TC44

Ithuriel was a wealthy man, yet he maintained no estate on the surface of Ceres. His estate, instead, was a gray metal disk like a hocky puck in a high orbit over Ceres. It was about three hundred feet across, with fifteen levels arranged in concentric circles. The sensation of gravity due to centripetal force increased with each drop to a lower level, but even at the bottom it was never more than five percent Earth normal.

The disk was seventy feet thick, large enough to occupy newcomers for weeks exploring it. There were two miles of passageways, each one tall enough for a nephil like Jabniel to use, and there were more than two thousand compartments of various sizes and shapes. Five hundred of those compartments still contained personal belongings of humans and nephilim who had lived and worked here before.

Many of these people would return, but some of them were dead, and the son of Ithuriel and Jabniel, young Hadraniel, had spent much of his time growing up examining the clothing and personal effects accidentally or deliberately left behind by many people from Barbelo and the Jovian colonies.

But now High Lord Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash himself had come to the estate to examine it, and with him many Eyes of Mastema, armed with silver copies of the Golden Gift as they fanned out through the passageways looking for any unpleasant hidden surprises that might disturb the serenity of their Lord.

They found none, yet the serenity of Asmodeus was nevertheless greatly disturbed by yet another appearance of Lilith, who was making somewhat more commotion in Ithuriel’s estate than her previous appearance in the Emperor’s shipboard stateoom.

Outside of Ithuriel’s main workroom on the third level of his hockey puck the sounds of fighting were so loud it penetrated the door. Presently a hissing black shaft about a yard long penetrated the door and made a neat circle. A heavy slug of metal was pushed through and Lilith stepped inside.

Ithuriel and Asmodeus saw that there were many bodies of dead Eyes strewn about the passageway behind her, and these bodies were in two pieces. Yet Lilith herself was unharmed, and Asmodeus saw this shown forth to him when the last surviving Eye took a swing at Lilith with the black shaft emerging from his Silver Gift and nothing happened. Then Lilith swung back with her Golden Gift and cut the nephil in half.

“You are dead meat, Asmodeus!” Lilith shouted, and Abaddon lit off his own Silver Gift, more of a show of bravado than anything else, since the thing apparently didn’t work against her. Lilith smiled, deactivated her own weapon and snapped it to her belt with a carabiner. “Dead god walking.”

Asmodeus walked around Lilith and stared through the hole she had made in the door to Ithuriel’s work room to appraised the casualties she had left lying on the deck out there. “I thought you were a ‘good’ eloah, Lilith. There are less violent ways to communicate with me, you know.”

“Direct mindspeech doesn’t have the same dramatic character that befits this news,” Lilith said. “Nephilim have departed your binary system in the first starship.”

“So what is their destination, Lilith? It must be a very boring trip, I’d like to make it more interesting for your travelers, perhaps enliven their attempt to settle the new system.” But Lilith remained silent. Asmodeus said, “Come now, you always liked the bad news up front. Chances are they are just heading to one of the stars of the other harem I share with Mastema, the less troublesome one.”

“You can be quite sure they selected their target with that in mind.”

“Yefefiah then? You must be joking. She sleeps for a hundred and fifty years, wakes up for five minutes maybe, looks around with her orbiting avatar, then goes back to sleep to repeat the cycle. That’s why no male eloah in the galaxy has ever successfully courted her. Look how she slept right through the entire Golden Age of Earth radio and television. Completely missed Gunsmoke and Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island. Otherwise the entire community of Elohim would be on fire with the news. I reckon she’ll sleep for another fifty years and that is plenty of time for me to bombard your colony of nephilim to a pre-radio level of technology, and more for good measure.”

Lilith turned to regard Ithuriel. “And you, Edgar Shybear? Robyn’s kid? You sold your soul to the devil? You’re in the pay of Asmodeus now?”

“Only inasmuch as I draw a salary as a hashmal in his armed forces,” Ithuriel replied. “I sincerely hope, Lilith, that you are not about to bore me with questions about why I jumped ship,”

“I know why Asmodeus has come here,” she said. “He will command you to supply engines that are much faster than the ones installed aboard Redemption, so that he may overtake them. Perhaps I should kill you now before you obey your lord, to hedge my bet.”

“You are perfectly capable of doing just that,” Ithuriel said, “but that the thought even crossed your mind might be one of the biggest reasons I jumped ship.”

“Why is she immune to your weapon, Ithuriel?”

“Obviously Lilith phantomized herself with a sub-macro before her assault, my Lord. It’s entirely safe. I’ve done the same, years ago.”

“Interesting. And I had thought I still enjoyed a total monopoly on the sub-macro.”

“My Lord has seen how Lilith gets about,” Ithuriel pointed out. “I don’t think anything in this star system can be withheld from her, if she has her mind set on obtaining it.”

Lilith turned back to Asmodeus. “But perhaps you are right about Yefefiah being a dead end. When the humans make their own starship in the Sol system, I suppose they can bring something that will allow them to communicate directly with the target eloah, maybe even an avatar.”

Asmodeus snorted. “That’s an empty bluff, Lilith, and you know it. I destroyed your avatar at Nine Mile Wall and you cannot make a new one without killing Bat-El.”

“But you forget that long before that I had already caused an avatar to be made, by the hands of human beings no less. I’m referring, of course to the Ark of the Covenant.”

“The Ark of the Covenant? Do you have any idea what the conditions of the center of a star will do to a tiny artifact of wood and gold and whatever electronics you’ve clandestinely stashed inside?”

“And do I need to remind you there are ways to shield things from any conditions no matter how harsh?” She briefly touched the Golden Gift.

“Lilith, listen to me very carefully. If you allow the humans to make a crossing with your avatar you will violate our agreement never to travel to another star with an avatar.”

“The agreement was that I would never travel to another star using an avatar. But the humans will travel to another star using their own vessel, and my avatar will simply go along for the ride. That distinction, I am quite sure, will survive any review by El when it comes to a trial, which it will. So now my plan is laid bare. The clock is ticking, Asmodeus. The span of your existence is now measured in years, not eons.”

Asmodeus allowed his irritation to surface. “Are you going to come barging in on me this way every time I visit the Sol system, Lilith?”

“I think, no, Asmodeus, I don’t need to do this again.” And she departed from their presence in an instant.

“Was she close to the mark, Lord?” asked Ithuriel. “Did you come to obtain a way to catch this ship she called Redemption?”

“You are of the B’nei Elohim, you know the ancient controversy. I cannot command your thoughts, but I would ask you to provide a solution out of a desire to please your lord.”

“Then I will say, Lord Asmodeus, that I have embarked on a line of inquiry that I think will soon lead to a breakthrough far more significant than the sub-macro, although it uses the same basic principles. I think it will be possible to equip a ship with the means to travel at a speed greater than that of light. And so equipped, your fleet will be able to destroy this Redemption, and Lilith’s own proposed starship, and any other attempt my so-called family might make to thwart your will.”

“And what do you need from me to complete your research?”

“I have everything I need here, Lord, but I fear that Lilith or some of her people will storm in here just as you have seen today and hijack the fruit of my efforts the very instant I have reached a final breakthrough. And I fear that not even your Eyes will be able to stop her when she makes her move.”

“That is solved easily enough,” said Asmodeus with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I will simply have your entire estate relocated to my own star system where Lilith cannot reach you, and there you can work completely undisturbed.”