TC39

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 grew overwhelmed there. He had lived his entire short life on a six hundred foot wide asteroid made of water ice, and now he was jumping around on a ball that was six hundred miles across. Ceres even had 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 concept of gravity.

Ceres was a genuine world. In fact, Ceres was to the Moon in size what the Moon was to the Earth. On Timeline Eta when Pluto was officially demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” Ceres was promoted from asteroid to the same category.

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

Instead he reported to the Eyes of Mastema in his capacity as an Ish in the armed forces of Sartael. Kasbeel, the ophan who commanded the Eyes on Ceres, said with disdain, “We didn’t send for you.”

“The hell you say, sir,” replied Ithuriel with his usual annoyance when dealing with the Eyes of Mastema. “Check with Hyperion. They will tell you why I’m here and what to do with me.”

While he was waiting for the transmission to go out to Hyperion and the reception to come back, Ithuriel took Jabniel and his son to a restaurant to indulge in real food, not something that had 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 realized something, and asked the server to box everything up so he could take it to his ship.

It had occurred to Ithuriel that he and Jabs and Hadraniel were in a unique situation should any of the Eyes of Mastema 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 pre-phantomized, 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. So Ithuriel ran their take-out through a cycle and they proceeded to eat it.

When he returned to the garrison of the Eyes, Ophan Kasbeel had received his orders from Hyperion and a hard copy lay on the desk before him. Yet he chose to insult Ithuriel’s intelligence by barking, “Where have you been all this time, Ish Ithuriel? The Lord has begun to wonder about your enthusiasm for keeping your oath.”

“I have been in the space between Saturn and here, sir, carrying out my promise to the Lord.” But Ithuriel could not find it within himself to blame Kasbeel too much. The Eyes were trained thus, always to question, to accuse, and never to give the benefit of the doubt.

“So have you had a breakthrough? If so, my orders say I am to take possession of your documentation.”

“Everything is here, sir” Ithuriel said, producing a fat red three-ring binder with a copy of all his notes.

“My orders also say I am to take possession of those physical prototypes you have created to support this breakthrough,”

“They remain on my ship, sir,” Ithuriel said. “I will provide them when men arrive who can convince me they have the wit to handle them correctly.” When Kasbeel stirred to protest, Ithuriel raised a hand and said, “I intend no insult to you, sir. I say this for your own protection. Certainly you would not wish to explain to Lord Sartael any damage to the prototypes that might take place under your oversight of this garrison as its commander.”

“Then I will say there are also orders for you given in this document,” Kasbeel said. “You are not to leave Ceres until your work has been duplicated, as before when you were on Palato.”

“Such was not my intention, sir,” Ithuriel said. “In fact, I think to make Ceres my permanent home.”

“Also, you are enjoined from sharing this research with any of the the B’nei Elohim, or even to make contact with them.”

“That goes entirely without saying, sir,” Ithuriel said, and he had no doubt that order would be enforced most rigorously by the Eyes. After all, they needed something to do as well. To assuage his ongoing irritation with the Eyes of Mastema, Ithuriel quietly proceeded to dump everything he knew about the sub-macro discovery directly to Dory via the neutrino link in his Plug. He began to do this while standing before Kasbeel, yet made no sign it was happening.

“There is a large sum of money which is your back-pay as an ish in the service of the Lord,” Kasbeel continued. “ You may draw it from Disbursing when you have been dismissed.”

“Thank you, sir.” But Ithuriel was not overmuch excited. His jackpot from Roth Wardian would dwarf even years of accumulated salary as an officer, and the things he planned to do on Ceres very shortly would bring in more money yet.

“And one more thing is listed here, Ish Should your breakthrough be duplicated, and only then, Lord Sartael commands me to elevate you to the rank of sar. It seems you find great favor in his eyes that he would make such an exception to his ancient law requiring a death combat to attain that rank.”

“Perhaps the Ophan will think on that,” Ithuriel offered with mock passiveness, “the next time he demands an explanation of the doings of the apple of the Lord’s eye.”

While Lord Sartael’s military research wing was dinking around with his notes and prototypes, Ithuriel decided to proceed on his own.

Ceres was little more than a very large version of Ithuriel’s ice ball, covered in a dark patina of rocks and meteorite debris. But in certain places the ice came right out to the surface, seen as “white spots”. Ithuriel established his estate at one of these outcroppings of ice.

There he hired employees to drive about the ice with bulldozers, harvesting it like so much coal in the open pit mines of Wyoming or Montana. This ice provided the water that would fuel a new sub-macro power plant he caused to be built on his estate.

The ice was melted, and the water entered a chamber where it was phantomized and allowed to compress to a density approximately one thousand times greater than unphantomized water. Then in an expansion chamber it was allowed to decompress and drive a turbine, which in turn drove a generator. Ithuriel was in possession of the largest single source of electrical power on Ceres. In short order customers from all over the planetoid tapped in and the power grid began to spread over the worldlet like vines of ivy.

From his new income stream Ithuriel dutifully paid his contributions during the worship of his god, giving the Eyes of Mastema absolutely nothing to complain about.

Meanwhile, the weapons research division of the Navy of Mastema succeeded in duplicating the sub-macro on their own. Warships were fitted with sub-macro drives, greatly cutting down transit times between the planets, and sub-macro bombs and railgun shells began to proliferate. Per the orders of the Gerash patriarch Ithuriel was elevated to the rank of sar, with compliments from Sartael himself.

Shortly after that, Roth Wardian reasoned out the sudden haste of Jabniel after she had fulfilled her contract. Her entire ice rock was somehow already phantomized, making it totally useless as a source of power in the ships of the Navy of Mastema, which were rapidly becoming the largest consumers of water in the Belt.

The possibility of such a thing happening never made 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 was all thrown overboard as propellant, a natural waste byproduct of the process of macro propulsion.

He had no idea exactly what Jabniel had done, but he saw 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 was to start with in the Gravel Pile before the collision was now thoroughly mixed with the bad water, requiring an elaborate, time-consuming test, and essentially making all his water worthless. Soon the word got around that the Gravel Pile’s water was tainted. No one came calling anymore to take delivery. Roth had 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 was compounded further when he learned who the “boyfriend” of the Jabniel woman really was: Ithuriel. The schmuck he had ripped off years before. So that was it. Ithuriel had his vengeance. He had to admit it was all beautifully played. Roth Wardian swore to use even the last dregs of his resources to hunt down and destroy Ithuriel and his whole family.

Wardian had a small set of favors he’d 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 lived and who her companion was. The other markers were called in when Wardian arrived on Ceres to carry out his vengeance.

When he decided to strike it was initially against Ithuriel’s son Hadraniel. He worked through third parties, with men unknown to Ithuriel and Jabs, men who could 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 got him when the family was shopping in Tasker. Ithuriel and Jabs stopped to admire some blown glass art in a window along the main tunnel. One man whisked Hadraniel into a tube car with a hand over his mouth. Another man, unseen within, whisked the car away.

Ten seconds was all it took. And it took another ten seconds for Ithuriel and Jabs to notice Hadraniel was missing. Jabs became an inconsolable wreck. She couldn’t sit down the rest of that day. She wanted Ithuriel to call the Eyes, call the B’nei Elohim, call anybody. But Ithuriel decided to wait until whoever it was that kidnapped his son contacted him. This sort of thing could be expected to happen to a wealthy man in a largely lawless settlement.

The next day, the driver of the getaway car arrived on the doorstep of Ithuriel’s estate and gave them an envelope. “I work for Mr. Roth Wardian,” he told them. “The kid is safe. Mr. Wardian wants a refund for the ice, plus damages and…incidentals. He’ll be in touch.”

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

“So Wardian made his move,” Jabs said. “I just never thought he’d stoop to hurting Hadraniel.”

Inside the envelope was a picture of Hadraniel, his face wet with tears, tied up in a room somewhere. Jabs screamed, “Now contact the Eyes!”

Strangely enough, I want Hadraniel back alive, Ithuriel told her, shaking his head. “We can hand this without the Eyes. Did you notice the background behind Hadraniel?”

Jabniel examined the photograph again and on a second look even she could see it. “That’s the power plant.”

“So you see we have to do this alone,” Ithuriel said. “We can’t trust anyone at the plant. He must have bribed his way in there.” On that single point Ithuriel was in error. Wardian had simply bribed everyone to leave. Ithuriel would need to fire a lot of people later.

When Ithuriel and Jabniel arrived at the plant, which was on their property not far away from the main house, they entered a set of doors and stood in a large glass-enclosed gallery looking down on a dozen consoles that were supposed to be attended by technicians. The glass was very thick and they could hear no sound through it.

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

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

This is the space between the steam turbine in the ground beneath us,” Ithuriel said, “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 walked further down echoing concrete passageways and took a glass elevator which faced back toward the exterior of the plant. It burst from underground and rose eight floors to a skybridge which went clear across the gigantic space of the power house. They went went halfway along the skybridge and looked over the edge eighty feet down onto the generators. There were two red-painted generators down there, and each generator was the size of a house. But there was no sign of little Hadraniel.

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

There were 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 pushed the button on a Jacob’s ladder, a pair of rods like an old TV antenna. A series of electric arcs started climbing up it.

There was another exhibit with a screen activated by a button which was supposed to roll a video thread spool of the power plant in operation. A yellow sticky was posted next to this button, and on that sticky was printed the name “Ithuriel” So Ithuriel pushed the button.

The screen showed a live image of his little boy, who was 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.

“Where’s my god-damned money, fucker?”

Ithuriel fired a shot at the screen in a tantrum. “I know where Hadraniel is being kept now,” he told Jabs. “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 entered the chamber. “Mommy!” Hadraniel cried. There was no sign of Roth.

Roth Wardian saw 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 said 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 didn’t cross his mind now that Jabs and Ithuriel had been pre-phantomized also, and Hadraniel too, by proxy. Surviving a macro went against everything he knew. He had no clue there was such a thing as a sub-macro that was much more gentle with its samples.

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

Since the power plant used a sub-macro, Wardian was not immediately killed. His body was phantomized, but intact, and only the force of gravity could operate upon it. He immediately began to sink through the foundation of the power plant and into the ice beneath the surface of Ceres.

Jabs rushed to pick up Hadraniel for a motherly embrace.

Leaving the chamber, the clock started ticking. For seven seconds Wardian saw nothing, and floated in the dark. He began to wonder if he had just died, and that wonder turned to panic when he thought death might consist of nothing but contemplating the dark for all eternity.

At the end of the seven seconds his body materialized once again embedded in the ice. He never felt that part. And for Ithuriel, that was the end of his Roth Wardian problem.

All and all, it was much too quick a death for Wardian, in Ithuriel’s opinion. After he killed the power to the macro, he muttered, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Then he swept Jabs and Hadraniel both into his arms for extended kisses.

Jabs absorbed this for a moment, then summed it up. “So this was a family affair. We solve our own problems.”

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

“I want Hadraniel to be a happy, rich, spoiled brat,” Jabs said. “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.”

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