TC41

Barbelo exists in a double-star system circling the orange sun, the less bright of the two stars. From early in the space-going era of Barbelo nephilim managed only to send robotic probes to the system of the yellow-white sun, a crossing that took anywhere from six to nine years. These probes revealed the existence of a double-planet called Hybla-Dia in the habitable zone, but the required time-of-flight for the transit was somewhat beyond the ability of most nephilim to endure. Only a handful of Beaters starting from the swarm of asteroids between the two systems managed to win through.

But when Ithuriel reached his sub-macro breakthrough the transit time was reduced to just over a single year. At first, Asmodiel ignored Hybla-Dia and was content only to refit his entire navy with the new sub-macro engines and weaponry. But Ithuriel had leaked the secret to the B’nei Elohim from the very beginning, and Lilith made sure the technology found its way into the hands of the Beaters in short order. Colonists began to trickle through to the double-planet at a far greater rate than before, but still Asmodiel was not interested.

Ithuriel, who originally was Edgar the Younger, was revered throughout both systems as the father of the sub-macro, but Edgar the Elder, who had stayed behind at Taurus City, eventually stumbled on to his own signature invention. But it was a breakthrough of such overwhelming importance Lilith insisted that he share it with no one until he made contact with the Beaters directly, and even then only when he had been taken far away out of the grasp of Asmodiel.

So Edgar traveled to Barbelo by way of the Sacred Pool, then traveled to the ice, where he reached orbit over Barbelo in the same manner his younger self had gotten himself off-planet. He spent the first year making his way deep into the Eggbeater to reach his Beater handlers, and the second year had been spent aboard a cruiser named Superior on a crossing to the yellow sun and Hybla-Dia.

From space, during the final approach, Edgar beheld the double-planet. Altered by tides and mountain-building into teardrop shapes, Hybla and Dia, which were slightly uneven in size, came within four hundred miles of touching each other. Even from the distance Edgar was watching it was clear they shared a common atmosphere across the gap.

Iadiel, the Beater navigation officer, guided Superior into the space between the two planets. When they entered the atmosphere Edgar could hear the air howling against the hull.

At length Captain Armaros told Iadiel to kill the engines, and wind resistance gradually brought the ship to a complete stop to allow their special guest Edgar to take a very good look.

“Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere,” the operations officer Zagiel told Edgar. “Lots of native plant life. A little heavy on the oxygen but quite breathable. Temperature is comfy warm. We call this zone Central. The gravity between the two planets is almost canceled out. From here we can go anywhere you want.”

“I thought your primary mission was to resupply Redemption,” Edgar said.

But Captain Armaros said. “It has been a very long crossing, and I thought you might want to experience a little time off the damn ship before rejoining us at the Redemption. It is entirely up to you, sir.”

Edgar looked at the tips of the “teardrops” where the pointy ends of Hybla and Dia nearly kissed. “Thank you very much, Captain Armaros. I believe I will take you up on your offer. If you would move toward the tip of Hybla and put the ship down a few miles from the summit, I am game for bagging the highest mountain ever discovered in the universe.”

The captain smiled at this suggestion and told his navigator to immediately comply with Edgar’s request.

“Captain, if you would,” said Zagiel,” now that we have safely arrived within the heart of Beaterdom in this system, I believe Superior can carry on nicely without requiring an operations officer. And it is not entirely safe for Edgar to make his ascent alone.”

“If you accompany our esteemed B’nei Eloah passenger on his impromptu liberty call you will have my enthusiastic permission.”

After the Superior drew near to the slope it took some amount of looking, but Iadiel found a ledge just wide enough to allow him set the whole ship down. Lukas and Bastian emerged from the bottom of the attached lander and threaded their way between two sub-macro drives to the surface of Hybla. They were wearing black working uniforms with short-sleeves, and carried small packs with water and food. After they moved further away from the ship, Iadiel used a few puffs of the thrusters to take off again. Then Superior began a steady burn that would take them upward, close to the exact gravitational null point were Redemption was being assembled.

Edgar and Zagiel ascended the biggest mountain in the universe without breaking a sweat. Close to their summits where the gravity of the double planet nearly canceled out the burden of climbers was light indeed. They bounced their way towards the top with graceful alternating touches of their feet and hands. Despite the steep slope of the wall here, in minimal gravity rock climbing was largely just a matter of intelligently choosing one’s route, more a ballet than a demonstration of endurance and strength.

Looking down Edgar saw the flanks of their mountain merge into the rest of the planet Hybla thousands of miles below. He saw undulating gray ridges and long skinny deep blue lakes, all partly obscured by clouds. Looking straight up, the identical but slightly smaller blue and green bulk of the neighboring planet Dia filled half of the sky with its own mega-mountain seeming to nearly poke him in the eye.

Looking out, Edgar saw a handful of other tourists with strap-on wings circling the mountain, rising on the winds. The distant orange sun of Barbelo hung out there in the vaguely greenish sky. That was the home star of all the nephilim, and even from Hybla-Dia it gave far more light than the full Moon ever did during the nighttime on Earth. Never was it ever truly night at Hybla, never was it truly dark with both suns under the horizon, for even in that case, Dia lit up half the sky.

A brisk wind was coming straight up from beneath them. The twin planets were tidally locked on each other, but as a unit they rotated, first once side facing the bright yellow sun and then the other. When the sun heated one planet, the air expanded and flowed toward the cool planet. When the twin worlds rotated 180° the winds flowed the other way. And so it went, back and forth, forever.

Even more astonishing than the view, Edgar saw a classic piston monoplane spiraling up the narrowing flanks of the Hybla super-mountain, rising under minimal power with the wind. When the plane rose up over the lip of the compact but flat summit plateau the pilot killed its engine, an actual internal combustion engine by the sound of it, Edgar thought. In the low gravity the plane settled to the ground with three slow bounces on its fat rubber tires.

The door of the plane opened and a woman stepped out with dark gray eyes, but there was no hair on her head at all. Edgar knew her for a Beater immediately. The Beaters, an incredibly shattered sub-set of humanity, possessed a wide variety of forms and appearances, a fact that never failed to disgust the Gerash patriarch.

“Hello,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting you to be up here, I almost hit you. My name is Araxiel.”

“I am Zagiel, and this is Edgar Shybear, from the Sol system.”

“Are you part of the Redemption project?”

Edgar judged it safe to say that they were, but mentioned he had been talked into this side trip first by the crew of Superior.

“I’m the person responsible for morale, welfare, and recreation,” she said. “Those tourists you see out there on the wing, I brought them here. And if you wish, I can bring you straight to Redemption now.”

“Say, actually, I’d like to give your plane a whirl,” Edgar said.

“Do you know how to operate a prop job?”

“Only from books. But on Earth I’ve got thousands of hours of flight time in a saucer. How hard can this be?”

The plane had two in-line counter-rotating propellers, so engine torque wouldn’t spin the body of the whole plane in the low gravity. Edgar was flying straight up. It took an hour to cross the two hundred miles to the null point, and he enjoyed every minute of it.

The gravitational null point was slightly closer to Hybla than to Dia. Nephilim lived and played there totally free of the bonds of gravity. Many sports involving nephil-powered flight were possible.

As Edgar came in he saw many self-contained houses floating in the air, maintaining their position with little automatic puffs of air. The Redemption, still only partially constructed, floated next to a green grassy round rock, and Superior in turn floated next to it. The Beaters had positioned a huge chunk from one of the mountain summits here as a home base “asteroid” and covered it with grass and shrubs.

Arrival procedures were quaint. Edgar killed the plane’s engines and maneuvered solely on their inertia with rudder and flaps. Zagiel stood on a strut of the plane and tossed a line, which was caught by some of Araxiel’s people after two attempts as they sat in a tree on the floating rock with their legs wrapped around one of the thicker branch. Working together, Araxiel and Zagiel drew the rope taut until the plane was fastened to the tree with only a short space to cross between them. Then it just hung out there and the end of the line.

Without an anchor like the rock, one traveled with the alternating wind as the rain condensed in clouds, so it never really rained. But the asteroid’s inertia allowed the rain to “fall”. It allowed the capture of rain in “ponds” which were really just big round globules of water. Some of this water was used in steam jets powered by burning wood to keep the green rock in the sweet spot. If they ever went unattended for very long the rock would drift to far toward either Hybla or Dia and crash.

When Araxiel and Edgar and Zagiel arrived at the rock they used handheld thrusters to get around until they were given strap-on wings by some of Araxiel’s subordinates. Edgar and Zagiel were taken out into the air to try to catch birds for dinner, but they couldn’t quite manage it. Some of the more experienced Beaters snagged meals for them.

“We never hunt for sport, only for food,” one of them said. “Here we have transformed our conception of a planet from an ‘it’ to be exploited to a mother with whom to have a relationship.”

As Edgar shared a dinner of barbecued but unidentified bird with Zagiel, the other Beaters asked him many questions about why he had come, but Edgar insisted his briefing not begin until he actually got aboard Redemption to allow the commanding officer, Atarculph, to gauge who should be allowed to hear it. But all of that would wait for the morning. In the meantime, Edgar enjoyed what was undoubtedly the best vacation of his life, and well-deserved, after a year in the confined spaces of Superior.

The briefing was given in the large space that would eventually be called the wardroom of Redemption, but for the time being it was missing many of the hull plates that would seal in the ship’s atmosphere, and it was therefore still open to the air that filled Central between Hybla Dia.

Edgar noted that Miss Araxiel was not present, but all of the officers of Superior were there, including Captain Armaros, Zagiel, Iadiel, and the others. Additionally, there were many officers present who would serve aboard Redemption when she was completed and got underway on her historic flight, including the man named Atarculph who headed the project and would lead the ship has her commanding officer.

Atarculph welcomed everyone to the briefing, and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased at long last to welcome from Earth the newest member of our project, Lord Edgar Shybear, one of the legendary B’nei Elohim. It is Edgar who will make our voyage itself possible, as well as ensure immediate force protection in such a way that no harm should come to Redemption before she is ready to embark. I will allow him to explain what he brings to the table here at Central and the true reason behind I we have asked for such heroic efforts from each of you. Lord Edgar, if you will?”

Edgar floated to the center of the partially-completed wardroom and said, “Thank you very much, Atarculph, and I have to say the location you have chosen to construct Redemption is the most incredible place I have ever seen or even imagined. It will be a shame to leave it, really.

“By now it would be safe to say that humanity (and I include the nephilim) has finally grown up. We have outgrown our earlier period when we believed in the gods, and we are fully aware that those beings that we used to call gods, namely Mastema, El Shaddai, and Bat-El, are really just aliens with physical bodies which happen to also be suns. The Elohim live much longer than we do, but they, like us and every other living thing in this universe are born, live, and die.

“For much longer than humans have had the knowledge to leave written records behind there has been a Great Controversy between El Shaddai and Mastema, and though this Controversy has its origin in what passes for sex among the Elohim, and seems to us therefore to be trivial, for better or worse it has been the biggest factor driving nephilim history on Barbelo and human history on Earth. Bat-El, another Eloah and daughter of El Shaddai, was also born as a result.

“The bottom line of this Great Controversy is that both El Shaddai and Bat-El are blocked from contacting any of the trillions of other Elohim that live in our universe, not just in our galaxy but in many others that surround it. Mastema and Belial stand firmly across their only means of mind-to-mind communication with this larger community.

“We also know that the naval forces of the Empire are largely just support ships for a device that was constructed by Mastema himself long ago called an avatar, which he keeps at Palato as the ultimate guarantee of his power over Barbelo. And we know from history that El Shaddai also had an avatar, but that it was destroyed in our world war two thousand years ago. It would not be hard at all for El Shaddai to construct a replacement avatar and send this device to one of the neighboring stars, make physical contact with the star, and end the Great Controversy once and for all.

“But Mastema anticipated that move long ago, and struck a bargain with El Shaddai that he must never resort to that expedient. El Shaddai was never to make direct contact with the Elohim outside of the fold-space lines that were used to communicate with his two parents. In return for accepting this condition, El Shaddai was granted read-only access to the entire network of Elohim.

“In some ways this bargain merely made the misery of El Shaddai that much greater. After getting this one-way access he could see the nearly infinite community that he was being denied. And yet El Shaddai did not despair, because Mastema, in his arrogance, left humans and nephilim entirely out of his calculations. And he continues to do so to this very day.

“Some time ago I penetrated the secret of what we call the Golden Gift, a device made by El Shaddai to convert normal matter into dark matter. It was used as a weapon, but also an excavation tool. The way I like to demonstrate how it works is to use a set of coins to represent normal atoms, and I stand those coins up on their edge to represent the dark matter they become when passed through the beam of the Golden Gift. This discovery led to the sub-macro, and that in turn is what opened up Hybla-Dia to settlement by the Beaters. But while giving with one hand it took with the other, and the Navy of Mastema is also far more dangerous now.

“At this time I would like to take the opportunity to reveal a new discovery that I have made along the same lines, and again the way I would demonstrate the concept is using that set of coins. Make them lay on a table as all heads. That represents normal matter. Stand them up with a macro, as before, but give them an additional little push. They lay back down again on the table as tails. They’ve been flipped into mirror matter, or what we call on Earth antimatter.

“And that, as all of you are well aware, is the key to most powerful engines that can exist in this universe, and also the most powerful weapons. Far more powerful in fact than is possible even with the sub-macro. That is the technology I am now giving to you.”

Baradiel stood forth then, he who would be the chief engineer of the Redemption. He said, “Lord Edgar, are you making the claim that it will take less energy to create antimatter with this matter flipper than we will be able to obtain from the reaction?”

“Indeed that is the case. The input energy will be on the same order as that required to power any normal macro.”

“Then I must make the usual objection grounded in the Laws of Thermodynamics. With all due respect, Lord Edgar, you are coming across as one of those charlatans who offer to sell a machine to make energy from nothing.”

“And I will answer your objection, sir, by saying that the reaction is gamma rays, which represent an enormous increase in the entropy of the universe. When these gamma rays transform in turn to matter, let us say fermions, it will be equal parts electrons and positrons. The great imbalance we find ourselves living in, where the universe is almost exclusively composed of matter and not antimatter, will have been diluted a tiny bit.”

“I think I understand, Lord Edgar,” said Baradiel. “We can imagine the end state of the universe after extensively using this matter flipper as existing in a kind of heat death, when matter and antimatter are thoroughly mixed together, and flipping any given sample of this mixed state would merely result in the inverse, which would remain a similarly mixed state.”

“Precisely! Now it is the command of Lilith, the human incarnation of El Shaddai, to use this matter flipper only to prepare weapons for the defense of Redemption, and also for the engines of Redemption herself. She is not interested in the technology somehow reaching Asmodiel, who would only use it to continue the endless bloodshed in two star systems that he loves so much, and at a significantly elevated pace. No, our purpose is far more noble than that. Someday, when our children’s children begin to get traction on creating their new civilization underneath a new living sun that does not shine over Earth nor Barbelo nor Hybla-Dia, that living sun will unravel the Great Controversy at last. Mastema and all his wars will come to a final end. And so I find it a great honor to join your project to launch the first starship in history.”