TC38

What followed for Ithuriel and Jabniel was the Crossing, a three-year transit from Saturn to the Gravel Pile without 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. As he had just recently discovered, phantomization was a one-shot deal. Nothing in the universe would 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 remained 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 hung about them. There were 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 tumbled 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 dared not throw anything overboard yet no matter how trivial. Not with the journey only just getting underway.

So the Crossing became a dreadful self-imposed torture for Ithuriel and Jabniel. But it wasn’t all misery. Sometimes they came out of hibernation in their current stateroom and caught up on the work that the ship demanded.

In their routine aboard the ice ball, their “days” blended from after-work fatigue to late afternoon relaxation to evening lovemaking without any sharp transitions. There was 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 took on more than her share of the work maintaining their home, letting the constant activity fill her mind. She made 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 was 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 had already been phantomized.

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

It was only with constant watchfulness that Ithuriel and Jabs and baby Hadraniel continued on with their mini-ecosystem intact. Everything was recycled. Air, water, and even their own solid wastes were turned into compost for Jabs’ little garden. The ship had dried fruits, beef jerky, and canned foods stocked in odd corners which Ithuriel dug 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 kept frozen in nooks of the ice ball to supplement their diet, but these were rationed too.

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

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

When it was Jabs’ turn to listen for alerts on the alarm board she nursed Hadraniel and watched television broadcasts from Earth, which she found endlessly fascinating because they were so alien. As Hadraniel grew to become a toddler (if “toddling” was possible in free fall) the scenes of Earth on Jabs’s screen were only vaguely understood by him at best. But he did enjoy seeing movies with animals.

A year and a half after departure they were just crossing the orbit of Jupiter. Petty little perceived slights and injuries boiled up and spilled over. Jabs went on a sabbatical. She took Hadraniel, got in the captain’s gig and moved off for a while, claiming she needed to take the machine out for an extended inspection of the ice ball’s exterior. But she went much farther afield than Ithuriel expected her to, and that alarmed him.

The controls of the little shuttle comforted her as she sulked. 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-can’t-reach-me-from-there-and-sweet-talk-me-into-quitting-my-temper-tantrum.”

When she didn’t come back within the first twenty-four hours the war of words escalated and Jabs began taking the runabout further and further out to “punish” Ithuriel.

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

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

Sweet conversations resumed between them. The delay gave Jabs just enough time to compose each of her words before she spoke them. She constructed 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 arrived Jabs docked 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 went 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 let Ithuriel devour her. The runabout became the scene of zero-gee gymnastics as they welcomed each other back to the heaven of their joined bodies.

“I really missed the smell of you”, Ithuriel said, savoring the subtle scent Jabs always had after he had given his lady her first orgasm. “I didn’t appreciate it until it was gone.”

When the end came they could 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 neared their destination the word got around about what was going to happen. Two Water Guild ships started harassing the incoming ice ball with laser strikes. They desperately wanted to prevent Ithuriel from getting to the Gravel Pile. The Water Guild knew full well the ice ball would allow Roth Wardian break their local monopoly and wipe out their already razor-thin profit margin.

The attack pissed Ithuriel off, so he decided to play his hole card. He melted the ice around Chivalrous and worked the ship free. Her fangs were brought out to bear on the offending Water Guild vessels. But it was 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 recognized the Chivalrous as one of Sartael’s fighting spaceships and they moved off to a safe distance to wait.

Ithuriel actually considered the interference of the Water Guild a stroke of luck. Now he had 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 had been damaged in the attack so she needed his help.

Roth came out with four ships and let loose a missile at one of the Guild gnats. When it was destroyed the remaining one departed 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 paid a short courtesy call to Jabs aboard Chivalrous, where she introduced little Hadraniel and also her “boyfriend” who was billed as definitely the junior partner in the operation. Jabs didn’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 acted cool towards Roth, as though flexing his muscles. The idea was to put completely out of Roth’s mind any idea he had of pushing Jabs around when it came time to pay up. During this visit Jabs gave Wardian the information for the account which she expected him to credit upon actual delivery of the ice, which at that point was less than three weeks away.

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