TC40

Terel’s father Araphiel had been part of the first wave of colonists from House Gerash to get a foothold in the Jupiter system. He was a veteran of the Army of Mastema, a Hashmal with four wives. In his retirement, rather than accepting a landed estate at Magodon, Araphiel received a different subsidy in the form of a spacecraft, a cylinder somewhat larger than the Chivalrous given to Ithuriel. This was the frigate Exiler, designed for a crew of six.

Araphiel stuffed his four wives and all his children in Exiler and departed Palato through the fold-gate to the Sol system. He plied the four major moons and countless lesser moons, where he would land the frigate on the business end of the three engines wrapped around the main cylinder, looking for all the world like any random cover of the old school science fiction magazines that were contemporary on Earth at the time.

Araphiel traded in water and mined minerals, but over the years his wives and children began to die, one by one, because Jupiter was wrapped by a radiation belt that dwarfed the Earth’s own Van Allen belt, and it was correspondingly more saturated in radiation. Other sons, weakened by the radiation, would travel to Palato to make a bid for the rank of Ish in the armed forces of Sartael, only to be defeated, and their sisters became the wives of the victorious boys.

Lord Sartael was not concerned with Araphiel and his family situation in the slightest. His subsidy of the frigate Exiler was, in fact, an typically callous experiment. It was an attempt to breed a branch of White Beards who were resistant to the ionizing radiation of the Jupiter system. There were eggs that had to be broken as Darwin had his way and Araphiel’s family comprised not a few of them.

Eventually all the girls were either dead or farmed out, leaving none fror Araphiel’s youngest son Terel to wager in the Laraji, so he remained aboard the Exiler serving his father, and also his mother Adenaer. But she too had taken ill and succumbed to leukemia induced by the radiation years before her time.

After that, Ithuriel reached Ceres and passed along his discovery of the sub-macro to the military research wing of the Navy of Mastema. And when they had duplicated Ithuriel’s work, Exiler was recalled to Palato to receive three new macro engines that would fit in the gaps between the three old ones.

But there was a string attached. After the upgrade, Exiler was placed on reserve status in the fleet of Mastema, subject to be recalled at any time, which if it ever took place would sideline Araphiel and Turel somewhere for the duration. And if the Exiler was destroyed in battle, Araphiel would be permanently sidelined.

Araphiel countered with his own string and short-circuited Sartael’s radiation experiments on his family by using part of the electricity generated by the three macros to keep his ship lit up like a powered Faraday cage. After that the hull of Exiler was capable of turning away charged particles of any kind.

It was too late for Araphiel, of course, the damage was done. He would soon follow his wife into death, but the new shielding gave Turel and any family he chose to start a chance to live much longer and healthier lives, at least until the Navy of Mastema confiscated the ship and ended up losing it in the interminable wars with the Beaters.

Araphiel’s death was much more wretched than that of his mother or any of Turel’s sisters. The end had come while Exiler was in orbit around Io, and he had been charged by his father to give him a proper burial, not eject his body into space where it would soon by covered by sulphur dust and look ridiculous should any travelers find it again.

The orange and yellow and red pizza satellite of Jupiter called Io beckoned to Terel below. He landed on a powdery white gypsum plain and buried his father there. He didn’t bother to mark the location of the grave with a monument. Io was the most volcanically active body in the system. There were four hundred active volcanoes, and twenty of those were erupting even as Turel laid his the body of his father to rest under the surface. The debris from one of those hundreds of volcanoes would soon cover this burial site, perhaps with an entirely different substance, and render it incognito.

Io was a cornucopia of mineral wealth, but it was a violent place. Aside from the volcanoes there were constant moonquakes, gas vents, and geysers of molten sulfur caused by Jupiter’s tidal grip on the satellite interacting with the eccentricity of the moon’s orbit, which itself was maintained by a gravitational resonance with two other large moons of Jupiter.

When Turel returned to the interior of Exiler he found a strong return on radar about twenty-two miles to the southeast and thought it could be an outcropping of metal ore. Terel didn’t have a separate vehicle to check it out. He had to fire up his engines and use his whole ship to make a short hop to the contact.

When he arrived he found a fresh sinkhole, with some type of machine half-swallowed by it. Terel donned his spacesuit to make the short walk over and investigate.

If someone was inside, Terel at least knew why he hadn’t picked up a distress call. There was an antenna that had been snapped clean off. He picked up a stone and banged on the exterior, then set his helmet against the machine to hear any reply since sound could not travel well at all in Io’s extremely thin atmosphere. Presently there came a metallic return banging, so Terel interpreted that as an invitation to try the inflatable air lock in the rear of the large machine.

Inside was a very young woman Terel found to be extremely beautiful despite being knocked around a little by the walls of the tilting machine. “You’ve come to save me!” she yelped, throwing herself on him and squeezing him hard.

He took off his helmet. “My name is Terel.”

“Greidi,” she said, touching the hair rolled in at her shoulders that was as black as his own hair was white. She was, in fact, of the House of Larund. “I’ve been stuck here for days.”

“What is this thing?”

“This is one of my father’s topsoil harvesters. A sinkhole opened right up under me while I was working.”

“Why didn’t your father come looking for you?”

“I’m sure he is, actually, but I flew the harvester down from orbit and this looked like a good spot. My father and brothers don’t have a clue where to start looking.”

“Maybe I can pull you out.”

“It won’t do any good, I’ll still be stuck here, and maybe so will you. The front of the harvester is crushed.”

“Well, Greidi, get your suit on and we’ll walk over to my ship.”

“I don’t have a suit. Look, I live on my father’s ship. I just get in the harvester, come down here and drive around until it’s full, fly back to the ship, and my brothers empty the bins and get the harvester ready for the next day. I’ve been doing this since I was eleven and nothing ever happened. I never needed a suit.”

“Greidi, when you take such little regard for your own safety, you’re not thinking about those who love you. I’ll be back shortly.”

Terel went to his vessel and obtained something like a body bag, but with metal hose fittings on it. When he returned to the harvester, he laid it out and asked Greidi to crawl inside it. “This isn’t a full-up spacesuit but it’s the best I can do. It’s used by the navy to transport wounded in airless places. I’m going to carry you to my ship.”

So he zipped her up, plugged the bag into his suit to inflate it, and set out on foot back to his own ship, carrying her easily in the small gravity. With the farway sun glinting off his vacuum suit, Terel was literally Greidi’s Knight In White Shining Armor.

On his ship he plied Greidi with food. She was starving after being trapped in the sinkhole for so long. As he watched her eat and talk to him, stretching out the long bare legs of her seven foot frame and flashing smiles at him, Terel quietly and methodically fell in love. And a good thing too. He was luckier than he knew.

Most of the men available to Greidi were simple laborers. The ones who had any money or property were few and far between. Yet here was Terel with his own ship, and a fairly large ship at that. Obviously he was a man of means. She knew her father would be just as interested in Terel as she was, but in a totally different way. Not realizing that Terel was smitten already, Greidi didn’t even dare to hope she might land Terel. The trends were against it. Resigned to her fate, she told him where to go to rendezvous with her father’s ship.

Naseth’s ship, which was nameless, was roughly the same size on the outside as Terel’s, with without macros, which for the time being remained the monopoly of the Navy of Mastema. There was somewhat more living space inside Naseth’s ship than Exiler. The lesser volume of water tankage didn’t matter because Naseth never left the Jupiter system, where water was plentiful, especially at Europa which had an ocean of water under a thin crust of ice.

Terel returned Naseth’s daughter to him with his compliments and her virtue entirely intact. Joyous at her safe return, Naseth invited Terel to abide with him for a while so he could show his gratitude.

The Naseth operation was moderately well-to-do. Naseth, his wife, and their two sons (with help from Greidi) surface mined Io for the ever-renewing minerals that streaked the surface as the moon continuously turned itself inside-out.

Naseth was also a wise man, and he could see the love Terel had for Greidi written in the man’s eyes as plain as could be, even if Greidi herself, overcome with self-doubt, was blind to it. But Naseth thought of his own interests as well. He began to speak time and again how important his daughter’s role was to his family’s livelihood, how she had been a good earner for years, and what a struggle it would be if she ever left. Naseth’s transparent ploy nevertheless had the intended effect.

“Sir, I will serve you three years for the hand of your daughter Greidi,” Terel told him, taking the plunge. “Though it has been a very short time, I have already come to love your daughter, and over that three years I will only grow to love her much more.”

Naseth was definitely willing to accept Terel’s offer. He said, “Daughter, will you agree to this?”

Her heart seemed to skipped a few beats, but she quickly regained her composure. “Let it be done as he said,” said she.

So Terel lived and worked with Naseth’s family and put his own vessel at the service of Naseth until the three years of his servitude were fulfilled. The Naseths prospered ever more, and although Terel never touched the daughter of Naseth and broke the trust, the three years flew by as though they were as many weeks, because Terel loved Greidi so greatly.

During this period, Lord Sartael died, and the new High Lord Patriarch of the House of Gerash was Asmodiel. Turel feared that at any time the navy would call in their marker and demand he render up Exiler to them before he fulfilled his years of service to Naseth.

But it was not to be, and finally there came a day when Terel went to Naseth and said, “The days of my service are complete. Now give your daughter Greidi to be my wife, as you agreed.”

And Naseth said, “Yet a few days more, Terel. A ship orbiting a moon of Jupiter, one that Greidi has lived in for so long, is no place to hold a proper wedding.”

So when all was ready, Terel and the whole family of Naseth went down to Jupiter itself in a rented lighter to a platform on the balloon city of Onex.

Financed by the money from hydrogen scooping, and unthinkable only a decade before, the city of Onex was supported by three vast balloons in the supremely dangerous atmosphere of the planet, which nevertheless (or perhaps even as a byproduct of the danger) was a place of indescribable beauty.

Think of all the colors of a thunderstorm coinciding with a sunset on Earth, with vast pink thunderheads many miles high, lightning flashes, and dark cloud shadows sliced by sunrays in a glory, and you had the weather of Onex on a drab day.

Such beauty came with a steep price. The gravity on Jupiter was two and a half times more intense than on Barbelo. Some nephilim from Barbelo lived in the balloon cities precisely because the intense gravity, endured day after day, would condition them for great combat strength and endurance. But Turel and Greidi and the family of her father Naseth, who dwelt their entire lives in free fall or perhaps briefly on one of the Galilean moons with only a fraction of Barbelo’s gravity, would be absolutely unable to cope under the gravity of Jupiter without wearing hydraulically-powered open exoskeletons to stand up and move about.

And it was also a time of political tension on Jupiter. The new balloon cities collected hydrogen from the Jovian atmosphere with scoops and liquefied it. This hydrogen was a far more efficient propellant than water. A year before Terel’s wedding the Navy of Mastema destroyed the balloon city of Gildass with its attendant scoop to increase the value of the White Beards’ own Europa seawater. A state of war existed between the inhabitants of Jupiter and the Empire of Mastema.

Naseth was not a poor man. It was a lavish wedding, and especially lavish too was the scenery on Jupiter for the entire five hours of daylight of the Jupiter day. Against this incredible panorama, as Terel and Greidi exchanged lifetime vows to become man and wife, another balloon city, Jossis, was seen passing Onex a hundred miles away. They were like ships at sea, meeting for the very first time.

And the last time.

In a second missile attack, distant Jossis was destroyed in the full view of Terel and Greidi’s wedding party at the height of the reception.

The guests were horrified to see the supporting balloons punctured and thousands of people falling to their deaths deep in the churning depths of Jupiter, where the pressures rose beyond the imagination.

Thoroughly intimidated, the eleven surviving cities, including Onex, immediately scaled back their liquefaction operations to meet the demands of House Gerash. Terel fled Jupiter with Greidi and her family, and after that Turel took his bride to the Exiler parked above Io.

Greidi’s dowry was one of her father’s harvesters. With Exiler, Greidi’s harvester, and Greidi harself, Terel could immediately set up a rival operation to Naseth business. But he honored his father-in-law too much to deliberately strike at his living. So he left Io entirely and went to the next satellite out from Jupiter.

The Jovian moon Europa was just slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon, with a surface just six percent of the Earth’s total area, but there were almost no craters on Europa. The entire surface of the satellite was water ice about six hundred feet thick and only a hundred degrees Kelvin above absolute zero. Underneath that ice was a saltwater ocean sixty miles deep and as warm as a heated swimming pool.

Driven by tidal forces as Europa orbits Jupiter every three and a half days, the thin crust of the satellite was always cracking open in random places, allowing liquid water to be exposed to the vacuum of space and freeze. This made the surface of the moon a chaotic jumbled mess, There were icy ridges two hundred feet high alternating with ravines just as deep, all oriented at crazy angles.

It was impossible to build a road on Europa, and it wouldn’t last for very long even if one was attempted. So despite being one of the smoothest bodies in the Solar System, with no mountains to speak of, it was perhaps the most difficult place in the Jupiter system for colonists from Barbelo to get around, except by flying point-to-point.

But the House of Gerash didn’t take that into account when they barged into the Jupiter system first and took over Europa and what they thought was the sweetest meat. Mastema thought only of all that water, which his ships even with their new macro engines still required for reaction mass.

House Gerash soon found there were absolutely no other resources on Europa within easy reach. All the metals they required had to be imported. The only advantage Europa had over Ganymede or Callisto (which also had a mix of ice and rock) was that the ice didn’t have to chiseled out and melted first.

So Europa was a money pit, a black hole sucking up Asmodiel’s treasure and returning no profit to him at all. It wasn’t even suitable for a navy garrison. Hy operated Europa at a loss, therefore, perhaps only as a prestige showcase, just to say the White Beards had a toehold at Sol. The families of the Gerash clan who were established there lived largely on the Imperial dole.

Electrical power there was plentiful to be sure, obtained by taking advantage of the large thermal gradient between the frozen surface and the warm underground liquid reservoir, but on Europa it was a life where almost nothing could be thrown away. Every piece of garbage had to be weighed in the mind with regard to its possible value after being recycled.

So the colony languished, and after a time Asmodiel thought of it seldom, if ever. Europa rarely figured in the military conflicts of the colonies. The largest towns on Europa numbered only in the hundreds of souls. Family Gerash on Europa shattered into thousands of individual families living in homesteads or small communal farms with very little communication between each other.

Terel and Greidi had just enough time to establish their own homestead on Europa, and even beget a son named Lahatiel and a baby daughter named Noriel, before the Navy of Mastema came calling and took the frigate Exiler away from them.