the ship and the ice ball. He got a cycle going, with hot water melting the ice, and cold melt water being sucked back into the ship’s tanks. Part of the new water was diverted, heated, and cycled back out to the ball to melt some more ice. In a week he had the tanks nearly full again, but the ice ball was a jagged mess.

Then Ithuriel got underway again, and found a hundred footer near the outer edge of the ring. He attached a transmitter to it, and gently rammed the front of Chivalrous against it before bringing the ship’s engines up to full power. The ice ball blocked the impact of the remaining smaller ice-balls on the ring’s edge as they plowed their way out into clear space.

When sufficient velocity had been obtained to send the ice ball towards Earth, Ithuriel started braking Chivalrous with retrofire. Through the front view port he watched his ice ball shrink to a point, destination somewhere in the asteroid belt. He would negotiate the sale of the ice later.

Ithuriel was about to pat himself on the back when Jabniel slinked into view with her long legs open for business to give him a bit more than a pat.