90 – APOLLO
The timeline that Yeshua designated Eta was the one with the fall of the Soviet Union and the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 2001, the one where President Nixon was forced to resign his office and Apollo 17 was the final moon shot. After the time track was created at the Watergate complex in June of 1972 Eta was allowed to run for six months before Theta was budded off from it.
That is not to say Timeline Eta ceased to exist when Theta was created. The time track simply bifurcated with the change, which then spread out into the rest of the cosmos as a spherical ripple at the speed of light. Everywhere the edge of that sphere touched, the universe split into two copies. It would be forty thousand years before this alteration or any of the preceding ones reached Barbelo.
At 5:26 PM EST on December 13, 1972, on Timeline Eta, six days after leaving Earth and their third day on the surface of the Moon, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt made the final moonwalk of Apollo 17.
Gene Cernan had flown to the Moon before, on Apollo 10, with his commander from his Gemini 9 mission, Tom Stafford. On that mission Gene had even flown a lunar module to within nine miles of the Moon’s surface, then returned to orbit, leaving the glory of the first landing to Neil and Buzz on Apollo 11.
He wasn’t exactly tight buds with his partner, Harrison Schmitt, a geologist who had bumped one of Gene’s buddies from Apollo 17 just so the PR fellows at NASA could say they were shifting their focus from military test pilots as astronauts to scientists. But it was true. After Apollo 17 would come Skylab (on Timeline Eta), a joint flight with the Soviet Union, and then the Space Shuttle program after that.
Like the two preceding moonwalks of the mission, this third one was to last for about seven hours. But it was to differ from the first two EVAs in a very important respect, not counting the fact that it was about an hour late getting started.
Robyn had been following live television broadcasts of the mission from only a few miles away in Taurus City and she even followed the proceedings with the portable television in her truck as she drove down the flanks of North Massif to reach the floor of the Taurus-Littrow valley. So many stations on Earth were airing the moonwalk the only trick was to pick one station out with a dish.
The landing site of Apollo 17 was on the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis where an asteroid hit the Moon nearly four billion years ago and created a basin a thousand miles across. The rim of Serenitatis was a ring of mountains which collapsed in some places to create long valleys like Taurus-Littrow aligned toward the center of the Mare. The pyroclastic flows that filled the “Sea of Serenity” had been accompanied by lava fountains which covered the whole area with tiny glass beads bearing bright colors such as orange and yellow.
The outer, southeastern end of the valley butted up against a large mountain called the East Massif. In the south, there was a narrow canyon that led to yet another valley. The west side of this canyon was the sheer wall of South Massif.
Crossing north to the other side of East Massif, the advance party of B’nei Elohim (scouting in 1956 with pressure suits purchased on Barbelo) found another canyon leading to still another valley. Beyond this canyon was the Sculptured Hills, and to the west of those hills was North Massif. Between North and South Massif was a narrower exit valley about four miles wide, partially blocked by Family Mountain and a sharp fault ridge about three hundred feet high.
The eastern foot of that sharp ridge formed a gentle ramp that led up around the western slope of North Massif to some rugged back country where it was difficult for landing craft to safely land. This high country on the back side of North Massif was where Lilith chose to build the city of Taurus as a “cut-and-cover” tunnel, with the Golden Gift doing the cutting.
Robyn drove her truck to the astronaut’s current position near a large, dark, shattered boulder wedged in the wall of North Massif where geologist Harrison Schmitt was gathering samples. She was careful not to run over their fragile little electric Rover parked nearby.
That Boeing-built Lunar Rover contained a built-in navigation system that kept track of every turn of the wheels and the total distance traveled. This system used a new four-bit microprocessor, which was essentially a computer on a single chip. As the decade progressed, this invention would undergo further advances and become the heart of the Micro, sparking the Information Revolution.
The boulder being examined by Schmitt, which was in five separate pieces, lay beneath a long furrow of dents showing it’s recent plunge down the face of the mountain. Apollo 15 Command Module pilot Alfred Worden had photographed the area in 1971 from orbit with a large panoramic camera. He captured photographic evidence of what looked suspiciously like tracks of wheeled vehicles and some debris that did not resemble stones at all. But after looking at the photos some analysts suspected the tracks and debris were simply from boulders that had fallen down the face of North Massif in a recent (probably less than 20 million years) moon quake.
The truth was, the staging area for construction of Taurus City was the Taurus-Littrow valley itself, and it was impossible to hide from NASA what twenty years of construction did to the pristine lunar surface.
Robyn pulled her truck to a stop, pumped the interior atmo down to a near vacuum, then popped the door open to wait for the boys to come in. They hadn’t heard her pull up, of course. They were so busy examining the boulder it was thirty-six minutes before they looked up from their task and noticed Robyn parked next to them.
At that very instant, Timeline Theta was created. Both of the astronauts uttered some expletives and the live feed was cut. CBS cut to Walter Cronkite for commentary. The live television blackout would last for about a half-hour. NASA claimed technical difficulties.
Commander Cernan described the situation to NASA. Phone calls were made to the Soviet Union asking them if they were operating in the same area and didn’t tell anybody (the Russians thought the Americans joke was in bad taste. “Is not enough you win Space Race,” they said, “now you rub it on?”).
Cernan and Schmitt, watching their oxygen levels slowly bleed down, reminded Houston they were still waiting for instructions. Houston said the mission commander, Cernan, could approach the truck, and perhaps even enter it, but Schmitt should wait outside and be prepared to hustle back in his Rover to the Lunar Module, which was about four miles away.
So Cernan walked over to the truck, where he performed a complete circuit around it. There was only one space-suited figure seated inside, who was waving at him, and motioning for him to come inside.
So Gene stepped inside, and Robyn motioned for him to have a seat. She closed the door and began to re-pressurize the interior of the truck with pure oxygen at just 3 psi.
When the dials read the appropriate pressure she removed her helmet, and invited Cernan to do the same. The sharp spent-gunpowder smell of the lunar regolith assaulted her nose, but she was used to it. And after two lunar EVAs so was Cernan.
When he removed his own helmet, his first words to her were, “You sound like an American.”
Robyn noted Gene was rather gaunt, and prematurely gray for a man in his thirties. She said, “I was born near Seattle, Commander Cernan. But my daughter Chayn was born right here.”
“Born. On the Moon.”
“On the Moon. But she has Barbuda citizenship in case she ever decides to go Earth-side some day. I’m Kimberly Lokken by the way.”
“Yes, but who are you?”
“One of my titles is Prophet of the Church of End Dome,” she said, bringing out a three-ring binder with many documents and photographs. “I am also the first member of what we call the B’nei Elohim. And I’m the Chief Executive Officer of the Astrodynamics Corporation. The names and faces in this binder will probably mean nothing to you, but they will mean a great deal to certain people in the United States government. I am providing this information package for you to take home and run up your chain of command.”
Cernan accepted the documents, and then searched Robyn’s face. She looked very much like an older version of his own daughter. He really wanted to like her.
“The information I have provided you also describes some of the operations my company is carrying out here on the Moon. I am sure the United States will find grounds to object, but since Astrodyne is incorporated in the new island nation of Barbuda there’s not much the US can do about it. You could try working with us instead of fighting us for a change.”
“You make it sound like this is an old argument,” Cernan said as he flipped through the sheets of paper to scan the information Robyn was asking him to pass along. Old argument indeed, it seemed to go back to the time of World War II. Inside the binder were five glossy color photos of the lunar surface that drew his interest. He pulled them out and asked what they were.
“Images of each one of the previous Apollo landing sites, taken days or weeks after their departure. Note the missing ascent stage in each photo. We thought NASA might want a photographic record.”
Cernan became quiet, and put the photos back on the clipboard on the inside cover the binder. He seemed to be a little sad. “So this meeting, what is it, a fancy sales pitch? I’m just to be your go-between?”
She smiled and nodded. “Basically, it all boils down to this, Commander: Everything the United States has done with its socialized government-financed space program, Astrodyne has already done faster and better with good old-fashioned capitalism. I can imagine this must come as a terrible blow to you, because your entire career has been building up to this moment, but that’s the raw truth, justice, and the American Way, so there you go.”
“How long have you’ve been up here, Kimberly?”
She declined to answer that question, despite her strong wish to do so, because it would lead to questions about how a woman who looked to be only about thirty could be forty-seven years of age. Instead she said, “Let’s just say John Glenn was not the first American to orbit the Earth, despite what you may have heard. Nor was Gagarin the first human to do so.”
“Then how many of you are up here?”
“Oh, not many right now. Only about forty. We’re just getting started. We are willing and eager to work with NASA on a contractual basis going forward. Our contact information is also in that binder.”
Cernan felt embarrassed. All the effort spent by America, all the national treasure, and in the end it all meant exactly nothing. The whole Space Race against Russia was just a fart in a hurricane.
“It’s twelve days before Christmas,” Robyn told him with a sly grin. I’ve got about a hundred and fifty of your Earth pounds of presents for your geologist Mr. Schmitt out there. Rocks from right here at the North Massif, taken from various depths up to six hundred feet below the surface. Sulfur from a channel we call Yellow Rille. Documentation is provided with each sample with location, depth, everything. Hopefully it will compensate for all the precious minutes you’re losing talking to me.”
“I’m sure it will. For what it’s worth, thank you, Miss Lokken.”
“Well, time marches on and your backpack, which you kept running by the way, won’t run forever. So that’s pretty much all I wanted to say to you, Commander Cernan. Thanks for taking this time out of your tait schedule to meet with me. Perhaps we will meet again someday on Earth.”
“I would like that very much,” he said. “In the meantime, I would ask a small favor from you.”
“Just name it, sir.”
“My beautiful ten year old little girl’s name is Tracy,” Cernan told her, holding up again the image of the Apollo 11 site that was taken from very near the Eagle lander to underscore what he was saying in an oblique way. “I wrote her initials with my finger in the ground near the Challenger, but far enough away that the blast of our ascent won’t erase it.”
“I can tell you are a man who loves his daughter very much, Robyn replied. “These pictures were taken to impress your bosses, sir. But I promise no one will ever come near your own landing site across this valley, unless your own people do later. Tracy’s initials won’t last forever, of course, due to micrometeorites, but close enough. A million years at least. That’s much better than anything you could do for her Earthside. Take care and be safe, Commander Cernan.”
When the two men returned to Challenger and removed their helmets, Harrison Schmitt snapped a photo of Cernan for the history books. He looked haggard, exhausted, and just a little haunted. The young lady he met out there on the Taurus-Littrow valley floor with her sheaf of papers and bundle of rocks spelled instant doom for NASA’s manned moon program.
Apollo 18 and 19 were designated to explore the lunar far-side, but Cernan figured they would be canceled soon after he, Schmitt and Ron Evans returned to Earth. The twenty-five billion dollars that had already been spent on the Apollo project now seemed like the biggest waste of money in American history.
91 – INSPECTION
Ithuriel was a wealthy man, yet he maintained no estate on the surface of Ceres. His estate, instead, was a gray metal disk like a hocky puck in a high orbit over Ceres. It was about three hundred feet across, with fifteen levels arranged in concentric circles. The sensation of gravity due to centripetal force increased with each drop to a lower level, but even at the bottom it was never more than five percent Earth normal.
The disk was seventy feet thick, large enough to occupy newcomers for weeks exploring it. There were two miles of passageways, each one tall enough for a nephil like Jabniel to use, and there were more than two thousand compartments of various sizes and shapes. Five hundred of those compartments still contained personal belongings of humans and nephilim who had lived and worked here before.
Many of these people would return, but some of them were dead, and the son of Ithuriel and Jabniel, young Hadraniel, had spent much of his time growing up examining the clothing and personal effects accidentally or deliberately left behind by many people from Barbelo and the Jovian colonies.
But now High Lord Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash himself had come to the estate to examine it, and with him many Eyes of Mastema, armed with silver copies of the Golden Gift as they fanned out through the passageways looking for any unpleasant hidden surprises that might disturb the serenity of their Lord.
They found none, yet the serenity of Asmodeus was nevertheless greatly disturbed by yet another appearance of Lilith, who was making somewhat more commotion in Ithuriel’s estate than her previous appearance in the Emperor’s shipboard stateoom.
Outside of Ithuriel’s main workroom on the third level of his hockey puck the sounds of fighting were so loud it penetrated the door. Presently a hissing black shaft about a yard long penetrated the door and made a neat circle. A heavy slug of metal was pushed through and Lilith stepped inside.
Ithuriel and Asmodeus saw that there were many bodies of dead Eyes strewn about the passageway behind her, and these bodies were in two pieces. Yet Lilith herself was unharmed, and Asmodeus saw this shown forth to him when the last surviving Eye took a swing at Lilith with the black shaft emerging from his Silver Gift and nothing happened. Then Lilith swung back with her Golden Gift and cut the nephil in half.
“You are dead meat, Asmodeus!” Lilith shouted, and Abaddon lit off his own Silver Gift, more of a show of bravado than anything else, since the thing apparently didn’t work against her. Lilith smiled, deactivated her own weapon and snapped it to her belt with a carabiner. “Dead god walking.”
Asmodeus walked around Lilith and stared through the hole she had made in the door to Ithuriel’s work room to appraised the casualties she had left lying on the deck out there. “I thought you were a ‘good’ eloah, Lilith. There are less violent ways to communicate with me, you know.”
“Direct mindspeech doesn’t have the same dramatic character that befits this news,” Lilith said. “Nephilim have departed your binary system in the first starship.”
“So what is their destination, Lilith? It must be a very boring trip, I’d like to make it more interesting for your travelers, perhaps enliven their attempt to settle the new system.” But Lilith remained silent. Asmodeus said, “Come now, you always liked the bad news up front. Chances are they are just heading to one of the stars of the other harem I share with Mastema, the less troublesome one.”
“You can be quite sure they selected their target with that in mind.”
“Yefefiah then? You must be joking. She sleeps for a hundred and fifty years, wakes up for five minutes maybe, looks around with her orbiting avatar, then goes back to sleep to repeat the cycle. That’s why no male eloah in the galaxy has ever successfully courted her. Look how she slept right through the entire Golden Age of Earth radio and television. Completely missed Gunsmoke and Bewitched and Gilligan’s Island. Otherwise the entire community of Elohim would be on fire with the news. I reckon she’ll sleep for another fifty years and that is plenty of time for me to bombard your colony of nephilim to a pre-radio level of technology, and more for good measure.”
Lilith turned to regard Ithuriel. “And you, Edgar Shybear? Robyn’s kid? You sold your soul to the devil? You’re in the pay of Asmodeus now?”
“Only inasmuch as I draw a salary as a hashmal in his armed forces,” Ithuriel replied. “I sincerely hope, Lilith, that you are not about to bore me with questions about why I jumped ship,”
“I know why Asmodeus has come here,” she said. “He will command you to supply engines that are much faster than the ones installed aboard Redemption, so that he may overtake them. Perhaps I should kill you now before you obey your lord, to hedge my bet.”
“You are perfectly capable of doing just that,” Ithuriel said, “but that the thought even crossed your mind might be one of the biggest reasons I jumped ship.”
“Why is she immune to your weapon, Ithuriel?”
“Obviously Lilith phantomized herself with a sub-macro before her assault, my Lord. It’s entirely safe. I’ve done the same, years ago.”
“Interesting. And I had thought I still enjoyed a total monopoly on the sub-macro.”
“My Lord has seen how Lilith gets about,” Ithuriel pointed out. “I don’t think anything in this star system can be withheld from her, if she has her mind set on obtaining it.”
Lilith turned back to Asmodeus. “But perhaps you are right about Yefefiah being a dead end. When the humans make their own starship in the Sol system, I suppose they can bring something that will allow them to communicate directly with the target eloah, maybe even an avatar.”
Asmodeus snorted. “That’s an empty bluff, Lilith, and you know it. I destroyed your avatar at Nine Mile Wall and you cannot make a new one without killing Bat-El.”
“But you forget that long before that I had already caused an avatar to be made, by the hands of human beings no less. I’m referring, of course to the Ark of the Covenant.”
“The Ark of the Covenant? Do you have any idea what the conditions of the center of a star will do to a tiny artifact of wood and gold and whatever electronics you’ve clandestinely stashed inside?”
“And do I need to remind you there are ways to shield things from any conditions no matter how harsh?” She briefly touched the Golden Gift.
“Lilith, listen to me very carefully. If you allow the humans to make a crossing with your avatar you will violate our agreement never to travel to another star with an avatar.”
“The agreement was that I would never travel to another star using an avatar. But the humans will travel to another star using their own vessel, and my avatar will simply go along for the ride. That distinction, I am quite sure, will survive any review by El when it comes to a trial, which it will. So now my plan is laid bare. The clock is ticking, Asmodeus. The span of your existence is now measured in years, not eons.”
Asmodeus allowed his irritation to surface. “Are you going to come barging in on me this way every time I visit the Sol system, Lilith?”
“I think, no, Asmodeus, I don’t need to do this again.” And she departed from their presence in an instant.
“Was she close to the mark, Lord?” asked Ithuriel. “Did you come to obtain a way to catch this ship she called Redemption?”
“You are of the B’nei Elohim, you know the ancient controversy. I cannot command your thoughts, but I would ask you to provide a solution out of a desire to please your lord.”
“Then I will say, Lord Asmodeus, that I have embarked on a line of inquiry that I think will soon lead to a breakthrough far more significant than the sub-macro, although it uses the same basic principles. I think it will be possible to equip a ship with the means to travel at a speed greater than that of light. And so equipped, your fleet will be able to destroy this Redemption, and Lilith’s own proposed starship, and any other attempt my so-called family might make to thwart your will.”
“And what do you need from me to complete your research?”
“I have everything I need here, Lord, but I fear that Lilith or some of her people will storm in here just as you have seen today and hijack the fruit of my efforts the very instant I have reached a final breakthrough. And I fear that not even your Eyes will be able to stop her when she makes her move.”
“That is solved easily enough,” said Asmodeus with a dismissive wave of his hand. “I will simply have your entire estate relocated to my own star system where Lilith cannot reach you, and there you can work completely undisturbed.”
92 – TAURUS
When Robyn looked out along the new Timeline she saw that her idea of applying reverse psychology to the Americans was not enough. Apollo 18 and 19 were still going to be canceled, and the country was still going to turn its back on manned space exploration.
“So what do we do, Lil?” she whined, completely at a loss for ideas.
“I think we can fix it without creating yet another timeline,” Lilith replied after a moment of quiet reflection. “The whole Apollo program was a proxy battle in the Cold War, right?”
“Right, and just after Apollo 8 the Soviets, sore losers that they are, knocked all the chess pieces off the board. They took their ball and went home.”
“Well, then, Robyn, obviously all we need to do now is simply get the Soviets to come back to the game.”
In the days just before Christmas, 1972, President Richard Nixon sent 130 B-52s and hundreds of smaller bombers to lay waste to Hanoi, Haiphong, and the whole vicinity, including airfields, rail yards, and (although perhaps not deliberately) even residential neighborhoods. The North Vietnamese government said the Americans were insane.
There was a thirty-six hour pause in the bombing for Christmas, and then it resumed. Although fifteen bombers had been shot down and nearly a hundred airmen captured or killed, 115 B-52s continued to bomb indiscriminately, around the clock. By New Year’s Day the North Vietnamese couldn’t take the bombing anymore and returned to the negotiating table. A month later a cease-fire was announced, and the war shuddered to a halt.
A few days after the cease-fire in Vietnam, the judge in the case of the Watergate burglars, Maximum John Sirica, handed down ridiculously stiff sentences with the idea of making one of the defendants break and testify against their unknown handlers. Two months later the Quiet Man did break, and wrote a letter to Maximum John that there was political pressure to get the defendants to remain silent and that other men were involved in the operation who were not identified during the trial. This broke the cover-up wide open.
The Attorney General of the United States, the top law enforcement official in the land, had directed the whole operation to break into the headquarters of the opposing political party and bug their offices. Counsel to the White House was enlisted to pay hush money and lawyer’s fees for the defendants after the arrest. The head of the FBI was enlisted to steer the investigation by his subordinates away from the truth, and the President himself, only days after the arrests, claimed the break-in was a CIA operation in the interest of national security. And all of this was eventually dragged out into public view because Nixon had bugged himself. He had secretly recorded every conversation made in the Oval Office since becoming President.
Soon after Vice-President Gerald Ford had been sworn in to replace Richard Nixon after his resignation, fifty-three year old Astronaut John Glenn was asked to return to flight status with NASA after a hiatus of ten years. Although he had been preparing to make a run for the Senate, Glenn instead flew on the Apollo 18 mission in a special non-partisan observer role for the United States government.
President Ford gave Glenn carte blanche authority to make deals with the people already on the Moon who apparently were represented by Kimberly Lokken. This was not public knowledge at the time. Glenn was not assigned a role as Command Module pilot or Lunar Module pilot, but he checked out on both positions.
It was Richard Gordon who actually commanded the mission. He had already attained lunar orbit as the Command Module pilot for Apollo 12 but never walked on the moon. Now he was to land on the surface with Glenn and Fred Haise, who had almost walked on the Moon once before for Apollo 13 but had to turn back around following an explosion. He was played by Bill Paxton in a film of the incident made on Timeline Eta. Vance Brand and William Pogue were space virgins. They stood port and starboard watch aboard the Command Module in lunar orbit for the three weeks the teams were to be separated.
The Soviet Union transmitted to NASA the orbital elements for their Lunniy Orbitalny Korabl which parked over the Moon about a week before Apollo 18 arrived. They said the craft was currently unmanned and didn’t want the risk of a collision, no matter how remote. The part about the LOK being “currently” unmanned was strange, but the Soviets refused to elaborate.
Soon after Glenn, Gordon, and Haise landed, an electric truck identical to the one driven by Robyn and photographed by Harrison Schmitt arrived at the landing site and stopped. After that, the truck driver found the frequency the astronauts were using to talk to Mission Control and suggested, in English but with a Russian accent, that they follow him in their rover. Glenn and Gordon agreed to go, and Haise was left behind to watch the Lunar Module.
The route they took was like a long dirt ramp up the North Massif, but all the up-climbing took a toll on the battery of the Lunar Rover. At about the eight mile mark, Gordon got on the radio and said they’d have to turn around to recharge, or the rover would run out of juice. The Russian voice suggested it wouldn’t be a problem and they should keep going.
After thirteen miles, with many switchbacks, they rounded a hillock and saw something like a wide garage door, which opened at the command of the lead truck. Both vehicles entered, and the garage door shut behind them. It took about an hour to fill the space with oxygen, then two men got out of the truck wearing jumpsuits and boots, nothing more.
“Aleksei Leonov!” Richard Gordon said. “And Oleg Makarov! I recognize both of you from photographs in our briefing. I knew you were out here but I didn’t know you were landing. Where’s your LK?”
“No LK, Commander,” Leonov said. “Astrodyne. We hitch ride down here.”
There were brief introductions all the way around, then Makarov attached a power cable to the truck. He brought another power cable over to the Lunar Rover, and offered to plug it in, but first he had to convince Gordon it was safe. What sold Gordon was how the cable fitting was exactly tailored to fit the rover. Someone up here had done their research.
The next space after the garage was literally a locker room, with large lockers for the NASA crew to stow their pressure suits and keep the keys on their person. Makarov said, “This key for peace of mind, no?”
And the space after that opened on a balcony looking down upon the vast green interior of Taurus City, lit by clever sun reflectors in the ceiling.
“Damn that air smells good,” said Senator Glenn, taking a big breath.
“It better smell good,” Leonov said. “We pay for each lungful. They say, go fetch Americans, reduce line item on expense account.”
“They call this cut-and-cover tunnel,” Makarov, “but is big one.”
Glenn and Gordon got their first view of Taurus City from the south end, very high up near the ceiling. “One hundred sixty four meters wide, one hundred sixty four meters tall, nine hundred eighty four meters long,” Leonov recited from memory.
“Does it have an an ecological balance?” Glenn asked.
“Not yet,” Leonov said. “You can see how small trees are. But, I think, in time, yes. “
Gordon looked at all the apartment balconies running along all the walls all the way to the other end, almost a full kilometer away. “Is it dangerous here?” he asked.
“There’s no weather on moon,” Makarov said, “only moonquakes and meteors. Moonquakes are very small, you never feel one. Meteors bigger problem, but still small problem. Sometimes we patch ceiling.”
“I’m impressed,” Glenn said. “It’s a compact and carefully designed space habitat that somehow doesn’t look compact and carefully designed.”
“How do we get down there?” Gordon asked.
“That’s fun part,” Makarov said, and began to strap some wings on himself. Leonov strapped wings on as well, and showed Glenn and Gordon how to do it correctly.
Glenn looked at the folds of fabric he was encased in. “No time for flying lessons?”
“Wing it!” Makarov said. And he kicked free of the ledge. When he jumped, the excess folds of his fabric wings inflated and Makarov found himself gliding slowly down under the one-sixth Lunar gravity. It looked like so much fun Gordon immediately followed him, followed by Leonov.
Like a baby thrown into a swimming pool Glenn was instantly required to adapt to the changing circumstances of his flight as soon as he left the ledge.
Makarov, with the ease of slightly long experience, flew circles above and around the Americans to stay close enough to speak as they tried to learn the ropes. They flew right over the business district where the glass and steel Church of End Dome tabernacle, still under construction, shared a courtyard and fountain with an office building, also under construction. Of course both these structures ran for many levels underground.
Makarov began to give them a guided tour. “There’s two-seater electric vehicle available from motor pool beneath future shopping mall. Ramp from motor pool leads to Taurus Highway, three miles of concrete run from one end of tunnel to other.”
They all flew down a bit for a closer look at downtown.
“Astrodyne will not be run from there,” Leonov said, referring to an infant skyscraper. “Is just Potemkin village for bigwigs, so they think Robyn gives good meeting.”
On the other side of the highway a hotel and a bank were under construction. “You see Obion street and City Administration complex where Astrodyne handles day to day operation.”
They continued to glide along, and drop very slowly. Makarov pointed out the lunar branch of Canterwood Academy, right next to a one acre site with a grade school for the children of the B’nei Elohim. “Sometimes there you see girls kicking balls in effigy, and not just futbols.”
“How charming!” said Glenn.
The highway then curved gently through Cedar Heights, a forty-home development of big ranch houses for some of the middle-level B’nei Elohim members, and these homes, by contrast, were complete. The highway bent there to travel directly east to the other wall of Taurus City’s canyon. “Only eighteen second drive,” said Leonov. “On foot, cross from one wall to other in two minute walk.”
Bike paths led down and around Mineral Canyon which was a thousand foot long stretch of whitewater in a deep chasm. There were eleven mansions there for the top B’nei Elohim members like Hunky, Dory, and Jill. And there was also a bridge where the Americans could see a big pretty two hundred foot artificial waterfall plunging into a grass bowl at the head of the river.
They were getting close to the ground now, and Robyn’s estate loomed ahead on a little hill. On the other side of the mansion Glenn and Gordon could see the road did an “S” curve past two sections of nine acre Lake Taurus and an apartment complex where the bike trail ended. The last two parts was the farm sector and the forest sector. The farm was thirteen acres of fruits and veggies plus a ten acre apple orchard with room for about three hundred head of cattle among the trees.
The forest sector beyond that was centered around Green Hill. That was the highest point on the tunnel’s floor.
Makarov and Leonov landed first in Robyn’s backyard to show the Americans how it was done. Gordon followed them, and he found she could deflate or inflate the wings at will to control her descent perfectly. He came to a gentle stop on his feet right next to the cosmonauts and the Russians beamed.
John Glenn was too happy to let the flight end just yet. He was overcome with the same feeling one gets on terminal cruise, when a plane’s engines were throttled back near the end of a flight. There was a qualitative change in the background noise of his mind, an attitude shift.
Robyn’s estate danced under his feet. Descending into the compound Glenn tried to finesse his landing with small forced deflations of his wings…too much. Too fast. The three men watched him come down like a bat shot out of the sky. There was the swimming pool, screw it…
93 – CRYOSCAN
The Jills bought a house and quite a large chunk of land in the desert of Eastern Washington using Audrey’s old name of Morgan Brooklyn to keep DECON from snooping around. The house was partly underground, completely hidden from the access road but as you drove around to the back a wall of windows and a door were revealed, forming one face of a natural-looking mound.
The home had had been owned by a man, recently deceased in an self-inflicted gun accident, who considered himself, ironically, to have been a survivalist, someone who wanted to live through a nuclear war or the collapse of civilization. The property had an extensive bunker and a partially completed system of tunnels.
The Jills incorporated under the name CryoScan. They began converting the bunker of the Methow Valley home into a freezer bank. The house was remodeled with wheelchair access, not only for Jill’s sake but also for their first customer, an elderly woman named April Downs, who arrived at the house shortly after it was prepared. With their wheelchairs they were a matched set, Jill and April.
“You already know about the Cryo part of Cryoscan,” Jill told April after taking her on a tour of the house and the grounds. “Now let me tell you about the Scan part.”
“Do you really think it’s time?” Jade asked her. Jade was the newest B’nei Elohim, a young woman who came from the growing pool of fans of The Jills.
“It’s more than time,” Jill replied. “April doesn’t have any more time.”
April didn’t have any more time because she hadn’t caught her aggressive inflammatory breast cancer until her nipple inverted well into stage three, and the following mastectomy only removed the breast, not the cells that were already colonized in dozens of scattered lymph nodes around her body, which in turn, in stage four, recolonized her bone marrow. Despite her millions and the best treatment she could buy in the early 1960s, she was a goner.
Trish, the lead guitarist of The Jills, said, “What we’re going to do to you, April, is the old bait-and-switch. We’ve got this company we call Cryoscan that offers a freezing service. That filters out the ladies who aren’t really desperate. The ladies who come hunting for us, the ones who want to have their corpse frozen for two or three hundred years, they are already crazy enough to try the most harebrained schemes ever devised. No offense. That’s the bait. Now we’re going to do the switch. We’re going show you our real specialty.”
Then Trish and Jill and Jade began to explain to April about a better way, a way to continue her life without interruption by the death of her body. The explanation was partly show and tell. It was the distinguishing characteristic of the women who were in Jill’s orbit rather than Robyn’s orbit that their pony tails were piled up in a bun. The other B’nei Elohim had started to call them Bunners. The three Bunners lifted their hair buns to reveal their white skull connectors to the gaze of April Downs.
“For one million dollars,” Trish said, “you gamble that nothing will go wrong, you gamble that CryoScan will last for centuries without going broke or getting sued, that medical science in the future comes up with a way to safely unfreeze you and kill all the cancer cells that have spread through your body. And even then, as an elderly woman, you will only get a few more years or decades of life. But our other way gives you eternal life right now, guaranteed.”
“And how much would this different way cost me?”
“The whole $40 mil,” JIll said. “You become a full partner in Cryoscan..”
“And whose body will I get? Yours? More life in a wheelchair?”
“This one.” Jade stripped herself naked and turned her remarkable body slowly for her inspection. She had that fleeting smooth fullness of youth. And April’s ears blushed red, for she had been raised near the turn of the century. But she continued to mull it over.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jill said. “You’re thinking that this whole thing could be some kind of elaborate hoax. But you are a very important customer to us, April, so I’ve arranged a little demonstration that I hope will help you make up your mind. I sincerely hope it does, because I’ll only get one chance to do it.”
Jill wheeled out of the kitchen and they all followed. Trish and Jade had prepared the walls, floor, and ceiling of the living room with a layer of wax paper. The wheels of Jill’s wheelchair crinkled this paper when she rolled out into the room.
“I’m already damaged goods,” Jill said to April. “At least this way I can go out with a useful sales pitch.”
“How did you lose your legs, Jill?” April asked.
“My father had a doctor take them off, without anesthetic,” she said.
“What kind of father do you have? Why would he do that?”
“He wanted to learn the very things that we are telling you.”
Trish came over to where Jill was, sat on the floor and attached one end of the Purple cable to the back of her own head. Then she attached the other end to the same tape recorder they used to record their songs. Then as the reels began to spin, Trish continued to sit quietly.
“What is she doing?” April asked in a hushed tone.
“The connectors we showed you in the back of our heads weren’t part of some Halloween costume, April, there’s twenty-seven signal pairs and a guide pin. Each pair can transmit or receive tones of different frequencies, and those frequencies can be recorded. Trish is saving a copy of her memories to tape, everything that she knows and everything that she is.”
The backup took about an hour. During that time, as Trish dumped her memories to tape, Jill and Jade told April the whole history of the B’nei Elohim, all the events that led to them getting the Change.
When the tape ran out, Trish unplugged herself and stood with Jade on the far side of the room from Jill where they faced the wall. April thought this action was very strange. Jill said, “April, please wheel yourself closer to me.”
So she did, and Jill leaned in close to whisper, “Tell me your deepest secret, April, something that only you would know.”
After a pause, April did whisper a dark secret, but she still didn’t have a clue what Jill was trying to do.
Then Trish returned to the tape recorder and removed the cable from the adaptor they had added to the machine. She plugged that end of the cable into Jill, and she plugged the other end back into her own head.
“Please don’t take your eyes off of me, April,” Jill implored. Then Jade reached under a cushion of the living room sofa and grabbed a handgun. She put the muzzle in Jill’s mouth, aimed high, and pulled the trigger.
The sharp report hurt April’s ears and there was the smell of spent powder. Some of the contents of Jill’s skull cavity splashed against the wall behind her and the ceiling above her. Only her lower jaw and everything below it remained attached. Jill’s nearly headless corpse leaned forward and spilled out of the wheelchair onto the floor.
April screamed at the sudden, unexpected horror of the killing and began to vomit, overcome with revulsion, and this too ended up on the wax paper.
“I’m not dead, April,” Trish said. “I’m Jill!! I’m safe in here!” And she leaned close to April to whisper the very secret that she had whispered to Jill. Then April understood why Trish and Jade had faced the wall, so there was no question they might have read April’s lips and guessed the secret.
Jade went over to the couch and retrieved a white shape, the remnants of Jill’s modified brain. She showed it to April when she was ready to look. It was like a white wineskin. The neck of the funnel terminated in a 55-pin connector.
“This was in case you thought the connector was some kind of cosmetic appliance just for show,” Jill said with Trish’s voice. “No. This is all very real. I’m sorry about that overly dramatic scene, but it was the only way to prove to you that we mean what we say. Eternal life is yours, and it’s just a decision away. The choice is yours to make, April. Will you accept the Change? Shall it be Cryo, or Scan?”
April was shaken by the demonstration, but it was utterly convincing. When she calmed back down April realized that the reason for Trish and Jade eerie confidence, their ‘Thousand Year Stare’, was all very clear to her. Eternal life? In this world? It was real! But one thing still nagged her. She asked, “What about Trish, is she to remain forever without a body, as just a reel of magnetic tape?”
Jade said, “What we’re proposing to do, April, is start a system of time-sharing, kind of like when people pool their money together and build a vacation cabin which they occupy on a rotating basis.”
“What do you mean?”
Jill said, “As we gain new members, we’re going to lump them into three groups based on their seniority. Let’s call the oldest group the duchesses, the middle group the countesses, and the newest group the baronesses. Now the baronesses would be on a rotation schedule where they spent two years stored as tape like Trish, and one year in a new body. The countesses would alternate, one year on tape, one year in a new body. The duchesses would spend one year on tape and two years in a new body.”
“A new body?”
“We’re talking about a kind of pyramid scheme, but with bodies,” Jill said. “Do you see? We’re not only talking about eternal life, but eternal youth! You of course, April, as one of the first, will always be a duchess.”
And April knew that the alternative was a wretched death, now only a few months away. So she stepped over the edge, made a leap of faith, and came to a decision. “I want to accept the Change!”
The bloody remains of Jill’s body, the one born Rebecca Roland, was put into one of the four cadaver freezers in the house.
A month later on the End Dome summit in the Name Ritual, Robyn said, “Take control of your destiny, April Downs. Carve out your own free will. Discard your given names and choose for yourself a single new name. But consider it well, for it shall be your name for all eternity. All your actions have eternal consequences now. Choose!
“Let me be called Amber.”
“You are Amber, forever the ninth member of the B’nei Elohim. Welcome to your new family. This is the ceremony of belonging, Amber. You are now fully one of us!”
She wanted to shout Thank You! but no words would come out. The entire experience was too much for her and she burst into tears.
But the Name Ritual, as moving as it was to her, was nothing compared to what happened when Cryoscan kept their end of the bargain. Just as Jill had taken possession of the body of Trish through the Purple Cable, now Amber took possession of the body of Jade after the donor had made a safe copy of her own memories.
During the transfer there was a strange sensation of dual-awareness as Amber found herself in both Jade’s body and her own. Through the Purple Cable could see that, yes, Jade and Trish and Jill had been telling the truth all along. Amber pushed into Jade’s body until the final ratio of personalities that formed the new mix stood at 71% herself and 29% Jade.
The part of Jade who still existed within her could conceal no secrets, for they were now one being. It was sufficient to overcome the last of Amber’s doubts. In fact, Amber was now embarrassed that she had ever doubted.
Jill handed Amber a syringe so that she, while looking out from Jade’s eyes, could put her old pain-ridden body to sleep forever. Through the Purple Cable she experienced her own death, which she felt only as a sensation of the dual-awareness coming to an end, and now focused as only a single awareness in Jade’s body.
The cancer-ridden body of April Downs was laid to rest in the second of the four freezers in the Cryoscan house.
After that it was time to make the money transfer. Amber called Sid Drury, one of her accountants, into the room.
Forty million dollars was a lot of money for a single bank-to-bank wire transfer and so Amber had taken certain precautions. Both she and Sid had to give a verbal code. Amber didn’t know Sid’s code, and Sid didn’t know hers. Even Sid’s identity as the authorized accountant from a whole floor of accountants downtown was kept a secret from her until she saw his face just then.
The first transaction was the $40 million to CryoScan’s account in a bank on the Caribbean island of Barbuda.
The remainder, $1,348,767.54, went to Sid Drury for his silence. As far as Sid knew, there was only the Cryo option, he knew nothing about the Scan option which April had taken. The money was given to him with the understanding that he was never to reveal the location of April’s body.
“Her family might think she went nuts at the end,” Amber explained to him. “They might get a court order, thaw her out, and give her a proper burial. And then she would never see that future day when curing her cancer would be a trifling matter.”
The real reason was to maintain CryoScan’s anonymity. The wrong kind of publicity would mess up the next sale. Already April was thinking like a B’nei Eloah. She dismissed Sid from the room.
“Your family is going to be less than thrilled about the missing money,” Jill speculated.
“My children and grandchildren have wished me dead for a long time,” Amber told her. “When they learned I was terminally ill they could barely conceal their glee, hoping to soon come into their inheritance. Frankly, I wish I could see their reaction when they learn this news.” She focused on her most recent memories. The transition had been was perfect. Truly this was immortality. She considered the $40 million a bargain.
“How far back do you remember, Amber?” Jill asked her, and for a moment Amber suspected that Jill could read her very thoughts.
“I can remember, I think, 1903 or 1904. Back in those days it wasn’t a big deal to lose relatives at age forty or so.”
“You broaden and enrich our common pool of memories. Welcome aboard, Amber. Welcome home.”
94 – GREEN ROCK
As Terel and Greidi took Exiler spiralling away from Jupiter they tried to teach their son Lahatiel and daughter Noriel as much as they could about flying the frigate. Once when Greidi had struck below to sleep, Turel explained to his offspring why it was important they learned the ropes. “We’re going out to see your grandfather Naseth, but it’s been years since either we or he has had the means to travel through space and truth be told I can’t be entirely sure he won’t try to take the ship. I don’t know what his financial situation is right now, you see. I plan to leave one or both of you aboard to give us more options if he tries something. Please don’t tell your mother I said this, she would never forgive me for doubting her father.”
Lahatiel and Noriel promised their father they would not say a word.
There were many captured asteroids in the outer reaches of the Jupiter system that orbited the planet as so many small moons, sometimes in retrograde orbits, but only tiny Green Rock had a greenhouse. An artificial black hole in its core created a full gee of gravity on the surface of Green Rock, but that gravity fell off so rapidly with distance that the asteroid could not hold an atmosphere for very long, unless the air was glassed in, as Green Rock was.
Unfortunately any glass house was vulnerable to people throwing stones at it. Hence the current proprietor of the Green Rock operation, Naseth, the father of Greidi, was ever in the market for armaments.
The Navy of Mastema had approached Green Rock twice before, and Naseth resorted to bluff to survive the encounters. The first bluff was a suicide bluff. Naseth told the approaching warship that if they came any closer his family would blow up the glass enclosure and eject the black hole, killing themselves in the process but ensuring that no one could ever use the asteroid.
The second bluff occurred after Naseth and his entire family had been captured by commandos and were already being taken away to be tortured. When Naseth was put under torment aboard the destroyer Chastiser, Naseth “confessed” to have arranged a timed blast take out their greenhouse. Since Chastiser’s commanding officer was ordered to gain Green Rock intact, Naseth and his family were returned to their asteroid alive, but with life-changing injuries from the torture. If Greidi had not been married off to Turel and still lived in the household of her father she would have been one of the victims.
Naseth knew the Navy of Mastema never gave up on their problems. He as well aware his only remaining option was to give up the asteroid, walk away from his life’s investment, and try to live somewhere else. But when Terel arrived at Green Rock in the Exiler to pay his father-in-law a long overdue visit, more opportunities presented themselves to Naseth’s mind.
Access to Green Rock was through a landing pad atop a tall glass-enclosed gantry where the gravity was only half a gee. Nuriel, following the wishes of her father, stayed aboard the frigate. When Terel and Greidi and Lahatiel descended the ladder they felt the weight begin to pile on. Then they were through the glass and in.
Naseth apparently had something of a nostalgic streak. Amid the two hundred acres of forest and gardens wrapped around the tiny ball of rock was a big lawn, with a white two-story farmhouse and an old gnarled moving tree from Barbelo, complete with a tire on a rope that the tree itself kept swinging.
Naseth was overjoyed to see his daughter again after many years, but Greidi was horrified to see that her father and indeed every member of her family had been maimed in some random but permanent way.
Under the artificial lights and heat lamps used to supplement the diminished and faraway sun they sat in chairs on that lawn, just Naseth, Terel, Greidi, and Lahatiel, and they had themselves a cozy chat. In the opening round, Terel offered the Exiler entire in return for sanctuary for himself and his family, although on second thought, looking at Naseth’s disfigurement, Terel wasn’t too confident that Naseth really could offer sanctuary.
“Unfortunately your ship is a liability to me, Terel. I know Asmodeus gave it to you long ago, but then later he repented of his gift, as you just indicated to me. You must know as well as I do that he will never stop looking for it.”
“In that case, sir,” Turel replied, “I offer the four fully armed and fueled Bulldog ship-to-ship missiles we found stored in the tubes aboard.”
“That will pay for such protection as I can provide for only two other souls, aside from my daughter of course, who is always welcome in my home.”
Terel smiled sheepishly, but then his smile changed a bit as he guessed the man’s game. “How did you know this was not my entire family, Naseth?”
“You wouldn’t feel right leaving the frigate empty,” Naseth said. “I knew because I would have felt right doing it myself. There’s no shame involved here, Terel.”
Young Lahatiel saw that Naseth was a tough negotiator, but now he saw an opening that could sweetened the deal and also answer the man’s concern about being caught with an imperial frigate. “I will take the ship far away from here, sir, if my father will also release Nuriel to me.”
Turel gaped at his son. “And where will you go, Lahatiel?”
“Directly to Palato of course. The High Lord Patriarch will be very interested to hear how his most honest and loyal subjects are treated by his own Navy here in his Jovian colonies.”
“Then you not only have my approval to take your sister with you, but you have my immense gratitude. I am thinking of the well-being of Greidi of course.”
“The boy will need more training to fly the frigate,” Naseth said. “We will help.”
After Lahatiel and Nuriel made their tearful farewells and departed Green Rock in Exiler their parents Turel and Greidi did well as they settled in to their new home. Green Rock was almost like a toy planet. There was no want for food. The inhabitants could work and play in the lush gardens of the sharply-curved surface under greenhouse glass that became the exact shade of the purple Barbelo sky by “day” and permitted one to admire the stars at “night” as the tiny asteroid rotated upon its axis once in 22 hours. Climbing trees was particularly fun, as one’s weight perceptibly dropped upon reaching the higher branches.
At times, Naseth took Terel and Greidi in the family runabout to visit other homestead rocks in the vast halo orbiting Jupiter willy-nilly, but this small vehicle was not powerful enough to land on and return from the larger Galilean moons, explaining his failure to visit Greidi on Europa for so long.
Terel knew the paterfamilias of some of these spreads, and wishing him well in his change of life they extended to him gifts that helped lighten the burden on Naseth. And there were scattered bits of news and rumors of what happened to the men they had cast off in Exiler Sidekick. Karayan was murdered as was expected. The lander was sufficiently small enough that it was sold to a Ganymede chop shop and reconfigured in such a way to make it absolutely unrecognizable as once belonging to the Navy of Mastema. It was also said that the three men burned through their shares from the sale of the lander and had already sold themselves into indentured servitude.
Though he didn’t know it yet, Lahatiel was free to lie with impunity to Asmodeus about what happened on Europa, for none of the survivors of Exiler would ever approach the Navy to contradict him, although such was not his intention.
But as the saying goes on Earth as it is in Barbelo, all good things must come to an end. Less than a month after Terel made Green Rock his new home the asteroid was attacked by the destroyer Chastiser, which was the same vessel where Naseth and his family and servants had been tortured. Naseth took great pleasure launching one Bulldog missile from the four he had obtained from Turel.
The crew of the Chastiser were blindsided. They did not expect a military attack from a mere greenhouse asteroid. The Bulldog split Chastiser neatly in two. The crew was killed almost instantly, but Green Rock was not completely out of danger. The pieces remained floating out there like two moons of Green Rock. The debris was sufficiently intact to allow the Empire to identify them should they came looking for their missing warship.
So Naseth, to his great regret, was forced to use two more Bulldogs to render the pair of burning hulks into glowing splinters. This gave the people of Green Rock a few more weeks of life as the Navy attempted to ascertain the fate of the destroyer.
But after that time Green Rock was attacked again by the cruiser Punisher. Naseth fired his last remaining Bulldog missile, but Punisher was fully alert this time, and the automatic close-in weapon system on the cruiser easily destroyed the missile with no harm to herself.
After that, the centerline 80mm gun on the cruiser began to rain shells down on the asteroid. First to go was the gantry that poked above the glass shell where the Bulldogs had been mounted, where and also where Naseth stowed the family runabout. Naseth and his large extended family, including Turel and Greidi, were stranded on Green Rock with no means to escape. More shells pierced the greenhouse itself, letting out all the atmosphere. That was a death sentence for Starkad and all his people. Unless there was a miracle, they would eventually run out of food.
With nothing left to lose, Naseth ejected the core black hole on a course straight for the hovering cruiser. As soon as the black hole was free of the electromagnetic coils in the asteroid’s center which had held it in place, Hawking radiation began to evaporate it away. It grew exponentially hotter and hotter as its mass decreased. This runaway process reached its climax inside the Punisher itself, as Naseth intended. The cruiser exploded into a billion cinders that scattered to every corner of the sky.
Turel, Greidi, Naseth and his family still remained alive deep inside the asteroid, but they were stranded with no way to grow food or escape. They could survive for a few months on what they had stored away, but the Navy quarantined the rock and kept salvagers away. The bill for taking out the greenhouse and turning it into a gigantic tomb was two ships of the line.
95 – SUMMIT
For the Summit at Taurus City the People’s Republic of China was represented by Special Minister Liu Chou-Lai, who had been appointed and trained by the Communist Party solely for the event on the Moon. He and his aides had been transported to Taurus by Soviet cosmonauts a number of days before Glenn and his team arrived.
Robyn told Liu Chou-Lai that in addition to representing China he was considered by her to also speak for the entire so-called “Third World” of non-aligned nations. Alexsey Leonov was to speak for the Soviet Union and those nations that were part of her sphere of influence, such as Cuba, Egypt, and Vietnam.
“Colonel John Glenn, it really is an honor to meet you,” Robyn said.
“I’m not sure it’s such an honor anymore,” he said ruefully. “It seems I wasn’t the first American to orbit the Earth after all. And I suppose you are Kimberly Lokken, who met Gene Cernan during Apollo 17?”
“Yes, I am she, but if you had read the information packet that I gave Gene, you know that I go by just Robyn now. Welcome to what I’m calling a Summit. I realize you haven’t even had time to get yourself fully dry again after your dip in my pool, but I’m thinking of the limited time your people have for life support out there on the plain and in the sky overhead.”
Glenn said, “This city you name Taurus is a truly amazing accomplishment, Robyn, but what puzzles me is how you dug this big hole. I don’t even see removed soil piled up nearby. There should be mountains of it.”
“We have discovered a way to turn normal matter into what we call dark matter,” Robyn revealed. “We call it dark because it doesn’t interact with light. So chemistry doesn’t apply to it anymore. It just goes away, sinks to the center of the moon or flies away into space. The process works great for trash too.”
“That is a very important discovery,” Glenn said. “You must share.”
“Actually, no, Colonel Glenn, we must not. We are a group of very disgruntled American citizens, I’ve had to dodge federal bullets myself, for one thing. And by that I do mean actual, literal bullets, not metaphorical ones.”
“But think of the possibilities! Roads, tunnels, we could save taxpayers billions of dollars. I’m afraid I must insist on this one point, Robyn. Astrodyne must share this discovery with the American people.”
“Well, you must also remember, Colonel, that although most of us up here were born in the United States, we consider ourselves stewards of the entire Earth, and when we share what we call the macro effect, we intend to share it with all of humanity, not merely the American people. In fact, we have already begun to share it, and I will show you what I mean.”
Robyn presented documents to Glenn as well as Leonov and the Chinese Special Minister. “This is my first action item, and it is for you as well as Commander Leonov and Minister Liu Chou-Lai. It consists of a warning to all mariners to stay at least a hundred nautical miles away from a new, large whirlpool that has formed about halfway between Tasmania and New Zealand’s South Island. I have chosen to call this whirlpool Charybdis, just like the one in Homer’s epic. The precise coordinates for the whirlpool is given in this document. Please propagate this warning to all the people of Earth.”
“Whirlpool?” queried Glenn. “What are you doing.”
Robyn made a small wave of her hand. Talishi’s daughter Del brought out a tripod stand and unveiled for the participants of the Summit a large map of the Earth, showing the contours of the continents as they were in the present day of the fall of 1974, and also showing contours of the land beneath the waves at the 2,000 fathom line.
Robyn said, “Venus, the second planet in the Solar system, is wrapped by a thick blanket of greenhouse gases that retain the sun’s heat, making that planet far hotter than the Earth would be at the same distance. The planet lacks the tectonics that we have on our world, which takes carbon out of the air in the form of dead organic material and moves it under the surface. So that’s the first problem. Venus has too much air, and not a drop of water.”
Then Robyn got up out of her chair and pointed at the map. “The Earth will have five billion people within the next decade, yet only twenty-nine percent of its surface is dry land, and much of that is desert or frozen tundra unable to support human life. So the Earth has too much water, and too many people for the land that we do have. That’s the second problem.
“We have already begun to solve these problems, gentlemen, but we estimate it will take more than two centuries to reach full completion. The first problem, with Venus having too much air, we have already started to address by the wholesale conversion of the atmosphere to dark matter in the same way we removed the lunar regolith to dig out this city. This will have the same effect as introducing plate tectonics to Venus. The carbon dioxide will be buried under the surface and we will reduce the atmospheric pressure by nearly a hundred-fold.”
“What do you hope to achieve by doing that, Robyn?”
“Colonel Glenn, we hope to achieve nothing less than a second Earth. But for that we need to introduce water. A lot of water.”
Robyn pointed to a section of the map. “Yeshua has positioned the mouth of a fold-gate far under the sea, near New Zealand, right here. It will constantly be maintained at the level of the sea where the water pressure is just sufficient to overcome the air pressure on Venus, currently about ninety standard atmospheres.”
“Who the hell is Yeshua, Robyn, and what is a fold-gate?”
“Yeshua is my boss, Colonel Glenn. He’s a Jewish carpenter. And a fold-gate is an artificial Einstein-Rosen bridge that lets us link any two points in space together as one point. Lilith has positioned the other end of the fold-gate on the north pole of Venus. This will create a flow of sea water to Venus where it will immediately turn to steam, and the sea salt will be precipitated out.”
“Who the hell is Lilith?”
“Lilith is the boss of Yeshua. She is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Defense Force. Now, unfortunately, temperatures will remain too high for humans to live in the open on Venus for perhaps another century. We will have to live in enclosed structures that require the constant conversion of air to dark matter to sustain air conditioning, and it will be another century after that before terraforming of the north and south polar regions will raise the level of oxygen to a life-sustaining level. After that, humanity will have a new planet that is quite comfortable in both of the polar regions, but there will be a large desert between them.”
Liu Chou-Lai said, “Why did you choose that remote spot for the.. what did you say? Fold-gate? Why not the South China Sea?”
Robyn answered, “That is too shallow, Minister Chou-Lai. When the Earth’s sea level drops about twelve thousand feet, in about two hundred years, the world ocean, which is currently seventy-one percent of the Earth’s surface, will be divided into precisely two halves. South America will have two land bridges connecting it to Antarctica, as you can see here. At that time, the only water connection between the Pacific and Atlantic ocean water lobes will be right here, between New Zealand and Tasmania. This undersea basin will be the location of the greatest city on Earth in the 23th Century. It will be the crossroads for all sea transport, which is now and will always remain the most cost-effective way to move goods from point-to-point on the surface of the Earth.”
“If you remove so much water I think will follow disruption,” Leonov said. “No more Black Sea, no more Baltic Sea.”
“That’s true, Commander Leonov, but the change will occur at a very gradual pace, and the result will be that the land area of the Earth, as a percentage of its total surface, will be raised from twenty-nine percent to fifty percent. Our world will be able to support many more people that she currently does. And there will be another world! Anyway, Colonel Glenn, that’s pretty much what we here at Astrodyne have been up to, but enough about our petty issues, let us now go on to your next agenda item. What is President Ford’s biggest concern right now?”
“Robyn, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 says non-governmental activities, such as your corporation, obviously, must operate under the approval and authority of a state which is signatory to the Treaty. I can tell you now, speaking for the Ford Administration, that the United States would only extend such recognition quid pro quo.”
“Colonel Glenn, every employee of the Astrodynamics Corporation carries citizenship of the new nation of Barbuda in the Caribbean.”
“Barbuda’s statehood is not recognized by the United States,” he said, “and they are not signatory to the 1967 treaty.”
“Commander Leonov, do you think Astrodyne could be placed under the legal penumbra of the Soviet Union to satisfy this treaty?”
“I think this request not impossible,” Leonov said. “Give us photos and names of people here, birthdays, I take home to Star City, then Kremlin. Who knows? Maybe next Korabl bring forty Soviet passports.”
“Thank you, Commander Leonov. And so, Colonel Glenn, shall we proceed to your next item?”
“We want to know why you are contracting with the Soviet Union to bring your people up here.”
“Well, Colonel Glenn, probably because the Soyuz vehicle is an astonishingly reliable spacecraft.”
“But they are communists! I thought Astrodyne was all about profit.”
“Colonel Glenn, I can’t think of anything more boring that what economic theory is practiced by the government represented by Alexsei Leonov and Oleg Makarov. The truth is, now that we’ve committed the fold-gate to the transformation of Venus, we no longer have the means to move ourselves around. We now must rely on a third party for transportation. The Soviet Union has been the first to respond to our request, but I’ve brought you and Minister Chou-Lai here to make the same offer. We already have a great demand for space transportation and it only goes up from here. Let me ask you something. I understand you were preparing for a Senate run before President Ford tapped you for this mission. Where would you say your politics fits on a spectrum between left and right?”
“It’s no secret that I’m a registered Democrat, but my politics I think would be somewhere in the middle. Maybe a little left of center.”
“I think it’s safe to say that with the Watergate stuff, and with Ford giving Nixon a blanket pardon, that’s a foregone conclusion the next President will be a Democrat, wouldn’t you agree, Colonel Glenn?”
“I would indeed agree with that assessment, Robyn. I think right now the country just wants to do a healthy flush in ’76 and move away from that whole terrible episode.”
“We have discovered that what we do up here on the Moon has a profound effect on US presidential politics. I think that the binder I gave to Gene Cernan back in ’72 might have influenced President Ford to pick Earl Roland to be his vice-president instead of the more liberal Nelson Rockefeller, and we think that tossing some work to the Russians and Chinese up here will lead to more hawkish candidates in the Democratic Party winning the next election rather than the left-leaning peanut farmer we think you’d get otherwise.”
“And why is American presidential politics important to Astrodyne, Robyn? Didn’t you say you were citizens of Barbuda? And didn’t you just now make arrangements for Soviet passports?”
“Checks and balances are always a good thing, Colonel Glenn. As long as the Cold War never goes hot, which we must all be vigilant never to allow to happen, I think the rivalry between the U.S. and the S.U. is good for both. What’s why we’re rooting for the hawks of your political party. Competition spurs innovation. And a three-way competition is even better, hence the presence of the Chinese delegation. I think if the Cold War were to end with one country slipping into decline and the other becoming a fat, complacent world hegemon, that would be a tragedy for both.”
As a matter of fact, Robyn knew it would be a tragedy because she had seen how Timeline Eta played out.
And so, with the Summit concluded, Glenn and Gordon returned to Earth with the rest of the crew of Apollo 18, while Leonov and Makarov took the Chinese representatives back home in two vehicles.
After arriving safely, the Soviet and Chinese delegations put the word out to the rest of the world to stay far away from Robyn was calling Charybdis, but the Americans said nothing. The Ford Administration was developing the narrative that only NASA was operating on the Moon, certainly not a private corporation such as Astrodyne, and any claims by the Soviets and the Chinese that they were present on the Moon as well was officially dismissed as communist propaganda to antagonize the West.
Despite this, the western nations with blue water navies such as the United Kingdom and France did heed the warning from Liu Chou-Lai to stay away from the whirlpool. But the United States seemed to be like a stubborn child who insisted on touching a hot stove precisely because his mother told him not to do it. The US Navy rushed directly to the vicinity with a submarine and promptly lost contact with it. This tragic disregard by the American government for the warnings of the B’nei Elohim was to become a persistent pattern in the years to follow.
The destroyer Buchanan, a twenty year old Adams can, was ordered to cut short a port visit in New Zealand to investigate Charybdis. Perhaps if the Navy had flown aircraft to the location first, one hundred ten submariners and three hundred fifty destroyer sailors would have avoided death.
The submariners of the USS Bluefish suffered much more than the crew of Buchanan. Their boat was airtight and able to resist the 90 atmospheres of pressure on Venus without being crushed. So she just laid on her side next to a blackened Buchanan and baked the crew like so much salmon. Distress calls went out from Radio Central for an hour or two, and were intercepted, but the Navy refused to believe the weak signals were crossing interplanetary space. From what they could make out from the frantic calls, the Navy guessed the submarine had gotten pinned in the fumarole of a new underwater volcano.
President Ford, who had the Glenn Report in hand and knew better than to think it was a volcano, ordered a cruiser action group and one oiler dispatched to the area to keep lookie-loos out, whether by sea or air, lest they unmask his official narrative.
96 – LAWSUIT
The 1963 case of Downs Family v. Cryoscan wrapped up with Amber on the stand, newly installed in Jade’s body, but for the trial she had to revert to using ‘Samantha Addison’, which was Jade’s original name, to satisfy the legal paperwork.
During the discovery phase, the employees of Cryoscan, under oath in a deposition, stated that only two bodies were on freeze, that of April Downs and also that of Rebecca Roland. Learning of this, Earl Roland, Becky’s father, took a leave of absence from DECON and offered to represent the Downs family in the trial pro bono, without asking for a slice of the final judgment. He said he merely wanted Cryoscan to release his daughter’s body so he could arrange for a proper burial.
The Downs family thought it was a far better offer than any of the other law firms had made, and after reviewing Roland’s credentials as an attorney and his work history as a highly-placed administrator in the federal government they agreed to let him handle the case.
The final morning of the trial began with Amber being sworn in. The council for the plaintiff, Earl Roland, approached the stand and asked her, “I’m interested in CryoScam’s general philosophy in all this. Would you agree that CryoScam’s only purpose is to get filthy rich?” Roland had been getting away with calling the company Cyroscam for the whole trial.
“No, I would not agree,” Amber testified. “We offered April hope, the hope that she could remain intact until she reached some future time when medical science would have a cure for her cancer and they could thaw her out and give her a new life.”
“And why do you think the people in the future would bother to do that?”
“Curiosity. If we ourselves today found a man who had been frozen since the American Revolution, and knew a way to revive him and cure what ailed him, there are many historians and researchers who would jump at the opportunity to do so, merely to record the recollections of someone with living memory of that time.”
“Is that the only hope you offered to Miss Downs? That maybe people would view her as an object of curiosity and raise her from the dead?”
“Half of her forty million dollars has been invested. It will be quite a nice chunk of change in the next century. Compound interest is a wonderful thing, you see. With a seven percent return it would double ten times in only a hundred years.”
“And CryoScam would, of course, manage this investment for that hundred years, all for the low fee of the other half of her forty large?”
“Yes, of course.”
“What level of education have you attained to, Miss Addison? Masters degree? Doctorate? What?”
Amber’s lawyer Megan interrupted here. “Relevance, Your Honor!”
“It goes to background, Your Honor,” Roland countered. “I’m trying to establish Samantha’s credentials as a responsible manager of Ms. Downs’ money.”
“So you completed twelve years of school, and you propose to tell this jury that you are qualified to manage an annuity, or operate a company specializing in cryonics.”
Amber could not detect a question in there, so she merely blinked at him.
“Did you bother to inform April Downs of your…lack of higher education?”
“We offered the cryo, not pieces of paper from schools to impress her.”
“Your Honor!” Roland said, looking at the judge with a scowl of disgust.
“Answer the question, Miss Addison,” Judge Carl DeMott snapped at her.
Roland repeated it. “Did you inform Miss Downs of your lack of higher education?”
Roland referred to his notes, then said, “You have stated that Cryoscam, in addition to the body of April Downs, has placed the body of my daughter Rebecca Roland on ice, which is, of course, why I agreed to take this case. What happened to her?”
“Becky lost both of her legs,” Amber testified. “She was not terminally ill like April Downs but she felt her quality of life had been compromised beyond what she was willing to accept. Like April, Becky is holding out for a future time when she can be made whole again.”
“She committed suicide because she lost her legs?”
“Not suicide. She’s in a state of suspended animation.”
“Oh, that’s so very good to hear. So if I asked you to thaw out my daughter and return her to me, there would be no harm done, is that correct?”
“No, that is…not correct. The freezing process crystallized the water in her body such that every cell wall has been pierced. If we tried to thaw her out now, in the Nineteen Sixties, before we had the technology to repair the damage, she would not survive.”
“Which is exactly what I said. She committed suicide. But what happened to make her lose her legs?”
“They were shot during a concert performance, and the hospital, wherever it was they took her, apparently botched things.”
“I have a sworn statement from a surgeon working at that hospital who says the damage was consistent with an accident with very cold liquid, such as perhaps the liquid nitrogen used at Cryoscam. Was there a spill?”
Amber stared directly at him trying to imagine why he was daring her to blurt out, “No, you tortured your own daughter by having a doctor cut her legs cut off without anaesthetic.” Instead she merely said, “There was no spill.”
“That is not consistent with this report, Miss Addison. Please tell the court, what is the temperature of some of the coldest material used at Cryoscam?”
“More than four hundred degrees below zero.”
“Suppose there was a spill, Miss Addison. Suppose Becky tried to run away. Wouldn’t her feet become frozen so hard and so fast they would became dead and useless for locomotion?”
“But that didn’t happen!”
“In the end wouldn’t Becky have to kind of crawl out of the spill area, just sort of hop out of there on her knees, because she was trying to at least save her hands.”
“Objection Your Honor!” wailed Megan, and she hardly needed to remind the judge why.
“None of that happened to Becky.”
“No further questions Your Honor,” said Roland, satisfied that he had planted sufficient doubt in the minds of the jury. “As a matter of fact, the Plaintiff rests.”
“The defense may cross-examine the witness,” said the judge.
Megan stood and took Roland’s place questioning Amber. “Take us on a mental tour of your site near Twisp,” she began. “What would be the centerpiece of a visit there? What would CryoScan be most proud of?
“The freezer bank, naturally.”
“Is that where the bodies are held?”
“Yes, we currently have room for four of them. And they are to be kept cold by a twenty thousand dollar air compressor and refrigerator, together with its backup.”
“Do you make your own liquid nitrogen on site?”
“Yes, we do that to maintain the supply of liquid nitrogen lost by evaporation and purging.”
“If there was a blackout on the grid, how would all of this be powered?”
“By batteries, and solar panels on the roof that provides backup power for the freezers. The suite, in fact, makes more power than we use from the power grid. We’ve phase-matched our inverter to the line juice and the meter runs backward. We don’t get a power bill every month, we get a credit.”
Megan produced one of these bills showing a credit of $43 as another exhibit for the jury to examine. Then she said, “Now, the counsel for the Plaintiff took every opportunity this week to call your company ‘CryoScam.’ Was deception involved in any way?”
“No. Everything is on the up-and-up. CryoScan was fully prepared to take charge of April Downs’ body and Becky Roland’s body and we are still capable of keeping them perfectly entombed and uncorrupted as long for as we plan to be around.”
“Which is for how long?”
“Which is forever, of course. You see, we founded Cryoscan because we do not think in terms of a single lifetime. In my opinion that makes us uniquely qualified to offer these services. We have the long view. At CyroScan we are of the sincere belief that we are April Downs’ and Becky Roland’s best shot at a new life.”
“Thank you, Miss Roland. Your Honor, the defense rests.”
The judge ordered a recess before the counsel for the Plaintiff rose to give his closing statement.
When the court reconvened, Roland paused for a full minute to compose his thoughts and deliberately tried to create dramatic tension. By forcing the court to wait for him he heightened the impression of his own importance.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I know it’s been a long week for you. Let’s go over what we do know about CryoScam before getting to the crux of the issue. “The company is run by Samantha Addison, who testified here this morning that she has only completed twelfth grade. She is certainly not qualified in medicine, not in physics, not in engineering, nor any field that would be connected in any way with cryonics. Not only that, Samantha didn’t think it a very important thing for April Downs to know CryoScam was run by a high school graduate before she was asked to sign over her forty million dollars. Ladies and gentlemen, your little mental red warning flags should have been waving all up and down when you heard that testimony.
“The other employees of Cryoscam said they were singers in a girl band called The Jills. That’s quite a resume! No other work experience at all. CryoScam promised April Downs they would keep her corpse frozen for two hundred years, possibly more, but there’s medical evidence that my daughter was crippled by an accident that if proven true would force the Bureau of Labor Standards to shut the place down after just one year, let alone a hundred.
“Some would say what we are dealing with here is some kind of weird religious cult. A cult that is trying to raise money by suckering terminally ill patients in their final weeks of life with pie-in-the-sky promises of rebirth. You’ve heard testimony about that as well, how they believe God is a really a Jewish woman named Lilith, and Jesus is the child of this Lilith woman mating with the devil. But that is another battle for another day.
“You six people have been selected from a cross-section of citizens to do only one thing, and that is to decide the facts in this case. You must decide whether April Downs was of sound mind when she liquidated all of her assets into cash in the last week of her earthly existence. Was she of sound mind when she designated that her body was to be given over to CryoScam? Was she of sound mind when he directed that more than forty million dollars be paid to CryoScam rather than gifted to her own sons and daughters?
“You have also heard the testimony of doctors and specialists who told you of the common occurrence of growing mental impairment as this particular type of cancer progresses. But we can’t say for sure that is indeed what happened here. It is entirely up to you to decide as you carry out your sacred duty as jurors.
“Now, it is not dishonoring the memory of April Downs to recognize that cancerous clumps carried in the blood to her brain may have grown and caused dementia in her final days. But it would dishonor her memory to let her cancer-ridden dead body sit in a freezer for two hundred years, wrapped in foil, making her the permanent laughingstock of others and the butt of jokes and a source of furtive whispers.
“The Downs family seeks to put this matter to rest in a way that will preserve the dignity of the mother they knew before her illness. Her family seeks final closure. On their behalf, I ask you to give that closure to them. And it is very important to me, personally, that you decide against Cryoscam so I can get custody the body of my own poor daughter Rebecca, who also fell under the spell of Crysoscam to the point where she committed suicide. Neither my wife nor myself can rest knowing the body of our beloved daughter sits in the freezer of some house in central Washington, wrapped in foil like frozen meat. Help us give her a decent Christian burial. Thank you.”
Megan was still flipping through the disorganized pile of yellow legal paper on her desk when the judge prompted her to begin her remarks. She stood up and cleared her throat, reluctant to begin as though she had been caught unprepared.
“Yes, Your Honor. Ladies and gentlemen, in the last five days we’ve lost our way. This is not a criminal trial, it’s a civil suit filed by the Downs family, because they didn’t like the way Mommy wrote her will. The ladies who form CyroScan are frankly outraged. They are not on trial for their religious beliefs, nor are April Downs and Becky Roland on trial for adopting those beliefs.
“Look at the twists and turns the counsel for the Plaintiff has taken to shore up his assertion that none of the ladies at CryoScan should be engaged in this endeavor because none of them have a piece of paper from an accredited college with a cryonics course of instruction. I ask you, how is that possible, when cryonics itself is so experimental? What happened to the America I thought I lived in? The America where Thomas Edison could drop out of school, yet go on to invent the electric light, the phonograph, and the motion picture?
“No, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you must turn your attention to the real question here. And that is nothing more or less than this: Did April Downs have the right, while she is alive and conscious, to do what she wanted with her own money knowing that she was approaching a time when she would be alive but unconscious. You see, the Downs’ are frustrated. They had no way to steal from Mommy when she was alive. But they could try stealing from her behind her back when she was comatose, not even dead, when she could not lift a finger to stop them. That is the real reason we are in court today.
“If they succeed, you the jury will be setting a dangerous precedent and it will apply to a much broader set of circumstances than just cryonic suspension. If the sons and daughters and great aunts and third cousins of a rich man or woman who dies have their hand out and don’t like the outcome of the legally executed division of the estate, and if there is a history of the slightest hint of eccentricity in that man or woman, the door will be wide open for frivolous challenges against his or her final wishes expressed in a legal will.
“Stop and think for a moment. Is there any instance in your life where you have done something out of the ordinary? Perhaps you drove your car barefoot one time. Maybe you’ve tried to smoke banana peels or peanut shells because you heard they were hallucinogenic. Would you like those things to be the basis for an ungrateful son or daughter you’ve cut out of your will to challenge your decision to leave everything to your spouse alone?
“In April Downs’s case the issue is far more important. When she closed her eyes before being frozen, she was hoping to open her eyes once again, maybe in fifty years, maybe in one hundred years. CryoScan offers her the best, no, her only chance of surviving her cancer like she so desperately hoped that she would.
“But on the other hand, if her family succeeds in pulling her body out of cryo and putting her into the ground or cremating her, her hope is buried with her. Indeed, if that happens, and it sets a new precedent, then her hope really died the moment she went into the freezer.
“From the vigorous way this was pursued in court this week one can’t help but think that April might have detected a certain eagerness in her family as her death approached. On behalf of April Downs I ask you to affirm her final wishes and keep alive the flame of her hope for a second, better life. Thank you.”
The jury deliberated for all of two hours, just long enough to scarf down the pizza delivered by the bailiff and have a few rounds of voting. The issue was never really in doubt. They found for the Plaintiff, the Downs family, who were to receive Mrs. Downs’ $40 million and the woman’s body back, plus CryoScan was ordered to pay for all the funeral arrangements. The family wanted a decent burial, to bring them “closure” as Roland put it. As for Roland, he was to receive the body of his daughter back and a free funeral for her as well. But the money was already in Barbuda, there to stay. All Cryoscan really lost was the business model they were using to attract new converts to Jill’s body-swapping scheme. As for the bodies, Roland and April’s children were welcome to them.
97 – AUDIENCE
The Navy of Mastema did not possess advanced digital computers like the ones Robyn saw a few years along on Timeline Eta. Such tools as the nephilim did have operated on analog principles. Certainly there was no massive electronic database holding the current position of all the moons in the Jupiter system.
In lieu of that was a big fat printed ephemeris in a blue cover that could fold out to four feet wide, containing the position of all the bodies in the Jupiter system for the next Barbelo standard year. Lahatiel used that information and his analog navigation tools to calculate a burn that would bring Exiler to the orbit of Hyperion, where a second burn would stabilize the ship’s orbit there.
Lahatiel knew that with the minimum energy trajectory he had chosen it would take days for the passage. So after the descent burn he joined Nuriel in the common space which was a combination dining hall and sitting room and parlor containing many tunnel openings in the deck, overhead, and bulkheads leading to other parts of the ship. Instead of a common table there were six smaller individual tables and chairs facing each other in a ring along the wall.
The frigate was originally designed for a crew of twelve. Underway, half the crew would be on watch while the other half messed here in the Banquet Room or hot-bunked it in one of the six staterooms. Everything aboard the ship was a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare, as was typical when it came to space travel.
Six hatches in the Banquet Room led to the six main drive modules, each with a space for performing engineering duties and more hatches leading to access tunnels aft. Forward of each one of these engineering spaces was a supply room corresponding to the domed enclosures that capped each engine. Access ways in these spaces were shaped by the stored material itself. They were simply the voids between boxes, a bewildering three-dimensional maze. The previous crew had plundered most of the useful supplies and sold them on the black market.
The flight-deck was all the way forward. This was the ship’s “bridge,” and it was somewhat more cramped than the common room. Arranged around the rim were empty tubes for Bulldog missiles, radar, communication equipment, and the F/1 Fairchild 500mm optical tracking system called the Big Eye, an expensive import from Earth.
There was also a thick circular window dead center with a layer which could be electronically polarized or even made opaque in the event of a laser attack or if Lahatiel tipped the ship directly at Sol or one of the Centauri suns. Nuriel marveled that no sizable flat space along the interior bulkheads was wasted as merely a bare wall.
The crew’s berthing was between the Banquet Room and the flight-deck, shaped like a pie cut into six pieces with a wide hole taken out of the center. These six “staterooms” had some nine hundred cubic feet inside each one, quite roomy as such things went. One entered through blue curtains secured with runners and magnets sewn in the hem. Each stateroom had a large rectangular picture window looking out the side of the ship.
Lahatiel and Noriel were two young heterosexual nephilim of the opposite sex alone on a frigate during a long transit through Jovian space. They already knew and loved each other deeply as siblings, and they were born in a culture that had absolutely no incest taboo. As could only be expected, nature took its course.
In one of the staterooms Lahatiel took his sister to bed, formally claiming her for his wife. He hadn’t come by her strictly by the rules of the Law of Mastema with the ritual death combat called Laraji, but in the story he planned to tell Mastema (which would be embellished with a tale of the death of his parents to keep them safe as well) the capture of Exiler would fulfill the forms of the ritual nicely.
As they slowly entered a state of total undress Lahatiel and Noriel spent hours enjoying each other’s body. She moved rhythmically against him while he cupped his sister’s breasts in his hands or ran his fingertips over her smooth thighs, shiny now with a layer of sweat.
The way Lahatiel filled her and moved relentlessly inside her triggered Noriel to have the first orgasm of her life. Her very enthusiastic vocal response in turn triggered his own orgasm, there was no way to delay it any further. For about a full minute, a long time as such things went, the two of them literally went crazy wrapped in each other’s arms and legs, but it was such a sweet crazy.
Lahatiel felt like he literally boiled over inside his sister. Noriel would certainly never forget the electric frenzy of her body. She had no idea such a wonderful thing existed.
Maneuvering Exiler into the ID Grid over Hyperion was more difficult than Lahatiel had bargained for, he ended up colliding with the lattice-work twice. But apparently it was a skill much lacking among the navigation officers of the Navy of Mastema, since no eyebrows seemed to be raised before they were through.
When Lahatiel and Nuriel emerged from the fold-gate over Palato, traffic controllers at the naval station took control of the Exiler and brought it down to an empty hanger sufficiently far from the secret and ever-changing location of the avatar of Mastema that it would preclude any damage from a booby-trapped ship. It spoke volumes of the nature of the regime of Asmodeus that such a precaution was necessary.
Lahatiel had no illusion they would survive an escape attempt from the heavily fortified moon of Palato, which was riddled with tunnels and sported so many missiles and guns it resembled a giant gray spherical cactus.
After landing, the Eyes of Mastema swarmed over the interior of Exiler and found to their astonishment that there was no one present but a boy and a girl. The commander of the Eyes and chief lieutenant of Asmodeus, one Balberith, decided to forgo the usual session of rusty pliers applied to nails and teeth and bring the children before Abaddon directly to provide an explanation, but this was done with no small amount of rough treatment.
Five Eyes were deemed sufficient to guard the children while simultaneously not irritating God with a crowd. The five Eyes bowed face-first before the throne and with hard kicks ensured that Lahatiel and Nuriel bowed as well.
Then Balberith arose at the Emperor’s bidding, saying, “Forgive us, Lord, but there is a curious happenstance which requires your personal attention. The imperial frigate Exiler has returned without orders from the Sol System, and we have found it to be crewed with only two children!”
“Rise and explain all of this, boy,” Asmodeus commanded.
Lahatiel got to his feet and said, “If you please, Sire, I am Lahatiel, the only son of Terel of Europa. My father was an honest and loyal who distilled the waters of that satellite for metals and sold them for a small profit. He never failed to send the fourth part of the increase to the crown, according to Your Majesty’s holy law, and this was always done out of gratitude and loyalty more than obligation.”
“What rank was your father in my armed forces, young Lahatiel?”
“None, sire. My father lived outside the Cupel system of testing under the dispensation Your Majesty allowed for the first two generations of colonists in the Sol system. But he was preparing me well for the death combat and dreamed of the day when I attained the ranks of ishim.”
At this the Eyes of Belial grumbled, and Balberith even protested openly. “Lord, we have very good reason to believe this boy has slept with his sister on the ship before the ritual combat demanded by your holy law. This makes him a rank heretic of the highest order.”
Mastema had never really cared about any of those sexual prohibitions himself, and merely used them to try to pit the planetdwellers against their own instincts. Ignoring Balberith, Asmodeus said to Lahatiel, “You remind me of a human I admire named Ithuriel. Tell me of how you came into possession of the Exiler.”
“Yes, my Lord. The High Lord Patriarch Sartael Gerash of happy memory gave the vessel to the father of my father, the Hashmal Araphiel, who was one of the first men from Barbelo to settle in the Jupiter system.”
“Ah, now it grows clear!” said Asmodeus. “This Araphiel I do remember. Yes I gave him the frigate to begin his settlement in the Jupiter system, but unfortunately it was required from him once again to put down the Beaters, and I do not recall returning the vessel to him again, nor to any of his sons. So again, I command you, young Lahatiel, tell me how exactly how you came to be in possession of it.”
“There is a foul stink of corruption on Your Majesty’s fleet in the Jupiter colonies, Sire! All of the homesteaders know this, but our family learned of it first-hand when the frigate Exiler engaged in a naked invasion and robbery of my father’s operation. We resisted, of course, even as other colonists on Europa have resisted, and the crews of your capital ships have taken many losses in this way. Before my parents died fending off the attack my father suspected Your Majesty’s Navy has covered up these casualties, because a colonist had been forced to serve aboard Exiler as a replacement crewman. Send aides, Your Majesty, to examine the books kept by the crew, and the booty we found stashed throughout the ship.”
Asmodeus turned to face Balberith to see what his Chief Eye would say to this. Balberith replied, “Sire, the claims of this boy are doubtless nothing but juvenile fantasies. Even if there have been casualties taken by the fleet at Jupiter it only speaks of how deep-seated the insurrection is there.”
So Asmodeus bade Lahatiel to tell the full tale of how his mother and father came to die, and Lahatiel put forth the elaborate lie he had invented during the passage to Hyperion. He made no mention of Green Rock. So delightsome was the tale to Asmodeus that he elevated Lahatiel to the rank of Sar on the spot, taking his victory over the Exiler mutineers to count as his first death combat elevating him to ish. And he said, “You may take your sister to be your wife from this day forward.”
Balberith suddenly grew angry at this, and said, “What manner of B’nei Elohim are you, boy? How did you bewitch the Lord Asmodeus?”
Asmodeus replied to this outburst by asking the boy, with uncharacteristic control, “Sar Lahatiel, do you now desire anything of me? Anything at all?”
Lahatiel faced Balberith and drew out the man’s own blade from the sheath dangling from his side, which Balberith at first allowed to do simply because it was so unexpected and continued to allow to do since to attempt to stop the theft would only cut his hand. Lahatiel said to Balberith, “You speak of heresy and then go on to imply it is possible for our God to fall under the spell of mere nephilim!” And with that blade Lahatiel brutally butchered the nephim where he stood.
After wiping the gory blade on the fallen man’s cloak he plunged it yet one more time, point first, into his dead corpse to let it stand hilt up. “That was all I desired from you, Lord.”
The other Eyes of Mastema waited for the angry command of their Lord to torture this boy to death for killing Balberith, but Asmodeus only laughed and ordered them to bring his own son Apollyon before him. Then he said to his newly minted Sar, “Did you know, Lahatiel, that in the thousands of years I have ruled Barbelo as the Gerash Patriarch, never has a son of my loins survived the death combat I appointed in my law. Not once!”
“My Lord is very busy governing the Empire,” Lahatiel offered. “It is only a question of having sufficient time to train your son.”
“I thought as much at first, Sar Lahatiel,” he said. “But even when I put my mind to training him, I fail, and the boy is killed. It’s beginning to weigh overmuch on my mind, if only because it’s become something of a running joke.”
Apollyon entered the throne room just then and approached to kneel before his father. Lahatiel saw that the boy seemed to be entirely beat down, as though resigned to his inevitable fate. But he thought that could easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and might even be the reason for the patriarch’s perfect track record of zero successes.
Asmodeus motioned for his son to rise, then turned to face Lahatiel again. “I will not dwell on all the vicious back-room dealing that goes on among the leading families of the greater House Gerash, but suffice it to say there are certain benefits that acrue to that family whose son defeats my son to replace him as the heir apparent to the throne. The leading candidate at this time is named Haziel. Once, Lahatiel, just once, I’d like to see the blood of my blood, the bone of my bones win his Laraji and become the next Gerash Patriach when this body dies.”
Lahatiel said, “If my Lord will insist on the right to establish the conditions of the match, and will release Exiler to me once more, I will train his son in such a way that he must prevail in the death combat.”
“You have already impressed me with the return of Exiler, and you have impressed me a second time with the way you dealt with Balberiths’ effrontery. Impress me yet a third time, Sar Lahatiel. Teach my son Apollyon to win his Laraji as you claim you can do. Then we shall see what we shall see.”
“It will be done as you have said, my Lord.” Then Lahatiel and his sister Noriel bowed and departed the throne room.
The reason Lahatiel requested the Exiler be returned to him was that he needed to orbit Palato to establish the conditions of free fall for Apollyon’s training, and also Exiler was large enough to allow the training. For the Laraji, Lahatiel chose a variation of Freeball he made up on the spot: Combat Freeball, with knives. As for the Laraji venue, he described to the Emperor a standard Freeball arena based on the sport popular in the Sol system, and Asmodeus caused the arena to be constructed next to Exiler, on the same orbit.
The event would be televised, of course, as all of the death combats of the Emperor’s own son had been broadcast for many decades. But this time, Lahatiel assured Asmodeus his son would survive and the patriarch would not be humiliated, because Apollyon and his companions would not be going in cold like Haziel.
As the match drew to a close Haziel placed all six of his boys in a ring. These boys hoped by sheer numbers to capture Apollyon and fling him at an armed Haziel for the kill.
At the referee’s first whistle Apollyon’s closest teammates curled into fetal positions at his feet, and he was also curled up. At the second whistle all three made themselves straight as fast as they could. Apollyon surged forward and the other two boys were flung back.
When Apollyon was joined by his Van and his Wingbacks, the Flankers reached the elastic end cap feet first and kicked back off again, perfectly timing it to take advantage of the thumping rebound. Spinning on his long axis now to make him harder to grab, Apollyon reached Haziel’s defending line.
Apollyon’s Wingbacks had overtaken him and joined to face Haziel’s defenders too. Freeball was a contact sport. Apollyon’s team kicked and punched to form a narrow tunnel for him to drill through, scattering bodies like bowling pins.
Forbidden to stab the unarmed boys, Apollyon bent and twisted his body like a maggot to wriggle free. Stinging from blows, Apollyon reached a wall feet first and did a dance. “Left foot sticks, right foot kicks,” he chanted, launching hymself out again to chase after Haziel.
Haziel and one of his flankers linked hands to swing off each other and change course, tumbling head-over-each-other’s-heels. Thus, Haziel was flung after Apollyon, but he was left flailing with a yaw rotation he couldn’t control. By chance, when they met, they were both in a poor position to strike each other, but Haziel’s position was slightly poorer. Apollyon slipped his blade between his Haziel’s ribs and pierced his heart.
The match was televised across the empire, and everyone knew Abaddon did not cheat to favor his son. The Emperor was overjoyed. No one had ever seen him happy. Ever. On a whim he made Sar Lahatiel the rank of ophan.
This time none of the Eyes of Mastema made their displeasure audible. It seemed they had grown in wisdom rather quickly.
“How many dependents were attached to the officers manning Exiler?” Asmodeus demanded to know.
Arioch, next in line after Balberith, quickly answered his Lord, saying, “There were a total of sixteen women and all their children.”
“Lahatiel, today I have made you a flag officer, entitling you to eight wives. You may keep your sister Nuriel of course, and also take any seven of those sixteen women, whosoever of them that pleases you the most. The rest shall be returned to their fathers. You are my chief lieutenant now! Choose a new crew for the warship Exiler. In the days to come I am going to rely on you to deal with Lilith’s blasphemous starship.”
98 – MICRO
The B’nei Elohim leased offices on the eighth floor of a building in Bellevue, Washington and advertised an opening for someone who could program the new eight-bit “computer on a chip” produced by the Intel Corporation. Lilith and Robyn handled the recruiting. Most of the prospective programmers turned around and walked right out of the interview room when they saw they were dealing with two women. Three of them, however, did not.
Mark Felton had just graduated from the University of Washington. He thought the world of women and was more far interested in a job than maintaining any stupid “he man woman hater’s club” tradition.
Paul Allen was in his third year at Washington State University, or “Wazoo”, going for a computer science major. His pal Bill Gates was still a senior in high school. The two of them were pretty ambitious and even started a little company to analyze traffic patterns so government agencies could issue reports, but the federal government began to offer the same service for no charge, so Traf-O-Data was going out of business. They needed the work.
During the interviews Robyn sat quietly in a corner of the office while Lilith questioned Allen, Gates, and Felton, in that order. When it was Felton’s turn, Lilith gave the same introductory spiel she had given the Traf-O-Data boys. “Welcome to the headquarters of the Astrodynamics Corporation. I’m the owner. My name is Lilith Gervasi. I’m interested in manufacturing a single-board microcomputer. In fact, we’re proposing to call it a Micro. We intend to retail it for five hundred dollars, and that’s set in stone. We’re looking for a programmer to develop the operating system for the Micro, which we’re going to call Budget Operating System Software, or BOSS.”
“Single user, of course. No multi-tasking.”
“What kind of display do you have in mind?”
“We were thinking just a standard black and white television at first.”
“The resolution with that isn’t too hot. What about storage?”
“Then it looks like my job will be pretty easy. Most of the heavy lifting will be done with the hardware.”
“The problem we have right now is that the 8008 only has fourteen address bits, so we’re stuck at sixteen kilobytes of memory, tops. That might sound like a lot right now, but we’re thinking long term. Do you know how we might solve that issue?”
“Simple. You just have two 8008’s going at the same time, one runs your BOSS in ROM and handles all your keyboard inputs, video out, cassette in and out, and swaps 16K banks of RAM when the user’s program calls for more memory. Theoretically that would give you up to 256 megabytes of RAM, which is insane.”
“Well, see, you’re not really impressing me right now, Mr. Felton, because the 8008 costs three hundred sixty dollars, so two of them put us in the hole right away. The $500 price point I gave for the Micro is firm.”
“The first run of chips are in that range, sure, three sixty, but put in a big enough buy order I betcha Intel brings it down to one fifty.”
“Touche. I’d like to discuss this with my friend for a bit, Mr. Felton so if you’ll wait outside, I think we can give you an answer quickly.”
Mark shrugged and got up to leave. Robyn said, “I like that guy.”
“What about the Gates and Allen show? Traf-O-Data.”
“Paul Allen is okay,” Robyn said. “He knows the chip well enough to have written a complete simulator for a mainframe computer, so we can get started before our hardware is ready, and Gates writes tight code, but he’s obsessed with using BASIC to run everything on the Micro. That might make it easy for people to program, but I think it would be too slow. And Gates doesn’t seem to get the concept of money. He ran up a lot of computer time having some big iron play tic-tac-toe against itself, and sent the bill to his daddy. And he sure didn’t like the name Budget Operating System Software.”
“What do your enhanced instincts tell you?”
“Gates and Allen already started one company on their own. I’m not seeing either one of them still working for us in 1975, so I figure they’re going to take our ideas and try to compete against us. But Mark Felton is in for the long haul. He’s the adult in the room. I say we go with him.”
While Astrodyne was putting the final touches on the Micro-73 a few weeks before it hit the market, Mark Felton said the device still lacked a software “best seller” that would really put it on the map. Robyn described to Mark something from her vision of the way computers had changed everything in the Eta timeline, the track that existed after the Watergate alteration but before the Apollo 17 alteration. It was the electronic spreadsheet, but she couldn’t pick that precise name out of her vision.
Felton was intrigued, but he was also swamped putting the final touches on BOSS so Astrodyne hired a pair of new programmers and Markl set them to work making Robyn’s idea a reality.
The new program was a cross between an accounting worksheet and the “Battleship” game. Columns were marked A through Z, rows from 1 to 256, and where the columns and rows intersected, they formed cells designated A1, B9, C117, and so forth. The customer could enter data or formulas into any one of these cells, and each cell could reference data anywhere else on the worksheet. If the customer changed data in one cell, all the dependent cells would be quickly recalculated. They called this program “Matrix”.
So now if a businessman wanted to find the answer to the question “what will my long-term profits look like if I buy a second sheet metal cutting machine today?” he didn’t have to hire a programmer to write a special program just to find out. With a Micro running Matrix he could sit in his office and fiddle with the numbers himself.
When the Micro-73 hit the market in the spring it came bundled with cassette tapes containing Matrix and an assortment of other applications, such as a simple text editor and an 8008 assembler to allow customers to create their own programs for the Micro.
Sales began to take off based on word-of-mouth. Everyone from small business owners to the Chief Financial Officer of large multinational corporations went to dealers and plonked down five C notes for “one of those Matrix machines.” And every time they did, one of those five Benjamins was pure profit for Astrodyne. Three thousand units sold in 1973.
Bill Gates, who had a BASIC hammer and thought everything was a nail, developed a high-level interpreted BASIC for the Micro but as Robyn foresaw, it was far too slow and had very few takers. He would have slightly better luck two years later.
Intel offered their second 8-bit microprocessor, the 8080, in April of 1974, with plenty of time to be incorporated into Astrodyne’s next computer. Since this chip could address sixty-four kilobytes of memory all at once and had four times the clock speed of the earlier chip, a second 8080 running BOSS was dropped from the new design. Instead, Mark Felton used task swapping to alternate between low-level BOSS functions and the user’s program.
The new Micro still used cassettes for program storage, but it shipped with sixteen kilobytes of Random Access Memory, or RAM. An external floppy disk drive costing as much as the Micro itself was sold separately and BOSS was re-written to allow disk management.
Soon after the Micro-75 actually hit the street, a four kilobyte 8080 interpreted BASIC (permitting the other twelve kilobytes to be used for programs) was written by Bill Gates for the new version of Astrodyne’s computer. It sold for $500 on cassette, but this was considered outrageous. Soon copies were pirated and began to make the rounds with the tapes duplicated by a pair of ordinary Radio Shack cassette recorders.
Bill Gates offered a disk-based version of his BASIC for $250, hoping the reduced price and the floppy disk format would discourage copying. But clandestine micro software to copy floppy disks using RAM and several manual swaps made the rounds and Gates was foiled again.
The Micro-75 was the first in the series to have a modem, which was sold separately. Its speed was only 300 baud but users were able to dial out to Astrodyne for support and downloads. The host was a DEC mainframe in Bellevue. A 24 hour news service was started with free access for all Micro customers. Messages could be left on an electronic bulletin board for anyone with a modem to read.
The Swarm had it’s humble beginning as that single small Bulletin Board System, or BBS, so that the B’nei Elohim could be kept apprised of the latest family news as easily as though everyone were looking at a single physical message board. But the number of BBSs began to multiply. After that the Swarm evolved into a message “backbone” that routed QuickMail packages between BBS nodes. This was better than a bulletin board system because it allowed individual users to make contact with some degree of privacy. The modems improved in speed to 1200 baud.
For the marquee app of the Micro-75, Mark Felton’s stable of five programmers created WordBoss, the first word processor with automatic hyphenation and paragraph justification, leaving the user free to just type. Dot-matrix printer support was also added. Twenty thousand of the new Micros sold, mostly to business, but also to some hobbyists, resulting in $2 million of profits for Astrodyne. The general public was not yet really aware of the growing world of mini-computing.
Astrodynamics had been filing income taxes every quarter like a good corporate citizen, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1975 that the Ford Administration realized the papers brought home by the Apollo 17 crew also mentioned this same Astrodyne. When the Federal government raided the Astrodyne offices in Bellevue they learned Robyn Lokken was not present, and Felton said he had only actually met her one time during his job interview in ’72. The DECON agents had no grounds to proceed and left.
For the Micro-77 a 4 inch floppy disk drive with one hundred twenty kilobytes of disk space was incorporated inside the new unit. The cassette tape deck was dropped, but it was still available as an external device for legacy software. BOSS was changed to load from floppy on startup rather than from a Read Only Memory chip, permitting upgrades to the operating system without changing the hardware.
The 8080 chip was replaced by the Zilog Z80, an improved clone of Intel’s device. Astrodyne populated the motherboard with thirty-two kilobytes of RAM and still came in under $500. An optional GUI called GUIDE (Graphical User Interface with Desktop Elements) ran on top of BOSS, in black and white.
The first truly “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) word processor, WordGuide, was the real star of the Micro-77 show, much as Matrix had been for the Micro-73. A spooler program converted documents for output on dot-matrix printers exactly as they appeared on the screen, allowing the choice of an endless number of different fonts.
With a 1200 baud modem built in, Micro-77s were able to communicate with each other point-to-point rather than just to Astrodyne’s mainframe, so email and software was copied between machines. After Bill Gates complained, DECON ordered Astrodyne to disable point-to-point file transfers to prevent piracy, but Astrodyne won in court using the argument that it was like suing General Motors because the getaway car in a bank robbery happened to be a Chevy.
A quarter of a million Micro-77 units were sold. Astrodyne built a business park at the crossing of SR-169 and SR-516 in Washington State, a place called Four Corners, close to the Green River Gorge and the tunnel to Barbelo. The Federal government blocked Micros for export because the technology could aid the Soviet Union. Astrodyne was flattered, but they smuggled the units out anyway, selling at a substantial markup to cover the additional hassle.
Bill Gates tried to incorporate as Micro-Soft, with a hyphen, but he was sued by Astrodyne and was forced to change the name of his company to Winspire. He kept going around saying he was “W-I-N-N-I-N-G”.
Still, business considerations overrode any personal animosity and Winspire BASIC was licensed to Astrodyne. It made the Micro easier to program and was attractive to schools, but as an interpreted language it was still too slow for serious work. Real programmers like Mark Felton wrote in compiled Polycode.
The B’nei Elohim began to communicate with genuine email on a mailing list, which was by invitation only. For its public presence, the Grid was also represented on the global USENET forum as an unmoderated newsgroup called alt.religion.end-dome.
Modem technology progressed to the breakneck speed of 9,600 baud and it was feasible for one member of the B’nei Elohim to communicate in a primitive by Purple Cable over a phone line to another member. The Micro-79 came with a 9600 baud modem built right inside it.
For the 1979 Micro GUIDE used four bit color for the first time. A paint program was included to create images, but 16 colors was not quite good enough for photographs. An 8 megabyte external hard drive was also available for another $500.
The marquee application for the Micro-79 was a new markup language that could turn simple text files into eye-pleasing documents that included portions of text highlighted in green with an underline. If the user placed a trackball cursor over this green text and clicked, they were taken to a new document that could be stored locally, or on the Astrodyne server, or even on another Micro that was currently online.
Winspire reverse-engineered the Micro’s operating system and offered IBM something they called DOSS with only cosmetic changes to BOSS, daring Astrodyne to sue. Soon after that, IBM began to offer a competing “Personal Computer” or PC, using stock components, Winspire BASIC in ROM for all software and disk operations and 128 kilobytes of memory. There was nothing like GUIDE yet, but IBM blew that off by claiming a GUI was just for people too stupid to remember a measly set of two hundred DOSS shell commands and all their options.
IBM considered GUIDE a toy for consumers, not for serious computing. The federal government deliberately purchased only IBM PCs despite the inferior quality and $1,500 per unit price, ostensibly to shore up competition to Astrodyne, but they were almost the sole customer.
There was a Winspire ripoff of Matrix called Electronic Paper whose sole difference was cells labeled by rows and columns rather than like in Battleship, R12C19 vs. L19. Astrodyne had failed to get a software patent, and refused to do so on principle, saying it was like getting a patent on the procedure to solve quadratics. Gates, however, did get a patent for Electronic Paper, then turned around and sued Astrodyne.
The government testified as a “friend of the court”, but the suit got tossed out by an “activist judge” who was “legislating from the bench” when Astrodyne showed prior art. Meanwhile the Micro-79 moved over a million units.
In 1981 Astrodyne rolled out a Micro with 32 bit color, giving a total of over 24 million colors and finally reaching full photo quality. Onboard storage reached 64 megabytes and the modem attained 57,600 baud, the best that could be obtained by dial-up. Millions of users worldwide were now “buzzing the Swarm” to communicate with each other. Suddenly there was a global library of information available to anyone with a Micro and a telephone line.
In Robyn’s vision of Reality 2.0 she knew there were corporate gatekeepers who sold monthly access to the network, and Mark Felton carefully designed the Micro to avoid a middle-man.
Meanwhile Winspire offered IBM a nearly identical clone of GUIDE called Windows (which is what they renamed the panels) and suddenly IBM stopped calling graphical interfaces mere toys. The IBM-PC was slashed in price to $1,200, hoping to jumpstart annual sales, which were still numbered in the hundreds. Even those paltry sales were mostly for government computers that were not even used, prompting some Winspire employees to call it Windows for Warehouses when they were out of earshot of Gates.
The government tried a carrot-and-stick approach and offered a $750 subsidy to school districts if they purchased the IBM/Winspire boxes, and cut existing subsidies to school districts if they insisted on going with Micros. Sales of IBM’s machine miraculously jumped to ten thousand units. But Astrodyne sold a thousand $500 Micros for every one unit sold by IBM.
99 – TRANSITION
President Gerald Ford was a lame duck and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson wasn’t sworn in yet, so for the official transition photo it seemed fitting to have the two leaders seated facing each other at an oblique angle as symbolic equals. The massive desk built from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, gifted to President Hayes from Queen Victoria in 1880 was left unoccupied on the far side of the Oval Office, framed in the camera shot precisely centered between the two men.
After the official White House photographer had finished his work, after he had taken his leave, and the door to the Oval Office had been firmly closed, an uncomfortable silence settled on the famous chamber, for the campaign had been bitterly contested. The President-elect broke the partisan ice with a little joke. “I suppose this is the part where you break out a mysterious blue book and show me incontrovertible evidence that Earth really has been contacted by aliens.”
Ford grimaced, stood up, and invited Jackson to pull up a chair in front of the big desk. A book was pulled out of a side drawer and laid carefully on the desktop, and it was indeed blue, causing the President-elect’s grin to quickly fade away. “It seems there’s a grain of truth behind every urban myth,” the President said. “Here’s your blue book.”
Jackson paused for a bit, and met the President’s eyes with a searching glance, but the President merely returned the gaze with a slight shake of the head. No joke then. “Let me have the bad news first,” the incoming head of state said when the initial shock faded.
Ford said, “You will most likely find it impossible to sit on this information like my predecessors have, going back all the way to, oh, Truman.” He tapped the book. “It might be up to you to manage the rollout of this stuff. Obviously there’s been a deep and broad cover-up for years. Ever since Watergate, as you know, a cover-up has been considered to be a far worse offense than the original . . . thing. But this cover-up, at least, wasn’t mismanaged.”
Jackson asked, “And why was there a coverup in the first place? Was it the usual claim that society is just not ready to know?”
The President said, “There were anthropological considerations to take into account, at first. From the long, sad history of the collision of colonizing European cultures with the more primitive aboriginal cultures in the lands they invaded, one could easily imagine Earth itself, in the aftermath of the arrival of an advanced alien civilization, becoming a sort of galactic human ‘reservation’ utterly dependent on handouts. A cover-up could buy time to prepare the world for the inevitable shock to the collective ego and perhaps prevent a post-contact malaise from taking hold.”
“That would be a legitimate reason for a cover-up,” the incoming chief acknowledged. “Assuming you actually have been preparing the world to learn of it.”
With a shake of the head the President indicated that no such preparations had taken place. “It was not the main reason. It had to do with how the . . . evidence . . . was introduced on Earth. If it had simply fallen straight into our hands we would have made it classified, locked it away, and done. No coverup necessary. But the evidence came here a long time ago and has been continuously under the control of private American citizens and outside of government control.”
“What do you mean outside of government control?”
“This country is still a republic, you know. We’re not a dictatorship quite yet. Ever since the 1940s when we found out about everything, this group has resisted coming in under our umbrella. You might even say there’s been a quiet insurrection going on all this time, and the only real point of agreement we have with these folks is that we all need to keep it quiet. We’ve been far more concerned about covering up this insurrection than whatever they were sitting on.”
Jackson asked, “So is there any upside to all this?”
The outgoing replied, “Well, first of all, the aliens that this evidence points to are not unfathomably more advanced than we are. Maybe one or two hundred years down the time line from us, no big deal. They might not even be around anymore and we’re really just dealing with the machines they left behind when their civilization failed. At any rate, we aren’t taking about an invasion fleet or something like that. They don’t have warp drive like in the television shows and the distances between stars are just too great. The technologies they do bring have been filtering into the marketplace through this group I spoke of, to the general betterment of society, and in particular, American society.”
“Do you have any examples?”
“Does stealth ring a bell? Fusion? The Swarm? And a lot more stuff this group won’t release. But that just makes it all the more urgent we bring them in. Imagine what the enemies of this country could do to us if they had first crack at the new stuff.”
Jackson said, “There are folks among your own constituency, as you well know, Mr. President, who seek to steer America’s schools away from teaching evolution and old earth geology and towards a curriculum of a special creation of the Earth by God just six thousand years ago. Your Blue Book raises questions that their closed, self-contained, strictly biblical theology could never answer.”
“It is interesting that you brought up religion,” President Ford put in. “When I got this same talk from Nixon it made me wonder what a coincidence all of this was. The aliens stumbled on to us precisely when we were ready to understand what they had to say and had the capability to put it into action? What are the odds? Could it be that the burning bush Moses saw was just an earlier contact? Or that the Greeks and Egyptians had contacts that were mistaken for gods? The Blue Book hints as much. But we know a bit more about the current contact sequence. So it’s a good thing we are doing this presidential transition early. This is going to take quite a bit of time, and the alien thing is only part of what I need to pass down to you.”
“As long as we’re finished by noon on January 20 I’m all ears,” Scoop Jackson said.
The President pushed the book across the desk. “Here’s your homework.”
“You’re going to let me walk out of here with this?”
“Why not? The Blue Book is nothing more or less than the sacred scriptures of this group I’m talking about, which now calls itself the Church of End Dome. It’s sort of like their Holy Bible or Book of Mormon, except with plenty of third party support. In a few days it will be entirely up to you what to do with the book and what to do the people who follow it, although I suspect you will only just get to manage the fallout when they come out and spill everything. Welcome to the top job.”
The University of Maryland, College Park, was only eight miles northeast of Washington DC, but considering security logistics at the Presidential level it was more practical to get there aboard the Marine One helicopter. On the morning of the day following the Oval Office photo op the President and the President-elect were taken directly from the White House lawn to McKeldin Mall in the heart of the campus. On the flight, the President asked, “How far did you get in the Blue Book?”
Scoop Jackson said, “I read a cowboy story dressed up like a book of the Bible with chapters, verses, and footnotes. That’s not evidence, you know. Anyone can spin a tale.”
“I absolutely agree,” the President replied. “But right now I’m taking you to meet Dr. Antonio Mossi at UMD. I’ve asked him to try to debunk a piece of real evidence and he’s been giving that his best shot, but without much luck, it seems.”
The helicopter landed just west of the reflecting pool, on a piece of grass that looked like it had seen many such landings recently. From there it was a scant quarter mile on foot to the library, escorted by a dozen Secret Service agents, where they were greeted by Dr. Mossi and taken into a large workspace in the basement of the library.
On a long blue table that nearly filled the space from end to end, a white scroll lay completely unrolled. Dr. Mossi turned to the President-elect and said, “We call this the Scroll of Lael, based on the name of the author who claims to have started to pen it. Please give me your first impression.”
Jackson said, “It looks fake. It doesn’t look like any scroll I’ve ever seen. It’s white as a wedding dress for one thing, and the thing’s shiny, like a sheet of plastic.”
Dr. Mossi said, “Yet it is not plastic, it is biological in origin. Under the microscope we see plant cells, but we have not identified them. And we have cut off a corner of it about the size of a postage stamp for carbon-14 dating and three different labs tell us it’s 2,600 years old, plus or minus fifty years. Please take a closer look here.”
The professor steered them to a section of the unrolled scroll in the middle of the long table. He said, “Most of the scroll is written in Paleo-Hebrew, from before the Babylonian Captivity, when it was just a variant of the Phoenician alphabet without contamination from Aramaic. And yet there is a smooth evolution of the characters consistent with a natural progression across many centuries. We cannot even detect Samaritan influences. If it is a forgery, it us one of exquisite subtlety.”
The President said, “Dr. Mossi, please direct the President-elect to the section that is titled ‘Radix.’”
The professor indicated a part of the scroll a little more than a quarter of the way from the left end and gestured for Jackson to look. It was that cowboy story with Chief Malekwa and Mark Lange, written in English in a neat hand. “Mystery of mysteries,” Dr. Mossi said. “Embedded within this document, which may be the most important find in archaeological history, is a piece of what can only be called western pulp fiction. Unless it’s true.”
The President-elect was incredulous. “The Golden Gift? That reads more like science-fiction than a Zane Gray yarn. Or maybe it’s a mash-up, like The Haunted Mesa by Louis L’Amour.”
“The Golden Gift appears throughout this scroll,” the professor countered. “One might almost say the Golden Gift is the true protagonist of this very long story.”
“Okay, but who ever heard of a scroll that was more white than printer paper? What kind of plant looks like that?”
“If you were a shrub on a dog-eat-dog planet that was all ice and snow,” President Ford said, “and you didn’t want to be dinner, what color would you be?”