6, 7, 8, 9


F O R T Y - F I V E



5 9 3 1

6 Tamar's Children

With judgment falling fast and thick on the world’s kingdoms, the House of Jacob had already proved to be not exempt. Yet certainly nothing that OP would want to see happen, happened: evil was to change to good in a transmutation that would have flabbergasted ancient alchemists searching for the Philosopher’s Stone!

Sent by her father-in-law back to her father's home after Er's death, Tamar had suffered terrible shame and indignity. Though Judah had given her his second son, Onan, the marriage had soon ended with the stripling's sudden death, and again Judah had failed to restore her position and Er's right. Then Judah had played false, keeping his last son from her, which meant no sons to Er might be raised up to keep his line and name living in the earth.

As was sometimes done in Hebrew and also Hittite society, Tamar had taken the father“in“law himself (though not by his knowledge) to raise up sons to Er and restore her lost estate. She knew she would be hated by Judah's family in Hebron, pressing her right to the legal but unnatural extremity. Yet she was satisfied that he had brought it on himself by excluding her, preferring to cast her on her own family in Chezib as was done with barren or indecent women.

At least she had proved she was not barren, and no such charge could be laid at her door. Though the father himself had been cast out from Chezib, she would bear a son, and raise him in Er's name. It was easy for her then to forget Judah and look forward to her son's birth. Though some women in the village still recalled her Hittite blood (she was half-Kena'nite) and talked nastily behind her back, she paid them no attention and thought only that she had restored Er's name even by lying with his father.

She was, she knew, mightily pleasing to men's eyes; perhaps in time she would take another husband, from her own Hittite-Ken'anite people and not Judah's. With Er's name as her right, she could stand as proudly as anyone in the village. It was with horror one day she heard women screaming; and since no one thought came to her to warn her she looked out the window and saw regimented masses of armored soldiers and chariots approaching the village.

She had heard of the Philistines, but they had never come so far into hill-country in their raids from the coast; but now she could see they were attacking Chezib. Seizing her cloak and leaving even her marriage dowry (a trove of silver moons from Hazir that she attached to her head shawl), Tamar fled the house of her father. The people were running in all directions, screaming. Hireh and some of the village men were vainly trying to fight at the entrance to the village, but the Philistines' bows and swords made short work of them.

Not seeing any of her own family, Tamar moved heavily up the trail behind the house, gaining the shelter of some ancient terebinths. She gasped for breath, and heard terrible cries of dying men and wailing women in the nearby village. She wrenched herself away, forcing her limbs to obey, and climbed still further up the steep trail. Passing the wine-stained pillars of Chillelu's high place, she did not even glance at the graves of Er, Onan, and her mother-in-law in her haste to gain a place of safety in the rocks and hills above Chezib.

Finally, exhausted, she reached a cave she had known since childhood, crawling in the narrow opening and lying down. Hours passed, and thirst and fear drove her out. She would have turned back to Chezib, but she saw plainly from the smoke still drifting up from the vicinity that her village and home were no more. All her world had been swept away, and to return now was certain death. The Philistines would make sport of her, she knew. She had heard how Philistines liked to bring to birth pregnant women before their time with the blades of their swords. Then they would laughingly slay both mother and newborn.

Continuing her climb, Tamar wept for her family, and the ones she knew were dead. She herself had saved nothing, not even her dowry, and where could she go? Would not she give birth in some wild place and her child perish with her?

The thought of Hebron rose to her mind, but she spat in the dust. Judah was there. Surely, he and his menfolks would turn her out with disgust. He had played treacherously with her in the past, and she thought how angry he would be after being cast out from Chezib with dishonor, his Hebrew covenant-mark exposed on the public road to passers-by.

When her brethren had returned from a search for Judah and all had said he was dead, carried off by some lion or even jackals, she had known he was alive. He was, she knew, too clever to let himself fall prey so easily. That they could find no bone of his was proof to her of Judah's escape.

But it would have been better for her, she wept, if he had died. As Er's widow, his relatives at Hebron would have to give her a living, but with Judah alive everything was made unclear. If Judah rejected her (and he had rejected his rights to her bed), she was again a woman without a man's covering and shield, in a land where it meant everything.

At first she struggled through the open country, keeping clear of the road to Hebron for fear of the Philistines; but after a time she knew they were not coming, having turned back for some reason. Walking on the road saved what strength remained, but even then she had not gone far when she sank down, unable to move her legs, at a place where she had in better days strode homeward from Timnah in triumph.

As darkness came she climbed up from the road and found a cave (there were so many, it was easily done).

Tamar lay at the entrance of her cave refuge, forcing herself to not give in to weakness. She rose up and went to gather anything edible she could find.

Had a day passed? Had two days? In her weakness she could no longer tell.

Deciding the road was as safe as it would ever be, she made her way back.

She walked and walked. A day had passed when she could go no further; she had not eaten any bread or meat or drunk anything clean since leaving Chezib. Utterly spent, Tamar sat nearly unconscious in the mid-day heat by the side of the road, and it was too late when she noticed a man approaching her. She might have fled then but she had no strength. Perhaps he would not harm her, she thought, gazing at him with reddened eyes. Her heart began to pound when the mirage faded, reappeared, and faded several times, and finally she knew who it was.

"Come with me, my daughter," said Judah, bending down to see if she were still living.

Tamar stirred, but did not look up. Overcoming her fury and shame, she made as if to rise, but could not. Judah reached to draw her up, but Tamar suddenly closed her teeth on his hand.

Judah made no sound, though blood ran from his fingers after she let him go. Giving her his new staff, he stood back and waited. Tamar stirred again, took the staff and slowly and with much difficulty stood to her feet.

As Judah turned and slowly walked off up the road to Hebron, Tamar followed. Fortunately, he kept a close eye on her, for as he noticed her wavering on her feet he rushed and caught her as she fell, faint from hunger and exhaustion.

After Tamar had taken the water from his goatskin and a little bread, she rested, then once again gained her feet and continued to follow Judah, though this time she leaned on his arm.

Judah had left his father's flock and some donkeys to graze some distance from Hebron, and had gone on foot to investigate the smoke still rising in the east. To this camp he brought Tamar, and there they rested for several days.

When they came in to Hebron, with Tamar riding on Judah's cloak thrown across a donkey for a saddle, the whole camp fell silent and stared. All knew the unveiled, foreign woman and that she was both Hittite and Kena'nite; but none had been told she was so beautiful. Judah's brothers (especially the ones still without wives) gazed at her without shame, and Tamar did not seem to notice their lack of manners and disrespect, as if they were less than men and completely beneath her notice.

Desite her beauty and evident pride, she was not well, and was troubled by the urgent movement of her own womb. When she was lifted down from her mount, she stood, knowing for certain her time had come. A cry of anguish went up from her, and the women, knowing it very well, all raised heads and rushed to help her to a tent.

Still crying her anguish over the calamity that had overtaken her in the midst of her enemies, Tamar nevertheless let herself be taken and laid amidst the cushions of Rachel's bed (for they still kept everything as it was in her tent since her death).

Judah's brothers, and some of the womenfolk, were horrified, but it was Jacob's own word that had opened the revered tent to Tamar. No one had seen him come out to greet Judah and Tamar, but he knew everything, even when he was shut away in his tent mourning his lost son Joseph. And Tamar, though she gave birth before her time, brought forth healthy, vigorous twins who were given names by the women, as was the custom.

When she was in labor, one put out a hand, and the midwife fastened a scarlet cord (taken from Rachel's unfinished tapestry) around his hand, saying, "He is firstborn, Er's heir, since he came out first." But she was proved hasty, for his brother came out firstborn instead, and was named Pharez, while the second-born with the scarlet thread was named Zerah.

Judah heard the news from outside the tent, and when he heard his older brothers heatedly discussing the event he went over to them, repeating what he had already said in Timnah to the heathen. "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah according to the old law."

His brothers said no more, and Judah turned away, back to his work among the flocks of his father (for he had squandered and lost all his inheritance in Chezib).

But before leaving he gave to one of the women who ministered to Tamar his own gold ring, and the woman brought it to Tamar to give someday to Pharaz the firstborn.

And the children of Tamar (and sons of Judah and Er) were given food only at their mother's breasts (as she refused the offered breasts of other nursing mothers) and grew slowly for lack of milk. But when eight days were about to pass, the men came to Tamar's tent for the two boys but were refused.

The mother would not give them up for mutilation.

"But they will be accursed of the Lord if they are not circumcised!" they cried in wrath. "And God will cause our ewes to cast their unborn!"

Tamar's hair streamed down her shoulders, as she clutched the infants to her. "I have my own god, so leave me be!" she spat at them, her eyes shooting darts of anger. "My people follow the god of thunder and lightning, and in his mighty name I will raise up their father's sons!"

When the men went to Jacob to complain of the wickedness of Tamar, he remembered his father's way with his Hittite daughters-in-law and sent his sons back to their duties. Then he called Judah in. They embraced and had a little talk, and then embraced again.

Judah went to Tamar, and she stood awaiting him, clutching her children defiantly to her breast. Waving the women aside, Judah bowed down and wept before her. Tamar was astonished and gazed at the fallen man. When he was finished, she felt her heart change within her.

"You may take them," she said. "But give me the foreskins."

All was done as she said. Everyone stood as her instruction was obeyed, and with fury in her face Tamar rose and went over to Judah, flinging the foreskins of her infant sons at his feet. "Their blood, if they die at the hands of your invisible God, is upon you for this! And if your god does not kill you, I will do it with my own hands!"

Judah's face whitened; he was speechless before the wrath of the offended woman. She had resigned herself to the circumcision, yet she would blame him if anything should go wrong; and children were often known to die even before they could be weaned. But he said nothing, nodded, and went out. The women took a cloth and removed the bloody leavings of the Covenant rite and instead of burying them beneath a sapling oak gave them to Tamar who hid them away.

So Pharez and Zerah were accorded God's sign of his Covenant with the children of Israel; yet Tamar remained opposed to the God of Jacob and nursed anger in her heart, for all the wrong she had suffered at Judah's hands. Resenting every slight she felt at the hands of the Hebrew women, Tamar kept to her tent (though it was Rachel's, not something even Judah could give to her).

Tamar, therefore, was the last to hear of the coming of the balladeer (or chanter) from near Hauran. Everyone was excited at the news, even the older men and women, for no one knew what tale he had prepared for the occasion of Pharez and Zerah's circumcision, and the more superstitious still talked about the grass-green mantle that had overspread his countenance from time to time so mysteriously.

News had reached the old Shuhite minstrel of the twins' delivery; knowing nothing of the story but that they were Judah's sons he had carefully gone over the tale of Jobab, for it was a story of great honor in all the encampments of the widespread brethren, whether they knew El Elyon alone or, as Laban did at The Field of Aram, cultivated other gods just in case they might be of help too.

Jacob himself roused himself from his mourning to receive the honored guest. He came at last, after many weeks of visiting encampments along the way; and his two donkeys were as dusty as the minstrel and his Amorite man-servant from Babelen. Jacob had already chosen gifts to be presented to the brothers, wives and to the singer. There would be a great feast, and much dancing and rejoicing, for two males had been added to the family.

Tamar, excluding herself from society gossip, only heard the man was on his way, and so was surprised when he suddenly appeared. Unprepared, she sat in her tent not knowing what to do, though all around her the camp was in an uproar as the people streamed in from everywhere to the meeting place.

Some women peeked in fearfully at her tent-door. "He's here!" they whispered urgently, then departed before the foreigner could fling another pillow or earthen pot at them.

Just the same, her interest was piqued. Tamar got up from her bed and went to the door, peering out at the great commotion. She caught a glimpse of an old man with long, white beard, dust-covered garments, and a tall, somewhat lopsided, gold-threaded turban. The man disappeared from view as the people crowded around to see if there were yet signs of the prophetic green hue in his cheeks, as well as inquire of distant relatives he might have encountered on his travels.

Tamar went to wash her face from a basin and prepare her hair, hastily drawing on a beautiful robe Judah had brought one day as a gift to Er's widow. She had been in mourning ever since Er's death, as well as Onan's, but there were special occasions Judah had foreseen when he bought the garment from a trader. How many sheep had it cost him? she wondered at the time, for she knew Judah was poor in sheep and goats. Now she was glad of it, for she needed something to show she was a woman of pride, if not wealth.

Applying some ointment of Rachel's from the alabaster boxes in the tent, Tamar looked at herself in a bronze mirror and saw she could be seen again, for the first time since her arrival in camp. Her heart was beating fast as he swaddled her boys and slipped outside her tent into daylight, which blinded her for a few moments. Tamar could hear the murmur her appearance caused as she went over to the meeting place. Some women made way for her with some slighting remarks, but she did not care. Much ado was made over the boys, however, even though there was still resentment toward Tamar and her taking over the late Rachel’s fine tent.

Swallowing anger, Tamar let them fondle the two sons of Er though, making light of her levirate rights, they said they were Judah's sons and heirs. She had to control her wrath, she was determined to go through with the ceremony of the blessing. Jacob's blessing had not yet been given. That she was well aware of. Yet he had countenanced the gathering of the entire family to honor her sons, and so she could not refuse and see them dishonored. In her heart she hoped Jacob would relent and personally give his blessing at the same time.

Finally, the old singer and Jacob himself came out from Jacob's tent, and everyone fell silent. The minstrel of Nob (for he came of an ancient land more hoary than Hauran or even Uz) left Jacob and went over to see the boys. Bildad lay his hands on each one for a moment, and gave them a kindly smile and a few words of greeting. With a slight glance at the mother, he returned to Jacob's side. All were seated on the ground or on cushions, awaiting the special tale and song of the occasion. No one knew what it would be, as a surprise telling of some old tale would provide their chief enjoyment.

The old man began to dance a few steps, executing a slow whirl as his man-servant drummed a slow beat. Some of Jacob's sons added to the tune with their flutes, and the old man's feet quickened. For a short time, he could still dance like a young man, and the people watched with admiration and murmured delight as he spun and danced in the manner of old.

Gasping for breath, the singer spun and twirled with closed eyes and radiant, uplighted face; suddenly he stopped and began to recite, flawlessly, from out of the treasure-chest of his race; and everyone leaned forward, even with babes in their arms and at their breasts. He began somewhere in the middle of the tale, and sang: "Behold, my heart is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins it will not keep long pent!"

Full of poetry and divine oracle, the old balladeer chanted selected portions, which sprang to life in the speaking and the hearing, with an authority and freshness that only a master singer could evoke.

"The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of Shaddai my life gives He," he quoted as though Jobab's words were his own.

Then, taking the various roles of Jobab's comforters, he attacked the integrity or "righteousness" of Jobab, a godly Edomite who lost all through the severe testings of his God. It was a brave thing for a Shuhite to do in an Edomite camp, of course, but the listeners were assured the Shuhites were worse devils, and loved it. To each attack "Jobab" responded, and no one could tell it was not Jobab speaking to the assembly.

The time passed quickly, and the end of the tale was nearing when the light began to dim. Soon there would be great rejoicing and dancing well into the night and the next day, followed by feasting and a certain amount of revelry and lovers' trysting in outlying fields.

The old singer was exhausted, but he still had strength to utter his words with utmost fervor of conviction as he came to Jobab's final declaration: "I know that my redeemer liveth!" The expression was so phrased, however, that some thought he said something other, but most believed he intended “redeemer”--a term they understood to mean God.

Tamar herself could see the mighty whirlwind of El the Most High God rise up above the landscape, throwing the very mountains in turmoil, and watch Jobab's poor comforters prostrate themselves in fear and awe.

"Who is this that hides counsel?" the old singer declaimed in the role of Jobab, streams of perspiration running down his furrowed cheeks and beard. "Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know were formed by God's hand."

He began to sink toward the ground, and his man-servant and some Hebrews reached to catch him.

"I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee--"

The whole company gasped as the man tottered and fell face down. That was not in the poem or its traditional rendering. The camp was in an uproar as people rushed to see what had happened. Tamar had to fight her way through the crowd to get closer. At last she found herself near the old man, as he lay gasping for breath.

"You have not blessed my sons!" she cried. "Father Jacob will have none of them if you don’t!"

"Bildad's dying!" a woman shrieked in her ear. “Can’t you see that?”

But Tamar paid the woman no attention.

“Bless my sons!” she shouted.

The man's message had burned all the way though her dark heart even as she yelled at him, and she had to hear from his lips the answer to the dilemma that tortured her heart. But the dying man did not even see her. His eyes were closing, and he could only mutter, "--therefore I myself despise, in dust and ashes repent my sighs."

Jobab's closing words were Bildad's own (for Jobab had said no such thing but had instead fallen to the ground far off in Oz without a sound), but no one thought anything of the last phrases of the poem in the calamity of the man's sudden demise.

Immediately, at his going, a wild ululation broke out from all the women; it was impossible for anything else to be heard. To furious and disappointed to wait the old minstrel’s passing, Tamar stumbled away to her own tent, clutching her unblessed sons and refusing the women who sought to comfort her. Tears were streaming from her own eyes as she found seclusion once again in dead Rachel's lonely tent. Her frustration and anger melted away as the old one’s words sank deeper in. For days afterwards, she sat and pondered the strange events, and the stranger things the man's words had given birth to in her own heart and being.

Though she did not know of it, a new God, El Elyon, God of gods, had been born to her reckoning even as the old man had chanted his old tale. And in a dream she saw the messenger of the Lord once again, green-faced, saying: "From your womb I have raised up a Seed, the Redeemer of Israel! Be of good cheer, my daughter!"

Tamar, after her dream, spoke nothing of it to anyone, but it changed everything for her--and from that day she did not despise the women of Jacob and let them their ample breasts minister to the wants of her children. One day the Hebrew women fled, bowing, from Tamar's tent. Wondering what she might have done or said to provoke them, Tamar turned back to her boys and was surprised when she looked up and saw an old man's face peering in at the door. Before she had time to rise and bow, the handsome, young Benjamin entered, supporting Jacob's right arm. They were standing a moment later before the bowed form of Tamar, for she knew in her heart it was a great honor to her for him to come to her tent.

Jacob paused, glancing about with a happy glow in his eyes and face which gradually turned to grief. Then his eyes focused on Tamar, and his eyes glowed again, but with a different intensity.

Benjamin dropped the patriarch's arm and knelt, and Tamar was suddenly stricken with fear and awe of something happening she could not comprehend. She gazed speechlessly up at the old man, who now looked beyond her to the forms of Judah's sons.

Jacob tottered over to them as Tamar watched aghast, expecting him to fall at any time. He leaned down and touched the little ones with his fingertips, muttering something the mother could not hear or understand. But the patriarch's voice grew stronger and authoritative. "In the name of the Mighty One of Jacob, the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, I bless Pharez and Zerah with blessings of the king and his holy hill; and, behold, they are cubs of a lioness, a lion's whelps, and from their line the scepter shall not depart, nor the ruler's staff, until the Righteous One comes to whom it belongs."

His arms and mouth fell slack, and Benjamin hurried over and caught Jacob as he wavered on his feet. A moment later they both were gone, and Tamar gazed about her tent uncertainly for several minutes, wondering about the event and the strange, royal blessing of her sons. Repeating the words to herself during the following days, she pondered them again and again. Only gradually did the golden blessing (if not its meaning) penetrate her troubled mind; and even without the interpretation the blessing became a healing for her soul and body as well, purifying her even to her breasts and womb.

And all the women of Jacob marveled, as they saw how the strange fruit of Tamar's womb was blessed, and her own milk proved so sufficient that her two sons afterwards flourished with vigor and nobility of face and form. "O Lioness, Lioness of Judah!" they said to Tamar as she brought forth her children from the tent, standing with the boys in her arms as the wind swept her beautiful, strong face and long hair. And of her children they said, rejoicing: "Are they not handsome and mighty ones, like sons of a noble king?"

7 Imhotep’s Signet

After a near and seemingly inescapable collapse, the Hyksos state began to rise, spectacularly so! All the forces assembled to crush the Hyksos in a vise melted like mist before the fire!

It would appear Wally could relax for the moment. Joseph was not only safe but elevated to second in power under the Per-aa. But Wally knew better. However nice things were in Mizraim at present, there wasn’t anything nice about what OP, unopposed, continued to do to the Universe. Moreover, the star cloud was acting up! And the Atlanteans? They saw their main chance would pass them by forever if they didn’t act now. Let the Hyksos Per-aa regain lost power and they would see resistance and messy insurrection. Ibbatha was no problem--their deified rulers were much easier to manipulate, and they would serve as puppets, with strings drawn by Atlantean overlords. No, Avaris had to be crushed once and for all. The Hyksos were the last impediment to the re-establishment of Atlantis as she had once been.

All this Wally discerned as he monitored their ships and movements of their agents, both on the planet and off. Seeing that there would not be another day of delay, he decided that he had to act pre-emptively, or see the Atlanteans attack and sweep Khian and Joseph into oblivion. That would be a disaster!

Flying directly at the Atlantean fleet as it moved into position, with ships about to descend upon the main cities of each remaining kingdom, Wally began to project scenes from an old Hitchcock movie that he hoped would do the trick.

The gleaming, white spheroids of the Atlanteans were suddenly emblazoned with 1950s Technicolored chase scenes that could not fail to draw OP’s attention--since it was always chasing some prey to its last gasp. Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, a train speeding through the Alps, a ship bearing down on a boat of shipwrecked Americans and one German captain, birds attacking beautiful women in city streets, Wally spared nothing in his entire Hitchcockian archives at Tutasix.

Suddenly, a thunderous firebolt burst seemingly from out of nowhere, and, characteristically, the killer beam behaved like it had a mind of its own and divided and attacked the far-flung, global fleet. In seconds, the Atlanteans were reduced to a rag-tag shadow of their former numbers. Starships sinking in flames, blowing apart with deafening concussions--then the furious flight of what shreds were left, starward, away from the planet that witnessed the destruction of all their plans and efforts to regain long-lost realms.

Only one reminder of the Atlanteans survived the inferno and sped toward its addressee: Wally.

The messenger was only a drone, not a missile, and it carried a strong rebuke from the vanquished chief of the Atlanteans.

Wally was surprised at the holographic image that suddenly confronted him. A private audience with Elektra? It was unprecedented (not including the hapless Hantsbo).

Ugly black smoke forming a roiling curtain behind her, her eyes shot a blue flame of their own at him.

Her beautiful clothes were not in the best condition--tattered, smudged with soot and blood. A serpent arm-bracelet had even melted partway into the flesh of one arm. She seemed to be in much pain, but her face was classically composed, her lips whispering without a trace of the agony and chargrin she had to be feeling at that moment.

“Trickster! I see we underestimated you in this matter. But I am not finished. We shall come back and complete what we started. You have not won anything you can keep from my hands! Remember that, when we meet again.”

Then the drone blew itself up most rudely in Wally’s face.

Since Joseph's appointment to the office of Grand Taty, every day brought more chariots, sepetarchs and tribute money from Upper and Lower Mizraim to Avaris. Khian's coffers over-flowed and kept running over with all the gold, silver, electrum and, most precious, tiny iron ingots smelted in Hatti and the Mycenaean Sherdan. The taties of the thirty-nine sepets of Mizraim crowded Zaphenath-Paneah's palace, while their hoarded gold filled the nearby state treasury of the Per-aa. For while Khian enjoyed the trappings of his restored throne, his new Grand Taty exercized the powerful reins of state.

The Grand Taty had always been second to the Per-aa in position; yet to none had Khian given either the royal signet ring or, even better, Imhotep’s fabled signet. None had ever lived long enough to earn such trust. And while the two kingdoms had slipped from his grasp and the ravenous Empire of Hatti was expanding in Kena'n-Retenu at Mizraim's expense, he had vented his wrath on the officer closest to the throne, replacing him with another on whom his wrath could again descend.

The vicious circle that encircled Khian’s neck like a noose had at last been broken. How it was broken, Khian did not know; yet all Mizraim was flocking to seek refuge beneath the outspread wings of the lunar disk carved above the thrones of Khian and Joseph in the Hall of the Sacred Papyrus.

Khian's spies had reported certain strange incidents at the Festival of Ladeber the Frog-God in Machitha, prior to the sudden abdication of the claimant from Ga'arta; yet Khian could scarcely believe such fables. The Grand Taty's lovely wife inflaming an entire city against Narmer-ankh-Nebel? Khian scoffed in the alarmed faces of his reporting spies.

"I am no such fool as you may think!" Khian-ankh-Nebel declared, and they were fortunate to escape the audience hall with heads attached, especially since one had dared to claim that Princess Asenath had been seen--face colored a bright green--denouncing the claimant to his face in Machitha!”

Too grateful for his restoration to take anyone's life, the renascent Per-aa basked in his own good will and dispensed lavish gifts on everyone around him, excluding only his bundling corps of now useless spies. He was still laughing about the silly tale concerning Per-aa Asenath (for he had no idea the supreme title and office were delegated through royal daughters, not through regnant kings) when he took his fan-bearers and other attendants to call on the new Grand Taty.

He wasn’t apt to complain but business had run rather thin in his audience hall of late, and he wondered what Joseph (for he had forgotten the extravagant name he had bestowed in an excess of gratitude) was doing. Smiling at everyone (for he smiled much of late), Khian rode in his state chariot, the one that shone brighter than any chariot in the world except Joseph's since it was sheeted with electrum. He was quite proud of it, in fact. The frothy-white plumes of eight pairs of magnificent horses gave his ride the effect of floating above a cloud as he looked out over the horses' heads and down the frog-lined avenue.

His wheels were so oiled the chariot glided along, past the stately houses of Masgeh, Opeh, and various foreign embassies including the new Hittite ambassador's, until finally coming to Joseph's “house.”

The Per-aa stepped down, and all the chariots behind him drew up and stopped, disgorging courtiers and guards and a few, choice harem girls of Babelite extraction he had remembered at the last moment to bring along for Joseph. The bright day shone magnificently, lighting up Khian's chariot, gold necklace, and pearled slippers. He was, he knew, a most glittering spectacle of royal pomp and majesty and enjoyed every moment as crowds gathered to see the Hyksos version of a Mizraimite god-king come in person to visit the new Grand Taty. Joseph, however, rather spoiled Khian's grand entrance by coming quickly down the steps of the lotus-columned palace. Khian would have liked to ascend, rather slowly, turn and wave before removing his majesty and splendor from the sight of the common people.

He sighed, but smiled most gratefully at Joseph, who knelt far too humbly for a Grand Taty, he noted. Arm in arm, Per-aa and Taty went up the steps and into the vast forecourt of the palace. Inside, it was delightfully cool, for the pool waters kept the air fresh and scented with flowers. Khian liked pools and informality, and when Joseph would have proceeded further into the immense warren of halls, courts, pools, private chambers, treasure rooms, chapels, store-rooms, and harems, Khian smilingly raised his hand.

"No, I like it here," he said simply, and sat down on his royal chair.

Joseph remained standing.

His “son” looked up at him slyly. "I suppose I ought not to be disturbing you at this time, dear father, but surely you can set a few moments aside from your, er, duties?"

So many high officials of Mizraim were present, though ceremonially the Per-aa’s “father,” Joseph blushed at the Per-aa's familiarity, but he knelt again before Per-aa Khian. "Please ask me anything, my son."

The older man laughed with good humor. As the most grateful man in the world, well pleased to be the ruler of the earth's greatest nation, he really did not intend to be so formal as Joseph. "I only came to see what you are doing with all these important people these days. I are very grateful that you can find time to deal with so many. It cannot all be about the storage of bread-corn, can it?"

Joseph could not help it and smiled at the Per-aa's little poke. "No, my lord. Though I have visited the cities and chosen men to guard the storage granaries will be filled with the good grain of the land, these men you see in the palace are simply your friends. They have come to offer their assistance in any way that would please you. Only I find little unity among them and expect they need urgent instruction in order to re-establish order in their provinces before I can do anything regarding the grain supply and proper storage."

Khian glanced more carefully around the courtyard, eyeing the solemn, richly-dressed ranks of dignitaries from Upper and Lower Kingdoms without over-much empathy. "We are not well pleased at such news!" he said, rising to eye the assembly with a cold, imperious eye. "Establish a school of wisdom and train the fools up, if you must! You have all power, Our Lord Joseph, to conclude any arrangement that is amenable or complimentary to the throne."

Then, momentarily, if that wasn’t stiff enough, the rough, old Hyksos warrior reared up from behind the imperial Mizraimite exterior. The world ruler gazed significantly across the court and took in all the dignitaries, then came back to Joseph. "I am the divine Son of Nebel here," he declared with icy emphasis, "and without your consent no man shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Mizraim!"

Still eyeing the hushed and attentive assembly, he slowly retracted his claws and turned again to Joseph, dramatically removing his own gold pectoral-necklace and putting it round the neck of his second-in-power. "And I command this day, that whenever you ride in the Second Chariot, whatever city, even my own city, your guards shall cry, 'Abrek!' or 'Bow the knee!'"

He turned to go, then paused, and began to work at a certain ring on his right hand. His extremities had swollen from a recurring kidney ailment, so it was not easy for him. “No,” he said, “he can have the other one.” He whispered to an aide and the man ran off.

Then Joseph and Khian conferred about a matter until the aide returned, bearing a small gem casket from the Royal Treasury.

“Ah, here it is!” Khian said, lifting the lid. He held out the casket to Joseph.

Joseph hesitated to take it.

“Well, put it on. It’s a signet supposed to a national treasure of some kind among the Mizraimites. They say it brought greatness to somebody they called Im-Im-something! I trust it will fare thee well. I’ve had it long enough.”

Joseph took the ring from the casket. It looked like an ordinary carnelian. It was red, more fiery than most stones of carnelian he had seen, and, what was not so ordinary, it alternately flamed and went icy cold to the touch. He had no desire for it, but he slipped it on out of obedience to the per-aa.

The Per-aa, satisfied once he saw Joseph wearing the princely ring, declared to the hearing of the mass of officials, "We have set you, my Lord Grand Taty, over all the land of Mizraim and her tributaries, realms, and dominions."

Everyone prostrated seven-fold before Joseph, though the news was not in the Per-aa's declaration but in the ring itself. Since Zaphenath-Paneah-Joseph had already been installed as Grand Taty, the Per-aa could add nothing to his rank and privilege except the supreme, unassailable power exercised by the Scarab Ring of State--which this ring now became. It was the first time Per-aa Khian had let the ring go to a Grand Taty; but Joseph accepted it as he had accepted everything else from the supreme ruler of the Land of Red and Black--though it was far more important and valuable than other things, including the Second Chariot.

His official business concluded, the Per-aa smiled at his Grand Taty and seemed about to depart, followed by a crowd of fan-bearers and fly-swatters, bodyguards, and courtiers. In making his impressive exit, he paused momentarily, as if he had just remembered something. He turned, pointing toward the beautiful women in his train, two princesses (or so they appeared) from Babelen, taken in the sack of the city by Mursilis, Emperor of Hatti. "No, my pretties, you stay," he said to them in the way he spoke to his womenfolk.

Then to Joseph, "Just a little amusement for you in your idle hours, my dear fellow, when the duties of state prove too taxing! Some prince expired unexpectedly in Hattusus, I hear, and so they were not married off as planned."

The Per-aa left, and Joseph was staring at the women, when Lady Asenath entered the courtyard. The host of dignitaries kept their places, inclining their heads or bowing as she passed. She was the most beautiful women in two kingdoms. It was a fact plain to everyone. And she knew just what to do with the two harem girls. "My lord," she said, turning to Joseph, "I an most thankful for these two, lovely maid-servants. I was about to go out to search the markets for ones as refined and beautiful as these, but I see someone has been so kind to spare me the trouble."

Joseph was seen to look relieved, as Lady Asenath and the two women departed toward the women's apartments. With the women gone, Joseph turned back to his guests. They rushed forward, as quickly as decorum would permit, to present their credentials and acknowledgements, as well as offers to assist the Grand Taty in their respective sepets and cities. The Ibbathans, most of all, seemed most anxious to be of service. They had, Joseph knew, even paid their tribute tax in arrears, while other cities were content to let the past go and attend to the pressing matters of the present.

He seemed somewhat cold and distant toward Ibbatha, however. And certain on-lookers whispered something about the assassination of the claimant-Per-aa as a possible reason for Joseph's displeasure. Joseph was still standing, without deigning to sit on his vizoral chair, when the last dignitary gave his little speech and and departed. It was late in the evening, and Joseph had sent his scribes home. He knew Asenath was expecting him, but he knew it was Abdullah's chance.

"Morning of fragrance!" a strikingly human voice called out, adding several barnyard expressions. Laughing, the Ishmaelite burst in on Joseph and greeted Joseph as an old friend, and they sat down together by the poolside.

Chatting for some time, they laughed and shared various experiences of the day while Larishaphim perched on Joseph's throne and with his beak worked loose pieces of ivory and gemstones.

At last Abdullah was weary of talk and holding to one place on Earth and rose to go.

"Are you sure," asked Joseph rising, "you will not stay on with me? You can take care of all my household, including the animals, since Ramoseh is needed at old Potiphar's. I mean, you will be in charge over my house as Chief Steward." Abdullah wagged his head, nose downward. His teeth glinted daggerlike in the lamplight, for he had Ishmael's beautiful teeth. "I am sorry, my lord," he said. "In my heart I feel something is wrong, I must return home. Maybe later I will take this wonderful position in your house and help you. Besides, though I am a man now and may take a wife, I need to speak with my elder brother before I remain with you."

Joseph put his arm over the Ishmaelite's shoulder, which flinched momentarily but did not shake him off. "You must go then? Well, if you must, please take my love and regards to your eldest brother. I am not so sure the others remember me. I was just a young slave!"

But no more!

Abdullah stepped back with one hand stroking his beard, and his eyes frogged exactly as they had when he too was a youth. He looked Joseph over again. "What a fine ring you wear on your hand! It gleams at me like fire! You look like the Per-aa himself!" he exclaimed.

And it was true. With the wide gold collar of royalty, the white, intricately-pleated, linen robe, and the scarab signet given him by the Per-aa, Joseph was every inch a royal figure and just as powerful as any world ruler.

Joseph smiled. "Oh, but I am the same disinherited slave-boy beneath these fine things," he said. He lifted the gold-threaded hem of his royal robe. "See if I do not crawl across the same dust of the ground that you tread, my friend!"

"Son of a donkey, take thy greasy hands off thy handmaid's charms!" Larishaphim interrupted.

Abdullah laughed, but now it was a grown man's laughter which echoed down the long court, carried by the waters of the huge pool. "You will take him, will you not?" Abdullah asked. "A caravan is no place for such a crazy bird! He was always giving orders to my beasts, and they would always stop what they were supposed to be doing and obey him!"

Joseph regarded the word-trained bird for a moment, then his expression became even more thoughtful. "No, it would probably be best if he remains with his best friend, which you are. If sometime later you don’t want his company, then perhaps Lady Zenobia could care for him. I would, but at court he may say things that would be out of place with ambassadors and such; but either with you or in her aviary he would be happy and freer, I think."

After the two friends embraced, even the restless Abdullah seemed reluctant to go.

"What is it, friend?" Joseph coaxed.

With a sheepish expression, Abdullah turned to him. "Do you now know why all these bad things have happened to you? Why you were taken from home, sold as a slave, and put in prison in this camel’s arse of a foreign country?"

Joseph looked at him and sighed deeply. Then he shook his head slowly.

"I only know God has been faithful to me, and preserved my life amidst my enemies; also my brothers intended this for evil, but yet good has come of it." "You prattle too much of God to my taste! I do still do not understand God's way in this!" exclaimed Abdullah, and he spat expertly into the pool. Then, as if he were going to embrace his friend again, he seized Joseph's shoulders with fierce affection, an act that in a formal setting would be appalling for Mizraimites to witness happening to so great a personage. "But know, my friend, that my love for you is eternal and everlasting as the mountains of the Per-aa or the islands in the midst of the sea! My love for you is eternal as the Imperishables in the heavens! My love--" Joseph's eyes saddened as he looked into the Ishmaelite's dark, merry eyes. "Yes, I know we are friends clasping hand to hand now, in this good time, in this warm light, but later a dark day may dawn in your life, dear brother, that will seem very evil and even turn your heart against me. I pray then that you do not commit the thing hidden in your heart. Master it, or it will master you and make you do great evils!” Abdullah drew back from Joseph for a moment; he seemed shocked, then quickly reverted to his old, light-hearted assurance. "I have heard your new throne name. You are called the Revealer of Secrets in this land! Do you indeed know what is in my heart?" "No, but I see a dark cloud over you, and a dagger in your heart. What that means will be for you to discover."

Abdullah laughed. "I feel nothing there but my own flesh and bone!" He pounded the powerful muscles over his heart. "It must be a very tiny dagger indeed, small as a needle, and so nothing to worry about!"

Joseph laughed too, but uneasily. "Please come again in the morning, my friend. I have provisions for you. For, free-roaming fox of Gilead, you came a poor youth to this land for the sake of others, but the Lord would have you go out a very rich man!"

When Joseph went to Asenath in her chamber, he found her fallen asleep. Having heard Jizra's account of the strange and troubling events in Machitha, Joseph let her be, for she still needed to mend in body and soul. Someday he meant to ask exactly what it was she had said that had sent the pretender, Narmer II, so quickly into obscurity and, apparently, the next world.

Restless in bed, Joseph found he could not find sleep and rose. Wearing only a loin cloth, he took a night light, a four-spouted clay lamp from Kena'n he had bought in a market to remind him of home. On the terrace outside the sleeping chamber he paused to breathe cool sea breezes flowing in over the Delta. Facing the southwest, he was shocked as always by the unearthly size and strange design of the Houses of Eternity. Severely austere and perfect in their lines, they towered into the night sky, and beside them the moon was a tiny, glowing lamp like the one in his hand.

Since first seeing them, Joseph never got used to the sight of them--alien beyond anything in his own fatherland, but, nevertheless, awesome and beautiful in their own strange way. Glowing whitely unto their gold-capped vertices in the moonlight, deep blue and purple along the shadowed planes turning a rose pink toward daybreak, the mountains of the Dawn Kings shone with all the magnificence and folly of Mizraim. She was magnificent because she had achieved unparalleled greatness, and foolish because though ravishingly beautiful...

For in a dream he never told anyone had watched in horror as these same shining mountains had been mown down like grass with a scythe and cast into a flaming pit beneath the earth.

He grew chilled and turned back, but paused momentarily as his attention was drawn away from the Houses of Eternity to tiny, distant figures struggling on the earth beneath them. They were common laborers, perhaps slaves, straining like scarab beetles to push a single dung-cart along a canal foot-path in order to fertilize outlying fields for the autumn planting.

Joseph's head lowered, and his eye caught the red gleam of his signet. Closing his eyes, tears came silently. Hearing a movement, he looked round with surprise. A full-breasted woman stripped to the waist was silently watching him from the open palace door between the two, towering serpent-columns. "Why are you so restless, my husband?" inquired Petepheres's daughter when they

returned to their chamber. “If you cannot sleep, I have something to show you.” She moved the cushions and pulled out several papyri scrolls. In the light of the clay lamp, the winged dung-beetle carved on Imhotep’s signet glowed ruddy on his finger as he spread out the design for the national granaries.

"So you have been busy at work!" he whispered, keeping his voice low so as not to awaken servants. “How did you find time to do this?”

Asenath waited to respond as Joseph leaned and peered over her newly finished drawings with growing pride and wonder. “When you thought I was resting, the ideas came to me and I drew them. They are not finished, but they are a beginning.”

Finally, he looked up, his eyes revealing a bridegroom's feelings. "They are so unusual, but I feel they are just what are needed," he observed, lying down beside her in bed.

"I took the idea for their design from the name of our God," Asenath said solemnly. "Is not El Shaddai--a name I have heard you use sometimes--called after a mother's breast?

Joseph was too full of emotion to say anything. For the first time his wife had spoken of him and his God in that way.

She snuggled closer to him, and Joseph slipped his arm over her bare shoulders.

He felt her fingers on his hand.

“Is that the seal-ring Khian gave you today?”

“No, he replaced the first one he gave me, saying this was more valuable, since the color red is reckoned sacred to the Mizraimites,” he murmured as his fingers played with her hair and the back of her neck.

She stroked the ring.



“I know whose ring this is. It isn’t Khian’s seal-ring, which has no value in comparison. He was right to give you a better ring than his own, which probably has a Hyksos dog-god on it instead of the divine Scarab Beetle. But his people stole this ring, for we would never have given it up to him willingly.”

Joseph was running his hands lower on her arms and thighs. “Oh?” he said disinterestedly.

Asenath grabbed his roving hands. “Listen to me. This ring is very important. It was Great Imhotep’s! He was the architect and stone-mason of the king, and no one ever surpassed him. Do you now what that means? It has most powerful magic in the world. With it he built up my land and people, which were nothing were nothing at that time, to greatness beyond all other nations. He did it all in one lifetime and his work has lasted a thousand years! Don’t you think that’s important?’

Joseph murmured something as he pressed himself against her. Asenath seemed to relax again and moved in closer, matching limb with limb. Time seemed to stand still.


Joseph hardly heard her.

“Joseph? You could be Per-aa. With this ring you can proclaim yourself Per-aa, and with the throne-right I inherited I can give you such legitimacy that all the people of Mizraim would immediately rise in to your banner and--”

Joseph suddenly moved away with a jerk. “What are you saying?”

“Why, YOU can be Per-aa! You should be Per-aa! And that odious, foreign donkey must be thrown out! You see what kind of a man he is! This is a great and noble land--greater than any other on earth! We deserve someone better to rule over us! With this ring you can be that one, and Mizraim will rise to greatness once again, just as she was in the time of Imhotep. Let’s slip away now to Machitha, to the royal palace, and declare your kingship there! All Mizraim will heed your rightful call to bow to your scepter, once they hear I have awarded you my father's throne-right!”

By this time Joseph had risen up in bed.

Dropped, Asenath looked at him in astonishment. “What are you doing? Do you think that would be good? Why not?” Her voice began to rise. “This is your main chance! Take it! I alone can confer the throne-right. I am the only woman in Mizraim who bears it! And no man shall have it except you! It is yours! Just say! Say! You don’t know, but the world’s destiny is at stake! We’ll all be destroyed by Wormstar if you don’t do what I ask! I know because magic vases told me everything!”

Joseph flung himself from the bed. He stumbled, fell, then backed away from the bed. At the same time his ring began to flame, higher and higher in intensity. His hand rose, the ring seemingly tugging it upwards. Joseph immediately wrenched it down. The ring and hand rose upwards once again, and again Joseph pulled it back down.

Suddenly, the stone flew free of the setting.

It bounced against the granite-faced wall, kept bouncing from side to side, fell to the floor buzzing and sputtering, then flew through the doorway, jetting flame like a thrown torch.

Astonished, Joseph looked out as the spitting flame sped upwards, as if to join the very stars. He turned back to stare in wonderment at Asenath, but she was not looking and had missed seeing what happened to Imhotep’s carnelian. Instead, her hands were pressed against her face, and she was rocking back and forth.

“The vases! You don’t know what they warned me about! Wormstar the Destroyer is coming! You don’t know!”

He went to her, and drew her down into the warmth of the bed.

That night Asenath conceived. Later in a season of unusually bounteous harvests a male child would be born whom he would call Manasseh--"forgetting," a bitter-sweet name for both the father and mother. "For," he would explain to to the mother who held their firstborn at her breast, "God has made me to forget all my trouble and all my father's household."

Now Manasseh's birth would fall at the time of the zarah and barley harvest, and the garnering of the precious bread-corn for the national granaries began, with Joseph going out to inspect the store-houses, the keepers, and the in-gathering.

Joseph Inspects the Granaries

Receiving word by chariot and messenger, Joseph hurried back to the palace. The night Manasseh was conceived was not to end without further incident. It was deep in the night, a hour or so before morning when the stillness in the room was broken by wildly beating wings. Joseph pulled away from his sleeping wife as the wings again brushed his face. There was a terrible commotion and the sound of a voice, crying something like “More Margin! More Margin!”

But what was “More Margin”?

“Joseph!” his wife called.

He jumped out of bed into the cold, ran into the hall and got a torch and came back to find it was Larishaphim that had invaded their chamber. The bird circled a last time, then flew out the doorway, across the terrace, with Joseph in hot pursuit. Flying skywards, the bird seemed to be frantic to draw his attention as it cried, “Joseph! God of Joseph, help me!”

Joseph shook his head and did not know what to do. He ran back, threw on a robe, and followed the bird part way, as it led toward the palace harbor. Within minutes he was down at the boats, and the startled boatmen bowed repeatedly and had a hard time understanding that they were to take the Grand Taty immediately to sea, following the lone bird.

As soon as the ship was water-borne, Larishaphim circled for the last time and flew straight away over the sea toward the southwest, toward a swirling mass of red and black clouds. It was a storm at sea, Joseph thought. He was about to tell the captain to turn the ship about, back toward land, when, suddenly, it seemed the clouds hurled out blazing torches as if the world was about to burn up. Thunder broke, reverberating across the waters, clap after clap, each increasing in strength.

Joseph’s sailers dropped their oars and they all stared at the flashes of light that shot up from the storm-covered horizon and flew up into the highest heavens, missing the Earth.

A short time later they were racing toward the safety of the land and the harbor. For as suddenly as it began, the throwing of the torches ceased, but the noise of the thunderhead grew, shaking the world so that it trembled, throwing dust high into the air and tall, crashing waves against every shore.

8 The Sinking Ship

Wally was frantic. The Atlanteans were in full flight--having suffered a terrible rout, thanks to OP. But his turn had come. This was IT! he knew. This was Gettysburg, the Battle of the Horns of Hattin, Djugashvilligrad, Normandy, The Battle of Wake Island, The Ottoman siege of Vienna, The Battle of Lepanto, Waterloo, the Battle of Issus, the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, The Battle of Midway Island, Armageddon, Actium, Apocalypse all wrapped into one--OP’s final push in the Wargame toward checkmate. “Something” had increased the speed of the diamonds BEYOND light, and they were spreading through 3C 295. Several were approaching Earth orbit and slowing somewhat, or he could not have detected them.

He had tried everything a Cray supercomputer, the greatest brain-child of the 22nd Century Crystal Age, could devise. But it seemed the diamonds would either hit and explode the Earth or pass by uselessly into deep space. As for the Wargame, in that event, the red rogue-star would seem to have won. With water seepage ruining Tutasix--it had held together well beyond the limits of its design and construction--he knew that he soon would be useless as well.

What would Earth do without him? He hated to think of it. A world without his scientific and cultural knowledge and genius? It was unthinkable! So Wally flitted about between the incoming diamonds and Earth, trying again to devise a winning strategy for what might well be his very last move on the board.

Meanwhile, the star cloud began to shine erratically, shrink a bit, throw out material, shrink, and rumble. Wally’s attention was drawn to the development, and he had just time to make his calculations and determine what might be happening--when it happened! At the same time the first three diamonds of the fifty expected to cross Earth’s orbit soared toward the wobbling and brightening star cloud.

Wally fully expected them to explode as gravitational forces from the cloud caught them and its heat expanded them in an instant beyond the critical point where they could remain solids. He was right. They exploded in brilliant flashes, one after the other. Then the material from the Earth-sized gems formed immediately around the glowing blob at the center of the star cloud.

Was the sparkling nimbus a concretion disk? Was he watching an incipient nova in the making?

Very concerned, Wally analyzed every detail of the phenomena as they unfolded. He realized he could eliminate the likelihood of a nova. It would take all fifty diamonds, at least, to give the cloud sufficient mass for an explodable concretion disk. Besides, the cloud was not a star as yet, and it certainly was not a degenerate dwarf with all the pressures and stresses needed to interact with the disk and produce a nova.

But he still had reason to worry as he diagnosed the strangely acting cloud. It MIGHT dissipate entirely, leaving Earth a frozen hunk of ice and rock in a blackened, star-poor zone of space. Though an explosion at this point was not possible, Earth might not survive even in that hopeless state. Fifty Earth-crossing diamonds--now it was forty-seven--had a chance of pulling the Earth with them if one passed close enough. And if one passed even closer Earth was finished completely. Convergence meant the annihilation of both diamond and Earth. So the future seemed bleak, indeed. The Wargame? All Wally had to do was look about the Universe and see the burning and exploding galaxies and it was a foregone conclusion that OP was wrapping up the Game forever. If only he had been able to utilize one of the great diamonds to form a conductive shield against the others! He had even played with the idea of using the biggest to channel hurricanes of electricity and plasma energies against OP in a face to face confrontation.

But now it was too late!

“I’ve let the subfile programmer down! I’m out of the game and OP’s won!”

Utterly disenchanted with himself, disregarding the phenomenal thing he had done in moving the planet and Game to 3C 295, feeling worse than useless, Wally flew back to Tutasix, to play condoling music to himself. Mozart’s Requiem was soon filling the facility while even more diamonds flashed in a broad band across the heavens.

If Wally had been alert, he would have noticed other details. OP was still quite active in Earth’s darkening destiny, but it wasn’t doing as well as Wally thought.

Ever since OP lost the match in Joseph’s chamber at the palace, OP attempted to put its oar in regarding the star cloud. It was being changed into something else, and OP was not one to be left out of turning it to its advantage. With the end in sight, the red star was about to terminate Earth and to do so the star cloud was a possible means. To eliminate the possibility of losing, OP turned to a strategy it knew could not fail

Despite Joseph, it was so sure of itself that it shed its pupal stone-shield, not like a trick snake shooting from a can, but carefully, discreetly.

A rippling tip emerged from the stone hovering above the gas cloud. Increasing speed, it expanded into space, still unravelling, a sinuous thread that gained galactic bulk as it distanced itself from the stone. Not an amorphous maggot or worm, not a snake or tube-worm, it resembled more an electric eel, and it was phlanged all down its body from head to the tip of its tail. Extended to its full length across the entire galactic cluster of 3C 295, Wormstar--”Serpens Sardius”--quivered with static and plasma-like energy of galaxy-destroying dimensions. Not at all sluggish, no bumbling, blind grub, Wormstar was the perfect embodiment of a rubbery, elastic kind of intelligence.

The trajectories of the diamond horde were not quite what it wanted, OP determined. It needed something more certain and quicker--such as a nice hypernova. It immediately began to pump its own energies directly into the star cloud--to give it not only the necessary mass but to form the concretion disk that would explode it and the Earth to atoms and electrons.

Wormstar had just finished with the first part of its task when it felt a tremendous, irresistable tug. It was so strong it lifted Wormstar’s entire bulk, drawing it back away from 3C 295, wrenching so powerfully it might have been a Black Hole calling.

In a moment a defense mechanism put Wormstar back in its stone. It was raging, about to erupt in the star form against the power grappling with it when a second Tug came. Immediately, Wormstar was sucked clean out of the area and sent at the speed of light in the opposite direction. A final third tug and Wormstar vanished completely, splitting up what had been a profitable partnership with Shiva’s all-devouring mouth, the SAWBH.

Reviving on a storm-plagued and foundering ship, a woman opened her eyes in darkness. A prayer came to her lips and was swept away in the roaring winds. Spray struck her face as she struggled to raise her head and possibly see what remained of her vessel. The swirling black masses were no help. But, suddenly, a beam of light penetrated the gloom and she could see. In that feeble light of a new day she saw at a glance the ship would not bear up much longer.

Her oarsmen all swept overboard, how glad she was she had not brought Assah along to Keftiu!

“You won’t be needed on the voyage,” she told her on sailing. “I’ll just be bringing more grain to the childlren and then returning immediately. No, I’d rather you go, take the dowry I’m giving you, and some clothes and jewelry--for I’m setting you free--and find that dratted, old caravaneer you’re so smitten with!”

And Assah had done it! So she was probably in Meshullam’s house or tent by now, safe and happy and loved.

Other words than the prayer to Joseph’s God (and now her God) formed and found the way to her lips, but her head sank slowly down. No one could hear the names of people dear to her anyway but herself, unless the ears were as sharp as Larishaphim’s!

Hanging to the broken hull by the strength of his beak, the aged parrot was badly battered, many a bright-colored feather lost in the struggle to gain the ship. Prevented by the gale, which turned in full force against him, he vainly struggled to pull himself along the deck to the woman.

Half-conscious of wounds that stung with salt, the woman laid her head back on the shattered planks of the heaving deck. She held her breath as water shot upwards to her neck, swirled in her flowing hair and fell away in surge after surge. Strangely, with each dark wave all the years and ravages of time were washed and swept away, until her face seemed that of a young woman’s. She knew for certain she would not see the Princes Island, Keftiu, and the orphan children again. Having survived the destruction, they were building a new life amidst the ruins.

No matter! she thought. Prince Daedalus too had survived. He believed in the same God of Joseph’s--the Most High. When the children turned grown men and women, rearing families, the prince would be there to train them to a knowledge of El Elyon.

The woman felt the whole structure beneath her shudder. Upwelling drafts burst through the broken planking beneath her. It was going down, perhaps under the next great wave. Terrified, she waited, but the wall-high wave came, nearly shook the Ioteru apart, but passed. Then another, and yet another. She was still counting when a seventh caught the ship, turning it slightly. Then the immense weight and drag of so much water, both inside the hull and pressing down upon it, converged.

The stricken Ioteru did a strange thing as it died. Perhaps its light and supple construction could account for it. The woman felt the deck beneath her lift as she and the bird head stern ornament above her were tilted upwards before the final plunge. Except for this she might have missed the glory bursting in the east on the horizon. The turbulent storm masses above her parted at last. Beneath the churning clouds an orb, not a burning cloud, began to form and rise and cast a glowing blue and pink light across the storm waters. But that was only part. After the series of earth-shaking blasts ceased, which the woman could not have known meant the birthing of a number of planets and moons, above the water formed a colored bow.

The ball of light, followed by the colored bow, were signs she could not mistake. The fleeting glimpse was enough. To her eye the bow formed a gate of heaven for her soul.

Another smashing wave struck the ship. It foamed upwards to where the woman clung, lost its cap of white froth to the screaming wind, and then pressed with full force upon the wreck--forcing Larishaphim off into the the air.

The bird flew in frantic circles, diving and fluttering above the cresting waves to regain the sinking ship. Finally, the bird turned, rising on the winds and circling beneath the many-colored bow.

“Morning of fragrance!” the bird cried high above the swirling, plank-strewn waters where the Bronze Age ship vanished beneath the waves.

It is strange how this event came, in the inspiration of a palace artisan, to be portrayed on the new signet ring ordered by Asenath. A Grand Taty could not go without a signet-ring, for he was constantly called upon to use it, along with wax, to sign state documents. The order was rushed to the palace workshop that fashioned jewelry expressly for the royal household, which included Joseph's. The instructions were hastily written on a papyrus by a scribe, whose pen might have slipped, for instead of the traditional scarab beetle, a rainbow and crowns and a bird and two heads of bread-grain were called for. And the ring came fashioned of amethyst, a violet jewel, which was also untraditional in Mizraim, though amethyst was favored by the royal court, and often used in necklaces and bracelets, though never in signet or seal-rings.

When the ring arrived for Joseph's inspection, Asenath was not present to examine it first for flaws, and it went directly to him, surprising him, as he had thought it would be much like the one Imhotep had worn, even a copy perhaps.

Joseph slipped it on, and it fit perfectly. He was wearing it an hour later when Lady Asenath entered, saw the ring and gasped. She looked at it closely, interrupting the business of the day.

"What is this ring on your finger, husband?" she asked. "This is not the ring I ordered. It must be sent back at once! I will have someone of them whipped for this mistake!"

Joseph refused her. "It pleases me somehow. It pictures a bow of God I have seen in my homeland. It is the holy bow that the Most High God set in the heavens as a promise to the family of Father Noah, that He would never again seen a Great Flood to slay the wicked and destroy the whole earth. As for the bird and the crowns and the heads of bread-grain, they are pleasing too. I remember my dream when I was a boy in my father's household, and the dream I had that my brothers' sheaves of grain would bow someday to my sheaf. No, I wish to keep it as my signet and seal."

That declared, it was done, and the event was inscribed by a scribe in the record kept of Joseph's daily business.

Asenath left him, feeling somewhat crossed. "A bow of God? A flying bird and crowns? What does that mean compared to a divine beetle? No one has never worn such a thing seated on a throne in my country! What good can come of such a ring?"

9 M.G.Y. Calling!

Far, but not so far, on the other side, but really just an atom (or anti-atom) away, a world teetered on the edge of a gigantic scientific break-through just before Michael Jayson, the American pop star expatriate turned European Union-based peace mogul, took the reins of world power.

Mu Gan Yong, a ten year old Chinese genius-level schoolboy in pale green pump station jumper, had done a lot of anti-matter (AM) research for college credit. Finally, the hard work and extra lab sessions paid off, royally. Anything “royal” was completely alien to a workaday, bluecollar habitat with poor air-conditioning and walls bead with moisture, but Mu wasn’t thinking about that now. He had started a ball rolling that he already guessed nobody would be able to stop.

Flashing a red light for general emergency service, he signalled the teacher of his advanced physics and exo-astronomy class at Pump Station X-2-00001, Halsley Education Center’s annex. A dank, poorly lit, grease-stained place with all sorts of exposed plumbing, it was a grim, utilitarian venue for a small class of gifted learners such as Mu and five other students. The station manager kept promising they would be put with the others in the main Dependents Education module, but so far they had only promises--the needed changes stalled again and again.

From the bare looks of the place, neither this miserable “annex” or even Halsley could be the main thrust of the facility. Halsley had to make do with lack of administrative support and funding for secret projects of late, and the understaffed school knew better than to object too strenuously to the manager of Cousteau A1, a Pilkington-designed, CIA-initiated, deepsea mineral-extraction installation deep under the Pacific. Since the work was considered sensitive, both ecologically and politically, with potential trillions of dollars of manganese and gold and other expensive metals at stake, who would hear of their troubles anyway?

Data on its location restricted to security personnel, all the rest of the world knew about it was Cousteau A1 was set somewhere along the upper arc of the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire--possibly near Atka Island in the highly volcanic Aleutian Archipelago. Mining the hot water vents for lucrative rare elements, in a word, was Cousteau A1’s reason for being--not child education, and particularly not special education. The only fly in the pot of station profit: international law required that working parents with children were entitled to bring them along to the workplace, even if disabled. Inspectors? They were always company men.

Success, if great enough, can make a disabled person forget all about the disability, even if the person happens to be a numb jellyfish from the neck all the way down to the toes. Mu’s face, clamped in place before a console, lit with a high degree of self-satisfaction at that moment. His disability removed fromt he center of his thoughts at the moment, his emotion may have bordered on smugness. But he could be excused for not being able to disguise genuine delight. He had just achieved something, he knew, that was guaranteed to catapult him into an A plus grade.

The instructor sighed and went over to Yong’s work station, a highly expensive one that the station manager bitterly regretted having to fund, since it had to be specially engineered to handle someone like Mu. It had taken several dificult and expensive legal actions by the attorneys for Mu and his parents to force the funding authorized by official company contracts. Their jobs were so vital to the stations’ operation that they were able to keep their jobs after that--but just barely. As long as they worked there, they could expect no bonuses and pay raises for stepping of line. Naturally, Mu’s father was restless, constantly applying to other stations, but his name and reputation had been passed around by the manager, and he was effectively blacklisted.

“Well, what do we have here that’s so important? I’m pretty busy, you know.”

Mu bit his lip and just let the instructor read what he had.

The teacher’s face paled after a moment as he scanned Yong’s data on the screen.

“I think you’ve got something, Mu! I think, yes, you’ve got something really big!”

His head and neck clamped rigid like a German nutcracker’s, Mu still could register plenty human expression, and he beamed.

“I aced it, right? Tell me I aced it, Teach!”

The man, however, wasn’t thinking of mere grades. He was looking at what could only be a new age of technology, a new world, new Universe--new everything! In 1995 the first antiatom had been created by Professor Reinhard Oelert and his team from Erlangen-Nuremberg University in the E.U. Nine antihydrogen atoms survived only 40 billionths of a second, but that was enough. They had made the long-held dream of physicists reality and the event inaugurated a new spectrum of investigations based on anti-matter. Yet the next major break-through, from the making of the antiatoms to actual harnessing of anti-matter’s power, had eluded researchers. They couldn’t seem to maintain the mass of anti-matter appreciably beyond the 40 billionths of a second threshhold. Matter continually annihilated antiatoms before anything could be done with them--that is, until now. Mu’s discovery was no mere antihydrogen molecule. No, it was a virtual piece of the anti-Universe, consisting of the mathematical blueprint for a specimen apparently composed of a crystalline structure!

Growing restless in his padded cage, Mu gazed at his speechless instructor and frowned.

“Hey, Teach, aren’t you listening?”

“What?” the rattled instructor said. “I’ve got to think! This is really something, Mu. Do you know what you’ve started? Do you?” Mu sort of had an idea. He saw a fantastically-changed world, with everything powered by antimatter, from a power station energizing the entire earth that you could hold in your hand to starships with speeds many times that of the latest experimental quark-driven propulsion systems His dark brown eyes gleamed and he struggled to hold down his grin as he gave the voice command SEND.

Instantaneously, his epoch-making discovery and data on the specimen flashed on their way to website input analysis centers and labs all around the world and off-planet sites as well. There was no attempt by the CIA to stop its dissemination either, since it wasn't considered political or anything that could compromise the agency's security (the understanding of "security" involving only that agency, at the expense of practically everything else).

The discovery proved sensational, beyond all expectation.

Within hours Mu was called to speak before international boards and assemblies of the most distinguished scientists, historians, doyens, educators--all experts, mavens, and wonks on practically everything that touched science in the slightest way.

Mu found he did not need any more sweaty sessions at his old work station. With his amazed and proud parents, he was off! He would have liked to bring his robo-kar, affectionately called Sea Horse, but the speaker platforms were too crowded with dignitaries to accommodate it. Mu’s high, squeaky voice, greatly amplified, informed august gatherings that the planet from which he had drawn a mathematical model for identification had to be quite similar to Earth in general and intrinsic components and structure.

“--but just the same I’m so glad I got it. Now we can tell pretty much how the other Universe is made up, and that should tell us a lot of neat things! But is there any danger? people always ask me. No, not at all. The data model I got was of a little rock of some kind. Sorry, it isn’t anything alive. I wasn’t that lucky. Of course, if we bring it here to Earth it might blow us all up unless we contain it with a powerful enough magnetic field. So it’s better it stays where it is, right? At least leave it alone until we figure out how to to do it right--and that could take a couple years. Maybe all you know what AM--anti-matter, I mean--is, and the dangerous stuff too. But a lot of kids still don’t. Since they’re looking in, it’s matter that has an opposite charge property to the matter in our Universe. A proton has a positive charge but the anti-proton from the other Universe carries a negative charge. Put them together and--kaboom!--they blow each other up! That process has given us potential of a great power source beyond anything we’ve got. Spacecraft can be propelled to the other galaxies with it. But AM is tricky, tricky stuff, as I said. We’ll have to be very careful it doesn’t touch anything in our Universe we don’t want it to touch, so I’m not going to try to tractor the actual thing in until we know it’s really safe--”

Then he always concluded at such events, “So don’t ever give up on your line of research! Everyone I know back home can tell you how I tried and tried to get into AM, then finally it worked out! Now I hope we men of science will make a lot more contact in the near future, maybe speak to the people on the other side and find out what they think of us. That should be real interesting! Okay, that’s all there is to what I wanted to tell you all. Thanks for coming. I’m finished! Gotta go!”

At that point attendants would help him off the platform, so he could rejoin his parents and be taken to his next venue. Once on the road, the Yongs would speed off via rocket tubes of the International Transit System (I.T.S.), a worn-out but triumphant Mu happily sipping a grown-up’s espresso.

After all the speaking engagements let up a bit, Mu slipped back to Cousteau A1 for a look around and to gather things he had left at the lab class. As for Sea Horse, it was pure pleasure to be back in harness, shooting this way and that down the long tube expressways of the facility. He had just ridden Sea Horse inside the educational module when someone leaped across his path and he was forced to hit the brake button with a quick voice command.

“Lindbladt, why don’t you quit stalking me!” Mu yelled at the much bigger boy who was chief enemy, and who had blocked him every time when he tried to get accepted by the station's Space Cadets.

“I thought you’d have changed by now, but I see you’re still fixated on being the world’s biggest slimebag.”

Careful to stay clear of the robo-kar’s grasping arms, the bully enjoyed the advantage of maneuverablility even if he was over-weight for his age. He could dart round to the side and clobber Mu before he could turn his vehicle and fend off the attack.

“What, me change? You think you’re so hot, Mu! Imagine, using words like 'fixated," trying to impress me too! I seen you on video smart-talking all those bigshot people everywhere. But you and I know they’re making a fuss over absolutely nothing, nothing but a cripple. A nothing of a cripple! You done forgot about that, I betcha. Wouldn’t they laugh if they saw you can’t even wipe your own snot without your mommy's help? Wouldn’t they?”

The jeering, older boy would not let Mu go, evidently meaning to pull some mean trick on him before he could send a call for help to his parents.

Mu had been through it all before, of course. Many times! Every school had its braindead, nose-picking bully who preyed on the kids with disabilities, it seemed. Usually, he just reported it. That took care of the problem for a while. But now, perhaps because of the great honors heaped on him, he himself had changed. He wasn’t going to put up with abuse any longer! His anger quotient shot up high--very high. He got mad--very mad! Then the thought came to him that he wasn’t absolutely helpless. He could do something concrete about the problem.

“Hey, let’s make a deal,” he said to Lindbladt who was apparently going to pour a plastic bag of stinking, half-decomposed sea slugs on him. “You quit stalking me and I’ll see you get what you deserve.”

The other boy’s mouth fell open and he let the bag plop down on the floor.

“A deal? Whaddaya mean? Is this some trick? Don’t think of trying a nasty on me! I know you’d wipe me off the map if you could get away with it.”

Mu’s face looked shocked beyond words.

“Well, if you think that about me, forget it.”

The bully grinned.

“Cmon, tell me first, and then I’ll decide if it’s worth my time or not.”

Mu looked cut to the quick.

“No, you said you totally distrusted me, and I don’t see how what I had in mind would interest you anyway. All you’re good at is pushing people around. You don’t care about making lots of money and--”

Lindbladt was suddenly very interested. He leaned over on Mu, blowing sickening, foul breath in his face from green teeth that had never known a brush. “Gee, I didn’t mean anything. Yes, I thought you were just a snobby creep stuck on himself, but I’ve changed my mind. You’re pretty smart, and maybe you do have something I’d be interested in. Why not run it by me and see? There’s no reason why you and I can’t get along for a change and help each other out in this crummy dump, is there?”

Mu’s face showed he might be reconsidering. The mortally offended expression fell away. He looked into his persecutor’s eyes with angelic innocence. “All right, you asked for it. I just thought you might want to know what I invented. It’s a way to extract gold from hot vent water. Oh, I know it hasn’t paid in the past, but I’ve developed a means to double the yield, a refined process no one else knows about, which I’ve kept secret until now.”

Lindbladt’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. He wasn’t buying the angel--unless he first knew its angle. “But why tell me if it’s a big secret?” he jeered.

“Well, I figured you would be able to keep the secret, since grown-ups would take the process away if they heard about it. Do you think they’d let us keep piles and piles of gold?”

“Boy, never! I see your point. Well, what’s the secret process you thunk up?”

Mu went on patiently explaining. “The math concepts wouldn’t mean anything to you, since you didn’t stay the course with physics and metallurgy. But I have the gold extractor hidden at my quarters and will meet you tonight at 0130 hours sharp by the X-station pump and viewport. We’ll have the place to ourselves for fifteen minutes. It’s the break between shifts, so there’ll be just us. No spying grown-ups who’d steal the formula from us. Can you be there and right on time?”

“Sure, sure, count on it, buddy!” Lindbladt cried in a low, conspiratorial tone. “This better not be a joke. I’ll make sure you regret it the rest of your miserable life! YOU can count on that too!”

Mu watched the bully swagger away. “Oh, it’s no joke, Muttonhead!” he swore below his breath. “I can really extract gold from the vent water, enough to make us both very, very rich. Only you’ll never live to see a penny of it. You can count on it.”

For once Lindbladt was true to his word. He slouched down to the arranged place of meeting, right on the button.

The pump station, devoid of personnel, was theirs. Mu knew from close observation of the command center that the personnel there, too, would be taking a fifteen minute break away from their monitors. As for the cameras, let them take pictures. They wouldn’t incrimminate him, not without audio. Fortunately, the station manager had been cost-conscious and cut out most audio systems throughout the facility. He had also severely reduced the number of cameras, so there was only one in this particularly well-chosen pump room, trained on the far viewport, which was considered the most critical spot for leakage.

Stopping Sea Horse, Mu looked very pleased, and the robotic arms at the front of his vehicle grasped a bulky object. Ready to leap to safety, the other boy made a grab at the machine, but Mu’s commanded the arms to thrust it out of reach.

“No, it has to be hooked up first to work. We can’t use base electricity and risk being monitored for unauthorized energy consumption, but it’ll run on my kar’s power pack.”

Mu’s partner nodded and gave him a grudging look.

“You’ve got a real head on, Mu! All you need is a real body to go with it! Like old Icabod Crane in that English class I flunked, only in reverse. Did you get it? All you need is a body to go with your brain? HawHawHaw!”

Lindbladt took time off to enjoy his joke. Then he wiped the laugh off his face and instantly turned deadpan. “ Now what do you want me to do? Trust me. I’ll hook your little gizmo up in a jiffy.”

Mu had Lindbladt stretch out colored wiring and attach it with electrodes to his power pack. Plastic tubing also had to be hooked up to the station water circulation system, which not only ingested seawater from mineral-rich volcanic vents to remove valuable elements but energized, warmed, and furnished nutrients to the warehouse gardens of this giant facility of 4,000 trained personnel.

“Just those smaller X24 ducts over there, the orange and blue coded ones.”

In a few minutes, the machine was hooked up.

“Now what? What do we do now, Mu? I better see at least a ton of gold for myself come out of this demonstration, or you’re a dead duck. You know that, don’t you?”

“Don’t worry, it’ll work. Now help me out and you get in. You need to power up to provide the necessary juice, and regulations won’t let me, a minor, have the voice command to bypass the safety lock on the transmission, so to do that you have to manually operate the switches for me.”

“I don’t get it!” Lindbladt objected. “You say you can’t get access to the power supply, except by those switches? How come they left the switches then?”

Mu said nothing, and it took a few moments but Lindbladt figured it out himself. Mu could tell that because Lindbladt suddenly erupted in cackling laughter and piglike snorts for breath.

Yet, his laughing fit over, Lindbladt still balked. Lindbladt cast Mu a sly look.

“This old nag of yours has a lot of power. How do I know you haven’t rigged the seat to zap me into atoms? And those arms, they can reach back in and squeeze me to a pulp.”

Mu laughed.

“That’s crazy! Everyone would come and see what happpened, and I’d be declared responsible on the spot! No, I don’t hate you that much. I have a science career to think of. If you don’t want more gold than you know what to do with, don’t do what I say. I’m sick of your suspicions. I’m going to call off this demonstration right now.”

Lindbladt who had a career as professional bully but wasn’t making much by it, shrugged, then grinned with his green array. “Just testing. I gotta look after myself, don’t I? Who else can I trust around here in this smelly dump.”

Lindbladt helped Mu out, dumped him rather brutally on a chair like a cast-off rag doll, and heaved up into the control seat. Playing it careful, Lindbladt jammed his foot down on the brake and also pulled the emergency.

“Okay, how does she power up?”

Mu smiled.

“Easy. Just hit the switch ‘Startup’ on the right side of the controls, and at the same time depress the “Neutral Gear” switch close to it. That’ll disengage the wheels and give us the power we need.

Before Lindbladt could reach the switches, Mu barked a voice command.

“FSF [full speed forward]!” he cried.

Sea Horse, with the new driver, suddenly bolted. It had only a couple hundred yards to go before converging with the curving bubble of the huge view port at the far end of the pump room. The instant acceleration took Lindbladt by surprise. Losing his foothold on the brake, the emergency burning up, Lindbladt held on as he rocketed toward the view port.

There was a scream, then a shattering collision. Sea Horse exploded in flames and smoke, sending pieces, including Lindbladt’s teeth, scalp, the top of his skull and his brains flying. Then the facility’s safety systems automatically closed the viewport. A vaultlike titanium shield slammed down, cutting off the possibly compromised viewport from the rest of the pump room.

Mu stayed just where he was, keeping calm and rehearsing his coming little speeches. Within a minute personnel came running and shouting.

“Help!” Mu cried to them, a look of horror on his face. “I saw it happen. I was showing my friend Lindy my robo-kar when he said he wanted to try the controls himself. So I let him, and--and--”

Until the damage could be assessed on the other side of the shield, it was left in place, and Mu was pressed for his account, which was relayed to the general manager’s assisstant at command center.

“I know that kid, a real mischief-maker, always truant from school and up to no good!” someone remarked after the half-hysterical Mu gasped out his report. “I told Joe his boy would pull something one day that would get him in a world of hurt, but you know Joe--he’ll be the last to pull his head out of the sand. He kept saying Lindy woud get tired of his goofing off and settle down, just as he had.”

The father was off-station at the moment. Their was no mother on hand either. Mrs. Lindbladt had dumped Joe and left several years before with a Pump Engineer, Second Class (one grade above Joe).

Mu blurted out the rest of the story, choking on his tears from time to time. “Poor Lindy thought he could turn before he hit anything, but he was going way too fast, I guess. I’m terribly sorry. I shouldn’t have let him have Sea Horse. I didn’t want to let him have it, but he insisted he could handle it. You know him, he won’t take no for an answer.”

By now sirens were wailing. Fire warden, medics, and other squads with suction equipment trained to raise the shield and repair the damaged, possibly leaking viewport came rushing to the scene. Mu’s parents also came running from a work trolley, his mother in a rather shabby dressing gown and his father shirtless and naked except for unlaundered station overalls. Their messed up hair and appearance showed they had been startled awake by the emergency, unable to comprehend how he had gotten out of the apartment without their knowing.

Mu grew a little uncomfortable for the first time as his parents gazed at him with troubled eyes once they saw he was all right. When they heard him call Lindbladt “Lindy,” they visibly winced. The first chance they could get they took him aside after having to watch medics put scoop pieces of Lindbladt into zip-lock bags.

“What did you do to him?” his father queried him alone in a shaking voice, the moment they were left by the others. “Tell me the truth.”

Mu was prepared for this. There was a trace of defensiveness in his voice despite the care he took. “Just as I told everybody, he wanted to drive Sea Horse and forced me out of it so he could race around the station. I couldn’t stop him. You know him. What else could I do if I didn’t want to get hurt?”

His father looked at his mother, whose eyes dropped. Their hands fumbled as they moved Mu to the trolley for the trip home.

Mu was pleased. He knew by their numb, resigned reaction that nothing would come of any suspicion they had. They had no proof to the contrary, and everybody knew Lindbladt was a bad egg. He always an an allibi, but the station was not so big the personnel didn’t know what was going on. They all knew he was the prankster responsible for nearly all the acts of petty vandalism, not to mention obscene words painted throughout the station that made the station manager want to fire Joe his star technician.

Later, after Muttonhead was reassembled more or less and set in the infirmary’s cold storage body locker, Mu lay in his warm bed, not chuckling, but not unhappy either. He would miss Sea Horse, but it was a necessary sacrifice--one he put off making until he was absolutely sure of success. And now that he had re-discovered anti-matter in a big way and was famous all over the world, he knew he’d soon earn a lot of money from magazine articles, books, toys, appearances on talk shows, special awards, and the like. He wouldn’t be surprised if he got the Nobel Prize. With the money he’d buy anything he wanted, an entire fleet of Sea Horses with the latest conveniences.

“Let him fry in Hell!” the victor thought as he composed himself for sleep. “Now I’m rid of the heel forever. I must have tried a dozen times and he always got away. Finally, the sucker took the bait!”

He heard his parents moving restlessly around in their tiny cubicle, his father saying something, then a bump on the wall.

“Let them talk. I know they don’t buy my explanation, but what can they do? They’ll accept it, given time and a lot of money to sweeten this up for them.”

Several hours later, Mu lay wide awake--his mind endlessly rewinding Lindbladt’s last moments as he burned, writhing like a seaslug held to blow-torch. The next day, Mu felt a little jaded from too much excitement and not enough sleep. Yawning, he trundled down to the lab in a clunky, borrowed, older version of his robo-kar that his mother used to get groceries, drag laundry to the washroom, and run other errands.

He pulled up at his dusty, pop canned and candy-bar wrappered work-station. It was just as drab and depressing as ever. Condensation on the walls, peeling paint, sweating pipes and walls, the grease stains from sloppy maintenance--but what was that awful smell? He gagged. Someone--no doubt the late great Lindbladt--had left something for him to be remembered by and smeared seaslug around as a nice little “homecoming” surprise.

A green light blinked at his reeking old console. Forcing himself, he checked it out and found a caller on-line. It was the mathematical model of the antimatter specimen.

“Mr. Yong, would you like to play a game of martial arts?” the specimen queried him from the other Universe--the anti-Universe.

Mu was puzzled at this display of intelligence in what he thought was an inert object, but because he had missed so much sleep and the incident with the school bully had drained him of resolve, he wasn’t much in the mood, or even very alert. If that wasn’t enough, sea slug stench around him was nearly overwhelming, nearly enough to make him gag. “Who or what is transmitting?” he queried his Cray, thinking he was hearing wrong.

“Unknown: player’s identity is password-protected.”

“Well, okay, be that way,” Mu shrugged, though he had already played out the facility’s stock of games months and months before his grand scientific break-through with anti-matter.

The caller called back. Mu was upset this time. He checked and found it was, indeed, the anti-matter specimen transmitting to him.

"Do you wish to play a little game with me?"

“If you promise not to bug me again, okay, I’ll play you, but just this one time!” Mu replied irritably, hoping to solve the little mystery of a “talking stone.”

"To play the game, M.G.Y., please download my game operating systems data into your systems."

“All right. But I reserve the right to sign off any time I want. I don’t want this game to drag on forever, you know. I’m an important man and have got other things to do today.” There was no apparent objection voiced by the other player, so Mu hit a few operatives with voice-commands.

“RECEIVE Mode activated,” the Cray announced. Then a warning beep.

“Sorry, the game’s data entry is too large for transmission,” interrupted the Cray. “System may over-load. Request that programmer M.G.Y. use Recon-Mode 23qwa for solid state reconstruct.”

“But that would blow us all up, theoretically,” Mu thought. An undeniable problem, it was. He had to think very seriously for a few moments. Was it worth the risk? He wouldn’t want a nasty accident--particularly one that could take out dear old rotten Cousteau A1 and possibly a big chunk of the Pacific Ocean while he was still residing there.

“Sorry, I can’t receive anything anti-material just yet,” he declared to the other side. “I don’t have a magnetic field available here to make the transmission safe.”

"The necessary protective field comes with the package and is already in place," replied the Game Player helpfully. "Request you receive my transmission immediately."

Mu couldn’t resist the invitation any longer--he was a game addict from way back. Besides, this was just too exciting an opportunity. To play an intelligent something or other from an anti-matter Universe, he’d be a fool to pass on it. As for the player exercising the right to anonymity, that was a common practice. Few grownups would like to see it spread all over the Internet that they lost to some little kid in shorts.

“M.G.Y. calling. All right, I’ll play you, but this had better be worth my time, amigo, ” he fired back to the gameplayer, having concluded he was sending a game chip, which meant a pretty intricate gameboard. Mu Gan Yong sucked in his breath before giving the rather daring voice command for solid state reconstruct, recreating something from an anti-matter Universe that could end all life within hundreds of miles.

A moment later the cover of the input hopper next to his console lifted. The Anonymous Player (AP) was true to his word. Nothing blew up. A nice, little magnetic field was in place around the transmitted object, but it was the strangest game chip Mu had ever seen. A small red stone? Was somebody putting him on? Mu wondered.

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