“I see one glaring technical problem with your scheme, sir,” Sar Adnarel said. She didn’t wait for Lahatiel to make her introduction to Hashmal Ithuriel. “I am the weapons officer on Exiler, sir, my name is Adnarel Sala. I’m looking at this problem from the point of view of someone who wants to hit a very small target from very far away. If I aim right at the star, I’m going to plain miss it, because I’m aiming where the star was four years ago. But if I shoot ahead of the star like I’m trying to hit a duck with a shotgun, I’ve got another problem. Suppose I think it is 4.37 light years to Sol from here, but it’s really 4.36 light-years. It seems to me the target I’m trying to hit is only a few light-minutes across, but even the small error in my example is already about three or four light days.”
“You are absolutely right, Sar Adnarel!” Ithuriel said. “Fortunately, this will not be a problem for your first leg from here to Sol. The distance to Sol is known to within a fraction of a light-second because a powerful universal time clock radio broadcast originates from Luna and Hashmal Suriel will be able to pick it up even from here. It will mismatch your own ship’s clock by exactly 4 years 133 days 14 hours 96 minutes and 48 seconds. And the relative velocities of Sol and Rigilkent in all three axes is known to within a few tens of feet per second. These things will tell Barakiel exactly how much to lead the ‘duck’ as you put it. But when you begin to explore suns beyond Sol and Centauri, the information I will provide Captain Barakiel will be somewhat less reliable. But not dangerously so. That is the very reason this observatory exists, you see. That is the essence of our years of work here. We have compiled data on hundreds of nearby stars. It is safe to say you will not begin to have problems with position error until you get beyond about twenty light years from Centauri. Somewhere along the way you will need to establish another observatory just like this one and compile a new database. But it occurs to me that Asmodeus expects me to be fitting out the Exiler with the FTL Pod as soon as possible, and that he expects you to return immediately to Palato so he can claim his prize. But I gather that you do not intend to return to Centauri anytime soon, is that correct?”
Lahatiel acknowledged Ithuriel in the affirmative.
“So I imagine in a week or two Mastema will begin to get restless, and certainly after a month has gone by he will send a much larger vessel to inquire after your own vessel. And some of the answers we will have for him, well, the High Lord Patriarch mightn’t like them. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Eyes of Mastema could reconstruct my work after taking possession of my papers and lab equipment and putting me and my associates to torment. Then a whole fleet of FTL equipped ships would go looking for you.”
Lahatiel said, “Sir, if you are worried about yourself and your family, or perhaps some of your closest associates, there is room aboard Exiler for about a dozen more people. You needn’t worry about Asmodeus. But if the things you have been describing to us are true, it would literally be the most important thing nephilim or humans have ever discovered. It would open the universe to us, free from the control and influence of Mastema and the other Elohim. But I pride myself as a rational man, sir. So far I have been proceeding on pure faith: Faith that El Shaddai and Bat-El are not deluded, faith that your son Hadraniel did not deceive them, faith that you have indeed made a breakthrough with traveling faster than light. Now please don’t take this the wrong way, sir, but do you have on hand any physical proof that your claims are true? Anything at all?”
Ithuriel said, “I am not offended at all, Ophan Lahatiel. After all, I am a scientist. You are simply asking for falsifiable evidence which you can examine for yourself, and this wouldn’t be science at all if I could not comply. Certainly when you find yourself in the Sol system only a number of days from now that will constitute sufficient proof, but I can validate my discovery now, in this instant.”
He caused a square monitor to flip up out of the tabletop. A lighted keyboard appeared on the surface of the table. After working for a moment, he caused a broadcast from a popular news network based out of Earth to be displayed on two wall panels so everyone could see it. An extraordinarily beautiful news anchor was describing the run-up of various gubernatorial races as they faced off-year elections in the United States of America, scheduled to take place approximately a month after she was speaking, on Tuesday, November 8, 1977. On the red byline superimposed over her at the bottom of the screen, the current date was given in yellow text: Thursday, October 6, 1977.
Ithuriel said, “I recorded this broadcast from Earth just in the last few weeks using instruments aboard one of our space ‘trucks’ after it made the crossing. It’s a small one-man vehicle we use to service and inspect the exterior of the space station or even to travel to Palato if need be. But it is not large enough to stock sufficient oxygen and water and food for a round-trip using the FTL device, and I am confident that Adnarel can tell all of us exactly why that is true.”
“Yes sir. When you transit between stars you might barely have the skill to hit your target bubble, but exactly where you end up on that target bubble is a complete crapshoot.”
“Very good! I would have used different language, but that’s exactly right. You can see that my space truck arrived at Sol on October the 6th to record that broadcast, but when it came back here to the Rigilkent system it was not very close to the observatory at all. I anticipate its arrival here in five more days.
“But I offer this recent broadcast as proof that my claims are true. If I simply picked them off the air from here, it would not be the fall of 1977 but rather the spring of 1973, which in fact is what the Universal Time signal purports to be. Of course I could have cheated and sent my space truck through the ID Grid to Sol, much as Hadraniel himself did last year when he flew to Europa to make field observations for his paper on exobiology, so you’re back to faith once more, faith that I am a man of science and not a charlatan. I offer the existence of the sub-macro as support that I am not the latter.”
Barakiel said, “Then sir, I gather you have never tested FTL with a live subject?”
“No, Erel, as a matter of fact, when the space truck returns and we install the FTP Pod in Exiler, you and your crewmates will be my ‘guinea pigs’, so to speak. But I know of absolutely no reason to be afraid.”
Still, Barakiel didn’t look very happy at the prospect.
Ithuriel smiled and presented Barakiel with a binder filled with data which his navigation panel could interpret. “Here is the fruit of all our work here at the observatory, young Erel Barakiel. These are the positions and proper motions of thousands of nearby stars, pinned down to a very small margin of error.”
“Thank you, sir!”
“Ophan Lahatiel, I have just given your navigator the keys to the universe. In five days I will provide the FTL Pod. My price is passage aboard your ship for myself, my wife Jabniel, and my son Hadraniel. Passage to Taurus City in the Sol system. The rest of my people here will be unmolested by the Eyes of Mastema because they know very little of my work.”
“I agree to your price, Hashmal Ithuriel.”
“In five days time, sir, I shall require the presence of Ravmalak Kushiel as we transfer and install the FTL Pod on your ship. Until then, please continue to make yourself at home as best you can on my little space station, you and all your dependents. My people will enjoy meeting and coming to know all of you, and they will attend to your every need. Anything at all.”
After a curt bow to Ithuriel and Lahatiel and their son Hadraniel, Lahatiel backed away respectfully. Followed by Suriel and the rest of the Exiler crew the officers departed from the presence of the Imperial Astronomer.
Most of the crew of Exiler were largely tied down by the companions they had brought along, but Sar Adnarel was free to date one of the station’s inhabitants. She attracted the eye of Ithuriel’s valet, a man named Yomael, and in his relatively lavish quarters he more than satisfied the curiosity she always had about what it would be like to bed one of the humans of the Sol system. She discovered to her delight that human-nephilim sex was not as awkward as she imagined.
Ithuriel wasn’t joking when he said his people would provide anything at all.
They spent at least an hour enjoying each other’s body. Adnarel moved rhythmically on top of him while he cupped her breasts in his hands or ran his fingertips over her smooth thighs, shiny now with a layer of sweat. She looked down at him, and the word bestiality ran through her mind. Yomael was at the far end of the body-hair bell curve, his face and body were covered with what could only be described as brown fur. Adnarel’s very enthusiastic vocal response to her orgasm in turn triggered Yomael to have his own orgasm. For about maybe a full minute, a long time as such things go, the two of them literally went crazy. Andarel would certainly never forget it.