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The day following Lahatiel's report on White Rock, Emperor Abaddon toured the Exiler in person. The crew donned their best uniforms for the emperor's inspection. For the first and only time, Abaddon looked with hyz own eyes at Hashmal Suriel, Erel Barakiel, Sar Adnarel, and Ravmalak Kushiel. Abaddon also greeted Nuriel, Lahatiel's sister-wife, seeing har for the second time. Then he spoke to Lahatiel openly before them.

I have a problem and maybe you and your people can solve it. Do you know of the Seraph named Ithuriel Gerash?

Yes, Lord, you have posted hym to Proxima, where hy and hyz family and their servants are the only inhabitants of that entire star system.

Abaddon said, Ithuriel has many sons and daughters by hyz eight wives, and some of hyz sons have distinguished careers of their own in my armed forces. But hyz sister-wife Lauviah was very young when hy gained har hand in hyz first death trial, you see. Really, sha was just an infant. Only when Ithuriel was forty and sha was twenty did hy go to har and sire sons and daughters, but now hy is sixty while Lauviah is forty, and all hyz days of bearing offspring are over. In hyz golden years Ithuriel has become weak. Hyz youngest son born of Lauviah, named Marou...Ithuriel cannot bear the thought of possibly losing Marou in the death-combat, so hy withholds hym from the military with Lavuiah's assent. And I, for my part, will not push Ithuriel on this matter. Hy has given me enough. Hyz genetic contribution is secure, and hyz mind, hyz greatest asset, remains sharp. Ithuriel is close to rendering a service far greater than siring more cannon fodder, and if hy would rather train hyz youngest dirk to be an astronomer than a soldier, then so be it. Unfortunately, young Marou, who is now a student at the University of Xanthos, has been abducted by members of a criminal organization there called the Iron Fist, and they have certain demands for ransom. This would be a small matter unworthy of my attention in any other circumstances, but Ithuriel is very distraught, and he cannot find it in hymself to keep working on hyz very important final project while the fate of his youngest and most beloved son remains unresolved.

What are my orders, Sire?

Lahatiel, commanding Exiler you will proceed to Xanthos, discover where the dirk named Marou Gerash is being held, and neutralize the Iron Fist elements holding him. You will do this in such a spectacular way that it will deter any and all future kidnapping attempts of suchlike nature.

Lord, your pardon, but it may be impossible for even the new crew of Exiler to carry out those orders without killing this dirk as well.

Civilian causalities are often unavoidable when servicing a target with an air strike. After the campaign, Exiler shall proceed to Proxima via the Land We Know to bring Seraph Ithuriel news of the tragic loss of hyz young Marou. You shall offer my sincere condolences, and you will also provide what moral and physical assistance Ithuriel might need to complete his necessarily brief mourning process and accelerate his ongoing research to a successful conclusion.

Exiler was underway less than an hour after the emperor departed.

The entire crew of Exiler had heard, in person, the Emperor's orders to go directly to Xanthos, the largest of four natural satellites of Gorpai, but nevertheless Lahatiel ordered Barakiel to set up an ascent ellipse to the satellite Rhene first. At a distance of 310,000 miles from Gorpai, Rhene, which is only about 90 miles wide, is just visible as a very bright disk in the night sky of Gorpai. Rhene was Belial's prison. In an icy world of poisonous, motile flora, with a warrior-king god, an unforgiving religion, and a population steeped in harsh militarism, Rhene was the one place in the universe that gave natives of Gorpai nightmares.

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Strangers In Paradise