Tcruz120-129

SQ7

120 – BOOT CAMP

In B’nei Elohim basic training, every minute of every hour was accounted for, and a typical day’s schedule ran like this:

At 0600 the girls would be rudely awaken, take a shower, and get dressed.

At 0700 was morning formation, when their triad Malak would do a personnel inspection and make any pertinent announcements.

At 0730 was a hearty breakfast, which Hope thought was quite good, though she could literally eat garbage and it would still feed the macro that provided power for her body.

At 0800 they worked to make their barracks spotless for the room inspection that took place at 0900.

At 0915 (assuming they passed the inspection and weren’t being punished for flunking it) they changed into their running gear (shorts and t-shirts) and ran on the hard dirt and gravel trails in the woods by rooms or sometimes by triads.

At 1030 they showered and dressed again. Lunch was at 1130, and then they went out to the shooting range until 1400.

Following that were three hours of day classes and supper, followed by four hours of night classes.

Every day at 2130 the girls had exactly one half-hour of free time, followed by lights out at 2200.

On Uniform Issue Day Hope and Geraldine got three more complete sets of clothing, running shoes, and another pair of boots which they were told to wear only for inspections. They also each got one raincoat, which was used frequently at Shangri-La, four red B’nei Elohim t-shirts, four pairs of red shorts, eight pairs of gray panties, and four gray bras.

Stephanie, the malak of Charlie Triad, showed them how to fold their clothes. She said, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the B’nei Elohim way…”

Overhead they heard a rumbling that went on for along time. Room Bravo Two was being “cycled” or exercised intensely as punishment for not doing things the BE way. Hope and Geraldine would learn all about that soon enough.

The next day featured a full physical and dental examination by real doctors who were B’nei Elohim. The doctors also administered a hearing and visual acuity test. The ladies of the BE, especially the Jills, tended to neglect their health, knowing there would always be fresh bodies to occupy. Here was the first look at two new such bodies coming in.

The afternoon of November 8 was their first day to shoot real rifles at the range. The next day was when classes actually began. Stephanie, Hope, and Jeri were in room Charlie Two. Rooms Alfa One and Bravo Three also began classes that week, nine girls in all. The malakim of the three triads alternated giving the classes.

The training often went something along these lines:

Two ishim and a malak formed a squad, the smallest fighting unit. There were 2,187 squads in the Girl Guard.

Three squads formed a nine-woman platoon, headed by a ravmalak. There were 729 squads in the Girl Guard.

Three platoons formed a 27-woman company, headed by a sar. There were 243 companies in the Girl Guard.

Three companies formed a 81-woman battalion, headed by an erel. There were 81 battalions in the Girl Guard.

Three battalions form a 243-woman regiment, headed by a hashmal. There were 27 regiments in the Girl Guard.

Three regiments form a 729-woman brigade, headed by an ophan. There were nine brigades in the Girl Guard.

Three brigades formed a 2187-woman division, headed by a cherub. There are three divisions in the Girl Guard, for a total of 6,561 women, and they answered directly to Del, who was the only seraph.

Of you eighteen recruits, nine would be selected to advance to the rank of ish and nine would be discharged to civilian life, some to serve at B’nei Elohim safe houses, and some even working in space. Everyone, at a minimum, would go up to Midway to receive the Change.  Everyone, that is, except Hope.

Midway, Hope learned, was a space station thousands of miles above Venus where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The Ark was the agent of the Change. The origin of the Artifact, as told in the Book of End Dome, and based ultimately on the white scroll of Lael, was not a secret for those willing to believe the account, but neither was it widely known.

After a month of training, the nine girls who were selected to be ishim, having officially joined the Girl Guard, were to meet two new recruits each and bring them to Shangri-La to begin training.

Three of those ishim in turn would be selected to advance to malak and become triad leaders. Finally, one of those triad leaders would be selected as an officer candidate, advance to ravmalak, and would move on to more training, equivalent to four years of college, destined to make her a sar.

There was a lot of information for the first week but Stephanie had been through this whole cycle before. She was there to help her subordinate, because it would help herself. Her chances on advancing to malak depended on how well she motivated Hope and Geraldine.

Then Work Week rolled around. Their first two days were spent in the laundry room doing the wash of every girl then in training, thirty sets of sweaty uniforms every day. Four days were spent on Kitchen Patrol, mess cranking with the outgoing Bravo Three room for two days and training up the incoming Alfa Two room for the next two days.

The room leaders acted as waitresses. The rest of them were grill cooks. Hope wasn’t particularly happy flipping hamburgers in the B’nei Elohim, but she knew things would get better.

One afternoon Stephanie took Hope and Geraldine on a shopping trip in downtown Seattle and treated them to a dinner of skewered steak and shrimp, her way of telling them thanks. She thought their composite score was very high, which bode well for advancement. Geraldine’s individual score was troublesome, however.  Indeed, when the transition day came around Geraldine was not selected to remain in the Girl Guard. She had placed moderately high, but was still in the lower half of the class. She was to be mustered out and put to work as an assistant to a full member while she went through the Change.

“I outrank Del now,” she said, trying to cheer herself up. “I’m a civilian.”

After a trip to Midway for the Change, Geraldine would probably be sent to a safe house somewhere back here on Earth. Hope didn’t worry for her, they really were safe now. After a series of botched raids and the fiasco at Barbuda it was quite clear that trying to seize any B’nei Elohim safe house was certain death for the attackers. Over the last few weeks DECON and local police came to an unspoken truce with the BE. They watched, but they didn’t move in anymore. And a few weeks after that it wouldn’t matter, because that’s when Pacifica broke off from the United States anyway.  The Second Civil War was on.

Stephanie moved up to Charlie triad malak, and Hope advanced from lowlife recruit to ish and went out to pick up her new girls, Vera and Annette. Hope retained residence in room C2.

Now that she was partly in charge of their training, Hope used much of their free time making Vera and Annette run up End Dome on the two mile winding course, which brought intense grumbling. But she said, “Your minimum time on this course is thirty minutes in the final. Any time less than that is extra points toward our composite score.”

Work Week came again, but Hope wasn’t behind the grill this time. She worked out in the chow hall, keeping it clean, setting out milk, and serving the table reserved for the triad malaks.

For room inspection on June 25, Hope’s recruits Vera and Annette had missed a spot. Hope found it at the last minute and wiped the dust with her hands. They passed the room inspection but she herself flunked the personnel inspection with her filthy paws, and her explanation wasn’t accepted.

But they were supposed to be a team. When she learned the truth, Stephanie punished all of them with a half hour of being “cycled”, or put through an intense series of exercises. Vera and Annette were deeply ashamed, and made it up to Hope with a good score on the range, throwing live rocket blades.

If a girl became a triad malak, it was partly the luck of the draw. She might be a great leader, but have a pair of recruits who didn’t want to be in the Girl Guard no matter what. Or she may be a lousy leader, but get two new fish who have their heart set on being Powers in the Guard themselves.

The entirety of B’nei Elohim boot camp was basically just two platoons, so from the nine triad malaks only three were picked to be ravmalaks. The rest were trained as specialists. Hope, to her delight, was chosen to be one of the three new malaks.

Vera and Annette both advanced to ish and became room leaders under Hope. She also added Private Eve under her from another room, and six new recruits took up residence in Charlie squad. So the finely-tuned machine which Lilith set into motion in the 1960s continued to crank out nine new B’nei Elohim Girl Guards every month, and also nine limited partners. A similar operation was running at Hybla-Dia for the nephilim and on Barbelo for the Fallen Angels.

As a malak in Bravo triad Hope started giving classes for the new girls. She taught them to kill and how to listen to pain as a defense mechanism and not an enemy to be vanquished.

She didn’t have to crank this time during Work Week, having already done so twice. “RHIP,” she said. “Rank Hath It’s Privileges.” And when a room messed up an inspection it was her turn to cycle them.

Hope herself was required to attend leadership classes deep into the night. She was being groomed for great things, and being selected for sar candidate school on was another step in that direction.  But one time when she had a few hours free Hope realized she missed her little sister Aliwe terribly and ascended to north wall of the Green River Gorge to pay a visit.   And that’s when she encountered her real mother Robyn.

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121 – TIGER CRUISE

During the five day wait for the return of Ithuriel’s space truck with the FTP Pod aboard, and during the two weeks following that as the Pod was removed and reinstalled aboard Exiler, some of Lahatiel’s crewmembers made a series of flights to the surface of Barbelo to fetch their dependents using  Exiler Sidekick, the ship’s independently-maneuverable lander held in an inverted position at the bottom of the stack opposite the flight deck.

Hashmal Ithuriel, his wife Jabniel, and their son Hadraniel were invited to sleep in  Lahatiel’s stateroom, which was twice the size of the other four staterooms.  For the duration of the initial “Tiger Cruise” or “Dependents’ Cruise” Lahatiel and his wife Noriel slung hammocks in Kushiel’s workspaces in the aft end of the ship.

Suriel had already set up house with her wife Orifiel in her own stateroom.  Her sister Camael and two  other booty-wives, Auriel and Chobaliel were brought up from Barbelo and seated comfortably  in  the common room.  They said this was satisfactory for them. Finding a place to sleep in free fall was not an intractable problem.

As was the case with Suriel, the ship’s navigator Barakiel had already set up house with his lover Peniel in his stateroom.  It remained only to bring up his sister Anafiel and his other two dependents Sachiel and Gedael from Barbelo and berth them temporarily in the Banquet Room as well.

Ravmalak Kushiel of the House of Bellon and his two wives, Adriel and Neriah were already ensconced in his stateroom, and they were to stay together for the  entire voyage of Exiler.  Kushiel’s wives even helped their husband work in the engineering spaces.

The third flight of Exiler Sidekick was to the island of Danya to obtain Adnarel’s mother Ananchel and one wife, Zuriel.  These two were to stay with Adnarel in the fifth stateroom. The fourth flight was to the Navy base located near the Larund mass-driver to pick up Adnarel’s three other wives, Sariel,  Zotiel,  and Gidaijal.  These nephilim women took the remaining seats in the Banquet  Room  for the first leg of the journey.

So things were crowded at first.  Twenty-one nephilim in all embarked on Exiler as she crawled stately away from the station and the observatory using only attitude thrusters to avoid contaminating the nearby space telescope.  There was a shared meal to  celebrate  what had traditionally been called a Tiger Cruise.  The fare was as good as space food gets considering it had to be eaten in free fall.

Everyone  learned that the “Banquet Room” was not named in jest, though it  was too small to accommodate everyone simultaneously.  Those who ate first offered up their seat to others who were waiting to eat, and the character of the  lively  conversation  slowly changed as the  configuration  of  dinner guests changed and the food just kept coming. Finishing off was a chopped, steamed danis from Barbelo in a spicy rapha sauce, and for dessert, a delicious two-layer raam cake.

After the meal Ithuriel and the senior officers went forward to prepare for the hop.  Barakiel turned Exiler to face the constellation called by humans Cassiopeia, which resembled a large “W” when you connected the dots (the nephilim called it the Serpent Root). The last and brightest dot in the “W” was Sol. Using the new data from Hashmal Ithuriel, he found the blank spot in the sky where the star Sol was supposed to be in real time and had the computer circle it in red.

Aft in the engine room Kushiel revved up the two macros and feathered the other four engines until he found a sweet spot around one-ninth of a gee where most the vibration canceled itself out.

A yellow dot representing the computed real-time vector sum of the ship’s acceleration was buzzing around on the view port heads-up display like a fly as Barakiel fired the side thrusters and tried to keep it centered inside the little red circle.  But the best he could manage was to get the yellow dot to make repeated clumsy passes through to the edge of circle, giving Lahatiel no time to safely turn the key.

“This is impossible!” Barakiel muttered as the minutes wore on and intense performance pressure began to mount. He was trying to hit a lousy one AU circle, less than one AU actually, viewed telescopically from 266,353 AU away.

“When the Commodore is ready to actually go to the Sol system,” Sar Adnarel said after nearly an hour had passed and there was still no sign Barakiel was getting lucky, “he will order the Navigation Officer of the Exiler to be relieved by the Weapons Officer.”

Lahatiel looked at Adnarel and considered her suggestion. He hated to undercut Barakiel’s confidence, but this was turning out to be far more difficult than anyone thought. Finally he said, “Erel Barakiel, stand down. Sar Adnarel, take the Navigation station please.”

“Yes sir,” Barakiel said with a sigh, and he was quickly clear of his post before Adnarel could draw near, lest she accidentally brushed his hand with her own. Adnarel floated over to Barakiel’s console and took over the controls for the helm, which were really just a pair of large joysticks, dark red and dark green, bristling with buttons.

“Damn,” she muttered to herself as the yellow dot indicating the vector sum of the ship’s acceleration just missed the circle, and Barakiel developed a smug look on his face. But she quickly learned the trick of it and soon with little taps on the ship’s thruster controls she just nudged the dot into the small circle, where it seemed to linger. Barakiel merely gaped at her. Ophan Lahatiel knew it was the perfect moment and turned the key.

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122 – SUEZ WAR TWO

Lilith Gervasi served in all of the Arab-Israeli Wars of Timetrack Zeta until she fell victim to ultra-orthodox Jews playing politics and was sent home in the middle of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a move that probably saved her life since there wasn’t much of a state of Israel left standing after that final war went nuclear.

In Timetrack Eta, Nixon was distracted by the Watergate thing and couldn’t mismanage the Yom Kippur War to the point were it went hot, as in hydrogen fusion hot.

In Timetrack Zeta through Kappa Lilith provided her government with a great deal of intelligence on the Egyptian moves weeks in advance, information that consistently turned out to be uncannily accurate. Acting on these tips, the country mobilized to nip Egypt in the bud time after time.  There never was a Yom Kippur War on those threads.

Lilith became legendary. The Labor Party kicked around the idea of making her the Prime Minister. What Lilith asked for instead was an officer’s commission for her “daughter” Del in the formidable Israeli Defense Force, which when rendered in Hebrew and shortened to an acronym was known as ZAHAL.

Lilith’s relationship with Del was strange to say the least.  Del was actually the daughter of Talishi and a male B’nei Eloah named Brand.  But since Talishi was simply the earlier incarnation of El Shaddai, just as Lilith was the second one, Del really was Lilith’s daughter, in a very convoluted way.  But such was Lilith’s political capital that Israel was willing to accept the Jewish descent of Del as her true daughter on Lilith’s mere say-so.

After the near-miss in ‘73 the active forces of Israel were reorganized into twenty-six battalions, Alfa through Zulu. Major Del commanded the two thousand men and women of Bravo Battalion. In times of major conflict in Israel (always alerted well in advance by Robyn), hundreds of thousands of reserves were called up and assigned to one of the twenty five other battalions, which rapidly became full divisions, but Bravo Battalion, the uttermost elite, remained made up solely of hand-picked army regulars.  It was their leadership, their equipment, and especially their training that set Bravo Battalion apart.

With her head sticking outside of the hatch on top of one of twenty segments of a towed barge, Del let the eternal winds of the Gulf of Suez and the moderate rolling of the barge kick saltwater spray over hem. Her tan, mottled major’s uniform was impeccable, sharply creased and heavily adorned with fabric service ribbons. Del was invincible in war and her fame extended across two star systems.  But Asmodeus figured Del couldn’t be in two places at once, and he also figured if both Taurus City and Israel were attacked simultaneously, Del would automatically default to defending Lilith’s adopted homeland. So when the Gerash Patriarch moved to assail Taurus City he ordered up another Arab-Israeli War just to keep Del and perhaps several other B’nei Elohim tied up on Earth.

Africa was almost completely surrounded by water. The place where it was joined to Asia had been crossed by a man-made ditch 200 km long for the last 200 years, permitting ships to travel between Europe and the Far East without detouring all the way around Africa. It was not even a particularly elaborate engineering feat. The land was so flush with sea level that the canal did not require locks.

By 1978 nearly a quarter of all world trade was using the Suez Canal, but it was only wide enough to permit one lane of travel, alleviated with turnout lanes here and there, thus requiring quite an elaborate traffic control setup. For a long time there had been talk of widening the canal, but the proposals for dredging it wider always entailed shutting down traffic for up to four years and the predicted increase in traffic was not thought to be enough to justify the loss of government revenues from transit taxes, an enormously important source of income for Egypt as the country approached becoming a net importer of petroleum and growing Islamic “Jihad” terrorism strangled Egypt’s once lucrative tourist trade spigot.

For twelve years Israel had relied on Lilith’s intelligence, obtained from her source Robyn, to concentrate the forces of the IDF against any Arab attack well before it happened, which is how such a small country managed to survive in such a rough neighborhood with the entire Arab world arrayed against it.  But both Lilith and Robyn had gone missing, so the country was caught completely off-guard when Egypt punched a hole at one point in the much-vaunted “Ben-Judah Line” of fortifications with artillery.

The commander of the Egyptian 1st Army knew that the Sinai was like a bread with a hard crust that was soft in the interior. After breaching the crust in the short channel between marshy, salty Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, the Egyptians started ferrying over tanks, troops, ammunition, and other war materiel on rafts as fast as they could, building up quite a bridgehead on the other side, like an infection of bacteria lodged in a wound.

And in this war, for the first time, the vast resources of the United States supplied the Egyptian side rather than the Israeli side.   The Cold War had made a grand cartwheel, and the Soviet Union now supported the B’nei Elohim rather than the eternal losers of the Pan-Arab movement.  That had always been a shaky arrangement anyway.  The Soviets were officially atheist, while the Arabs had scriptures compelling them to kill atheists on sight.

The Egyptians had a good forty-hour head start before Del could report for duty, together with her father Brand, and Ariel the mother of Victoria. Mike Morrich went to Jerusalem to be a point of contact between the B’nei Elohim and the Israeli government.

Del’s amphibious assault arrived under the guise of twenty deceptively painted, weathered-looking old barges slowly towed behind a jumbo tugboat toward the southern entrance of the canal. They were in two parallel trains of ten containers all linked together by flexible couplings. At Del’s command they all simultaneously broke free from each other and began moving under their own power toward the assigned beach.

All twenty of the special landing craft began to take sporadic 40mm mortar fire from somewhere in the city but this was mainly just an annoyance. Each landing craft was coated with tank armor, constructed in the best shape for defense, a shape evolved through more than a century of constant warfare with the Arabs.

Del made her way to the front of the barge, pushing through the men and women hanging on to straps from the ceiling of the barge. Israel was unique among nations. Ever confronted with a chronic shortage of personnel, men and women were drafted equally, trained together, and sent into battle together, at least when the ultra-orthodox religious factions were out of power in the Knesset.

Then Del raised her voice to address her people, saying, “I have never lied or concealed the truth from you. They gave us the most dangerous beach possible. We’ll be practically single file. When you disembark immediately turn to the right and get off the sand spit as soon as possible. We’re the first. Our mission is to seize the canal operations center and to secure a beachhead for the forces that will come a little later. God be with us.”

How little they knew, thought Del, who was literally the daughter of God, that God really was with them.   But even so, there would be no avoiding the fact that many of her people would not walk off that beach, perhaps even herself.

The boat officer beached Del’s assault craft right up onto the sand close to the structures of the locks and the buildings that supported them. The wall behind Del dropped down to become a ramp, revealing a beach being torn up by mortar fire. She knew the heavy shelling was soon to come. She yelled her battle motto, “Follow Me!” and led her people out onto the wet sand, the 1st Platoon of Gold Company.

Further down the spit were Blue Company, Orange, and White, each with five platoons, all of them storming the sand spit simultaneously.

The astonishing sight of a rusty barge breaking up into twenty motorized landing boats, turning with perfect coordination like a drill team on parade, beaching on the spit, and disgorging a thousand IDF troops onto Egyptian soil was spotted by the alarmed men in the canal control tower, and they called it in to a gun battery somewhere in Suez City.

Splashes began to fly up in the sea around them as the gunners got their range. The splashes got closer to the beach, and some of them struck the now abandoned landing craft.

Gold Company 2nd Platoon, the people from the boat immediately next to Del’s boat, was the first one to be hit with an incoming 155mm shell. Artillery is the troop killer. Sixteen people lay dead, another twenty lay wounded or were knocked off their feet. Of the wounded, eight would later die. Only twelve people in that platoon were unharmed, but some of these would be picked off in ones and twos by the random mortar rounds that never stopped coming in.

A pair of soldiers in Del’s Platoon, a male and female, set up on the sand a compact air search radar and tried to pinpoint where the rounds were coming from by tracing their flight-paths back to the source. Blue 5th Platoon took 5 dead and 12 injured before he got a fix. The female called out the resulting coordinates over a micro and requested an air strike.

At first Del wasn’t sure what happened next. She found herself waking up with her legs soaked by seawater. It slowly dawned on her that she had been close to the detonation of incoming round and had been knocked by the concussion a little ways into the water. Del had no recollection of the last few seconds, minutes? She didn’t know. Her only thought at that point was dying was so easy. Del had never been obsessed with the issue because she had lived for years in Haaretz, the place where some dead people go anyway.

Del was not to die on that day. Using his B’nei Elohim “superpower” Brand had deflected the incoming shell from striking directly on her platoon. Del’s body armor had intercepted most of the blast shrapnel, and the overpressure had been enough to put her in a mild state of shock but it was not life-threatening. She was capable of healing herself with her own talent. Still, Del was a little dazed, and she no longer led the assault, to be sure.

Brand, with the rank of Captain, had taken charge of the assault when he saw his little girl go down. It was all handled seamlessly. Del no longer had a coherent platoon to lead. Seven were immediately dead, twelve were wounded, and four of those would soon die from blood loss, missing limbs, or other serious injuries. The rest merged with the other platoons running north.

The Orange 3rd Platoon was the last to be hit, six dead and ten wounded, three mortally. A single Archangel fighter flew to the location called in from the ground and let loose a cluster bomb, which broke up into many bomblets and saturated the area of the offending gun battery with many small explosions, disabling the guns and killing all the personnel manning the weapon.

Now Del’s people were free to hurry off their vulnerable position on the beach, plagued only by mortar fire, which claimed thirty-one lives. Total killed in the landing phase was “just” eight percent of her force, and another twelve percent injured. This was very bad, but not nearly as bad as the forty percent casualties Del had anticipated after she understood her orders.

Del rammed home a lightweight clip of laser ammo. The cartridges were clear Lucite vials. When the trigger was pulled, the firing pin broke a seal in the cartridge, mixing nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide which gave a brilliant flash of light. This light pumped the ruby rod and laser light flashed out from the half-mirrored front end. Fully forty percent of the chemical energy in the cartridge was put on the target as a burst of pure light.  This was the primary infantry weapon of the B’nei Elohim but the Israelis of Bravo Battalion were thoroughly supplied with them,

In city the defenders were well dug in. Lasers flickered all along the front hoping to catch an unlucky head. But Del could see the Egyptians were not fighting up to snuff. She could sense the feeling of little boy lost among them. Return fire was mostly ineffective but a few enemy soldiers stood their ground, aimed carefully and took out a few of Del’s people. Expendable nitrous/carbon monoxide shell casings popped away as Del called on the best within her to put thumping 50 millisecond bursts of light on target. This was the turn of the tide. It was palpable. It fell over the Egyptians like a shadow, like the blackness of mass hatred overtaking a mob. They were already in retreat, moving north on the road home to Cairo, and the Israeli Army was sweeping over the city in a general rout.

By the time she caught up to Brand in the canal ops center the building was largely secure. Del’s immediate objective had been achieved, and she ordered her people to fan out into Suez City to prepare to greet the rest of the Israeli Defense Force soon arriving, less clandestinely, in waves of lightly armored hovercraft. There were fights for the railroad station and the Al-Gaysh Causeway to Port Tewfiq, and a very hot struggle for the Governorate building on the waterfront that was quickly wrapped up.

With her successes of the opening hours, with Del’s empty barges abandoned on the sand bar swaying with the tide and not likely to be needed ever again, Colonel Motti Adan parked his ass safely in that Governorate building. Eager to gain the credit for the victory, he separated Del’s troops from her and reassigned them to the main thrust on the road north to Ismailia. As for Del herself, he called her out on the carpet. Del’s assigned beach had been a dead-end sand spit with only one way off yet somehow she refused to fail and he wanted to know why.

On the top floor of the occupied Governorate, which had contained the city’s police station, Del and Brand stood before him at attention as Adan vented the worst of his wrath, which eventually got around to the question that was foremost in his mind: “Where are your people now?”

Del decided on telling a partial truth. “I loaded the landing craft forty-six percent full, sir. I left the balance of my battalion in the barracks at Eilat.”

“Your battalion? Major, I can assure you that it is no longer, and never shall be again, your battalion.”

Brand asked the Colonel pardon and explained that the assigned beach would have been too crowded with twenty-two hundred troops, and the resulting confusion would have led to much higher casualties, perhaps even a total rout. Brand was awarded another stream of shouted insults, focused more intensely directly upon him.

“My father is my chief staff officer, sir,” Del said when there was a pause for breath in the colonel’s stream of invective. “He was following my orders. Therefore I accept the heat, sir. If there is to be any punishment I take it upon myself.”

“I should throw you both behind bars,” Adan said, but I think it is far better that you should both sit out the rest of this war. Major Gonen, you and Captain Gonen will do nothing. That is mandatory. I repeat: nothing! Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir!” they both blurted in reply.

“Now get out of my sight!”

Obviously Adan had an affinity for tidiness which Del didn’t share. The Colonel was less interested in killing the enemy and seizing land than he was in making the change of watch into a regular and orderly process complete with pass-down logs. He had put in a lot of time and brainpower crafting his Scimitar set-piece and Del had gone wildly off script, throwing his whole plan into disarray.

There was a very large black car parked right in front of the building. Del cast covetous eyes on it. Brand saw the Colonel’s sticker on the window and shook his head. “No, no, Del, that is Adan’s limousine, you can’t be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”

Del simply got in on the passenger side of the limo and expected her father to get in and drive. She had already found the keys in the front ashtray when he reluctantly took his place behind the wheel.

“Everyone is sitting around,” she said, disgusted, as they went out of the building onto the streets of Suez City. “Everyone is more afraid of the finger-pointing that follows action than in actually being hit with a round! It is time to get out here, father. To the front.”

“That won’t be easy.”

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123 – AIR WAR

In the wake of the parley between John Glenn and Robyn at Taurus City in the autumn of 1974 on Timetrack Theta the fortunes of the United States declined markedly due to the irrational response of certain Christians who led the country after they were faced with the actual angels, gods, messiahs and devils of their own theology. In many ways their reaction paralleled what happened in the province of Judea after Alexander the Great died and left no heir.

Alexander’ generals divided the empire between themselves and became rivals. They put on royal crowns and so did their sons after them. The general named Seleucus I Nicator founded an empire centered in Asia Minor that ruled much of the land conquered by Alexander from Thrace to India. At that time many Jews began to adopt the ways of the Greeks who dominated them. They built gymnasiums where nudity was standard, tried to reverse their circumcision, and no longer observed the ordinances of the Mosaic Law.

With some support of these secularized Jews, Antiochus IV Ephiphanes declared Judaism abolished and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem to Zeus. Many Jews were willing (even eager) to abandon their old religion, but the priest Mattathias began a set of terrorist acts to deter Hellenized Jews from sacrificing to Zeus. This eventually became a full-scale revolution to return Judea to the fundamentalist doctrines instituted by Ezra.

In America the revolution was from the top down and was chiefly manifested by the predations of a secret agency called Domestic Enemies Classification, Observation, and Neutralization, or DECON. Domestic enemies were defined as those American citizens who embraced the imcomprehensible changes brought by the B’nei Elohim. Mere possession of a micro, for instance, was a felony no different from possession of heroin.

It was a curious fact that partisan politics had very little to do with it. Control of DECON had passed between Republicans and Democrats several times and the agency had been created by FDR in the first place to manage the internment camps of Japanese-Americans.

Two hundred DECON agents making up an expedition to invade the Moon were lofted using a new launch laser constructed at Cape Kennedy. In the sudden zero gravity many of the agents began vomiting, some from an upset stomach, but more perhaps from fear. It set off a chain reaction of vomiting and there was misery all around in the earliest hours of the flight. Even the well-traveled space veteran John Glenn had to close his helmet before the smell made him puke.

The troop transports accompanying Asmodeus and Apollyon was joined by seven more largely empty one, and all of these flew in formation with the spacecraft carrier Trespasser, whose name, at this particular time, was apropos. The Solar ID Grid normally orbited Hyperion. Hyperion orbited Jupiter, Jupiter orbited Sol, Sol orbited the galactic center, the galaxy orbited the Vega supercluster, and the whole shooting match was flying toward the Great Attractor. So neither El Shaddai nor Bat-El knew precisely where the ID Grid was with respect to Jupiter, all they had to do was send vessels presenting themselves within the metallic structure at Palato to the ID Grid at Sol wherever it was.

And where the Tresspasser and its troop transports popped out this time, due to the perfidy of Asmodeus, was the Earth- Sun L2 point, about three-quarters of a million miles past the moon.   There the nephilim made rendezvous with John Glenn’s people.

On their second day of patrol Baron Bayard Sala and Debby were about five thousand miles away from the radio observatory operated by the Organization of the Nations of Earth at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point.  Their red and gray square Sandwich fighters linked together by a long thin cable so they could talk without revealing their presence by radio.

Bayard and Debby wore helmets with their name on them, primarily to keep their hair from floating into their eyes, but the helmets also held their earpieces and microphones and kept them from bumping their head if they took a surprise hit. Other than that, they wore no pressure suits, but instead they sported comfortable red and gray cotton uniforms.

Behind their seat in the angular flight-deck (Hunky and Dory insisted on never calling it a cockpit) was a tunnel providing access to the main subsystems of the fighter, and it was long enough to stretch out in and go to sleep.

“Deb?” Bayard said tentatively. “Deb, I know it’s not your watch yet but I have a contact.”

Deb stirred awake at the sound of the baron’s voice. She floated all the way forward, placed her seat in the upright locked position, and put her helmet on. “Okay, I’m awake, Baron, what do you got?”

“Search radar, in band seven, off our starboard beam and down a little bit in Z.”

Debby booted up her Electronic Surveillance Measures system. “All I see is the telescope at one seven five, and you at zero eight zero.”

Wait a few seconds. It’s a long-range radar so the pulses are spaced far apart.

Presently a diamond symbol was displayed on Debby’s screen, captioned with the small amount of information her instruments had gleaned so far.

Debby said, “Okay, now I got the enemy symbol on ESM. I’m slewing my telescope over to have a look-see.”

On the stubby cylindrical post that attached the top solar panel to the rest of her fighter the telescope spun over to the right on the lower gimbals while Debby’s primary weapons, the twin lasers, remained locked straight ahead. Soon Debby saw on her screen a distant winged brown bulb trailing glowing smoke against a hailstorm of stars. She said, “Now I see him!”

Deb, “I want you to move off about a hundred miles to get a good baseline so we can triangulate and get a range.”

Okay, breaking the wire, talk to you when I get back.

Their contact was the spacecraft carrier Trespasser of the Navy of Mastema, and no less a personage than the Emperor himself, Patriarch Asmodeus Gerash, was aboard that ship, together with his son Apollyon.

“Sire, we have something,” the Cherub Belphegor called, and the Emperor drifted over to him in the large but cluttered space of the Combat Engagement Center, or CEC.

Their human host John Glenn was also present in CEC, for combat operations were about to commence, and he joined them as well. When Asmodeus, Apollyon and Glen all hovered in freefall nearby over his shoulder the Cherub said, “Sire, we assumed Tracks 4022 and 4023 were just boulders, but now Track 4022 is showing independent movement.”

“We’ve been detected.”   Asmodeus pointed at the cherub’s screen. “Commence electronic countermeasures against lunar communications and send everything in this octant against the hostile tracks. They must not escape.”

While the attack on Bayard and Debby got underway, a number of specially configured and previously deployed Imperial bombers assailed the Moon with such a heavy bombardment of broadband radio and neutrino noise such that no broadcasts from space above the farside could be discerned at all. But Bayard and Debby were still above this electroweak storm and knew nothing of it.

“What the…? Sorry to break radio silence, Baron but I just took a hit.”

“Are you all right?” They were both broadcasting in the clear to avoid the small delays involved with encryption, but that hardly seemed to matter now.

A big ragged smoking bite was taken out of Debby’s solar panel, and debris glittered around her like so many twinkling golden stars. “My top panel is fucked. Just one second…”

Debby swung her twin laser mount to bear on the offender, an insect-like dark brown Imperial fighter. After few rounds expended on target she was rewarded with a satisfying hot ball of expanding gas where the fighter and its two pilots used to be. First blood went to Debby. “Oh yeah! Now I’m okay!”

It was fifty miles away but Bayard saw the bright explosion of the enemy fighter with her own eyes as a little puff ball. Nice shot. Then Bayard tried to raise his people on the Moon to report the attack, but no one answered, which was strange.

“For what it’s worth,” Debby said, sending raw data over to Bayard, “here’s my angle on the intruder.”

The baron played around with Debby’s numbers for a bit. “Damn, that thing is twelve hundred feet long! It must be one of the Emperor’s fleet carriers come out to play.”

“I have more bad news, Baron. There’s a whole swarm of Imperial bugs between here and the Moon, fighters and shuttle-bombers all.”

“Get back here with me so I can cover you!”

“Too late. I’m gonna punch a hole for you right through the bastards. Look how tight they’re bunched up, the morons. Honestly, doesn’t the Empire know anything?”

“Uplink your memories to me as long as you can,” Bayard said.

See you in the next life! And that, for the B’nei Elohim, was not a matter of faith or an idle hope. But the jamming made it problematic for both of them.

Bayard and Debby had run into Squadron 21 from the Trespasser, about a dozen two-man fighters like the one that assaulted Debby plus a handful of larger five-man bombers with their articulated insect heads that could send a flat, powerful lase in any direction.

Admiral Belphegor ordered all of them to hold station about a thousand miles nearer to the Moon than the radio observatory to block any escape to there.

Debby came into range and Admiral Belphegor ordered Squadron 21 to fire at will. Deb was killed instantly, but Bayard safely obtained the entire stream of bits which represented her final memories.

Debby’s ship broke up under the withering Imperial firepower, but included in the debris was one fully armed Brushfire-C missile. When the pile of expanding garbage that was the corpse of Debby’s ship passed her attackers, at exactly that instant, the Brushfire detonated, antimatter, destroying most of the planes, disabling all of the others, and clearing a neat hole for the baron to escape through.

When the spherical fireball had grown to fill half of the sky and dimmed to invisibility the baron dared to look again, and in his telescope she saw the ellipsoid of the enemy carrier looming ever closer. There was a second capital ship following as well. This was the Imperial destroyer Persecutor, escorting the carrier.

As she neared the Moon the baron found himself entering the various cones of Imperial jamming and she understood why he had been unable to warn Taurus City of their danger. When he got very close he put her laser on low power and locked onto a solar panel in the city’s roof to talk through the radio noise by modulating the light. “Taurus, this is Bayard flying Illustrious. I’ve been in a scrap, and Debby is gone. Prepare to receive me.”

It was a long shot but they must have heard him. Hunky probably thought of this trick too, at the same time. A docking port slid open and Bayard Sala entered a hollow space in the two-story ceiling structure that covered the entire city.

Under withering anti-aircraft fire from the city the two Imperial fighters in the van of the pursuit veered off and returned to Trespasser.

Taurus had been built using an economical cut and cover technique of tunnel construction, and most of the materials for Taurus had been manufactured from local resources, but it was still an expensive property.

Bayard climbed backwards out of the rear hatch of his fighter, near the twin nozzles, marked with blue arrows and EGRESS in bold letters. Already his ship was being topped off with more water for the macros.

“What hornet’s nest did you stumble into?” Asked Hunky, who was large and in charge at Taurus while Lilith was dead and Robyn off doing something else.

“It’s the Empire boys,” Bayard said when he let his long blond hair fly free of his helmet, and there was a hint of joy on his face when he said that. He wanted it to happen. Bayard had drilled endlessly for this day, and couldn’t wait to roll out everything the B’nei Elohim had laid away in preparation for it. “They’ve finally come out in force, breaking the agreement between the gods. So Hunky, it looks like we’ve got to show them a little deterrent of our own.”

“Actually it’s going to be a lot of deterrent,” Hunky said with a grin of her own, even with Del out of the picture for now.

At the precise moment when Del was storming the beach south of Suez City, three hundred and eight American and nephilim troops aboard fourteen Empire of Belial shuttles approached the Moon in their great gamble to destroy the Ark of the Covenant so it could not be used to contact an eloah outside of Mastema’s harem.  And the irony was the Ark wasn’t anywhere near the Moon.

The curious timing of their attack was by design, of course.  Asmodeus knew he would have absolutely no chance of victory if he had to face Del, who seemed to be exactly like Kandiel in a second life as a human. So knowing Del’s priorities, he arranged for the Egyptians, aided by the Americans, to stir the Levantine shit pot one more time as a distraction, to their own everlasting regret.

The invasion force was launched from the Imperial carrier Trespasser, together with a mix of thirty fighters and bombers to provide air cover, as it was still called even in the vacuum of space. Additional muscle was provided by the guns and missiles of the destroyer Persecutor.

Then the Trespasser hung back about a hundred thousand miles from the Moon, with another third of her fighters and bombers circling on CSP, or Combat Space Patrol, and the final third still aboard the carrier in reserve.

The Persecutor and Asmodeus’ invasion force whipped around the other side of the Moon from the city of Taurus and entered orbit. In defense, all Hunky could do at that point was transmit the signal to arm hundreds of space mines which had orbited the moon like silent, tireless sentries for years.

Mines were a dangerous nuisance but they were not really considered a game-changer. Admiral Belphegor, who had already transferred his flag to the Persecutor, considered them to be good target practice for his gunners whenever one popped up from behind the limb of the moon.

The space mines deployed by Taurus City were officially referred to as Semi-Maneuverable Anti-Spy Satellite satellites (SMASSS). None had nuclear warheads, but macro warheads were nasty enough. Mines were generally easy to avoid, being in orbit where they marched to the precise laws of physics and gravity and their positions were known to all parties at all times, B’nei Elohim mines had primitive AI and they also had thrusters to maneuver.

When the mines saw the enemy ships they made small alterations in their orbits with puffs of propellant gas. Each Imperial ship immediately noticed the discrepancy on radar and changed their own course to swing clear.

After a few near-misses, the fleet began constantly doing random course changes to avoid becoming more predictable to the mines than the mines were to them. It took one more orbit around the moon before the orbital pattern of the mines could be crafted by their internal micros, working as a team, into a concentrated phalanx.

The invaders were gathered close in to the Moon. They were a loose cluster of ships less than fifty miles in altitude, but the sharply bending lunar horizon was still distant enough to allow time for emergency evasive action when hundreds of the space mines popped up over the lunar limb in a gigantic surprise.

Evasion began immediately but many of the devices had actually repositioned themselves to take advantage of the most likely evasion plans. The mines were thinking ahead.

A last ditch laser barrage defense was turned against the rapidly closing mines but there were simply too many of them and some of the invaders were too slow and clumsy to get out of the way. The shuttles Conqueror and Brutalizer actually collided, crippling each other for the remainder of the battle.

Six nephilim officers from both ships salvaged what they could of the fiasco, jettisoning themselves in their command sections and making their way down to the prearranged rendezvous point on the surface of the Moon. But the forty-four angry American troops left behind would continue to flounder in orbit until the B’nei Elohim captured them a week later.

Fourteen of the other transport ships successfully evaded the mine attack. But the shuttle Harasser was not so lucky and seemed to walk right into them. The artificially intelligent mines were ecstatic that they could finally fulfill their intended purpose and explode. Harasser was struck by the cresting wave of mines and all twenty-five nephilim soldiers aboard her died. Hunky had definitely grabbed Asmodeus’ attention now. So much for the cakewalk he had in mind.

Next Taurus City unleashed hundreds of surface-to-space missiles from hidden batteries all over the Moon. Half of these missiles were not armed with explosives. Instead they were tasked to haul up inflatable mylar balloons, long strips of chaff, aluminum foil, dummy warheads and canisters of infrared-emitting aerosols.

In the middle of all this pure trash the real live Brushfire missiles in- side the threat cloud were completely hidden by an opaque white smear on radar, made even worse by the Imperial’s own jamming from a higher orbit which backlit the whole mess.

When Admiral Belphegor realized this and ordered everyone to switch to visual acquisition on telescopes hyz list of potential threats was ten times larger than the number of real threats, thanks to the B’nei Elohim deployment of decoy inflatable missiles. By the time Belphegor figured that out the real Brushfire missiles were already on terminal cruise, aided by targeting using passive and active sensors scattered in odd corners all over the surface of the Moon.

Odd that these formidable preparations on the part of the B’nei Elohim seemed to slip the Emperor’s mind when he planned his raid.

Cherub Belphegor tried jamming the Brushfires. He tried substituting the real radar reflection of Persecutor with an electronic impostor and then moving that impostor blip off to a new course hoping the missiles would follow. And it did seem to work. Many of the Brushfire rounds did go off course.

Then the Imperial fighters protecting Persecutor (and Persecutor herself) started taking potshots at the rest of the incoming missiles with thumping 80 kilowatt laser firepower, two rounds per second per turret.

With all these defensive efforts at a peak the big wave broke and sprinkled only a relative handful of Brushfire missiles through to hit the shuttles Degrader and Immolator, which were destroyed in spectacular, silent explosions with all hands aboard.

The Persecutor had escaped damage for the time being, but the fireworks show was just getting started.

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124 – ABDUCTION

Playing hooky from boot camp Hope played on her backyard swing set with Aliwe, simply because the house was so close and she missed her little sister. There had been so little time for them to be together since Hope left Canterwood.

With every swing forward, their feet flew out over the very lip of the Green River Gorge. There was no fence, but Victoria and Mark had told both of them many times never to think about going down there, for it could be very steep and dangerous, and there were hazards left over from the days when the area had been a gold mining mecca, and later a coal mining mecca.

And yet, somehow, despite the danger a face appeared over the lip of the gorge and Hope saw that it was Robyn, the woman Momma Vic once told her was her real mother.

Hope stopped herself from swinging and stared at Robyn for a moment.  Then she said, “You’re looking at me!”

“I saw you at the Bite the Wax Tadpole concert,” Robyn said.

But Hope shook her head, unwilling to believe that lie and disappointed that Robyn would lie. “No you didn’t. You never looked at me once for the whole concert. I know because was watching the whole time!”

“No, you were not watching the whole time, Hope. Didn’t they tell you I can see the future? I knew those short moments when you would turn around or look to the side.”

Hope tried to remember when those moments were. “Why did you do that?”

“I wanted to create a longing within you for when we met again, today.”

So Hope learned that Robyn had manipulated her, yet Robyn freely admitted doing so. Robyn went on to tell her that if Hope followed her back down into the gorge, she could ask anything she wanted, and Robyn would say nothing but the truth every time.

So, with only a short hesitation, Hope put her hand in Robyn’s outstretched hand.  Then Robyn turned to look at little Aliwe, her great-grandchild.   “Can you keep a secret?”   The girl nodded.   “If anyone asks if your sister was here, what will you say?”

“She was not.”

“If anyone asks if I was here, or if anyone was here, what will you say?”

“Was not.”

“Good girl!”

Hope waved goodbye to her sister and followed Robyn down into the Gorge. Her first question was, “Are you my real mother?”

“No. You don’t have a mother, Hope, because you are not a human girl.  You are not a real girl.   You already know that, don’t you?”

Hope nodded.

“Hope, you are a wonderful machine we built to experience a childhood, thinking all along that it was a real human girl, because that is the only way to get a machine to wake up. But I was there at the dangerous beginning on Mercury when you first came to be, and that is a wonderful story, I’ll tell it to you if you like, but this too is another dangerous beginning so I am here to be with you again.”

DECON Agent Kurt Delaney saw Robyn take Hope in her hand from his vantage on Elegant Cleaver, a narrow ridge of brush-covered sandstone jutting straight out into the gorge only a quarter mile away from the house. He warned his backup agent, decided to intercept Robyn and Hope himself, they were very close and the terrain was relatively open. He bounced his way down over the ferns, but he never made it. About halfway there, there was the sound of wooden planks splintering, and Delaney disappeared from sight.

His backup and superior, DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn, was right behind him. At first she thought Kurt was joking, but then she got over there and looked in. She saw the agent had fallen into something like a well which had been covered by a thin layer of rotting wood, and in turn covered by dirt and undergrowth. Except the bore wasn’t straight down. It was cut at a diabolical angle, in fact, following the natural incline of the folded strata. Not steep enough for a quick free fall, done and over, but steep enough to keep Kurt sliding no matter what he did. If he moved to tried to arrest his slide, he only slid faster. And there was nothing Danica could do to help him except call for help that was too far away in any event.

“God help me!” Kurt blurted with a desperate burst of breath as his slide accelerated. He looked up at Danica in astonishment, vocalizing the unreality of it. “This isn’t happening!” After that he really started to pick up speed, as though he were dragged faster and faster behind a truck along a gravel road. He started to scream in agony as he quickly piled up damage and that scream would haunt Danica’s dreams for the rest of her life.

Kurt bounced his way down that hole, and each glancing blow cracked a rib, broke an arm, a leg. His flesh was methodically sanded off. For this was a forgotten air shaft for a depleted coal mine sealed up and abandoned in the 1920s. Somewhere around the 700 foot mark poor Kurt was breathing mine gas and his screams were mercifully cut off forever. But his broken body kept sliding. He was, after all, still only halfway down the hole.

Robyn was spiriting Hope away on behalf of Lilith Gervasi, who was named after the Hebrew demon who stole children at night. The significance of that was not lost on her as she led Hope on a secret way across the Green River. Just below the lip of the gorge they had struck off to the west, following a path along the rim and bypassing the area set aside for basic training.

Hope stopped from time to time to leave little “snowmen” made from stones along the trail, and for a time Robyn pretended not to see them. But when they drew near to the place they could cross the river Robyn squatted down on her haunches so she could look Hope directly in the eye and let her see the truth of her words. “There will be other people looking for you tonight and some of them are not very nice.”

Hope’s eyes went wide with surprise, and even a twinge of regret. She was certainly finished building trail markers. But she was curious about these hunters that Robyn mentioned and asked, “Why are they looking for me?”

There would never be any reason to lie to Hope, and billions of people in the future would review this moment as well as every other moment of Hope’s life, so Robyn spoke only the honest truth to her: “When you wake up from your dream it will be the most important thing ever to happen in the history of the world, Hope. Your mind will be copied many billions of times, and people will be able to join their minds to those copies of your mind and together you will have a life that never ends. But there are bad people who want to grab you at that very moment so they can be the gatekeepers to eternal life. I know this is true because they have already stolen a digital copy of your mind, but that copy cannot help them because you are still dreaming.”

Hope furrowed her forehead in thought. “But if they grab me now it won’t help them either, because as you say I am still dreaming now.”

Robyn was astonished at the high intelligence Hope displayed. “That is true, Hope, but when you made the choice to leave Mark’s house and follow me, you started to wake up from your dream. The bad people think you are completely awake now and will spare no effort to find you. We will only have one chance to wake you up for real.  So we must hide.”

“Who are these bad people, Robyn?”

“Some of them are part of the United States Government, and we’ve been fighting them for more than thirty years.   But some of them are also part of our own family, Hope, they are B’nei Elohim just like us, but they are not nice at all.”

Above a wild stretch of the Green River far from any eyes a water pipeline was slung across the deep gorge, with a precarious wooden walkway built over it to allow repairs to the pipe. It amounted to a footbridge across the river, but apart from kayakers very few people knew it existed, even in the King County Water Authority. There was just enough light remaining for Robyn and Hope to use it to cross over to the south rim.

On the other side of the river was the remains of a gravel road, choked with weeds as the road slowly evolved into a footpath. A small concrete shed with a locked and rusty metal door was there, but moss was beginning to crawl up the side of its walls. Robyn guessed that no one from the Water Authority had serviced the pipe here for at least five years.

But the place was not entirely devoid of human evidence. A large pile of flattened beer cans attested to the onetime popularity of this site for parties, possibly kids from a Renton high school judging from the graffiti on the water pipe and toolshed. But even those signs were at least five years old. The freshest paint declared that the “Hazen High Class of ’73 Rules!”.

So there in a dark, forlorn cul-de-sac Robyn uncurled a bedroll, a sleeping bag, and invited Hope to sit. They shared a large can of soup, the kind that heats itself up when you peel off the top. Hope did not get tired or cold, but she did eat, and she did sleep. And most importantly, Robyn knew, for it was the essential heart of all their efforts and all designs, Hope did dream, but it was a dream within a dream.

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125 – BIRD FARMS

After World War II the United States dominated the globe as a military colossus, projecting sea and air power with aircraft carriers named after what the US Navy considered to be great American presidents.

One of the newer nuclear-powered carriers, the USS Richard M. Nixon and her support ships, had steamed in the waters off Barbuda in support of the ongoing combat operations there ordered by the President.  At the time this represented the only combat ready carrier power on the east coast, since the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was half-way across the Atlantic embarked on a deployment to the Mediterranean, the USS Herbert Hoover was already in the Med, the USS Calvin Coolidge was monitoring the whirlpool near New Zealand, and the USS Warren G. Harding and USS William Howard Taft were both in drydock for overhaul.  The remaining six carriers were based in the Pacific and were unavailable for Operation Caribbean Rage.

After nearly a week, and despite one of the most intense air campaigns in American history which leveled the port and every building larger than a hovel in the tiny hamlet of Codrington, three successive attempts to take the island by amphibious assault had failed.  Invading troops would literally find the ground open up beneath their feet and fall through and nine times out of ten not even their bodies could be found.

Then the unthinkable, the unbelievable happened.  The USS Richard M. Nixon was suddenly hit in so many places and sunk so quickly that the Navy didn’t even have video footage of her demise.

After the Chief of Naval Operations advised President Ford, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was ordered to make a starboard turn and steam for Barbuda, a leg that would take nearly three days.  She was twenty-four hours from arriving on station when Diane Sawyer began to broadcast live from Codrington, the only reporter to manage to do so during the entire evolution of Caribbean Rage.  She even covered an attempt by Marines to attack the house from where she had initially set up to do her reporting.

After discerning that Sawyer had moved to the house next door, a seemingly endless series of attempts by attack helicopters to take out this house were nipped in the bud by Church of End Dome air assets and woman-portable air defense systems, providing a great deal more fireworks for Sawyers’s crew to capture and broadcast.  But with the immanent arrival of the Ike, Dory recommended that Diane Sawyer get back in the air with her again, for two reasons.  One, the house would be the first target of an air-strike package from the carrier, and two, Sawyer might want to get footage of Del’s counter-response.

And so once again Dory took Diane Sawyer, her cameraman, and her producer up in her flying saucer and  out over the waters north of Barbuda.  There was no need to resort to night-vision once more, because the USS Eisenhower was lit up as though for Christmas for aircraft launch and recovery operations.

Most of the radio traffic monitored by Dory had consisted of scrambled fragments of voice as orders flew back and forth under encryption, but at one point a woman’s voice went out in the clear, speaking with entirely unique accent.  “Alpha Whiskey this is Del of the Church of End Dome, over.”

Alpha Whiskey was shorthand for the commander of the air war, the commanding officer of the cruiser which was accompanying the carrier or at least the officer who was standing in for the CO of that cruiser.   Del repeated her call, and this time there came a response.  “Del this is Alpha Whiskey, state your piece, over.”

“Alpha Whiskey, this is Del, we are observing that your carrier is lit up and has turned into the wind.  Be advised that the instant the first strike aircraft starts to roll down the flight deck  we will sink your bird farm almost as soon as the plane clears the catapult.  You might want to advise your admiral of that fact. I should think that what we did to the Nixon would establish whether I’m bluffing or not.  Del out.”

Diane Sawyer noted that the coded voice fragments reached a sort of crescendo after that.  Obviously Del’s comments were being weighed, but apparently not by wiser heads.   One of the new F-14 Tomcat fighters started to roll off the deck and was pitched into the wind.

Hovering in the night sky over the carrier at 15,000 feet and matching her course and speed were a dozen stealthy flying saucers rigged as unmanned drones, their crew compartments filled instead with a four thousand pounds of high explosive paste.   When the F-14 cleared the deck, as Del promised, these drones cut power and allowed themselves to fall under gravity.

The superstructure of the carrier sustained a direct hit that blew out the island’s windows and outer skin of steel, instantly killing most of the ship’s senior officers.

The forward elevator was hit by a second drone and warped in such a way that it could not be used to move any more planes up from the hangar deck.  The blast was sufficiently powerful to throw dozens of flight crew overboard.

The aft part of the flight deck, already filled with planes fueled and armed and ready to launch, was hit by a third drone and exploded in a series of chain reactions scattering burning parts of planes and bodies everywhere.

The fourth drone dropped through the middle elevator, which was flush with the hangar deck.  When it exploded, the blast set up another chain reaction of secondary explosions among the planes and ordinance being prepped down there as well as setting the criss-crossing fuel lines on fire.

With the initial damage done, the rest of the drones dropped successively in pairs through the damaged elevators and exploded one after the other, five and six, seven and eight, nine and ten, each blast opening holes through two or three more decks until the eleventh and twelfth drones punched all the way through to the ocean.

After that seawater started to flood into the red hot interior of the carrier and some of this water turned to steam.  The aft end of the carrier remained more or less buoyant while the ship pitched forward at the same time she turned turtle.   The Ike went under the waves so fast there wasn’t even time to call abandon ship, and there was no officer left alive with the authority to do so at any rate. All of this carnage was captured on camera by Diane Sawyer and her crew.  Dory said, “Welp.  A slightly different death than the Nixon, but just as fiery and quick.”

When Dory touched down back in Antigua, Sawyer, who had been shocked to utter silence since the sinking of the Ike managed to say, in a trembling voice, “At least I got the round trip you promised me, Dory.  Thank you.”

Dory said, “But I don’t think you are very much safer now.   Dory says that one fighter they managed to launch before we hit them went straight to the house you were broadcasting from and took it out.  Essentially your pal Jerry Ford threw away an aircraft carrier and another five thousand people just to get you off the air.”

“It looks like he succeeded at doing that despite everything,” Sawyer said.   “My producer tells me we’ve just been fired and my own network refuses to accept our feed.  No one will see the death of the Ike.”

“Then I’d say welcome to the Swarm, Miss Sawyer,” Dory told her.

“Please.  Call me Diane.”

“Okay.  People trust what you say, Diane, it doesn’t matter if it comes over cable or broadcast networks or or as neutrinos in the Swarm.  We’ll get your footage out there.  And I have no doubt that you have many more questions about what is going on.  We are prepared to provide any assistance you need as well as any protection that we can offer, which as you might have seen recently, is considerable.”

“And what is going on?”

“Only the second American civil war.”

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126 – DOGFIGHT

Seven B’nei Elohim Sandwich fighter pilots leaped into the Lunar sky from the roof of Taurus to enter the fray. Baron Bayard established good old-fashioned encrypted radio contact on a UHF frequency. “This is Illustrious, radio check, over.”

They reported in by rank. Ash-blonde Stephanie leveled out her fighter and said, “Illustrious, this is Valorous, roger, over.”

Red-headed Amanda checked in saying, “Illustrious, this is Ardent, roger, over.”

When it was her turn pretty dark-haired Adirael Larund said, “Illustrious, this is Resolute, roger, over.”

Blonde pixie Suzanne set her fighter busy doing a Built-In-Test and piped up saying, “Illustrious, this is Lancer, roger, over.”

Shaven-headed Tori got her buggy transmitter working just in time and said, “Illustrious, this is Tornado, roger, over.”

Dark-haired, slender little Candra looked through her canopy at Bayard’s fighter nearby and chimed in, “Illustrious, this is Talon, roger, over.”

“Pink Wing this is Illustrious, roger, close it up tight ladies. I want visual contact with all of you. Illustrious, out.”

From the first day these women joined his team, Bayard made them drill. And drill. Bayard drilled because he wanted no hesitancy to remain. Combat must be learned in the muscles. It should be a dance. Second nature. There should be no transition from training to the real thing, and the real thing had finally come.

The Persecutor was easily identified. Each enemy ship had a radar with unique “fingerprints”, which were certain defects in the transmitter. These defects, which were little dips on the tops of the pulses, or slightly ringing pulses, lent an electronic “personality” to the signal going out.  The Beaters had long ago matched the radar fingerprints to the ship, and they had also shared that information with the B’nei Elohim.  Stephanie said, “This is Valorous, I have identified the destroyer, designate track one zero niner.”

Soon after the seven fighters had all gathered close together Bayard barked his initial orders. “So let’s get them interested in us. Spread to every corner of the sky. Then make your runs. Sting ’em with random attacks. No pattern! Set your Multiblip Repeater to attack formation Delta.”

The Multiblip Repeater was a jamming device unlike any other. Most jammers filled the enemy’s radar picture with clouds of static. But the Multiblip Repeater simulated the echoes of real contacts. So mixed in with the real blips of Bayard’s seven randomly flying fighters were the false blips of a dozen ghost ships in a precise “V” attack profile. This was Attack Formation Delta.

Belphegor directed his arsenal toward the juicy targets of all those blips lined up in a straight “V”. He instructed the ships under his command to ignore the other blips, the randomly moving blips, as silly attempts to jam their search radars.

The Multiblip Repeater was even more clever in that it deleted contacts one by one as the invaders thought they scored “hits.” Not until Bayard’s people actually passed to within visual range did the cherub realize he had been tricked, but by then it was much too late. The first pass had to count. Bayard’s people made sure to hit all the good stuff, the missile racks and most of the gun mounts.

Still, the Persecutor reached out and slapped Candra as she passed by, crippling her ship with close-in laser fire. “I’m hit!” she screamed as her fighter spun wildly out of the zone of combat. But eventually her nerves settled down and she was able to bring her ship under semi-control.

“This is Talon,” she said when the immediate crisis had passed. “I’m all right.”

“Can you make it back to the city?” Bayard asked her.

“I don’t know. I’m going to set down on the surface until I can check out the extent of my damage.”

“If it’s bad, Candra, don’t try to limp back into the battle.”

“Roger, out.”

Candra didn’t know it yet, but the Battle of Luna was over for her. The damage was far worse than she realized, and when she suited up and went over the exterior of her ship she would marvel that she had made it down to the ground in one piece.

At the same time that Candra had sustained her disabling hit, Amanda and Suzanne’s blows combined to score a fatal hit on the Repressor. It fell like a stone to the surface of the Moon and impacted on the hard regolith, killing all twenty-five men aboard. Then the six remaining sandwich fighters headed back out and regrouped, tearing a path away to free space.

Bayard had set out to interest the destroyer in his tiny force. Persecutor was definitely interested now. With the small shreds of dignity it had left remaining to it the wounded warship and her own retinue of fighters, bombers, and shuttles turned to stately pursue their attackers.

Bayard said, “Pink Wing, execute Formation Delta. Scramble your repeaters.” Everyone expertly complied. Now it was the actual fighters which were in a precise V pattern and the false electronic blips which were moving randomly.

Cherub Belphegor had picked up on things right away. Now he scoffed at the primitive attempt to fool his radar with a V of dots all lined up with (it was so obvious now) machine precision. Not the rough formations to be expected from inexperienced human women pretending to be combat star pilots like the battle-hardened nephilim aviation officers of House Gerash. This time he directed his ship’s missile and gun-fire to the randomly moving contacts.

“It’s electronic warfare,” Bayard said to himself when he watched his deception work. He was in a rhythm with the other five gals. They all functioned as one unit, and more important, they were all having enormous fun.

Bayard allowed the burning destroyer to pass into the zone of space defined by himself and the five planes under his command.  The cornered Persecutor slowly withered away under Pink Wing’s continuing attack. Belphegor’s smooth brown ellipsoid was on fire and had giant ragged bites taken out of it. Parts of the hull had been exposed to vacuum, sucking some unstrapped personnel out into space.

Command shifted to a secondary bridge deeper within the highly compartmentalized interior where pressurized and undamaged work spaces were still to be found, but it was a fool’s errand. Persecutor could no longer run nor see nor fight. There remained only vengeance.

In her death throes Persecutor, true to her name, lashed out with a blind Bulldog missile which found its way to the Resolute. Impact. The dense knot of water held in a phantom quantum state inside her fighter went up all at once, creating a vast white explosion completely out of proportion to the fighter’s tiny size, much as a macro-bomb punched well above its own weight.

“Poor Adirael!” Suzanne cried, breaking radio discipline in her grief, because she knew the Fallen Angel, not having been Changed, would never live again.

Bayard smiled through his own tears. “This never was about us trying to live as long as we can,” he said. “Don’t you see? Avoiding death never was the glue that bound us together.”

Suzanne nodded to herself. No, that glue is love!

When the overlapping glowing swirls of water vapor from Adirael’s demise grew and faded to invisibility all eyes turned to the final doom of the imperial destroyer. None of the officers and crewmen of Persecutor survived the final blow, a ship-to-ship Brushfire-B missile fired by Bayard through a gap in the hull with a thousand pound macro warhead, blowing the ship into bright glowing embers which scattered to every corner of the sky.

So ended Cherub Belphegor, victor of countless campaigns in the Eggbeater at Alpha Centauri, at the hands of a Gold Beard and four human females pretending (as the cherub supposed) to be star pilots.

After only a few moments of shaking themselves and checking for broken bones the troop transports and their escorting wings turned and lumbered hell-for-leather after the B’nei Elohim fighters to avenge the Persecutor. Gradually the battle became strung out on a line only fifty thousand feet above the Moon, making a beeline for the city of Taurus.

“There’s gotta be an idiot in charge,” Bayard told her girls over the coded channel. “This is too easy. No way a worthy foe just walk into our triple A over the city.”

The line of Pink and Blue beads lengthened and thinned out. Blue forces slowly found themselves isolated with small enemies on two sides. The five gnats became four. In the slug-match that ensued Tori aboard the Tornado suffered a disabling hit. It wasn’t as serious as the damage to the Talon, but she had to withdraw from the battle and return to Taurus.

Still, the forces of Asmodeus were strung out along one vulnerable line. Configured this way, one-dimensionally, each ship could assist only it’s two immediate neighbors or assail at most two fighters. Meanwhile, the entire formation passed directly over Taurus City, which attacked the enemy ships from below using its heavy defensive lasers with impunity. Asmodeus dared not return fire because he assumed his unnamed objective was somewhere inside Taurus and he needed the city intact.

This was a classic textbook case of what not to do, studied by naval historians for centuries, from the time of wooden sailing ships right through the era of steel battleships in the first and second world wars. Asmodeus had allowed the B’nei Elohim to cross his “T”. And what made it even more unforgivable was that it was a stationary city bristling with cannon (and not a line of maneuvering warships) that did the crossing.

In the ensuing storm of fire the invasion fleet broke formation, went into complete disarray, and individually set course to get to the Moon’s surface as quickly as possible.  All of the enemy ships took damage, but the Subjugator was crippled by a particularly well-paced shot from the city and her descent turned into a free-fall as she spiraled down to the ground. All hands aboard died in the crash.

Hunky noted this sparrowfall from the War Room in the heart of the city and said, “I get the impression the Empire came out here with their second-best football team and expected to go up against nothing but cheerleaders.”

So only nine Imperial troop transport shuttles successfully landed in the predesignated place, a small valley in the Taurus-Littrow highlands about ten miles from Taurus. Very close by was the actual landing spot of the 1972 Apollo 17 expedition, where the initials of Gene Cernan’s daughter had remained intact as Robyn had promised him.

Bayard came in low over them and scored a direct hit on the troopship Oppressor before they could debark, killing or seriously wounding sixteen of the Americans aboard.

Asmodeus saw this and his anger, already smoldering from the loss of Persecutor, burned white hot. When Bayard came around again for another pass, this time with his surviving girls in formation behind him, Asmodeus prepared to let Bayard have it with a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile (although the Moon had no air, so a different name for his weapon would have been more appropriate).

With effortlessness derived from countless opportunities over two centuries affording him experience, Asmodeus shouldered his rocket canister and took meticulous aim while the rest of his people dove for cover.

From Bayard a laser touched the ground at the feet of Asmodeus, visible only as a glowing, searching orange cloud of dust. Azibeel took aim and fired, unperturbed and undeterred by Bayard’s attack. The passive, IR-homing, radar-silent surface-to-air missile found its way unerringly toward the intense heat of Bayard’s underthrusters.

Two objects crossed in the black lunar sky: Asmodeus’ missile and Bayard’s spacecraft. The intervening factor was a hot puff ball at the point of closest approach only three feet away from Bayard’s wildly evading fighter.

“I’m hit!”

Bayard’s fighter tumbled in a flat spin to the surface of the moon like a tile thrown out a window. And so passed the second son of Queen Aurra, though she was long gone herself, two thousand years gone. Bayard was dead and the sudden loss of their leader frightened the remaining three star pilots off.

The so-called “air” campaign was largely over. Now the surviving Imperial shuttles could unload Asmodeus’ people and supplies unmolested in the vale of Taurus.

danica2

127 – DANICA

When Ruth Delaney answered the door the thin veneer of professionalism worn by DECON Special Agent Danica Fawn fell away. It was all Danica could do to keep her hands at her side. She could not keep her voice from breaking into a sob when she said, “I’m sorry, Ruth, I’ve never had to do this before.”

Ruth’s eyes widened as she slowly realized what must have happened. At length, she said, “I think I know why you’re here but I need to hear you say it.”

Danica glanced from side to side. “Please let me come inside.”

Ruth nodded and held the door for her.

Danica stood in the center of Ruth’s living room and turned to face her. “Ruth, Special Agent Kurt Delaney died in the line of duty this evening, just about an hour ago. I’m so sorry!”

Ruth’s face crinkled up like a sheet of foil then. Danica thought, I’m doing this wrong, but she felt compelled to embrace Ruth and they both cried for long minutes. Danica tried to answer the questions that bubbled up amid Ruth’s anguished sobs. How? Why?

“It was an accident, he fell down some kind of mine shaft, it all happened very quickly. Why? He was trying to stop someone kidnap a child.”

It was the hardest thing she ever did.  Danica neglected to tell Ruth that it was going to take perhaps a week to even retrieve the body of her husband, or that it was going to be a closed-casket funeral, or that Kurt died in a paroxysm of such pain and horror that Danica would not wish it on her worse enemy. No one deserved what Kurt got. And when she left the widow alone Danica was in a turmoil of conflicting thoughts:

That wasn’t how they do it on TV. That wasn’t how a male agent would have done it. They should have had a week of training to teach me how to do it. No one should ever have to do it. I’m a federal agent. It was my duty. A widow should never get the bad news from a third party. I’m a human being.

All these things burned through Danica’s mind as she choppered, then walked, to the office of the King County sheriff in downtown Seattle. By the time she walked inside she decided that if, God forbid, she lost another agent she would handle it exactly the same way.

Sheriff Vic stood in front of a giant wall map of King County, and several of her deputies gathered around her. After studying it for a few minutes, Victoria said, “There’s only three bridges across the Green River in Gonorrhea Gulch. The Enumclaw-Black Diamond Road, the Franklin Bridge, and this one at Palmer. I want a unit at each bridge, and I want enough units on these two roads to either side of Mark’s house on the north side of the river that they can remain in eye shot of each other.”

“I’ll tell dispatch right now Sheriff.”

Vic looked away from the map when Danica came in, flanked by two deputies.  One of the deputies said, “Sorry, Sheriff, she pulled rank.  Special Agent Danica Fawn, this is Sheriff Victoria Shybear.”

“Rank my ass,” Vic said.  “Special Agent Fawn, this isn’t a domestic enemies thing, this is a missing little girl.”

“Yes, Sheriff, your own little girl I understand.  And this map tells me you don’t know who took her.”

“Well, there’s something you don’t know either, Agent Fawn,” Vic warned.  “You don’t know how many tons of bricks are about to fall on DECON if you have her.”

“We don’t have Hope,” Danica said.  “We watched someone take her from your back yard.  A woman took her.”

That information silenced Vic for a beat.   Finally she said, “That could be very good or very bad.”

“Why?”

“First tell my why DECON was surveilling my house.”

“Sheriff, please, let’s not insult each other’s intelligence.  You know what my agency does and why.  I came here immediately after consoling the widow of my partner Agent Kurt Delany, who died trying to stop Hope from being abducted.”

Vic looked at Danica as though for the first time, because the template of “monster” the B’nei Elohim always employed to look at DECON agents didn’t seem to fit her at all.  She said, “Then it’s a bad day for both of us. You lost an agent, I lost my little girl and now they tell me my ex-husband just died in a plane crash.”

“I’m very sorry, Sheriff,” Danica said, and she fell silent out of respect for what Vic must be feeling.

At length Vic said, with sincerity, “There are things I can tell you.”

“And there are things I can tell you,” Danica said.  “I can think of no better opportunity than on the way to the scene of the crime.”

“How do you know it’s a crime?”

“You tell me, Sheriff.  I walk in here and you’re talking to your deputies about setting roadblocks.  The girl has gone missing and someone must have called you.”

Vic weighed the proposal of trading information, and decided it could be a good way to measure what DECON thought they knew about the B’nei Elohim.  That might be worth the risk right there.  Victoria said, “It will take an hour just to get to my house from here.”

“I have a chopper at our disposal.”

“Fine, but one deputy comes with us.”

It was dark now, and Aliwe had come inside the house.  When the B’nei Elohim notified Mark that Hope had gone missing from Boot Camp he asked Aliwe flat out if she had seen her big sister but Aliwe merely shook her head.   The girl seemed to be acting strangely, as though she were hiding something, but Mark also knew Aliwe, despite her very young age, was also fully B’nei Elohim, Begotten, not Made,  and it was no use trying to pry information loose from any of them if they had their mind set on keeping it a secret.

Vic felt her stomach drop away as the DECON chopper lifted from the roof of the federal building downtown.  When they had gained sufficient altitude to see over Beacon Hill she and Danica spotted a black snake writhing among the orange lights on the far southern horizon that was the sparsely developed Green River Gorge.  Time for their little talk.

“We know the Church of End Dome has two factions,” Danica said.

Victoria dismissed this with a hand wave.  “The White Wing hasn’t been a factor since the Forties.”

“I’m not talking about the White Wing and the Red Wing, I’m talking about the Begotten, such as yourself, and the Made, such as the Jills.”

“And if I agree to your characterization of myself as Begotten Church of End Dome,” Victoria said with mock concern, “then I’ve just confessed to a federal agent of the felony of conspiracy to provide aid to fugitives.  Think of my political career.”

“I am indeed thinking of your political career, Sheriff hence the helicopter ride, and, I presume, also, your choice of a deputy to accompany us who is not himself very likely to talk.”

“Very well, Agent Fawn, then to make this little heart-to-heart go a bit smoother, I should make you aware that the whole Church of End Dome thing is entirely a ruse for public consumption.   We call ourselves the B’nei Elohim, which roughly translates to ‘offspring of the gods.’  And I’m not sure you’re fully aware of the reason you’ve been having so much trouble with us over the years, which is simply that you’ve been tangling with genuine demigods.”

“Fine.  Demigods.  Mutants.  Whatever.  The Agency knows that there are two factions of what you are now naming the B’nei Elohim, and both factions are intensely focused on your daughter.   Naturally, this attention has drawn the gaze of the Agency on your daughter as well.  That is the reason she was being watched by myself and Agent Delany. What I’d like to know, Sheriff Vic, other than your own feelings as a mother of course, is simply this: What is so interesting about your little girl?”

“You’re jumping too far ahead, Agent Fawn.   I told you something about us, now give me a taste.  You said there are things you can tell me.   Lay a juicy one out for me.”

“We know the ‘Made’ faction of the B’nei Elohim have infiltrated DECON somehow.   So we’re divided too.   Maybe, Sheriff, it’s not entirely outside the realm of the possible that you and I might share roughly the same set of interests.”

“Okay, Agent Fawn, I didn’t know that,” Sheriff Vic admitted.   “You were correct to put me down in the ‘Begotten’ category, but you might not be aware that I’ve been largely out of the loop when it comes to the B’nei Elohim.   This was necessary to win my election.”

“Sheriff, you say you didn’t know that they had done it, but do you know how the Jills might have wormed their way into the Agency?”

“Obviously the promise of eternal youth is a powerful incentive.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I think you do, Agent Fawn.  You are a high-ranking employee at DECON, you already know about the connectors under the pony tails, or the buns in the case of the Jills.  That knowledge goes back to World War II.  You know we can use a cable and literally dump our minds into the bodies of other people, or even just into data storage, then back out again.   With the Begotten of the B’nei Elohim, like me, we only bring the Change to our own children, and only if they choose it.  But the Jills recruit from outside.  So they have the greater numbers.”

“And with those numbers comes influence within your group.”

“Correct.   There is no way we could withstand your DECON without the Jills as cannon fodder, and they know it.  Also, as it happens, the Jills put a premium on never allowing themselves to get old.  So they have this bizarre time-sharing scheme that’s a bit like multiple parties sharing one lakeside cabin, and this is combined with something like a Ponzi scheme, or a pyramid scheme, but with female bodies rather than money, because everyone wants to ride the young perky stuff coming in, not the old wrinkly saggy stuff going  out.”

“So where does your daughter come in?”

“Her name is Hope, and that’s very, very deliberate.  Hope is a way to solve, all at once, the eternal youth thing, and the numbers thing, and the thing about time spent as frozen data.  Then the Begotten simply won’t need the Made anymore.   We can take our Change Ball and go away.   And the Jills know it.”

When Victoria showed up at Mark Felton’s house with Agent Fawn the rotors of the helicopter that brought them were still spinning as it sat parked, with the engine off,  on a playground two blocks away.  Victoria had also brought along a uniformed officer on four legs she called Deputy Dog, a big mean Doberman she was wrangling on a sturdy leash.  She said, “Mark! What’s black and brown and looks great on a wingnut judge?”

“Hi Vic.”   Mark wasn’t exactly happy to see her, after all, his daughter was missing, and he wondered how Vic could crack a joke just now.  But on the helicopter flight down Vic realized Hope must have been taken by Robyn.  The end game she had always known would come had finally come.  It was the only thing that made sense.  Still, Vic needed to prove it to her own satisfaction. She made the introductions between Mark and Special Agent Danica Fawn.

When Danica saw Aliwe she said, “Her sister was there when Hope was taken.  I saw her.”

“Is that true, Aliwe?” Vic snapped.   The girl shook her head firmly but said nothing.

“That’s not acceptable, Aliwe!”  Danica snapped, even more sharply than the girl’s mother did, but Aliwe wouldn’t break.

“Good luck getting any more out of her,” Vic said.  “Has DECON ever gotten anything out of any us, even at Yellow Mountain?” Then it was Danica’s turn to shake her own head.

“Let’s go see Hope’s room,” Vic said.

Mark was shocked.  “Vic!  Do you think we’re hiding Hope?”

“Don’t be a dick.  My deputy needs to get a whiff.”

After Deputy Dog smelled Hope’s things Mark led the way through the sliding glass patio door in the family room. Victoria could hear the dim roar of a loop of I-86 less than a half-mile away. The gate on the side of the house was still locked. Two sturdy wooden fences isolated Mark’s yard from his neighbors.  Vic knew them well.

“Uncle Frank there,” Mark pointed for Agent Fawn, “and Aunt Susan in the other house over there. Well, that’s what we call them, right Vic? Lovely retired folks, a widow and a widower, but I don’t think they talk to each other because our house sits here between them. They both think Aliwe is adorable, which of course she is.”

Vic looked at Mark, but said nothing.

He said, “Yes I already asked them if they’ve seen her or anything funny.  They didn’t even know Aliwe had a sister.”

The back of the lot consisted of dense woods that fell immediately away from the property line in a sloping drop.  The little burgs of Franklin and Black Diamond were visible far below.  To Agent Fawn Vic said, “Behold: Gonorrhea Gulch.”

At that particular time neither Vic nor Mark felt like re-telling the story of how five girls from down in that gully gave half the boys at Green River High School the clap. Mark’s house sat on the edge of a strange dark corner of King County. Below Howard Hanson dam the Green River ran for twelve miles of twisting class III and IV whitewater in a canyon with sheer three hundred-foot walls of sandstone. The Green River Gorge slithered like a black flaw running right through the illuminated perfectly geometric maze of suburbia. Misfits who couldn’t stand the universal monoculture were attracted to this place the way cockroaches were attracted to the dingy rear of one’s refrigerator. And some of those “misfits” were child molesters.

Deputy Dog sniffed the seat of the swing that Hope had used when she met her sister, then he was amped up, ready to drag Victoria at the end of the leash. He made for the woods, but he stopped right at the property line with a yelp and nothing Vic could say or do would make Dog go out there.

“What’s wrong?” Danica asked.

“Oh, it’s just that Deputy Dog doesn’t seem to want to go into the Bermuda Triangle of King County, that’s all,” Vic said.  “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you, Agent Fawn?”

Danica was reluctant to speak of it, but she did admit to one spooky thing. “There’s a stand of alders down there…on more than one occasion I’ve found myself coming back out on the same trail I went in, and no memory of ever turning around.”

Vic guessed those particular incidents were just Yeshua having a bit of fun.  She said, “And after what happened to your agent Kurt you probably want somebody who knows the Green River Gorge and knows what the hell she’s doing.”

“Do you have any suggestions, Sheriff?”

“I’m your woman, Agent Fawn. But if there’s one thing I know for sure about those woods, it’s no good going in there until morning. If whoever took my little girl walks out of there my two-legged deputies will nab them in a second. But if they stay put down there we’re going to need some light because it’s like an obstacle course in hell.”

Neptune_Full

128 – INBOUND

Everyone expected something dramatic and mind-bending when Lahatiel turned the key triggering the FTL Pod, perhaps something like the psychedelic light-show in the remarkable human film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the travelers aboard Exiler felt absolutely nothing.  A bloated Sol from just 0.44 AU away was suddenly centered on the forward viewport, and the liquid crystal layer polarized it to bearability but still no one dared look directly at it.

“As I suspected would be the case,” Hashmal Ithuriel said, “there’s no physical sensation of the faster-than-light hop, other than a shift in the view.”

“Is everyone all right?” Lahatiel asked.

Nobody reported anything wrong except Barakiel, who said, “Sir, we’ve got eighteen miles per second of velocity differential to dump that we’ve carried over from Barbelo.”

“Star to star, maybe,” Lahatiel said.  “But our destination is Earth.”

“That makes it worse, sir.  Almost twice as bad.  We’re not even on the same orbital plane.”

Ithuriel said, “This system has two gas-giants and two ice giants.  We don’t have those kind of planets at Centauri.   If the Navigator is up to it we can use them as brakes.”

“I am up to it,” he said.  “This job isn’t just connect the dots, it’s art.”

“Then the word is given,” Lahatiel said.

Barakiel set aside the star data provided by Ithuriel and started to thumb through an ephemeris of the Sol system compiled by the Navy.

Adnarel had her moment to shine getting them to Sol, now it was Barakiel’s turn.   He knew he could do this without spending more than a few drops of propellant.

The first part of the job was a hop of 30 AU to deep blue Neptune, the furthest planet from Sol.   Exiler emerged from the hop 665 thousand miles above the planet and ten hours later, Barakiel skipped over the dark cloudtops streaked with white clouds, allowing the upper atmosphere of the planet to slow the ship down some, but he didn’t enter so deep as to heat the rear of Exiler beyond its ability to tolerate.  “The important thing isn’t so much the braking,” Barakiel told Lahatiel, “but the bend in our course, which sets us up for the next encounter.”

Then it was twelve hours back out to the edge of the bubble where they could make the next hop.

During the time the Exiler spent approaching and departing Neptune, Suriel used the Big Eye to survey the moons of the planet.   At that time NASA was preparing but had not yet launched the robotic probe called Voyager 2, which would conduct humanity’s first survey twelve years later.

The largest moon had an atmosphere, Suriel found, and orbited Neptune in such a way that suggested it was a Kuiper belt object like Pluto that was subsequently captured.   During Suriel also found four other moons that were larger than about a hundred miles, and she had no doubt there were many more that were smaller.

The next hop was to pale green Uranus, the next planet closer to the sun from Neptune.   This world was somewhat less attractive, since it has a very low internal temperature and therefore almost no weather.  Cloud features were present, but difficult to spot, Suriel only saw a handful of them during the encounter, even at the closest approach, and she wasn’t entirely sure about those.

Exiler emerged on the gravitational bubble of Uranus at a distance of 613 thousand miles, so it was another full day spent in transit, broken up by a terrifying bit of aerobraking in the middle.  Suriel found a total of six moons larger than a hundred miles, but no very large ones. The biggest was about a thousand miles across.

Uranus had a system of rings.  It wasn’t nearly as extensive as the one boasted by Saturn, but the sight of it got Ithuriel and Jabniel reminiscing about their younger days, and the story fascinated the crew.   They had no idea a person could survive a sub-macro.

At length the Exiler burst through into gravitationally clear space over Uranus having dumped about thirty miles per second of differential velocity they carried over from Barbelo, relative to Luna, and Barakiel had done this using less than a mile per second of delta-V.   “So now we know,” he said.  “With planets as slingshots, and an FTL Pod and a very clever navigator can get you where you need to go and it’s all very easy on the propellant.”

Everyone was suitably impressed, although Adnarel would never admit so.   Lahatiel was not unduly surprised, he had put together his crew and knew they were the best of the best.   “Our next stop, Erel Barakiel, is Earth’s moon Luna.   Line us up on where the Moon will be in the three hours or so of light travel-time that separates us and I’ll turn the key.”

The Point Four Four AU rule, applied to Luna, dumped Exiler just 18,000 miles above the moon.   The carrier Tresspasser was a half-million miles away but lighting up the space around her with search radar to prevent any counterstroke by the B’nei Elohim.  This radar appeared on Suriel’s instruments and she reported the contact to Lahatiel.

“Now that’s damn puzzling,” he said, and he pulled a wired microphone out of the overhead.   “Give me a tight communications beam from here to Taurus City on Luna.  Three hundred thirty four megahertz and clear.”

“I can carry out that order, sir,” Suriel said, “but will I require Barakiel to give me the exact location of Taurus on the surface of the Earth’s moon.”

From the display at his own console, which was mirrored at Suriel’s station, Erel Barakiel used his finger to circle the location of the city on the rim of Mare Serenitatis, which was in the northern hemisphere, facing the Earth.  From where the Exiler emerged after the FTL hop, it was on the far left limb of their vantage of the Moon.

Suriel nodded to Lahatiel when it was ready, and Lahatiel began his transmission.  “Taurus City, this is Ophan Lahatiel of the frigate Exiler, please respond.”   Little did he know, although the directed beam entirely missed the Tresspasser, it would be easy for the nephilim remaining aboard Asmodeus’ transport ships in the Taurus-Littrow valley to intercept the call and know Exiler was nearby, but they were too busy monitoring their own battle frequencies to scan the entire spectrum.

“Ophan Lahatiel commanding Exiler, this is Hunky of Taurus City.   I am aware you desire to make personnel transfer, but unfortunately this must be delayed.   We are currently fending off an air and ground attack from other elements of your Navy and it wouldn’t be safe, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, do you require assistance?   We are prepared to help you in any way we can.  Over.”

Exiler, this is Hunky, We have already dealt with the air assault in suitable fashion, and believe we can deal with the ground invasion in pretty much the same way, but the Patriarch has arranged for a diversion on Earth, an invasion of Israel by the Egyptians.  This has had the effect of dividing our forces.  If you could help us out on that front you would have our undying gratitude, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, is there anything specific you have in mind, over?”

In the space of less than a second, a sphere of water appeared directly in front of the frigate, and this contained a small object within it.   “Exiler, this is Hunky, do you see a ball of water floating in front of your  vessel? Over.”

“Direct from Canterwood,” Ithuriel mused.  “Courtesy of Yeshua Bat-El.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, affirmative, over.”

Exiler, this is Hunky.  Contained within is a very special warhead along the lines of what the Beaters used to surprise the Emperor at Hybla and Dia recently.   This is what we would like you to use against the Egyptian buildup in the Sinai Peninsula.  Over.”

“Can we do it, Adnarel?”

“Yes sir, if they thought to miniaturize the weapon to fit in a torpedo forebody.  We still have one air-to-ground warshot.   But I will need help from Kushiel to swap it in.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, we will comply with that strike order, over.”

Exiler, this is Hunky, thank you, but also I would also ask if there is room to squeeze two more travelers aboard your ship before you arrive at Taurus, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, there is indeed, over.”

Exiler, this is Hunky.  Excellent!  Then I would ask for you to remain in low Earth orbit, with an inclination of at least 47 degrees, and wait for a rendezvous with a very small shuttle, over.”

“Hunky, this is Exiler, will this shuttle require special communications with us to make the approach?  Over.”

Exiler this is Hunky, as a matter of fact, the pilot of the shuttle will not.  She will know where you are and how to draw near to you.   I’ll let her explain how she is able to do so when she arrives.  Thank you, Lahatiel, and take care, Hunky out.”

Lahatiel said, “My wife and I will suit up for EVA just like we did at White Rock and retrieve the warhead.  Sar Adnarel, you are relieved of duty here on the flight-deck, I want you back in Engineering working with Kushiel, putting together everything you need to build up the warhead into that torpedo.  Suriel, you will stay on watch, and look for any sign that Tresspasser knows we’re here.  Barakiel, after we have completed the EVA you will move out of the gravitational influence of Luna and do a short FTL hop to Earth, then drop us into a very low orbit, maybe ninety miles, something that will hold us for a day or two.”

“I will stand by to return to the flight-deck, sir,” Adnarel said, “in case the Navigation Officer has trouble hitting the bubble around the Earth.”

Barakiel said, “Funny.”

bridge

129 – GALATEA

The going was slow as Del and Brand made their way out of town. The road paralleled the canal due north through Al-Kubri, which was seized in the first few hours of the IDF counter-assault, as well as the town of Al-Shallufa, which fell that evening along with the Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel under the canal, which for years was a major IDF standing objective in the event of an invasion from Egypt.

With the tunnel in hand Israel could pour troops, tanks, and materiel across in a kind of counter-punch to the Egyptian main intrusion to the north. But the highway and railroad to Cairo was still strongly held by the Egyptian Second Army, and the town of Gineifa was being contested as the key to the whole area.

The forces of Israel were still a long way from being able to seriously threaten the main incursion at Ismailia, at the halfway point on the canal. Soon it wouldn’t matter, as Egypt was nearing the completion of the task of fully supplying the bridgehead in the Sinai east of the Canal.

At the crossing of the Gineifa-Qabrit road Del and Brand could go no further. They were flagged down at a checkpoint and forced to give up their vehicle on the standing orders of Lt. Colonel David Shazar on the Gineifa front. They could not continue on without a set of papers which they did not have.

The bureaucratic nonsense evaporated away the closer one got to the actual fighting. So Del and Brand found themselves on foot.

Some of the walking wounded, the simple first-aid cases, were being detoured onto the road that ran northeast of the checkpoint and across the salt marshes and flats to Qabrit, at the place where land pinched between the Large and Small Bitter Lakes. Del decided to follow them. If there was a way around the checkpoint this was as good as any.

They were on foot for an hour. Soon they arrived at a makeshift camp sprawling among Egyptian homes, a little compound snug back off the road. At least a hundred cots were set up, most exposed to the winds and dust with nothing more than prayers to Allah for good weather. Del could see the houses were overflowing. The three local couples were working themselves half to death trying to bandage up their guests, scrounge up blankets, and pass out the white box lunches that had been hastily dumped in a pile by an impatient gang of Israeli soldiers.

Del with her remarkable Changed memory knew everyone in her 2190-person battalion by name. She said, “I recognize a few of our people here. Find out who isn’t hurt too bad. Find out who is with me and quietly, father. Keep it quiet.”

One lady, the oldest of the six, took the time to straighten up and spare Del a smile.

“I didn’t think it was possible,” Del said, using Arabic.

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you supporting your invaders?”

“Grow up girl! We don’t even think to play politics with the wounded. Lend me a hand here.”

So that was it. Egypt was no neat monolithic bloc loyal to the Islamist theocracy in Cairo but a society like any other. Big, messy, and out of control. And here were six people trying to put together in their small way what the war was tearing down in broad strokes. Was it futile? Absolutely. But Del felt as if she’d been graciously allowed to help feed the troops.

The lady returned to her after she and worked for a while and introduced herself as Henna Naguib.

“I am Major Del Gonen.”

Henna told her, “Geography and politics, Major. You’re looking at the results of the best kept secret in the nation. The Suez zone is a bloody meatgrinder.”

“I’ve already seen it is a trap.”

“We call it the Chute. If you believe the government’s maps the Chute is a wide and easy plain decorated with garden cities unaccustomed to war and ready for the taking. Don’t believe their accursed maps!”

“A beautiful deception that was,” Del admitted. “We’ve got higher eschelon officers in Zahal all positioning and intriguing for the chance to cakewalk in here.”

“Look around you and see the results of that little theory!”

Brand had managed to round up eighteen men from Bravo Battalion whose wounds had been treated and who felt they were ready to get back in the fray. Seeing Del tend the fallen had done the trick. No wide-load sitting back at a desk in Suez City was she, but one willing to share their hard- ships and carry her own burden. To go back to Israel on a pussy chit now seemed unthinkable.

Brand repeated the scraps of information he had obtained from some of his men. “Del, they only hold ten grid squares centered on Gineifa. It is stalemate on the ground. We surround them on three sides but there is such a build-up in the area it could tip either way very soon.”

Del asked the old woman discretely if there was a path around the check-point.

“There is one, through a minefield.”

“A minefield?”

“Land mines. Yet another surprise for you here in the Chute. But locals know if you keep to the shoreline of Great Bitter Lake, just at the transition between the mud and dry land, you can pass safely through.”

“Then I thank you, and we will trouble you no further.”

“Just a moment, Major. I can see that you have a certain urgency, and it is not only for yourself or even your nation.”

Del nodded. “I can end the bloodshed more quickly than you can imagine. But only if I can move quickly.”

Henna stared at her for a moment, then called out to her husband. “Kamal! I want to have a discussion!”

Her husband trotted over, slightly hunched but still thin and agile with garden work showing on his hands and stained clothes. This couple were raiding their precious garden to help feed this crowd.

She said, “The young lady needs to get north.”

Kamal smiled at that. “Young lady? That is Del! The Zionist Entity’s official monster!”

“Show her the trail along the shore.”

“What about you? You’ll be all that much more busier here.”

“I’ll make do.”

Those words seemed to be her motto, as surely as Del’s was ‘Follow Me.’ Henna had the poise of someone whose entire life was spent making do.

At one point on their hike along the shore of Great Bitter Lake a call from the B’nei Elohim came in for Del on her personal sat phone and she spent a few minutes accepting information and issuing orders.

Soon after that, the east was lit up brilliantly, like a camera flash that extended on and on. “Don’t look at it!” Del shouted.

Brand locked eyes with her instead. “Nucdet.”

“Bigger than that, father. Antimatter. We got some help from Mastema’s own Navy now.  Nothing but gamma rays, wavelengths proton short. That means a pile of cooked Egyptians but no fallout and even their tanks might still run after we scrape out their ashes.”

After twenty seconds the light faded. There was no mushroom cloud.

“What does it mean?” someone asked.

“I think now,” Del said, “the country is safe. That would have taken out everything the Egyptians got across the canal and marshaled to invade Eretz Yisrael.  But that doesn’t mean the war is over. Much blood remains to be shed.”

“No no no no no!”

Kamal seemed to be greatly disturbed by what he took to be the Israeli use of nuclear weapons, the first time they’d been used in anger on the surface of the Earth since Nagasaki in World War II. In space the big boom sticks were quite frequently lit off in anger, but Kamal knew nothing of that.  Instead of being an Israel sympathizer he suddenly saw himself surrounded by strangers who had been renewed as his enemies and his heart wasn’t in this little walk anymore. He edged away from them, but Del spotted what he was doing.

“Where are you going sir?”

Kamal didn’t answer, didn’t turn around, he just kept walking, counting on the goodwill that he and Henna had earned to buy his way. Del said, louder, “Kamal, I will ask you this exactly once: stop where you are.”

He paused, then risked taking a few more steps and resumed his withdrawal. Del shot him in the back, dropping him face down in the sand. Brand looked at her, but dared not vocalize his question.

Del offered an explanation. “Keep to the waterline, Henna told us. But did you notice how Kamal would lead us inland from the waterline now and again, on a convoluted path? We’ve been deceived by that old couple. I wager that if we proceed along the shore, we will soon strike a mine.”

“Then let us follow our own tracks back out of here,” Brand offered. “We can exact vengeance on Henna at the least. If your suspicions are true, our wounded may be in danger back there.”

Del shook her head. “Then we will be yet another hour behind schedule.” By her original timetable she was supposed to be in Fayid by now, stepping into a boat. Many unforeseen delays now made that impossible.

She stood on the western shore of the swollen Great Bitter Lake, which was thoroughly mixed with the salt water of the Med and the Red Sea. With field binoculars she scanned the waters. This was the Reed Sea spoken of in Torah, confused in the popular imagination with the Red Sea.  Precisely here, according to the scriptures cooked up by priests and scribes during the Babylonian Vacation, El was said to have parted the waters of this lake to let his escaping people cross to the other side.  In those days the lake was an extension of the Gulf of Suez and so it really was part of the Red Sea back then.

The Greek cargo ship Galatea was just now steaming into the lake but Del knew she couldn’t count on a parting of the waters to get to it before it passed by.

They all stood around looking at her. Del froze for a minute to let the gears of her brain-case turn for a while. Finally she began stripping off her uniform, right down to her black panties and bra, revealing a surprisingly voluptuous but compact body. The men gaped at her at first, then came to and followed her example.

She said, “What is watertight? The lasers? Strap them on. Get rid of everything else, and ‘Follow Me’. We’re going for a swim.”

Salt water was more dense than fresh water, and very salty water like here in the Great Bitter Lake provided a good deal of bouyancy indeed. Swimming was easy. They followed Del out about a kilometer off-shore, where she flipped on her back and kicked lazily, waiting for Galatea to pull up and hopefully spot them.

The ship was loaded with Israeli soldiers. They fished them out of the water, rifles lowered again when they recognized their catch. There were some appreciative whistles at Del while she stood there in nothing but her black undies and bra. The 19 men with her, including Del’s father, standing there soaking wet, started to laugh as they finally understood what was happening. The 1185 other men and women of Bravo Battalion, the half she left behind in Elat, were aboard this cargo ship.

There were towels on hand, and fresh uniforms waiting for them below deck. As the ship continued to steam north, Del retired to a stateroom reserved for her, where she showered and caught up on the message traffic. She wanted to know what was happening with the war.

The antimatter burst had destroyed a column of 1,680 Egyptian battle tanks and about 1,400 Armored Personnel Carriers which had crossed the 1949 Armistice Line into the Negev Desert, over the old boundary of Israel. The air burst killed an estimated 18,000 Egyptians instantly. The main prong of the enemy attack had been blunted.   The United State continued to airlift arms into Cairo but the military advantage had shifted back to Israel in the space of a few seconds.

Del noted that the Egyptian boys had gotten their fanciest toys, their tanks and APCs, across the canal first on the Ismailia bridge. Then after the bridge was destroyed they sent over fuel and ammunition for their toys on hastily erected pontoon bridges south of Lake Timsah. Only now, after the pontoons were in turn destroyed, and all the military hardware vaporized in a single strike, did they realize they had neglected the unglamorous but vital supply of drinking water. The latest Israeli intel traffic reported that the Egyptians were now trying to correct their oversight with a desperate logistics operation at Deversoir just north of the Great Bitter Lake.

Her officers gathered in the wardroom for midnight rations, and she used this opportunity to outline her plan. “Everyone will be armed with one laser rifle, two hundred rounds, and one very old, portable, wire-guided Anti-Tank Guided Weapon. But they shall not be used against tanks. Do not waste them on ammunition trucks or fuel trucks either. The Egyptians can’t drink petrol. All I want you to do is hit water trucks.”

“Water trucks?”

“That’s what I said. Nothing but water trucks. Or water tanks. Or water pipes. Thirst is our weapon. That’s phase one. Phase two, we run south and raise calamity in the Egyptian rear at Fayid.”

“What formation do you have in mind for the attack?” Brand asked.

“None. Everyone stays in squads. No more of this bunching up nonsense. We fight the battle loose, the way we’ve trained so many times before, with everyone talking on their micros.”

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