I6

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I6 - COLONY

Toliman and Rigilkent from airless Salacia in the Alpha Centauri B system.

Hybla and Dia were open for business, but the new colony took a while to catch on. For one thing, the fold-door to get there from Gorpai was in the center of Belial's fearsome black temple, which had earned a well-deserved reputation as a cathedral of torment where nephil were seen to enter but never return again. Still, Belial held fast to his agreement with Chokhmah. Nephil from any House on Gorpai could go to Central, and return again, with little interference from his secret police, although they did impose something akin to an airport terminal tax coming and going.

Then too were basic problems in logistics that limited the early growth of the colony. When nephilim arrived at Central what were they to do? Gliders had to be invented and constructed to take advantage of the perpetually-cycling winds of the two planets. As time went on, yeng improved their gliders, adding on-board propulsion, thus creating airplanes six hundred years before they appeared on Earth. Using these, every corner of both worlds became available as soon as landing strips could be built. The habitable area of both planets far exceeded that of Gorpai, and it was under- stood they would someday become the chief worlds of the nephilim.

After that, it wasn't long before a brave soul named Quyel took his airplane straight out from Central, remaining equidistant from both worlds. The air thinned, the engines of the plane failed, and he fell back to Central to try again. The next time he carried a tank with liquid oxygen to supply his motor (and his lungs) when the atmosphere could not, and when the air grew too thin for his propeller to get a bite, Quyel switched over to burning alcohol directly inside a bell at the rear of his plane. And so it was that he soon found himself in free space between Hybla and Dia, far from the bridge of atmosphere that linked the two planets. And getting there required far less energy than it would take to reach orbit from Earth or Gorpai. The whole universe lay at Quyel's feet.

Binah smiled. Quyel had done everything using his own ingenuity and Belial's agreement to allow access from Gorpai to Central. Someday a spiritual descendent of Quyel would reach another star, perhaps nearby Yefefiah, and El would learn what was going on back here in Belial's secret harem. There would be an investigation and a trial. Before his peers Belial would introduce the terms of the agreement Binah had made with him in return for one-way access to the lore of the elohim but it would avail him nothing.

Quyel was only the first to reach space. Even as Hybla and Dia were being settled, there began a period of rapid development across the Rigilkent system. Chilly Danae was colonized by both families Sala and Larund, while family Antero settled Salacia, the moon of Danae, but none of these worlds possessed free oxygen, which limited settlement to special enclosed domes. These small colonies were nephilim seeds that would bear much fruit in the Eggbeater just beyond them. Abaris, which was very close to Alpha Centauri A just as Mercury was close to Sol, was largely ignored.

The Bellon family took sole possession of Theia, which like Abaris was closer to the sun than Hybla-Dia, but the other families didn't seem to mind at all. The surface gravity of Theia was nearly twice that of Gorpai, and most of the planet was covered with endlessly-shifting sand that baked under the ultraviolet rays of Rigilkent and released oxygen. But there was water to spare in the polar regions, the remnant of many ancient and modern comet strikes. The planet uniquely prepared the sons of House Bellon for the death combat mandated by the Cupel testing system imposed on them since the fall of Rumbek. The Red Beards sought vengeance and were playing a long game. A Theia-toughened Bellon candidate would inevitably defeat every Gerash candidate, one personal match at a time.

And never again would the nephilim of Gorpai be imperiled by the approach of an asteroid or comet from the Eggbeater. Either they would alter the course of the approaching object themselves, destroy it, or failing that, would simply remove everyone from Gorpai to wait out the deluge.

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