N2

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N2 - DECEPTION

Suriel used an encrypted signal which told any ordnance drifting in the debris around White Rock to come home. Five rounds were undamaged enough to show up on cue. Suriel checked a list and chose a round from Chastizer which Kushiel retrieved with grapples the same way hy retrieved the skipper and hyz wife. To make room, Adnarel was ordered to fire a round from Exiler and detonate it a few hundred miles away. After that, the four re- jected rounds were also sent away to be detonated, lest an enemy salvage them. Their story would be that Punisher fired everything she had.

After that, the Exiler got underway, heading for home. The ID Grid was under high acceleration, apparently making for the inner Sol system, so it was a "stern chase", nine days from the 5.2 AU where Jupiter lay. Exiler caught up to it just outside the 3 AU mark, deep in the asteroid belt, and Barakiel had to fly into the ID Grid while it was still under acceleration, something hy said no one had ever done before. I had no doubts over your ability to rise to the challenge, Lahatiel told him.

Crossing from Toliman to Sol and back again was becoming so routine Lahatiel took to calling it the Slog. At that time, Lahatiel revealed to the other officers a serialized blank order sheet from Belial which Yeshua had given to hym, and which in turn came, somehow, from Talishi. If Belial had been a doctor, this was a single page from his prescription pad. All Lahatiel had to do was fill it in, and it would be accepted as though the Emperor hymself had filled it out. I'm showing you this because I'm at a loss on how to use it. I'd hate to waste it on something small.

At Palato, Lahatiel told Abaddon that White Rock, the Chastizer and the former crew of Exiler obviously had some sort of arrangement. White Rock had been stocked with Bulldogs from Exiler(that part was even true) plus a great deal of booty. Obviously it was the base of operations for a clandestine "navy within the Navy" at Jupiter. When Punisher showed up, there was a three-way struggle which left all the warships in pieces and everyone dead. As evidence, Lahatiel offered the torpedo from Chastizer he salvaged so the Eyes could check the serial number.

This story fit well with what Abaddon already knew about the incident. The Chastizer had gone missing, and Punisher was sent in later to track her down. The last report from Punisher was that she had entered into combat at White Rock. After losing two major warships, the asteroid had been made off-limits and the Emperor notified. Very well, Lahatiel, Abaddon said. But what of the inhabitants of the asteroid?

They flushed themselves into space, Sire, rather than face the...I suppose extremely unpleasant consequences of their treason. And to support that contention, Lahatiel showed Abaddon images of the empty interior of White Rock hy and hyz sister had taken with their suit cameras when they first investigated it. Abaddon examined the photos and smiled.

Lahatiel had accomplished quite a feat. A living sun had been deceived, and Lahatiel's standing had jumped up a notch even in the view of the Eyes of Belial. Probation was over. Hy had passed his final examination.

Questions, Abaddon said, becoming uncharacteristically jovial. You're wondering why you had to chase the ID Grid to get back home.

It was difficult and certainly well out of the ordinary, Sire.

I'm preparing for a raid on Selene, Lahatiel. I myself will go.

That'd not be something for the elohim to learn, Sire, Lahatiel said.

The Exiler will not be involved in the raid. There's trouble brewing at Xanthos and I'm holding you in reserve to deal with it. Tomorrow.'

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