TC48

The Navy of Mastema did not possess advanced digital computers like the ones Robyn saw a few years along on Timeline Eta. Such tools as the nephilim did have operated on analog principles. Certainly there was no massive electronic database holding the current position of all the moons in the Jupiter system.

In lieu of that was a big fat printed ephemeris in a blue cover that could fold out to four feet wide, containing the position of all the bodies in the Jupiter system for the next Barbelo standard year. Lahatiel used that information and his analog navigation tools to calculate a burn that would bring Exiler to the orbit of Hyperion, where a second burn would stabilize the ship’s orbit there.

Lahatiel knew that with the minimum energy trajectory he had chosen it would take days for the passage. So after the descent burn he joined Nuriel in the common space which was a combination dining hall and sitting room and parlor containing many tunnel openings in the deck, overhead, and bulkheads leading to other parts of the ship. Instead of a common table there were six smaller individual tables and chairs facing each other in a ring along the wall.

The frigate was originally designed for a crew of twelve. Underway, half the crew would be on watch while the other half messed here in the Banquet Room or hot-bunked it in one of the six staterooms. Everything aboard the ship was a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, as was typical when it came to space travel.

Six hatches in the Banquet Room led to the six main drive modules, each with a space for performing engineering duties and more hatches leading to access tunnels aft. Forward of each one of these engineering spaces was a supply room corresponding to the domed enclosures that capped each engine. Access ways in these spaces were shaped by the stored material itself. They were simply the voids between boxes, a bewildering three-dimensional maze. The previous crew had plundered most of the useful supplies and sold them on the black market.

The flight-deck was all the way forward. This was the ship’s “bridge,” and it was somewhat more cramped than the common room. Arranged around the rim were empty tubes for Bulldog missiles, radar, communication equipment, and the F/1 Fairchild 500mm optical tracking system called the Big Eye, an expensive import from Earth.

There was also a thick circular window dead center with a layer which could be electronically polarized or even made opaque in the event of a laser attack or if Lahatiel tipped the ship directly at Sol or one of the Centauri suns. Nuriel marveled that no sizable flat space along the interior bulkheads was wasted as merely a bare wall.

The crew’s berthing was between the Banquet Room and the flight-deck, shaped like a pie cut into six pieces with a wide hole taken out of the center. These six “staterooms” had some nine hundred cubic feet inside each one, quite roomy as such things went. One entered through blue curtains secured with runners and magnets sewn in the hem. Each stateroom had a large rectangular picture window looking out the side of the ship.

Lahatiel and Noriel were two young heterosexual nephilim of the opposite sex alone on a frigate during a long transit through Jovian space. They already knew and loved each other deeply as siblings, and they were born in a culture that had absolutely no incest taboo. As could only be expected, nature took its course.

In one of the staterooms Lahatiel took his sister to bed, formally claiming her for his wife. He hadn’t come by her strictly by the rules of the Law of Mastema with the ritual death combat called Laraji, but in the story he planned to tell Mastema (which would be embellished with a tale of the death of his parents to keep them safe as well) the capture of Exiler would fulfill the forms of the ritual nicely.

As they slowly entered a state of total undress Lahatiel and Noriel spent hours enjoying each other’s body. She moved rhythmically against him while he cupped his sister’s breasts in his hands or ran his fingertips over her smooth thighs, shiny now with a layer of sweat.

The way Lahatiel filled her and moved relentlessly inside her triggered Noriel to have the first orgasm of her life. Her very enthusiastic vocal response in turn triggered his own orgasm, there was no way to delay it any further. For about a full minute, a long time as such things went, the two of them literally went crazy wrapped in each other’s arms and legs, but it was such a sweet crazy.

Lahatiel felt like he literally boiled over inside his sister. Noriel would certainly never forget the electric frenzy of her body. She had no idea such a wonderful thing existed.

Maneuvering Exiler into the ID Grid over Hyperion was more difficult than Lahatiel had bargained for, he ended up colliding with the lattice-work twice. But apparently it was a skill much lacking among the navigation officers of the Navy of Mastema, since no eyebrows seemed to be raised before they were through.

When Lahatiel and Nuriel emerged from the fold-gate over Palato, traffic controllers at the naval station took control of the Exiler and brought it down to an empty hanger sufficiently far from the secret and ever-changing location of the avatar of Mastema that it would preclude any damage from a booby-trapped ship. It spoke volumes of the nature of the regime of Asmodeus that such a precaution was necessary.

Lahatiel had no illusion they would survive an escape attempt from the heavily fortified moon of Palato, which was riddled with tunnels and sported so many missiles and guns it resembled a giant gray spherical cactus.

After landing, the Eyes of Mastema swarmed over the interior of Exiler and found to their astonishment that there was no one present but a boy and a girl. The commander of the Eyes and chief lieutenant of Asmodeus, one Balberith, decided to forgo the usual session of rusty pliers applied to nails and teeth and bring the children before Abaddon directly to provide an explanation, but this was done with no small amount of rough treatment.

Five Eyes were deemed sufficient to guard the children while simultaneously not irritating God with a crowd. The five Eyes bowed face-first before the throne and with hard kicks ensured that Lahatiel and Nuriel bowed as well.

Then Balberith arose at the Emperor’s bidding, saying, “Forgive us, Lord, but there is a curious happenstance which requires your personal attention. The imperial frigate Exiler has returned without orders from the Sol System, and we have found it to be crewed with only two children!”

“Rise and explain all of this, boy,” Asmodeus commanded.

Lahatiel got to his feet and said, “If you please, Sire, I am Lahatiel, the only son of Terel of Europa. My father was an honest and loyal who distilled the waters of that satellite for metals and sold them for a small profit. He never failed to send the fourth part of the increase to the crown, according to Your Majesty’s holy law, and this was always done out of gratitude and loyalty more than obligation.”

“What rank was your father in my armed forces, young Lahatiel?”

“None, sire. My father lived outside the Cupel system of testing under the dispensation Your Majesty allowed for the first two generations of colonists in the Sol system. But he was preparing me well for the death combat and dreamed of the day when I attained the ranks of ishim.”

At this the Eyes of Belial grumbled, and Balberith even protested openly. “Lord, we have very good reason to believe this boy has slept with his sister on the ship before the ritual combat demanded by your holy law. This makes him a rank heretic of the highest order.”

Mastema had never really cared about any of those sexual prohibitions himself, and merely used them to try to pit the planetdwellers against their own instincts. Ignoring Balberith, Asmodeus said to Lahatiel, “You remind me of a human I admire named Ithuriel. Tell me of how you came into possession of the Exiler.”

“Yes, my Lord. The High Lord Patriarch Sartael Gerash of happy memory gave the vessel to the father of my father, the Hashmal Araphiel, who was one of the first men from Barbelo to settle in the Jupiter system.”

“Ah, now it grows clear!” said Asmodeus. “This Araphiel I do remember. Yes I gave him the frigate to begin his settlement in the Jupiter system, but unfortunately it was required from him once again to put down the Beaters, and I do not recall returning the vessel to him again, nor to any of his sons. So again, I command you, young Lahatiel, tell me how exactly how you came to be in possession of it.”

“There is a foul stink of corruption on Your Majesty’s fleet in the Jupiter colonies, Sire! All of the homesteaders know this, but our family learned of it first-hand when the frigate Exiler engaged in a naked invasion and robbery of my father’s operation. We resisted, of course, even as other colonists on Europa have resisted, and the crews of your capital ships have taken many losses in this way. Before my parents died fending off the attack my father suspected Your Majesty’s Navy has covered up these casualties, because a colonist had been forced to serve aboard Exiler as a replacement crewman. Send aides, Your Majesty, to examine the books kept by the crew, and the booty we found stashed throughout the ship.”

Asmodeus turned to face Balberith to see what his Chief Eye would say to this. Balberith replied, “Sire, the claims of this boy are doubtless nothing but juvenile fantasies. Even if there have been casualties taken by the fleet at Jupiter it only speaks of how deep-seated the insurrection is there.”

So Asmodeus bade Lahatiel to tell the full tale of how his mother and father came to die, and Lahatiel put forth the elaborate lie he had invented during the passage to Hyperion. He made no mention of Green Rock. So delightsome was the tale to Asmodeus that he elevated Lahatiel to the rank of Sar on the spot, taking his victory over the Exiler mutineers to count as his first death combat elevating him to ish. And he said, “You may take your sister to be your wife from this day forward.”

Balberith suddenly grew angry at this, and said, “What manner of B’nei Elohim are you, boy? How did you bewitch the Lord Asmodeus?”

Asmodeus replied to this outburst by asking the boy, with uncharacteristic control, “Sar Lahatiel, do you now desire anything of me? Anything at all?”

Lahatiel faced Balberith and drew out the man’s own blade from the sheath dangling from his side, which Balberith at first allowed to do simply because it was so unexpected and continued to allow to do since to attempt to stop the theft would only cut his hand. Lahatiel said to Balberith, “You speak of heresy and then go on to imply it is possible for our God to fall under the spell of mere nephilim!” And with that blade Lahatiel brutally butchered the nephim where he stood.

After wiping the gory blade on the fallen man’s cloak he plunged it yet one more time, point first, into his dead corpse to let it stand hilt up. “That was all I desired from you, Lord.”

The other Eyes of Mastema waited for the angry command of their Lord to torture this boy to death for killing Balberith, but Asmodeus only laughed and ordered them to bring his own son Apollyon before him. Then he said to his newly minted Sar, “Did you know, Lahatiel, that in the thousands of years I have ruled Barbelo as the Gerash Patriarch, never has a son of my loins survived the death combat I appointed in my law. Not once!”

“My Lord is very busy governing the Empire,” Lahatiel offered. “It is only a question of having sufficient time to train your son.”

“I thought as much at first, Sar Lahatiel,” he said. “But even when I put my mind to training him, I fail, and the boy is killed. It’s beginning to weigh overmuch on my mind, if only because it’s become something of a running joke.”

Apollyon entered the throne room just then and approached to kneel before his father. Lahatiel saw that the boy seemed to be entirely beat down, as though resigned to his inevitable fate. But he thought that could easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and might even be the reason for the patriarch’s perfect track record of zero successes.

Asmodeus motioned for his son to rise, then turned to face Lahatiel again. “I will not dwell on all the vicious back-room dealing that goes on among the leading families of the greater House Gerash, but suffice it to say there are certain benefits that acrue to that family whose son defeats my son to replace him as the heir apparent to the throne. The leading candidate at this time is named Haziel. Once, Lahatiel, just once, I’d like to see the blood of my blood, the bone of my bones win his Laraji and become the next Gerash Patriach when this body dies.”

Lahatiel said, “If my Lord will insist on the right to establish the conditions of the match, and will release Exiler to me once more, I will train his son in such a way that he must prevail in the death combat.”

“You have already impressed me with the return of Exiler, and you have impressed me a second time with the way you dealt with Balberiths’ effrontery. Impress me yet a third time, Sar Lahatiel. Teach my son Apollyon to win his Laraji as you claim you can do. Then we shall see what we shall see.”

“It will be done as you have said, my Lord.” Then Lahatiel and his sister Noriel bowed and departed the throne room.

The reason Lahatiel requested the Exiler be returned to him was that he needed to orbit Palato to establish the conditions of free fall for Apollyon’s training, and also Exiler was large enough to allow the training. For the Laraji, Lahatiel chose a variation of Freeball he made up on the spot: Combat Freeball, with knives. As for the Laraji venue, he described to the Emperor a standard Freeball arena based on the sport popular in the Sol system, and Asmodeus caused the arena to be constructed next to Exiler, on the same orbit.

The event would be televised, of course, as all of the death combats of the Emperor’s own son had been broadcast for many decades. But this time, Lahatiel assured Asmodeus his son would survive and the patriarch would not be humiliated, because Apollyon and his companions would not be going in cold like Haziel.

As the match drew to a close Haziel placed all six of his boys in a ring. These boys hoped by sheer numbers to capture Apollyon and fling him at an armed Haziel for the kill.

At the referee’s first whistle Apollyon’s closest teammates curled into fetal positions at his feet, and he was also curled up. At the second whistle all three made themselves straight as fast as they could. Apollyon surged forward and the other two boys were flung back.

When Apollyon was joined by his Van and his Wingbacks, the Flankers reached the elastic end cap feet first and kicked back off again, perfectly timing it to take advantage of the thumping rebound. Spinning on his long axis now to make him harder to grab, Apollyon reached Haziel’s defending line.

Apollyon’s Wingbacks had overtaken him and joined to face Haziel’s defenders too. Freeball was a contact sport. Apollyon’s team kicked and punched to form a narrow tunnel for him to drill through, scattering bodies like bowling pins.

Forbidden to stab the unarmed boys, Apollyon bent and twisted his body like a maggot to wriggle free. Stinging from blows, Apollyon reached a wall feet first and did a dance. “Left foot sticks, right foot kicks,” he chanted, launching hymself out again to chase after Haziel.

Haziel and one of his flankers linked hands to swing off each other and change course, tumbling head-over-each-other’s-heels. Thus, Haziel was flung after Apollyon, but he was left flailing with a yaw rotation he couldn’t control. By chance, when they met, they were both in a poor position to strike each other, but Haziel’s position was slightly poorer. Apollyon slipped his blade between his Haziel’s ribs and pierced his heart.

The match was televised across the empire, and everyone knew Abaddon did not cheat to favor his son. The Emperor was overjoyed. No one had ever seen him happy. Ever. On a whim he made Sar Lahatiel the rank of ophan.

This time none of the Eyes of Mastema made their displeasure audible. It seemed they had grown in wisdom rather quickly.

“How many dependents were attached to the officers manning Exiler?” Asmodeus demanded to know.

Arioch, next in line after Balberith, quickly answered his Lord, saying, “There were a total of sixteen women and all their children.”

“Lahatiel, today I have made you a flag officer, entitling you to eight wives. You may keep your sister Nuriel of course, and also take any seven of those sixteen women, whosoever of them that pleases you the most. The rest shall be returned to their fathers. You are my chief lieutenant now! Choose a new crew for the warship Exiler. In the days to come I am going to rely on you to deal with Lilith’s blasphemous starship.”