40 – RAZIEL
Too bright to look at, yet giving almost no heat, the shrunken welding-arc white sun hung in the purple northern sky as the warmer bloated orange sun sunk in the west. When the army truck driven by the Erel named Raziel topped a pass high on a terminal moraine he saw 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 stretched left and right to sink over the horizon. This was the edge of the awesome Northern Ice that covered almost half their world. Behind Raziel’s truck lay a mere twenty-five hundred ji of unfrozen land reaching to the Southern Ice. The Ice was slowly melting over the centuries. Only in one place, near the capital city, did 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 Talishi and the World War, there were three such bridges, dividing Barbelo into three lands.
The four-lane concrete ribbon wound down the other side of the pass and straightened out, a low elevated highway that disregarded the shifting waters under it as it made a beeline for the base of the wall.
Raziel’s passenger Beleth was his older sister and only surviving wife. Once he had four wives, two of them his sisters, befitting his rank in the middle eschelon of the Army of Mastema. But as was so often the case in a harem situation, jealousies erupted, one wife was murdered by another, and Raziel himself strangled the guilty wife to death, more out of wrath that she had brought his career to an abrupt halt than to avenge his dead younger sister.
A third wife died after an extended illness. She had been the sister of his opponent in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system mandated by the Law of Mastema. Now, with only one woman to wager, advancement to flag rank was out of the question. Raziel was damaged goods and even his promotion to Hashmal was long overdue.
Raziel had been diverted from combat to a more sedate role in logistics, and in the supply world, after the self-reinforcing bravado of battle command fell away, he felt a healthy fear of death return to him. 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,” he pointed 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 needed.
“Experimentalism,” Beleth said, 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 was short. Soon the highway entered a tunnel melted into the very base of the ice. The pale blue translucent walls grew darker until they were black. They were safe, but to Beleth the tunnel was a kind of death anyway. The shrinking glow behind her could well be her last sight of Barbelo. From now until they departed the planet she would know only caverns.
Raziel sighed. “Push for Experimentalism and you rank up there with King Gordiel, who rallied his city under the banner of Talishi and killed thousands of his own people.”
“I rather think it was your own Army of Mastema did the killing.”
“Suicide by Mastema. 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 Experimentalism?” Beleth suggested. “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 naturally 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 before, which is why only Traditionalism has survived.”
Construction in ice was simple; it needed only a source of heat and a flexible conduit to whisk the melted water away. Deep within the ice the road twisted this way and that, finally dumping out in a multilevel city of burrows, 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 was interrupted by a series of several checkpoints and it was only Raziel’s credentials as a supply officer that got him through the gates with a long skinny gray box of ordnance strapped down on his flatbed trailer. His manifest was not in order. It would not do to allow even a quick glance inside the box.
The road dead-ended in a large illuminated cave that was the lay-down area for supplies coming in and going out of the facility. He was expected. The box was quickly forked off the truck and disappeared inside the bowels of the facility.
Raziel and Beleth themselves were taken to a well-lit conference room deep within a maze of passageways carved into the ice. They were given warmer clothes to wear, because the chill was eternal and omnipresent. Space heaters would only melt the walls.
Presently they were joined by three men and a woman, and Raziel was mildly surprised when the woman began speaking rather than one of the males. She said, “My name is Tabaet. These men are members of my team. They are Malkiel, Senciner, and Xaphon.”
“Your team?” Raziel gasped. “They answer to you? And Mastema permits this?
She smiled. “Mastema permits much, because we do many things for Mastema that he could not have otherwise. The…equipment…you have delivered for us was designed and assembled right here.”
Raziel took her awkward speech as a signal that someone might be listening to what was said in the room. And that presented a problem. It would be difficult conveying what had to be said while dancing around the actual words. He nodded his head to indicate he understood the situation.
Tabaet said, “I would extend a full welcome to you, but this is a classified project, and your woman is uncleared.”
“I will not send my wife away away,” Raziel insisted. “Where I go, she goes. You will have to get her a clearance. She must be…fully involved…in the project.”
“That is impossible,” Malkiel said. “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 was 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 objected. “With any delay the risk grows.”
Raziel smiled. “It is the unique nature of this…equipment…that any reasonable delay is irrelevant.”
Tabaet sighed and came to a decision. “Very well. We have a simulator. Xaphon will instruct you in his 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 men exploded simultaneously with loud objections but a glance from Tabaet quickly silenced them, and to Raziel, coming from a tradition that held women to be little more than personal property, that was an impressive thing to witness. Beleth concealed a smile behind her hand.
41 – END DOME
After Shy Bear, with many affirmations by Inge, convinced Mark Lange that he really did know his daughter from years spent with her in the “spirit world” the attention turned from him to the girl. The waterproof backpack she wore was opened. The Scroll of Lael was removed and unrolled to reveal the Hebrew letters written thereupon.
“They taught me how to read this,” she revealed, and when Mark asked who “they” were she recited a bare outline of the Elohim, the B’nei Elohim, and the world of Barbelo. But both she and Shy Bear kept the explanations short, because one of the most important things they learned in the Academy was how to keep their mouths shut.
Although Inge and Shy Bear could teach all of the settlers many things, Mark Lange was a pastor and nothing more, so he was the one who taught from scripture. When Inge finished translating the scroll and it was bound into a volume with books, chapters, and verses, becoming a sort of sequel to the Bible called the Endomion, Mark would have much more scripture to teach from.
In the meantime Shy Bear, traveling with the pilgrims, discovered that three of his warriors had been killed by the Northern Raiders on the north bank of the river, and the People had come out to prepare their bodies. At the bidding of Pastor Mark, the pilgrims accompanied Shy Bear and the People as they bore the bodies to the summit of End Dome in honor, and a man from each family of the whites was permitted to help carry the three biers of alder branches.
On the summit, pastor Mark offered prayers in the usual Christian funeral service, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, but instead of burning the bodies, Shy Bear used the Golden Gift to consume them entire.
And so it was that the whites were struck speechless by a display of the power of God made manifest. When Mark could find his voice again, he said, “This is a sign! God has brought us together, white man and red man alike, in this land of His choosing flowing with milk and honey. Here we will remain, red and white, each supporting and defending the other!”
The next morning there was a mass baptism of the People in the cold silty waters of the Green River, three times using total immersion, since they were from the Dunker tradition, and not sprinklers like the hell-bound Lutherans.
So a new faith movement was born, the End Dome Church, with a White Wing and a Red Wing, which in the words of the former Pastor (now Prophet) Mark Lange, “Two lungs by which the united People of the Creator draw new breath.” And the Golden Gift was at the heart of their devotion.
Shy Bear was made the Apostle of the Church, with the promise that he would be elevated to Prophet upon the death of Mark Lange. The doctrine of matrimonial consanguinity, or cousin-marriage, prevented any joining between the two sides, salving the settler’s horror at any potential race-mixing.
Later the rumor of gold was heard tell in the Green River Gorge, and the newly platted town of Franklin swelled with an influx of men hungry for the shiny yellow stuff. Most of the prospectors struck out, but some of these stayed behind in Franklin as fresh converts to the End Dome Church.
After the rail line went through connecting Issaquah to the territorial capital at Olympia, it was easy for cousins of the new converts to make their way west to new lives as wives of the former prospectors. When the Washington territory entered the Union as a state in 1889 the End Dome Church had grown large enough and influential enough to ensure the state government did not outlaw cousin-marriage for years to come.
Gradually the tabernacle on the summit of End Dome was expanded into the vast white wooden edifice of the End Dome Temple. When it was completed many secondary tabernacles had been established throughout the US and Europe, but all End Dome funerals still took place at the original site.
Chief Shy Bear died at age sixty-six from smoke inhalation in a poorly-prepared sweat lodge, with four other men losing their lives as well, a tragic sign that knowledge of the old ways was slowly being degraded and lost. He lay in state in the temple sanctuary for thirty days. Many Endomites scattered across the country journeyed by train and even by the new horseless carriages to pay their last respects.
Also attending the funeral were four Menkalese men who had come to Franklin by way of the Sacred Pool. They bore on staves what they claimed was the authentic Ark of the Covenant spoken of in the Hebrew scriptures, and they said to Prophet Mark that it was to be hidden under the altar of the temple, and that only the Prophet, the Apostle, and such deacons as they could trust were to know of its existence.
When Prophet Mark Lange committed the Chief’s body directly into the hands of God it was a sight that few but the oldest members present had ever seen, for the Church had grown beyond the dreams of her founders. And the Prophet named a young deacon from the Red Wing of the Church named Peter Two Feathers to become the new Apostle and replace Chief Shy Bear.
After the Great War broke out in Europe many End Dome tabernacles in France and the Low Countries were destroyed by stray shells, or even shelled deliberately perhaps. At the bidding of the Prophet, a special collection was taken up across the US to bring succor in the wartime mission field.
With these funds in hand, Prophet Lange boarded the steam liner Reina Regenta in Seattle with about a quarter-million dollars in gold bullion to aid the faithful in those nations torn by the conflict. The war was the first truly industrial war in the history of the Earth, raging across much of the world, and it resembled in many ways the Techno War that had broken out on Barbelo some number of years before.
Survivors of the voyage of Reina Regenta through the Panama Canal and across the Atlantic told of the divine patience of Prophet Lange as he was dogged day and night by a Seattle newspaper reporter on board named Rupert Keller, who obviously had a beef with the End Dome “cult”.
When the ship was in the frigid waters almost precisely in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, far from any help, she took two torpedoes from a German U-boat. Reina Regenta listed sharply to the side, drowning half of her lifeboats. Frantically, the lifeboats on her port side were laden with passengers and released but there were not enough of these for everyone and no chance of raising the floundering ones on the starboard side.
Women and children went first, and then old men were allowed to board. The elderly Mark Lange was placed in the last lifeboat, but before it was lowered to the sea he spied a despairing Rupert Keller standing on the deck of the doomed ship. The Prophet bounded out of his place and offered his seat to the reporter. “Happy birthday, son,” he said with a gentle smile.
Lange was not without fear, for all living things fear death as part of their natural defense mechanism, but he was encouraged by his memories of the Golden Gift and the Ark of the Covenant, physical evidence of the existence of God which he had been so fortunate to witness. It was a God whose only Son had actually spoken to Inge and Shy Bear face to face, not merely in prayer. And Mark spread his encouragement around to the rest of the doomed passengers. In this way he made their passing a little bit easier.
There was just enough time for the last lifeboat to get away before the ship rolled completely over and took everyone aboard down to the uncharted depths of the Atlantic ocean.
The Prophet’s kind gesture was totally wasted on Keller. He proceeded to give a newspaper account of the disaster which included the Prophet kicking little girls off a lifeboat to make room for his gold bullion, resulting in the sinking of the lifeboat, the death of Lange, and the death of everyone with him. Indeed, Keller said the presence of the gold was the reason the ship was torpedoed by the Central Powers in the first place, lest it aid the cause of the Triple Entente. Only a handful of survivors brought the true tale to the Church elders in Franklin, but that was to no avail.
Keller’s widely published lies did their damage to the popular imagination of the American people. Many former supporters soured on the religion, and the growth of the End Dome Church slowed to a crawl. Shortly after that, by popular referendum, the state of Washington banned marriages between first cousins and the first serious persecution of Endomites began.
42 – LAUNCH
Tabaet: …zero, we have commit, and we have liftoff at oh-two-thirteen universal time.
Raziel: Go all engines.
Beleth: We appear to have good thrust at this point.
Senciner: Talishi, 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, Talishi.
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.
Tabaet: Senciner, confirm number five engine down.
Senciner: Affirmative, Talishi.
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, correction, 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 altitude…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 early, 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 thousand ji downrange.
Tabaet: Standing by for crew report of engine shutdown.
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 said to Raziel and Beleth, “We are also free of being overheard by anyone on Barbelo, so do you have any questions?”
“Senciner called you Talishi a couple of times back there,” Raziel mentioned.
“That’s my real name. It wouldn’t do to be called that in the heart of Mastemadom, even if Mastema himself knows.”
“Did your parents have a soft spot in their heart for the Talishi of the scriptures?”
“I am the Talishi of the scriptures.”
“How can I accept that as true?” Raziel asked. “Talishi hasn’t made a dent on history for two thousand years.”
“It was out of self-preservation. Every act of possession dilutes the personality of the one who possesses.”
“Yet everyone knows Mastema has possessed the Gerash Patriarch generation after generation since before the World War.”
“And Mastema has reaped dissolution. Little remains of his original psyche except his malevolence.”
“I do not understand,” said Raziel. “You say you avoided serial possession to avoid the fate of Mastema, yet you appear to be a woman 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. Mastema 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,” she said. “We ourselves manufactured and assembled all ninety-two of these weapons, and Senciner has remotely verified the presence of the radioactive core.”
“Why would a Gold Beard like Senciner help do such a thing for Mastema?”
“House Sala is uniquely immune to such weapons,” Senciner said, “and with the design of these warheads, Mastema was 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 was Talishi’s deeper purpose.”
“So you’re playing the long game.”
Talishi nodded. “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 question.”
Raziel floated to Senciner’s console and replaced him at that position, where he entered the code on a keypad. When Senciner resumed his place, he confirmed the warhead was armed.
“Thank you Raziel.” Talishi’s relieved glance took in both him and Beleth, and she smiled. “Senciner and I welcome both of you aboard this historic flight, which is the first penetration into space by human beings since before the Battle of Rumbek, and the first without using an avatar of the Elohim.”
“Indeed,” Raziel said. “With the weapon now armed we could go head-to-head against the very avatar of Mastema right now.”
“But that is not our purpose and you know it,” Talishi said. “Senciner, begin moving to intercept the comet, accelerate to point zero three gravities.”
After Senciner complied with this order, Raziel prodded Talishi. “Well?”
Talishi said, “It is true that Senciner and the rest of my people in the launch complex know that I am the original Talishi, and even Mastema knows it, but I will now reveal something that even Senciner does not know and Mastema must never know: El Shaddai, that is, myself, and my daughter Bat-El have the ability to independently locate the ends of a wormhole anywhere in the Sol system in time as well as in space.”
Even Senciner was shocked at this. He had assumed El Shaddai had simply taken possession of another woman in his own time.
Talishi continued. “So, Raziel, Beleth, when you gaze at me you are indeed looking at the Talishi 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.”
“You say Mastema knows you are that Talishi,” said Raziel, “yet it is known you are bitter foes. Why would he allow you, a woman no less, and Gold Beards as well, free run of a White Beard missile complex?”
“This flight is a crucial turning point in human history,” she said, “which is to say, a pivot in the long story of the conflict between myself and Mastema. I’m here to make sure nothing goes wrong. And so far, I can say both Mastema and myself are quite satisfied.”
43 – LILITH
In 1928 a girl child was born to Benjamin and Edith Gervasi in London while Benjamin was attending Imperial College. He named her Lilith because it was an interesting name.
“Interesting in the way ‘Jezebel’ or ‘Medusa’ or ‘Typhoid Mary’ is interesting,” Edith complained, but she knew she could do nothing to change Benjamin’s mind, so her daughter was Lilith.
In Jewish legends, Lilith was Adam’s first wife, created from the soil at the same time as Adam rather than from his rib like his second wife. Lilith left her husband when she refused to accept the missionary position that Adam insisted on doing, since it left the man on top. She wanted to do reverse cowgirl. Cursed by God, Lilith became a she-demon who roamed the night looking for souls of newborn infants to steal, but the prophet Isaiah foresaw that even Lilith would find rest in the Messianic Age.
As the decade of the 1930s wore on, Jews were systematically stripped of their civil rights on the Continent, and began to be moved into work camps that evolved into racial hygiene (extermination) camps, but nothing like that happened in Britain. There were even Jews in Parliament. The Gervasi family had been royal subjects for many generations, and Benjamin Gervasi was a meteorologist with a specialty in numerical methods of mesoscale forecasting. He lived, unfortunately, before the proper tool for his work, the computer, had been invented.
Jews on the whole were rather rare in the United Kingdom. During the years of the Great Depression Benjamin Gervasi could only find work as a lighthouse keeper at St. Catherine’s Lighthouse on the Isle of Wight, just a few miles off the southern coast of England.
This job, however, had several good points associated with it Benjamin thought. First, his wife and eventually also Lilith aided him in his work. It became a family endeavor. Second, the lighthouse grounds doubled as a meteorological outstation. During daylight, they sent by Teletype hourly reports of temperature, humidity, cloud height, cloud formation, wind direction, and wind force to the Meteorological Office in London. This allowed Benjamin a small amount of satisfaction, to work within his chosen field.
Once a week when Benjamin was paid his salary, a small amount of petrol was delivered to power the engine that turned the lighthouse shaft. He was never tempted to divert even a small portion of this petrol to his motorcar, as he had no motorcar, but he did have to keep an eye out for certain neighbors who did.
Every weekday morning Lilith trudged up the hillside to the nearest village for her Primary school, and sometimes her mother accompanied her when she needed to attend to shopping. On Shabbat they ceased from their labors and remained indoors. Very rarely, Benjamin would arrange transportation by bus and ferry, and they took such holidays as they could afford, sometimes to the beautiful Lake District, camping in the high, treeless hills called fells that qualified as mountains in England.
The horrors that confronted the Gervasi family during the last year of the war could be attributed to their Jewishness, certainly, and to Hitler’s insane hatred of Jews. But it was also the result of Benjamin’s chosen profession, and his decision to moonlight for His Majesty’s government as part of the electronic “Wizard War” against Hitler’s regime that culminated with the deception leading up to D-Day.
But perhaps the three biggest factors that contributed to the terrible things that befell Benjamin, Edith and Lilith were location, location, and location. The Isle of Wight lay in the English Channel, and the English Channel was the chief arena of contest between the UK and Germany. That is not to say the Gervasi family would have been immune from tragedy if they had moved upcountry; the town of Coventry, for example, was severely damaged in an air raid. But there would have been no German frogmen.
In the lead-up to World War II British scientists were tasked to create a death ray based on radio waves to take down German bombers. They never quite managed a death ray, but in their research they found that metallic objects at great distances could reflect a radio pulse and the time delay displayed on an oscilloscope was a very accurate indication of distance. Rotating an antenna could pin down a target’s position.
Thus was born RDF, or Range and Direction Finding, that later was dubbed RADAR. A network of RDF stations called Chain Home made all the difference in the Battle of Britain, which occurred over the summer of 1940.
Numerically the Luftwaffe had an edge over the Royal Air Force, but when the Luftwaffe attacked they had to hunt for RAF fighters, while the RAF (aided by Chain Home) knew exactly where the Luftwaffe was and could concentrate planes.
The Luftwaffe also had an edge when it came to the quality of their aircraft, but with Chain Home providing early warning of attacks, RAF pilots could rest until they were scrambled, use less fuel, and put less wear and tear on their aircraft.
As the Luftwaffe began to take heavy losses in bombers and also their fighter cover, they tried to attack some of the Chain Home stations, including one that was constructed nigh to St. Catherine’s Lighthouse. But as the Gervasi family could attest, the antenna towers with their open structure were not very susceptible to blast damage from bombs. The few antennas that actually were knocked down were repaired within days while operators from nearby ‘dummy’ stations broadcast signals that fooled the Germans into thinking no damage was done at all.
The Luftwaffe tried flying lower, approaching England below the sight line of Chain Home stations, but the British used smaller RDF systems intended to direct gunfire against ships, and German losses continued to mount at an unacceptable rate.
So the Luftwaffe switched to night raids, knowing that even if they were detected, the RAF could do nothing about it, since the defending planes could not see the bombers in the dark when it came to the actual combat. The British quickly miniaturized the RDF systems and installed them on fighter planes, which rapidly ended German night bombing over England.
Since the battle took place over United Kingdom home turf, if an RAF plane was shot down, the British pilot could bail out and be back in the air flying another plane, perhaps on the same day if he was not injured. But if a German pilot bailed out over land, he was invariably captured, and if he bailed out over the Channel he was likely to die from drowning or exposure to cold.
When the Battle of Britain came to an end in October 1940 the British had lost only about 500 airmen while the Germans lost eight times that number. Nearly a thousand German pilots were captured. The Luftwaffe lost nearly two thousand planes and Hitler was forced to shelf his invasion plans indefinitely.
In hindsight the invasion plan, called Operation Sealion, was never realistic. Even if Germany had obtained a lasting command of the air, Britain was a maritime nation with an unmatched Navy that would have checked any sea crossing of the channel, which Germany was ill-prepared to make in any event. Hitler had been thwarted for the first time in the war. So instead he turned his gaze to the East and began preparing the Barbarossa campaign against the Soviet Union.
The UK shifted emphasis from defense to offense, and during the course of 1941 it became clear to Bomber Command that night navigation to the correct target was a serious issue. In 1942 an electronic guidance system called Clarinet was developed that used two highly directional radio beams, one transmitting Morse code dots and the other one transmitting dashes, to be received by a single bomber flying in the lead of the wave (to minimize the chance of the Germans reverse-engineering the system from a downed plane). They flew out along the dots, and when the lead plane encountered the strongest part of the dashes it dropped a load of marker flares, and the bomber wave dropped their bombs on these flares.
A Clarinet antenna was constructed inside Benjamin’s lighthouse mounted to the central shaft. That way the white structure of the lighthouse would hide the antenna and the Germans would never suspect a thing.
From time to time a targeting order came to Benjamin over the same Teletype he used to transmit his weather information. The message gave him a precise angle to position the antenna, a duration in time, and whether he was to use dots or dashes. The Gervasi family found themselves quite busy throughout 1943 as the RAF focused their bombing campaign on Hamburg and the industry centered in the Ruhr valley.
In 1944 a large number of American, Australian, En Zed, and Canadian troops had been transported to the south of England to join the Tommies in preparation for the invasion of France, and to ensure their success a monolith of operational deception was built up that the world had never seen before nor since. False radio traffic was created to give the Germans the impression that Patton was gearing up to take the entire force over the narrowest part of the Channel where Dover could be seen from Calais. False plans were planted on a corpse that was allowed to wash up on a French beach.
Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay, in overall command of the invasion, left nothing, absolutely nothing to chance. In the run-up to D-Day Sir Ramsay even paid a visit to Benjamin Gervasi in his lighthouse on the southern-most point of England.
The weather was quite murky and wet, so the Admiral’s inspection of the exterior of the lighthouse was necessarily cut short. While his driver waited in the car, Benjamin showed the Admiral the room where the Teletype and Clarinet transmitter was installed. Ramsay thanked Benjamin personally for his service to the King, and Benjamin, for his part, considered it prudent not to mention the assistance he received from his wife and daughter. Then the Admiral’s eyes were captivated by a wall chart, and he asked Benjamin to identify it.
“That’s my moving five-day weather forecast for Undercliff, Sir. That would be this little strip of land where the lighthouse is located. We are in a rain-shadow, you know. And also a fog-shadow, if you will. The weather here is typically not quite as immoderate as it is for you Overners.”
Benjamin led the Admiral into the white octagonal tower to inspect the Clarinet antenna. He took him spiraling up the ninety-four steps to the top, where the huge crystal lens (chipped by a 1943 air raid) slowly rotated, and they could see for thirty nautical miles out to sea. The whole English Channel in fact was roiling with whitecaps from high winds which threatened to derail the invasion.
“And you do this weather forecasting as a sort of hobby?”
“Perhaps a bit more than just a hobby, Admiral Sir Ramsey. I’m trained as a meteorologist, and I’m a damn fine one, if you don’t mind me carrying my own chair, so to speak. But with the war I find myself . . . over-qualified for the task I currently occupy. Now I know we’ve all got to pull together to stop Jerry, and I’m sure other professional men are in the same predicament, but all the same, one must use the skills one has been trained to use, or one’s mind gets in a bit of a rut.”
“It’s not a purely sterile pursuit as you might imagine it to be. By a strange fluke of geography and wind and water currents, the weather here at the lighthouse, which can be quite different from the rest of England or even the rest of the Isle of Wight, almost always corresponds to the weather across the Channel on the coast of France, in the Normandy area. I’ve checked it for years, in every season, and the match is very good, more than eighty percent of the time, well outside the possibility of coincidence. I plan to publish a paper about it after the war.”
“Is that so? Remarkable! And what do you predict for Undercliff?”
“A twenty-four hour break in this weather, partly cloudy, winds drop to five knots. Then on the afternoon of the sixth of June we return to the same pattern. This forecast holds for here and the Normandy coast. Everywhere else along the English Channel there will be no twenty-four hour break. There will be only fog and rain and winds gusting to thirty knots.”
Sir Ramsey was suddenly filled with great admiration for Benjamin Gervasi, because Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist had predicted the very same short break in the weather over Normandy, using B-17 aircraft far out over the Atlantic to gather the data, but General Eisenhower was dithering. The Admiral knew if he told the General the dough-nut hole in the bad weather was confirmed by a second independent source, it might be enough to make him decide to launch the invasion of France on the morning of June 6, just when the Germans were letting their guard down with intelligence of a solid week of terrible weather.
The Admiral asked, “Does the strange correlation of weather between Undercliff and the French coast hold for the Pas-De-Calais?”
“Alas, no. I’m afraid that predicting the weather for Dover and Calais is more like a jigsaw puzzle, and my reports to the Weather Office are but one piece.
The Admiral sighed, reluctant to proceed. There was one final duty Mr. Gervasi could perform for England, and it saddened the Admiral to deceive the man, but there was no choice. It was, in fact, the main reason for his visit. The net of operational deception woven around Operation Neptune had to be watertight. He said, “Then it is time to reveal the real purpose of my visit here, and why I have attended to this myself rather than send a staffer. What I’m about to tell you has the highest possible classification. You cannot mention a word of it even to your wife or daughter.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Mr. Gervasi, the following three weeks will be very lively ones for you, I’m afraid. You are no doubt aware that most of southern England has become one large armed camp containing millions of troops and all their supplies. As we get closer to the invasion across the Strait of Dover, which is set for June 20, you will find that your Clarinet task orders will be coming in at a much greater rate.”
“Daily rather than weekly?”
“Twice daily, I’m afraid. We will soon be bombing the landing areas more or less continuously. Now is the time we must make our greatest effort. I needed to tell you this, Mr. Gervasi, lest you think something has gone terribly wrong. And I could not trust this information to others.”
Benjamin assured the young admiral he understood his duty perfectly. And with that they parted, but Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay felt thoroughly soiled.
44 – COMET
Talishi tried on some sunglasses during one of her ten hour down times. “How do these look?”
She and Senciner were in the center of three compartments in the tall, narrow space vehicle. Below them was the engineering space. Raziel and Beleth were on the top deck, having been minimally trained to operate the Big Board. If they encountered any emergencies they couldn’t handle, they were supposed to come below and alert them, but it was Talishi’s sincere hope that nothing more complicated than propellant re-balancing cropped up.
Senciner replied, “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?’”
Talishi chose a video spool from a wall cabinet and threaded it through the viewer.
“Agent Y is a genetic freak,” Senciner said when he noted her choice of entertainment. “He’s got YY sex chromosomes.”
Talishi shook her head. “There are no YYs, only maybe YYXs”
“If I say he’s YY, then that’s what he is.”
“Well there’s XX’s, XY’s and XYY’s. But YY is impossible.”
“Talishi, no, besides, Agent Y is a fictional character.”
Talishi said, “Is it true what they say, Senciner, that too much testosterone makes men bald?”
“That’s absolutely one hundred percent correct. That’s why baldness is a sure sign of virility. You’re sweating, Talishi.”
“Women don’t sweat, we glow. Besides it’s hot.”
“Ship’s internal temps are well within specs.”
Talishi dropped into bed like falling timber, so very slowly under the very low acceleration. “Come here, I want to test the testosterone theory.”
“You want a short little stub like me?”
“I know some fairly tall Fallen Angel babes who are married to tiny little runts.”
Blessedly, Beleth didn’t come below until their lovemaking was well over and they had covered up once again. When she did arrive she said, “Please come upstairs, Raziel is very upset about something.”
What Raziel was very upset about was the amount of remaining propellant. A week of low but constant acceleration had depleted the tanks to 68%, and he had just discovered that fact on his watch. “You failed to mention that we almost at the point of no return,” he complained 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,” Talishi replied 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 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 put in, his 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 held his expression in check, but a slow grin infused his 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,” Talishi said. “If the comet is allowed to strike Barbelo there will be a Third 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 exclaimed. Such talk was well out of character for him. She feared his mind had somehow broken. And she feared for her own life.
“By all means do as you have threatened to do,” Talishi said. “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 return to Barbelo when it began to ice over, perhaps forage on 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 said. “Yes we knew the special weapon would detonate the instant it came 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 Mastema,” Talishi said. “He didn’t tell you that, did he? You’re an intelligent man, Raziel, but did you really think Mastema would permit you to carry off this particular sort of weapon unless it suited his purpose?”
“And what purpose was that?”
“To destroy whatever enclave you thought to seek refuge in after the Third Deluge,” she said. “You know what we’re saying is true. Consider! We discovered the approaching comet, but did Mastema allow us to warn anyone outside of the House of Gerash?”
Raziel shook his head. “No, and Mastema is content to let perish the less desirable parts of even the House of Gerash.”
“Such as the ones who married outside of Gerash,” Talishi muttered, “or soldiers like yourself who do not have a full retinue of wives. When I said this flight was a turning point in human history, Raziel, I meant exactly that. The people of Barbelo will learn that we sacrificed our lives to divert the comet that Mastema was content to allow to strike the planet. He has no idea what’s coming. Everyone, even those in House Gerash, will know once and for all that he is an evil god.”
“We still have time,” Raziel dared to hope. “You can set down on the planet and let Beleth and myself run free, and depart again before the timer detonates the weapon!”
“You just told me that Mastema 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 added, “I’m not blindly following Talishi, and neither were Malkiel and Xaphon. We knew full well this flight was to be a one-way trip. It’s a fighting chance to prevent a third Deluge and save the lives of millions of people.”
“In a way, Raziel, I’m glad you insisted on coming,” Talishi said. “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 was miserable. He turned to Senciner. “This is easy for you in House Sala, with the irrational beliefs you have been taught by Talishi, 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.”
“Yes, well our lives and the lives of millions of men and women on Barbelo do mean something to us,” Talishi gently asserted, “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 hours. But whether we succeed or fail is entirely in your hands.”
When Raziel and Beleth showed signs of failing to understand, Senciner said, “We cannot watch you every moment of the remaining time. You could sabotage the ship, perhaps blow out a panel and let all our air escape into space, or launch the weapon, which you assure us will result in instant obliteration. We couldn’t stop you, if you decided to thwart the mission out of spite. No one would ever know.”
Raziel sighed. He could see it was going to happen no matter what he said or did. “Exactly how do you intend to deflect the comet?”
“We will ram directly into it,” Talishi revealed. “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. Mastema has no idea what’s about to happen. Already Yeshua Bat-El has departed Barbelo, giving Mastema the impression that he knows what’s coming and is afraid. The Ark was recalled to Earth long ago, my avatar was destroyed, and when I die my fold-line will retract through the passage and Mastema will finally be able to close it. 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 preoccupied, I imagine.”
“Very busy,” Talishi admitted. “I’m afraid we will regret our missing Malkiel and Xaphon very much before the very end. And that end will be better than most, Raziel. It will be very quick, and you will not suffer in the slightest way.”
“Then we will do what we can to help,” Raziel said, and he permitted himself a wry grin. “It will be . . . the excellent thing to do.”
45 – KIM
The sinking of Reina Regena with the End Dome Church’s first prophet Mark Lange aboard, along with seven hundred other souls who could not take to lifeboats, was one of the biggest factors that changed US public opinion about the Great War from an attitude of cynical isolationism to moralistic idealism. A month later Congress approved a declaration of war against the Central Powers, and a month after that forced conscription began.
Despite Church of End Dome roots in the pacifist German Brethren, and the slight bias in favor of the Central Powers by many Americans of German descent, very few Endomites availed themselves of Conscientious Objector status after receiving their draft notification. Erik Lokken of Franklin accepted the call to go “Over There” along with nearly five million other Americans. Besides, he wasn’t German, he was Norwegian. After a brief period of the most rudimentary military training Erik found himself on a troop ship on the way to Bayonne, France.
America was late getting into position for the First World War, and as General “Black Jack” Pershing trained the American Expeditionary Forces to operate independently of the Allies, they would be late getting into battle. The war was in it’s final two months before Erik entered combat as part of the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, the third and easiest operation to straighten out the remaining German salients in the Western Front before the main Allied thrust to break the Hindenburg Line could begin.
The Americans were tasked to attack the German left flank against static positions they had held for more than three years while France, Britain and Belgium bled themselves white. But now the allies were getting a fresh shot in the arm from the merry but homesick doughboys who went into battle singing and whooping with all the enthusiasm of a football team pouring out onto the field before kickoff.
The Germans knew the Americans were coming and began to pull out, but the Americans attacked before the Germans estimated they would, with 600 aircraft and 144 tanks commanded by Colonel George S. Patton Jr. For St-Mihiel was Patton’s first battle as well.
Casualties in this battle were very light as battles went in the Earth’s First World War, but the weather was miserable. The nearly three thousand pieces of field artillery unleashed by the Allied side as well as the bombs dropped from the air tore the battlefield into a pock-marked pig sty filled with mud.
The Germans might have been withdrawing, but they were quite capable of fighting a rear-guard action with a deadly bite. Erik took two rounds from a German Bergmann Maschinenpistole 18/1 that shattered the bone in his upper left arm and he was sent by truck to a War Department field hospital in the rear just beyond German counter-battery fire.
Due to the development of gas gangrene, which was part and parcel of the mud and generally unsanitary conditions on the front, the army doctors decided to amputate Erik’s arm, leaving only a two inch stump, which unfortunately would too short to be usefully fitted with a prosthetic arm.
Since the amputation was performed in non-ideal circumstances, Erik was sent by a hospital train to Paris for follow-up care. It was there he met Clara Lokken, who was a Red Cross nurse. They made a connection because the name Lokken was stenciled on Erik’s uniform and also engraved on Clara’s name tag. It was an uncommon surname.
They talked for a bit, and Erik learned that Clara was from a branch of Lokkens who had stayed behind in Pennsylvania, so she knew very little about the End Dome Church. They talked for a bit more and discovered they shared the same great-grandmother. They were second cousins. That and her all-American girl-next-door good looks interested Erik.
What interested Clara was Erik’s attitude in the face of his life-changing injury. He didn’t feel sorry for himself after losing an arm. There was pain, but he kept a wicked sense of humor. They couldn’t talk for long, but Clara passed along to him the address of her parents in Pennsylvania, because he said he wanted to be pen pals after they both got back home.
A pen pal relationship gradually blossomed into love, and in 1922 Erik drove nearly all the way across the country in his 1916 Model T. He took the Yellowstone Auto Trail and it took a month to get to Erie, Pennsylvania, averaging ninety miles and five dollars a day, not counting the cost of two major automobile repairs. This came out of his twenty-five dollar per month Veteran’s pension, which had been supplemented by a job as a painter in Franklin. He could do his job with one arm, although with some difficulty.
After arriving in Erie he sold his Tin Lizzie to defray the wedding expenses. Although Pennsylvania was the original “anti-cousin marriage” state, it only prohibited marriage between first cousins, not second cousins. Still, it took some doing by Erik and Clara to get her parents to sign off on it. In the end, they had the blessing of both parents, and soon the newlyweds were traveling west across the country by train to start their new life in Franklin, Washington.
When it came to Erik’s parents, however, they were a much harder sell, and he became more or less the black sheep of the family because he had passed over a perfectly good (if plain) first cousin who shared the same grandparents, and had to fall in love with Clara who only shared the same great-grandparents with him, never mind that she was pretty. Apparently love was very fickle. This was now permitted by End Dome doctrine under Prophet Peter Two Feathers, but some said it wasn’t a brave choice, because any heathen could do as much.
Kimberly Lokken was born to Erik and Clara in 1925. She would be their only child.
Kim had known her two best friends Sofie and Dory for as long as she could remember, perhaps as far back as the summer 1928, when they shared their days at the same nursery while their mothers also found work. This was nearly the peak of the Roaring Twenties, when unemployment dipped below five percent. Then came the stock market crash in 1929.
By 1930 the Great Depression was just getting started. Their mothers were soon booted from their jobs, followed by Kim’s father, as employers suddenly found many other men willing to paint who had two good arms. Still, Erik did not despair, but retained the good spirits that had caused Clara to fall in love with him at first sight in France. And it soon turned out that Erik’s optimism was justified.
Peter Two Feathers had been chosen by Prophet Mark Lange to be the successor to the Apostle Shy Bear upon his death. Peter in turn had automatically ascended to the chair of Mark Lange when he was lost at sea and he immediately appointed a new Apostle from among the elders of the White Wing of the End Dome Church named Peter Hansen. Thus the lifetime office of Prophet alternated smoothly between the White and Red wings of the Church, and assuming this rule was never broken there could not be a succession crisis.
Two Feathers had compassion upon Erik Lokken and gave him employment that involved a deep and sacred trust. With his single arm, he was to wield the Golden Gift to carve a network of tunnels under Franklin. For there were rich seams of coal under the townsite, but they were isolated by an overlay of hard volcanic rock that covered the area during the formation of the relatively young Cascade mountain range and it had never been feasible to reach and exploit the older layers of sedimentary rock underneath. With the Golden Gift, Erik Lokken could easily create passageways through this rock, and others followed in his wake to remove the coal.
While the rest of the country wallowed in unemployment that reached twenty-five percent, the area around Franklin experienced a boom that hadn’t been seen since the gold rush days after the Civil War, when the town swelled with the ranks of ’69ers. Great heaps of black gold from the Franklin mines piled up on docks as far away as San Francisco.
Financially, Erik Lokken did far better than he ever did as a one-armed painter in the Twenties. Soon enough he had a nice new brick red Ford Model 48, his first car since selling his Model T, and he also paid off his modest home. Erik set some money aside in a rainy day fund. There was enough left over to send Kim to the End Dome parochial school in Selleck rather than the free public school, so she could be with her friends, but especially because it was an excellent school that stressed getting students engaged in learning experiences outside of the classroom as well as within.
In 1937 Kim, Sofie and Dory were twelve, that wonderful last year of their “tweens” when their bodies were gathering power for the changes soon to come. They talked about boys in idealized, abstract terms that had little bearing on the clumsy, stinky, stupid little barbarians that happened to be actual boys. In slumber parties they would practice necking with each other, so long as it was understood that one of the neckers had to be a boy, at least in theory.
Sofie Krause at great personal sacrifice would play the role of beau nine times out of ten, especially when it was Dory Fuchs’ turn.
Likewise, in class, the tight trinity of friends would send flowery little love letters to each other. The girl-love of tweens was love of a high order that knew no jealousy. Share and share alike. But they dreaded having one of their masterpieces of amorous soliloquy discovered by a classmate, or God forbid, the teacher. So they created their own secret language called Relbimian. And in that language, the word for “group of three” was boda.
This, then, was the state of the Boda in seventh grade:
Dory Fuchs: Blue eyes, long jet black hair tied in the obligatory pony tail but with the cutest bangs ever. She was the skinniest member of the Boda but the first one to begin to grow breasts. She liked to read books by English authors about dragons and elves and wizards and unicorns. Already, at age twelve, Dory had pinup model stems.
Academically, Dory deliberately aimed at getting straight B’s to strike the middle ground between pleasing her parents and not appearing to be a bookish girl. In the Boda Dory took the middle ground, becoming “all things to all women” and she became the glue that held them all together. If the Boda could be said to have a leader it was Dory, yet the character of her role was persistently one of support. Instead of dragging them along she pushed from behind.
Sofie Krause: A tomboy who kept her ash-blond hair cropped short in a crew cut, with no pony tail in defiance of the Church. Not even her father had anything to say about that, for already Sofie had the physique of a wrestler. She was the only girl on the football team. One time a boy at school said her football uniform made her look fat and she flipped him to the ground and pasted him good. Knocked out his front tooth. No one said that to her again. She was, however, like all the girls at school, required to wear skirts rather than pants in the classroom, and this annoyed her to no end.
One Halloween morning Dory came to school dressed as a pirate’s wench and she had ripped her dress into long strips so that when she walked her slender legs would poke out now and again. Susan sat there with her mouth wide open and felt a sexual frisson from her face to her toes. In that moment she knew what she was. Sofie had graduated from the tomboy phase to full bore tribade. After that, Sofie lost all interest in sports, and everyone could hardly believe it. But chasing Dory had become the ultimate sport to her. Sofie was a scrub, but Dory eagerly helped her do her homework, which kept Sofie hovering in “D” territory rather than a hard fail.
Kim Lokken: Auburn hair about halfway between mahogany and carrot-top. Light green eyes. She had a pretty face but she was a little chubby. Or perhaps just Rubenesque. In temperament she was the most classically feminine member of the Boda, for she took after her mother. She was compelled to wear her hair in a ponytail at all times, of course, like her mother and father and elders and all other good little Endomites, male or female.
Kim was an infidel. She didn’t really believe any of that stuff about Chief Shy Bear and the Golden Gift written in the White Scroll, which was testimony to how tightly her father Erik was capable of keeping Peter Two Feather’s secret. But Kim wasn’t prepared to let her folks down. So she gritted her teeth, wore the damn ponytail, and when she ventured out of the Green River Gorge area she ignored the comments at the edge of her hearing like “Oh there goes another Pony. Look at her hair.”
In eighth grade science class the teacher paired everyone off for lab partners. Kim ended up with Sofie, and Dory ended up with one Jerry Shy Bear, the youngest grandson of the original Shy Bear who played a role in the early days of the End Dome Church.
“No offense, Pally,” Sofie muttered as she kicked Jerry out of his seat and send him shambling towards Kimberly. No one was going to separate Sofie and Dory.
Jerry was one of the few Original Inhabitants who attended the school in Selleck. He was a skinny boy, and shorter than Kimberly even, but the other boys were afraid to pick on him because he had already demonstrated a hidden wiry strength in a series of earlier fights, and all of them learned why young men in the Red Wing were called “braves”. He became the fourth member of the Boda, sort of, which was an oxymoron, like having a fourth novel in the Galaxy’s Fall Trilogy.
Jerry could tell right away that Sofie and Dory were a unit, so he gravitated towards Kim. At the ice skating rink in Issaquah they would even hold hands, since Sofie and Dory weren’t afraid to do so. He was not her first or even second cousin, and therefore he could never be her husband someday, so it was fun to experiment, but they both knew it could never turn into anything serious. Then again, thirteen year old kids never take anything serious.
There was absolutely no body modesty in the Boda, and if Jerry wanted to be a part of it, they would have to break him in. The first time they went skinny dipping at Lake 13 Jerry liked what he saw, and so did Kim. She began horsing around with him at every level short of a full jackpot. Naturally she had to keep Sofie and Dory appraised of every move.
“So what’s it like to kiss an actual, you know, boy?” Dory asked.
“Just like kissing Sofie. Same pressure. He smells different up close though. Not bad, just different.”
“Did you pitch woo?”
“We did indeed pitch woo. He feels like a rubber wet suit stretched out over a suit of armor. Soft on the surface but with a hard core underneath. I liked it.”
“They look like beer bottles instead of Coke bottles,” Sofie complained.
“There comes a time when you grow up and move from soda pop to beer,” Kim replied, but only Dory seemed to agree.
46 – VICTORIA
Mastema had a dragon, sure, but Bat-El had a woman who could fly. Her name was Victoria and she was a third-generation B’nei Elohim.
Yeshua got the idea of a flying woman from that one time when he departed from his followers in Jerusalem and ascended into the sky. On the summit of Mount Olive he had summoned a worm-tunnel mouth, stepped into it, and had remained entirely visible to the disciples as he physically moved the bubble into the air, riding along with it. The same mechanism was used to allow Victoria to fly on Earth and also on the moon, the only difference was that Bat-El handed full control of the position of the worm-tunnel mouth to her.
Talishi asked to borrow Victoria after learning of her existence during her long talks with Aliwe. And so Victoria had immediately come to Barbelo through the Sacred Pool. She dropped to one knee before Yeshua and said, “Command me, Lord.”
For it was written by Paulus that every knee will bow at the name of Yeshua and every tongue confess that Yeshua was Lord. The B’nei Elohim considered themselves the greatest servants of Yeshua.
“I need you to kill an errant dragon,” Yeshua told her, and not for an instant did Victoria blanch.
“Such a simple thing, Lord? I would love to whack a dragon for you, of course, but there is one small hitch. I can’t fly on Barbelo.”
Yeshua then ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be brought out and propped just above the dark wooden decking that surrounded the Sacred Pool. Then he told Victoria, “Touch one of the cherubim on the cover of the Ark.”
For the Ark, as the only remaining avatar of El Shaddai, was also a receptacle for the end point of a one-dimensional fold-space line. El Shaddai used the physical structure of the Ark as a reference to keep the end-point of the worm-line positioned within. But after Victoria touched the lid of the Ark, that worm-line began to track on her body like an invisible piece of string cheese she could never shake loose.
Now Victoria was the Ark. For the time being, the original Ark was just an inert piece of gold-covered wood, with no connection to El Shaddai at all.
Yeshua said, “The fold-line cannot act as a tunnel, that requires a continuous flow of dark energy and El Shaddai is only budgeted for the one that connects to this pond of water. But the end of the fold-line you now possess can balloon out like a pod, big enough to contain you, and of course you can now control where that pod takes you, in the usual way.”
“Which is to say, Lord, I can now fly on Barbelo. Where shall I go?”
“Talishi is waiting for you in the King’s castle in Peshast, the capital city of the Black Beards, east from here and over the Wall of God. There she will give you the weapon you will use to kill Demonstroke.”
Victoria bowed and said, “Thank you, Lord Yeshua, for giving me this opportunity to bring glory to our God.”
“El Shaddai doesn’t need glory, Victoria, he just needs the dragon dead. But I will say to you that you are entirely welcome for this opportunity to have more fun than any B’nei Elohim has ever enjoyed before.”
The demigod Victoria, daughter of Ariel, granddaughter of Robyn, exulted as she flew in the violet sky of Barbelo. Victoria soared over the River Armak, which flowed west from the place where it was joined by the river Arhena. She continued to fly along the Arhena east, always east, as the awesome Wall of God began to loom as a barrier before her.
Victoria looked down and saw trees with leaves of many colors, red and green, yellow and gold, such that the land looked to be perpetually in the full glory of autumn as it was known on Earth. Yet Barbelo’s trees were never bereft of leaves, for there were no seasons as there were on Earth. Instead the leaves fell from their trees individually after a span, and were replaced by another.
The source of the River Arhena was a perpetual rain that fell as a mist in the center of the Wall of God. Victoria became thoroughly soaked as she flew through this heavy drizzle. A little more than halfway up the dark Wall of God, at 10,000 feet, the mist became a solid white sheet of falling water. This was the greatest cataract known to man.
At 19,000 feet Victoria flew over the rim and turned horizontal once again, now following the chief waterway of the Black Beards, the River Bandar, east through high hills to the city of Peshast.
The guards of the castle saw Victoria alight and nearly fled in their fright. She said, “I am Victoria of the B’nei Elohim. I was summoned here by Talishi herself, gentlemen, so please take me to her.”
Victoria was brought to Talishi in the council chamber, and as she had done in Canterwood she knelt in worship, for B’nei Elohim were much more aware of the awesome difference of the Elohim than most other humans were. Talishi welcomed Victoria and told her to rise.
“My Lady,” Victoria said, “the Lord Yeshua told me you have a weapon to kill Demonstroke.”
“Aliwe, please do the honors.”
Aliwe unwrapped the black cloth from around the broken pieces of Dragonthorn, the blade Kari Antero once used to command Demonstick.
Talishi said, “This is the only heirloom we possess with which we can hope to even the odds against the dragon and it is nothing more than a pile of sharp baubles.”
Victoria stepped forward to gather up the diamond shards. The one still attached to the hilt could serve as a long dagger, or very short sword. She said, “I think I can fly behind the dragon and ram this into his brain.”
‘The covenant says she who wields Dragonthorn must be a virgin woman,” Baron Bayard declared. “Otherwise the dragon will not be mortally wounded.”
Which was the Baron’s way, of course, of saying he was interested in Victoria and wanted to know more about her. He wasn’t sure where a B’nei Elohim female fit on the spectrum between commoner and noblewoman.
“I have never known man,” Victoria declared in turn, with a wink at Talishi. She didn’t mention the crazy lesbian sex she once had with Chayn. Maybe that skirted the intent of the virginity requirement, but it was the Elohim, after all, who made their demigod servants such utter horn dogs.
After Victoria officially joined Talishi’s group they rode down the river Bandar to the town of Vesa, where the Fallen Angels camped outside the city. The royals reserved an inn. There, after supper had finished, the conversation turned to strategy. Victoria asked the first, most obvious question: “Where, actually, is this dragon located?”
Baron Bayard asked the innkeeper if there was a map of Barbelo at hand. When servants posted it on the wall of the dining hall, Baron Bayard walked up to it and said, “Behold the Wall of God. The woman Joy is said to keep Demonstroke in an aerie high above the Valley of Ten Thousand Creeks that come together to form the Alnitar river, approximately here. You can see this is the wildest region in Haaretz. No roads issue forth thither from Nath or Hamar. Yet we must start from Fatho because it is the nearest city to the aerie.”
“Hell. In the morning I can find this aerie myself and dispatch the dragon as I have been commanded,” Victoria said.
“That will not do,” Talishi countered. “I have no doubt you can do precisely as you have described, but it’s no good if you just kill the dragon in secret. People have to see you do it. That’s what this is really about. People have to see that we are resisting Mastema.”
Victoria bowed her head. “As you say, Lady Talishi.”
The Baron said, “Some of you might have surmised that I intend to use the Catwalk to reach Haaretz from here.”
“And what dear Baron is this Catwalk of which you speak?” Victoria asked.
“The Catwalk, Lady Victoria, is a path carved into the stone face of the wall which drops four air miles in one hundred Catwalk miles. But it is precarious beyond belief. There are places where the Catwalk is no wider than one of your feet is wide.”
“M’lord Baron, please tell me this Catwalk comes with a safety rail,” said Aliwe Halil.
“The Catwalk comes with no rail. We must take our own precautions. Oh, did I mention that one part of the Catwalk entails a rope traverse?”
“Naturally I do not fear this Catwalk,” Victoria said, “but have caution. If anyone falls, I will not be able to stave off your death. I can carry little more than this blade which I intend to use to slay Demonstroke.”
“I do not doubt the courage of anyone in this company to continue,” Talishi said, “but it may be the case that not everyone will be mentally prepared to negotiate it, as the Baron describes it. Let everyone turn it over in their mind as we ride to the rim tomorrow, for it shall be there that whoever freely elects to end their part of our quest must remain behind while the others go on.”
An awkward silence fell as everyone contemplated how they would react when they saw the Catwalk.
Talishi turned to the commanding officer of the Fallen Angels who was also present at the inn. “Tell the girls what they’re facing tomorrow and make the same offer. I am not ordering any of them to accompany me to Haaretz. But if they elect to stay behind here in the lands of House Larund they must disband as Fallen Angels, and not even form veteran societies. I will not have King Garand troubled by the presence of a regiment of foreign troops in his realm.”
47 – PALATO
It could not be hidden for long that the first space flight initiated by humans from Barbelo had been a suicide mission to avert an approaching comet and prevent a third Great Deluge. Nor could it be hidden that Mastema, now incarnated as the Gerash High Lord Patriarch Sartael, had prevented news of this comet from getting out to the other families. And the simultaneous secret flood preparations by the elite among the greater Gerash 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 El Shaddai. Some even said that Talishi herself had led the mission and had died in a successful attempt to divert the comet. All in all, Mastema had sustained a terrible propaganda defeat.
As Talishi 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, Mastema was viewed as evil even by many members of Family Gerash, especially by those who were deemed unworthy to receive the same warnings that were given to the purebred family core. Mastema 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 Mastema’s own armed forces.
Young Ithuriel departed the Canterwood Academy and traveled east to cross the River Sabik near Mount Menkant. A boy once known as Edgar Shybear, Ithuriel was the son and first child of Robyn and Jerry Shybear, but whether he was the eldest child was a matter of which timeline you were talking about and where you stood within that timeline.
Ithuriel was a second generation member of the B’nei Elohim, which was translated Son of God. This order was established by El Shaddai and Bat-El on Timeline Delta. The act of creating the B’nei Elohim created Timeline Epsilon.
Some people called the B’nei Elohim demigods, but they were really demiurges, craftsmen and craftswomen who tried to make the perfect vision of El Shaddai and Bat-El into reality. Each of them were each marked by a unique ability that set them well above human beings in some way. Call them real-life superheroes. In Edgar’s case his power was an extraordinary intellect.
On the Epsilon timeline Edgar Shybear, upon reaching early adulthood in 1964, penetrated the operating principle of the Golden Gift and duplicated it. He called his apparatus a macro, because it made quantum interactions manifest on a macro scale.
El Shaddai could have simply told Edgar how the Golden Gift worked, but then the young man would never have reached beyond his known limits to become Edgar. And Edgar was precisely what El Shaddai had been breeding for across four millennia.
Edgar’s macro was in turn brought back in time by Yeshua and inserted into 1947, which created Timeline Zeta. That was Ithuriel’s native timeline.
On the Zeta line young Edgar went to the Academy in Canterwood rather than recreating something his older self had already created. In this way advanced technology was pulling itself up by it’s own bootstraps. The ultimate goal was to break Mastema’s barrier isolating El Shaddai and Bat-El from the greater community of Elohim.
But that version of Edgar had gone rogue, and while he had not actually removed himself to the camp of Mastema, he no longer considered himself truly part of the B’nei Elohim. Yeshua allowed him to depart and renamed him Ithuriel. When Dory tried to contact him directly, Ithuriel simply ignored her.
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 permanent human presence in low orbit space stations followed, as well as tentative footholds on Barbelo’s 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 nascent Navy of Mastema grew as rapidly as the off-Barbelo population grew. The avatar of Mastema formed the invincible heart of this Navy, and a powerful 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.
John Wayne once said, “Life is hard, it’s even harder when you’re stupid.” I follows that the inverse is true: Life is easy when you’re brilliant. Ithuriel had set himself the goal of reaching the land of House Larund, east of the Wall of God, and every decision he made led him inexorably closer to reaching that goal. Sometimes, unfortunately, those decisions came at the expense of less intelligent people he met along the way.
Knowing that Black Beard intruders always seemed to come to Canterwood from down the vale of the river Sabik, Ithuriel journeyed up that river to see what he could see. After tarrying for a time in the capital of Hamar, named Menkant, he dwelt in the city of Wazol for a year.
Every day Ithuriel explored a different part of the face of the Wall of God, which loomed just east of the city, looking for the fabled path that led to the top. He gnawed at the problem with his usual tenacity but looking for an end-point to the trail was a problem that could never be solved, since the end-point was deliberately obscured with heavy brush.
So Ithuriel thought outside the box and went off-trail, cross-country, marching through knee-high ferns in any direction he chose much like a ship sails at sea. He steered himself straight up the wooded slope that lay at the foot of the Wall and finally stumbled onto the very lower reaches of the Catwalk.
The Catwalk was a Cadillac of a trail, luxuriously maintained, but unexpectedly so. This was the fabled way Talishi herself had descended to Haaretz two thousand years prior.
Because Edgar was anything but stupid, he did not ascend the Wall of God on the Catwalk until he had properly prepared the tools and provisions he would need to make the attempt. Yet mental preparation was just as important, if not more so. Once on the Catwalk Edgar knew his world would be transformed from a plane into a single line. A single moment of panic, of giving in to the ever-present fear of falling, would be fatal.
Ithuriel’s immediate goal was to ascend out of Haaretz, but he had set for himself the ultimate goal of getting off Barbelo altogether. As he negotiated the Catwalk he tried to decide where he would go and what he would do.
At the Academy Ithuriel had learned the early settlements on Palato, which formed soon after Talishi’s suicide flight, had been grouped into three triads, each one under a triarch. Afterwards they were organized into a loose Palato League, which elected, when common action 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 Mastema 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 it’s 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. Ithuriel considered all of these as possibilities for his ultimate destination.
The Academy at Canterwood was famed throughout Barbelo. Edgar need only to describe himself as alumni, verified by a single telephone call to Yeshua, and any job in Peshast was literallty his for the taking. So life for Ithuriel really was easy. The job he chose was spacecraft pilot for a Black Beard corporation called Astrodynamics.
A number of years before Talishi’s one-way flight to prevent a third great deluge a breathtaking feat of construction inside the Northern Ice of Barbelo had been initiated by House Larund, averaging fifteen miles a year. This resulted in the construction of a giant mass-driver, a sun-powered electromagnetic catapult for hurling vehicles to orbit. When this infrastructure was complete it became relatively cheap and easy to obtain access into space.
Simulators could only teach so much. After much classroom time it was time for Ithuriel to take his first flight, accompanied by a senior pilot named Nithael as instructor.
The shuttle was hexagonal in cross-section so it could fit inside the mass-driver. Wings and stabilizers lay folded up on the surface of the reusable shuttle for the launch, to be used on the return leg. The spacecraft typically carried six persons and a small amount of cargo, or in the case of Ithuriel’s checkout flight, just two persons and much more cargo.
After getting underway, there was two minutes and thirteen seconds of brain-flattening hell in the mass-driver tunnel at six gees. As the shuttle neared the end of the tunnel, it passed through a series of automatic airlocks designed to bring the local pressure from the near-vacuum of the majority of the tunnel to the full atmosphere at the tunnel mouth. During this sequence the shuttle slowed and Ithuriel and his instructor were hurled forward in their straps.
At 365 miles east of the boarding station the shuttle passed the final coil and broke into clear air, but with enormous horizontal velocity. The shuttle became surrounded by a teardrop of superheated air that thinned and cooled. Soon after that the sky appeared to turn black and the planet seemed to gradually drop away from the shuttle until orbit was reached.
On the whole was a frightening ride to the uninitiated but it was actually very safe and it led to the development of space at a far greater pace than would occur when Earth followed suit about one hundred years later.
Palato was roughly 500 miles across, and roughly 50,000 miles away from Barbelo, which made it appear roughly the same size as the Earth’s single moon did from the surface. When Ithuriel had performed a perfect landing at the designated place, and the metal roof had closed overhead to form a seal so the docking structure could be pressurized, he helped Nithael unload the cargo from the shuttle.
An Eye of Mastema appeared soon after that, and said the modern day equivalent of precisely the same query the Eyes had made of Sibelius outside of Salem when he was smuggling Princess Khondiel into the city: What man of ye be the loadmaster?
“I am Nithael, and I command this shuttle.”
“I know you, Nithael of the House of Larund, but who is the boy?”
“He is called Ithuriel, and my superiors at Astrodyne ordered me to check him out as a shuttle pilot.”
“One so young?”
“Ithuriel claims to have attended the Academy in Canterwood,” Nithuriel said with a shrug. “From what I hear of that school, his claim is not so far-fetched. He performed flawlessly.”
“It is said that no child of House Bellon or House Gerash may attend the Academy,” said the Eye. “And so I find it curious indeed to find a Canterwood graduate on Palato so close to the Navy of Mastema. What say you, boy? What is the truth here? Why have you come?”
“I came only to be certified to fly,” said Ithuriel. “Astrodyne said go to such-and-such a place with this cargo and so I came.” He stared steadily at the Eye of Mastema and began to silently count numbers in his head.
At the count of eleven the Eye said, “Nithael, you may return to Barbelo in your shuttle, but this boy will stay on Palato to answer all such further questions as I might have. If I find his answers to be unsatisfactory I will pass word to your employer below, which you should take to mean it would be unhealthy for you to return to Palato ever again. The Lord Sartael does not love accomplices of spies.”
Ithuriel did not learn the name of the Eye of Mastema was Hogarth until somewhat later after he had spoken to Sartael himself.
Hogarth was famous for a certain type of investigation internal to the Army and Navy of Mastema. It used to deeply cut into the Gerash annual budget for troops to go out on early retirement with a bogus disability claim, only to be seen the first weekend chopping wood in their back yard. Often a visit from Hogarth was all it took to make these ailments miraculously clear up and the man returned to duty, such that his nickname among the Eyes of Mastema became “Jesus” although this was never said in his earshot. And if the ailments didn’t clear up, he made sure they really had a disability to go out on. In either case (and Hogarth had no preference either way) the number of false claims fell to zero.
So Hogarth was something of a bogeyman on Palato. Men who passed him in the corridors glanced down at the floor and went out of their way to avoid brushing against him.
Ithuriel, per interrogation protocol, had been stripped completely naked and it was at that time that Hogarth discovered the bone cup breaking the skin at the back of his skull, complete with 55 dark pins about the diameter of the lead in a mechanical pencil. Brushing the pins had broken them off as easily as the aforementioned pencil lead, but in only a few hours they had grown back to the same length.
Ithuriel had nothing to say about the cup. So Eyes of Mastema manhandled the boy into a chair and bound him with straps.
Hogarth withdrew a gadget from a case for Ithuriel’s inspection. “This beauty shoots a little post under toenails or fingernails up to the first knuckle. Now usually, when you get injured your body lets you know with a shot of pain, but after a while your pain is handled with endorphins because your brain is saying, ‘Yes, I know about the damage, it’s being taken care of.’ But not with this toy. No, no, no, no! The post that will be under your nail is a particularly nasty toxin that takes many hours to dissolve away, so the body never stops getting messages that it’s being injured. Let’s just say no one ever volunteered for another one. But there is a first time for everything. Nothing would interest me more than to see how you do with all ten fingers and all ten toes on fire. So I have twenty questions, young Ithuriel. Let’s proceed. What is that white cup on the back of your head and how did you get it?”
Ithuriel said nothing. He was bored. Obviously this Eye of Mastema had no clue that torture simply didn’t work with the B’nei Elohim. And so Hogarth applied the device to Ithuriel’s forefinger, which went SNICK! And Ithuriel immediately slipped into self-induced general anaesthesia which would last for the duration of the toxin.
48 – THE CAMPS
The Germans were not complete idiots. Earlier in the year a U-boat captain, gazing at the shore of the Isle of Wight through his periscope, noted that St. Catherine’s lighthouse stopped flashing for hours. He noted the start and stop time, and a clever intelligence agent in Berlin realized this matched the start and stop time of the Clarinet signal originating from what they thought was a nearby tower. A second and third observation over the next two weeks verified the anomaly.
In the early morning hours of June 3, 1944 a German submarine surfaced just offshore and commandos rowed ashore to raid the lighthouse, led by an SS captain named Felix Schaub who doubled as the political officer aboard the U-boat to ensure its loyalty to Hitler.
On this occasion Schaub wore his black pre-war Schutz Staffel uniform for the brutal psychological effect he knew it would have on the Gervasi family.
With Lilith and Edith whimpering in terror, tied up and threatened with pistols pointed at their heads, Benjamin demonstrated the Clarinet system to Captain Schaub, but to Benjamin’s great surprise the Germans neither destroyed the gear nor tried to remove it to their submarine.
Instead, Schaub identified each member of the Gervasi family by name, and he told them he knew they were Jews. He said whether they lived or died would depend on the correct answer to precisely two questions:
“What is the target of the planned invasion across the English Channel?”
Benjamin stiffened in dismay. He was confronted with the choice of losing his family or betraying the trust Admiral Sir Bertrand Ramsay had given him. At the slightest nod from Schaub, the hammer was pulled back on the pistol pointed at Lilith’s head.
Gervasi gave in. “Calais,” he said, and let out the breath he had been holding for nearly a minute.
“Goot,” Captain Schaub said. “And the timing?”
The SS officer smiled. “I am a man of my word,” he said. “Neither you nor your wife nor your daughter will be killed. Here is what I want you to do, Mr. Gervasi. From now on, when you get your orders to operate Clarinet, you will carry them out, but you will be just a little sloppy when you align the antenna. Not too much! Perhaps a fraction of one degree. Only enough to throw the bombing raid off by a few hundred yards. You will do this until the British government decides to no longer prosecute its war against the Reich. And more importantly, you will tell no one that you are sabotaging the raids.”
“Or you’ll come back and kill us?”
“Benjamin, I’m disappointed in you! What does a man have in this world if he fails to do what he promises he will do? You have my word of honor that neither you nor your lovely wife Edith nor your beautiful young daughter Lilith will be killed. But they will be taken to the concentration camp near Saint-Malo in France were all the British Jews in the Channel Islands have been relocated.”
“No, I beg you!”
“They will not be unduly mistreated there. But if we learn that a future air raid on Germany using the transmitter at this lighthouse is successful, things will not seem so good. But even then, my word will hold! Lilith and Edith will be simply be transferred to a work camp deeper in France, perhaps even in Germany. It is astonishing, Benjamin, how much work you can get out of a Jew with a whip.”
Lilith and Edith were taken to Cherbourg, and by the evening of June 5 they were inducted into their first camp, a French farm that had been dubbed a clinic for racial hygiene.
The lighthouse on the Isle of Wight was not the only Clarinet system that had been raided by Captain Schaub, but it was the only one whose operator remained alive after the raid. Schuab’s report filtered up to Hitler, and the final piece of deception in the Fortitude element of Operation Bodyguard was in place. Hitler reinforced the defenses in the Pas-De-Calais region and left only a skeleton force at Normandy.
It is common knowledge after the fact that Calais was a feint, and the real invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy on the morning of June 6, 1944. Benjamin Gervasi’s weather forecast had tipped Eisenhower’s hand.
Two Panzer tank divisions, which might have driven the invaders back into the sea, were kept on a tight leash by Hitler, because he didn’t trust his own generals. Hitler himself slept until noon on that day, and didn’t release the Panzers until four PM, by which time the beachhead was relatively secure and Allied aircraft dominated the skies to the point of forcing German tanks to move only at night.
But for two months the Allies became tied down in the Normandy region trying to break out of hedgerow country while the Germans attempted to contain them. When they finally did, the breakthrough was very near to the Saint-Malo area where Lilith and Edith were being held. To prevent their premature liberation, the Germans moved everyone in the camp to another one in France far from the front lines.
Benjamin Gervasi continued to operate the Clarinet system when orders came in over the Teletype, but he deliberately altered the requested target angle slightly, believing it to be the only way he could save the lives of his wife and daughter.
The deception came crashing to an end in September when Lilith failed to register for secondary school. The constable came calling, who found evidence of the German raid, and notified army intelligence, who squeezed the truth out of Benjamin. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay intervened personally to keep Benjamin out of prison, but the bombing command insisted that the man be sacked from his lighthouse job for the duration of the war. Benjamin gradually began to despair of seeing either one of his loved ones again.
After breaking out of Normandy at Avranches, Patton’s 3rd Army moved across France at an unbelievable pace, performing a rapid right hook that nearly encircled Hitler’s forces opposing the invasion.
Lilith and Edith found themselves being moved at least once a month, which was encouraging in a way, but the camps grew progressively worse the nearer they drew to Germany itself.
The six digits 271817 were tattooed on Lilith’s arm.
Internment camps were abandoned for work camps. Work camps were evacuated and the Jews went to slave labor camps, and then to punishment camps, and finally to an extermination camp called Ohrdruf-Nord deep in the heart of Germany proper, where Jews were to be worked to death constructing a railroad center that was never finished.
Along the way currency, gold, and jewelry (of which Lilith and Edith had none) were sent to the SS headquarters of the Economic Adminstration. Watches, clocks, and pens were sent to the troops on the Western, Eastern, and Italian fronts. Their civilian clothing was given to needy German families.
Lilith saw things that pushed far beyond any boundaries of human evil she thought were possible to exist. And Ohrdruf wasn’t even the worst camp in the hellish constellation. Those were to be found further to the east, in Poland.
Many men have a taste for sixteen year old female flesh. Lilith learned to trade her body for scraps of extra food. Some of this she ate herself, but it was purely business. The longer she could delay taking on the figure of a skeleton, the more likely she was to have opportunities to trade her body for food. The rest of this extra food she gave to her mother.
This became a problem during the terrifying and humiliating appells, or inspections that followed roll call and lasted most of the day, when Lilith and Edith were found to be wasting away at a slower rate than their companion prisoners. They were successful in feigning weakness, but it was more difficult to hide their extra weight, and suspicion was raised.
One time when the guns of Patton’s tanks could be heard only forty miles away, and the twelve thousand inmates of the camp were being loaded onto cattle cars for transfer to Buchenwald, Edith Gervasi was discovered in possession of a little extra food. What happened after that Lilith told no one but her father, years after the war, on his final day of life. The horror of it might have even been the thing that killed him.
Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Lilith was one of the few prisoners left standing.
After the war in Europe when Lilith had been sufficiently deloused and scrubbed, and had demonstrated her status as a British subject to the satisfaction of the Occupation, she was placed on a ship and sent home to her father. Meeting him on a dock at Portsmouth, Lilith gazed upon him as though across a great gulf which was the memory of the unspeakable ordeal she had somehow survived. They were utter strangers to each other now.
On the dock and when he took her home Benjamin tearfully begged his daughter to tell him what happened to Edith, but the girl would only shake her head.
A few days later, in his Portsmouth home, Benjamin caught a quick glimpse of the mass of whip scars on his daughter’s back.
Lilith was suffering from what would much later be termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It would be a long time before she could summon the will to begin to recover from her experiences.
With the baron went his commoner servant Aliwe, and from time to time Bayard would stoop to pick up an agate and hand it to the girl. Victoria noticed that his fingers would linger on Aliwe’s hand as she took the stone, and the expression on the girl’s face was hard to decipher.
For the first time since joining Talishi’s group, Victoria looked at Aliwe very carefully and was surprised to see that the girl’s face had features that strongly reminded Vic of her own. But there were also things in Aliwe’s appearance that reminded her of Baron Bayard. Vic didn’t know what to think.
The quest moved at the pace of the oldest and slowest person among them, Count Berek Antero, who was entirely aware that he was holding everyone up. He also missed his wife Losna who had stayed behind at Gerazan, and he was not entirely sure he was prepared to endure the Catwalk as Bayard had described it. Yet he was a thoroughly honorable man who wanted to aid Talishi in every way that he could. So he was torn by an internal debate as he trudged along.
Victoria looked at Talishi and saw how her legs had become muscled and wiry. The walk had aged her a decade. Talishi was more handsome now than beautiful. Victoria and Talishi knew full well that beauty has a sell-by date. Talishi regretted only that she would never grow old together with Princess Khondiel.
As El Shaddai she had war-gamed every scenario that he and Bat-El could imagine to determine whether Khondiel could be extracted before she died and in every case Mastema won all of Barbelo and their own cause was irretrievably lost.
Behind them went a single company of Fallen Angels, about two hundred forty women. Two of every three had elected to stay behind in Peshast and disband, and gloomy Berek warned Talishi that some of the women who elected were certain to fall. The law of averages would claim them and there was little anyone could do.
At length Baron led them south on a footpath that gently climbed up a long wooded ridge. It looked like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assured them it would become the Catwalk when they walked a bit further. They all looked back down the way they had come. They were at an altitude where the trees were stunted and sparse, so the views east were unobstructed and spectacular. But at the summit of the ridge the view west was absolutely beyond belief.
Nineteen thousand feet below them lay the land of Haaretz in it’s entirety, even to the sea known as Thalury. In one glance they could take in both the Northern and Southern Ice, walls little higher than the Wall of God itself, racing west and drawing together until both they and Thalury slipped over the horizon. Nowhere else on Barbelo was the spherical shape of the world so apparent.
To the south the ridge trail slipped below the ridge which became an ice-carved wall almost concrete smooth, and they could see the trail became the infamous Catwalk, a lip only three feet wide where the cliff jutted out and fell once more. All of this was far too much for Count Berek Antero. “I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I cannot go on.”
“I would say that you have made a noble decision, Highborn,” Aliwe said, and not a few Fallen Angels came to the same wisdom as Count Berek. Talishi’s party had been whittled down to some one hundred fifty souls.
Talishi commanded that they make camp and embark on the Catwalk in the morning when everyone was well fed and fully rested. But rest would not come. In the morning there was little speech, for the enormity of the task ahead had weighed in everyone’s mind all night.
As Count Berek had feared, the law of averages began to take its toll. About once an hour the silence of the trek was broken by the terrified scream of a woman somewhere far behind Talishi slipping off the Catwalk and falling to her death. Waiting for the next one to fall became a constant and living horror that none would ever be able to banish from their memories.
There came a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard made a move to fondle Aliwe, and Aliwe tried to back away from him. The problem was there just wasn’t much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she, like some of the Fallen Angels behind her, slipped off the face of the Wall of God.
There was no scream but Victoria saw everything and flew down after her, not even taking the time to think that Aliwe’s weight would be too much and there was no saving her. Hadn’t she said as much before they embarked on the quest?
Below the Catwalk the Wall of God was not perfectly vertical. Victoria could not stop Aliwe’s fall but she could push Aliwe out of the way of any stony outcroppings as she approached them. Aliwe told Victoria to let her go, and reluctantly, Victoria had to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff.
Victoria continued down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe’s body bounced so she could attempt to bury her. But when she found her, Aliwe was smiling, none the worse for wear. She was standing in a small woody glen at the base of the Wall of God. They were at least three thousand feet below the Catwalk where the rest of the party waited for any sign of them.
Victoria finally guessed that Aliwe was a B’nei Elohim like herself, but one she never knew.
“I’m the daughter you haven’t had yet,” Aliwe explained. “Mom.”
Victoria smiled back. “It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones.”
“And I have Baron Bayard’s eyes.” She knew the implication of that statement sunk in when Vic stopped smiling. “Sorry I ‘slipped’ off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and I wouldn’t be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my own particular talent is indestructibility.”
“Similar. I can heal myself with supernatural speed but I can’t heal anyone else. Aren’t we superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like Kryptonite? And even Del can only fix so much.”
“You are here so it means we win, right? Bat-El and El Shaddai survive?”
“We win, they live, Mastema dies. This quest is important. Mastema has this weird passive-aggressive thing going on with his dragon where he can assail any city or army on Barbelo and it’s all Keri Antero’s fault for getting laid and breaking the Dragonthorn. After you kill the dragon he has to decide whether to use his first avatar in the same way, and either way, he loses. If he uses it, people stop following him because he’s a violent and malevolent god. If he doesn’t, then there’s peace on Barbelo. Win, win, for us.”
“So why are you back here?”
“Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for Talishi’s group. It’s already paid off to an extent. On the original loop Kari killed Kirodiel with Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with her lord still alive Joy simply had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant of course that I was the only survivor.”
“So who is that Joy woman? I’ve never seen her up close.”
“Joy is really your aunt Chayn, killed in the Moon War and living out her afterlife here. She’s not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask me. Joy has been possessed by Jill, and even before that Jill went completely over to Mastema, so don’t hesitate to kill the dragon even if it means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she’s basically screwed because Yeshua won’t give her a third chance.”
“A long as I don’t fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know.”
“That whole virginity thing was part of Mastema’s scam all along. It’s all lies. You could fly straight out of a week-long orgy and still kill Demonstroke with that shard.”
“One thing still bothers me,” Victoria said. “You said on your loop Joy killed everyone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where the hell do you come from?”
“I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council chamber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex with Luzea. I don’t blame him for that, actually. Luzea ain’t one of the B’nei Elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! On your timeline I interrupted them because Luzea is mine, and Dad went back to see Gramma Aurra. All this this was before you got here, but you’ve heard the accounts so you already know I saved Kirodiel’s life by intercepting the diamond blade with a metal tray. On my timeline Dad was the only surviving noble on the planet, outside of the Middle Land. He became something like a renegade while House Gerash started to take over the world.”
“So how did I meet him on your timeline?”
“Pretty much the same way you did this time around, Mom, except the quest was just you and him. You took the Catwalk, went to Menkant, the dragon shows up, and you fought Joy pretty much the same way you will again. As for how you fell in love with Dad I don’t really know, and do you know what? I don’t even want to know!”
“I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, fifty-fifty you’re a boy instead of a girl and very few of the events that formed your memories on your timeline will be present again in this timeline.”
“You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have nothing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me on my timeline. But all I want to do right now is get back to the talented Luzea. Now this next part is going to seem strange to you, because I know you but you don’t know me, but here goes.” And Aliwe pulled Victoria close for a kiss and a hug.
“Love you, baby,” Victoria said. “Will we meet again when it’s all over?”
“I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but it’s not the same.”
Then Aliwe left to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a less hardy person. On the coast she would try to find someone willing to take her to Saharad.
Victoria soared directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return to the Catwalk. Everyone sat around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard, who looked guilty. Victoria would tell them only, “Aliwe is in a better place,” which considering the nature of the Catwalk was absolutely true. Besides, it would keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got down off the face of the Wall of God.