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Ralph Hiltch

ESA head of station on Lalonde. Born on the Kuluian Principality of Jerez. After assisting in bringing Gerald Skibbow to Guyana he is informed that three "sequestered" Lalonde embassy personnel landed on the Ombey surface on the starship Ekwan. With himself playing a major role, Ombeyan officals manage to quickly isolate the Xingu continent from the rest of the planet. They place a 1 a.m. curfew over the region and shut down all motorways. There is some difficulty stopping all traffic completely as only vehicles on the major motorways are supervised transportation flow management computers. On minor motorways traffic is under autonomous computer control and in farming regions there many outdated manual steering vehicles remain.

In an emergency meeting of Ombey security authorities, Ralph makes three things clear. One, physical contact with individuals "carrying the energy virus" does not mean you automatically catch it. Secondly, in spite of their vast energy power, the sequestered can be intimidated only by massive firepower. Finally, zero-tau seems to be the remedy for the "virus."

He personally supervises the assault on the Moyce's of Pesto building when the assault mechanoids go haywire. He is wounded by the possessed's white fire but manages to successfully capture six possessed (termed "hostiles" by the G66 troops) while killing 23. His own casualities are three dead 17 wounded. One of the captured possessed is Santiago Vargas, whom Ralph finds smoking a cigarette. Since Nicotine has been ban for 500 years in the Confederation, Ralph wants to know where the man got it. He doesn't buy the explanation about the dead coming back to life. He makes Santiago demonstrate his white fire abilities in an attempt to learn of its distance and other characteristics. The flame seems to be effective up to about 120 meters.

Ralph learns that the entire night shift of Mayo's has been possessed. Many of them are out on deliveries, have gone home or who knows where. He realizes that the situation is quickly getting out of hand, but remains professional, requesting a list of all the names and proceeds with tracking them down individually.

53 delivery trucks left Moyce's that evening. Ombey's sophisticated automated transportation network tracks them down. As they are located, the Strategic Defense Command on Guyana destroys them with the planet's SD weaponry. One advantage in the favor of the authorities is that all the delivery trucks are running by automated drive. So, the possessed cannot stop them until they arrive at their assigned designations. As more and more delivery trucks are destroyed, it is discovered that one of the original Lalonde embassy possessed took a taxi from Moyce's.

The taxi is tracked and found abandoned, it's passenger boarding a bus that left Pesto and is running down the length of Mortonridge. The bus is transformed into an old diesel Ford Nissan omnirover. This naturally mystifies Ralph and all the other Ombey authorities monitoring the situation. There haven't been any combustible engine vehicles since the year 2043. Ralph mentions to the group that there were also reports on Lalonde of the use out of date Earth technology like steamboats as the "virus" broke out.

A giant white bolt of flame suddenly erupts from the bus and hits a security spaceplane that is tracking it. The plane spins out of control and crashes. Immediately upon impact the fuselage of the craft emits foam under tremendous pressure into the cabin encasing the AT Squad members inside, preventing them from impacting with anything in the crash. A moment later the foam slides out of the wreckage leaving the AT Squad weak but alive.

The bus is eliminated by SD fire. But, the automated transport computers reveal that the bus had already stopped four times along its route through Mortonridge.

He gets credit for suggesting to the Ombey authorities to place the six captured possessed individuals into zero-tau. All possessors left the bodies, two just by being threatened with zero-tau. Unfortunately, no one has any idea as to why this is so. Persons abandoned by the possessed are disoriented and withdrawn afterwards. The longer the possession, the more severe the symptoms.

As he is flying to Rainton to personally inspect matters there, Ralph learns of the developing panic in Exnall. He orders that the communication network, which was shut down by the chief inspector, be brought back up for datavise of a direct appeal of calm from the Xingu Prime Minister. To his dismay, he learns that they are having trouble bringing the network back up. There are mysterious "glitches" in the electronics (caused by growing numbers of the possessed). To make matters worse, there are reports that a huge crowd of Exnall citizens are gathering at the police station, making a large number of people susceptible to possession.

At Exnall, Ralph comes face to face with Annette Ekelund, the possessed Lalonde embassy personnel member who successfully inflicts the outbreak of possession on Ombey, specifically in Mortonridge. He remains calm and calculating though she tells him that he will never retake Mortonridge and that out in the galaxy there are now tens of millions of possessed bodies on planets and habitats throughout the Confederation. He threatens her with the solution of zero-tau if any of the possessed try to get off Mortonridge. "This is only the beginning," he says as he walks away, reluctantly accepting the stalemate.

Thanks to his tenacity, possession was driven out of Pesto and isolated on the Mortonridge peninsula. Though several thousand people manage to escape before possession spread to their area, about two million remain unprotected. The red cloud phenomenon that occurred on Lalonde is repeated on Mortonridge, covering the entire area within a day and a half.

Hiltch appears at Burley Palace before Princess Kisten, Admiral Farquar, and Roche Skark to analyze the situation and formulate a plan. His recommendation is that, since existing weaponry technology falters in the face possession, bitek should be considered as an option to be used against it. This is a remarkable request because it flies in the face of hundreds of years of political isolation between the Kulu Kingdom and Edenism. Yet, there seems to be little alternative. Princess Kirsten refers Hiltch to King Alastair, her brother, to make the request to pursue a political alliance with the Edenists.

He travels to Nova Kong and is granted an audience with King Alastair II, ruler of Kulu, regarding the possession crisis and the need to enlist Edenist support. Bitek is so far the most efficient way of dealing with the possessed. Further, Ralph argues that the Edenists stand to gain as much by the liberation of Mortonridge as Kuluians. It has to be done, he says, in order to prove that the possessed can be overcome and sent back into the beyond. A victory at Mortonridge would be an important first step in an undertaking that Ralph fully expects to last for several decades. The King rules that the Edenists should be approached to see if they are willing to cooperate. In the meantime, Ralph is to return and formulate a detailed plan for the liberation of Mortonridge. When an agreement is reached with the Edenists and a plan agreed upon, then the King will take the matter before Kulu’s Privy Council for their consideration.

He meets once again with Annette Ekelund while inspecting the possessed border area at Mortonridge. She ridicules the Confederation’s efforts to mount an operation against her and the possessed on the peninsula as pointless and doomed to failure. Ralph states that he believes that some solution will be found to crisis that will allow humanity to survive the encounter with the beyond. “I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity,” he says. To which Ekelund crisply replies: “I have faith in our sick nature to hate and envy, to be greedy and selfish, to lie.” She says that being in the beyond for six centuries allowed her see clearly “the naked emotions that drive all of us.” This makes her realize “what we are in our true hearts, and it’s not nice, not nice at all.” Ralph is unmoved by her diatribe, however. He responds that many of the possessed, like Stephanie Ash, speak otherwise for humanity. He walks away promising to come after Ekelund and retake the peninsula.