110 – DEL

“Have a macro,” the newly-arrived young woman said. She passed to Hunky a silver copy of the weapon she held in her hand, probably snagged from a Navy of Mastema armory somewhere.  “Kill that camera, please, Hunky.”

Hunky used her Silver Gift to make the slowly rotating video camera covering the space they were standing in to entirely go away.

Soon after that a squad of eight DECON troops dispatched by Conley entered the office space though the door, which seemed to work for them just fine.   “Everyone lay down your weapons and freeze!” one of the newcomers shouted, and Hunky marveled that he even got the two commands in the correct logical order.

Then Hunky stepped in front of Del and blossomed her phantomizer blade to full umbrella mode, something the original Golden Gift couldn’t even do, causing a great wind to start. She used this as a shield to absorb the initial bullets of the guards, which came immediately after her movement.

In a perfect dance, as though they rehearsed it, which in fact they often did, Hunky collapsed her blade and stepped beside Del.

And Del, stepping a bit forward, fired exactly two rounds, center of mass, killing two guards.   Lather, rinse, repeat.  Two more guards down and then Hunky and Del were close enough to just hack the rest to pieces.

“How’d you get in?”  Hunky asked Del.

“Well there’s this network of tunnels inside the mountain made by DECON,” Del explained, “and there’s the network of tunnels we made under the mountain as insurance.  It was just a simple matter of making one well-placed connection.”  She held up her Golden Gift and wondered if she she needed to explain to Hunky the actual mechanics of the entry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hunky said, “allow me to introduce the B’nei Elohim named Del, the daughter of the late Talishi. who was the incarnation of El Shaddai. Which, I suppose, makes her a half-sister of Jesus. Or something.”

“What did she give you just now?” President-elect Henry Jackson asked.  “Is there more than one Golden Gift?”

“Naw, we call this a macro,” Hunky said, holding up hers.  “Del’s mother God gave the Golden Gift to some very clever monkeys, and we very clever monkeys copied it and made it better.”

“What’s next?” asked Ted Hickey, choosing not to dwell on the God thing.  “Our plan was to move down and out.”

“We will stay with your plan,” Del said, “except that we will backtrack along the path I carved on my way up here.   I took the liberty of killing the cameras in every space I entered.”

“That’s just great,” Hickey said.  “Now Conley’s got a trail of dead cameras leading directly to the last position he knew we were.  So now he knows we have help.”

“There’s such a thing as the fog of war,” Del countered with a bit of annoyance.  “Let’s see how bright this Conley fellow really is.  Let’s see how far we can get before he puts it all together.”

“The President has arrived, sir,” the duty officer told Ed Conley.  “He’s making his way to the summit now.”

“Good, when he gets here and authenticates, unlock the elevators.  Meanwhile I want the bodies of these two agents put in the path of somewhere we know Jackson went.  It’s called shaping the evidence trail.”

Ed Conley stepped back from the Big Board to allow his personnel to remove the bodies, and stepping back, he was able to take in the whole picture.  There were hundreds of small screens showing mostly stationary views, some empty, some with idle DECON personnel, but about twenty random screens were blank static with no signal, and he wondered about that.  He knew there was no particular relationship between the dead screens and the position of the corresponding camera within the mountain, but he thought if such a relationship could be made, it might speak volumes.   When the bodies were dragged away, Conley approached the duty officer again.  “Plot the position of this dead camera,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the duty officer replied, and presently a floor map of that level of the mountain was displayed, with the dead camera indicated by a flashing red dot.

“Can you plot all the dead cameras?  Is there a PolyCode script ready to do that?”

“No sir, but I can whip one out for you. Just one moment.”   Presently the duty officer hand completed his script and ran it.  Twenty maps flashed on the screen, one after the other.

“Okay, now here’s the real test.  I want you stack those maps in order, and then I want you to rotate the whole shooting match to an oblique view so I can see them from the side and up.  Can you do that?”

The duty officer had to think for a bit before he could answer in the affirmative, and the script for this took somewhat longer than the first one.  But in about ten minutes Conley was looking at a kind of x-ray view of Yellow Mountain, with a trail of red dots meandering through the center of the hill to the bottom.   The top dot was the most interesting one of all, that was the camera covering the space where he had sent that squad of seven DECON personnel before losing contact with them.

“Do you see that?” Ed Conley said, tracing the line of red dots from the bottom to the top.  “They’ve gotten help from outside.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, sir.   How would they get in?”

“Who’s to say the whole mountain isn’t sitting on a network of tunnels they made, waiting for the right time, and they just punched through?  Send everything we have to that bottom dot.”

In the space one level up from that bottom dot Del stuck her head through the hole she made in the floor just long enough to see it was filled with more DECON personnel than she could possibly deal with, even with her, Hunky, and the four Secret Service personnel in full berserk mode.  She sat back up and said, “Well, we have our answer.  This Conley dude put all the pieces together.  We’ll have to get out another way.”

“Any ideas?”

“Actually, I’ve just had a brilliant one,” Del said.  “I’ve called in our air assets.  DECON will want to scramble to deal with them, so all we need to do is be in one of the helicopter hangers when they do.  Then we just walk right out of the mountain.”

“Show me the body of the Vice-President,” said Gerald Ford after he had seen the cell-camera footage of the demise, not fully aware exactly what it was he was asking for, but Ed Conley dutifully took him up to the cell and showed him the pile of hamburger that used to be Earl Roland and it was everything Ford could do not to puke up his lunch right there.  He wheeled away out of the cell and up against the rail looking down on the control bay to steady himself. “Where is the so-called President-elect?” the President asked when he was able to speak again.

“Mr. President, the President-elect together with the assassin are being taken out of the complex by six Secret Service agents, against my better wishes.  Apparently there was a disagreement among those six agents as well, we’ve found the bodies of two of them they shot up and left behind.”

The President looked to his own Secret Service agents.  “See to it.”  And it occured to Ed Conley just then, much too late, that the dead agents were fill of DECON lead, and he hadn’t thought about that.  So he started thinking about making his own way out of the mountain.

The duty officer said, “We count twelve incoming bogeys, possibly Church of End Dome air assets come to pull the assassin out.”

The President said to Ed Conley, “You handle it.  All I want right now is a private office with a computer terminal and total access to the files.  And by that I do mean all of them.”













Accidents happened all the time on Mercury and for the most part no intervention by the nephilim was necessary.   Sunset Chasers that failed to keep up with the setting sun went dormant and became Dawn Racers six months later, and vice versa.  If a refinery fell into disrepair it was no big loss since the machines reproduced themselves.  But a traffic jam at a choke point did require manual attention.

What was unusual about this particular traffic jam was that it occurred precisely at the terminal end of one of two dozen ion cannons radiating out over the surface of Mercury from the north pole, and even more unusual was that the cannon in question was the currently active one.  A pair of technicians were scheduled to investigate the scene when the ground had sufficiently cooled.

Nadab and Danyel rode a tram out to the end of the cannon on a rail slung under the tube.   During their ride they witnessed the bright flare of Robyn’s lander as she made good her escape and Nadab called it in.   His superiors weighed whether to recall the technicians and send armed nephilim out there instead, but in the end they decided to let the technicians continue to the site to make their inspection, and added instructions for them to check for any damage to the tube itself which might have been made by intruders.

When their little pressurized capsule reached the end of the rail, Danyel cycled the air back into storage and led the way outside in his pressure suit to begin the inspection of the mouth of the tube.  They were careful not to intrude their head or limbs into the carbon ion beam, which would have immediately ripped their suit.  They found no damage and reported that fact to the control room, then proceeded down the ladder mounted on the pylon to reach the dark surface of the planet.

Before he even touched the ground, Nadab was sliced in half across his midsection by Lilith wielding the Golden Gift.   She then touched the end of the black beam to the base of the antenna on Danyel’s pack to disable his radio transmitter.   Raising a finger, she gestured for Danyel to climb back up the ladder once more.  Shocked by the sudden death of his companion and fearing for his own life, Danyel moved deliberately to make sure the intruder did not suspect he was going to make a break for it and use the tram to get away from her.

Lilith seated herself in the tram where Nadab had been seated, then motioned for Danyel to follow after her.   After more sign language, Danyel gathered that Lilith wanted him to close the exterior hatch and pressurize the little capsule so they could speak.  As he did so she retracted the macro effect of the Golden Gift so it wouldn’t consume their air faster than it could be supplied.

When the capsule was fully pressurized Danyel removed his helmet to show it was safe to do so.  “Why did you kill poor Nadab like that?”

Lilith removed her own helmet so Danyel could see he as dealing with a human woman.   “Because you’re trespassing.”

And Danyel had no reply to that.  Every nephil in the Sol System was fully aware of the Four AU Rule.   No Centauri settlements were allowed on any body with a heliocentric orbit whose semi-major axis was not greater than four times the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

“What is this tube?” Lilith demanded to know, pointing upward with the inert ingot that was the Golden Gift.

“It’s a very, very long ion cannon,” Danyel said.

“I already know the payload is carbon, but why is it so long?”

“Because it has to develop a speed of thirty miles a second.”

The picture was becoming more clear to her.  That was the speed of Mercury itself as it went around the sun.   “Is this the only tube there is?”

“There are twenty-three more just like it, radiating out from the very north pole of the planet.   But this is the only one that is operating right now.”

Lilith saw it now.  “Let me guess. Each tube operates for about a week, then shuts down and the one next door starts to operate, again for a week.”


“What is your name and what do you do?”

“I am Danyel.  I help maintain all this hardware.”

“Very well, Danyel, and I am sure you are a good technician, but now it is time for you to become a good actor.   Whether you live or die will depend on how well you do.   You will tell your boss that you need to return to base and have someone drive a crane out here to right the fallen Refinery that’s blocking the way.  That part will be easy because it’s entirely true.  The hard part will be to avoid mentioning that Nadab is dead and that I have taken his place.”

“That’s not much of a choice.  When they find out I have helped an intruder they will kill me anyway.”

“You may be right, Danyel, so allow me to amend my statement to, ‘whether you live or die right now will depend on how well you do.’  And when they have allowed you to return in the tram, you will stop in a place where I will find nobody waiting for us.  Then, and only then, I will permit you to go unharmed.”

Lilith did not feel an overwhelming sense of remorse for killing Nadab and threatening Danyel.  After all, they were doing much more than merely trespassing, they were helping to kill her.

The carbon beam emerging from the tube overhead was moving at precisely the speed and direction it would require to cancel out Mercury’s rotation and speed of revolution around the sun. When the carbon left the pipe, it was motionless with respect to Sol. Gravity then began to pull the gas directly down to the sun. The nephilim  were injecting carbon into the stellar body that was shared by El Shaddai and Bat-El. But why?

A quick survey of the Lore of the El soon provided a possible answer. There was a process inside all stars called the carbon cycle:

    Carbon-12 fuses with a proton to form Nitrogen-13.
    One of the protons emits a positron to form Carbon-13.
    A proton capture produces Nitrogen-14.
    Another proton capture produces Oxygen-15.
    An energetic alpha particle is emitted to return to Carbon-12.

The cycle made the star a little bit hotter, and the carbon which was consumed was completely replaced. The carbon acted as a catalyst, much like the way man-made chemicals containing chlorine were slowly depleting the ozone layer over the Earth.

So what Mastema was having the nephilim he planted on Mercury do (Lilith refused to entertain the idea that nephilim like Nadab or Danyel really knew what they were doing) was stoke the stellar fires of Sol with an irreversible process.

Mastema couldn’t get the sun to go nova, Mercury would be vaporized long before that. But the delicate nuclear reactions which were manifested as the life of a living star depended on a stable temperature. Raising the baseline through the carbon cycle would kill the existing Elohim occupying Sol, both El Shaddai and Bat-El, and prepare the star for the quickening of a newborn.   

That would solve a lot of problems for Mastema raised by the launch of Redemption toward Barnard’s Star.

After he was released as Lilith had promised, Danyel realized that although he was probably a dead nephil for allowing Lilith to enter the complex centered around the north pole of Mercury, the commanding officer of the installation would probably make it a much slower death if he failed to report Lilith’s presence as soon as he was free.   So Danyel called it in as his least worst option.

The Cherub Thausael had been appointed personally by Asmodeus to command the operation on Mercury, and he was the only one fully appraised of its purpose.  Before he could move, he needed to know who the intruder was.  Subordinates began searching the displays of hundreds of security cameras looking for movement.   For the time being any thought of reprisal against the technician who made the contact was an item far down on Thausael’s list of priorities.  Besides, the technicians wasn’t even an ish, he had never faced the death combat.  No one really expected him to lay down his life to thwart an intruder, even if it was expedient to let the technicians think so.

In short order Thausael had his image and Lilith’s face was presented to him in a freeze-frame.   “Ah, Nithael,” he said to the ophan who was his chief of staff.  “Do you know who that woman is?”

Nithael recognized her as well.   “Our visitor seems to be Lilith Gervasi, sir,” he said.   “The human incarnation of El Shaddai, even as Asmodeus is the nephil incarnation of Mastema.”

Thausael nodded his head.   “I have a terrible dilemma, Nithael.   Did you know that one time this same woman stormed into the throne room on Palato and killed all the Eyes blocking the way between her and our Lord, yet he did nothing?  Or that he had nephilim tortured to death who spoke of her in a tone of contempt? She is, after all, his own daughter.”

Nithael said, “I heard of that incident on Palato, sir, and it makes me wonder what the Lord Asmodeus would say right now, with Lilith walking around on Mercury freely.  I do not envy your position.”

“Have our security forces attempt to surround her, Nithael, but advise them their macros will not work against her.   They are not authorized to kill her in any event, by macro or any other weapon.   They are authorized only to try to stun her and restrain her.”

“Yes sir!”

Lilith knew she was being shadowed by squads of nephilim here and there, lurking behind corners and moving in such a way as to try to steer her away from the place where all the ion cannons came together at a single point.   No snipers tried to take a shot, which told her they had orders to take her alive, something she was prepared to make singularly difficult for them to do.

Lilith did not marvel at the seeming coincidence that Robyn’s “situation” that allowed them to steal some Bots had occurred precisely at the end of the one ion cannon out of twenty-four that was currently operating on Mercury, allowing her investigation to proceed this far.  The current track in reality, which Lilith called “Timeline Paydirt”,  had been chosen precisely because it was the one where Mastema’s murder plot was finally laid bare.   And Lilith had fully unraveled it.   There remained only the task of setting the killing operation back for a short time, a temporary reprieve that would give her as El Shaddai and Yeshua Bat-El the space to carry out a more permanent victory.

And so, with the armed forces under Ophan Nithael finally closing their noose around her, Lilith found herself staring down into the heart of the operation, a vast and intricate mechanism at the core of the twenty-four ion accelerators, built under the surface of Mercury precisely on the north pole.

Nithael called out, “Lady Lilith Gervasi, lay down your weapons and surrender.  You have nowhere to go.  We honor you as an eloah and the offspring of the Lord Mastema, but you will not be permitted to harm our operation here.”

In response, Lilith said nothing, but armed a macro grenade and threw it down into the pit.    Immediately, dozens of shots were taken by the nephilim security forces, and some of these hit the grenade.  The detonator was disabled, and the grenade bounced down into the machinery harmlessly, failing to explode.

After that, the nephilim surrounding her drew a bit nearer, and pointed their weapons directly at her, but Lilith still suspected they were not authorized to fire.  That led directly to her final option, which was to take her last macro grenade and leap into the pit herself, balling up into a fetal position to allow her own body to serve as a human shield to protect the grenade.   This time the weapon did detonate, and it was far from harmless.

As Robyn had foreseen, so ended the human life of Lilith Gervasi, concentration camp survivor, Nazi hunter, IDF officer, born in 1928 in the UK, dying forty-nine years later on Mercury, the second and final human incarnation of the living sun El Shaddai.



A day after departing the double moon Rhene-Minos the navigation officer Erel Barakiel reported, “We have achieved synchronous orbit over the city of Xanthos, sir.”

Suriel was summoned from a nap back to her station on the flight-deck, where she focused the big imported 500mm Fairchild refractor down onto the city and threw the image up on the main viewport’s liquid crystal layer.

Lahatiel climbed down into the locked lander with Elimelech and prepared for separation. A series of thumps announced their departure.  The time of flight to the surface was about an hour. Several domes on the outskirts of Xanthos, separated from the main city, were landing bays for ships.

With Exiler’s crew watching intently from high overhead, the metallic half-sphere that covered one of these domes rolled completely over on huge gimbals, opening to allow the lander to settle to the surface inside. When it closed again the dome quickly re-pressurized. Since it was a lander from Mastema’s navy, there were no debarkation charges. It was all on the house.

Standing outside the lander after they both emerged, Elimelech shook hands with Lahatiel and thanked him for his role in securing his freedom. “I did not trust you at first but now I believe you are a good nephil, Ophan.”

“Thank you, Elimelech. I think.”

“Please feel free to move around the city at your pleasure, sir. The hot springs are justifiably famous.” Then he went on ahead into the port of entry offices to arrange a ride. Lahatiel made a point of not following him. He stayed with his lander for an hour conversing with Suriel by encrypted text before seeking his own ground transportation.

Before the coming of macros very little underground tunneling could be accomplished anywhere on the rocky surface of the moon. Travel within the city of Xanthos was by special airtight electric vehicles sporting rear hatches which made a tight gas seal with any one of the dozens of standard ports located at ground level around the circumference of each dome.

Whatever Elimelech’s crimes were, he was a nephil, with kin who loved him, kin who couldn’t bear to think about what was happening to him at Rhene. They were utterly flattened by surprise when Elimelech showed up unannounced at the home of his mother and brothers high within in the Gnome Dome in the southwest quarter of Xanthos. Their condominium was a unit with an exterior view. There Elimelech was soon also reunited with his ecstatic wife Oeillet.

The wild festivities at Elimelech’s place, the traditional music and dancing and drinking and eating, were abruptly cut short by the arrival of one Remadiel Sala, head of the clan which dominated the Gnome Dome. And through his dreaded “Iron Fist” criminal organization Remadiel totally dominated all of the city too, but few have spoken of it openly, because Remadiel brutally enforced a code of total silence, and even their victims would say only that the associates of Remadiel paid a visit.

Elimelech and Remadiel embraced with the traditional double touch of cheek to cheek, boss and underboss together again. A cold glance from Remadiel at the nephilim all around the room was the unmistakable signal for them to clear out so he could speak to Elimelech alone.

“I learned just now,” Remadiel said, “that some Imperial navy ophan is sniffing around the Cabala Dome asking embarrassing questions.”

Elimelech laughed. “That is the very dome I marked for him as the secret heart of power in Xanthos.”

“As payment for your reprieve?”

Elimelech nodded. “Obviously the Emperor has decided he must flatten a Xanthos dome, any dome, to quiet the nobility on Barbelo. If he happens to take out Cabala Dome, the stronghold of his own accursed loyalists, so much the better.”

“How can Cabala Dome be marked for destruction, when the same officer who flew you down here is nosing around inside that very dome?”

“Perhaps he’s seeking to verify my identification of that dome. In any event, this ophan named Lahatiel will find nothing. No one will dare speak a single word to him about the Iron Fist nor the Gnome Dome, and if in his frustration he slaughters the innocent civilians of an entire city dome that will be no surprise because we already know the Empire is sufficiently barbarous to do such a foul deed. Things will go on exactly the way they did before, except now I am free.”

“But alternatively, Elimelech, it may be that this ophan is rallying the Jetrel loyalists even as we speak.”

“No, Remadiel, those so-called loyalists’ are too timid to be rallied for a bake sale, let alone a revolt. But if you command me, I will go over to Cabala Dome in force, my brothers and myself, my captains and all my associates, and we will eternally silence this ophan right before the very eyes of the Jetrel clan.”

“The command is now given, but do not use members of your family and do not go yourself. Send someone you can trust, Eli, yet someone it would not upset you too much to die as a martyr for our Cause in the very likely event Asmodeus does something rash. As for the ophan, do not kill him.”

“Do not kill him?”

“No. Have him confined somewhere inside the Cabala Dome. Should the Empire be so foolish and bold as to carry out an air strike, I want his final thoughts to be that it is his very own fleet which is killing him. And if the Empire sends down troops to occupy and search the city, the ophan will be our hostage, and if they do not withdraw the ophan can die together with the Hadraniel boy. I’ll send him along presently.”

Over the next hour Elimelech raised a small army of Iron Fist soldiery in the Gnome Dome, in case there was any trouble with the loyalists, but he was confident a strong show of force would be sufficient to cow them into submission as it had always done before. Iron Fist associates throughout the dome were pumped up when they saw their former underboss free from Imperial clutches and barking orders once again.

Presently a convoy of ground vehicles went out from the Gnome Dome led by one of Elimelech’s more aggressive captains, and this movement was registered in the corner of Hashmal Suriel’s eye.

Some of these vehicles went to other domes to gather more Iron Fist yeng. They were told to put their shopkeeper shakedown rackets on hold temporarily so they could participate in a major spoiling raid. A trickle of cars from these other domes joined the main parade and converged around the rim of the Cabala Dome in southeast Xanthos, and this too was observed by Suriel, though perhaps she was not aware of everything on a conscious level.

All of these maneuvers were tabulated by Suriel’s mind as she watched from above, which gradually built up for her a gestalt impression. Back on Palato Asmodeus had doubted his son Apollyon that Elimelech could be followed through the city from a warship in orbit, but Asmodeus had no idea Suriel could do it in this unique way.

“I know which dome the ringleader is in,” she finally said after a solid hour of watching the screen. Suriel spoke with a shaky confidence she knew would quickly erode if anyone pressed her to prove it. She went to Adnarel’s fire control gear and selected a nondescript dome three rings in from the southwest edge and painted a red video smudge on it with her finger against the touch-sensitive screen.

“That’s perfect,” Adnarel said, studying the image at her own fire-control station. “I can come up this canyon at eye level, right between these domes here and here, Hashmal. There won’t even be collateral damage.”

“Commence your attack, Sar Adnarel.”

“Yes ma’am.” Adnarel did not feel the slightest twinge of remorse that she was about to kill a thousand people. Guilt was not listed in her position description.

Adnarel deftly flipped the switches that armed and released the torpedo. One Mark 64 Mod 2 torpedo configured as an orbit-to-ground smart bomb jumped from the aft end of Exiler, near the lander, with a burst from a small attached pyrotechnic squib. Designed to penetrate the atmosphere, it was made of heat-resistant titanium wrapped in an even more heat-resistant ceramic case, protecting a thousand pound macro warhead. Here at airless Xanthos the heat shielding would be redundant. After its engine ignited, the torpedo pulled away from Exiler on a descent ellipse whose projected orbit just touched the ground at the city.

After taking a taxi to the Cabala Dome and paying with Solyad, which was much more readily accepted than he had anticipated, Lahatiel wandered around the shops in the dome’s main gallery asking questions that were politely ignored, but after persisting for a while more he found one friendly face. Someone who was willing to talk.

He was an old nephil named Orus who was a food vendor in the Jetrel clan. The Jetrels were part of a second wave of Antero settlers, and they had been struggling to make their own way on Xanthos for two generations. Orus smiled when he saw Lahatiel’s Imperial uniform and became quite free with his information. It was though Orus were a dam, Lahatiel thought, at the very point of bursting.

“But enough about me,” Orus said. “It has been several weeks since an actual tourist has dared to show his face here, and it’s especially heartening to see a tourist in uniform.”

“I imagine times have been tough, especially after the Great Ones officially shunned this place.” Lahatiel could see that Orus seemed to find comfort in his presence.

Orus said, “It’s this damn impatience for the Emperor to change his policy about letting us go home. They pushed it and pushed it, some people got abducted, some people got killed, and all they really did was pushed most of the tourists right out of here.”

“Making things unpleasant for tourists is not a good path for a place like Xanthos to take. You’ve got volcanic underground hot springs and a smaller gravity. That’s medi-tourist stuff. You don’t have much else.”

“That’s what I said too, at the time. Now who’s left? We’re down to maybe thirty percent of our original business.”

“Surely this anti-Asmodeus sentiment isn’t taken up by everyone in Xanthos.”

“Nearly everyone. I blame this Iron Fist gang running around the city. They’re the ones milking the unrest. And now after frightening away seven out of every ten of our former customers, the Iron Fist has turned to become a parasite on us.”

“Don’t they realize if they draw too deeply from the well their whole parasitical structure will come crashing down, and you their hosts along with it?”

“Since when has prudent foresight been a characteristic of organized crime?” Orus saw something over Lahatiel’s shoulder and fell silent, immediately regretting being so free with information to the ophan. He tried to slink away as Iron Fist soldiers entered en masse and cordoned off the gallery of shops.

Lahatiel found himself surrounded by a circle of toughs who motioned for him to turn over his sidearm. He was cast, none-too-gently, into a windowless room in one of the commandeered shops. It could not be locked, but a 350 lb. mountain of a nephil sat on the floor on the other side of the door, which amounted to very much the same thing.

For his crime of talking to the ophan, Orus was severely beaten and thrown into the room with him. Some time later the missing youth was also thrown into the room with Lahatiel and Orus .

He was beaten and bruised as well, but Lahatiel was glad the boy was still alive. “I’m Ophan Lahatiel Gerash of His Majesty’s Navy, at your service.”

“I am called Hadraniel, sir.”

“Your father will be pleased to see you again, young Hadraniel. The Imperial Observatory will be my very next stop.”

The boy’s face fell after an initial show of excitement. “What are the chances of that ever happening?”

“They are far better than you think right now,” he said, assuring both him and Orus. “The thing has already been set in motion.”

Below 100,000 feet the onboard electronics took control of the final approach of the thing that had already been set in motion. When Adnarel’s torpedo dropped a bit lower it passed directly over the town of Sonneillon, some three hundred miles southwest of the Xanthos capital. Her weapon screamed over the jade plains near Danae five times faster than any airliner. Soon it even dropped below the level of the rim of the long, straight, mile-wide canyon leading northeast to Xanthos.

With telemetry linking it back to Exiler, the analog computer flying the torpedo knew exactly where it was within 15 feet of error, and it knew exactly where its target in Xanthos was, and its sole purpose was to bring those two numbers together. Adnarel’s only regret was that this attack was not a very good first demonstration of her fire-control skill set. The hardware was doing most of the work.

By the time the warshot hit, the four officers aboard the ship and their dependents (for no one wanted to miss this) had a perfect bird’s-eye view from directly overhead displayed on any number of screens. Some watched from the flight-deck, some watched from engineering, and others watched from the Banquet Room.

The torpedo entered like a lightning bolt on the first floor, immediately detonating and punching through with a cone of destruction that was fully blossomed 10 milliseconds later. Many of the residents were on Elimelech’s spoiling raid, but most of the eight hundred remaining occupants including Elimelech, his whole family, Remadiel, and the senior figures of Iron Fist, were killed instantly by the concussion.

Molten droplets of metal and concrete flew everywhere, twice as fast as any bullet, ricocheting off of floors, walls, ceilings, through the bodies of the dead and through the bodies of those nephilim who had somehow lived through the initial blast. The fury of this shrapnel was expended by the middle of the third second after impact when the whole physical structure of Gnome Dome began to collapse in on itself. No one survived.

Vehicular traffic around Xanthos looked like an ant-hill after throwing a boot into it. Suriel, monitoring battle frequencies, said to the other officers, “It looks like we got the right dome. We knocked their jiste off the board. They seem to be in total disarray.”

Gnome Dome’s destruction could not be heard through the vacuum, but at Cabala Dome Lahatiel felt a great deal of vibration and had a good hunch what had just happened. Later he heard a commotion outside the door, including several gunshots, which ended when the door was opened and four strangers entered. “Orus, you’re safe!”

“You know these people, I take it,” Lahatiel said, grinning at Orus.

“Ophan, this is Freelord Jetrel, the head of his titular clan.”

“And these are my sons,” Jetrel added. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Ophan Lahatiel. You seemed to be just the trigger we needed to do what we’ve put off doing for much too long. The Iron Fist is soon to be no more, their dome been completely flattened. We’re just picking off their loose remnants now.”

Indeed, flashes of light were seen on the streets of Xanthos throughout that evening, but it tapered off by early the next morning. Lahatiel made ready to depart.

“It’s just the Iron Fist bitter-enders,” remarked Orus when Lahatiel and Hadraniel prepared to enter the lander while sporadic gunfire continued outside. “They saw the destruction of Gnome Dome and realized they had nowhere to go. A whole city is out for their blood.”


113 – EGRESS

“Have a macro,” the newly-arrived young woman said, and she passed to Hunky a silver copy of the golden weapon she held in her own hand.  It was probably snagged from a Navy of Mastema armory somewhere.  “Kill that camera, please, Hunky.”

Hunky used her Silver Gift to make the slowly rotating video camera covering the space they occupied to entirely go away.

At that point the squad of eight DECON troops dispatched by Conley entered the office space though the door, which seemed to work for them just fine.   “Everyone lay down your weapons and freeze!” one of the newcomers shouted, and Hunky marveled that he even got the two commands in the correct logical order.

Then Hunky stepped in front of Del and blossomed her phantomizer blade to full umbrella mode, something the original Golden Gift couldn’t even do.  This caused a great wind to start. She used this black shield to absorb the initial bullets of the guards, which came immediately after her movement.

In a perfect dance, as though they had rehearsed it, which in fact they often did, Hunky collapsed her blade and stepped beside Del. And Del, stepping a bit forward, fired exactly two rounds, center of mass, killing two guards.   Lather, rinse, repeat.  Two more guards down and then Hunky and Del were close enough to just hack the rest to pieces.

“How’d you get in?”  Hunky asked.

“Well there is this network of tunnels inside the mountain,” Del explained, “and there is a network of tunnels we made under the mountain as insurance.  It was a simple matter of making one well-placed connection.”  She held up her Golden Gift, as though she needed to explain to Hunky the actual mechanics of the entry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Hunky said, “allow me to introduce Del, daughter of Talishi, which, I suppose, makes her the sister of Jesus.”

“What did she give you just now?” President-elect Henry Jackson asked.  “Is there more than one Golden Gift?”

“Naw, we call this a macro,” Hunky said, holding up hers.  “Del’s mother God gave the first one to some very clever monkeys, and we very clever monkeys copied it and made it better.”

“What’s next?” asked Ted Hickey, choosing not to dwell on the God thing.  “Our plan was to move down and out.”

“We will stay with your plan,” Del said, “except that we will backtrack precisely along the path I carved on my way up here.   I took the liberty of killing the cameras in every space I entered.”

“That’s just great,” Hickey said.  “Now Conley’s got a trail of dead cameras leading directly to the last position he knew we were.  So now he knows we have help and he knows where we are going.”

“There is such a thing as the fog of war,” Del countered.  “Let’s see how bright this Conley fellow really is.  Let’s see how far we get before he puts it all together.”

“The President has arrived, sir,” the duty officer told Ed Conley.  “He’s making his way to the summit now.”

“Good, when he gets here and authenticates, unlock the elevators.  Meanwhile I want the bodies of these two agents put in the path of somewhere we know Jackson went.  It’s called shaping the evidence trail.”

Ed Conley stepped back from the Big Board to allow his personnel to remove the bodies.  Stepping back, he was able to take in the whole picture.  There were hundreds of small screens showing mostly stationary views, some empty, some with idle DECON personnel, but about twenty random screens were blank blue with no signal, and he wondered about that.  He knew there was no particular relationship between the dead screens and the position of the corresponding camera within the mountain, but he thought if such a relationship could be made, it might speak volumes.   When the bodies were dragged away, Conley approached the duty officer again.  “Plot the position of this dead camera,” he ordered.

“Yes sir,” the duty officer replied, and presently a floor map of that level of the mountain was displayed, with the dead camera indicated by a flashing red dot.

“Can you plot all the dead cameras?  Is there a PolyCode script ready to do that?”

“No sir, but I can whip one out for you. Just one moment.”   Presently the duty officer hand completed his script and ran it.  Twenty maps flashed on the screen, one after the other.

“Okay, now here’s the real test.  I want you stack those maps in order, and then I want you to rotate the whole shooting match to an oblique view so I can see them from the side and up.  Can you do that?”

The duty officer had to think for a bit before he could answer in the affirmative, and the script for this took somewhat longer than the first one.  But in about ten minutes Conley was looking at a kind of x-ray view of Yellow Mountain, with a trail of red dots meandering through the center of the hill to the bottom.   The top dot was the most interesting one of all, that was the camera covering the space where he had sent that squad of seven DECON personnel before losing contact with them.

“Do you see that?” Ed Conley said, tracing the line of red dots from the bottom to the top.  “They’ve gotten help from outside.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible, sir.   How would they get in?”

“Who’s to say the whole thing isn’t sitting on a network of tunnels they made, waiting for the right time, and they just punched through?  Send everything we have to that bottom dot.”

In the space one level up from that bottom dot Del stuck her head through the hole she made in the floor just long enough to see it was filled with more DECON personnel than she could possibly deal with, even with her, Hunky, and the four Secret Service personnel in full berserk mode.  She sat back up, looked at Agent Hickey sheepishly, and said, “You were right.  This Conley fellow you mentioned put all the pieces together.  We shall have to get out another way.”

“Any ideas?”

“Actually, I’ve just had a brilliant one,” Del said.  “I’ve called in our air assets via Neutroninet.  DECON will want to scramble to deal with them, so all we need to do is be in one of the helicopter hangers when they do.  Then we just walk right out of the mountain.”

“Show me the body of the Vice-President,” said Gerald Ford after he had seen the cell-camera footage of the demise, not fully aware exactly what it was he was asking for, but Ed Conley dutifully took him up to the cell and showed him the pile of hamburger that used to be Earl Roland and it was everything Ford could do not to puke up his lunch right there.  He wheeled away out of the cell and up against the rail looking down on the control bay to steady himself. “Where is the so-called President-elect?” the President asked when he was able to speak again.

“Mr. President, the President-elect together with the assassin are being taken out of the complex by six Secret Service agents, against my better wishes.  Apparently there was a disagreement among those six agents as well, we’ve found the bodies of two of them they shot up and left behind.”

The President looked to his own Secret Service agents.  “See to it.”  And it occured to Ed Conley just then, much too late, that the dead agents were full of DECON lead, and he hadn’t thought about that.  So he started thinking about making his own way out of the mountain.

The duty officer said, “We count twelve incoming bogeys, possibly Church of End Dome air assets come to pull the assassin out.”

The President said to Ed Conley, “You handle it.  All I want right now is a private office with a computer and total access to the files.  I mean all of them.”

The cliff on the east side of the base of Yellow Mountain was pierced with eight large four-story high helicopter hangers opening on a large landing area. Here was where DECON’s dreaded black Sikorsky H-5 helicopters were maintained and stowed. Hunky noticed that close up they weren’t really black at all, but dark green.

A small company was guarding the hanger where Del’s party happened to emerge, with about fifty alert troops. Del squeezed Hunky’s hands to assure her, then stepped out to try a supreme bluff.

“Report!” Del snapped to the company commander.

“Lieutenant Ross, Ma’am. Hangar Six all secure. All personnel present and accounted for.” He did not question her bizarre uniform or her strange, unknown accent. After all, it was Protocol Red. If she was still moving around, then she obviously had the authority to do so no matter who she was. But Hunky’s orange prison uniform raised eyebrows.

“Do you recognize this civilian?” she barked, pointing at Hunky.

“Yes Ma’am, it’s the reporter we took into custody at Mount Rushmore.”

“The alert was called away because the Vice-President of the United States is dead and his killer has escaped,” Del told him. “The enemy is already here and they want this woman. Do you understand?”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“They will try to get this woman come hell or high water.”

“I understand the danger, Ma’am.”

“Then I turn her over to you, lieutenant.”

“What?” Hunky wailed as Del turned away, thinking that this was some kind of double cross, like when Edgar the Younger went over to Mastema’s camp. “But Del looked back again, her attention caught by the appearance of the company commander’s rifle. She came strolling right back and ordered the man to present arms.  Then Del did a thorough inspection of the exterior, with sarcastic military flair. Then all kidding aside, with practiced motions she broke the weapon down to it’s component parts while muttering “Mm-hmm…mm-hmm…” Finally she turned back to the officer. “Lieutenant, tell me why is there light machine oil all over everything in your rifle except where it belongs?”

“Ma’am, I have no explanation.”

“How about your men? Round them up. Let’s have a quick personnel inspection.”

They left their posts in the nooks and crannies of the hangar and formed up on Del’s makeshift parade grounds right in the middle of the hangar. Del, Hunky, the President-elect, the four Secret Service agents and the company commander got halfway down the first rank before Del stopped and shook her head sadly. “Lieutenant this is a major safety hit. I won’t have any of your soldier’s half-assed work, inspired by you, causing a hang fire.”

“My apologies, Ma’am. I can offer no excuse.”

“If this was a drill I’d let it go. But this is Protocol Red! It’s the real thing! Instruct your men to disassemble and quickly clean their weapons. Handguns too! Everything!”

“Yes Ma’am!”

“It’s a disgrace. And in front of civilians too! I’ll tell you what, Lieutenant Ross. I’ll make you a deal. I won’t report this.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“But I am going to take the prisoner to Hangar Seven.”

“I understand, Ma’am.”

Del’s team were nearly all the way across the hangar floor when a hundred security men finally caught up and entered, anxiously looking for them.  Some of these men were pilots who piled into the helicopter.  But what they all saw defied belief: the DECON duty officer had started rolling up the large hangar door leading outside to the landing pad in preparation for the launch of the helicopter. And fifty soldiers had let Del’s people slip past them because they were all sitting flat on the floor, legs spread out, with their weapons disassembled in tiny pieces all around them.

Ed Conley was watching it now on the monitor in the control bay. He screamed for an override on the door, and got it. The door began to shut again after opening only three feet.

The bursts from the DECON security men’s rifles began to hit around them, some very closely. Under fire, partially protected by Hunky’s macro in full mushroom bloom, Del, the President-elect, the four Secret Service agents and finally Hunky dropped and rolled under the closing hangar door just before it slammed shut.

They were safe for perhaps one minute.

Three flying saucers arrived on the landing pad, piloted, respectively, by Dory, Jill, and Mike Morrich.   Mike had miraculously survived the nuclear annihilation of Washington DC on Timeline Zeta and became a member of the B’nei Elohim, but he had never accepted the Name Ritual.

“I was about to give up on your ass,” Mike said as Del and one of the Secret Service agents sat in the webbing slung across the central core.  In Dory’s second saucer the President-elect and two more agents piled in.  Jill got Hunky and the last agent. Then everyone’s stomachs clenched as the saucers accelerated sharply upward, and the ground dropped quickly away.

“Seriously?” the President-elect said, “am really I seeing this?  Flying saucers?”

“And why not?” Dory said.   “It’s the same trick as the macros.  Make the air go away over the roof and you get a bubble of low pressure, hence lift.  And a macro makes its own power the more it eats.  Basically we’re just like a helicopter but with unlimited fuel.”

DECON already had three birds of their own in the air, and they had five more getting prepped to fly.  But Del’s wing had twelve units already in the air.  Del told everyone flying them, via Neutrinonet, to play a little Three Card Monte, and the twelve flying saucers mixed it up like gnats for a while, until nobody watching could be sure which one held who.  They even made a point of mixing up any attempt to track them on radar by briefly pointing the top of the saucers back toward the transmitter at DECON now and again.  If air molecules disappeared, it went without saying that radar pulses did too.  Then in one coordinated move the twelve saucers split up to every point of the compass.

In a thirty mile circle centered on the point where Wyoming, South Dakato, and Nebraska all came together a dozen dilapidated trucks had been prepared, waiting on the side of various dirt farm roads.  Most of these were decoys.  Hunky and one of the Secret Service agents named Gwen Scott was set down by Jill on the Wyoming side, and Hunky jumped out to get in the truck, but Special Agent Scott said, “Whoa, whoa, we got a problem now.  We’ve fulfilled our mandate to protect the President-elect but now our mandate is to investigate the death of the Vice-President.  You’re a material witness, Hunky, perhaps even the perp, I can’t let you out of my sight.  You must know how it is.”

Hunky said, “You were right there, you came into my cell before you let the President-elect come in, it was a polywire web. Yeah I set it up but what is there for you to investigate?  I didn’t want to get any more electric shock torture from Roland.  How about you investigate that?  Shit.  Me, I’m for out of here.”

Gwen pointed her gun at Hunky.  And Hunky, with intense sadness, pointed her macro right back at her.  Hunky said to her, “This entire operation was put together to get me out of that Yellow Mountain shithole, I’m not going to let you follow your stupid rules and put me back in there, which is exactly what would happen.  So we part ways right here, Special Agent Scott, like it or not.  Jill, take her to meet the rest of her team.”

Already five of the decoy saucers had stopped for a few minutes by five decoy trucks, then the saucers and the trucks went their merry way.  Del had been dumped off on the Nebraska side and started heading for Crawford.  She saw two black helicopters crossing the sky as she drove across the Ogala National Grassland, green from recent rains, but the choppers were looking for flying saucers, which, of course, was the whole point of the B’nei Elohim using the trucks.

On the South Dakota side, Dory was speaking to Ted Hickey and the President-elect when Jill and Mike came in, bringing their one agent apiece.  Dory said to the President-elect, “He got to you, didn’t he?  The Vice-President?  Pulled out all the DECON stops?”

Jill arrived just in time to hear the President-elect admit that it was true.  “Sex videos.  Stuff that would have killed my campaign.”

Dory said, “You see, that’s how America rolls these days, and we don’t like it. We never did.  They call us the enemy within, Domestic Enemies, right?  But that crap you saw  up there in the mountain? Torture?   Extortion?  That’s what we’ve been fighting since ‘43.   And I’m telling you to stand by for heavy weather, Mr. Jackson, because we saw the President go in to DECON just as you were coming out.”

Mike came up, caught the jist of what Dory was saying, and threw in his two cents.   “Best case scenario, Ford deletes whatever crap the Vice-President had on him, goes home, and in two days you and Jeane Kirkpatrick are sworn in.  I presume you are going to dismantle DECON if that’s the case.”

The President-elect said to Mike, “You are absolutely right. I’m going to tear DECON down to molecules and hold everyone who put it together responsible.  If that was the object of this entire exercise, folks, then consider it a resounding success.”

“Well, let’s not celebrate just yet,” Mike cautioned.  “Worst case scenario, Ford calls off the inauguration and uses DECON to squash any impeachment flack he might get from Congress.  At that point all you will have is a sort of government in exile.  You’ll be like the Dalai Lama.  We consider ourselves real American patriots, so we will offer what help we can, which is considerable, but it is pathetic that the United States has come to this.  And historic, any way you look at it.   How does the ancient Chinese curse go?  May you live in interesting times?  We might be looking at a second American civil war.”

Jill added, “Between the best and worst cases are scenarios that are a mix of the two.  We’ve gamed all this stuff out.  In most of our scenarios, President Ford releases whatever crap DECON had on you to the media.  You will have to be prepared for that to happen.”

“Hunky suggested to me that whatever it was that I thought was crap wasn’t really crap,” the President-elect said, “and I’ve started to think she might be right.  The stuff I saw in Yellow Mountain, now, that really was crap.  But you, Special Agent Hickey, where do you come down on all this?”

Hickey said, “I am carrying out my oath to protect the President-elect of the United States.  Until such time as you are sworn in as Commander-in-Chief, I will continue to carry out that oath, and I will expect the agents under me to carry out theirs.”

Special Agent Gwen Scott said, “Yes sir, but I think I just made an enemy out of Hunky.  I tried to keep her from leaving my sight because I knew she was mixed up with the assassination of the Vice-President but it quickly came to an armed standoff and she left.  Threatening a federal officer is another offense, by the way.”

Henry “Scoop” Jackson crawled into one of the waiting farm trucks, one driven by a third Secret Service agent, rolled down the passenger-side window, and said, “I was in that God-forsaken mountain.  I watched Earl Roland torture Hunky and she was simply doing what she could to keep it from happening again.  If it comes down to it, when I’m President I will pardon Hunky myself, and also any of you for helping me if the Secret Service tries to retaliate for you going rogue.  Now lets get the hell out of Dodge.”



The greatest secret of El Shaddai and Bat-El is that they could manipulate time, and this secret was shared with the B’nei Elohim, but to protect this secret a deep inhibition against revealing it by any word or deed was part and parcel of the Change.  So when Aliwe returned to Taurus City she chose a time when she could speak to her mother the Baroness Victoria outside of the earshot of her father Baron Bayard Sala.   Aliwe chose 1970 on Timeline Iota, around the time of NASA’s aborted Apollo 13 moonshot, and her mere entry made it Timeline Kappa.

The Executive Lounge was empty except for Victoria,  who was sitting in one of three plush chairs which formed a triangle, all facing askew rather than directly facing each other. There was a elegant rounded glass coffee table that doubled as a display monitor between the chairs, projecting reams of military data.  In this case, Victoria had chosen to monitor the feed from her husband, flying on patrol a million miles out in space in a Sandwich Fighter.

“Aliwe!” Vic said when her daughter came in, and she extended her arms, but elected not to stand up to hug her because she was, at that moment, very pregnant, and even in the light lunar gravity she wasn’t keen on scrambling to her feet every time.

Aliwe embraced her mother, then put a hand on her belly.  “Hello, me!”

“Okay, so it turned out to be a girl, we saw that on ultrasound, but I refuse to believe this is really you.”

“Actually, Mom, it is me.   This is the timeline where we win, the one where I was born.”

“What if I prove you wrong?   What if I name my baby Anita instead of Aliwe?”

“But you won’t.  You’ll name me Aliwe, and Daddy will be pleased.  He’ll think you’re a sentimental woman who wants to honor my ‘death’ when I fell from the Catwalk.”

“But when I asked, you didn’t seem to know if we would ever meet again.”

“I was confused by your question.  I thought you meant on that Timeline.  I’m not a prophet like Robyn.  Obviously we met on the timeline where you gave birth to me, and of course, the me sleeping there inside your womb doesn’t know I’m standing out here, so how could she know we met as adults?”

“If you’re not a prophet like Robyn then what is your job, daughter?”

“I’m a historian, mother.  This is now Timeline Kappa, that makes a grand total of ten tracks.  I’m a messenger.  I’m the only B’nei Eloah allowed to move between them, mostly to keep El Shaddai and Bat-El synced up so they’re all on the same page.   But this time I brought someone with me.”

“Lilith, I hope.  She seems to have gone missing.”

“Lilith died on Timeline Iota, on Mercury, in 1977.  That presents a problem because this reset is moving the clock back to what is ‘now’ for you, 1970.   If Lilith continued to live on this timeline, then the backup she made of her human memories up to 1977 would need to be integrated somehow with the ones she continued to pile up here, and there’s absolutely no way to do that.   So she elected to die here on Kappa also, so there won’t be two Liliths when she lands in her next body.”

“And when will that be?”

Aliwe fell silent for a short span, trying to find a place where she could begin to explain it all to her mother.  Then she said, “We’ve been moving technology created on one timeline back a few years in another timeline, over and over, creating  a feedback loop that drop-kicked the world into the future, but we still can’t make a computer program that can convince us that it is aware it even exists. Still, Mark Felton back on Iota says we obtained artificial intelligence when the Swarm crossed a certain threshold of connectivity. The Swarm is aware, but that awareness is too alien for us to recognize it as being aware.

“Robyn had the idea that an artificial intelligence had to live as one of us, at least through the crucial early years of childhood, or it would never think like we do.  I remember that Mark rolled his eyes when he heard that. He said, ‘That’s been tried many times. We can’t get silicon to work like living brain cells. An electronic switch is either on or off, but a brain cell sputters. It doesn’t fire every time it’s supposed to, it makes mistakes. Our brain runs at ninety watts, like a dim incandescent light bulb. We evolved to work with low-power switches that have a high error rate by screening every decision through layers of filters.’

“’But we can still use brute force methods,’ Robyn countered. ‘Numerical methods. With a micro we can simulate every misfiring neuron in a human brain, and all of its connections.’   And Mark complained that it would run at five thousand watts, where would Robyn get the power, and how would she shitcan the waste heat?   So Robyn just held up a macro, and Mark said, ‘Oh.’”

Vic said, “I don’t understand any of this, kiddo. I feel like I’ve been cut out of this conversation.”

“I’ll make it more clear, Mom, but first you have to understand that what you are about to see is not a real girl. It’s a machine. We made her right here on Timeline Kappa from a frame I brought over from Iota. Mostly Mark Felton made her, using tech we dragged in from other timelines.  He doesn’t know how that works, that we can move in time.  He doesn’t need to know.  The important thing is this kid thinks she’s a real little girl, and it’s doubly-important that for these crucial early years no one ever tells her she’s not real. Will you agree to that, Mom?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, I’ll go fetch Mark and his daughter.”

When Aliwe came back a few minutes later, a smiling little girl was walking beside him with her hand in his, wearing her dark brown hair in two pigtails. The girl’s apparent age was about five.

The machine child was certainly beautiful, and her little round face was absolutely authentic, triggering no instincts of revulsion in Vic that have plagued the creators of artificial people (both movie characters and physical objects) ever since the problem was documented by a Japanese researcher in 1978 on Timeline Eta and labeled the Uncanny Valley. The revulsion invariably happened when the virtualization was almost, but not exactly perfect, and the effect seemed to be buried deep, grounded in human evolution itself. Something in the limbic “lizard” brain screamed: FAKE! FALSE! COUNTERFEIT! But not here with this little girl.

Mark said, “Vic, I’d like you to meet my lovely daughter Hope.”

Vic told her hello, but she felt funny talking to her, knowing that she wasn’t really real.

David went on to say, “Hope, this is my B’nei Eloah friend. Her name is Victoria.”

Hope came up to shake Vic’s hand. Her skin was a perfect replica of a girl’s hand, Vic was astonished, but the simulacrum was so exact Vic began to suspect the whole episode was a practical joke on Aliwe’s part and this really was a real girl.

Hope was totally without guile. She said exactly what was on her mind, and this was what was on her mind today: “Victoria, are you going to marry my daddy?”

There was a yelp, but Victoria recovered in time to turn the yelp into a laugh.  She said, “No honey, I’m already married to somebody else.”

David said, “Hope, don’t be silly. Now say goodbye to Victoria, and I’ll take you back down to the park.”

“Goodbye Victoria!”

“Goodbye, sweetheart.”

When Mark left with the girl, Vic turned to Aliwe and said, “That was a robot?”

Aliwe nodded. The base system is something Robyn stole from Mercury last year, and that wasn’t easy. The power and cooling is handled by a copy of the Golden Gift from one of the other timelines.  But the really difficult and expensive thing was getting the look just right.”

“Why did you make it a girl?”

“Number one, because she has no sex organs and no body hair, just like a Barbie doll. With her clothes on she has no genital bulge like a boy does. There seemed no need to add a penis. She doesn’t urinate.  And number two, eventually she will become the host for Lilith’s personality. The merger will go much more smoothly if the host is the same gender as the client. So we socialized Hope to be a girl. Mark dresses Hope in little girl’s clothes, gives her little girl’s toys and lets her do little girl things. Hope’s brain was programmed to accept either choice easily enough, but after a few weeks the pathways for a feminine brain were well-established and impossible to reverse.”

“So you’re thinking about Talishi’s Number.”

Aliwe nodded. “The square root of one-half. Point seven zero seven one. That’s the strength of what memories and personality you retain whenever you do a mind-transfer. Leaving about twenty-nine percent of the host’s memory and personality intact.  Or rather, a new composite personality is formed, and those are the relative strengths of the personalities involved. There’s no way around it. Even the gods themselves, when they possess human beings, are subject to Talishi’s Number. It’s built right into the physics of the process.”

“Do it enough times,” Vic said, “and your original identity can actually be lost.   That’s what Lilith said has already happened to Mastema.”

“Or you can get what’s happening now with the Jills. One single greedy personality distributed across many bodies, at the expense of diversity. But with artificial intelligence you could do one final transfer and be done with body swapping forever.”

“And I can see a side benefit,” Vic said. “When we are between bodies, we can have a place to land instead of timeless oblivion as ones and zeros in a flat-pack. We could live inside a virtual reality until a new artificial body was made available, maybe even live inside the Swarm itself.”

Vic said, “It’s an incredible dream, but we have such a long way to go. We’ve spent billions to make Hope’s eyes and skin absolutely real, but the part that money can never buy is loving parents. Mark has taken the role of her father, and in a way he really is her father, because he created Hope’s brain, but he’s going to be too busy.  Hope needs the influence of a mother, and I can think of nobody better suited than my own mother!”

“But after I give birth to you I’ll be busy too,” Vic objected.  “I can fly!”

“Not for very much longer, Mom.   Your power is based on moving the end of the fold-door, and that’s going to be employed doing something else in a few years.  So you’re going to be bounced down to just housewife and mother.  Sorry Mom.”

“How ironic,” Vic said.  “I bring Bayard here from days of dragons and castles, he’s out flying on patrol, and I’m about to be grounded.”

And so Hope, after the initial trauma of being handed off from Mark to her foster parents Victoria and Bayard, embarked on what would become a legendary childhood, the common shared childhood of eventually countless B’nei Elohim after they merged their own memories with copies of Hope’s electronic mind.   But Hope’s presence stressed the marriage of Vic and Bayard in a way they hadn’t thought of when they agreed to adopt.  They came to realize that through Hope’s memories their marriage was literally being filmed for a potential audience of millions.

But Bayard and Vic were attentive parents, perhaps too much so. It was easy for them to think of Hope as a child as real as her little baby sister Aliwe. Only a few things stood out to remind them of her artificial origin, such as the fact that she was not a picky eater. Anything Hope ate, within reason, could be turned into the electricity which gave her power. Even garbage or spoiled food, but her parents tried to get her to stick with real food. Acids or things which would damage her internally were out. And she never had to go potty.

When Hope was really only two years old, her parents gave her a birthday cake with seven candles and seven presents. They got away with it because most people don’t remember very much about the first few year of their life unless something very dramatic happened in that time. There was nothing to set Hope wondering much about her missing years and when Hope grew older and talked about it with her sister and friends, they too would be unable to recall very much about when they were three or four years old.

Vic and Bayard followed Aliwe’s admonition to keep Hope in the dark about her origin as long as possible. Hope was learning many things very quickly, but if Hope learned she was not a real human being too early, the psychological damage would be incalculable.

Occasionally Hope was taken to Mars (ground zero for Project Hope, to keep it far away from the Jills) where she rendered unconscious. The damage Hope had accumulated by horsing around at Taurus City was repaired, and her frame was stretched a few inches. This happened every summer between school years. The trip was by wormhole at first, but by spacecraft after Charybdis appeared.  It was something Hope learned to look forward to, becoming a bigger girl literally overnight.

Different kids rotated in and out of Hope’s life every few months, or even on a weekly basis. Two or three years later Hope could not even recall the names of her old friends at school. And that was actually very good, because only robots had perfect memories. Schoolgirls did not.

In the fall, when Hope returned to school, she was slightly taller than most of her classmates, and they put it down to a normal growth spurt over the summer, and most of the kids didn’t remember how tall she was the preceding year anyway. Because she didn’t grow naturally, by the end of the school year, Hope would be slightly shorter than most of her classmates.

When she was on her service call at Valles Marineris at age eight, Hope was given a double-blind Turing Test, though she didn’t know what it was all about. She successfully fooled a panel into mistaking her for an eight year old girl, and therefore passed the test. It was a historic moment in the search for artificial intelligence, something that would have won Mark Felton global professional accolades if it was more widely known, but that had to wait.   Hope had been accepted to attend Canterwood Academy on Barbelo.



When the estate of Ithuriel had been relocated to high orbit over Barbelo it needed a sexier name.  Mastema settled on calling it the Imperial Observatory.  Erel Barakiel, the navigator of Exiler, was ordered to take the greatest care during the approach. No ships were permitted to pass too close to the telescope.  This was to prevent the instrument from being fouled by corrosive gas.

The associated space station was a 300-foot wide gray disk, like a giant hockey puck with a hole drilled in it. The telescope itself was a sphere, a great silver eyeball 300 feet across as well. Two giant precision-machined flywheels positioned at right angles to cancel each other’s reverse torque provided the firm anchor against which the telescope turned to orient itself at a target star.

The way to dock with a spinning object was to hover first over its north or south “pole” and match rotation. When Barakiel made gentle contact with the station the Exiler looked like a tall Coke bottle surrounded by six short beer bottles, sitting on top of a garbage can lid.  The lander under the ship was with its head down facing straight into the station’s central axial core. A flexible tube came out from the inner wall, did a 90 degree bend, and made a tight seal with the lander. Now the Exiler‘s crew had their access way into the station.

On the station’s huge portico, which was really the innermost and “topmost” of the stations fifteen levels wrapped around the central core, Jabniel received her son with icy formality. With the exception of Ophan Lahatiel, who knew better, the crew of Exiler took Jabniel to be a class A bitch. But in her heart of hearts she was very glad to see Hadraniel after more than two years of absence. She simply did not find it appropriate to shower him with maternal affection in front of the Exiler‘s crew. Thus she had been trained.  When Hadraniel hinted to his mother of the hardships he endured the previous two months at the hands of Iron Fist, it melted some of her self-maintained ice, but he refused to elaborate about his ordeal until he spoke to hyz father first.

The observatory’s support personnel, and the support personnel for those support personnel, totaled only twenty souls, including Ithuriel and his wife. Leaving three of his colleagues at work aboard the telescope, Hashmal Ithuriel crossed the silent five miles to the station alone in a “Buck Rogers” rocket pack, which was propelled only by inert compressed nitrogen.

Seeing one of the Emperor’s frigates parked over the station’s north pole, which was his customary way in, Ithuriel came in by way of the south pole instead. Hand grips lining the inner core permitted him to gently match his movement with the spinning disk, which revolved once a minute.

“The Hashmal is arriving,” his valet announced, and he was joined by two other servants after the airlock processed the Imperial Astronomer through. Together they unpacked Ithuriel like cargo from his frosty vac-suit and set him on his feet. Gravity here in the inner ring was very gentle, less than one percent that of Barbelo. It was just short of being free fall. Indeed, it was hardly gravity at all, more like a tendency to drift to one side.

Ithuriel paused for a moment to gather his wits about him. He was only about forty years old, but he was beat down by having just logged thirty hours of observation time uninterrupted by sleep. When his servants removed his inner gloves he smiled at his son and made a fatigued gesture of welcome to the group of officers standing around him on the inner ring. Then he whispered something to Jabniel and with an apologetic look he turned to stumble into the family chambers in that full quadrant of the station which was designated as his manor.

“My husband is quite exhausted,” Jabniel told them, “and begs leave to delay any further greetings until after he has drawn his bath, and after he has caught up a little on his sleep. I shall have you notified when he is ready to receive you. Please accept our hospitality in the meantime.”

Hadraniel retired to his own rooms, which had been kept in perfect order exactly as he left them two years prior. Rooms were also given to the Ophan and to each of the officers of his ship after Ithuriel’s valet had given them all a full tour of the facility. Exiler’s crew was grateful for the break. It meant a quiet night’s sleep away from the ship, off from the endless watch rotation, and separated from each other. The last was particularly refreshing.

The next morning Ithuriel received the travelers of Exiler in his elegant Sitting Room, where a metal shield slid up on a window revealing orange Rigilkent and a whirling sea of stars.

As everyone took a place on a seat around him, Ithuriel said, “So it is that my son has deigned to spend his Spring Break at home with us after all.”

“Far from a break, Papa.  I’ve had quite an adventure.”

“I can well imagine, son. You seem to be prone to adventure.  Do you remember what happened to you on Ceres, when you were kidnapped?”

“It was my first memory, Father, alas.”

“It was during the visit of a supply ship last month that I first learned you were being held hostage on Xanthos. Lord Asmodeus was diligently inquiring as to the status of one of my lines of research here, the one you know so very well. I passed a message back to him, through the agency of the supply ship, that I was on the cusp of a breakthrough, but I found it difficult to continue while worrying about your health and welfare on Xanthos.”

“But as you can see,” Lahatiel said, “Young Hadraniel is well, thanks in no small part to the talents of the crew of Exiler which were put to the test for the first time in the rescue of your son. Had I followed the Emperor’s orders to the letter, I believe things would have turned out otherwise.  Asmodeus did not put much stock in my crew’s ability to retrieve young Hadraniel safe and alive. He seems to hold your research to be far more important than your son’s life in any event.”

“But the happy denouement of this whole affair, sir,  is that you have delivered my son none the worse for wear, though perhaps a little wiser.”

Hadraniel then told his mother and father all that he knew from his two months of captivity, punctuated by rough treatment, followed by the brief flurry of activity when the ophan Lahatiel arrived.

“And what of your studies at Danae?”

“They are quite finished, Papa. I need only to recreate and transmit my dissertation on Europan iceworms back to the campus on Xanthos, and they cannot fail to award my degree. If the Dean has a problem with me completing my course in absentia I am confident that pressure from the mainstream media will prevail upon him. Otherwise, what would they say on Barbelo? Imagine, me, the very son of the Imperial Astronomer denied my degree in the aftermath of my abduction and rescue, all laid to the account of a technicality.”

“So you remain dead-set against taking over for me here?”

“Father, I love you dearly, and I have always respected your work, but my only interest in astronomy is its utility in identifying candidate worlds for my true life’s work, which I need not tell you again is exobiology. In fact, I should rather like to stay aboard the Exiler and get the first look at some of those candidate worlds.” Hadraniel glanced at Lahatiel hopefully.

Lahatiel shook his head sadly. “I’m afraid, master Hadraniel, that you are asking the impossible. Every one of my officers seated here has had your four years of college. Sar Adnarel has even had those four years of education compressed into only two years. But they have in addition to that some rather intense military training, and I myself hand-picked this crew. Their journey is about to begin in earnest.”

Hashmal Suriel said, “There is one thing you said just now, young master Hadraniel, that strikes me as a little odd. You said you wish to get the ‘first look’ at your candidate worlds for exobiological research. Surely there are no planets or large moons at Sol or Centauri which have not been visited by someone by now, many times over.”

Lahatiel said to Ithuriel and his son, “Allow me to introduce Hashmal Suriel, my ops boss.”

Hadraniel eyed Lahatiel then. “You didn’t tell her, sir? None of them know what my father has achieved?”

Lahatiel said, “I declined to tell them until they accepted their billet on my ship, and after that, there has been no time to explain why we have been so happily burning our bridges all along our way here. The discovery belongs entirely to Hashmal Ithuriel, so I will leave it to him to make the announcement.”

Ithuriel said, “I’m afraid the toothpaste is already out of the tube, sir. Jabniel and I both insist that Hadraniel never enter the armed forces, and it is not Hadraniel’s desire to serve Asmodeus in that capacity at any rate. Naturally, my son’s politics have gravitated to the Reformist side of the house, and his sympathies lie entirely with Talishi rather than Mastema. It was to Lilith that Hadraniel broke the news of my discovery here, and I suppose Lilith in turn told you, did she not?”

“In a way she did,” Lahatiel said, “through the intermediary of Yeshua.”

“Asmodeus knew I was very close to a breakthrough, but he did not realize how close, nor does he realize that I have already made an initial confirmation of the basic theory. I held that information back to see what he could do about freeing my son. Now I do have my son safely back home, but only in spite of his wishes, not as a direct result of them. Perhaps I can be forgiven if now I do not wish any part of my discovery to fall into the hands of Mastema or his Eyes. Don’t get me started on the Eyes!  Filling the universe with endless replicas of Barbelo, all beholden to Mastema and subject to his twisted laws, suddenly seems distasteful to me.”

Ithuriel broke off then, frightened that he might have said too much too fast.  Lahatiel gently prodded him to continue by saying, “Please tell my crew what you mean by distasteful, Hashmal Ithuriel.”

He stood up and turned away from them to stare outside the viewport into space for a short time, putting his thoughts in order.  Then he turned back and said, “There are five great families on Barbelo, which can be equated in some ways to the notions of race which arose on Earth. Nephilim  all have very fair complexions, of course,, because Barbelo is an ice world after all, but each family does have a distinguishing mark in the form of the color of their hair.

“Look, for example, at Hashmal Suriel. Her black hair tells me she is of the house of Larund of the East Lands. Yet there are streaks of white in her hair, which speak of a small contribution from the House of Gerash. That is how hair color is expressed in nephilim genetics. But if Suriel were human like myself, or even half-human like my son, the lightening Gerash factor would result in her whole head being somewhat less than jet black, perhaps only brown like my own hair.

“This simple fact has informed all of history on Barbelo, much as skin color was the factor behind much suffering on Earth. Family Gerash for instance, with the white beards, the white hair, obviously a symbol of purity that attracted Mastema long ago, so they are the ruling House. And within each family, the noble ones are the ones who have only black hair, or only red, which only reinforces the mutation. Not even very old nephilim experience a change of hair color or loss of hair as we humans do. Each one of you officers is the product of thousands of years of racial warfare!

“Now imagine that stupid eternal race war carried to every star in the galaxy and beyond. That is the issue at stake here before us.  That is what I mean by distasteful, ophan Lahatiel!”

“Hashmal Ithuriel, you will find that very mucgh like your son, none of your guests seated before you today love Asmodeus.  I have taken the utmost care in recruiting them to serve aboard my ship.”

Before he would continue, Ithuriel invited all of the officers to take the morning meal with him in an adjoining dining room, where servants had set out a hearty breakfast at nine places around a large table, with Ithuriel at one end, with wife Jabniel and son Hadraniel to his left and right, and Lahatiel at the other end of the table with Suriel and Barakiel to his left and Adnarel and Kushiel to his right.

The crew of Exiler was slightly disappointed in the meal. It was prepared from standard Navy rations, which was fine enough in its own way, but the officers were tired of it after long overexposure.  Asmodeus kept his pets fed, it seemed, but not necessarily happy.

When everyone had finished about half of their breakfast and there was a lull in the small talk between them, Ithuriel began to reveal the thing that Hadraniel and Lahatiel knew, but the rest of them did not.

He said, “All of you have from time-to-time traveled more than four light-years from Rigilkent and Sol in no elapsed time at all, using the agency of a wormhole, what Mastema calls a fold-gate. What would you say if I told you it was possible to travel from here to Sol in no time at all but without using a wormhole?”

“I would say that was absolutely impossible, sir,” Kushiel offered.

Lahatiel said, “Field-Marshal Ithuriel, please allow me the pleasure of introducing Ravmalak Kushiel Bellon, my engineer, possibly the finest our Navy has ever produced, which belies his modest rank.”

“Oh, excellent, Kushiel, then just like Erel Barakiel you and I will have very much to talk about later as well! But why do you say reaching Sol from here without a wormhole is impossible?”

“Sir, we have known for more than a century that the speed of light in a vacuum represents a hard limit as well as a hard constant. Suppose we were in Exiler going almost the speed of light, such that with only the gain of one more mile per hour we would be traveling precisely at the speed of light. And suppose that our weapons officer fired a pulse from the big lase straight ahead. If you were watching us from the side, you would see the wavefront of her laser walking ahead of our ship at the leisurely relative pace of one mile per hour, just slightly over and above our already enormous speed. But to us aboard the ship, the beam of light would seem to rush ahead of us at the same velocity it always must, c, the speed of light. To maintain that illusion, our own ship’s clock and heartbeats and even our very thoughts would be slowed by a factor of 670 million. Because in our universe, sir, the rate of the passage of time is negotiable, but the rate of the passage of light is not negotiable. This has been firmly established by experiment beyond any doubt for many decades. And so, Hashmal Ithuriel, sir, no matter how hard one tries to surpass the speed of light, time itself works against you, and if by some strange miracle you actually reached the speed of light, time would stop for you, you turn into a sunbeam, and no further change would be possible.”

“I agree with all that you just stated, Ravmalak Kushiel,” Ithuriel said, “and indeed there is no possible argument against the basic fact of relativity as you so concisely laid out, but would you agree that for nearly as long as relativity has been understood, we have also known that the universe is expanding, based on observations of the doppler-based red shift in the starlight of distant galaxies?”

“Yes sir, that is correct, we have known that for nearly as long as we’ve known about the speed of light as an upper limit. And as a general rule, the more distant a galaxy is from us, the faster it is receding due to the general expansion of the universe, in the same basic way a larger sum of money in a bank grows faster than a smaller sum, even with the same rate of interest applied to both.”

“Then, Ravmalak, perhaps you will also agree with me that as our telescopes gradually improved over the years, both at Centauri and at Sol, we were able to see galaxies which were more and more distant, until we penetrated to billions of galaxies whose red-shift corresponded to a recessional velocity that was greater than the speed of light. Yet we are still able to see them!”

“Yes, sir, I agree that we have done exactly that, but you are engaging in a bit of slight-of-hand here now, if you will forgive me for being so bold. You know perfectly well, sir, that space is dynamically created between the galaxies on a continous basis. So it is the matrix the galaxies are embedded in which is flying apart, but the galaxies themselves, in real terms, move only very slowly. They might even approach one another, as the Milky Way and Andromeda are observed to do.”

“So Ravmalak, you’re saying the matrix might be expanding, but the galaxies and spaceships and people forced to exist in that matrix must follow the rules, including the rule about never going faster than light.”

“Yes sir.”

Ithuriel took a salt shaker and set it on the tabletop in front of his wife. “This salt shaker is the Exiler, Ravmalak. The table is the matrix you spoke of. Jabs is Rigilkent and I am Sol. How did you get all the way from Jabs to me and back without crossing four light-years of real space each way? Because that is a voyage that would take four hundred years through your matrix at the best speed a fusion motor could deliver.”

He lifted the salt shaker off the table in an arc. “You left the matrix of real space where speed rules apply and traveled up here, through the trackless Void where time and distance have no meaning, using a wormhole that connected the two points.”

And he set the salt-shaker down once more in front of him.

“Now we want to get our salt-shaker from Sol to Proxima Centauri, which is where Hadraniel is sitting, but we can’t use a wormhole. How do we do it? First we need to get our salt-shaker up off the table of only two dimensions into the space over the table, which means traveling through a third dimension. This is a simplified analogy for Exiler. We want to get your ship up out of our matrix of three dimensions into the Void ‘over’ the universe, which means traveling through a fourth dimension. We need a special thruster, then, which produces an exhaust that travels into the Void below the table, but at the same time produces an opposite reaction that kicks the Exiler into the Void above the table. So the particles produced by our special thruster need to have elements of the three dimensions we know, but also elements of the four dimensions of the Void.

“Fortunately we have an answer from mathematics. You know a simple line is one dimensional. It has only length. A unique point on the line can be identified by a single real number. But how long is a coastline? It depends on what scale you use when you look at it. Look at a globe of Earth. How long is the west coast of America?  Fifteen hundred miles? Now look at a detailed map showing every fjord and every bay, and you’re talking ten thousand miles. Walk the coast yourself, following up every stream until you can jump across it, and you are up to a hundred thousand miles. Now trace out the coastline around every grain of sand, and it’s a million miles.

“Mathematically, a coastline is somewhere between a line and a plane. It’s between one dimension and two. It has a fractional dimension, in other words. And this has been shortened to the word ‘fractal’. California has a relatively simple coastline, with only one major bay, so it might be a fractal of only 1.2. Washington State to the north is far more complex, so it might be closer to 1.7.

“Now as we set about to develop the technology for our Void thruster, we needed to find single particles which expressed a fractional dimensionality somewhere between three and four. We needed fractal particles. For various arcane reasons, the particles which can be most easily produced have a fractional dimension equal to 3.14159, etc.   Equal to the number pi.

“That gets the salt-shaker off the table, but now what? How do we move through the Void? Simple motion won’t do it. As far as the Void is concerned, a spaceship coasting at just under the speed of light is exactly the same as a ship perfectly at rest. It is only with acceleration that our ship can establish a unique direction in the Void. Once we’ve done that, and once we’re in the Void, then speed has no meaning at all. It takes just as long to go from Sol to Proxima as it does to go from Proxima to another galaxy.

“And it follows that we should enter the Void far from the gravitational influence of any planets or stars, because gravity is indistinguishable from acceleration, except it is not self-acceleration but acceleration imposed from the outside, and instead of defining your vector it will simply knock you out of the Void back into real space. That gives us something we call the forty-four percent rule. We have found by experiment that any attempt to enter the Void closer than 0.44 times the square root of the mass of the nearby object, in AU, with the mass of the Earth’s sun Sol set to unity, simply fails.

“The big upside to that rule is that it provides a handy way of getting out of the Void once you enter it. You simply travel in a straight line until you hit an abstract surface which is about point four four AU from the center of Sol, and there space curves to such a degree that it bounces you right out of the Void into real space again. The big downside to that rule is that if you miss the bubble around Sol, you just keep sailing in a straight line until you hit the bubble of another star, possibly in this same galaxy, but much more likely in a very distant one. And nothing in this universe is more certain than the fact that you will never return anywhere near your starting point if you miss your target. You might not even be able to see the Milky Way galaxy from where you end up, it could be well beyond your original observable horizon.”

Lahatiel said, “Brrrr! And now all of you know why I insisted on a mixed-gender crew, with our wives along for the ride, and representation from each of the Five Families of Gorpai. All it will take is a single miss of our target star and we will become involuntary colonists somewhere far across the universe.”



Diane Sawyer of CBS News had been a member of Richard Nixon’s White House staff and had also served President Ford during the transition before accepting her current position as a television news reporter.   Ford thought very well of her, and CBS had hired Sawyer precisely for this warm relationship with the President and her other contacts in the Administration.  But flying down to tropical Antigua with a small support team, Sawyer found that this island of a hundred thousand people just thirty miles south of Barbuda was as close as any member of the media could get to the combat, no matter who they were or how impressive their credentials might be.

Barbuda was well over the horizon except for an indistinct sliver of green that was the top of the largely uninhabited and wooded central plateau but a great deal of black smoke rose into the air over the island from many fires, and this the Ford administration could not hide.  Through extreme telephoto lenses much footage had been shot of military helicopters and aircraft flying in front of those columns of smoke, firing rockets and streams of rounds with tracers.

Sawyer seemed resigned to accepting this state of affairs until a woman approached her and said, “Miss Sawyer, my name is Dory, and I am the third-ranking member of the Church of End Dome.  What would you say if I offered to get you and any two other people of your choosing to the combat zone on Barbuda?”

“A round trip, I presume?”

Dory smiled.  “If all goes well.  Naturally there are risks, this being a war and all, but you’re a journalist so you already know the drill.”

“How do you propose to carry out this offer, Miss Dory?”

“With a stealth-mode variant of a standard Church of End Dome aircraft, but I have to warn you right now that when you first see it you will think this is a terrible practical joke.”

“And let me guess: you expect to be paid for this little trip, right?”

“Money?  Heavens no, Miss Sawyer.  The only thing that I ask is that you keep the passengers down to three, including yourself, and that you do not use lights when you shoot your footage.  The, ah, aircraft has lots of windows and you will greatly improve our chances of making this a round-trip if you stick to night-vision photography.”

“Your offer is intriguing, Miss Dory.  I don’t seem to have much choice. But I will need  an hour or two to arrange for the equipment.”

“Make it three hours, Miss Sawyer.  We shall need to go in under cover of darkness.”

When Sawyer saw the flying saucer she grew very angry and almost called the whole thing off, thinking it to be an elaborate joke.  Her outburst kicked off the filmed portion of the reporting.  Then she remembered how Dory had warned her reaction would be precisely that.

Dory: I assure you, Miss Sawyer, we will be over Barbuda twenty minutes after you and your crew get on board.

Sawyer: Helicopter, huh?  So why did you go with a saucer?

Dory: Sometimes we gotta fly in daylight.  Somebody sees us, even take a picture, nobody’s going to believe it.  They’ll think they tossed a hubcap in the air and snapped that.  But for this war, no, we only come out at night.

For a “helicopter” Sawyer found the ride to be remarkably smooth and quiet, and this pinged her natural curiosity as a reporter.

Sawyer: What do you use for power?

Dory: It’s a bit complicated and technical, but we have a thing called a macro that allows us to convert matter, such as the air over the roof of the aircraft, into a form that no longer interacts with light, only with gravity.  The molecules of air are turned into sub-atomic particles that slip away under the surface of the Earth.  This creates a partial vacuum over the saucer, and that in turn creates lift.  You see the result.

Sawyer: Okay, but that doesn’t really answer my question.  Where does this macro you speak of get its power?

Dory:  It’s simple, really, it gets it from what it eats.  We can do a selective conversion, just make the electrons go away from some of the air, leave the nuclei intact.  That makes a charge gradient, positive and negative, right?  Then you have a flow of electricity.

They were flying over the waters around Barbuda now.  Sawyer’s cameraman captured a shot of one of the Navy’s ten amphibious assault carriers assigned to Operation Caribbean Rage.  This shot was in the monotone shades of green of a low-light camera setup.  A helicopter could be seen landing on the deck.

Sawyer: How many of these flying saucers do you have?

Dory:  A very, very large number of them, Mr. Sawyer, and most of them are in the air over Barbuda tonight.  In fact, if the Navy could see how many of us were aloft right now, they wouldn’t dare to bring the Eisenhower anywhere near the island.

Sawyer: What about the Richard M. Nixon?

Dory: The Eisenhower wouldn’t dare to come near the island because of what already happened to the Nixon.

Sawyer: The President said the Nixon was being relieved by the Eisenhower.

Dory: I suppose that’s true in a manner of speaking.  The Nixon has been sent to Davy Jones’ Locker so guess they needed to bring in the Ike to take over.

Sawyer: You’re saying the USS Richard Nixon has been sunk?  An American aircraft carrier is gone?

Dory: That’s exactly what I’m saying.  Four nights ago.  The President didn’t think it was important enough to mention it to you in your interview, did he?  But that’s a billion dollars down the toilet and five thousand American sailors.  Those five thousand folks with mothers and fathers, wives and husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends who will be waiting for their loved ones to come home and they’re never coming home.  That’s something President can’t cover up forever.  Now he wants to bring in the Ike and make the butcher’s bill ten thousand sailors, and for what?  For an island too rocky to plant anything bigger than a garden with two thousand people too poor to buy the clothes they sew in their little huts converted to sweatshops.

Dory did a pass over the beaches of Barbuda, showing the collapsed trenches in the sand where one of three successive attempts by Marines to make an amphibious assault on the island had failed miserably.  The town of Codrington, with about a thousand people, had no building still standing larger than a hovel, the result of one of the most intense air campaigns in American history.

Dory: The word on the street is that the Navy is about to make a fourth attempt somewhere, maybe on the east side of the island.  Exactly where the hammer will fall is a secret, but it doesn’t matter, the whole island is so rotten with passages it makes the tunnel rats of North Korea look like amateurs.  Macros responsible once again, I’m afraid.  From the chatter we’re hearing on the radio the Marines haven’t pulled out a completely intact body yet.  Lots of little pieces though.   This is going to be like Iwo Jima…squared.

Sawyer: Perhaps the President will bring in an army airborne division and bypass the beach.

Dory: Well, as you already know, Mr. Sawyer the President found another job for those fellas guarding the White House.  We hear some SEALs are sneaking around somewhere on Barbuda, though, and a few Marines are here and there dropped by helicopter but we’re keeping them busy too.  Unfortunately for the US side Hunky is here as well. So we hear the phrase Charlie Foxtrot passed around on the radio a lot.

The flying saucer landed in the jungle of the Barbuda plateau near the outskirts of Codrington.  Dory asked Sawyer, her cameraman, and her producer to help her cover the aircraft with large banana leaves, then she led them through the jungle to the nearest house.   From an upstairs balcony Sawyer and his crew set up their camera to overlook the carnage going on in the town below.   This was more coverage than anyone had managed to achieve over the entire operation.  Sawyer’s producer set up a satellite dish to upload what he had already recorded on the flight over and to establish a live feed for Sawyer to do a special report.

Downstairs Hunky arrived at the house and embraced Dory passionately, for they hadn’t been together since the extraction at Indian Creek.  “The second carrier is almost here but we’re on it.”

“There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the amount of pain Ford is willing to take, does there?”

“You got Sawyer upstairs?”

“Yep, and she’s going out live.  More pain for President Jerry.”

“I expect they’ll be able to zero in on this house from the images she broadcasts.  We’ll have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice.”

“Check, I’ll wait for the first commercial break and let Sawyer know.”

“Love ya, babe.”


The response came in about an hour and it was just Marines, nothing serious like Rangers or SEALs.  Sawyer went with Dory then, walking down a narrow underground macro-carved tunnel with her cameraman and producer, and they set up operations in the empty house next door and aimed their cameras at the first house  through a window. The Marines didn’t bother with this second house because they already cleared it.

Soon a Marine knocked on the front door of the first house and it was answered by Hunky, who threw out something in Spanish.  The Marine told her to gather what she needed and evacuate the house immediately. “No choice. This is mandatory.”

In reply Hunky slammed the door shut and threw the matrix of deadbolts with a single snick.

Six defenders of the house, through gun slits on the top floor, dropped two Marines in the yard.  Automatic gunfire was returned, pocking every side of the house and shattering glass. Tear gas canisters merely bounced back out the windows, having hit plate steel behind deceptively lit Venetian blinds.

Covered by a hail of suppressing fire, more Marines in body armor made their way to the front door with a battering ram and began trying to bash their way in through a thick metal door deceptively painted like oak and reinforced with carbon steel jambs. They worked until they were exhausted and put nary a dent in the door.

The Marine lieutenant in charge of this platoon pulled his boys back.  Hunky didn’t give the Marines any time to get set up with whatever heavy response they were contemplating next. She led a surprise attack out of the house right away. And since the members of the Church of End Dome could never truly die, they were the most fierce warriors who ever lived. Additionally, it was attractive young women who were pouring out of the house, which made the men of the Marine platoon instinctively hesitate to fight them.

The primary weapons of the Marines were a nasty piece of business the size and shape of any normal rifle, but they were railguns, a portable mass-driver powered by a gigantic charge circulating in a room-temperature superconductor loop. It fired needles at a muzzle velocity of four thousand feet per second. These needles expanded when they hit and became ugly tearing pieces of hot shrapnel. One electrically-ejected needle didn’t usually kill, but a single magazine held two thousand of them.

Aurelia bought it right away in a thirty-shot burst from Corporal Castle. Then Private Johnson picked off Jo, a nineteen year-old still in training. By this time, a volley of knives went up from the Church of End Dome side.

These were not ordinary knives. They had an arming switch. Immediately after leaving the throwers hand a sensor detected free fall and ignited a small solid rocket in the handle. An infrared detector in the hilt zoomed in on body heat. It was basically a model rocket with a bayonet fixed to it, deliberately blunted to prevent the thing from passing clean through the victim. And they were much nastier than the Marine gauss rifles. After burying itself in the victim, the rocket motor burned right up inside the magnesium alloy blade, starting an unquenchable metal fire right inside the person’s body. Only after the entire blade burned would the fire go out. Water only made it burn hotter, and the flame ripped it’s required oxygen from the guy’s own body tissues.

One blade closed in on Castle in tightening spirals and another was distracted from its intended target to follow the more attractive engine heat of the first one. Two class Delta fires for Castle then. The pain was vast, like being scraped under the foot of a giant with blue-hot soles. He could only scream “God help me!” and his prayers were answered, because the twin burning blades finished him with great haste.

Hunky was the one who flung that first blade. Her next blade went out and found Johnson.

Sondra was a two-fisted knife thrower. The left hand took out Sergeant Hervey, the right hand blade sailed out toward a cocksure rookie. Hervey saw the deadly thing snaking toward him and tried to shoot it down, but all he achieved was a burst of stray needles tearing into Sondra.

As she died, Sondra’s final memories were uploaded to the Swarm via a neutrino link. Lieutenant Atkins died under a more regular blade from Olivia. His actual cause of death, she later reported, was six quarts of missing blood due to her famous “Filipina Haircut” which was an incision that started at one ear and crossed to the other one under the chin. A few men who had wavered in retreat now joined the others in fleeing for their lives.

The surviving defenders, Hunky and Olivia, ran in different directions through nearby alleys and the backyards of neighboring houses, making good their escape.  The entire incident of United States Marines being driven off by young women wearing short tunics and kneeboots was captured by Diane Sawyer and her camera crew.

Russia Parade Rehearsal


The Baron Bayard Sala had been born on Barbelo in a time of swords and sandals, but being transplanted in an entirely new star system two thousand years into his future did nothing to change who he really was deep inside, which was a womanizing letch.

His basic appetite was for common women, something that earned no end of disapproval from his mother Queen Aurra back home, but when he moved to Taurus City he was surrounded by nothing but common women, all the time.   Victoria knew he was getting some on the side from the very beginning, but now that Hope had been packed off to Canterwood Academy, and she had lost her power to fly, there didn’t seem much reason to stick around on the moon and endure living with a shamelessly adulterous husband.  So Vic scooped up her little five-year old girl Aliwe and went Earthside.

There she met up with her grandmother Robyn, who had made herself scarce the entire time Vic and Bayard had raised Hope.  “It wasn’t about you,” Robyn assured her.  “Sure I was avoiding you, but it was a deliberate thing focused around Hope.  I needed to create a longing in Hope for her real mother.  For me.”

“But why?”

“I’m setting her up for the moment when she comes to herself, when she becomes truly aware.  There will come a time when she will offer her life for me, and that crisis will push her into full consciousness.  Right now everything is like a fuzzy dream to her.”

“I want to do something down here on Earth, Gramma.  I want to be the sheriff of King County.”

“Well, you’re a dragon slayer, Vic, so I’d say you’re qualified to be county sheriff.  But it’s an elected position here.”

“And elections cost money.   You’re thinking of the money.”

“Heavens no.  It’s not so much about money, it’s about organization. We can throw our people behind a campaign led by yourself to raise new money and public awareness for your election, but that’s precisely what you have to do.   You have to lead the campaign.”

Vic agreed to this challenge, and in the fall she won the off-year county-wide election to become the sheriff of King County, a position that came up to a vote every three years. She defeated a man who ran on a “Law and Order” platform and when Vic pulled ahead of the incumbent in the polls over the summer things got fairly ugly, with vague insinuations of Church of End Dome influence hanging over her. But such charges would only really get traction in that part of the United States known as “flyover country”. The West Coast was much more progressive than that, so Vic came through fine. She was handily elected Sheriff, and the name Victoria Shybear became known throughout the region.

But Vic had come out of literally nowhere, so now it was up to her to prove to the voters she was the right person for this job. Vic threw herself into her work. Somewhere along the way she stopped thinking of herself as attached to the B’nei Elohim in any meaningful way. It was the politically expedient thing to do, and the loss of her ability to fly like Supergirl made it seem easier.  She even stopped getting direct mind-calls from Dory.

When the third day of the symposium wrapped up early Victoria “Vic” Shybear elected to bypass hobnobbing with the National mucky-mucks and headed directly home in a generic silver squad car. Driving west from Moses Lake over arid flats she cursed the nameless cubefarm idiot who scheduled training in the short week before a holiday. Most of the attendees were distracted the whole time.

By the middle of the second day even Victoria had set her mind on cruise control and recorded the rest of the proceedings clandestinely with her phone. All those precious Lessons Learned and Tricks of the Trade went right down a bottomless drain of forgetfulness as officers and deputies from seven states nodded, muttered yeah, sure, and let their butts in the seat check off this requirement mandated from on high.

She drove directly into the mid-afternoon sun of autumn with her window cracked just a bit to let in the crisp air. In an hour the flats gave way to long golden hills carved by water into cleavage decorated by gigantic spinning white sentinels of clean wind power. In two hours the conifers turned on again like a light as the grassy hills became the eastern flanks of the jagged Cascade Range itself.

A huge cluster of cars at least a mile long had been piling up behind Victoria for almost an hour, drivers who would normally be speeding along through here at twenty miles per over, but were afraid to pass her. It was a familiar occurrence. Vic decided to pull over and let the crowd of vehicles break up and spread out.

There was a gravel turnout between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the freeway marked with signs forbidding civilians from banging a U-turn. Victoria noted the State Patrol was not using it for a speed trap at the moment, so she slid quietly and neatly into that spot and came to a crunching stop. Sitting here for a little bit might slow down some of these idiots without bunching them up, she thought, as she dug her micro out of a black leather case on her belt next to her 9mm.

Victoria idly imagined telling Alexander Graham Bell, sitting in the seat right next to her a hundred years after inventing the telephone, that she needed to make a phone call with what appeared to be nothing but stylish reading glasses. Vic imagined that Mr. Bell’s reaction would be to panic and beg to be sent back to where he came from. She slipped the glasses onto her face.

As required by statute, the act of turning on her micro simultaneously powered down her vehicle. Glowing three-dimensional data was superimposed on the lenses which she could drag and drop with lingering glances and smooth eye movements, a blink substituting for a mouse click. More than once during the seminar she had slipped these glasses on to unobtrusively read whole sections of a bodice ripper from the Swarm.

Vic checked her vidmail inbox. There were a few minor details from the office which she would attend to later, and one missed call from Mark Felton, who lived with his wife on the northern rim of the Green River Gorge.   Mark worked out of his home, and his wife didn’t work, so they were available to watch little Aliwe when Vic was out doing her sheriff stuff.  So Vic and Aliwe shared the house with the Feltons.

Vic called him back, hoping it wasn’t about Aliwe getting in trouble again.  She turned the rear view mirror vertically so Mark could see her whole face when he answered. She knew the thirtyish woman staring back at her with to-die-for cheekbones had quite a luxurious mane of red- brown hair back in the Day. She was still a girly-girl deep down, but the exigencies of her current job forced her to keep it, and her neatly painted nails, far shorter than she liked.

A flurry of movement swept across her vision. “Hello Vic,” Mark said, rushing into one of his bathrooms to face a mirror for the call. Mark’s bespectacled face was superimposed on her own but Victoria, like five billion other people on the planet, was thoroughly practiced at focusing on one image and ignoring the other. It was becoming second nature.

“I know this is unusual, Vic, but this is bad. Hope was booted from the Academy at Canterwood so she’s back here at my house.”

“What do you mean: ‘Booted from the Academy’?'”

“From what they’re telling me, she was talked into that classic game kids play.  You probably remember.  Playing ‘Doctor’, right?  So basically Hope knows she’s not a real girl.”

“So know what do we do with her?”

“Dory’s telling me she wants to put her in basic training.”

“Dory’s telling you?  Why doesn’t Dory tell me?”

“She says she doesn’t want to distract you.”

“Fine, Mark.  I’ll be there in about two hours.”

For many years the Green River valley west of Stampede Pass was an inviolate watershed, source of the drinking water for all of south King County. Only those who went about on four feet were allowed in there.

Growth and population pressures finally caused the Water Authority to relent and allow a spur freeway through, but only after an important concession was made. The highway was constructed using special “green” methods that doubled the (already outrageous) cost per mile. And not a single exit was allowed to be built. There would be no gas stations, motels, or development of any kind. Interstate 86 was just a sweet shortcut that bypassed the heart of Puget Sound City and routed traffic to and from the south end. Vic thought it was the prettiest forty miles in Washington, or possibly the whole United States.

The six-lane freeway rode high on the northern wall of the valley as an elevated viaduct more often than flat roadbed. Far below the highway was the reservoir behind Howard Hanson Dam. There were very few ups and downs or sharp curves on I-86, it was simply a gentle descent from Stampede Pass through ancient cedar forest and mountains of such rugged beauty they would be the heart of a full-up National Park if they existed east of the Big Muddy.

The tangled human carpet of greater Puget Sound City washed right up against the steep front of the Cascade Range, which on the “wet” side met the lowlands the way a wall met a floor, with very little in the way of foothills. The richly forested valley of the Green River narrowed around I-86 where the freeway, a railroad, a giant water pipeline, and the river all squeezed between twin behemoth mountains and delivered Sheriff Vic to the sprawl of so-called modern civilization.

Victoria left the freeway in a Gordian knot of overpasses, underpasses, and spiraling viaducts that finally smoothed out onto a landscaped eight-lane byway at Four Corners and a five-minute red light.

Here, Edgewood Mall with its attendant mini-malls spread around the mighty crossroads with a sprinkling of big black glass office suites clustered together in business “parks” randomly sprinkled from here all the way to the hypothetical Seattle core far away to the northwest. Behold: King County. And yes, Victoria was the chief law enforcement officer of all of this sprawl, in theory.

In practice, King County was a patchwork of small incorporated cities with their own local police, while the State Patrol watched the network of highways tying it all together. Victoria and her some thirty deputies patrolled the unincorporated areas and that was dwindling by the month. Still, it was an elected position she had secured twice in the last six years, and a traditional launching pad to higher office.

American McMonoculture was self-regulating and self-propagating. Every McFastfood place, every McSupermarket, every McOil-change place, every McGasmart, were franchises exactly identical to ones found anywhere in North America, or for that matter, anywhere in the whole McWorld. Only the gray skies and scattered clusters of tall pines set this place apart from any suburb in California or Virginia. The United States had achieved this appalling uniformity by 1975, and the rest of the world was rapidly following suit.

Jobs were shifted from one country to another until the workforce which accepted the lowest compensation for their labor was found. Corner “Mom & Pop” grocery stores and restaurants disappeared as they were replaced by cookie-cutter franchises.

Family farms disappeared to be replaced by endless tracts of clone McMansions painted in just two different colors and spaced just six feet apart. Every morning and afternoon four-lanes of commuters tried to squeeze down two-lane country roads to and from work thirty miles away, driving alone in identical trucks carrying ten dollar gasoline pumped from one of two different gas brands (Exxon-Mobil-Shell or Texachevron-76) into twenty-five gallon tanks.

On the radio, market researchers conducted surveys to determine which songs did the least to “harsh the workplace mellow” and these songs were put into endless rotation on stations across the FM dial.

In twenty-theater megaplexes, mindless Hollywood crap was shown with the ethic of “get the kids in, show them the Falling Galaxy, and get them out”, and everything that made each corner of the world unique and wonderful was choked off, bought out, and co-opted by the gray forces of standardization as the culture, the religion, the politics, and every facet of everyone’s life became conformed to the principles of the fast food restaurant.

An Easy Cheezy pizza place was nearby and beige, clone apartment complexes with such names as Fountain Pointe, Evergreen Terrace, Mirrorwood, and Heather Ridge thickened as Victoria drove past Viewmont High School, empty now on the cusp of a four day Thanksgiving weekend.

Vic chuckled at the difficult of coming up with a variation on teriyaki every ten blocks. Teriyaki Time. Teriyaki Now. I Love Teriyaki. Some were probably just known locally as “That teriyaki place next to Tattoo Alley”.

Vic went west past a few typical arterial corners festooned with more strip malls and turned south on the Ravensdale-Black-Diamond Road, a fat six-lane arterial. Across the street from a Burger Goddess was a Taco Fiesta and an expanse of identical faux-Colonial homes, each house sporting four tacky hollow white aluminum bogus columns.

The monotonous sprawl ended briefly for the only agriculture that existed around here, a farm with 300 acres of rolled sod, the source of perfect pre-grown grass for all those perfectly-groomed front yards.

Frozen pink fire filled the November sky to the west, marred by billowing swaths of deep purple. It was one of those beautiful weather moments that stood out in your mind for a lifetime. Victoria would remember this years later: the beautiful sunset marking the final evening that she would see her daughter as just her daughter and not the latest two-legged avatar of El Shaddai.

Under the sky’s neon glow the roads were unusually dark, which caused the headlights of rush-hour to really stand out. Behind her windshield Vic pointed at the sky with almost a grin, as if to tell the eastbound drivers to turn around and look, quick, but two traffic lights later the fire had shrunk to just a small patch of red.

The road narrowed to four lanes. Vic went left at a country corners type mini-market place. Lake Number 12 was on the right, down in it’s own hole. Vic passed a Dari-Hut and a little shopping plaza built around a wholesale grocery outlet. A smooth right turn put her into the bedroom community of Shangri-La.

Mark’s place was a cute little pale blue house, maybe thirty years old, with clean white trim. The yard was more stone than grass, ringed by beauty bark and low-maintenance shrubs.

When Mark met her at front door he saw that her uniform was still immaculate at the end of the day. The unadorned star of her badge was pinned to her chest, a little piece of tradition harking back to the wild west days. Vic was a short wiry woman in pressed black slacks, a dark gray shirt with many pockets and a light gray tie.   Hope had been playing with her sister Aliwe in her bedroom but heard her mother pull up and rushed out to hug her.

“I love you momma!”

Vic was very glad to see Hope once again, it had been almost a year since the Bite the Wax Tadpole concert.  “I love you too, baby.  Let’s go back inside and you can tell me what’s going on.”

It was possible for Hope to cry, that was a very expensive feature.  And so the tears flowed as Hope told momma Vic about the thing in the treehouse and all the consequences that flowed out from it.   The  one thing Victoria couldn’t answer for Hope was why her body was different from the other girls, even from her sister Aliwe.   Vic said, “I’m your mother, Hope, but I’m not your real mother.  That’s Robyn.  I already told you that.  Yes we know you’re different but Robyn says she wants to explain all that to you herself.”

“When, momma?”

“Very soon.  But first, tell me the first rule of this house.”

“Never go into the woods behind the house!” Hope and Aliwe said, in perfect unison.

“Okay!   Well, tomorrow morning, Hope, I’m going to take you into the woods behind the house.  But that rule still holds firm for you, Aliwe!  Don’t even think of following us down there!”

After the fur trapping days and the gold and coal mining days the economy of the Green River was based on logging the pines of the productive timberlands all around.  The US government became an insatiable customer for timber during the First World War, and most of the nearby hills were stripped bare. The tree-fellers spent their considerable pay in the town, just as the gold and coal miners had made Black Diamond a lively place in its day, so there was a trickle-down effect. The good times continued until the Depression of the 1930s.

As part of FDR’s New Deal Howard Hanson Dam was constructed just upriver, and this provided the enormous electric power needed by smelters to turn local bauxite into finished aluminum. This aluminum was used in four-engined bombers for the Pacific theater of the Second World War, built in nearby Renton.  Snuggled in the gorge was an old US Army installation that used to be called Fort Shiprock, long since abandoned. For many years, the army performed live-fire artillery exercises there and the whole area was littered with hidden unexploded shells.

When the Cold War came to an end the army sold the land to King County and said, “See ya!” thus wiggling out of paying for cleanup. And the county tried to convert the land into a regional park with hiking trails for all who went on two or four feet, but that worked for about five minutes, maybe, before some children found a grenade and pulled the pin.

That was the Green River Gorge for you, filled with unexploded ordnance, mine shafts, cave holes, coal seams that still burned, and the stumps of giant trees long since gone, replaced by crap alder. So Fort Shiprock and the whole Green River Gorge remained a huge undeveloped green hole on the rolling hills before Cascade front even as million dollar trophy view homes began to appear on the slopes all around it. Eventually the B’nei Elohil offered to take the land off the county’s hands to build something they called Shangri-La, and the county was glad to be rid of it. At least the B’nei Elohim would be paying property taxes on it.

Shangri-La was hemmed all around by a tall concertina wire fence. The private Ring Road, miles of gravel along the perimeter, was patrolled night and day by a pair of Fallen Angels in a truck. Other angels ranged through the interior woods on trails known well to them, ever alert for trespassers.

The Ring Road provided access to hundreds of large homes on one acre sub-plots, all of them estates owned by senior members of Femina Caelestis. Robyn and Lilith owned one, Hunky and Dory owned another one. Most of the rest were owned by this or that Jill.  One was Mark Felton’s house, where he lived with his wife Phyllis and Vic and Aliwe They were all nice homes but their location wasn’t ideal for the construction of home sites by any stretch of the imagination.

Access to the boot camp facilities was to be through Mark Felton’s house, out his back patio door, and into the woods.  And only a full B’nei Eloah could safely navigate the hazards therein.

In the morning two other girls arrived at Mark’s home, together with uniforms and other paraphernalia for Hope. They were Geraldine Sanchelli and a girl named Stephanie, no last name, who was a daughter of one of the Jills and even wore her hair in a classic Jill bun like her mother. Stephanie was pretty and blond, looking very much like a porcelain doll. She had already spent some time down there in boot camp and had advanced from recruit to ish.

Conscious of Sheriff Victoria staring at her, Geraldine pushed black hair away from the dark eyes on her oval face. She was a mixture of Mexican and Irish. Later, Geraldine would reveal to Vicky how much she despised her parents, and smile when she thought of how their lives would be complicated beyond belief by her sudden disappearance.

Both Stephanie and Geraldine were already wearing Girl Guard uniforms. Vic knew Stephanie would eventually just become another Jill, and then her hair bun would have something to hide.

Ersatz Girl Guard threads were becoming all the rage out in the Real World. The prim uniform of a gray and white smock dress, red tights, and black knee boots became hot fashion for good girls who wanted to look bad, and bad girls who wanted to turn heads.

So for a sweet season that would certainly be brief, genuine Girl Guards could walk undetected anywhere among a million B’nei Elohim wannabes trying to cash in on BE chic.

Victoria told Hope and Geraldine, “Remember, when you join the B’nei Elohim there’s no going back, there’s no getting out, and there’s no end to the ride.”

“Not even suicide, Ma’am?” Stephanie asked.

“Jill takes suicidal personalities and gives them bodies of girls who are happier. Bad attitudes are bred out. Eventually there is nothing but warm fuzzies all the way around.’

Victoria gave her daughter a long sleeve half gray and half white thick cotton dress with an elaborate decorative pattern embroidered in black thread on the left, or gray side. Pink wook socks went over the feet of her tights, then she was zipped up in a pair of shiny patent leather boots that ended just below her knees.

Then Victoria stood back up and faced the three of them. “We’re not interested in keeping you busy just for the sake of keeping you busy, like they do in fellas’ boot camps. That’s why, for example, your boots are already as shiny as they can be. Now one or two of you will eventually be in the full-up Girl Guard, or maybe one or two of you will just become civilians. So Hope, Geraldine, I don’t want word to get back to me that you deliberately screwed up to be civilians. That will adversely affect Stephanie’s chances of being picked up for malak. You are a team!”

“Yes, Ma’am!”  Geraldine said.  Hope made it sound more like Yes Mom.

“We don’t treat our recruits as the scum of the earth, like other armies do. Still, the Girl Guard is the most formidable fighting force in the world. If you don’t believe me just check out the daily news from Barbuda.  That means you will be toughened up, big time. You’re the elite! They’ll throw a lot of mind games at you when you get in there. Just remember, that’s all they are: mind games. I promise you will understand what is being done to you before you graduate.  Stephanie already knows.”

Vic issued Hope and Geraldine a supply of red nail polish, pre-moistened towelettes, a lighted makeup mirror, ruby earrings, and a host of other girly accessories that seemed strange to be called army issue.

“Okay, let me take a good look at you. This is for the guards here at Shangri-La. They will call up on the Swarm this very memory of mine being taken now and just know who you are. The Girl Guard doesn’t issue ID cards.”

Then Victoria kissed all of them in turn, opened up Mark’s patio door, and led Hope, Geraldine, and Stephanie by secret ways over the lip of Mark’s backyard lawn and down into the gorge.

The rule for the architecture in B’nei Elohim boot camp was no straight lines. Most of the buildings looked like fat commas in their top view, irregular with trees and ferns planted on their roofs. The walkways were gravel and dirt. No airborne photography would capture the existence of a training facility there.   Stephanie knew the rest of the way, so Victoria handed Hope and Geraldine off to her and climbed back up to the house, bawling the whole way.



“I see one glaring technical problem with your scheme, sir,” Sar Adnarel said. She didn’t wait for Lahatiel to make her introduction to Hashmal Ithuriel. “I am the weapons officer on Exiler, sir, my name is Adnarel Sala. I’m looking at this problem from the point of view of someone who wants to hit a very small target from very far away. If I aim right at the star, I’m going to plain miss it, because I’m aiming where the star was four years ago. But if I shoot ahead of the star like I’m trying to hit a duck with a shotgun, I’ve got another problem. Suppose I think it is 4.37 light years to Sol from here, but it’s really 4.36 light-years. It seems to me the target I’m trying to hit is only a few light-minutes across, but even the small error in my example is already about three or four light days.”

“You are absolutely right, Sar Adnarel!” Ithuriel said. “Fortunately, this will not be a problem for your first leg from here to Sol. The distance to Sol is known to within a fraction of a light-second because a powerful universal time clock radio broadcast originates from Luna and Hashmal Suriel will be able to pick it up even from here. It will mismatch your own ship’s clock by exactly 4 years 133 days 14 hours 96 minutes and 48 seconds. And the relative velocities of Sol and Rigilkent in all three axes is known to within a few tens of feet per second. These things will tell Barakiel exactly how much to lead the ‘duck’ as you put it.  But when you begin to explore suns beyond Sol and Centauri, the information I will provide Captain Barakiel will be somewhat less reliable. But not dangerously so. That is the very reason this observatory exists, you see. That is the essence of our years of work here. We have compiled data on hundreds of nearby stars. It is safe to say you will not begin to have problems with position error until you get beyond about twenty light years from Centauri. Somewhere along the way you will need to establish another observatory just like this one and compile a new database.  But it occurs to me that Asmodeus expects me to be fitting out the Exiler with the FTL Pod as soon as possible, and that he expects you to return immediately to Palato so he can claim his prize. But I gather that you do not intend to return to Centauri anytime soon, is that correct?”

Lahatiel acknowledged Ithuriel in the affirmative.

“So I imagine in a week or two Mastema will begin to get restless, and certainly after a month has gone by he will send a much larger vessel to inquire after your own vessel. And some of the answers we will have for him, well, the High Lord Patriarch mightn’t like them. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Eyes of Mastema could reconstruct my work after taking possession of my papers and lab equipment and putting me and my associates to torment. Then a whole fleet of FTL equipped ships would go looking for you.”

Lahatiel said, “Sir, if you are worried about yourself and your family, or perhaps some of your closest associates, there is room aboard Exiler for about a dozen more people.  You needn’t worry about Asmodeus.  But if the things you have been describing to us are true, it would literally be the most important thing nephilim or humans have ever discovered. It would open the universe to us, free from the control and influence of Mastema and the other Elohim. But I pride myself as a rational man, sir. So far I have been proceeding on pure faith: Faith that El Shaddai and Bat-El are not deluded, faith that your son Hadraniel did not deceive them, faith that you have indeed made a breakthrough with traveling faster than light. Now please don’t take this the wrong way, sir, but do you have on hand any physical proof that your claims are true? Anything at all?”

Ithuriel said, “I am not offended at all, Ophan Lahatiel. After all, I am a scientist. You are simply asking for falsifiable evidence which you can examine for yourself, and this wouldn’t be science at all if I could not comply. Certainly when you find yourself in the Sol system only a number of days from now that will constitute sufficient proof, but I can validate my discovery now, in this instant.”

He caused a square monitor to flip up out of the tabletop. A lighted keyboard appeared on the surface of the table. After working for a moment, he caused a broadcast from a popular news network based out of Earth to be displayed on two wall panels so everyone could see it. An extraordinarily beautiful news anchor was describing the run-up of various gubernatorial races as they faced off-year elections in the United States of America, scheduled to take place approximately a month after she was speaking, on Tuesday, November 8, 1977. On the red byline superimposed over her at the bottom of the screen, the current date was given in yellow text: Thursday, October 6, 1977.

Ithuriel said, “I recorded this broadcast from Earth just in the last few weeks using instruments aboard one of our space ‘trucks’ after it made the crossing. It’s a small one-man vehicle we use to service and inspect the exterior of the space station or even to travel to Palato if need be. But it is not large enough to stock sufficient oxygen and water and food for a round-trip using the FTL device, and I am confident that Adnarel can tell all of us exactly why that is true.”

“Yes sir. When you transit between stars you might barely have the skill to hit your target bubble, but exactly where you end up on that target bubble is a complete crapshoot.”

“Very good! I would have used different language, but that’s exactly right. You can see that my space truck arrived at Sol on October the 6th to record that broadcast, but when it came back here to the Rigilkent system it was not very close to the observatory at all. I anticipate its arrival here in five more days.

“But I offer this recent broadcast as proof that my claims are true. If I simply picked them off the air from here, it would not be the fall of 1977 but rather the spring of 1973, which in fact is what the Universal Time signal purports to be. Of course I could have cheated and sent my space truck through the ID Grid to Sol, much as Hadraniel himself did last year when he flew to Europa to make field observations for his paper on exobiology, so you’re back to faith once more, faith that I am a man of science and not a charlatan.  I offer the existence of the sub-macro as support that I am not the latter.”

Barakiel said, “Then sir, I gather you have never tested FTL with a live subject?”

“No, Erel, as a matter of fact, when the space truck returns and we install the FTP Pod in Exiler, you and your crewmates will be my ‘guinea pigs’, so to speak.  But I know of absolutely no reason to be afraid.”

Still, Barakiel didn’t look very happy at the prospect.

Ithuriel smiled and presented Barakiel with a binder filled with data which his navigation panel could interpret. “Here is the fruit of all our work here at the observatory, young Erel Barakiel. These are the positions and proper motions of thousands of nearby stars, pinned down to a very small margin of error.”

“Thank you, sir!”

“Ophan Lahatiel, I have just given your navigator the keys to the universe.  In five days I will provide the FTL Pod.  My price is passage aboard your ship for myself, my wife Jabniel, and my son Hadraniel.  Passage to Taurus City in the Sol system.  The rest of my people here will be unmolested by the Eyes of Mastema because they know very little of my work.”

“I agree to your price, Hashmal Ithuriel.”

“In five days time, sir, I shall require the presence of Ravmalak Kushiel as we transfer and install the FTL Pod on your ship. Until then, please continue to make yourself at home as best you can on my little space station, you and all your dependents. My people will enjoy meeting and coming to know all of you, and they will attend to your every need. Anything at all.”

After a curt bow to Ithuriel and Lahatiel and their son Hadraniel, Lahatiel backed away respectfully. Followed by Suriel and the rest of the Exiler crew the officers departed from the presence of the Imperial Astronomer.

Most of the crew of Exiler were largely tied down by the companions they had brought along, but Sar Adnarel was free to date one of the station’s inhabitants. She attracted the eye of Ithuriel’s valet, a man named Yomael, and in his relatively lavish quarters he more than satisfied the curiosity she always had about what it would be like to bed one of the humans of the Sol system. She discovered to her delight that human-nephilim sex was not as awkward as she imagined.

Ithuriel wasn’t joking when he said his people would provide anything at all.

They spent at least an hour enjoying each other’s body. Adnarel moved rhythmically on top of him while he cupped her breasts in his hands or ran his fingertips over her smooth thighs, shiny now with a layer of sweat.  She looked down at him, and the word bestiality ran through her mind. Yomael was at the far end of the body-hair bell curve, his face and body were covered with what could only be described as brown fur. Adnarel’s very enthusiastic vocal response to her orgasm in turn triggered Yomael to have his own orgasm. For about maybe a full minute, a long time as such things go, the two of them literally went crazy. Andarel would certainly never forget it.


119 – COUP
On Inauguration Day in 1977 the country woke up to find the 82nd Airborne stationed on the perimeter of the grounds of the White House as one of the more likely scenarios mentioned by Mike and Jill played out. President Gerald Ford canceled the presidential inauguration (set to occur at noon on January 20) and in so doing abrogated the 20th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  Instead, at noon, the President met with the top congressional leadership in the Oval Office to explain his reasons for ignoring the highest law of the land.

For the Democrats, Senator Robert Byrd and Representative Jim Wright were present.   They knew the President well when he represented Michigan in the House and throughout the meeting would call him “Jerry”.  The Republicans attending the meeting were Senator Howard Baker and Representative John Rhodes and they preferred to call him “Mr. President.”

Sen. Robert Byrd: Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions Jerry, and I’d like to start with the biggest and most obvious one.  It is now just short of one o’clock PM on January 20, in a year following a presidential election year. Since 1937 that has always meant we would see either the incoming President-elect sworn into office or a sitting President sworn to a second term, we would see hear the inaugural address, and the President would then proceed from the steps of the Capitol building to the White House.  But this year, instead, we see the sitting President, who was the former Vice-President of the previous Administration, remaining inside the White House guarded by elements of the US Army.  Many on the Hill and elsewhere are saying we are witnessing the first coup in US history.  Mr. President, what do you say in response?

President Ford: First of all, Bob,  I’d like to make it absolutely clear that the inauguration has not been canceled as some are saying, merely restored to the date of March 4, which was the statutory turnover date prior to the enactment of the 20th Amendment.  This was done on a one-time basis due to an enormous number of extraordinary events piling up in a short span of time which in my view could compromise the presidential transfer of power in our republic if we do not, in effect, call a time out.

Rep. John Rhodes: Could you comment on some of these events, Mr. President?

Ford: Well, the first one, obviously, is the assassination of the Vice-President in a federal detention facility in Nebraska that was being toured by the Vice-President and President-elect Henry Jackson as part of the transition process.  We have obtained video-tape of the actual murder, and it is clear that the President-elect, if not directly responsible, is at least a material witness, and a witness that has gone missing for some reason.  Bear in mind that the death of Vice-President Roland was an incredibly grisly thing and will be difficult to watch.

The door to Hunky’s cell opened and Roland walked halfway, stopped and stood there for a moment before his legs buckled.  Roland jerked and bounced down on Hunky’s deadly web of Polywire, letting gravity finish the job. Guards tried to cut the web down but only succeeded in slicing their own knives into little razor blades. Hunky began to laugh. Finally they used their hand guns to blow chunks out of the door frame where the wire was slung. The web drifted down to the floor and the guards stepped through aiming their weapons directly at Hunky.  The Secret Service agents guarding President-elect Jackson followed, and when they motioned it was clear the actual President-elect stepped through into the cell after them.

Ford: Note that the prisoner in the cell who laughed when the Vice-President died, a woman who calls herself Hunky, as well as the Secret Service agents shown in the video entering the cell before the President-elect, and the President-elect himself have all gone missing.   Obviously what we have here is some kind of conspiracy, not unlike when President Lincoln was killed.

Sen. Howard Baker: Mr. President, do you have any theory why the President-elect would want the President to be killed when it was only two days before the hand-off of power anyway?

Ford: I have another video, Howard, one which was in the possession of the Vice-President before the assassination.  In some ways this one is even more unbearable to watch, but it might go a long way toward explaining why Scoop Jackson would be mixed up in this.  The first time I saw this video, I was reminded of the old joke that the one sure way to end a political career was to be caught in bed with a dead woman, or a live boy.

In the hotel room all of the male escort’s clothing were shed in a flash, and it was abundantly clear that this was not the wife of Henry Jackson.  The unexpected suddenness of this strip act caused Henry to shudder in a frisson of delight and they both crawled on top of the hotel bed, not bothering to turn off the room lights.  As the President-elect caressed every square inch of the escort’s naked skin with a desperate physical hunger, the escort slid Jackson’s pants off his hips to mid-thigh, an action made deliciously messy with the upended half of the contents of a bottle of clear lube.  Jackson massaged the shiny overflow on the escort’s hips as they both writhed in bed, rubbing directly against each other.  After a few minutes Jackson’s back suddenly arched, both of his legs stiffened, his eyes crossed and his mouth fell wide open.  Jackson grunted and moaned with a physical release far more satisfying than anything that love with his wife had ever done.

Rep. Jim Wright: Jesus Christ, Jerry, that was the most disgusting thing I ever saw.

Ford: Unless I’m tragically mistaken, fellas, I don’t think even the Democratic Party is willing to tell the American people they just elected their first faggot as President.

Robert Byrd just shook his head, conceding the point.

Ford: In terms of electoral college votes, which are what really count, the recent election was the closest since 1876.  Just five votes!  Yet I don’t think it would have been so close if this video had been released before last November, don’t you think?  And disgusting as it is, there are many more like it.  This is probably the least objectional one.  Jackson probably did the country a favor by going on the run.  Think of the damage that could have been done to this country with a President who was operating for at least the next four years under the threat of blackmail.

Byrd: Mr. President what do you say to the Vice-President-elect, who claims that under the 20th Amendment to the Constitution this case should have been treated as though the President-elect had died, and it was she who should have been sworn it at noon today?

Ford: Ah, yes, but the 20th Amendment is quite specific that the President-elect may only be sworn in under the situation where the President-elect has actually died or failed to qualify, not merely become a fugitive.  Jackson is not dead, as far as we know, and was fully qualified by the Electoral College, even if such a selection is now in doubt in light of these videos.  Section three then goes on to say that Congress may declare who shall act as President, or the manner by which the President shall be selected.

Rhodes: So if I understand what you are saying, Mr. President, if the Congress says that the Vice-President-elect or even the President-elect shall be sworn in as President, you will abide by that decision?

Ford: Absolutely! I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of this great nation and that is exactly what I’m doing.  We seemed to have slipped into a kind of loophole that isn’t covered by the 20th Amendment.   Moving the date of the inauguration out to the right a bit, to the original date of March 4, will give us the time we need to sort this mess out.

Baker: Do you have a recommendation that we can take back to Congress, Mr. President, as to who they should decide should be the next President, or what manner they should use to select him or her?

Ford: The lower House of Congress stands for election every two years.  This is how our founding fathers ensured that Congress remained closer to the will of the electorate.   The only recommendation I would make, and I believe it is the simplest way out of this dilemma, is simply to have the House select the new president and the Senate confirm their choice.   Since both houses of Congress are in the hands of Democrats this cycle, I presume they will settle on a Democratic Party ticket.  They might even choose the same ticket. No one will be able to say I overturned the will of the voters or made a pure party play.

Wright: In that event, Jerry, I’d like to turn to the question of why the 82nd Airborne has been posted on the perimeter of the White House grounds.

Ford:  It is purely a precautionary measure, Jim.  There are indeed some people who might decide what has happened has been, in fact, a coup.  To be honest, I’d much rather deploy the paratroopers to Barbuda right now, but they can serve a greater purpose acting as a deterrent to any self-deluded patriot hotheads.

Baker: Mr. President, you mention Barbuda.  There has been very little information released about the ongoing Operation Caribbean Rage.  Can you at least tell us how that is going?

Ford: I can say that the Richard M. Nixon battlegroup and their Marine detachment has performed remarkably well under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  In fact, I’ve just ordered the USS Eisenhower and her battlegroup to postpone a scheduled deployment to the Mediterranean and immediately steam south to Barbuda to relieve the Nixon, and I’m moving a carrier from the South Seas to fill in for the Ike in the Med.

Baker: Well, Mr. President, the reason I’ve asked that question is the basic fact that Barbuda is half the size of DC, yet we have all seen images and videos that much of Barbuda has been devastated from the air.

Ford: Howard, have a care what you get from the Swarm. Bear in mind that the Swarm is nothing more than a kind of propaganda outlet run by the Church of End Dome, which in their own words is the sworn enemy of the United States government.

Baker: This was Walter Cronkite at CBS, Mr. President.

Byrd: Jerry when you say they are sworn enemies how do you account for their macro power plants, one in each state, offering clean electric power at only once cent per kilowatt-hour, which is only one-tenth of the historic average cost of electric power nationwide?

Ford: Bob!  Do you think money is the only cost?

Byrd: Jerry, cold water seems to be the only requirement, and warm non-radioactive water is the only waste stream.  Home power bills rarely top ten dollars a month if the are getting power from their plants, unless there’s a real cold snap. So why are you moving to shut these plants down?

Ford: It’s patently  unfair to say we shut the plants down, Bob.  We made certain investigations, primarily focused on safety, that the Church of End Dome found unacceptable and they shut down their own plants in an immature little temper tantrum.  So far this has happened in four states.

Wright: Does the Administration intend to go forward with this policy until the macro power plants in all fifty states are off-line?

Ford: There’s ancient concept called hydraulic empire, Jim, have you ever heard of it?  One might even say it is the default structure of human civilization.  A hydraulic empire maintains itself through a monopoly on access to water.  I see the same thing happening with Robyn’s power plants and my policy is to prevent her from setting up something like that up where we can’t touch her.

Bryd: Jerry, I’d like to go back to the assassination of Earl Roland.     There is not much information out there as to precisely where it happened.  You say it was a federal detention center in Nebraska.  What and where, exactly, did the Vice-President get killed?

Ford: Proceed to the next question, Bob.

Bryd: Does your secret police have any compromising videos of Jeane Kirkpatrick?

Ford: Not yet we don’t.

Byrd: So you wouldn’t have any problem if the House and Senate moved to swear her in as your replacement by March 4?

Ford: Other than the fact that she’s an AFL-CIO Democrat, no.

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