TCI


The ancient world war on Barbelo united the Middle Land under House Gerash
and brought House Bellon under their direct rule. House Antero became trib-
utary to the Empire of Thaumiel while House Sala, at the recommendation of
Lady Haziel long before, radically decentralized themselves over their en-
tire land to become a uniquely undesirable target. Only the Black Beards of
House Larund remained defiant and vulnerable to assault from the avatar of
Thaumiel.

But Thaumiel learned to his great consternation that the more he assailed
House Larund, the greater their impetus to resist. He realized his attacks
were only stoking the fires of a relentless technological advance as the
Black Beards focused on solving the problem of stopping the air attacks. So
Mastema relented and took his avatar out of the equation. The pace of inno-
vation among House Larund cooled to smouldering embers, but never truly
went out.

In time the pre-space faring inhabitants of Barbelo developed an elaborate
Techno Age culture which began under House Larund and spread gradually to
the other lands along the equatorial belt of the planet. The so-called
Techno War broke out some forty years later, abruptly ending the three cen-
turies of the Long Peace. Houses Sala and Larund fought Houses Gerash and
Bellon head-to-head, with House Antero caught in the middle as the objec-
tive and the Red Beard lands as the primary battle ground.

The Techno War began as a brutal “railroad war” accompanied by hostile ac-
tion between self-propelled wooden and iron steam ships on the various riv-
ers and seas of Barbelo. Mass production using standardized parts rapidly
equipped both sides with arms and war materiel.

In terms of weaponry Family Larund and their Gold Beard allies had a clear
qualitative edge, but a temporary superiority of defensive weapons technol-
ogy over offensive weaponry soon brought movement to a complete standstill.
As the conflict dragged on, the introduction of chemical warfare and rapid-
fire weapons made the battle fronts intolerable. A generation of young men
on both sides were chewed up like so much paper in a shredder.

Analog computers were developed to aid in the direction of cannon fire and
Barbelo ran into a rut where the digital electronics paradigm never oc-
curred to them. Telephone and wireless radio were developed for more effec-
tive command and control of the battlefield. Eventually submarines preying
on supply ships ultimately decided the war in favor of the Empire of Maste-
ma.

Since Barbelo was a highly militarized society, there was little in the way
of civilian applications driving the advance of technology. Barbelo never
experienced a golden age of radio and television, nor did they ever con-
struct a global computer network. The film industry of 20th Century Earth
would have been considered a decadent waste of time. Human creativity on
Barbelo tended to be expressed solely through printed literature and live
performances. Science progressed solely as a spin-off of military research.

New weapons were developed to keep a second and far worse industrialized
civil war from breaking out between the families. This process reached a
pinnacle when nuclear technology was developed, as well as rockets capable
of delivering them to any point on the planet. After that, there was no
possibility of the Gerash patriarch (the nephilim extension of the Eloah
named Thaumiel) being unseated from the throne by a direct assault.

But this was a temporary victory at best. For the way had been cleared that
led to Thaumiel’s ultimate doom as a living sun. It was now only a matter
of time and a matter of who Thaumiel would take down with him. And so mat-
ters stood when the Academy at Canterwood in the land of Haaretz was estab-
lished.

Too bright to look at, yet giving almost no heat, the shrunken welding-arc
white sun hangs in the purple northern sky as the warmer bloated orange sun
sinks in the west. When the army truck driven by the Erel named Raziel tops
a pass high on a terminal moraine he sees a sheer wall of slowly retreating
ice across a wide zone of freshly uncovered land still being carved by
melt.

Thirty ji tall, the blue-white ice barrier stretches left and right to sink
over the horizon. This is the edge of the awesome Northern Ice that covers
almost half the world. Behind Raziel’s truck lies a mere twenty-five hun-
dred ji of unfrozen land reaching to the Southern Ice. The Ice is slowly
melting over the centuries. Only in one place, near the capital city, do
the two ice packs come close together across the narrow equatorial belt of
Barbelo and kiss, but in the distant past, in the time of Haziel and the
World War, there were three such bridges, dividing Barbelo into three
lands.

The four-lane concrete ribbon winds down the other side of the pass and
straightens out, a low elevated highway that disregards the shifting waters
under it as it makes a beeline for the base of the wall.

Raziel’s passenger Beleth is hyz older sister and only surviving wife. Once
hy had four wives, two of them hyz sisters, befitting hyz rank in the mid-
dle eschelon of the Army of Mastema. But as was so often the case in a ha-
rem situation, jealousies erupted, one wife was murdered by another, and
Raziel himself strangled the guilty wife to death, more out of wrath that
sha had brought hyz career to an abrupt halt than to avenge hyz dead young-
er sister.

A third wife died after an extended illness. Sha had been the sister of hyz
opponent in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system mandated by the
Law of Thaumiel from the time of the World War. Now, with only one yin to
wager, advancement to flag rank was out of the question. Raziel is damaged
goods and even hyz promotion to Hashmal is long overdue.

Raziel has been diverted from combat to a more sedate role in logistics,
and in the supply world, after the self-reinforcing bravado of battle com-
mand fell away, hy felt a healthy fear of death return to hym. Raziel drove
closer to the blue and white wall until it grew to half their world. They
could see the cliff was literally vertical, and even a little more than
vertical. “If one of those overhangs decide to sheer off right now,” hy
points out needlessly, “we’re dead.” A high ridge of ice and snow that lay
on both sides of the road attested to the constant clearing that was need-
ed.

“Experimentalism,” Beleth says, without any sign of worry about the ice,
“contrary to popular belief, can, if implemented properly, allow one of the
freest possible societies.”

The dangerous period is short. Soon the highway enters a tunnel melted into
the very base of the ice. The pale blue translucent walls grow darker until
they are black. They are now safe, but to Beleth the tunnel is a kind of
death anyway. The shrinking glow behind har could well be har last sight of
Barbelo. From now until they departed the planet sha would know only cav-
erns.

Raziel sighs. “Push for Experimentalism and you rank up there with King
Melchizedek, who rallied hyz city under the banner of Haziel and killed
thousands of hyz own people.”

“I rather think it was your own Army of Thaumiel did the killing.”

“Suicide by Thaumiel. You have to be pretty stupid and gullible and naive
to think Experimentalism can work.”

“Why can’t everyone determine what is good for the public in Experimental-
ism?” Beleth suggests. “You can have Democratic Experimentalism. What do we
have now? Traditionalism. One person can determine what is good for many,
but the many cannot determine what is good for themselves?”

“Beleth, there is a fatal flaw at the heart of Democracy. People are natu-
rally lazy. They want free stuff. In a pure democracy, everyone will simply
vote themselves sustenance from the Commons and no one will contribute. The
whole structure will come crashing down. This has happened many times be-
fore, which is why only Traditionalism has survived.”

Construction in ice is simple; it needs only a source of heat and a flexi-
ble conduit to whisk the melted water away. Deep within the ice the road
twists this way and that, finally dumping out in a multilevel city of bur-
rows, bristling with security.

“Look up tunnel 610 on the map, this isn’t familiar to me.”

“It’s coming up on the left. Ugh, I’m carsick now. I never could read and
ride.”

“I was thrown off by that sign for 910.”

“This map has a blurb at the bottom that says, ‘with apologies to
Zelebsel.’ Who’s Zelebsel?”

“Probably some poor fellow who trusted an earlier edition of the map.”
Tunnel 610 is interrupted by a series of several checkpoints and it was
only Raziel’s credentials as a supply officer that gets hym through the
gates with a long skinny gray box of ordnance strapped down on hyz flatbed
trailer. Hyz manifest is not in order. It would not do to allow even a
quick glance inside the box.

The road dead-ends in a large illuminated cave that is the lay-down area
for supplies coming in and going out of the facility. Raziel is expected.
The box is quickly forked off the truck and disappears inside the bowels of
the facility.

Raziel and Beleth themselves are taken to a well-lit conference room deep
within a maze of passageways carved into the ice. They are given warmer
clothes to wear, because the chill is eternal and omnipresent. Space heat-
ers would only melt the walls.

Presently they are joined by three yeng and a yin, and Raziel is mildly
surprised when the yin begins speaking rather than one of the males. Sha
says, “My name is Tabaet. These yeng are members of my team. They are
Malkiel, Senciner, and Xaphon.”

“Your team?” Raziel gasps. “They answer to you? And Thaumiel permits this?
Sha smiles. “Thaumiel permits much, because we do many things for him that
he could not have otherwise. The…equipment… you have delivered for us
was designed and assembled right here.”

Raziel takes har awkward speech as a signal that someone might be listening
to what was said in the room. And that presents a problem. It would be dif-
ficult conveying what had to be said while dancing around the actual words.
Hy nods hyz head to indicate hy understood the situation.

Tabaet says, “I would extend a full welcome to you, but this is a classi-
fied project, and your yin is uncleared.”

“I will not send my wife away away,” Raziel insists. “Where I go, sha goes.
You will have to get har a clearance. sha must be…fully involved…in the
project.”

“That is impossible,” Malkiel says. “You must be content to train one of us
to operate the…equipment. The project is of such a nature that only four
people can be…fully involved.”

“It is a condition of bringing the…equipment…that I remain the sole
operator. If you do not accept that condition, then you’ll have to content
yourself with an inert mass.”

“Time grows short,” Senciner objects. “With any delay the risk grows.”

Raziel smiles. “It is the unique nature of this…equipment…that any rea-
sonable delay is irrelevant.”

Tabaet sighs and comes to a decision. “Very well. We have a simulator. Xa-
phon will instruct you in hyz role, and Malkiel will instruct your wife. I
will retain Senciner on the team. When you are both fully involved in the
project, there will be opportunity to discuss this further.”

The yeng explode simultaneously with loud objections but a glance from Tab-
aet quickly silences them, and to Raziel, coming from a tradition that held
yin to be little more than personal property, that is an impressive thing
to witness. Beleth conceals a smile behind har hand.

Tabaet: Zero, we have commit, and we have liftoff at oh-two-thirteen uni-
versal time.

Raziel: Go all engines.

Beleth: We appear to have good thrust at this point.

Senciner: Haziel, we’re go here on the ascent. Begin your roll maneuver.

Raziel: Tabaet, at three clocks the dynamics computer says the trajectory
looks good.

Beleth: I show ten ji in altitude at this time.

Tabaet: Roll complete and we’re pitching.

Beleth: Altitude twenty-two ji, velocity seven ji per clock.

Raziel: Ten clocks. The trajectory on my plot board is right on the preplan
line.

Senciner: Through max vibration, and we’re go, Haziel.

Beleth: Husband, feel that weight!

Raziel: And the booster computer reports we are now through the region of
maximum dynamic pressure.

Tabaet: We’re EDS MANUAL.

Senciner: Thirteen clocks and we are go.

Beleth: Altitude now two hundred seventy ji.

Raziel: Engine five out.

Tabaet: Raziel that inboard out was way early.

Raziel: Acknowledged.

Tabaet: Senciner, confirm number five engine down.

Senciner: Affirmative, Haziel.

Raziel: You don’t see any problem with that though, do you?

Senciner: Negative, not right now Raziel. All the other engines are go.

Tabaet: The early shutdown of the center engine will cause no problem, we
will burn a little longer than normally scheduled.

Beleth: Coming up on five hundred ji altitude.

Senciner: Seventeen clocks. Trajectory’s good, thrust is good.

Beleth: We’re now six hundred ten ji high, seven hundred eighty, correc-
tion, seven hundred ji downrange.

Tabaet: Guidance initiate.

Senciner: And telemetry reports the guidance system is correcting our
eighty ji error.

Raziel: The guidance is good and the lander computer is go.

Beleth: We’re now at an altitude of nine hundred thirty ji.

Tabaet: The little red balls are right back on the little white lines up
here.

Beleth: We are at roughly four hundred ji per clock, twelve hundred fifty
ji in altitudeb&two thousand two hundred ji downrange.

Raziel: And our cabin pressure is sealed at point six one, which is normal.

Senciner, what was the story on engine five?

Senciner: I still don’t have a story on why that shutdown on five was ear-
ly, but the other engines were go, and we’re go, we’re still looking good,
our gimbals are good, trim is good.

Tabaet: Level sense arm time four eight clocks, nominal, predicted second
stage cutoff seven zero clocks.

Beleth: We are now six thousand two hundred ji in altitude, eighteen thou-
sand ji downrange.

Tabaet: Standing by for crew report of engine shutdown.

Beleth: ESD.

Raziel: Confirmed ESD, Captain.

Senciner: And the radar at first glance says we look good on the ascent
ellipse and the boosters are in ‘safe’ so thank you, everyone.

Tabaet says to Raziel and Beleth, “We are also free of being overheard by
anyone on Barbelo, so do you have any questions?”

“Senciner called you Haziel a couple of times back there,” Raziel mentions.

“That’s my real name. It wouldn’t do to be called that in the heart of
Thaumieldom, even if Thaumiel himself knows.”

“Did your parents have a soft spot in their heart for the Haziel of the
scriptures?”

“I am the Haziel of the scriptures.”

“How can I accept that as true?” Raziel asks. “Haziel hasn’t made a dent on
history for two thousand years.”

“It was out of self-preservation. Every act of possession dilutes the per-
sonality of the one who possesses.”

“Yet everyone knows Thaumiel has possessed the Gerash Patriarch generation
after generation since before the World War.”

“And Thaumiel has reaped dissolution. Little remains of his original psyche
except his malevolence.”

“I do not understand,” says Raziel. “You say you avoided serial possession
to avoid the fate of Thaumiel, yet you appear to be a yin of about forty
years of age, not two thousand forty.”

“I will explain myself shortly, but first I’d like to ask you a question.
Thaumiel has exactly ninety-two special weapons configured as missiles. How
did you, a mere erel, manage to obtain one of them?”

“Your question tells me you do not doubt the weapon is genuine.”

“That should come as no surprise,” sha says. “We ourselves manufactured and
assembled all ninety-two of these weapons, and Senciner has remotely veri-
fied the presence of the radioactive core.”

“Why would a Gold Beard like Senciner help do such a thing for Thaumiel?”

“House Sala is uniquely immune to such weapons,” Senciner says, “and with
the design of these warheads, Thamiel is obliged to support the development
of the means of delivery, such as the first and second stages of the round
itself and even this vehicle we are traveling in right now. That is Hazi-
el’s deeper purpose.”

“So you’re playing the long game.”

Haziel nods. “The only thing we do not know about your warshot is the code
that is now required to arm it. So if you would only arm the round at this
time, we can proceed to the next step, and I will answer your other ques-
tion.”

Raziel floats to Senciner’s console and replaces hym at that position,
where hy enters the code on a keypad. When Senciner resumes hyz place, hy
confirms the warhead is armed.

“Thank you Raziel.” Haziel’s relieved glance takes in both hym and Beleth,
and sha smiles. “Senciner and I welcome both of you aboard this historic
flight, which is the first penetration into space by nephilim since before
the Battle of Rumbek, and the first without using an avatar of the elohim.”

“Indeed,” Raziel says. “With the weapon now armed we could go head-to-head
against the very avatar of Thaumiel right now.”

“But that is not our purpose and you know it,” Haziel says. “Senciner, be-
gin moving to intercept the comet, accelerate to point zero three gravi-
ties.”

After Senciner complies with this order, Raziel prods Haziel. “Well?”

Haziel says, “It is true that Senciner and the rest of my people in the
launch complex know that I am the original Haziel, and even Thaumiel knows
it.He also knows that by using wormholes I can freely move from Sol to this
system and back again. But I will now reveal something that even Senciner
does not know and Thaumiel must never know: Chokhmah, that is, myself, and
my daughter Binah have the ability to independently locate the end of a
wormhole anywhere in the Sol system in time as well as in space.”

Even Senciner is shocked at this. Hy had assumed Chokhmah had simply taken
possession of another yin in this time.

Haziel continues. “So, Raziel, Beleth, when you gaze at me you are indeed
looking at the original Haziel of the scriptures, thirty-eight years old
thank you very much, because I shaved two thousand years off the clock with
just a wink, then came back to Barbelo through Canterwood.”

“If you say Thaumiel knows you are the original Haziel, then surely he must
have deduced that you can move in time.”

“He assumes that I maintain eternal youth, as Binah does in the jen body
she possesses.”

“Yet it is known you are bitter foes. Why would he allow you, a yin no
less, and Gold Hair as well, free run of a White Beard missile complex?”

“This flight is a crucial turning point in nephilim history,” sha says,
“which is to say, a pivot in the long story of the conflict between myself
and Thaumiel. I’m here to make sure nothing goes wrong. And so far, I can
say both Thaumiel and myself are quite satisfied.”

Haziel tries on some sunglasses during one of har ten hour down times. “How
do these look?”

Sha and Senciner are in the center of three compartments in the tall, nar-
row space vehicle. Below them is the engineering space. Raziel and Beleth
are on the top deck, having been minimally trained to operate the Big
Board. If they encounter any emergencies they can’t handle, they are sup-
posed to come below and alert them. It is Haziel’s sincere hope that noth-
ing more complicated than propellant re-balancing crops up.

Senciner replies, “Blessed are the cross-eyed for they shall see God
twice.”

“You blaspheme, Senciner.”

“Okay, then how about, ‘Blessed are the skeptics, for they make great
scapegoats?'”

Haziel chooses a video spool from a wall cabinet and threads it through the
viewer.

“Agent Y is a genetic freak, even for a human,” Senciner says when he notes
har choice of entertainment. “He’s got YY sex chromosomes.”

Haziel shakes har head. “There are no YYs, only maybe YYXs”

“If I say he’s YY, then that’s what he is.”

“Well among humans there’s XX’s, XY’s and rarely XYY’s. But YY is impossi-
ble.”

“Haziel, no, besides, Agent Y is a fictional character.”

Haziel says, “Is it true what they say, Senciner, that too much testoster-
one makes yeng bald?”

“That’s absolutely one hundred percent correct. That’s why baldness is a
sure sign of virility. You’re sweating, Haziel.”

“Yen don’t sweat, we glow. Besides it’s hot.”

“Ship’s internal temps are well within specs.”

Haziel drops into bed like falling timber, so very slowly under the low
acceleration. “Come here, I want to test the testosterone theory.”

“You want a short little stub like me?”

“I once knew some fairly tall Fallen Angel babes who were married to tiny
little runts.”

Blessedly, Beleth doesn’t come below until their lovemaking is well over
and they have covered up once again. When sha does arrive sha says, “Please
come upstairs, Raziel is very upset about something.”

What Raziel is very upset about is the amount of remaining propellant. A
week of low but constant acceleration has depleted the tanks to 68%, and hy
has just discovered that fact on hyz watch. “You failed to mention that we
almost at the point of no return,” hy complains bitterly. With almost a
third of their velocity-change expended, they would need another third to
come to a halt, and the final third to return to Barbelo and successfully
land.

“Because we were at the point of no return the instant we launched,” Haziel
replies sweetly. “I thought you knew. And if you didn’t know, I’m still not
going to feel the slightest bit guilty about it, Raziel, because you were
the one who insisted that you and your wife replace Malkiel and Xaphon.”

“How could I possibly know?”

“Because your special weapon is set to detonate the instant it is detached
from the ship,” Senciner puts in, hyz glance upwards indicating the long
needle fixed to the very top of the ship like a church steeple. “You, in
fact, were about to advise us of that fact to force us to abort the mission
and return to Barbelo.”

Raziel holds hyz expression in check, but a slow grin infuses hyz features.
“Fine, it’s all out in the open now, that merely pushes up my timetable a
bit. Proceed with turnaround.”

“We will do no such thing,” Haziel says. “If the comet is allowed to strike
Barbelo there will be a second Great Deluge and millions of people will
die.”

“Then I will detach the special weapon and allow it to detonate now, in
deep space. The Deluge will still happen, but we four will all die as
well.”

“Husband!” Beleth exclaims. Such talk was well out of character for hym.
Sha now fears hyz mind has somehow broken. And sha also fears for har own
life.

“By all means do as you have threatened to do,” Haziel says. “But your very
presence aboard this spacecraft tells me you do not have the courage to
take your own life. Your plan was to ride out the Deluge up here, then re-
turn to Barbelo when it began to ice over, perhaps forage on the Larund or
Sala food caches.”

“If you do not turn this spacecraft around I’m dead anyway.”

“You are dead even in that case,” Senciner says. “Yes we already know the
special weapon will detonate the instant it comes off the rail, but we also
know it will detonate after a very short amount of time under one full
gravity. If we land on Barbelo, there no way you can run fast enough to get
far enough away from the ship to survive the blast.”

“That last part is a little surprise from Thaumiel,” Haziel says. “He did-
n’t tell you that part, did he? You’re an intelligent yang, Raziel, but did
you really think Thaumiel would permit you to carry off this particular
sort of weapon unless it suited his purpose?”

“And what purpose is that?”

“To destroy whatever enclave you thought to seek refuge in after the Second
Deluge,” sha says. “You know what we’re saying is true. Consider! We dis-
covered the approaching comet, but did Thaumiel allow us to warn anyone
outside of the House of Gerash?”

Raziel shakes his head. “No, and Thaumiel is content to let perish the less
desirable parts of even the House of Gerash.”

“Such as soldiers like yourself who do not have a full retinue of wives,”
Haziel mutters. “When I said this flight is a turning point in nephilim
history, Raziel, I meant exactly that. The people of Barbelo will learn
that we sacrificed our lives to divert a comet that Thaumiel was content to
allow to strike the planet. He has no idea what’s about to happen to him.
Everyone, even those in House Gerash, will know once and for all that he is
an evil god.”

“We still have time,” Raziel dares to hope. “You can set back down on the
planet and let Beleth and myself run free, and depart again before the tim-
er detonates the weapon!”

“You just told me that Thaumiel is using the comet as an opportunity for
selective genocide. Does that sit well with you, Raziel? Do you really feel
no obligation to try to thwart such an evil god?”

Senciner adds, “I’m not blindly following Haziel, and neither were Malkiel
and Xaphon. We know full well this flight is to be a one-way trip. It’s a
chance to prevent a second Deluge and save the lives of millions of
people.”

“In a way, Raziel, I’m glad you insisted on coming,” Haziel says. “I am
quite fond of Malkiel and Xaphon back at the armory, who were displaced by
yourself and Beleth, and now they will survive, if we succeed in changing
the path of the comet.”

Raziel is miserable. He turns to Senciner. “This is easy for you in House
Sala, with the irrational beliefs you have been taught by Haziel, but for
me death is oblivion. When I’m dead I won’t even know that I’m dead or that
I ever lived. So I must grasp every additional moment possible, no matter
how great the cost to others.”

“Our lives and the lives of millions of humans and nephilim on Barbelo do
mean something to us,” Haziel gently asserts, “and so does this mission.
Whether that is also true for yourself and Beleth is entirely up to you.
The thing has been set in motion. Nothing you can say or do will coerce
myself or Senciner to turn this spacecraft around. Your greatest possible
remaining span of life is now measured in days. But whether we succeed or
fail is entirely in your hands.”

When Raziel and Beleth both show signs of failing to understand, Senciner
explains, “We cannot watch you every moment of the short time remaining to
us. We still have to sleep. You could sabotage the ship, perhaps blow out
a hull panel and let all our air escape into space, or launch the weapon,
which you assure us will result in instant obliteration. We can’t stop you,
if you decide to thwart the mission out of spite. No one would ever know.”

Raziel can now see hyz death is going to happen no matter what hy says or
does. The realization of the certainty of this is a psychological crisis of
misery that peaks, then after hy sees Haziel’s look of sympathy for hym,
fades gradually to end in a sigh. “Exactly how do you intend to deflect the
comet?”

“We will ram directly into it,” Haziel reveals. “The weapon will go off on
impact and vaporize at least half of it. The other half will enter a new
orbit and miss the equatorial zone of Barbelo, or perhaps even miss the
planet altogether. Thaumiel has no idea what’s about to happen to his stu-
pid religion. Already Yeshua has departed Barbelo, giving Thaumiel the im-
pression that che knows what’s coming and is very afraid. The Ark was re-
called to Earth long ago, my avatar was destroyed by Thaumiel himself, and
when this body dies my fold-line will retract through the passage and
Thaumiel will finally be able to close it, blocking me and Yeshua from re-
turning to Barbelo ever again. That too will be a turning point that will
open the next act in our long conflict.”

“But as you draw near to the comet, you and Senciner will be very preoccu-
pied, I imagine.”

“Very busy,” Haziel admits. “I’m afraid we will miss Malkiel and Xaphon
very much before the very end. And that end will be better than most, Razi-
el. It will be very quick, and you will not suffer in the slightest way.”

“Then we will do what we can to help,” Raziel says, and hy permits hymself
a wry grin. “Both Tabaet and myself. It will be…the excellent thing to
do.”

It could not be hidden for long that the first space flight initiated by
nephilim from Barbelo had been a suicide mission to avert an approaching
comet and prevent a second Great Deluge. Nor could it be hidden that
Thaumiel, incarnated as the Gerash High Lord Patriarch Sartael, had pre-
vented news of this comet from getting out to the other families. And the
simultaneous secret flood preparations by the elite among the greater Ger-
ash family also did not escape notice.

The rumor that elements of House Sala and Larund had conceived and carried
out this flight to save Barbelo did much to win secret converts to Chokh-
mah. Some even said that Haziel harself had led the mission and had died in
a successful attempt to divert the comet. All in all, Thaumiel had sus-
tained a terrible propaganda defeat.

As Haziel herself had foreseen at the time of the flight, the event marked
a major turning point in the history of Barbelo. From that day forward,
Thaumiel was viewed as evil even by many members of Family Gerash, espe-
cially by those who were deemed unworthy to receive the same warnings that
were given to the purebred family core. Thaumiel would still be obeyed from
fear, but there would never again be any loyalty based on awe and respect.
The incident ignited a deep and broad conspiracy lasting many decades to
unseat family Gerash by any means. This conspiracy reached even into
Thaumiel’s own armed forces.

The primitive space-going technology of the early period of expansion led
to the complete remote reconnaissance of the two star systems belonging to
the yellow and orange suns. Communications satellites were lofted. A perma-
nent human presence in low orbit space stations followed, as well as tenta-
tive footholds on Barbelos nearest moon Palato. Underground water deposits,
rich metal ores, and abundant sun power made the new colonies nearly self-
sufficient.

It was not yet clear to the heads of the five families that human destiny
lay in space. From the beginning space travel was militarized, and the nas-
cent Navy of Thaumiel grew as rapidly as the off-Barbelo population grew.
The avatar of Thaumiel formed the invincible heart of this Navy, and a pow-
erful fort was constructed on the inner surface Palato with many guns and
rocket emplacements orbiting ominously just over the heads of the entire
Barbelo populace.

The early settlements on Palato, which formed soon after Haziel’s suicide
flight (and roughly about the time of the First World War on Earth) had
been grouped into three triads, each one under a triarch. Afterwards they
were organized into a loose Palato League, which elected, when common ac-
tion was necessary, a dictator appointed for a fixed period of time.

There was a federal assembly that levied taxes and troops from the triads.
The Navy of Thaumiel occupied a large portion of Palato and requisitioned
supplies and labor from the Palato League but otherwise stayed out of local
affairs. Family Gerash also laid claim to tiny Rhene as a prison moon, and
its even smaller sub-moon Minos to administer it.

Other immigrants who did not wish to attach themselves to the Palato League
or the Navy of Mastema moved on to other, more sparsely-settled communities
across the system of the orange sun. Chief among these was Xanthos, the
largest moon of Barbelo, which lay beyond Rhene.

Others left the gravitational influence of Barbelo altogether and made the
crossing to chilly Lemnos, the next planet out from Barbelo, or to one of
Lemnos’ two very small moons, Unxia and Ianthe.

Beyond frozen, airless Hippo lay the so-called Eggbeater, a vast collection
of asteroids and comets left over in lieu of the gas giant planets that
never formed in Mastema’s twin star system due to gravitational perturba-
tion.

The Eggbeater was actually two separate belts of debris, each orbiting its
respective sun, but these belts merged when the orange and yellow suns ap-
proached each other in periastron. Sometimes this resulted in collisions
that populated the Eggbeater with smaller chunks in greater numbers, but
mostly there were only near misses that altered the orbits of the mixing
objects to various degrees.

Very rarely, one of the larger objects in this vast pinball game would be
hurled toward Barbelo. The Navy kept a close eye on these, but they were
not the only watchers. The families Antero, Larund and Sala would not tol-
erate another conspiracy of silence when it came to comet-fall.

To compare distances, if Barbelo was in the Solar System, and its orange
sun was in the position of the Earth’s sun, the brighter yellow-white sun
would occupy the space between Saturn and Uranus. This was close enough for
the other system to be explored by robotic probes, but somewhat beyond the
ability of the humans to make the crossing themselves without an extreme
effort. Typical flight times would be on the order of three or four years,
no matter how much rocket science progressed.

But hundreds of small bodies in the Eggbeater were settled by wave after
wave of pioneers from Barbelo, and after a time, the settlers had estab-
lished themselves well enough to become multiple sources of many new waves.
Few of the colonists obeyed the Cupel system of testing or any other pre-
cept of the Law of Mastema.

Religious and political unity shattered in the new frontier of space. Some
of the “Beaters” (as the colonists of the Eggbeater came to be called) were
peaceful adherents of Hazielism, but many of them were quite warlike, espe-
cially after the Navy came calling from Palato and found their devotion to
Thaumiel to be wanting.

In the very low surface gravity of the asteroids it was considered more
practical to have four hands rather than two hands and two feet. Genetic
engineering began to blur what it meant to be human, and this practice was
disgusting to Sartael.

Other Beaters dabbled in techniques for changing genders within a few days.
The procedure was reversible and complete, right down to a functioning
uterus for men, very useful for new colonies where breeding females were at
a premium. Such a thing was absolutely incompatible with the system estab-
lished in the Law of Mastema that treated women as little more than proper-
ty. So Sartael vowed perpetual war.

The Beaters were happy to oblige him.