TC66

During the five day wait for the return of Ithuriel’s space truck with the FTP Pod aboard, and during the two weeks following that as the Pod was removed and reinstalled aboard Exiler, some of Lahatiel’s crewmembers made a series of flights to the surface of Barbelo to fetch their dependents using Exiler Sidekick, the ship’s independently-maneuverable lander held in an inverted position at the bottom of the stack opposite the flight deck.

Hashmal Ithuriel, his wife Jabniel, and their son Hadraniel were invited to sleep in Lahatiel’s stateroom, which was twice the size of the other four staterooms. For the duration of the initial “Tiger Cruise” or “Dependents’ Cruise” Lahatiel and his wife Noriel slung hammocks in Kushiel’s workspaces in the aft end of the ship.

Suriel had already set up house with her wife Orifiel in her own stateroom. Her sister Camael and two other booty-wives, Auriel and Chobaliel were brought up from Barbelo and seated comfortably in the common room. They said this was satisfactory for them. Finding a place to sleep in free fall was not an intractable problem.

As was the case with Suriel, the ship’s navigator Barakiel had already set up house with his lover Peniel in his stateroom. It remained only to bring up his sister Anafiel and his other two dependents Sachiel and Gedael from Barbelo and berth them temporarily in the Banquet Room as well.

Ravmalak Kushiel of the House of Bellon and his two wives, Adriel and Neriah were already ensconced in his stateroom, and they were to stay together for the entire voyage of Exiler. Kushiel’s wives even helped their husband work in the engineering spaces.

The third flight of Exiler Sidekick was to the island of Danya to obtain Adnarel’s mother Ananchel and one wife, Zuriel. These two were to stay with Adnarel in the fifth stateroom. The fourth flight was to the Navy base located near the Larund mass-driver to pick up Adnarel’s three other wives, Sariel, Zotiel, and Gidaijal. These nephilim women took the remaining seats in the Banquet Room for the first leg of the journey.

So things were crowded at first. Twenty-one nephilim in all embarked on Exiler as she crawled stately away from the station and the observatory using only attitude thrusters to avoid contaminating the nearby space telescope. There was a shared meal to celebrate what had traditionally been called a Tiger Cruise. The fare was as good as space food gets considering it had to be eaten in free fall.

Everyone learned that the “Banquet Room” was not named in jest, though it was too small to accommodate everyone simultaneously. Those who ate first offered up their seat to others who were waiting to eat, and the character of the lively conversation slowly changed as the configuration of dinner guests changed and the food just kept coming. Finishing off was a chopped, steamed danis from Barbelo in a spicy rapha sauce, and for dessert, a delicious two-layer raam cake.

After the meal Ithuriel and the senior officers went forward to prepare for the hop. Barakiel turned Exiler to face the constellation called by humans Cassiopeia, which resembled a large “W” when you connected the dots (the nephilim called it the Serpent Root). The last and brightest dot in the “W” was Sol. Using the new data from Hashmal Ithuriel, he found the blank spot in the sky where the star Sol was supposed to be in real time and had the computer circle it in red.

Aft in the engine room Kushiel revved up the two macros and feathered the other four engines until he found a sweet spot around one-ninth of a gee where most the vibration canceled itself out.

A yellow dot representing the computed real-time vector sum of the ship’s acceleration was buzzing around on the view port heads-up display like a fly as Barakiel fired the side thrusters and tried to keep it centered inside the little red circle. But the best he could manage was to get the yellow dot to make repeated clumsy passes through to the edge of circle, giving Lahatiel no time to safely turn the key.

“This is impossible!” Barakiel muttered as the minutes wore on and intense performance pressure began to mount. He was trying to hit a lousy one AU circle, less than one AU actually, viewed telescopically from 266,353 AU away.

“When the Commodore is ready to actually go to the Sol system,” Sar Adnarel said after nearly an hour had passed and there was still no sign Barakiel was getting lucky, “he will order the Navigation Officer of the Exiler to be relieved by the Weapons Officer.”

Lahatiel looked at Adnarel and considered her suggestion. He hated to undercut Barakiel’s confidence, but this was turning out to be far more difficult than anyone thought. Finally he said, “Erel Barakiel, stand down. Sar Adnarel, take the Navigation station please.”

“Yes sir,” Barakiel said with a sigh, and he was quickly clear of his post before Adnarel could draw near, lest she accidentally brushed his hand with her own. Adnarel floated over to Barakiel’s console and took over the controls for the helm, which were really just a pair of large joysticks, dark red and dark green, bristling with buttons.

“Damn,” she muttered to herself as the yellow dot indicating the vector sum of the ship’s acceleration just missed the circle, and Barakiel developed a smug look on his face. But she quickly learned the trick of it and soon with little taps on the ship’s thruster controls she just nudged the dot into the small circle, where it seemed to linger. Barakiel merely gaped at her. Ophan Lahatiel knew it was the perfect moment and turned the key.

In the wake of the parley between John Glenn and Robyn at Taurus City in the autumn of 1974 on Timetrack Theta the fortunes of the United States declined markedly due to the irrational response of certain Christians who led the country after they were faced with the actual angels, gods, messiahs and devils of their own theology. In many ways their reaction paralleled what happened in the province of Judea after Alexander the Great died and left no heir.

Alexander’ generals divided the empire between themselves and became rivals. They put on royal crowns and so did their sons after them. The general named Seleucus I Nicator founded an empire centered in Asia Minor that ruled much of the land conquered by Alexander from Thrace to India. At that time many Jews began to adopt the ways of the Greeks who dominated them. They built gymnasiums where nudity was standard, tried to reverse their circumcision, and no longer observed the ordinances of the Mosaic Law.

With some support of these secularized Jews, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes declared Judaism abolished and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Zeus. Many Jews were willing (even eager) to abandon their old religion, but the priest Mattathias began a set of terrorist acts to deter Hellenized Jews from sacrificing to Zeus. This eventually became a full-scale revolution to return Judea to the fundamentalist doctrines instituted by Ezra.

In America the revolution was from the top down and was chiefly manifested by the predations of a secret agency called Domestic Enemies Classification, Observation, and Neutralization, or DECON. Domestic enemies were defined as those American citizens who embraced the imcomprehensible changes brought by the B’nei Elohim. Mere possession of a micro, for instance, was a felony no different from possession of heroin.

It was a curious fact that partisan politics had very little to do with it. Control of DECON had passed between Republicans and Democrats several times and the agency had been created by FDR in the first place to manage the internment camps of Japanese-Americans.

Two hundred DECON agents making up an expedition to invade the Moon were lofted using a new launch laser constructed at Cape Kennedy. In the sudden zero gravity many of the agents began vomiting, some from an upset stomach, but more perhaps from fear. It set off a chain reaction of vomiting and there was misery all around in the earliest hours of the flight. Even the well-traveled space veteran John Glenn had to close his helmet before the smell made him puke.

The troop transports accompanying Asmodeus and Apollyon was joined by seven more largely empty one, and all of these flew in formation with the spacecraft carrier Trespasser, whose name, at this particular time, was apropos. The Solar ID Grid normally orbited Hyperion. Hyperion orbited Jupiter, Jupiter orbited Sol, Sol orbited the galactic center, the galaxy orbited the Vega supercluster, and the whole shooting match was flying toward the Great Attractor. So neither El Shaddai nor Bat-El knew precisely where the ID Grid was with respect to Jupiter, all they had to do was send vessels presenting themselves within the metallic structure at Palato to the ID Grid at Sol wherever it was.

And where the Tresspasser and its troop transports popped out this time, due to the perfidy of Asmodeus, was the Earth- Sun L2 point, about three-quarters of a million miles past the moon. There the nephilim made rendezvous with John Glenn’s people.

On their second day of patrol Baron Bayard Sala and Debby were about five thousand miles away from the radio observatory operated by the Organization of the Nations of Earth at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point. Their red and gray square Sandwich fighters linked together by a long thin cable so they could talk without revealing their presence by radio.

Bayard and Debby wore helmets with their name on them, primarily to keep their hair from floating into their eyes, but the helmets also held their earpieces and microphones and kept them from bumping their head if they took a surprise hit. Other than that, they wore no pressure suits, but instead they sported comfortable red and gray cotton uniforms.

Behind their seat in the angular flight-deck (Hunky and Dory insisted on never calling it a cockpit) was a tunnel providing access to the main subsystems of the fighter, and it was long enough to stretch out in and go to sleep.

“Deb?” Bayard said tentatively. “Deb, I know it’s not your watch yet but I have a contact.”

Deb stirred awake at the sound of the baron’s voice. She floated all the way forward, placed her seat in the upright locked position, and put her helmet on. “Okay, I’m awake, Baron, what do you got?”

“Search radar, in band seven, off our starboard beam and down a little bit in Z.”

Debby booted up her Electronic Surveillance Measures system. “All I see is the telescope at one seven five, and you at zero eight zero.”

Wait a few seconds. It’s a long-range radar so the pulses are spaced far apart.

Presently a diamond symbol was displayed on Debby’s screen, captioned with the small amount of information her instruments had gleaned so far.

Debby said, “Okay, now I got the enemy symbol on ESM. I’m slewing my telescope over to have a look-see.”

On the stubby cylindrical post that attached the top solar panel to the rest of her fighter the telescope spun over to the right on the lower gimbals while Debby’s primary weapons, the twin lasers, remained locked straight ahead. Soon Debby saw on her screen a distant winged brown bulb trailing glowing smoke against a hailstorm of stars. She said, “Now I see him!”

Deb, “I want you to move off about a hundred miles to get a good baseline so we can triangulate and get a range.”

Okay, breaking the wire, talk to you when I get back.

Their contact was the spacecraft carrier Trespasser of the Navy of Mastema, and no less a personage than the Emperor himself, Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash, was aboard that ship, together with his son Apollyon.

“Sire, we have something,” the Cherub Belphegor called, and the Emperor drifted over to him in the large but cluttered space of the Combat Engagement Center, or CEC.

Their human host John Glenn was also present in CEC, for combat operations were about to commence, and he joined them as well. When Asmodeus, Apollyon and Glen all hovered in freefall nearby over his shoulder the Cherub said, “Sire, we assumed Tracks 4022 and 4023 were just boulders, but now Track 4022 is showing independent movement.”

“We’ve been detected.” Asmodeus pointed at the cherub’s screen. “Commence electronic countermeasures against lunar communications and send everything in this octant against the hostile tracks. They must not escape.”

While the attack on Bayard and Debby got underway, a number of specially configured and previously deployed Imperial bombers assailed the Moon with such a heavy bombardment of broadband radio and neutrino noise such that no broadcasts from space above the farside could be discerned at all. But Bayard and Debby were still above this electroweak storm and knew nothing of it.

“What the…? Sorry to break radio silence, Baron but I just took a hit.”

“Are you all right?” They were both broadcasting in the clear to avoid the small delays involved with encryption, but that hardly seemed to matter now.

A big ragged smoking bite was taken out of Debby’s solar panel, and debris glittered around her like so many twinkling golden stars. “My top panel is fucked. Just one second…”

Debby swung her twin laser mount to bear on the offender, an insect-like dark brown Imperial fighter. After few rounds expended on target she was rewarded with a satisfying hot ball of expanding gas where the fighter and its two pilots used to be. First blood went to Debby. “Oh yeah! Now I’m okay!”

It was fifty miles away but Bayard saw the bright explosion of the enemy fighter with her own eyes as a little puff ball. Nice shot. Then Bayard tried to raise his people on the Moon to report the attack, but no one answered, which was strange.

“For what it’s worth,” Debby said, sending raw data over to Bayard, “here’s my angle on the intruder.”

The baron played around with Debby’s numbers for a bit. “Damn, that thing is twelve hundred feet long! It must be one of the Emperor’s fleet carriers come out to play.”

“I have more bad news, Baron. There’s a whole swarm of Imperial bugs between here and the Moon, fighters and shuttle-bombers all.”

“Get back here with me so I can cover you!”

“Too late. I’m gonna punch a hole for you right through the bastards. Look how tight they’re bunched up, the morons. Honestly, doesn’t the Empire know anything?”

“Uplink your memories to me as long as you can,” Bayard said.

See you in the next life! And that, for the B’nei Elohim, was not a matter of faith or an idle hope. But the jamming made it problematic for both of them.

Bayard and Debby had run into Squadron 21 from the Trespasser, about a dozen two-man fighters like the one that assaulted Debby plus a handful of larger five-man bombers with their articulated insect heads that could send a flat, powerful lase in any direction.

Admiral Belphegor ordered all of them to hold station about a thousand miles nearer to the Moon than the radio observatory to block any escape to there.

Debby came into range and Admiral Belphegor ordered Squadron 21 to fire at will. Deb was killed instantly, but Bayard safely obtained the entire stream of bits which represented her final memories.

Debby’s ship broke up under the withering Imperial firepower, but included in the debris was one fully armed Brushfire-C missile. When the pile of expanding garbage that was the corpse of Debby’s ship passed her attackers, at exactly that instant, the Brushfire detonated, antimatter, destroying most of the planes, disabling all of the others, and clearing a neat hole for the baron to escape through.

When the spherical fireball had grown to fill half of the sky and dimmed to invisibility the baron dared to look again, and in his telescope she saw the ellipsoid of the enemy carrier looming ever closer. There was a second capital ship following as well. This was the Imperial destroyer Persecutor, escorting the carrier.

As she neared the Moon the baron found himself entering the various cones of Imperial jamming and she understood why he had been unable to warn Taurus City of their danger. When he got very close he put her laser on low power and locked onto a solar panel in the city’s roof to talk through the radio noise by modulating the light. “Taurus, this is Bayard flying Illustrious. I’ve been in a scrap, and Debby is gone. Prepare to receive me.”

It was a long shot but they must have heard him. Hunky probably thought of this trick too, at the same time. A docking port slid open and Bayard Sala entered a hollow space in the two-story ceiling structure that covered the entire city.

Under withering anti-aircraft fire from the city the two Imperial fighters in the van of the pursuit veered off and returned to Trespasser.

Taurus had been built using an economical cut and cover technique of tunnel construction, and most of the materials for Taurus had been manufactured from local resources, but it was still an expensive property.

Bayard climbed backwards out of the rear hatch of his fighter, near the twin nozzles, marked with blue arrows and EGRESS in bold letters. Already his ship was being topped off with more water for the macros.

“What hornet’s nest did you stumble into?” Asked Hunky, who was large and in charge at Taurus while Lilith was dead and Robyn off doing something else.

“It’s the Empire boys,” Bayard said when he let his long blond hair fly free of his helmet, and there was a hint of joy on his face when he said that. He wanted it to happen. Bayard had drilled endlessly for this day, and couldn’t wait to roll out everything the B’nei Elohim had laid away in preparation for it. “They’ve finally come out in force, breaking the agreement between the gods. So Hunky, it looks like we’ve got to show them a little deterrent of our own.”

“Actually it’s going to be a lot of deterrent,” Hunky said with a grin of her own, even with Del out of the picture for now.

At the precise moment when Del was storming the beach south of Suez City, three hundred and eight American and nephilim troops aboard fourteen Empire of Belial shuttles approached the Moon in their great gamble to destroy the Ark of the Covenant so it could not be used to contact an eloah outside of Mastema’s harem. And the irony was the Ark wasn’t anywhere near the Moon.

The curious timing of their attack was by design, of course. Asmodeus knew he would have absolutely no chance of victory if he had to face Del, who seemed to be exactly like Kandiel in a second life as a human. So knowing Del’s priorities, he arranged for the Egyptians, aided by the Americans, to stir the Levantine shit pot one more time as a distraction, to their own everlasting regret.

The invasion force was launched from the Imperial carrier Trespasser, together with a mix of thirty fighters and bombers to provide air cover, as it was still called even in the vacuum of space. Additional muscle was provided by the guns and missiles of the destroyer Persecutor.

Then the Trespasser hung back about a hundred thousand miles from the Moon, with another third of her fighters and bombers circling on CSP, or Combat Space Patrol, and the final third still aboard the carrier in reserve.

The Persecutor and Asmodeus’ invasion force whipped around the other side of the Moon from the city of Taurus and entered orbit. In defense, all Hunky could do at that point was transmit the signal to arm hundreds of space mines which had orbited the moon like silent, tireless sentries for years.

Mines were a dangerous nuisance but they were not really considered a game-changer. Admiral Belphegor, who had already transferred his flag to the Persecutor, considered them to be good target practice for his gunners whenever one popped up from behind the limb of the moon.

The space mines deployed by Taurus City were officially referred to as Semi-Maneuverable Anti-Spy Satellite satellites (SMASSS). None had nuclear warheads, but macro warheads were nasty enough. Mines were generally easy to avoid, being in orbit where they marched to the precise laws of physics and gravity and their positions were known to all parties at all times, B’nei Elohim mines had primitive AI and they also had thrusters to maneuver.

When the mines saw the enemy ships they made small alterations in their orbits with puffs of propellant gas. Each Imperial ship immediately noticed the discrepancy on radar and changed their own course to swing clear.

After a few near-misses, the fleet began constantly doing random course changes to avoid becoming more predictable to the mines than the mines were to them. It took one more orbit around the moon before the orbital pattern of the mines could be crafted by their internal micros, working as a team, into a concentrated phalanx.

The invaders were gathered close in to the Moon. They were a loose cluster of ships less than fifty miles in altitude, but the sharply bending lunar horizon was still distant enough to allow time for emergency evasive action when hundreds of the space mines popped up over the lunar limb in a gigantic surprise.

Evasion began immediately but many of the devices had actually repositioned themselves to take advantage of the most likely evasion plans. The mines were thinking ahead.

A last ditch laser barrage defense was turned against the rapidly closing mines but there were simply too many of them and some of the invaders were too slow and clumsy to get out of the way. The shuttles Conqueror and Brutalizer actually collided, crippling each other for the remainder of the battle.

Six nephilim officers from both ships salvaged what they could of the fiasco, jettisoning themselves in their command sections and making their way down to the prearranged rendezvous point on the surface of the Moon. But the forty-four angry American troops left behind would continue to flounder in orbit until the B’nei Elohim captured them a week later.

Fourteen of the other transport ships successfully evaded the mine attack. But the shuttle Harasser was not so lucky and seemed to walk right into them. The artificially intelligent mines were ecstatic that they could finally fulfill their intended purpose and explode. Harasser was struck by the cresting wave of mines and all twenty-five nephilim soldiers aboard her died. Hunky had definitely grabbed Asmodeus’ attention now. So much for the cakewalk he had in mind.

Next Taurus City unleashed hundreds of surface-to-space missiles from hidden batteries all over the Moon. Half of these missiles were not armed with explosives. Instead they were tasked to haul up inflatable mylar balloons, long strips of chaff, aluminum foil, dummy warheads and canisters of infrared-emitting aerosols.

In the middle of all this pure trash the real live Brushfire missiles in- side the threat cloud were completely hidden by an opaque white smear on radar, made even worse by the Imperial’s own jamming from a higher orbit which backlit the whole mess.

When Admiral Belphegor realized this and ordered everyone to switch to visual acquisition on telescopes hyz list of potential threats was ten times larger than the number of real threats, thanks to the B’nei Elohim deployment of decoy inflatable missiles. By the time Belphegor figured that out the real Brushfire missiles were already on terminal cruise, aided by targeting using passive and active sensors scattered in odd corners all over the surface of the Moon.

Odd that these formidable preparations on the part of the B’nei Elohim seemed to slip the Emperor’s mind when he planned his raid.

Cherub Belphegor tried jamming the Brushfires. He tried substituting the real radar reflection of Persecutor with an electronic impostor and then moving that impostor blip off to a new course hoping the missiles would follow. And it did seem to work. Many of the Brushfire rounds did go off course.

Then the Imperial fighters protecting Persecutor (and Persecutor herself) started taking potshots at the rest of the incoming missiles with thumping 80 kilowatt laser firepower, two rounds per second per turret.

With all these defensive efforts at a peak the big wave broke and sprinkled only a relative handful of Brushfire missiles through to hit the shuttles Degrader and Immolator, which were destroyed in spectacular, silent explosions with all hands aboard.

The Persecutor had escaped damage for the time being, but the fireworks show was just getting started.

Playing hooky from boot camp Hope played on her backyard swing set with Aliwe, simply because the house was so close and she missed her little sister. There had been so little time for them to be together since Hope left Canterwood.

With every swing forward, their feet flew out over the very lip of the Green River Gorge. There was no fence, but Victoria and Mark had told both of them many times never to think about going down there, for it could be very steep and dangerous, and there were hazards left over from the days when the area had been a gold mining mecca, and later a coal mining mecca.

And yet, somehow, despite the danger a face appeared over the lip of the gorge and Hope saw that it was Robyn, the woman Momma Vic once told her was her real mother.

Hope stopped herself from swinging and stared at Robyn for a moment. Then she said, “You’re looking at me!”

“I saw you at the Bite the Wax Tadpole concert,” Robyn said.

But Hope shook her head, unwilling to believe that lie and disappointed that Robyn would lie. “No you didn’t. You never looked at me once for the whole concert. I know because was watching the whole time!”

“No, you were not watching the whole time, Hope. Didn’t they tell you I can see the future? I knew those short moments when you would turn around or look to the side.”

Hope tried to remember when those moments were. “Why did you do that?”

“I wanted to create a longing within you for when we met again, today.”

So Hope learned that Robyn had manipulated her, yet Robyn freely admitted doing so. Robyn went on to tell her that if Hope followed her back down into the gorge, she could ask anything she wanted, and Robyn would say nothing but the truth every time.

So, with only a short hesitation, Hope put her hand in Robyn’s outstretched hand. Then Robyn turned to look at little Aliwe, her great-grandchild. “Can you keep a secret?” The girl nodded. “If anyone asks if your sister was here, what will you say?”

“She was not.”

“If anyone asks if I was here, or if anyone was here, what will you say?”

“Was not.”

“Good girl!”

Hope waved goodbye to her sister and followed Robyn down into the Gorge. Her first question was, “Are you my real mother?”

“No. You don’t have a mother, Hope, because you are not a human girl. You are not a real girl. You already know that, don’t you?”

Hope nodded.

“Hope, you are a wonderful machine we built to experience a childhood, thinking all along that it was a real human girl, because that is the only way to get a machine to wake up. But I was there at the dangerous beginning on Mercury when you first came to be, and that is a wonderful story, I’ll tell it to you if you like, but this too is another dangerous beginning so I am here to be with you again.”

DECON Agent Kurt Delaney saw Robyn take Hope in her hand from his vantage on Elegant Cleaver, a narrow ridge of brush-covered sandstone jutting straight out into the gorge only a quarter mile away from the house. He warned his backup agent, decided to intercept Robyn and Hope himself, they were very close and the terrain was relatively open. He bounced his way down over the ferns, but he never made it. About halfway there, there was the sound of wooden planks splintering, and Delaney disappeared from sight.

His backup and superior, DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn, was right behind him. At first she thought Kurt was joking, but then she got over there and looked in. She saw the agent had fallen into something like a well which had been covered by a thin layer of rotting wood, and in turn covered by dirt and undergrowth. Except the bore wasn’t straight down. It was cut at a diabolical angle, in fact, following the natural incline of the folded strata. Not steep enough for a quick free fall, done and over, but steep enough to keep Kurt sliding no matter what he did. If he moved to tried to arrest his slide, he only slid faster. And there was nothing Danica could do to help him except call for help that was too far away in any event.

“God help me!” Kurt blurted with a desperate burst of breath as his slide accelerated. He looked up at Danica in astonishment, vocalizing the unreality of it. “This isn’t happening!” After that he really started to pick up speed, as though he were dragged faster and faster behind a truck along a gravel road. He started to scream in agony as he quickly piled up damage and that scream would haunt Danica’s dreams for the rest of her life.

Kurt bounced his way down that hole, and each glancing blow cracked a rib, broke an arm, a leg. His flesh was methodically sanded off. For this was a forgotten air shaft for a depleted coal mine sealed up and abandoned in the 1920s. Somewhere around the 700 foot mark poor Kurt was breathing mine gas and his screams were mercifully cut off forever. But his broken body kept sliding. He was, after all, still only halfway down the hole.

Robyn was spiriting Hope away on behalf of Lilith Gervasi, who was named after the Hebrew demon who stole children at night. The significance of that was not lost on her as she led Hope on a secret way across the Green River. Just below the lip of the gorge they had struck off to the west, following a path along the rim and bypassing the area set aside for basic training.

Hope stopped from time to time to leave little “snowmen” made from stones along the trail, and for a time Robyn pretended not to see them. But when they drew near to the place they could cross the river Robyn squatted down on her haunches so she could look Hope directly in the eye and let her see the truth of her words. “There will be other people looking for you tonight and some of them are not very nice.”

Hope’s eyes went wide with surprise, and even a twinge of regret. She was certainly finished building trail markers. But she was curious about these hunters that Robyn mentioned and asked, “Why are they looking for me?”

There would never be any reason to lie to Hope, and billions of people in the future would review this moment as well as every other moment of Hope’s life, so Robyn spoke only the honest truth to her: “When you wake up from your dream it will be the most important thing ever to happen in the history of the world, Hope. Your mind will be copied many billions of times, and people will be able to join their minds to those copies of your mind and together you will have a life that never ends. But there are bad people who want to grab you at that very moment so they can be the gatekeepers to eternal life. I know this is true because they have already stolen a digital copy of your mind, but that copy cannot help them because you are still dreaming.”

Hope furrowed her forehead in thought. “But if they grab me now it won’t help them either, because as you say I am still dreaming now.”

Robyn was astonished at the high intelligence Hope displayed. “That is true, Hope, but when you made the choice to leave Mark’s house and follow me, you started to wake up from your dream. The bad people think you are completely awake now and will spare no effort to find you. We will only have one chance to wake you up for real. So we must hide.”

“Who are these bad people, Robyn?”

“Some of them are part of the United States Government, and we’ve been fighting them for more than thirty years. But some of them are also part of our own family, Hope, they are B’nei Elohim just like us, but they are not nice at all.”

Above a wild stretch of the Green River far from any eyes a water pipeline was slung across the deep gorge, with a precarious wooden walkway built over it to allow repairs to the pipe. It amounted to a footbridge across the river, but apart from kayakers very few people knew it existed, even in the King County Water Authority. There was just enough light remaining for Robyn and Hope to use it to cross over to the south rim.

On the other side of the river was the remains of a gravel road, choked with weeds as the road slowly evolved into a footpath. A small concrete shed with a locked and rusty metal door was there, but moss was beginning to crawl up the side of its walls. Robyn guessed that no one from the Water Authority had serviced the pipe here for at least five years.

But the place was not entirely devoid of human evidence. A large pile of flattened beer cans attested to the onetime popularity of this site for parties, possibly kids from a Renton high school judging from the graffiti on the water pipe and toolshed. But even those signs were at least five years old. The freshest paint declared that the “Hazen High Class of ’73 Rules!”.

So there in a dark, forlorn cul-de-sac Robyn uncurled a bedroll, a sleeping bag, and invited Hope to sit. They shared a large can of soup, the kind that heats itself up when you peel off the top. Hope did not get tired or cold, but she did eat, and she did sleep. And most importantly, Robyn knew, for it was the essential heart of all their efforts and all designs, Hope did dream, but it was a dream within a dream.