tc42

The Jovian moon Europa is just slightly smaller than the Earth’s moon, with a total area of just six percent of the Earth, but the similarity with Luna pretty much ends there. For one thing there are almost no craters on Europa. The entire surface of the satellite is water ice about six hundred feet thick and only one hundred degrees above absolute zero. Underneath that ice is a saltwater ocean that is 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 is always cracking open in random places, allowing liquid seawater to be exposed to the vacuum of space and freeze. This makes the surface of the moon a chaotic jumbled mess, just like a weld that is moved while it solidifies. There were ridges two hundred feet high alternating with ravines just as deep, all oriented at crazy angles.

So it is impossible to build a road on Europa, and it wouldn’t last for very long in any event. Despite being one of the smoothest bodies in the Solar System on a large scale, with no mountains to speak of, on a small scale it is perhaps the most difficult place in the Jupiter system for nephilim colonists to get around upon except by flying.

But the House of Gerash didn’t take that into account when the Navy of Mastema barged into the Jupiter system first and took over Europa and what they thought was the sweetest spot. They were thinking only of all that water, which their ships with their nuclear fission reactors (and later sub-macros) required for propellant.

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

So Europa became a money pit sucking up the Gerash patriarch’s treasure and returning no profit to him at all. It wasn’t even suitable for a navy garrison. Asmodeus operated Europa at a loss, therefore, 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.

Power was plentiful even without Asmodeus’ precious sub-macros, 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 carefully weighed in the mind with regard to its possible value after being recycled.

So for nearly a hundred years the colony languished and Asmodeus thought of it seldom, if ever. It rarely figured in the military conflicts of the colonies. The largest towns on Europa numbered only in the hundreds of souls. The names of the colonists grew strange, and they drifted far from the law of Mastema. The Cupel testing system was entirely forgotten. Family Gerash shattered into thousands of individual families, living in homesteads or small communal farms with little communication between each other.

But it did not escape the notice of the Navy of Mastema, based out of Hyperion, that part of the surface of Europa was streaked with color. Some of the colonists had realized the sea salts in those areas were rich with minerals such as magnesium or iron or even gold that could be painstakingly extracted by electrolysis. Some families started operations to extract these minerals, and they not only went off the Gerash dole, they even turned a tidy profit in their own right.

The Patriarch naturally demanded a cut of these profits in taxes. Some of the families paid out of loyalty to Mastema. One such family belonged to Terel, the husband of Greidi and father of Lahatiel and Noriel. Most other families turning a profit on Europa did not pay up, judging it would be far more troublesome and expensive to extract these taxes by force than would ever be obtained by the Navy.

But they forgot the ancient principle of “kill one to warn a thousand”. The Patriarch began sending warships down on raids to cower the rest of the homesteaders into paying their taxes. These official raids were carefully planned to avoid hitting the families of those who paid the temple tax as required by the law of Mastema. But some of the ships were commanded by officers who were not quite so meticulous, and wanted a piece of the action for themselves. They conducted unofficial raids, and some of these, unfortunately, resulted in assaults on loyal tax-paying subjects.

The mining operation belonging to Terel was spotted by the Navy of Mastema from above by examining their waste stream, the melted discolored water they dumped on the surface to freeze, leaving an unavoidable tell-tale sign someone was living and working below. The Hashmal named Hanziel, commanding the frigate Exiler, didn’t know Terel dutifully paid a quarter of his prophets to the Empire, but the odds were against it and in either case, their payments did not redound directly to the account of the offers and men of the Exiler. So to Hanziel this made the homestead a perfect candidate for a raid.

Hanziel timed his raid for one of the periods when the waste stream was observed to have diminished, which they took for a sleep period. Europa was tidally locked on Jupiter and “night” lasted for almost two standard days, so it was impossible to tell when the locals were asleep otherwise.

What saved the family was Terrel’s strict policy that at least one member stand watch while the other two members slept. That, and also the fact that the airlock, the sole entrance to their homestead, was rigged with an alarm.

At the time of the raid, Greidi was on watch near the top of the main shaft. The ice cave network that was her family’s home was two hundred feet below her, and the warm, inky surface of the Europan sea was three hundred feet below that, sending up billows of condensed water vapor that made it difficult to see anything in the main shaft.

When the first bluecoat stepped onto the portico Greidi hit a control stud that tipped the floor on that level forty-five degrees from the horizontal. Taken completely by surprise the spacer slid into the main shaft and began to fall toward Europa’s ocean, but was arrested by his safety line.

Beware the female whose loved ones are endangered. Greidi reached out with a sharp blade and severed the line, causing the man to fall. Any scream was muffled by the helmet of his vacuum suit. Whether or not he survived the impact, his heavy suit made him sink like a stone toward the rocky core of Europa, which was yet another sixty miles below the water’s surface.

For her part, Greidi hightailed it down to the family living quarters to awaken har husband and children. Her escape was done by using a ladder with a safety lanyard sliding in a safety rail between alternating footrests. She took them five at a time to get completely out of the main shaft before the airlock cycled and another intruder arrived.

When two more bluecoats emerged from the airlock they called out for their companion in the white steam but got no response. Then they saw the cut line and realized there was trouble. An attempt to report this to Exiler failed. There was a film of heavy metals that had precipitated out from Terel’s waste stream on the surface above and formed a Faraday Cage which blocked all radio signals out of the shaft. The wise thing to do at that point would be to abort. But the intruders knew Hanziel was not a wise man. So they proceeded slowly down the shaft under high alert.

When they got to the multi-level series of tunnels that formed Terel’s home they dropped one at a time, alternating on point while the other man covered him. On the third level, Terel let the first exposed man have it with a stunner, a weapon which was actually a living plant from Gorpai. The dart penetrated his suit and gave the yang three minutes of total paralysis. All voluntary motor functions and even breathing was disabled. He couldn’t move his mouth to warn the other yang, he couldn’t even blink. The stunner wasn’t used as a weapon of war in Asmodeus’ armed forces, but it was often used to render a victim helpless and conscious for torture.

The other man above him wasn’t a soldier per se but merely the lander pilot, a Europan colonial who was more or less drafted into the robbery “mission”. He assumed the other one below, who really was a Barbelo spacer, was merely rendered speechless by what he saw, and curious himself, he dropped down to see what it was. And Terel hit him with the stunner too.

After they were both tied up Terel demanded, “Where’s your unit?”

The reply he got from the spacer was a stream of obscenities, beginning with what he planned to do with Terel’s wife, who was standing there covering all of her loved ones.

Lahatiel couldn’t abide the insult to his beloved mother. He kicked the man’s chair into the white abyss of the central shaft. This time Greidi could hear a scream, for a very long time. It was the first time Lahatiel killed a man, but not the last, by a wide measure.

The third intruder, the civilian became very co-operative after witnessing what had happened to his companion. He said, “Our mother ship is hovering directly overhead.”

“That’s much better,” Terel said. “You’re not really in the Navy, are you? You have a remarkably better attitude. What’s your name?”

“Karayan. The hashmal was short-handed, so I was pressed into service.”

“So you are a Jovian civilian?”

Karayan nodded, affirming that Terel’s guess was correct.

Lahatiel kicked the chair, but not hard enough to send it over the edge. Nuriel spat on him. “A curse on your beard,” Greidi told him bitterly. “That you would do this to your own people.”

“From the very beginning I had no choice, madam. The punishments…”

After Terel learned there were only three more men aboard the ship hy said, “So that makes your ship a corvette?”

“Frigate. But we came down in the lander, Exiler Sidekick.”

“Exiler Sidekick? Your frigate is the Exiler?”

“Yes sir.”

“What irony,” Greidi said. “Asmodeus gave that ship to my husband once, then ‘borrowed’ it back to fight the Beaters. Now we are the victim of a raid by the very same vessel!”

“I see one just narrow way out for you, Karayan,” Terel said. “You do not have to die like your two friends. All you have to do is fire up your lander and take myself, my wife, my son and my daughter up to the Exiler.”

Karayan thought about it for a moment. Lahatiel helped hym along hyz thought process by drawing near to him and tapping his feet. “You’ll never make it,” Karayan said. “They’ll know something is wrong right away.”

“That’s why I’m hoping you are a very good actor, Karayan. You need to get on visual, ship-to-ship, and give the performance of your life. Immediately. Because your very life is at stake.”

“And after that where can you go? The Empire will never stop looking for you.”

“Never mind about that. Will you fly us up?”

“It’ll be crowded. And what about the other men on the Exiler?”

“No one has to die. I’ll give you the lander and you can all fly away.”

Five heartbeats later Karayan said, “Then we do have a deal, sir.”

Before docking, the commanding officer of Exiler raised Corporal Karayan on intership VHF and ordered hym to make his report. Karayan said, “Gold, sir! There’s so much the ravmalak told me to take a load up here and go back for more. And there were only four locals in the hole. We finished them off easy.”

“Excellent work, Karayan. We’ll get ready to receive you.”

So anxious were the other three men on the Exiler to see the gold they were all present when the lander docked with the frigate and the hatch swung open. That made things easy for Terel and Lahatiel. They didn’t have to go though the warship looking for strays. But they did have to hit the men with their stunners several times before they were all stuffed into Exiler Sidekick, the hatch was closed, and the lander was cast off into space.

Lahatiel never learned what happened to the spacers after they departed. Perhaps the three overcame the one, wriggled free, and killed Karayan when he succumbed to sleep. He hoped Karayan was the only one who knew how to fly the lander, because that would have preserved his life. Perhaps they found a settlement somewhere on Europa and sold the lander. Or perhaps they realized that the consquences of returning to Hyperion without a ship would be uniquely unhealthy. Mastema expected all of his officers and men to protect his warships with their very lives if necessary.

The cost to Asmodeus for molesting Terel’s family was one frigate and it’s associated lander.

Giving the lander to Karayan meant that Terel and his family could not return to their homestead to get their possessions. On very short notice they were forced to leave almost everything they owned behind. All they had left was the clothes on their back, the frigate, and everything aboard her. Lahatiel and Noriel went through the ship cataloging whatever they found while Terel flew on to the distant outskirts of the Jupiter system to see if he could find Greidi’s father.