60 – KIBBUTZ
As a consequence of the victory over the Ottoman Turks in the First World War, Great Britain became the master of the whole Middle-East. In the closing days of the War the British Foreign Secretary. A.J. Balfour, declared that “His Majesty’s Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish People, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievment of this object.”
In 1922 the Churchill White Paper put forth the premise that Jewish immigration to Palestine could continue until such a time as there was a Jewish majority there. But by 1939 Britain bowed to threats to British oil extraction infrastructure from Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen and reversed this position. This reversal hit at precisely the same time that Jews were being exterminated throughout the growing Third Reich.
After the War, Polish Jews refused to be repatriated to their homes in Europe. Physical attacks on them continued, and several hundred were murdered in the first three months after hostilities ended. Hundreds of thousands of Jews ended up in Displaced Persons camps throughout Europe, where conditions were only marginally better than they had been in the Reich’s death camps.
For the balance of 1945, only eight small ships carrying a thousand Displaced Persons reached Palestine from ports in Italy and Greece. For the first half of 1946, another 10,500 immigrants arrived on eleven ships. Talishi took Lilith to the kibbutz at Yad Mordechai during this span of time.
From August 1946 to December 1947, 51,700 Displaced Persons tried to make their way to Palestine on thirty-five ships, but were captured by the British and taken to new camps on the island of Cyprus, where they languished behind barbed wire.
Many of the armed guards of these camps in Cyprus had liberated some of the same prisoners from the extermination camp at Belsen-Belson only eighteen months prior to this, and they were fully aware of this. During this period, clandestine immigration to Palestine fell to a trickle. The British proposed a plan to divide Palestine, but it was rejected by both Arabs and Jews, and the question was referred to the United Nations.
On August 31, 1947, the UN proposed the creation of two independent states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish, with the city of Jerusalem under separate international control to administer the holy places of the world’s three major monotheistic religions. The Jewish side of the partition was to have 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs. The Arab side was to have 700,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews, and Jerusalem was to have about 100,000 of each ethnicity. The Jews would get the blasted wasteland of the Negev desert, and the Arabs would get the fertile upper Galilee region.
The UN thought all these arrangements were fair. So fair, in fact, that after Israel declared Statehood and the UN realized the Displaced Persons were being handed rifles as soon as they got off the boat at Haifa, another SC resolution was passed to prevent immigration of males from age 17 to 45.
David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency whose authority had been established by the League of Nations, knew the Jews would have to fight even for the lousy territory they had been assigned. He ordered every Jew in Palestine mobilized for war, men and women alike.
On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly accepted the partition proposals, by a vote of thirty-three votes to thirteen, with ten abstentions. The Jewish people, homeless since the days of the Roman Empire, were to have their own state again. There was rejoicing in the streets, but they danced while knowing war lay just ahead.
On the day after Partition, a bus carrying Jewish civilians to Jerusalem was attacked by Arabs with rifles and grenades, killing five people, including a young bride named Shoshona Mizrachi Farhi on the way to her wedding The bus attack came to symbolize the beginning of the war for independence, which would claim the lives of 6,000 Jews, or one percent of the total population.
In this period, after Partition but before the official declaration of the state of Israel, the armed forces were called the Haganah (Defense). Great Britain still occupied Palestine, and considered the Haganah an illegal organization. By the fall of 1947 Haganah had two thousand regulars and a thousand reserves.
Armed Bedoin nomads surrounded a number of isolated settlements in the south, including Lilith’s collective farm. The Jewish leader David Ben-Gurion swore that not one single settlement would be evacuated. Armored cars produced in Tel Aviv were used to secure the water pipelines that these settlements depended on, and to send weapons and reinforcements through the Bedoin lines.
After a Jewish convoy was attacked en route to reinforcing the kibbutz at Yad Mordechai, and all forty-six soldiers killed, the Haganah developed a plan to occupy those Arab communities that lay close to or directly between Jewish cities and the far-flung settlements.
In most cases, the Arabs fled their communities when they were besieged and occupied. In the case of the town of Dair Yassin where they did not, the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and the Stern Gang massacred all the Arabs, men, women, and children, to the shock and horror of most Jews, including the leadership of the Haganah. But the Haganah was not yet willing to cut off all ties to Irgun, because they had needed manpower and rifles, and they had the same enemies. In April they even conducted joint operations along the coast while the British accelerated their complete withdrawal from Palestine.
In reprisal for the Deir Yassin massacre in March, a convoy of armored buses was attacked on April 15, and seventy-seven Jewish doctors, nurses, and patients were killed. Only twenty-eight survived, and only eight of these were not wounded.
King Abdullah of Transjordan, who was the only real ally of the Jews in the region, offered Jewish autonomy, but only if it remained under his sovereignty. A Jewish Agency negotiator named Golda Meir was pained to disappoint her good friend the king, but she had to reject his offer. After all the Jews had suffered, especially in the Shoah (or Holocaust), it was simply not enough to be represented in a foreign parliament.
This led directly to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. Eleven minutes later, President Truman officially recognized the state by cable, before he even knew what the name of the country would be.
At that time the country’s army boasted nearly 37 thousand troops, but 1,200 had already been killed in combat. Britain opened the detention camps on Cyprus and thousands streamed into Israel by ship, many having already been trained in the camps by the Haganah.
On the first full day after Independence was declared, Iraqi troops crossed over the Jordan River. Simultaneously, Israeli troops raided Lebanon to delay their entrance into the war. Syria came down from the Golan heights with thirty tanks and advanced to the sea of Galilee. Two 65 mm artillery pieces checked the Syrians at the kibbutz known as Deganya, then the guns were rushed south to attack the Iraqis besieging the old British police fort overlooking Gesher on the Jordan River, causing them to flee.
On the second day, Transjordanian and Egyptian troops joined the assault. Saudi Arabia sent a company of troops who fought with Egypt. And Egypt even landed troops on the beach at Majdal between Gaza and Tel Aviv.
The first Egyptian attack was against the kibbutz of Kfar Darom, seven miles south of Gaza, where thirty settlers held off elements of the Muslim Brotherhood with grenades. When their grenades ran out, they put explosives in bags and hurled them at the attackers. When Egypt rolled in tanks, the settlers fired anti-tank weapons at the lead tanks, destroying them, and causing the other tanks to withdraw.
Then Egypt bypassed Kfar Darom and moved to kibbutz Nirim, five miles away. Twenty defenders were killed but they held on. Not even an air attack the next day broke their will.
In January 1948, the first state-sponsored forces from Syria began to make raids, and in this instance, the Jews were aided by counter-attacks from the Royal Air Force, for the British remained the rulers of Palestine, at least on paper.
When the Haganah completely abandoned the coastal highway running south from Tel Aviv, Lilith’s kibbutz at Yad Mordechai was completely cut off. Only two private aircraft maintained contact between north and south, carrying basic supplies and newspapers.
Two other aircraft were flying saucers flown by B’nei Elohim , with Jill piloting one and Hunky and Dory in the other one. They made their first appearance at Yad Mordechai when the settlers were pinned down under Arab fire. Just the appearance of the two silvery disks hovering over the kibbutz was sufficient to drive the attackers off.
Lilith had flown in one of the disks before, so she was not afraid. When Jill, Hunky and Dory emerged carrying boxes of medical supplies Lilith was in the front of the crowd of settlers to greet them.
Hunky and Dory and Jill were called Mahal, or foreign volunteers, and they were held in awe by the settlers of Yad Mordechai, because their saucers could hover with no fuel and delivered supplies from a seemingly inexhaustible source.
Lilith herself was part of the Gahal, or immigrant soldiers. Most of the children in the kibbutz were Sabra. That is, they had been born in Palestine and knew no other home. Lilith was their guardian when their parents worked the fields, both before and during the war.
Lilith Gervasi’s kibbutz lay just west of the road that linked Gaza to the Egyptian beachhead at Majdal. Egypt hurled two infantry battalions, one armored battalion, and an artillery battalion against them one dawn for an attack that lasted five days.
It was Lilith’s baptism by fire, the battle that forged her into a fierce warrior. She would fight in every one of her country’s conflicts until orthodox Jews prevailed to remove her from the front lines, and after that she would personally train Del, the daughter of Talishi, to become the even more legendary commander of Bravo Battalion. It was Lilith’s unwavering belief that the Yishuv, the People, always came first.
Much enemy armor was taken out with the PIAT (Projectile, Infantry, Anti- Tank). Those tanks which managed to breach the Yad Mordechai perimeter were set alight at close range with Molotov cocktails or attacked with hand grenades whose fragments would enter the tank through the view slit, wounding the crew and forcing them to retire. Other tanks were taken out with mines, and still others broke down and were dragged out of range by armored cars.
But there were just too many Egyptians, and the shelling never ceased. After five days the settler’s ammunition was spent. Dory and Jill took the worst casualties out by saucer while Hunky stayed behind to help Lilith carry the rest of the wounded through the Egyptian lines under the cover of darkness, along with the remaining settlers.
Yad Mordechai was abandoned, and in the morning the Egyptians burned it to the ground. But during those five days of resistance Tel Aviv was saved from being overrun. The stubborn defense at Yad Mordechai gave Tel Aviv time to bring in reinforcements and firm up the defensive line on the road between the city and Gaza.
On June 11, a truce called by the United Nations went into effect and lasted until July 9. In nearly one month of war Israel had lost 900 soldiers and 300 civilians.
Between the first truce and a second one was ten days of fighting. The IDF captured Nazareth, the home town of Yeshua, which had grown much bigger than the original five hundred souls.
The second truce lasted until October 15, and was followed with one solid week of fighting against Egypt. On the first day of that week Israeli warplanes bombed the Egyptian air base at El Arish on the Mediterranean coastline of Sinai, and cut the railway from El Arish to Rafa.
After the third cease-fire took effect on October 22, Lilith and the Polish settlers who had taken her in moved back into the ruins of Yad Mordechai and began to rebuild. There would be renewed fighting in the winter, and a fourth and final cease fire, but Lilith judged the continued existence of her new nation was no longer in doubt.
61 – DUAL DUEL
Baron Bayard was wounded and lay at Lord Kirodiel’s feet, but he was not unaware that sweet Victoria stood between him and certain death on the keen edge of Gerash steel. And he thought her to be insanely reckless, for she bore only the broken hilt-shard of the diamond blade known as Dragonthorn, and it would shatter once again should she attempt to block a single blow from the White Beard patriarch’s blade.
But both Victoria and Kirodiel, and everyone else for that matter, were gazing skyward at Joy, who had appeared in the sky above the queen’s barge riding on the shoulders of Demonstroke. Joy had caused the dragon’s deadly mouth to aim directly at Queen Aurra, who was confined to a wooden cage on the ship’s main deck.
Victoria rushed into the sky bearing the remnant of Dragonthorn and set her flight path to lead directly at Joy. For the first time Joy became aware that her niece had come to Barbelo to stop her. B’nei Eloah on B’nei Eloah violence, but that was not unprecedented. As Chayn, after all, Joy’s first death over Luna had come as the result of a Brushfire missile loosed by some other member of the B’nei Elohim. Perhaps it had even been Victoria did the deed.
Joy did not for a moment deceive herself that Yeshua would give her yet a third chance. To protect herself, Joy caused the mouth of the beast to drift away the queen and bear instead on Victoria. A burst of white fire from the belly of the orange sun over Barbelo roared out, and Victoria altered her course directly upward to evade it. Like an arrow that had missed, the flame struck the house of the king of Menkant and set part of it ablaze.
Then Joy caused the dragon to rise into the sky and follow her niece. When his flight path matched that of Victoria’s, he bent his snake-like head and neck under his belly and loosed a continuous blast of fire, and Joy was thrown back against his collarbone as the acceleration mounted like a rocket.
By a supreme effort of will Baron Bayard stood again and drew his blade, but he was an honorable man, and he would not strike at his foe in his distracted fascination at the drama unrolling far above the queen’s barge.
“Killing you wouldn’t be murder,”Bayard said, and Kirodiel turned his gaze from the sky to the baron once more. “It’d be atonement for allowing a monster to exist among us for too long.”
The two men saluted together once again in mock ceremony and the dance began anew. They circled, waiting for an opening.
Bayard lunged forward suddenly in a ferocious attack and forced his opponent to the defensive momentarily. Kirodiel’s counterattack focused the baron’s whole attention on the patriarch’s blade flashing forward in a blur. Forced to give ground, the baron kept speaking to attempt a distraction. “Frankly, I’m quite astonished that you’ve done so well, Gerash so-called Lord. More than once Lady Talishi regaled us with tales of how you held her captive much like you’re holding my mother, because you were afraid of what another woman, a Princess Khondiel, might do.”
Kirodiel rewarded him with a prickly scratch from shoulder to left breast. Bayard risked a glance down at the blood beading up there and in that moment Kirodiel was in the air leaping high and aiming a foot blow at the baron’s head.
Almost instinctively Bayard put both hands together as a single fist and sideswiped the offending boot. Lord Kirodiel sprawled badly and landed on his back. Both men recovered their stance but they had a renewed respect for each other.
Victoria could only fly so high. She wasn’t Hunky, after all, she couldn’t make her own oxygen for her body to use. So she stopped accelerating and topped out about four miles high, bending back toward Menkant in a broad arc. Joy saw this, of course. Demonstroke stopped his burn and brought his head forward to bear on Victoria again. Short bolts of fire raced out like tracers from World War II fighter airplanes.
Victoria dodged randomly as she fell to avoid being struck by the fire. When she had descended far enough to see individual men on the ships commandeered by Kirodiel, she deliberately flew toward them to draw the dragon’s fire, allowing Joy herself to set four of them ablaze. Then she flew through an open hatch on the deck of a fifth vessel which had been a cargo vessel, but now carried only troops.
The hatch clearly wasn’t big enough for Demonstroke. But Victoria wasn’t to escape that easily. Joy commanded the beast to burn his way through and make the hatch bigger. Then Victoria and Joy were briefly together inside the large hold of the ship as screaming men were crushed under the feet of the thrashing dragon.
“This is the part of the movie where you tell me why you did it, Aunt Chayn,” said Victoria, but Joy let Demonstroke open his mouth and answer for her.
Kirodiel and Bayard faced each other anew, focusing on probing each other’s defenses. Gaging the changes, at the same time seeking not to be changed. Bayard, slowed by his wound, fought with calculated risks but never rash ones. Kirodiel was rash, but attacked with supernatural speed. The blades would thrust just here, or there, bait or blow? The combinations were infinite. It became a game of looking for the opponent’s hesitancies through a net of deception and decision.
Bayard tried to ignore the pain of his wound, but the whole point of pain was that you cannot ignore it. Pain is a priority organizer. Yet one thought kept him going. Victoria had become his highest priority. Bayard longed to see how she was doing, but dared not tear his eyes away from the fight for an instant.
When Kirodiel said, “You lousy cunt,” Bayard merely continued the high tension ballet. However, when Kirodiel described the things he would do to Bayard’s mother the queen when he was finished here Bayard did an unexpected thing: He threw his blade away.
Astonished, Kirodiel tracked the errant blade with his eyes as his training required. In that split second Bayard blasted the White Beard lord with a kick squarely and solidly in the face.
Then they were rolling and thrashing on the ground. Faces were punched. Fingernails and teeth went for eyes and other soft spots. Kirodiel pulled the classic move of aggravating Bayard’s wound, which made the baron howl in agony.
Briefly, just briefly, stopping the pain became a higher priority to Bayard than Victoria was. And that made him fly into a rage. He literally saw red, and wasn’t entirely clear exactly what happened next. He found himself kicking Kirodiel’s head again and again until Kirodiel’s son Hovan and chief lieutenant Zadkiel crossed the deck to restrain him. Zadkiel said, “Baron, stand down. You got him.”
Young Hovan, leaning over his father, confirmed he was dead. Yet there was no anger. It had been an honorable death match, and the Baron had prevailed. But Hovan was fully confident the expedition would yet attain victory. The dragon Demonstroke remained the most powerful weapon of House Gerash.
The dragon set half of the ship’s hold ablaze, condemning a hundred soldiers of House Gerash to burn alive, yet Victoria escaped by rising through a second open hatch. Joy commanded the dragon to exit the ship through the same hole he had made. Yet Demonstroke was less agile than Victoria, and even as the dragon’s neck and Joy cleared the burning hulk, Victoria seated herself neatly behind her aunt, with the point of Dragonthorn resting on Joy’s back next to a kidney.
“If you choose to commit suicide, dear aunt Chayn, you are just seconds away from True Death. Or you can decide to live, and we can talk about what your deal is. So what will it be? I recommend you live, because if you die it’s really going to smart.”
For an answer, Joy tried to slam her right elbow back into Victoria’s face.
“Then I guess my daughter was right,” Victoria said, “and you really are Jill.” So with a shrug she pressed the jagged tip of Dragonthorn smoothly into Joy’s back and deep into that kidney.
Disabling pain. Joy’s scream of agony was inhuman. The only mercy she would receive would be her instantaneous death after she fell five hundred feet to thud like a sack of wet garbage on a cobblestone city street.
And Demonstroke, free at last of Joy’s overweening control of his movements, didn’t much like having Victoria crawl up his neck to get within striking distance of his head. He thrashed as violently as he could to shake her off, but she held on for dear life. Dragon fire couldn’t help him, he couldn’t very well aim his mouth at his own head. And his arms were too short to swat her off.
When Victoria had shimmied high enough to reach, she buried the fragment of the diamond blade in the dragon’s brain.
Demonstroke fell to the surface then, and if his brain had been working any better he would have thought to give Victoria a parting spray of fire on his way down, out of spite. Because that was the sort of dragon he was.
62 – RINGS
Ithuriel dug a large chamber in the precise center of his ice ball, and there he constructed from scratch a number of research macros. He also built a pair of hand-held macros for defense, much like the Golden Gift (or the silver copies that were the newest armament of House Gerash) in the event of a home invasion by their neighbors.
Ithuriel remembered vividly when, as a five year old child named Edgar Shybear, Yeshua brought his older self back about fifteen years in time to explain the workings of the Golden Gift to Robyn and Dory. The older version of Edgar had ferreted out the secret with no input from any of the Elohim, to their great pleasure.
“There are two realities, ladies,” Edgar the Elder began. “The first one is our everyday world up here on this scale, where things change smoothly. The second one the sub-microscopic world where things act with little discrete jumps. Down there things behave in ways that go totally against common sense, and we usually never see it. But sometimes the strangeness of that quantum behavior is magnified up to our macroscopic level. That’s why I call this gadget a macro.”
“Like superconductivity?” Robyn suggested.
“Correct. We’ve known for decades that if we get a loop of wire cold enough, resistance falls to zero. An electric current will actually flow around inside it forever. Also if you get liquid helium cold enough, it will become super-fluid. Viscosity, which is the gooey property of syrup and ketchup, literally falls to zero. Start the stuff swirling around inside a beaker and it will never stop moving. Call it superfluidity.”
“How does that really work, Edgar?” Dory asked. She remembered these concepts vaguely from the excellent private school in Selleck operated by the Church of End Dome.
“That part is still not very clear, even today. The electrons in the loop, or the helium in the beaker, join up in pairs that talk to each other somehow, instantly, no matter how far apart they get. We say they are entangled. When one electron or helium atom zigs, the other one zags, and the result is no net resistance to their flow.”
“How does that tie in to the Golden Gift?”
“Directly, mother, directly. I fired quantum-tangled pairs of electrons from a super-conducting ring at quantum-tangled pairs of super-fluid liquid helium atoms in a little glass lens, and I got quantum-tangled pairs of light bouncing off it, in the form of twinned photons of purple light.
“So it combines every form of super-blank-ity-blank-blank!” Dory said.
“Yes! One of the twin photons corkscrews right, the other one left, and if they hit a target atom, the atom doesn’t know what to do so it just sort of stands up at right angles to the rest of our universe, and for lack of a better term I’ll say it’s ‘phantomized.’”
And after that leg up the B’nei Elohim were off and running on a new track.
Chivalrous was well-stocked with canned and frozen food from Palato and the Jovian system, but even the large stores scattered throughout the ship and now also the interior of the ice ball were not sufficient to tide them over on the long inbound crossing that Ithuriel proposed to do. So Jabniel became something of a gardener. The prospect of starving to death halfway between Saturn and the asteroid belt focused her mind on this new hobby to a very intense degree.
In his man cave Ithuriel set up a sodium “fountain” with a laser trap, which was one of his favorite toys. This used a laser tuned just below the natural emission lines of sodium atoms to supercool them to the point where individual atoms could be seen by the naked eye. It wasn’t their small size that made atoms invisible (the eye only saw the individual photons they cast off anyway) it was their rapid motion. At room temperature, atoms in a gas buzzed around faster than a speeding bullet. With a laser trap like the one in Ithuriel’s lab they could be slowed to just a few inches per second, or even slower.
Ithuriel’s apparatus worked because the laser frequency he chose wasn’t high enough to cause the atom to immediately re-emit the light after absorbing it, so the sodium atom, seeking to drop to a lower energy state, made up the deficit with the excess kinetic energy of its own motion. Eventually the sodium atoms grew so cold that he could actually see a fountain of bright yellow dots rising in the vacuum, and if the ice ball was much bigger, or under acceleration, he would also see the atoms falling back under their own gravity.
But there was one thing Ithuriel had never found time to do before, and that was to combine a macro with his laser trap. He did this now because he was attempting to find a modification to the basic macro design that would convert the sodium atoms to dark matter on a temporary basis, rather than permanently.
Ithuriel pressed a button to cause a glass ceiling to slide into place in the middle of the fountain. The sodium atoms in the fountain struck the glass and bounced off (or adhered to the glass in some cases) but they went no higher.
After that, Ithuriel turned the macro effect on, which intercepted the fountain under the glass ceiling. After the sodium atoms passed through the black beam they no longer bounced off or adhered to the glass, but passed right through. All of this stuff he already knew. The macro made whatever the beam touched into phantom particles. The sodium atoms continued on their way, right through the glass barrier and even through each other, interacting only with gravity, of which there was practically none.
But to Ithuriel’s great surprise, almost seven seconds later the atoms reappeared again in the same position they would have been if they hadn’t been struck by the beam or blocked by the glass.
Interesting, he thought. The dark matter made by the Golden Gift had been unstable all along. How did I miss that?
The answer was immediately obvious. None of the samples he had phantomized before had been brought so close to absolute zero. In seven seconds, most of the atoms of a room temperature target would be scattered in a sphere between ten and twenty miles in radius, with half of that sphere under the surface of the Earth.
But something was bothering him. Phantom matter could lead to remarkable advances of propulsion and weaponry, as he alluded to Lord Kirodiel when he received his commission. But if the process of making matter into phantom matter was repeatable, in perhaps a closed loop, then it would lead to a situation where far more energy could be extracted than went into the setup.
Ithuriel’s favorite quote of all time, the maxim by which he composed his life, was written by Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1915:
“The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations — then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation — well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.”
With this bit of wisdom foremost in his mind, Ithuriel modified his experiment to cause the sodium atom fountain to pass through a second macro beam after the 6.8 second decay back to normal matter had transpired. And as he suspected, none of the atoms could be persuaded to undergo phantomization a second time.
And that by itself was remarkable because it revealed a property of subatomic particles that no one had stumbled onto before. There was a bit of information associated with each one (Ithuriel visualized it as a little mailbox flag) that was set when the particle was phantomized and could never be reset.
When Ithuriel had a chance to tell Mark Felton about this, Mark would probably proceed to make one hell of a dense read-only data storage system. In the meantime, he took great satisfaction at knowing he had solved the problem Lord Kirodiel had set before him.
But brilliant as he was, Ithuriel was still only human, not even nephilim. He made a small but crucial mistake during the assembly of the macros he built for himself and Jabs as personal defense.
One time when Ithuriel was working in the central chamber he was caught off-guard by one of Stratis’ henchmen, Azkeel, who had managed to get into the ice ball by stealth. He had Ithuriel in his cross-hairs, dead to rights.
But Jabs, working inside the Chivalrous, happened to see them together on a screen so it became her turn to be Ithuriel’s knight in shining armor. With a stab of her finger on a nearby button, the air quietly began rushing out of the central cavern. Ithuriel caught a ruffle of paper, realized what was happening, drew a breath, and held it.
Azkeel, however, did not know what was happening so he continued to breathe in and out as the air rapidly thinned. Black and white dots danced across his vision as he grew more and more confused, and too stupid to drop the faceplate on his helmet. In a few seconds after that he was unconscious.
Still observed by Jabs, Ithuriel grabbed his hand macro and turned it on the prone Azkeel. But nothing happened. The intruder’s chest did not disappear.
Ithuriel’s macro was working, but the beam used photons with frequencies a full octave down from factory-spec. Azkeel’s chest was phantomized, yet the atoms remained in place, and after that they could not be phantomized again, even if Ithuriel could lay his hands on a macro that worked according to the original prints.
Jabs hit another button to begin restoring the air to the cavern. In less than a minute Azkeel stirred back to awareness.
Generally, water inside the human (or nephilim) body is not free. It’s mostly trapped in the spaces between knots of proteins, which are like tangled phone cords. Even blood is just a thick syrupy mess, almost a gel. If Ithuriel had fired his faulty macro beam at Azkeel’s gut he might have just run a slight fever.
Instead Ithuriel fired the macro at Azkeel’s lungs once again and even though his chest could not be phantomized anymore, the fresh air in his lungs was being phantomized for the first time. All the air molecules in his lungs found they could drift right through each other instead of bouncing off each other like before. So there was no more pressure. His lungs became like bottomless pits ready to accept any additional amount of air.
So Azkeel took an involuntary final gasp that went on and on as long as the macro continued to fire, until maybe ten times his lung’s normal capacity was crammed with phantom molecules of air in quantum flux, all superimposed one over the top of each other.
Then, seven seconds after Ithuriel turned the macro off, all those molecules started obeying Pauli’s Exclusion Principle once again, which said they couldn’t occupy the same space at the same time. All that suddenly superheated high pressure air came roaring back out of Azkeel’s mouth like rocket exhaust, taking flaming bits of what used to be his delicate lungs along with it. It was an incredibly painful but relatively quick death. And that was the end of their intruder problem.
“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.” The same principle that had killed Azkeel was the principle Ithuriel would one day propose to drive Mastema’s warships.
Jabs entered the ice cavern armed with her own macro, and found that the stranger was already dead. “Who the hell was he?”
“Probably one of our nosy neighbors. I don’t know how he got in here, but I don’t want to wait around for another try by those guys. We have no choice. Get ready for departure.”
Some time later, Ithuriel realized the mistake he had made with his defensive macro. He actually considered it a feature rather than a bug. Ithuriel called a macro that did not break internal chemical bonds a sub-macro and thoughts of many future applications presented before his darting mind. It also stood to reason that if a sub-macro maintained molecular integrity, a super-macro would be able to break atoms apart.
There had been no news from Azkeel since Stratis dispatched him to Ithuriel’s iceball, but he knew something was up. Predictably, when Ithuriel started his burn, Stratis shadowed him with his own ship.
Ithuriel’s navigation calculations involved the use of a right triangle. One leg of the triangle was the 4 miles per second of velocity change Ithuriel needed to get from their circular orbit in the A-ring up to escape velocity. The other leg of the triangle was the 3 miles per second of velocity change he needed to get from Saturn to the Gravel Pile. The third leg of the triangle, then, 5 miles per second, was the bottom line, the total velocity change he needed to come up with. It was going to consume about half of the ice ball’s water as propellant just to get the journey underway.
Now anything in orbit around Saturn that wasn’t flying exactly along the equator will cross the equator twice on each circuit, once going from north to south, and again going from south to north. As the ice rock began moving away from Saturn, at every equatorial crossing Ithuriel skillfully wove through narrow gaps in Saturn’s A Ring where the sheet of floating ice was thin or non-existent.
It took many days. After each ring crossing he had a twelve hour rest period before preparing for the next one. During those down times, Ithuriel pieced together what happened with his macro and the intruder, and this suggested a narrow path out of their predicament, but he had to work quickly.
When they were free of the A-ring and emerged into empty space, Ithuriel stopped weaving the iceball by manipulating the exhaust stream and sailed straight and true.
Stratis saw Ithuriel’s random maneuvering cease. He said, “Loreth, you may now register our displeasure with this Jabniel bitch for the loss of our colleague Azkeel.”
They lobbed a shell from their railgun, which flew across the intervening space and hit dead-center, right between the six roaring engines of Chivalrous‘ hexagonal drive section. The back door was taken out in the explosion, and air began to rush out of the ship.
“We have lost hull integrity,” Jabs said, striking buttons that would close a series of hatches between the habitation module and the service tunnel to the rear.
“If we survive this little tussle,” Ithuriel said, “I’ll go back there in a suit and repair the damage.”
“Return the gesture,” Jabs told him. “I thought this was a Gerash warship.”
“I’d love to, dearheart, but this Gerash warship has its nose buried in six hundred feet of ice and its ass sticking out in space. We’re going to have to just try to evade them. All I can do right now is program random course changes and hope they won’t be able to connect with another round.”
And there was another problem looming. The F Ring, focused by shepherd moons, and even braided in spots, was too dense to plow through, and too wide to hop over on the ascending and descending nodes. It sat out there at the edge of the ring system like the Great Barrier Reef sat off Australia.
But the F Ring only blocked the slower descent ellipse used to get an ice ball from Saturn to the outer edge of the asteroid belt. The faster ice balls headed for Mars or Earth-Luna just missed grazing the outer edge of the ring. Due to this basic fact of astrodynamics, no one ever actually tried to send ice from Saturn to the outer asteroids until Ithuriel’s current stunt, certainly not Stratis and his ilk.
After setting the nav console to weave randomly when it flew, Ithuriel left with Jabs. They floated to the simple spherical cavern at the exact center of their ice ball, reached by a long thin tube melted into the ice.
As the ship whipped the iceball this way and that to evade more of Stratis’ incoming shells and the cave seemed to turn around them, Ithuriel and Jabniel suited up as they hovered in free fall next to a pair of new gadgets.
As they reached final approach to the F Ring, Ithuriel gave his wife a heads’ up. “Here goes.”
Ithuriel’s entire ice asteroid, including Ithuriel himself, his wife, and the Chivalrous, was sub-phantomized by an omni-directional burst from the first gadget. The air in the small room, no longer confined by collisions with the walls or by collisions with each other, rushed out almost instantly. Ithuriel and Jabniel found themselves in a total vacuum.
The actual passage through the F-ring took far less than one second.
Ithuriel and Jabs felt nothing. Nor did they see anything but a momentary blankness. With even their retinas sub-phantomized, their retina did not block photons of light, just as their bodies did not block the ice of the F-ring as they passed through. But seven seconds after Ithuriel’s gadget pulsed they could see again.
Some liquid oxygen prepared by Ithuriel beforehand was quickly brought to a boil by the second gadget and filled the room with air again so Ithuriel and Jabs could raise the faceplate on their vacsuits.
“We did it!” Ithuriel cheered as they accomplished their breakout to clear space beyond all further obstacles. “We made it through!”
“No collision,” Stratis’ one surviving henchman Loreth said on the pursuing ship. “The F-Ring wasn’t so much as ruffled by her passage!”
“Jabniel must have found a hole,” Stratis concluded. He recklessly steered his ship in after her. Not a glimmer of the truth, that they used a macro to penetrate the F-ring, registered in his mind.
“There’s no hole!” Loreth screamed at the last instant. “Veer off!” But it was far too late.
A red glow infused an arc of the F-ring. It came from kinetic energy as his unlamented ship disintegrated and the broken fragments ping-ponged through the ice, followed by secondary explosions as his disintegrating magazine of railgun rounds detonated. This time the F Ring was ruffled. And that was the end of Ithuriel’s Stratis gang problem.
“Fools rush in,” Ithuriel muttered, “where angels fear to tread.”
63 – RINGS
Nanoengineering is inspired by the molecular machines of life, but it bypasses the trial-and error watery sloppiness and superseded functions that are carried out by all cells and duplicates life’s useful functions with more deliberate precision. In 1943 no human being was anywhere near actually working on that scale.
What the Ark of the Covenant did to Kimberly Lokken, Sophie Krouse, and that little church mouse they found under the altar was infect living nerve and brain tissue. On a one-for-one basis this infection gradually replaced each nerve cell with a nanotechnology facsimile after “learning the ropes” and figuring out how it responded to hormones, nutrients, and signals from other cells.
Soon after their mothers discovered a bump on the back of their heads, Kim and Sophie were taken to a small hospital in Black Diamond. The doctors could not diagnose her, so the girls were handed off to the government and eventually placed in quarantine.
At that time, the United States had embarked on a vast but secret project to develop atomic weapons for use in the Second World War. These would be weapons of fearsome, unknown power, and to be safe, the research was conducted in the Great American desert east of the Cascade mountain range where population was sparse. But the medical facilities at the Hanford Reservation were very good, especially for treating radiation sickness. And Hanford was roughly the size of an entire county of a western state, with unprecedented security arrangements. The wildest portion of the Columbia River itself formed the northern and eastern border. So Kim Lokken and Sophie “Hunky” Krouse were taken there.
Both Kim and Hunky remained absolutely silent about the Ark of the Covenant. If there was one thing Endomites were good for, it was keeping a secret.
In a few weeks the bumps in their skulls cracked open and both Kim and Hunky were sedated so the doctors could take a close look at what happened to them. Apparently their brain wasn’t even alive anymore. Their heads were now opaque to x-rays. Part of the brain of both girls actually penetrated the skull and terminated in white oval cups made of bone. The cups had smooth inside walls and many short, fine black graphite bristles growing out of the cup’s floor. It was an electrical connector with exactly fifty-five pins. If the pins were crushed or snapped off they grew back just like the lead in a mechanical pencil. The doctors tried shaving off the whole external structure on one of the girls too. It just grew right back. They manufactured a cable that fit the connector perfectly. In time Kim and Hunky came to call it simply the Purple Cable.
The cable had proven mostly useless. The staff could read electrical signals from Kim and Hunky and print them on a roll of paper, but they didn’t know what to do with the information. Attempts to write information to the girl’s heads using the same 15 millivolt level that was present on the pins only gave them bizarre total-body sandpaper sensations they found very unpleasant and refused to endure again.
One time, very briefly, Kim and Hunky were hooked up together directly, skull-to-skull with the Purple Cable, just for perhaps a second to see what would happen. In that single second, they had the following wordless conversation:
Hunky: They’ll never let us out of here you know.
Kim: We could punch every combo on the door. It wouldn’t even be boring. After doing the first two or three numbers we could go automatic and snap out of the trance when the door clicks open.
Hunky: They will catch us. They are watching us on cameras. And if the outside door has a different combination your plan won’t work anyway, we’ll run out of time.
Kim: Where are the cameras?
Hunky: Up in the corners, flush with the ceiling. There’s four teensy little clear domes, one in each corner, and two of them are active.
Kim: How do you know?
Hunky: I’ve been doing experiments with wads of chewing gum. I know which two lenses get cleaned off while we’re marched off to eat and which ones they leave alone.
Kim: But now they know that you know.
Hunky: Shit. You’re right.
Kim: “They know that we know that we’re on camera. But I have a plan. We can turn this to our advantage.”
Kim: “It will take a little acting ability. We have to try to embarrass Dr. Trochmann. We have to convince him that after all this time together, confined in here, age eighteen, we’ve fallen in love with each other.”
Hunky: “I think I can pull that off.”
In the last few milliseconds while they remained united by the Purple Cable the girls agreed to go on strike. Meaning they would not cooperate with their captors at all. They would just sit there in the clinic all day and do nothing except eat, drink, use the restroom, and only speak to each other in Relbimian, the language of the Boda.
The girls were interrogated together and separately about the words they were speaking. They decided to keep the language to themselves as their own private thing. So the word thann, instead of a distance of about 1,700 feet, became “duck.” And the word chorzon, instead of a period of time of about six minutes, became “purfume.”
The girls kept these false words straight with their newly organized minds, and shared any new false words they invented between themselves by tagging them in Relbimian to keep each other updated. So there emerged two languages, a genuine Relbimian and the false Relbiman that Dr. Trochmann’s team was hopelessly trying to piece together from Kim and Hunky’s lies.
Finally, Dr. Trochmann got fed up and separated the girls totally.
There were two ways of dealing with all that dead time. Kim preferred to “get tall”. She would imagine herself growing in size and the clock would speed up before her eyes. Her heartbeats ran together in a butterfly flutter and became a quiet hum. She would speed up, cruise for a short while, then slow down. Her muscles would be a little sore from staying in one position for too long but four hours were gone.
Hunky thought that Kim’s time-lapse movie method was too gross because she could feel her bladder fill up and she didn’t like the way food felt moving through her intestines when she got tall. She preferred to take a series of hour-long “naps”–little jumps in time with her consciousness simply turned off. Either way they chose, both girls were well disposed to play this waiting game with Trochmann.
Some people eat unnecessary meals from sheer boredom, but that was not a factor here, even with Kim. They only ate about every two days. Large meals, to be sure, but the other times when the nurse arrived to escort them (one at a time) out their locked doors to their meals they refused to budge. Otherwise it would seem to them like they were continuously eating. So four meals, a couple showers, and many other stops to use the restroom or drink some water made for a rather busy “day” that compressed a full week of real time.
“Ladies, time for a heart-to-heart, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Dr. Trochmann began, in what would be the girl’s last interview with this well-meaning technical director of the Kim & Sophie Project.
“Time for everyone to tell the truth,” Kim agreed. “So tell me, if we’re not contagious why are we still locked in here?”
“This thing is indeed contagious, otherwise how did you catch it?”
“You don’t seem too afraid to talk to us face-to-face,” Sophie put in. “Nor does Nurse Ramsey.”
“We know it’s not transmitted through the air, like by sneezing,” he explained. “Otherwise you’d be in total isolation. And telling us more would go a long way toward getting you out of here.”
“I don’t feel sick,” Hunky said.
“Sophie, your brain isn’t even alive anymore!”
“How could we be having this conversation then?”
“I’ll tell you what we know so far. Obviously it’s artificial. It spreads just like a virus, but we’ve never seen anything like it before. When it gets in a nerve cell it sits there and learns the ropes. It learns everything that the cell does in response to chemical signals from other cells, to nutrients, hormones… everything. And it takes over the cell’s job. It uses material found on hand to remodel the nerve cell into a white structure that straddles the length of the old cell but it’s skinnier, more compact. No more sloppy life. No more proteins floating randomly in water, more like a deliberate design. Like a machine.”
“What do you mean, like a machine?”
“All those cells are dead. Both of you girls have been hooked up to an Offner Dynograph and they show nothing. Both of you are brain dead. So far it’s only had an affinity for nerve cells but we’ve been watching to see if it changes, and starts attacking other tissues in your body.”
“Why can’t we see our folks, even through glass?”
“That’s a decision for Mr. Roland.”
“My father dotes on me,” Hunky warned, “and he said he was talking to our congressman to get permission to come here and see me.”
“Mr. Roland knows about that.”
“So you’re just going to keep us here forever,” Hunky snorted.
“Because we think this has happened to you for a reason and so far we haven’t learned what that reason is. That’s where a little more cooperation from you gals would be very helpful. For instance, we don’t know what the connectors in the back of your skull are really for.”
“Sometimes I feel like some hidden things are getting more and more clear,” Hunky offered after a sigh of resignation. “I keep having the notion that we’ve been picked to be go-betweens or something. Like translators. “
Kim nodded. “That’s true. We want to start keeping the Purple Cable with us overnight.”
He looked her in the eye, and shook his head. “That’s entirely out of the question.”
“In that event we want the cameras removed from our space,” Hunky said.
“Come on, Doctor,” said Sophie. “You think we’re just two stupid girls, don’t you? We’ve had a lot of time on our hands, being locked up in here, and we’ve found your two filthy little fisheye lenses peeping in on us.”
“I see there’s no fooling you two. But the cameras were not used for what you seem to be implying they were.”
“Look, yeah maybe we’re infectious, and you’ve got some law that says you can take away our liberty and keep us in this quarantine of yours, but guess what? We’re eighteen now. There are basic human and Constitutional rights we’re both entitled to.”
“Like plain old-fashioned privacy! You wonder why we don’t want to play any of your games anymore? We’re tired of being watched on camera and we’re pissed off to find out you’ve been watching us all this time without letting us know.”
For the first time he became aware that Kim and Hunky were holding hands, and he blushed. And the realization that he was blushing made him blush deeper.
Kim saw the opening and drove her point home. “Look, we’re young women and you’ve locked us up in here together for a year, what did you expect?”
Hunky scooted tighter against Kim and added, “I hope you know what we’re trying to get at here, Doc. I hope you don’t make us have to spell it out.”
“I see what you mean by privacy issues,” Dr. Trochmann said, chastened by the realization that it had, indeed, been his fault that the girls were now much more than friends. “I think this whole spat between us has been due to nothing more than bad communication.”
“I agree,” Kim said. “We should clear the way between us and continue to talk.”
“OK!” he said, his mood brightening at this breakthrough. He seemed a different man. “There are some security things I need to change first, but then I’ll let you have your privacy. Honestly. You have my word.”
Hunky didn’t trust them to just turn the cameras off so she jammed more wads of chewing gum over the fisheye lenses in the corners of their room, even over the ones she decided were inactive dummy lenses, just to make sure. No one came to clean them off like they had before, so it was working so far.
That activity which Doctor Trochmann assumed they were doing with their new privacy they did not do. Kim knew Sophie was spoken for.
The girls remembered that he wanted to change the security arrangements, but there was only one change in routine as far as they could tell. In the past their tormentors seemed to have the code for the door memorized and they just punched their way out without a second thought. But now, very often they would take out their wallet, or look at a scrap of paper from their pocket before punching the buttons that would let them out. That could only mean that they were now scrambling the code more frequently, perhaps weekly, to balance the loss of their camera eyes.
Hunky almost despaired but Kim explained to her that the change actually did not make their task any harder at all. They just had to pick a fixed range and try all the combinations in it, night after night, until the daily shifting combo happened to fall into that range.
It was a hex keypad, a four-by-four square with sixteen buttons numbered 0 through 9 and A through F. The girls also knew from listening carefully that the code was always just four taps. The problem was that there was a ten second delay after trying a number before the red light would reset to the yellow light and it was ready to accept another try. Kim figured if they started at 6:00 pm and went all through the night to 6:00 am, trading off at midnight, they would just be able to do all of the “Lucky 7’s.” That is, the whole range from 7000 to 7FFF. Then the next night pick a different range.
Kim started pounding combinations, one after the other. And when she did, she could sense something like a tower of future moments stacking up on top of each other. Each floor of that tower was an attempt to punch the combination. This tower topped out in a moment of joy, five along the timeline, when she was to hit the right combination and the door unlocked. And the joyous number was 1DFC. She read it right out of her memory of the future, but that memory hadn’t presented itself until Robyn started actually trying to punch out.
So Robyn simply entered 1DFC and got the green light after only punching in about ten different combinations. Hunky was impressed. There was a click, and the girls stepped out into the muted light of the rest of the clinic, hoping it was deserted for the night. It was. But there was a closed-circuit television camera in the main room of the clinic, so now their captors could see them making the escape attempt and they would come calling very shortly.
Hunky scooped up the Purple Cable which was hanging from the wall in the main room of the clinic. She wore it around her waist like a belt. Then Kim did the same precognitive trick with the outer door. BF76 and click. They were out of the building.
64 – AFTERMATH
When the dragon Demonstick fell from the sky and in his death throes belly-flopped upon the river Sabik, and the last embers of hope for House Gerash had been thoroughly extinguished, Baron Bayard turned to Hovan the son of Kirodiel. And he said, “Now carry out the terms of the death combat and release my mother Queen Aurra from her captivity, and get your ships hence, for neither shall you bring Lady Talishi into a cage once again.”
Then Hovan nodded his head once, and bowed, and Lord Zadkiel cut the ropes that secured Queen Aurra in her confinement.
With as much dignity as she could retrieve, she emerged from the cage and moved to within a few paces of her son, but her gratitude and pride in Bayard could not be contained, and he saw that.
Then from the air Victoria alighted on the gopherwood deck of the queen’s barge and in the same movement swept into the arms of Baron Bayard Sala, overjoyed that he had prevailed in his contest with Lord Kirodiel. Gently, gently, the baron embraced Victoria, and though he winced with the pain of his wound as she squeezed him back, the fact that she did squeeze him back was a very encouraging sign. He asked her, “Victoria, is it possible for mere human beings to fall in love with one the B’nei Elohim?”
“I see no reason why not,” she replied. “As I’ve told you before, we B’nei Elohim are mere human beings ourselves, with a few fancy tricks up our sleeves grounded in what you would call alchemy and natural philosophy.”
“I am very relieved to be reminded of that,” he told her. “Thank you! For now I can say with utmost confidence that I have fallen irretrievably in love with the B’nei Eloah named Victoria.”
“Then there must remain only one more thing for you to say, Bayard, so let me hear it. Come on, you’re among friends. Lay it out there.”
“Victoria, will you consent to become my wife?”
“The thing seems to be written in the living stars,” she said with no trace of hesitation. “But let me ask a question of you, Bayard, and when I have your answer, then you will have mine.”
“Proceed with your question, Victoria, but beware, I cannot foresee any that would deter me from what my heart has already resolved to do.”
Victoria caught the eye of the queen. “Is it safe to say, Your Highness, that with the whole House of Sala now moving at your command from their cities to many thousands of scattered faith assemblies, that there is no longer, in a real sense, any kingdom for you to rule, or for Baron Bayard to inherit?”
“Alas, Victoria” answered the queen, “that is true, and were you to marry my son and had your heart set on the title of Baroness, I’m afraid it would be little more than a figment, just an empty title. Our society is being profoundly transformed even as we speak. The irony of the situation is not lost on me, of course. All his life I have sharply rebuked my son for his taste in commoner women. I was trying to steer him to wed one of the Highborn, and now at the very end I find that the very word Highborn is a sound without meaning.”
“Thank you, Queen Aurra,” said Victoria. “And for my part let me say that my ability to fly, which is the biggest thing that sets me apart from humanity as one of the B’nei Elohim, is not a power that can be sustained here on Barbelo. Soon I must lay this power down again, and if I stay in this world I will be little more than a commoner woman, something that might interest the Baron of course, but I had thought you might have an intractable objection to that.”
“Victoria, you are far too modest! You have killed the dragon called Demonstroke and brought an end to the world war on Barbelo. Such a deed, which will be memorialized in songs for ages to come, makes you entirely uncommon.”
“Thank you once again, Your Highness Queen Aurra. And so I am led to ask my question of the man who has asked me to become his wife. Bayard, would you be willing to quit this world forever, and dwell with me on Earth?”
“Victoria I would eagerly follow you right out of this world if you consent to marry me.”
“I do consent to marry you Bayard! I warn you that it will be absolutely bewildering to you at first, and you will find yourself to be what we frequently call a ‘fish out of water’. For we do not merely live on the surface of the Earth, but in the skies above and in the ground below.”
“I am full willing, Victoria, if the queen will give her blessing.” And he turned to face his mother, who rolled her eyes and nodded her head yes. Then the Baron, filled with happiness beyond his capacity to bear, fell to the deck of the queen’s barge in a dead faint.
“I have done everything I can,” Talishi said after she had tended to Bayard and restored him to consciousness. “He has lost very much blood and I marvel that he slew Kirodiel. Do not permit him to stand on his feet until we have taken him downriver to Yeshua, who can provide a temporary blood substitute.”
“Lady Talishi, there remains a slight problem with carrying out that order,” the Fallen Angel Ambe Omphal said, pointing to Hovan Gerash and Lord Zadkiel and many of their officers who remained standing on the deck of the barge all around them.
Queen Aurra stood forth to confront them. She said, “Your dragon is dead.” And the men muttered aye for the queen spoke a truth.
The queen caught the eye of Hovan just then. “You have killed my husband.” And Hovan’s eyes fell, and he nodded in assent and said aye.
She said, “You are in the middle of Haaretz with a greatly diminished force, and the long road home will be much longer if you must fight your way there.” Then she caught the gaze of Lord Zadkiel. “The war is over, do you not agree?”
“I agree, your Highness.”
“Then get yourself and your men to another one of my boats and depart this land!”
When evening fell and the queen’s barge had reached the place where the rivers Sabik and Arhena became one, Talishi climbed, somehow, to the top of the highest mast where few would dare to follow her, and there she meditated on many things. Victoria, returning to the ship from a night flight she had taken for the sheer pleasure of it, saw Talishi sitting in that precarious place and asked to join her.
“By all means, Victoria, please make yourself as comfortable as you can.”
Then Victoria, knowing that no one could overhear, said, “Aliwe told you, didn’t she? That you and Bat-El found a way to win.”
“Aliwe told me things that would have been perfectly safe for our companions to overhear on the way to the Catwalk,” Talishi replied. “But I got the detailed update directly from her in the way that you and the other B’nei Elohim already know so well. Yes, we found a way to beat Mastema, both my daughter and I.”
“Can you tell me about it?”
“It’s a very curious thing, Victoria. It is like I have a splinter of wood that bears a tiny flame, and I must walk that small flame to a great pile of wood and kindle it to keep my loved ones from freezing to death, yet it is windy, and I dare not do the slightest thing to let the flame go out.”
“I think I understand what you mean. Even after Aliwe assured me I would defeat Demonstroke, I did not relax my guard for a single instant. It still required the utmost effort.”
“That is precisely what I’m trying to convey to you.”
“Lady Talishi, will I meet my daughter Aliwe again?”
“You will, after that big bonfire really gets going. But if you and Bayard have a child, even a girl child, she will not be the same Aliwe. Not even if you name her that.”
“Aliwe already said as much.”
“I will go with you and Bayard to Earth,” Talishi revealed. “It’s very strange, you know. My real body is the sun that warms the Earth and drives all life and movement there, but in this body, as Talishi, I have never been there. But I must go that there may no longer be two separate locii for the El Shaddai identity.”
“And will you return to Barbelo someday?”
“Just once, as an important part of that successful way Aliwe spoke of. I must save the planet from a third deluge. As Talishi I will not survive it. But Aliwe tells me the other El Shaddai, the one I must soon merge with once more, is already making arrangements to land in another body.”
“Please don’t make that into a habit, Lady Talishi. “We have seen what serial possession has done to Mastema.”
“I will not, and Aliwe told me that I’m making arrangements to deal with that problem as well. But I knew long ago there would be no real joy in bringing Mastema to his doom. Imagine contriving the total defeat of your bitter lifelong enemy only to discover the man was in the advanced stages of dementia.”
65 – THE CROSSING
What followed for Ithuriel and Jabniel was the Crossing, a three-year transit from Saturn to the Gravel Pile without benefit of phantomizable water. Every single drop of water contained in Ithuriel’s ice ball had been phantomized once and for all just to get it through the F Ring barrier. As he had just recently discovered, phantomization was a one-shot deal. Nothing in the universe would get those molecules to “stand up” ever again. So Ithuriel could not use a macro to generate heat or power to shorten their time of flight.
With some foresight on the part of Ithuriel, however, he had used his big macro to separate a considerable amount of water into hydrogen and oxygen, which was stored as liquid in various ice voids scattered throughout their miniature comet. This could be combined again to make a flame for heating and cooking, or to produce electricity in a fuel cell to keep the batteries of Chivalrous charged up. And there remained a small nuclear thermocouple power supply on Chivalrous to help tide them over. Still, three years would be pushing the limit, and strict conservation was observed at all times.
With the ship’s nose buried deep inside the ice ball their only view of outside space was through the remote cameras Ithuriel had placed on the surface. But there was nothing to see at any rate.
To save power, often Ithuriel and Jabs stayed in just one of the staterooms of Chivalrous and kept each other warm, moving to one of the other four staterooms when it started to smell too funky in the first one. Clutter from months of lousy housekeeping hung about them. There were tools, publications, and personal items floating about to no end.
All the misplaced objects that briefly caught their fancy, all their reference-only discarded junk tumbled in the air like the contents of an attic, filling every available space. To reshelf half of it would be an exercise in three-dimensional polyominos: possible, but impractical. However, they dared not throw anything overboard yet no matter how trivial. Not with the journey only just getting underway.
So the Crossing became a dreadful self-imposed torture for Ithuriel and Jabniel. But it wasn’t all misery. Sometimes they came out of hibernation in their current stateroom and caught up on the work that the ship demanded.
In their routine aboard the ice ball, their “days” blended from after-work fatigue to late afternoon relaxation to evening lovemaking without any sharp transitions. There was a low intensity sexiness with every moment together and at no instant could either one of them say “now we are making love” or “now we are not.”
Gradually Jabs took on more than her share of the work maintaining their home, letting the constant activity fill her mind. She made routine inspections of forgotten corners of the ice ball and marveled at the reliability of some of the components of Chivalrous, despite the ship’s age.
Hadraniel was born at the end of the first year of the journey to the Gravel Pile. He was not yet born when Ithuriel and Jabs had phantomized themselves, yet every atom in his little body had already been phantomized.
The labor was agonizing for Jabs, of course, since Ithuriel had little in the way of painkillers, and in free fall it was very messy, with globules of amniotic fluid going everywhere in the stateroom they had used for the delivery room. But the child arrived in apparent good health.
It was only with constant watchfulness that Ithuriel and Jabs and baby Hadraniel continued on with their mini-ecosystem intact. Everything was recycled. Air, water, and even their own solid wastes were turned into compost for Jabs’ little garden. The ship had dried fruits, beef jerky, and canned foods stocked in odd corners which Ithuriel dug out now and then to prevent them from starting to despise eating the same old foods. From the Jupiter system of moons Ithuriel had once bought a supply of meats, which he kept frozen in nooks of the ice ball to supplement their diet, but these were rationed too.
In terms of recreation there was plenty to do. Since they were not going to Earth, and his ultimate goal was actually Ceres, Ithuriel decided not to rotate the ice ball. He decided to remain in free fall for the entire Crossing. There was no need to maintain physical fitness under a full gee. Free fall play was readily available at any time. The ten-foot wide hole down the first four decks of Chivalrous was like a miniature Freeball gamecore once Ithuriel had lined the edges of the decks with padding.
To exercise the brain there were many books from Barbelo in the form of spools of thread stored aboard Chivalrous. For atmosphere, he played good old fashioned rock music from Earth. He hated the crap that was all over the Swarm lately, weird schizophrenic disco that Jabs liked but he despised. It was mostly songs about people slitting their wrists and trying to clean up after themselves as they died. Things like that.
When it was Jabs’ turn to listen for alerts on the alarm board she nursed Hadraniel and watched television broadcasts from Earth, which she found endlessly fascinating because they were so alien. As Hadraniel grew to become a toddler (if “toddling” was possible in free fall) the scenes of Earth on Jabs’s screen were only vaguely understood by him at best. But he did enjoy seeing movies with animals.
A year and a half after departure they were just crossing the orbit of Jupiter. Petty little perceived slights and injuries boiled up and spilled over. Jabs went on a sabbatical. She took Hadraniel, got in the captain’s gig and moved off for a while, claiming she needed to take the machine out for an extended inspection of the ice ball’s exterior. But she went much farther afield than Ithuriel expected her to, and that alarmed him.
The controls of the little shuttle comforted her as she sulked. Oh, she would still talk to Ithuriel on the radio but there was always the psychological refuge of the off switch and the symbolic “You-can’t-reach-me-from-there-and-sweet-talk-me-into-quitting-my-temper-tantrum.”
When she didn’t come back within the first twenty-four hours the war of words escalated and Jabs began taking the runabout further and further out to “punish” Ithuriel.
Of course, she regretted playing this game after they finally made up, especially after realizing how long it was going to take to get back to Ithuriel now that her tantrum had already been thrown and all she wanted to do was see him as soon as possible. At the height of Jabs’ folly, she was a hundred thousand miles away, far beyond visual range of the ice ball, and the time lag actually become noticeable.
She couldn’t hurry back because the runabout’s energy source was their precious hydrogen and LOX. Her little snit was going to be very costly.
Sweet conversations resumed between them. The delay gave Jabs just enough time to compose each of her words before she spoke them. She constructed her response to be as sexy and provocative as she knew how, but she missed the simple spontaneity of actually being with Ithuriel.
When the big day arrived Jabs docked at the aft end of Chivalrous (which was still pretty ragged from Stratis’ artillery round) and delivered Ithuriel’s birthday present: herself. Ithuriel didn’t even wait for her to get out, he pressed into the runabout and virtually attacked her.
Hadraniel at age two was a little too young to really understand what his parents were doing, and he wouldn’t remember it anyway. After his father kissed him, Hadraniel went back to sleep, for the excitement of the final approach had kept him up all night, and Ithuriel stuffed him in a bedbag in one of the staterooms. Then it was on to the business at hand.
Jabs had criss-crossed herself with red electrical tape like a present and she let Ithuriel devour her. The runabout became the scene of zero-gee gymnastics as they welcomed each other back to the heaven of their joined bodies.
“I really missed the smell of you”, Ithuriel said, savoring the subtle scent Jabs always had after he had given his lady her first orgasm. “I didn’t appreciate it until it was gone.”
When the end came they could only lie there wrapped in each others’ limbs, whimpering “I love you” to each other. Every inch-pound of sexual torque inside them had been wrung out. They were astonished anew at the amount of sensual joy they had given each other and the complete satisfaction they felt.
As Ithuriel and Jabs and Hadraniel finally neared their destination the word got around about what was going to happen. Two Water Guild ships started harassing the incoming ice ball with laser strikes. They desperately wanted to prevent Ithuriel from getting to the Gravel Pile. The Water Guild knew full well the ice ball would allow Roth Wardian break their local monopoly and wipe out their already razor-thin profit margin.
The attack pissed Ithuriel off, so he decided to play his hole card. He melted the ice around Chivalrous and worked the ship free. Her fangs were brought out to bear on the offending Water Guild vessels. But it was all a bluff. There was very little power remaining to fight.
As soon as they were painted by fire control radar the Water Guild ships recognized the Chivalrous as one of Sartael’s fighting spaceships and they moved off to a safe distance to wait.
Ithuriel actually considered the interference of the Water Guild a stroke of luck. Now he had a valid explanation for his inability to finesse the iceball into the Gravel Pile. He had Jabs radio their buyer, Roth Wardian, and tell him that her engine had been damaged in the attack so she needed his help.
Roth came out with four ships and let loose a missile at one of the Guild gnats. When it was destroyed the remaining one departed the area with its metaphoric tail between its legs. Then with a huge carbon-fiber net Ithuriel’s ice ball was taken under tow with Roth’s ships flying at the four points of a tetrahedron. They weren’t trying to slow the ice ball down, they were merely guiding the ice in for the last few million miles.
At one point Mr. Wardian himself paid a short courtesy call to Jabs aboard Chivalrous, where she introduced little Hadraniel and also her “boyfriend” who was billed as definitely the junior partner in the operation. Jabs didn’t mention Ithuriel’s name to Roth, because the deception was still on, but for the ruse she was pulling off, his name wasn’t important anyway.
For his part Ithuriel acted cool towards Roth, as though flexing his muscles. The idea was to put completely out of Roth’s mind any idea he had of pushing Jabs around when it came time to pay up. During this visit Jabs gave Wardian the information for the account which she expected him to credit upon actual delivery of the ice, which at that point was less than three weeks away.
As planned, Roth Wardian allowed the ice ball to crash deep inside his Gravel Pile, which swallowed it up with hardly a ruffled stone. In fact, only a few boulders were knocked loose forever from the Gravel Pile, and only a fraction of the water was lost as steam. He gladly paid the account of Jabniel Bat-Naseth her agreed-upon amount.
66 – SUEZ WAR I
On her collective farm after the War of Independence Lilith Gervasi immersed herself in honest toil cultivating the fields and garden crops and occasionally defending the settlement from gunmen who infiltrated from the nearby Gaza Strip to kill Jews simply for being Jews. Sometimes these attacks on Yad Mordechai were followed up by fierce IDF reprisal raids. Lilith was mobilized as a sergeant in the IDF reserves to help guide the counterattacks.
Apart from her trusty British-made rifle Lilith owned very little in the way of personal possessions. She had only her clothing, a radio she shared with the others in the Women’s House, and other such modest things. There were tractors and jeeps, but they belonged to the whole community. All the profits of the kibbutz were pooled together for the needs of the laborers. The children ate and slept apart from their parents, and Lilith, who was attending university part of the time, helped to educate them.
On July 23, 1952 there was a coup in Egypt deposing King Farouk, who had ruled his country since 1936. One of the coup plotters named Colonel Gamal Nasser steadily rose in influence to become the usual President-for-life.
Lilith graduated from Hebrew University in 1953 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the IDF. During her physical examination the IDF doctors noted the mass of keloid whip scars on her back, which limited her range of motion somewhat. They also noted the six numbers tattooed on her arm and knew exactly how she had been disfigured.
In the fall, Lilith returned to Hebrew University to begin her undergraduate academic work. She was interested in the newly-revived Hebrew language, which had been essentially a dead tongue (like Latin) for more than two thousand five hundred years. After the Babylonian Vacation it had fallen out of everyday use by the Jewish people, and this had been true even in the time of Yeshua, who had spoken the Syrian tongue called Aramaic.
Over those twenty-five centuries Hebrew became a rather specialized language spoken only by the scribes and elders in synagogues, and in the Diaspora, when many Jewish communities lost contact with each other, the pronunciation of Hebrew naturally drifted somewhat.
There were marked differences between the way the Shephardi Jews and Ashkenazi Jews spoke Hebrew, and there had been some infiltration of influences from both Russian and Yiddish. When the Zion project was conceived, and European immigrants began to settle in the Levant with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland, the “official” pronunciation of Hebrew was decided by a committee.
But it was wrong at many points, and Lilith knew this because she had spoken to Talishi, who remembered how “biblical” Hebrew had really been spoken. It only remained for Lilith to prove it. This was the challenge that formed the heart of her Masters’ Thesis.
Soon after obtaining her advanced degree she received an elevation in rank to seren, which corresponds to captain.
On July 26, 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, seizing control from the British. He closed the Straits of Tirin in the Red Sea, which effectively put the southernmost Israeli port of Eilat under a blockade. At the same time he refused to allow any ships bound for Tel Aviv or Haifa to transit the canal.
The United Kingdom and France laid plans to take the canal back by force, and they were interested in getting Israel involved in this operation. Israel was already leaning toward a tussle with Egypt, the question was not if but when. Cross-border fedayeen raids from the Gaza strip had never ceased in the eight years Egypt had occupied it.
The French began to arm the IDF, especially the air force. And in the third week of October Nasser moved part of his army into Gaza, including a number of artillery pieces, which were used to shell the Israeli settlements near the border, of which Lilith’s kibbutz of Yad Mordechai was the closest. Nasser also moved troops into the Sinai Peninsula, supplied with the latest Soviet military equipment.
On October 29, four Israeli World War II vintage P-51 Mustang fighter planes flew into the Sinai and cut, with their propellers, all the telephone lines connecting the Egyptian forces in Sinai to their home office in Cairo.
On the same afternoon, 395 IDF paratroopers were dropped at Mitla Pass, only fifty miles from the Suez Canal. Meanwhile, a force commanded by Colonel Ariel Sharon crossed the border and seized (through very hard fighting) three Egyptian positions along the 150 miles from Israel to the pass. Sharon then disobeyed orders to halt and proceeded to take Mitla Pass, at a cost of 38 Israeli lives.
On October 31 an Egyptian frigate fired two hundred shells into Haifa from the sea, but a French destroyer drove it off. Two Israeli destroyers then chased it down and opened fire, and later two Israeli warplanes damaged it with rockets. The Egyptian ship surrendered, and it was boarded and towed into Haifa.
Israel fought a fierce series of tank battles for Abu Ageila, and after two days the Egyptians withdrew. From this position, Israel could supply its troops in the central Sinai without an attack from the rear.
On November 2 the IDF seized El Arish on the Sinai Mediterranean coast, which completely isolated the Gaza Strip. By that same evening, the Egyptian governor in Gaza surrendered. The Israelis penetrated to within ten miles of the Suez Canal and took possession of forty Soviet-made T-34 tanks and sixty armored vehicles which were left behind there.
Seren Gervasi’s part in the war began at Eilat and ran down the western shore of the Gulf of Aqaba. The objective was to seize the guns at Sharm el-Sheikh and lift the closure of the Straits of Tiran. Her commander was Colonel Avraham Yoffe, and she was part of a motorized infantry brigade of 1,800 soldiers and 200 vehicles.
Their route was along a camel track that was never designed to be used by wheeled vehicles. At one point at Wadi Zaala they all had to break out their spades, dig their vehicles out of deep sand, and push them uphill.
At Dahab Oasis they had their first firefight against the camel-mounted troops of the Egyptian Frontier Force. They also were supplied with fuel from boats sent down the Gulf of Aqaba from Eilat. Meanwhile, a detachment of Ariel Sharon’s paratroopers advanced in a pincer movement down the Gulf of Suez, nearly doubling the size of the Israeli assault force.
At Sharm el-Sheikh a huge battery of naval guns were positioned to block all shipping to Eilat. There, 1,500 Egyptian troops with their mortars and artillery held off the Israelis for four hours of intense fighting, and it was over the course of those four hours that Lilith put forth her supreme fighting effort. The big guns of the fort were disarmed by 9 AM that morning. The water route to Eilat was opened once more. Israel had achieved all of her war objectives in just one week. IDF losses were 172 killed and 817 wounded.
Having lost the war, Egypt was compelled by the terms of the cease-fire to allow Israeli shipping to pass through the Suez Canal once more. Immediately, an Israeli destroyer squadron passed from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea to support Yoffe, his battalion commanders, Lilith Gervasi, and all their infantry at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
Not by word, correspondence, telegram, or phone call did Lilith Gervasi appraise her father in England of any of the things that she had achieved since she parted from him, nor any of the historic events that transpired daily around her.
67 – CERES
Ithuriel and Jabs didn’t want to stick around and join Wardian to celebrate their recently concluded joint venture. They wasted no time flying aboard Chivalrous to the asteroid Ceres, the largest body in the Belt. Were it not for the perturbations of the gravity of Jupiter, Ceres would be a full planet and there would be no asteroid belt.
Little Hadraniel quickly grew overwhelmed there. He had lived his entire short life on a six hundred foot wide asteroid made of water ice, and now he was jumping around on a ball that was six hundred miles across. Ceres even had a little gravity, about three percent of Earth’s, not enough to beat Hadraniel down, but more than enough to get him used to the concept of gravity.
Ceres was a genuine world. In fact, Ceres was to the Moon in size what the Moon was to the Earth. On Timeline Eta when Pluto was officially demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” Ceres was promoted from asteroid to the same category.
The settlements on Ceres, which were half above the surface and half underground, were still rather chaotic. There was a Wild West flavor to the place, and no one political entity ruled the entire asteroid. However the B’nei Elohim quarter of the town of Tasker was said to be fairly civilized. Ithuriel steered well clear of it.
Instead he reported to the Eyes of Mastema in his capacity as an Ish in the armed forces of Sartael. Kasbeel, the ophan who commanded the Eyes on Ceres, said with disdain, “We didn’t send for you.”
“The hell you say, sir,” replied Ithuriel with his usual annoyance when dealing with the Eyes of Mastema. “Check with Hyperion. They will tell you why I’m here and what to do with me.”
While he was waiting for the transmission to go out to Hyperion and the reception to come back, Ithuriel took Jabniel and his son to a restaurant to indulge in real food, not something that had been freeze-dried and stored somewhere on his ice ball or grown in the garden fertilized by their own shit. But when the food arrived, Ithuriel realized something, and asked the server to box everything up so he could take it to his ship.
It had occurred to Ithuriel that he and Jabs and Hadraniel were in a unique situation should any of the Eyes of Mastema attempt to kill them with a macro. The body of Ithuriel and his wife had already been phantomized when they escaped the F-Ring, and Hadraniel, coming entirely from Jabs’ body, was pre-phantomized by default. And since the entire ice ball had been pre-phantomized, all the food they had eaten during the Crossing was in the same state. As long as they continued to phantomize their food before they ate it, they would continue to be immune to a macro. So Ithuriel ran their take-out through a cycle and they proceeded to eat it.
When he returned to the garrison of the Eyes, Ophan Kasbeel had received his orders from Hyperion and a hard copy lay on the desk before him. Yet he chose to insult Ithuriel’s intelligence by barking, “Where have you been all this time, Ish Ithuriel? The Lord has begun to wonder about your enthusiasm for keeping your oath.”
“I have been in the space between Saturn and here, sir, carrying out my promise to the Lord.” But Ithuriel could not find it within himself to blame Kasbeel too much. The Eyes were trained thus, always to question, to accuse, and never to give the benefit of the doubt.
“So have you had a breakthrough? If so, my orders say I am to take possession of your documentation.”
“Everything is here, sir” Ithuriel said, producing a fat red three-ring binder with a copy of all his notes.
“My orders also say I am to take possession of those physical prototypes you have created to support this breakthrough,”
“They remain on my ship, sir,” Ithuriel said. “I will provide them when men arrive who can convince me they have the wit to handle them correctly.” When Kasbeel stirred to protest, Ithuriel raised a hand and said, “I intend no insult to you, sir. I say this for your own protection. Certainly you would not wish to explain to Lord Sartael any damage to the prototypes that might take place under your oversight of this garrison as its commander.”
“Then I will say there are also orders for you given in this document,” Kasbeel said. “You are not to leave Ceres until your work has been duplicated, as before when you were on Palato.”
“Such was not my intention, sir,” Ithuriel said. “In fact, I think to make Ceres my permanent home.”
“Also, you are enjoined from sharing this research with any of the the B’nei Elohim, or even to make contact with them.”
“That goes entirely without saying, sir,” Ithuriel said, and he had no doubt that order would be enforced most rigorously by the Eyes. After all, they needed something to do as well. To assuage his ongoing irritation with the Eyes of Mastema, Ithuriel quietly proceeded to dump everything he knew about the sub-macro discovery directly to Dory via the neutrino link in his Plug. He began to do this while standing before Kasbeel, yet made no sign it was happening.
“There is a large sum of money which is your back-pay as an ish in the service of the Lord,” Kasbeel continued. “ You may draw it from Disbursing when you have been dismissed.”
“Thank you, sir.” But Ithuriel was not overmuch excited. His jackpot from Roth Wardian would dwarf even years of accumulated salary as an officer, and the things he planned to do on Ceres very shortly would bring in more money yet.
“And one more thing is listed here, Ish Should your breakthrough be duplicated, and only then, Lord Sartael commands me to elevate you to the rank of sar. It seems you find great favor in his eyes that he would make such an exception to his ancient law requiring a death combat to attain that rank.”
“Perhaps the Ophan will think on that,” Ithuriel offered with mock passiveness, “the next time he demands an explanation of the doings of the apple of the Lord’s eye.”
While Lord Sartael’s military research wing was dinking around with his notes and prototypes, Ithuriel decided to proceed on his own.
Ceres was little more than a very large version of Ithuriel’s ice ball, covered in a dark patina of rocks and meteorite debris. But in certain places the ice came right out to the surface, seen as “white spots”. Ithuriel established his estate at one of these outcroppings of ice.
There he hired employees to drive about the ice with bulldozers, harvesting it like so much coal in the open pit mines of Wyoming or Montana. This ice provided the water that would fuel a new sub-macro power plant he caused to be built on his estate.
The ice was melted, and the water entered a chamber where it was phantomized and allowed to compress to a density approximately one thousand times greater than unphantomized water. Then in an expansion chamber it was allowed to decompress and drive a turbine, which in turn drove a generator. Ithuriel was in possession of the largest single source of electrical power on Ceres. In short order customers from all over the planetoid tapped in and the power grid began to spread over the worldlet like vines of ivy.
From his new income stream Ithuriel dutifully paid his contributions during the worship of his god, giving the Eyes of Mastema absolutely nothing to complain about.
Meanwhile, the weapons research division of the Navy of Mastema succeeded in duplicating the sub-macro on their own. Warships were fitted with sub-macro drives, greatly cutting down transit times between the planets, and sub-macro bombs and railgun shells began to proliferate. Per the orders of the Gerash patriarch Ithuriel was elevated to the rank of sar, with compliments from Sartael himself.
Shortly after that, Roth Wardian reasoned out the sudden haste of Jabniel after she had fulfilled her contract. Her entire ice rock was somehow already phantomized, making it totally useless as a source of power in the ships of the Navy of Mastema, which were rapidly becoming the largest consumers of water in the Belt.
The possibility of such a thing happening never made the slightest glimmer in his mind. It never occurred to him that Jabniel’s ice ball would be made entirely of phantomized water, because as he understood the technology now used by the ships of the Empire, all that was all thrown overboard as propellant, a natural waste byproduct of the process of macro propulsion.
He had no idea exactly what Jabniel had done, but he saw now that her collision idea was really just a way to mask the lack of any unphantomized water on her ice ball to slow it down.
Even what little good water there was to start with in the Gravel Pile before the collision was now thoroughly mixed with the bad water, requiring an elaborate, time-consuming test, and essentially making all his water worthless. Soon the word got around that the Gravel Pile’s water was tainted. No one came calling anymore to take delivery. Roth had a great deal of money stashed away from the sale of water up to that point, but there would be no more coming in.
His misery was compounded further when he learned who the “boyfriend” of the Jabniel woman really was: Ithuriel. The schmuck he had ripped off years before. So that was it. Ithuriel had his vengeance. He had to admit it was all beautifully played. Roth Wardian swore to use even the last dregs of his resources to hunt down and destroy Ithuriel and his whole family.
Wardian had a small set of favors he’d been banking since the day he ditched his B’nei Elohim girlfriend and went renegade, and all of them were as good as gold. He had already cashed one of these markers in to find out where Jabniel lived and who her companion was. The other markers were called in when Wardian arrived on Ceres to carry out his vengeance.
When he decided to strike it was initially against Ithuriel’s son Hadraniel. He worked through third parties, with men unknown to Ithuriel and Jabs, men who could watch Hadraniel all the time for a moment, any moment, no matter how brief, when Hadraniel wasn’t being watched like a hawk by his parents.
They got him when the family was shopping in Tasker. Ithuriel and Jabs stopped to admire some blown glass art in a window along the main tunnel. One man whisked Hadraniel into a tube car with a hand over his mouth. Another man, unseen within, whisked the car away.
Ten seconds was all it took. And it took another ten seconds for Ithuriel and Jabs to notice Hadraniel was missing. Jabs became an inconsolable wreck. She couldn’t sit down the rest of that day. She wanted Ithuriel to call the Eyes, call the B’nei Elohim, call anybody. But Ithuriel decided to wait until whoever it was that kidnapped his son contacted him. This sort of thing could be expected to happen to a wealthy man in a largely lawless settlement.
The next day, the driver of the getaway car arrived on the doorstep of Ithuriel’s estate and gave them an envelope. “I work for Mr. Roth Wardian,” he told them. “The kid is safe. Mr. Wardian wants a refund for the ice, plus damages and…incidentals. He’ll be in touch.”
Ithuriel was in a terrible rage at this low blow but he understood it as an logical escalation of the long-running war between him and Wardian.
“So Wardian made his move,” Jabs said. “I just never thought he’d stoop to hurting Hadraniel.”
Inside the envelope was a picture of Hadraniel, his face wet with tears, tied up in a room somewhere. Jabs screamed, “Now contact the Eyes!”
Strangely enough, I want Hadraniel back alive, Ithuriel told her, shaking his head. “We can hand this without the Eyes. Did you notice the background behind Hadraniel?”
Jabniel examined the photograph again and on a second look even she could see it. “That’s the power plant.”
“So you see we have to do this alone,” Ithuriel said. “We can’t trust anyone at the plant. He must have bribed his way in there.” On that single point Ithuriel was in error. Wardian had simply bribed everyone to leave. Ithuriel would need to fire a lot of people later.
When Ithuriel and Jabniel arrived at the plant, which was on their property not far away from the main house, they entered a set of doors and stood in a large glass-enclosed gallery looking down on a dozen consoles that were supposed to be attended by technicians. The glass was very thick and they could hear no sound through it.
Just behind the far wall of the control room, Ithuriel knew, was one of two jumbo sub-macros which provided the power. Should one of those macros go down for any reason the technicians (when they weren’t playing hooky) could quickly shift operations over to the other line until the faulty one was repaired.
Ithuriel led Jabniel out of the gallery and down a sloping walkway leading under the surface of Ceres. In this place a window looked into a round room with a two-foot diameter rotating shaft running from the metal-grated floor to the ceiling.
This is the space between the steam turbine in the ground beneath us,” Ithuriel said, “and the generator above. The steam comes directly from the macro expansion chamber and turns huge blades. The rotation is geared down to sixty RPM, as you can see.
They walked further down echoing concrete passageways and took a glass elevator which faced back toward the exterior of the plant. It burst from underground and rose eight floors to a skybridge which went clear across the gigantic space of the power house. They went went halfway along the skybridge and looked over the edge eighty feet down onto the generators. There were two red-painted generators down there, and each generator was the size of a house. But there was no sign of little Hadraniel.
The skybridge led to a broad observation deck. Here the floor was covered in luxurious thick orange plush carpet and the walls and handrails were trimmed in bright blue.
There were various science exhibits scattered around, like a little museum of electricity and physics, since this was where Ithuriel entertained tours of visiting dignitaries and customers. Jabs pushed the button on a Jacob’s ladder, a pair of rods like an old TV antenna. A series of electric arcs started climbing up it.
There was another exhibit with a screen activated by a button which was supposed to roll a video thread spool of the power plant in operation. A yellow sticky was posted next to this button, and on that sticky was printed the name “Ithuriel” So Ithuriel pushed the button.
The screen showed a live image of his little boy, who was tied up alone somewhere in the plant and in tears. For the rest of his life, four-year-old Hadraniel would tag this traumatic event as his first memory, not his life in deep space, and that was truly a shame.
“Where’s my god-damned money, fucker?”
Ithuriel fired a shot at the screen in a tantrum. “I know where Hadraniel is being kept now,” he told Jabs. “It has to be the inactive macro, the one on standby in case the active one goes down.” They both rushed down the stairs, taking six or seven at a time in the three- percent gravity.
Ithuriel and Jabs entered the chamber. “Mommy!” Hadraniel cried. There was no sign of Roth.
Roth Wardian saw them all on camera from the control room. He calmly activated the phantomizer, but Jabs and Hadraniel and Ithuriel were all unharmed. You can’t phantomize something twice. “Lucky bastard,” Roth said to himself, thinking Ithuriel had somehow disabled the macro when he entered.
Just as it didn’t cross his mind at the time of the buy that Jabs’ ice ball had been pre-phantomized, it didn’t cross his mind now that Jabs and Ithuriel had been pre-phantomized also, and Hadraniel too, by proxy. Surviving a macro went against everything he knew. He had no clue there was such a thing as a sub-macro that was much more gentle with its samples.
So Roth Wardian came running down the ramp with his gun in hand, ready to kill all of them. And the instant he crossed into the chamber, he disappeared.
Since the power plant used a sub-macro, Wardian was not immediately killed. His body was phantomized, but intact, and only the force of gravity could operate upon it. He immediately began to sink through the foundation of the power plant and into the ice beneath the surface of Ceres.
Jabs rushed to pick up Hadraniel for a motherly embrace.
Leaving the chamber, the clock started ticking. For seven seconds Wardian saw nothing, and floated in the dark. He began to wonder if he had just died, and that wonder turned to panic when he thought death might consist of nothing but contemplating the dark for all eternity.
At the end of the seven seconds his body materialized once again embedded in the ice. He never felt that part. And for Ithuriel, that was the end of his Roth Wardian problem.
All and all, it was much too quick a death for Wardian, in Ithuriel’s opinion. After he killed the power to the macro, he muttered, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Then he swept Jabs and Hadraniel both into his arms for extended kisses.
Jabs absorbed this for a moment, then summed it up. “So this was a family affair. We solve our own problems.”
“That’s what we do and all we do, Jabs,” Ithuriel affirmed. “Look at the great little kid. Son you have no idea what a happy, rich, spoiled brat you’re going to be!”
“I want Hadraniel to be a happy, rich, spoiled brat,” Jabs said. “He’s got nothing to prove to himself. He can grow up here and fall in love the traditional way and spend the rest of his life with no worries about anything.”
“You see it then, don’t you Jabs?” Ithuriel asked. “Hadraniel himself, and you his mother and your happiness are my life’s reward!”
68 – HANFORD
It wouldn’t do to have the girls locked up inside the clinic in the not-so-unlikely event of a fire, so for safety and also as a security precaution in the unlikely case they did get out, a guard was posted in a shack nearby with bright lights flooding the doorway.
The escapees stood there illuminated like deer frozen on the highway.
Fortunately for them the guard wasn’t expected to just stare at the outside of the clinic for the duration of his watch. Just staying awake was sufficient, it seemed. So he had his back turned, hunched over a newspaper.
Kim and Hunky crept around the outside of the clinic as quietly as they could until they were exactly 180 degrees around from the guard shack. Then they headed straight out in the long shadow of the building.
There was no outer perimeter of eight foot high barbed wire fences or rolls of concertina wire or dogs or land mines as they had feared, since the clinic was intended mainly for treating Hanford’s radiation burn victims. Soon they found themselves trodding through sand and sagebrush on a gentle slope down to the shore of the Columbia River.
Kim looked up into the clear and dark desert sky and gasped at the beauty of the white phosphor Milky Way above, and more stars than she had seen in her life. But she was just wearing a tan and white dress and began to shiver in the night time desert cold.
Shortly the girls came to a wire fence and Kim put her hand out to spread the wires apart so they could crawl through, but quickly pulled back again when she suffered an electrical shock. She looked at it for a moment and decided to try to roll under it. The task required a little bit of burrowing into the sand to get more clearance.
Soon they were both through the electric fence and standing at the river’s edge. In the moonlight they dimly saw the roaring whitewater of the untamed stretch of the river called Hanford Reach. They both knew they couldn’t set foot in the water right there, or they’d be swept away and drown.
Hunky asked Kim, “How did you solve the lock so fast?”
“It’s hard to explain,” Kim said. “It’s as though I can daydream the future. I saw the moment when I hit the right number, and then just read the number right out of my daydream.”
“So daydream our way out of here.”
“That’s not how it seems to work. We’re on this kind of railroad track, and I can see that we’re going to screw up if we keep doing what we’re doing, and we’re certainly gonna get caught if we do. But my daydream doesn’t show me what we need to do to not get caught.”
The interior of the clinic was monitored on one of the earliest installations of closed-circuit television in the United States. Only the best for the Manhattan Project. By 1:00 AM a call was made to the guard shack at the Allard clinic, and soon after that the word was out on the street that Kimberly and Sophia were gone.
Still half asleep, E. G. Roland fumbled with the phone receiver and there was quite a pause before he remembered he was supposed to bring it to his ear and say, “Hello?”
“Sorry to wake you up at this hour, Director Roland, but you wanted to be informed immediately if the Lokken or Krouse girls escaped. Both of them did.”
“What time is it?”
“One fifteen in the AM, sir.”
“And who are you?”
“Sergeant Jim Lasker in Building 1002 at Pearl.”
“How did she get out?”
“As far as we know, sir, she just punched the right combination on the door and walked out.”
“The sentry at the clinic dropped the ball. Have they been picked up yet?”
“Not yet sir. But we’ll get them. We’ve had some wires tripped on the riverbank near Nancy so we’re concentrating downstream and northeast of the clinic. There’s nowhere for them to hide.”
With 960 square miles the Hanford site was large enough to require “town” names to identify places within it. The Manhattan Project had chosen to use mostly women’s names. So there were places like Ruth, Edna, and Susie, which were nothing more than railroad junctions, really. The clinic was only a mile north of Helen, which was just a large electrical substation and a cluster of warehouses.
Kim and Hunky had been steered away from the Mulberry trees along the river by the electric fence and deep gravel pits connected by a maze of unpaved roads that made up the relative highlands of Nancy. There was a single rail line crossing the area from southwest to northeast.
The girls veered off the gradually ascending scrub-brush plain into a newly dug mile-long trench intended to hold contaminated water from the Q West reactor. This would prove to be a mistake. When they had walked about halfway down the huge ditch, which was only wide enough to hold perhaps four cars side-by-side, a pair of headlights appeared ahead and turned to line up on them.
Kim and Hunky threw themselves flush against the gritty trench walls. They could feel the cool moistness of the face of newly-exposed gravel, and smell a flinty odor. The tiny rocks were somewhere between sand and small pebbles in size, and they were held together loosely by a sheen of underground moisture.
Hunky thought about climbing, but it would be useless to try because the gravel face was unstable. In some places clods of dirt and gravel were actually overhanging. easily knocked down by the brush of a hand. In other places a single scrape would unleash a miniature slide of loose gravel, the tiny rocks piling around their feet. But that gave Hunky an idea. She began scraping the walls of the trench and deliberately pulling the gravel down over herself.
A third light mounted on the windshield and hand-operated by the driver was sweeping methodically up and down the slopes of the gravel pit as the vehicle slowly advanced.
Hunky pulled Kim close to her until they were close enough to kiss. They both scraped at the walls until enough gravel had collapsed to leave only their head and one arm free.
“Don’t ask me how I know this will work,” Hunky said, “But it will. Put your mouth against mine, Kim. My body will supply the air you need to breathe.”
Then, as the MP’s white jeep approached very close Kim and Hunky engaged in a kiss. Hunky completed their self-burial, hoping the soldier was too intent studying the sides of the trench to glance at the little ongoing rockslide ahead. Since the newly-dug trench was pretty unstable anyway there were many such piles of gravel along the walls.
Kim calmed herself as much as possible, and breathed what Hunky gave her. Hunky, in turn, breathed what Kim gave her. It wasn’t anything sexy. And it did seem to work, but like Kim’s ability to see the future there was no immediate explanation for how it worked and how Hunky knew it would work.
After a few minutes of being buried alive Kim and Hunky pushed back through the gravel and tentatively took a breath. They dared no loud gasping, because the jeep was still very near. But the red glow of tail-lights meant that it had passed by. In fact the driver had not even given the brand-new little landslides a second look, he was checking the nooks between the landslides where he figured someone could hide. Kim and Sophie patiently and quietly recovered. The crisis of the first security sweep had passed.
After the guard’s jeep had left them far behind Kim and Hunky continued on their way east along the dry floor of the future waste-water sump. Their ordeal had not gotten them very dirty. The gravel they had buried themselves in was a lot like wet sand at the beach, only with bigger grains.
After about fifteen minutes of walking they stood where the jeep had been when they had first seen its lights. Railroad tracks were there. A white sign said “Bettie” in stenciled letters. Kim and Hunky decided to walk along the tracks, and though they didn’t know it, the tracks were a good choice, because they would cross no trip wires, and there was no road paralleling the track, paved or not.
Two miles to the south across a sagebrush plain many yellow lights illuminated Hanford’s main cluster of tritium production reactors. They were preparing the Fat Boy bomb that would be used on Japan on August 9, 1945.
At about 3:00 AM the girls reached the halfway point across the wide, flat tongue of land they were crossing formed by a northerly bend of the Columbia. They reached a major rail junction identified as Ginger as well as a cluster of paved roads. In the distance to the southeast a few approaching vehicles could be seen by their headlights so Kim and Hunky hid behind some rolling stock on a Ginger side track.
They chose a low brown Union Pacific gondola car to climb into. With many other identical railroad cars sitting around it was a good place for them to hide as long as they laid down out of sight.
“Even if we do manage to contrive an escape somehow,” Hunky quietly said, “they will never stop looking for us. So you are going to have to change your name just like I did from Sophie to Hunky.”
“You’re right,” Kim admitted. “So from now on call me Robyn. With a ‘y’. But I’ll never risk going to a judge to make it official.”
Exactly right there, in that empty railroad car when Kimberly Lokken changed her name to Robyn, the order of the B’nei Elohim was born.
Out in the night the army police were setting up a tripod. Television had been nearly perfected, but World War II had intervened just before the technology could be rolled out to the public. Soon after the war TV would replace radio as the main source of family home entertainment. In the hands of the army, television permitted a kind of night vision. A bulky television camera could be modified to respond to heat rather than light, and when the image was displayed on a CRT, warm bodies would stand out in the night.
Once the camera was mounted on the tripod they stared at the green screen and began slowly sweeping the horizon all around Ginger. The dark boxes of many railroad cars crept across the screen. There was a pair of infrared sources out there in one car, but the cold steel walls shielded them well.
It was 3:30 AM. The second sweep by the military police was over and they bundled up their primitive night-scope and drove away. Kimberly Lokken had crawled into a rail car with Hunky to hide from them but she was forever dead. Only Robyn and Hunky would crawl out and go on.
They decided to stick with the train tracks and continue northeast. If anyone came again, with any luck they could hide in another one of the scattered rail cars.
In a mile they reached a place where the tracks, a paved road, and a gravel road all came together. Now the gravel one ran parallel to the tracks on their right, making the girls feel a little exposed.
A half-mile after that a paved road took its place alongside. They both could see a hint of the coming dawn in the eastern skies. Robyn sensed the available choices were becoming fewer and fewer.
The rail curved sharply north, then northwest for a quarter of a mile, then north again for about fifty feet before coming to a dead end. Here was an old forgotten boxcar, forlorn in the dim gray light of 5 o’clock in the morning. Now Robyn sensed clearly that there were only two paths open to them. They could hide in the boxcar and wait to be picked up, or they could hoof it across the sand.
They saw a line of white cliffs about two miles to the east and guessed that was the far bank of the river. They were hideously exposed and the light was getting slowly but steadily brighter. There was little else to do but to make for the water again and hope to find somewhere to hide.
They struck off due east. In eight hundred feet they crossed a row of fence posts and tripped over a single wire. The army cops had them on their lighted map again.
Five minutes after tripping the outer picket they crossed a wide paved road on the brink of a gentle slope down to the river. They heard sirens. Blue flashing lights were visible to the north and south. Almost the entire Hanford police force was closing in like the jaws of a steel trap. Robyn and Hunky ran downhill toward the river, kicking up sand.
They met that old electric fence again, and dropped to worm themselves under the bottom wire. They heard dogs but once they had gotten to the other side of the fence they figured they wouldn’t have to worry about them.
When they girls got their first good look at the river current they both knew they were in luck. Here it was not too fast and not too slow. Robyn sensed they had completely run out of other options. So Robyn carved out for herself a new option by simply wading straight out into the water, and Hunky followed her. A grin broke out on the faces of both girls. They were pleasantly surprised. It being the late summer, the water had baked in the sun behind a dam twenty miles upstream, and behind another dam before that. So it wasn’t too cold. More like old bath water.
At this particular stretch the great river slowed and silt had piled up to form several islands. Seven miles per hour. It wasn’t the dangerous speed of the whitewater at the rapids upstream, but it wasn’t still water backed up behind a dam, which would force them to swim for it. There was even a wide zone shallow enough to permit Robyn and Hunky to touch their feet on the bottom now and again. But their bobbing heads were very visible in the brightening dawn.
There was a hard splash in the water a fraction of a second before they heard the sharp report of a rifle.
Up until that point it had been almost a game for Robyn and Hunky. It never occurred to them at all that they would be the target of shooters. Quickly they both dived under the water and repeated the same breathing trick that worked at the gravel pit.
When they came back up again they hoped they were beyond rifle range. But the southern group of MPs were getting out of their jeeps to look at the river with rifles in hand, and the girls were coming up on them fast. So they submerged once more.
One of the itchy trigger fingers on the bank thought he saw something and fired a round. The sound of his shot sparked a barrage of blind fire by the other men. Robyn and Hunky passed through a gauntlet of instantly forming white bubble-lines as dozens of bullets laced the water.
After they surfaced again well downstream it would be followed by almost two hours of drifting along with their eyes darting and scanning the shore before the river carried them past a roadless marsh and they could begin to relax.
At the first community downriver from the Hanford site Robyn and Hunky crawled out of the water and shivered for an hour, dangerously near hypothermia as they dried out in the bright morning sun on the right bank of the Columbia River, just below the first few houses on the northern edge of the town.
Still soggy, their shoes squished as they slogged their way through back yards and side streets and emerged on a thoroughfare named George Washington Way. In the bottom of one of Hunky’s shoes was a damp ten-dollar bill from her mother, sent by mail on her birthday and it was all the money any of them had. But it was enough to get some food and a bus ticket home.
69 – SIX DAYS
Nineteen years after the creation of the State of Israel, Lilith Gervasi (having been advanced from seren to rav seren, or Major) was crucial for her nation’s success in the Six Day War. This was the third major conflict between Israel and the Arab nations that comprised the bad neighborhood of the Middle-East. Geopolitically this war would have greater ramifications than any other tussle in the Arab-Israeli conflict except on the Zeta Timeline, when the 1973 Yom Kippur War with its use of nuclear weapons would prove much more fateful.
The cause of the 1967 war was exactly the same as the cause of the First Suez War in 1956. President Nasser rolled the dice one more time. The Strait of Tirin was once again blocked by the heavy guns of the fortress at Sharm el-Sheikh, choking off the southern Negev town of Eilat from access to the open sea.
The biggest contribution of Lilith was the destruction of nearly two hundred Egyptian warplanes while they were still parked on their runways. This was accomplished by the B’nei Elohim at her request.
In just a quarter of an hour on the morning of June 5 many Egyptian planes which had been prepared to bomb Israel were mortally crippled, and powerful cluster bombs tore up the airfields where the planes were parked. Bomblets shattered the concrete of the runways down to the foundations and made them temporarily useless.
The B’nei Elohim attacked from high above the Egyptian air bases in flying saucers that were equipped with large macros. They could hover on station indefinitely in nearly total silence simply by making the air over the saucer into dark matter. The air above the saucer disappeared, creating a pressure differential, hence lift, not much different from a conventional helicopter, but much quieter and with virtually unlimited flight time.
The B’nei Elohim raid allowed the IDF to retain all their own fighter planes orbiting on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) in Israeli airspace to defend from any counter-attacks in case Robyn’s people failed, but some of these were dispatched to Egypt after the attack to evaluate the damage. They reported that 180 Egyptian planes had been destroyed, and all the communications facilities of the Egyptian air forces were also out of operation. The first combat operation of the B’nei Elohim was a spectacular success.
President Nasser told King Hussein of Jordan nothing of the sudden and inexplicable loss of his entire air force. He told the king it was the Israeli air force, rather, that had been completely destroyed. Proceeding on the basis of this misinformation the king ordered his troops to cross the border and his planes to begin bombing targets in Israel. Syria and Iraq attacked at precisely the same time.
Within two hours, Israeli warplanes drove back the invading forces and destroyed the bulk of Syrian and Jordanian air assets with aerial dogfights and ground attacks. A grand total of four hundred Arab aircraft were destroyed in the first day of fighting, leaving them only 280 operational planes, but there were very few runways left operational with which to launch them. That fact alone decided the outcome of the war. The rest was just icing on the cake
On June 6th, Nasser made another phone call to King Hussein to tell him American and British planes had destroyed his entire air force on the first day. Nasser half-believed it himself. He still had no idea it was the B’nei Elohim who really carried out the attack. Nasser had no idea that the B’nei Elohim even existed. To admit the Israelis had somehow decapitated his entire air force would imply that mere Jews were militarily superior to Arabs, which was, of course, utterly unthinkable. So it must have been the Anglos went his thinking.
On the morning of June 7th Major Lilith Gervasi received orders to report to General David Elazar at his Northern Command, based out of Galilee, where she was given command of a full battalion. She spent the rest of that day and most of the night evaluating the readiness of her troops and briefing her staff.
On June 8th General Elazar drove to Tel Aviv to get permission from Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin to attack the Golan Heights, lest the Syrians be left in a position to shell settlers from there after the war drew to a close. At first the proposal was rejected, but overnight it became clear the Egyptian army was in a state of disintegration. Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, overruled Rabin and authorized the Golan attack.
By June 9th Lilith and her battalion found themselves in bitter hand-to-hand fighting against Syrians manning fortifications in the Golan Heights, which their enemy defended with impressive tenacity. But future President-for-life Hafez al-Assad, then the Minister of Defense in Syria, began to fear for his own hide. He ordered the Golan defenders to withdraw to reinforce his forces along the route to the capital city of Damascus, which lay only forty miles away from the front line.
As the Syrians gave ground through the night, Lilith’s battalion advanced, but the fighting remained fierce and exhausting. By the evening of June 10 it was all over. After only six days of hard fighting, Israel possessed three times the territory she did before the war.
No Egyptian forces of any strength remained to prevent the IDF from reaching Cairo if they chose to do so, which they did not. Egypt’s infantry had been reduced to thousands of thirsty, barefooted stragglers walking west to cross over the Sinai Canal. As long as they kept moving west, the IDF let them go. Israel was already burdened with 7,000 Egyptian prisoners as things already stood.
The whole Sinai peninsula was annexed by Israel, which completely isolated the Gaza Strip. Sharm was abandoned by the Egyptians in the face of a strong amphibious assault. A chain of IDF fortresses designed to block any future Egyptian attack was built along the east bank of the canal. This was called the Bar-Lev Line, but it would never be staffed by appropriate numbers of Israeli troops, and this foolish policy would allow Egypt to attack once again in 1973.
The ancient capital of Jerusalem fell completely into Israeli hands after nearly two thousand years. Jordanian forces were driven east across the Jordan River, leaving the entire West Bank, also called Judea and Samaria, under IDF occupation. The State of Israel now controlled the lives of a million Palestinian Arabs, and this was to come with its own host of problems well into the Twenty-first Century on every timeline El Shaddai and Yeshua created.
Syria lost their territory in the strategic Golan Heights. A helicopter took IDF soldiers to the summit of snowy Mt. Hermon to take possession of the radar facilities there. This broad and tall mountain, whose snows were the source of the Jordan River, would become the eyes and ears of Israel.
Total Israeli losses were about 700 dead. This butcher’s bill was far smaller than had been feared on the eve of the war, but it was still a heavy burden for their families and communities to bear. Arab losses were much higher. In the Sinai alone there were 15,000 Egyptian corpses left unburied on the desert sands.
Israel, despite her relatively small population, had stabilized as the regional superpower of the Middle-East. A roughly equal number of Jews dwelt in the United States, where they lived in conditions that were much safer than in Eretz Yisrael, but they were still of the Diaspora. They weren’t home, in the land that had been promised to Abraham, and if the Jews learned anything over the previous three thousand years, they had learned that seemingly favorable conditions abroad were liable to change precisely because they, as a tribe, as a people, never changed. Something buried deep inside the rest of humanity could never accept that.
After the war, when the reserves were being demobilized Talishi came calling to visit before Lilith had exchanged her Major’s uniform for the clothing appropriate for a collective farm. And Lilith marveled that Talishi appeared to be precisely the same age as when they first met on the beach at Underhill on the Isle of Wight.
Talishi embraced Lilith, then stood back a bit to regard the woman with a friendly but appraising gaze. She said, “Your father Benjamin will not live forever.”
And then Lilith lost her smile, for she knew what Talishi had come to ask her to do. It was something Lilith had dreaded for years. “I’m not ready to tell him everything,” she said soberly.
“No, but you are, I think, ready to tell him something, and that is a vast improvement.” She held out her hand. “Come. Please.”
Then Talishi whisked Lilith back to St. Catherine’s lighthouse on the Isle of Wight in the same manner she had whisked the girl to Yad Mordechai twenty-one years prior. So it had not been a dream or a hallucination after all.
“Will you tell me what you really are, Talishi?” Lilith asked as they walked toward the lighthouse that was so familiar to her.
“I will tell you everything,” Talishi assured her. “Everything! But only after you have also told your father everything.”
Lilith stopped in her tracks. “Why Talishi? Why must it be so?”
“Have you not discerned by now that I am healing your soul?”
After a long pause, Lilith nodded her head, then resumed her walk.
“Good! That too is a sign that what I have been doing is working.”
Somewhere between the place where Lilith had paused and the front door of the lighthouse Talishi had slipped away. Lilith was quite alone when she knocked on the door of what had been her girlhood home. A strange, severe-looking woman with her hair tied back in a bun opened the door. “Yes, what is it?”
“Is my…is Benjamin home?”
“Who are you?”
Lilith’s father hobbled up behind the woman to see who had come calling. At first, when he saw the IDF uniform, he didn’t recognize who it was, and thought he was in some sort of trouble again. But his mind merged the two decades of changes on Lilith’s face with his memories of his daughter. Tentatively, he asked, “Lilith? Are you Lilith?”
His daughter’s face crinkled up in a way that Benjamin could not mistake, and this time there were tears, perhaps the first tears she had shed over all that time. Lilith sobbed, “Father, I’m so sorry!”
They embraced for a long time, and Lilith wept as she had never done so in her life, for she realized that her father had done nothing, nothing, to deserve the silence she had inflicted on him all those years. Lilith had rationalized to herself that she was punishing her father for refusing to emigrate to Palestine, but that was nothing more than a huge lie she had made herself believe all that time, and Lilith marveled at her own capacity for self-deception.
When Benjamin and Lilith separated from their long embrace, the strange woman held out her hand to Lilith. “I am Laura,” she introduced herself. “I am your father’s wife.”
“Life goes on,” Benjamin offered, as though in explanation.
Lilith was mildly shocked by the news. “Father. We have so much catching up to do, it seems.”
“Then let us do so, beloved daughter, over a cuppa.”
The three shared afternoon tea in the large common room of the lighthouse. It was the place that once held a Teletype that gave the family their orders to direct the Clarinet antenna for a strategic bombing run. Benjamin told Lilith he was old enough to retire, but operating the lighthouse was not so physically demanding, and he still enjoyed making his meterological observations and publishing articles in his field to various professional journals. At certain hours during the day he and Laura would guide tourists about the lighthouse grounds and even take them up to the top, something Benjamin forced himself to do despite a bit of arthritis in his knees.
Lilith, for her part, was necessarily vague on answering her father’s questions about how she managed to travel to Israel, since she herself didn’t know the mechanics of that. But everything else she related, in reverse order, starting from the recent Six Day War and going backwards to the birth of her adopted nation.
“And all this time, daughter, were there no gentlemen in your life? Have you never considered being married?”
Lilith came to a dead stop. All the heroic accounts of an IDF Major the Arab-Israeli wars were over. Her father’s innocent question had dumped her directly into the pit of agonizing memories that smoldered yet in the core of her soul. “How shall I proceed father? I am no stranger to the touch of man, but…let’s call it conditioning, shall we? The thought of physical love inevitably takes me back to the camps. You may draw your own conclusions, but that, I think is a mental scar far more long lasting than any of the physical ones I bear.”
“I am so sorry, Lilith!”
“Rather it is I who must apologize to you, father. At no time did you do or say anything that merited shunning from your own daughter.”
“Once,” he tentatively said, thinking of Lilith’s mention of scars, “just once, I saw the damage on your back. Will you say anything about what happened to you?”
Lilith lowered her head for a rather long time, gathering the painful memories into a narrative for the first time since it happened. This is it, she thought. And I dread it so, but Talishi wants me to do this.
“One time,” she began, “near the very end, before we were liberated by the American army, the survivors — and this was a death camp so there were not very many of us – the survivors were mustered together for a roll call, or what the Germans called an appel. We all wore very thin clothing, and it was very cold, as mornings often are in late March. The commander of the camp gave an order to flog the entire first row of prisoners simply because the exhausted and freezing women had poor posture! And I was in the first row.
“Listening to the screams of the prisoners being whipped before my turn was almost worse than the actual punishment. Almost. I vowed that I would not scream when it happened to me, and I begged God for the strength to make that vow hold true.
“I was stripped naked and held by two female guards over a table while a third laid on the lash. The agony of this punishment is…indescribable. I will not even attempt to describe it. But from the first stroke I completely forgot my vow, and I did scream.”
Both Benjamin and Laura gaped at her with horror.
“I lost count of how many strokes I received because I lost consciousness before it was over. But a flogging is a gift that keeps on giving, as the American trademark goes. I woke up in the camp hospital in only slightly less agony than during the whipping, with my entire back on fire, it felt like. It would take four days before I could get more than a few minutes of uninterrupted sleep at a time. I had lost a lot of blood and the slightest movement opened the scars and caused me to bleed again. So I could not be moved from the hospital or walk under my own power. When the American forces drew very near, the entire camp descended into chaos. I was left behind.
“A day later I did manage to stumble out of bed for one final task. Troops of the 89th Infantry Division of the US Third Army captured Ohrdruf-Nord on April 4, 1945. Among the many thousands of dead Jews whose burnt or decomposing bodies where strewn about the camp, one female German guard also lay on the ground with her head nearly twisted off the spine. That guard was the one who had laid the lash on my back. She was my second one, father, but she was not my last one, not by a wide margin.”
Benjamin closed his eyes and howled in despair, as Laura tried to comfort him.
“And so you see, father, as I stand here in my IDF uniform, that the little girl you raised in this lighthouse is no more, replaced by a cold-blooded killer, and we do not really know each other at all, do we?”
“Please,” Benjamin begged, recovering just a bit. “I must know. Please. What happened to your mother?”
Lilith shook her head firmly. “You’re not ready for that, father. It would kill you. I’m not ready for it yet, and I was there.”