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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:49 am 
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Just Outside The Himilheothon Gate, The Eternal City, Heaven

"Stand by. The first section is coming down. Fire in the hole!" Lieutenant Chard gave the warning and carried out a last visual check to make sure the blast area was clear. He noted the TV crew had set their cameras up behind a series of blast screens and were assiduously filming all the work going on. They were well clear though, and they had finished their filming within the 30 minutes promised so Chard wasn't going to make their lives difficult. Then, sure that everything was safe, he pressed the firing button.

The linear shaped charge went off with a flat, vicious crack. The explosives cut through the meter-thick wood without any discernable trouble but for a brief second nothing seemed to have happened. Just as Chard was beginning to think the demolition charge had failed, a square of wood five meters wide by ten high dropped away and crashed to the ground. He felt the vibration from the impact as the 32.5 ton slab hit the ground and briefly he wondered if there was much damage inside the city. He'd had a brief look at the buildings there and he hadn't been impressed. Still, that was the Jellies problem. They were the ones who had let their city decay.

"Second section coming down! Fire in the Hole!" He keyed a second code in and pressed the firing button again. A matching slab from the other gate slammed into the ground. Chard looked around as the dust settled. The matching pieces of wood were already being dragged clear of the gates. Soon, a crane would load them into the trucks Chard had waiting. Then, they would be rushed off, through a portal to Earth and his home in Devon. It would take an Earth month to destroy these gates completely but he wouldn't be around to see that. By the end of the week, he would be retiring. Another Officer of Engineers would finish the job.

There was a strange atmosphere at the demolition site. The humans who lived in the slums that surrounded the gate were watching the explosions silently, their attitude hard to analyze. Chard had been expecting them to be cheering the sight of Heaven's gates falling to humans yet that was hardly the case. They seemed more bewildered than anything yet there was resentment and apprehension in the mix as well. A very different reaction from the adulation that had met the human troops when they liberated the Hellpit.

Up at the gate, cherry-picker hoist vehicles were already lifting his engineers up so they could blow the next section of wood clear from the gates. The first priority was to open a hole large enough to get the tanks and armored infantry carriers through. Once that was done, they could take their time with the rest.

Spearhead Battalion, Third Armored Division, Eternal City, Heaven.

"It's good to have you back, Colonel." General William Roland was being mildly sarcastic. Despite this particular battalion being part of his division, he had very rarely seen it. For some reason, General Petraeus had taken an interest in the unit and kept removing it from its parent division in order to undertake a variety of specialized missions. Roland wasn't too perturbed by that, the battalion's performance in those missions had brought credit on him as well. Also, during its unusual career, the battalion had grown from a normal tank battalion to a much larger combined-arms formation that was closer to a full brigade than a regular battalion. It even had its own artillery battery and a reconnaissance element, the latter had three Bradley cavalry vehicles and a CBNR section in Fuchs armored cars.

"It's good to be back home, Sir." Keisha Stevenson's reply was properly courteous and enthusiastic.

Roland didn't believe it for a moment. No officer who had made it from Lieutenant to Colonel in less than a year and who had spent most of her career performing special missions for the commanding general would welcome being back within the confines of a regular division. If Roland was right, she would be itching for a message from H.E.A. headquarters, assigning her to another special mission. Her return wasn't an entirely unmixed blessing either. Her so-called battalion was so abnormal in structure that it simply didn’t fit in the command structure any more. "I'll be returning you to Third Brigade. Your unit will lead the way in to The Eternal City as soon as that Brit Engineer down there has finished blowing a large enough hole in the gates."

Stevenson looked at the gate where another great scab of wood was now being pulled out of the way. "Hokay. Very good Sir." She paused a little. "We could get through now, Sir."

"Even with your field kitchen in tow?" Roland looked at the trailer with a degree of suspicion. It didn’t look American somehow.

Stevenson felt that a note of explanation was required. "Yes Sir. We're been operating independently for so long we need to be able to provide the men with hot food even when we're outside normal supply areas." Actually, Stevenson had discovered one of her conscripts was a graduate of Chef Gordon Ramsey's kitchen. A few nights later, following an astoundingly well-planned and completely covert raid, a German infantry company waken up to find that they had mislaid their beloved "gulaschkanone" field kitchen trailer during the night. Her battalion had been eating well ever since. She noted that her General was eyeing the trailer suspiciously and decided it was time to change the subject. "Sir, with respect, may I ask how we got our name? We wanted to be the Wildcat Battalion."

"Company clerk screwed up. He entered the division name in the space on the form for your battalion name and by the time we had unscrambled everything, another battalion had claimed 'Wildcat'. Fortunes of war, Colonel."

He was interrupted by another pair of explosions and the bone jarring crash as two more sets of gate segments were blown clear. All around, there was the same eerie silence from the watching humans in the slums. Stevenson waved at them. "They don’t seem to be that pleased to see us. Odd thing, these slums could almost be part of Dis. Same narrow, twisting streets, similar-looking buildings."

"And no precious stones lining the walls." Roland agreed. "You'll be getting the move order shortly Colonel. Straight through that hole."

Stevenson saluted and returned to her tank, clambering up the side and sliding into the turret. A few seconds later the order came through from her brigade commander to take her battalion through the shattered hole in the gate and set up a perimeter on the other side. It took a minute for her to contact the engineering officer who was methodically reducing the gates to splinters and get a pause on the demolitions. Then, the gas turbine powering her M1 surged and her tank rolled forwards through the jagged hole blown in the Himilheothon Gate.

Roland watched the vehicles follow her tank through, noting the precision with which they had been handled. He'd also noted that they'd been parked so that they could either go through the gate or detach and head off back through the slums with equal speed. Unlike the other battalions, Spearhead had made its way through the twisting streets here without damaging the buildings on either side. Together, the two impressions showed him why this particular unit was General Petraeus's favorite for any unusual missions that turned up. Somehow, he didn't think it would be part of his division for very long.

Street of Ceaseless Exaltation, Eternal City, Heaven

"The Fallen Ones are coming! The Eternal Enemy has broken into the City!" The voices were screaming with panic, crowds were already fleeing down the Street of Ceaseless Exaltation to get away from the Mahatalabhuva Gate. Or, rather, to get away from the military forces that were now moving through the hole blown in that gate. Rubibael-Lan-Dasarapael didn't believe that The Fallen Ones really had broken into the city. Logically, it was just the women panicking at the sight of heavily-armed human troops. Rubibael adjusted his eyes for long-distance vision and focussed on the vehicles that were moving in. That was when he realized that logic had let him down. The occupants of the tracked vehicles were all too obviously daemons. The Fallen Ones were indeed coming.

It took a few minutes for the vehicles to reach his position, minutes in which Rubibael spent every second trying to persuade his legs not to run away. He managed it and instead watched the low, rakish-looking vehicles approach. They were painted red and gray with a purple crest bearing a golden eagle and the number 3 on each side. They had the letters SPQR as well, whatever they meant. He looked closely, there were other inscriptions on them as well, all equally meaningless. Just what was the significance of 'No Step' for example? Once more Rubibael had the demoralizing and humiliating feeling that these creatures did not consider him worth their attention. Then the roar of the engine in the vehicle enveloped him as the lead unit of Fallen Ones passed him.

To his surprise, the four vehicles that formed the van of the advancing column stopped a few yards past him and dropped their tail ramps. The Fallen Ones streamed out of the back, spreading across the roadway and establishing guard posts. One of them walked over to Rubibael. The two were roughly the same size, implying they were the same status but one look at the rifle the Fallen One was carrying and the big guns mounted on the nearest vehicle quickly dissuaded Rubibael of that idea.

"Out of the way, Never-Born." The daemon's voice was gutteral and curt, filled with menace.

Rubibael stared at him, more in shock than anything else. The Fallen Ones in the old pictures never wore clothes like these. They were the same as human soldiers wore, just larger and remodelled to fit the different anatomy of the Fallen One's bodies. His mind, unable to absorb the sheer shock of their presence in The Eternal City, wouldn't let him do anything more than stare at the soldier in front of him. Then, for the second time that day, he felt an agonizing pain in his foot as a rifle but slammed down on his toes.

"I said move." The Fallen One repeated the order with a terrifying display of fangs.

"Drippy, do not, say again do not, eat that Jelly." The voice came from a human who was sitting on top of the great vehicle and it carried great authority. Suddenly, as if it was some great discovery, Rubibael realized there was a serious difference between those who had earned authority and those who just claimed it.

"Please Sarge, can I eat him just a little bit?" The Fallen One glared at Rubibael but there was amusement mixed up with the mock-ferocity.

"I said no, Drippy. Look at him, all fat and quivering like a scared hog. Full of cholesterol." For some reason the remark made all the soldiers around him burst out laughing. "Just shove him outta the way and take up your post."

Rubibael hobbled backwards, with a couple of pushes from the Fallen One's rifle to help him on the way. Once he was clear, the Fallen One went back to the vehicle. By now a constant stream of vehicles was passing through the position. Once again, he set his eyes for long-distance vision and he looked up the road. Far ahead, another small unit had peeled off and was setting up another checkpoint. There, as here, it was quite clear that the humans commanded and the Fallen Ones served. In a blinding flash of insight, Rubibael realized that he was looking at the future for his people as well.

1/33 (Spearhead) Battalion, Third Brigade, Third Armored Division, Ninth U.S. Corps. Eternal City

"Hokay, so according to the sitrep, the Marines are holding the center of the city, we're advancing towards them with the Russians on our left and the Chinese on our right. We're right in the middle of our front so we won't run into either anytime soon. Units on the extreme end of our lines might. Not soon though, damn this city is big. But, latest word from the herd, there are special forces teams all over. Seems like every bunch of snake-eaters decided to slip a team into the city to see what was going on."

"Just our, Russians and Chinese main force units though?" Biker was concerned about a blue-on-blue shoot out.

Stevenson shook her head. "Caesar's Third Legion is on our right. That's a long way though. The Big Boss is bringing up representatives from all the other countries in the H.E.A. and they'll be following us in. That way they can claim they took part on the final occupation of The Eternal City. But, lead elements are just the three of us."

"Any resistance?" Biker looked at the maps spread out in the back of the Bradley command vehicle.

"Not resistance, no." Stevenson was hesitant. "The Jellies are stunned, they don't know what to do or what is happening. The combination of losing Yahweh and having us waltzing into their city has left them almost catatonic. The Second-Life humans up here, they're different. They're shocked, sure, but there's a strong streak of sullen resentment running through the crowds. If there's resistance, that's where it will come from. Don't be surprised if we get stones thrown at us or something along those lines."

"That bad Ma'am?" Biker was being careful, there were several other members of the battalion present so he refrained from using the nicknames born in the privacy of their tank. A tank crew was one thing, a command group was quite another and he was meticulous about the difference.

Stevenson nodded. "It's like the time I took a white boyfriend to a rib joint in the 'hood. Great ribs, best ever tasted. But, the same brooding hostility was there. Nobody spit on his ribs or gave him a hard time but we could both sense it. He had the sense to keep his mouth shut and let me do the talking. Same would do well for us here. The Second-Life humans here don’t look on us as liberators or saviors. Near as I can judge, they see us as, at best, an invading Army that has yet to prove who we are and what we want. No way are we the second coming."

"Actually, Ma'am, strictly speaking, we are the second coming."

The lieutenant in charge of the artillery battery was feeling his way in this odd group. This was his first effort at a response that wasn't strictly military. Stevenson reached across and gave him a light slap on the back of the head. "We know that but they don’t. So we better be damned careful here. We don’t want more trouble than we can handle. Supply section, how are we for fuel and ammunition?"

Most of the veterans of the fighting in Hell worried about that. The memories of their ammunition supplies dwindling while unending streams of daemons pouring into the killing grounds were too fresh, as were the parallel memories of pulling out to resupply and finding that they could pick up only a portion of what had been needed.

"Ammunition, all the vehicles have full loads and we've got some extra. Fuel, we've enough to maneuver here a little but we've come far enough in to run the M-1s near dry. Fuel convoy is behind us, it'll be with us in an hour or so. Food, we're fine. Marky is already at work." A laugh ran around the command group at that. It was a constant amazement what that man could do with Army field rations.

"Hokay, we're all set then. We'll stay here, fuel up and then move on. We'll get to the center tomorrow unless we hit trouble."

V-22 Osprey 'Command-One' Over The Eternal City, Heaven.

"Units are moving up well. No resistance reported." General Asanee looked down at the scene rolling past underneath. The grid layout of the city made navigation easy. The V-22 was simply following the wide boulevard that ran up the center of the American zone of occupation.. Ahead of them, the green of what had once been Yahweh's palace grounds and the blue of the immense lake in the city center were visible. For all the amount of diesel exhaust pouring into the air, it was still clearer here than in most human cities. Asanee sighed to herself, smog would come to Heaven soon enough. She remembered when she had been a child back on Earth, she could look up and night and see a fabulous array of stars. Then electricity had come, light pollution had been born and the stars had slowly vanished. Now, when she went back to her home, only the brightest were visible amid the glare of neon lighting.

"No active resistance." General Petraeus corrected her. "There's the seeds of what could be passive resistance already. We could turn that into a fully-fledged human insurrection if we're not careful. Remember what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Asanee nodded. A few years earlier, before the Salvation War had changed everything, she had been in Iraq. Her General had received a request from the Thai unit assigned to Iraq for heavy weapons and landmines to defend against an insurgent attack. She had been sent to investigate the request and judge whether the fears of attack were grounded. A quick visit had turned into a two-month stay and had coincided with the expected attack. It had been beaten off but she remembered all too well how the situation in the country had gone downhill during her time there. "The Chinese and Russians are joining us Sir?"

"They'll be there. Dorokov is flying in on a Mi-24. I don't know how Ti plans to arrive."

The pitch from the V-22's engines changed as the aircraft transitioned from horizontal to vertical flight. The pilot was bringing the aircraft in to land on a large open area at the top of the steps leading up to Yahweh's palace. Those steps were too large for humans to climb comfortably. Anyway, bringing an aircraft in made a very unsubtle point. Asanee looked at the lake, its shimmering royal blue now criss-crossed with wakes from ships, AAV-7s and LCACs. It was an impressive sight. Then, there was a gentle bump as the V-22 landed.

The tail ramp dropped down and General Petraeus led the way out. As he emerged, a Marine Corps band struck up a long-familiar tune. It was the words that were slightly strange.

When the Army and the Navy
Finally gazed on Heaven's scenes
They found the streets were guarded by
United States Marines.

_________________
There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 7:57 am 
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Throne Room, The Ultimate Temple, The Eternal City, Heaven.

"This place is a disgrace." General Ivan Semenovich Dorokhov looked around in barely-veiled disgust. The command group from the Human Expeditionary Army had assembled outside what had one been Yahweh's palace and entered the anteroom. The building was in a serious state of decay, one only partially concealed by the glittering arrays of precious stones. General Dorokhov looked at the iridescent displays with curiosity. "Has the matter of reparations been discussed yet?"

"The Yamantau Council are still evaluating the matter." General Petraeus was also surveying the scene that was unfolding before his party. "I believe they have yet to come to a conclusion. The last thing I heard from them was that reparations were required but how they were to be paid is entirely another matter. Who should pay them is also interesting. Yahweh is undoubtedly the responsible party but he is dead. The rest of the angels seem to be as much of his victims as we were. We all saw that concentration camp."

General Ti Jen-chieh was also inspecting the walls. "I wonder how many peasants and workers died on how many worlds to fill this room with stones." His words were met with a series of nods. Even a cursory inspection of The Eternal City revealed that far more than a single world had been looted to provide the ever-present displays of gleaming gems.

"And what happened to them after death?" General Asanee was more interested in the carving of the woodwork. Her family were carpenters and sculptors who worked in wood and the craftsmanship in the carving interested her. Personally, and admitting to herself that she might be biased in the subject, she thought the carvings were inferior to the ones her brothers produced. The rifle she was carrying was an example of their work. Technically it was an M16A6 chambered for .50 Beowulf but the plastic furniture had been replaced by painstakingly-carved and polished mahogany. It was a superbly elegant weapon. It was also characteristic that she carried a combat rifle while the other Generals carried pistols at best. Petraeus himself was unarmed.

"That, we should find out. If there is still access to such worlds, then we should go there." General Ti's voice rang with conviction. "Surely if such people survive, we must help remedy the terrible wrongs that have been done to them."

"If such people survive." Asanee noted the qualification. "I suspect we will find that they are extinct and all we can do is honor their memory. As we would have been extinct had our arms not prevailed." She was saddened by that thought. For all humanity's devastating victory in The Salvation War, it had been a closer-run thing than people realized. Had it come just a century earlier, she doubted humanity would have prevailed. Even coming when it did, the balance had been fine indeed. Had the human armies run out of ammunition during the Curbstomp War or if Heaven had followed up with an invasion immediately after the fall of Hell, things might have been different. She shook her head and noted with amusement that the senior generals all around her had fallen into step. Old habits died hard. The sight also amused her on another level; once she had been in command of the guard when a deputation of six senior generals had been visiting the King. Unused to the demands of close order drill, when the order 'face left' had been given, two of the six had faced right. She'd never said anything but simply given every member of the guard an extra 48 hour leave pass for not bursting out laughing.

The doors were flung open in front of them and the command group stalked through them into the throne room beyond. The ritual was familiar and Asanee decided that General Petraeus had been watching when her people performed similar maneuvers. Ahead of them, in the dim, smoke-tinged room, the shadowed figures of angels were kneeling on the floor, waiting for word from the new masters of the Eternal City.

Even in the dim light it was easy to see the destruction that the battle in this room had wrought. Piles of rubble were strewn across the floor, each giving birth to small clouds of dust as the synchronized human footsteps echoed around the room. The walls and ceiling were blackened and stained, great scabs of plaster had been detached and the precious stones that had formed the signature décor of the Eternal City were blasted from their places and charred black. Asanee noted the heavy bunker built unobtrusively in one corner of the great room. By its dimensions and general design, she got the feeling somebody had looked at the bunkers that formed part of the Maginot Line.

"Who are you?" Petraeus's voice pierced the gloom and the pent-up tension in the air. His words were clearly aimed at the five figures sitting on a raised dais at one end of the room. It was a curious structure, truncated somehow as if its top had been cut off.

"I am Michael-Lan. Ruler of the Eternal City." The largest and most beautiful of the angels on the dais answered. Even in the dim light, the angel's face seemed to glow with beauty.

"Not any more." Petraeus snapped the words out, determined not to be impressed by the sights around him or the person he was addressing. "And the others?"

"Gabriel-Lan, Raphael-Lan, Charmeine-Lan and Leilah-Lan. All Chayot Ha Kodesh of the Angelic Host. We, all of us, together with the support of much of the population of the City, deposed Yahweh. With the exception of Yahweh himself, the coup was bloodless."

Petraeus nodded. "Our ruling council has considered your position carefully. I am under orders to advise you that you are to be removed as ruler of Heaven and replaced by another whom I have been authorized to appoint. I am also required to advise you that you are to be held in custody pending our investigations into the nuclear attack on Tel Aviv and the attempted destruction of other cities on Earth."

He saw Michael-Lan nod. "As to the nuclear attacks on your cities, that was not my doing. You took down Napyidaw yourselves; I had no idea there was such a weapon hidden on that cart. I just guessed it was something I should be far away from. As for the others, they were the work of Azrael who was trying to curry favor with Yahweh. He was critically injured in the attack on New York and is being treated in my country estate. For removing me from power, I thank you. The burdens of rule are onerous and its costs are great. All I ever wanted was to run my nightclub in peace. Even to achieve that simple goal, Yahweh had to go . . . . "

He was interrupted by a massive road as a huge section of battered wall detached and crashed down. A choking cloud of dust filled the room, stifling any further attempts at conversation until it settled. As it did so, Petraeus saw an angel shake himself clear of the debris, re-assemble his workers and start to clear the floor again. "And who are you?"

The dust-ridden figure shook himself to free some of the plaster grit from his wing-feathers. "I am Zacharael-Lan, Master-Mason of the Ultimate Temple."

"And just what do you think you are doing?"

"I am trying to get this room repaired from the damage Yahweh caused . . . . " The Master Mason hesitated, uncertain of the form of address to use. In the end he decided to keep going. "He always wrecked the place when he had a temper tantrum but I've never seen it this bad."

"Why are you fixing this place? Yahweh's dead."

"Somebody must rule. And it is my duty. Duty done well is it's own reward."

Petraeus glanced around at the other Generals with him and got tiny nods in response. "More reward than you think. I'm putting you in charge of Heaven for the meantime. How long you stay there depends on you. Just remember, when we say jump, the correct reply is not 'how high?' It's 'may I come down now please?" He looked at the existing occupants of the dais and jerked his thumb at the doors. "You other five, out. Wait for us in the anteroom."

The five Chayot Ha Kodesh rose and left. Petraeus watched them leave, then returned his attention to Zacharael-Lan. "Pick out some people to help you rule this place. Subject to our approval of course. Asanee, I want you to stay here. You're probably the most familiar with this kind of situation of any of us. I'll assign you some additional staff and you report directly to me. Stay in the background but watch Zacharael-Lan carefully."

"Yes, Sir." Asanee hesitated for a brief second. "David, you picked him just to annoy the Freemason's Conspiracy nuts didn't you?"

Petraeus permitted himself a small grin. "Well, that might have had something to do with it. But that crash of masonry was all too convenient from his point of view. I think we ought to keep our Master Mason out where we can watch him very carefully."

Anteroom, The Ultimate Temple, The Eternal City, Heaven.

"I'm so sorry Michael." Charmeine was distressed almost to the point where her tears broke through her carefully-cultivated reserve. "I never thought the humans would throw you out after all you did."

"I did." Michael-Lan spoke cheerfully. "Well, I guessed it was a fifty-fifty chance they would. Them putting Abigor in power down in Hell showed they wanted one of us to rule up here. The question was, who? I hoped it would be me but only a fool substitutes hope for preparation. Remember that people, when planning, don’t forget to allow for a possibility even if it's unpalatable. So if it wasn't going to be me, it would be best, it had to be somebody I approved of. The four of you were out, you're too close to me. Zacharael-Lan was perfect. So, he arranged that collapse and the statement about duty and doing a job well. That human General didn’t know who to choose so it only required that little to push him the right way."

"Suppose he had picked somebody else?" Leilah was keen to learn.

"Then we would have made the transition from Yahweh's rule to whatever comes next as hard and as messy as possible. We'd have made sure whoever was in charge got all the blame and in the end one of us would have come in as a savior and put everything right." Michael glanced over his shoulder. "They're coming, everybody look penitent."

"Michael-Lan. You say you have an estate out in the countryside?" General Petraeus wasn't in any doubt about that.

"I do."

"Take me there. I wish to see this Azrael you mentioned."

"Would you like me to carry you? It would be no burden."

"You lead the way, We'll follow you in the Osprey. Once there, you stay there until we've finished sorting your case out."

"My nightclub." There was genuine pain and anguish in Michael's voice. "I have to run my nightclub."

"Sucks to be you. The same applies to the rest of you. Go to your country estates, stay there. Consider yourselves exiled from The Eternal City until we say otherwise."

"Sir." Leilah spoke diffidently, something quite at odds with the costume she was wearing. "I don’t have a country estate."

"Leilah is only recently raised to the status of Chayot Ha Kodesh," Michael explained. "She was Erelim before and only Chayot Ha Kodesh have country estates. Because of how fast things have happened, her estate was never awarded to her."

Petraeus nodded. "Leilah, you run Michael's nightclub for him. You are allowed to fly to his estate to consult with him on doing that. You may also fly to the others here to meet with them. Understood?"

"Yes, Sir. And thank you."

"Is that wise David?" General Ti spoke very quietly.

"Somebody will be carrying messages, we might as well know who."

Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven

The palace reminded Petraeus of a Greek temple. It was large of course, scaled to Michael's size, but it was pristine white. It was unmarred by the displays of precious stones that were already becoming tasteless and jaded to Petraeus's eyes. Just a large, perfectly-proportioned and perfectly-maintained Greek temple. It was, Patraeus reflected, the first really elegant building he had seen in Heaven. As his V-22 came in to land on the green lawns, he saw the staff running out to welcome Michael home. To his surprise, the humans seemed as enthusiastic as the angels.

"Welcome to Aukumea, General." The accent was distinctively American.

"And you are?"

"Doctor David Gunn. Michael's personal physician."

"That name is familiar."

"I was killed a few years back. Shot outside a women's health clinic. My nurses here, Lee-Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney were also killed in health clinic shootings. Michael rescued us from Hell and brought us here. Michael says you want to see Azrael?"

"Yes, please." Petraeus hesitated, then spoke awkwardly. "Doctor Gunn, it's good to know things worked out all right for you three in the end."

"Thanks to Michael, yes. And not just for us. In the years before the war started, he spent a lot of his time rescuing humans from Hell. Took a lot of risks doing it as well. Anyway, come with me and I'll show you the patients."

Damn, that's just what we needed. Petraeus thought. Michael turning out to be some sort of Heavenly Schindler. The silver-blooded Pimpernel already. "Doctor, what's the mount over there?"

Gunn laughed. "That is, or rather was, Fluffy. Better known to you as the Scarlet Beast. Disgusting creature, never was properly house-trained. His rider is here as well, very sad case I'm afraid."

"So it is dead. We didn’t know back on Earth. We knew we'd hurt it, that was all. And we were still waiting for the Lamb Beast and the Dragon."

Gunn's laughter redoubled. "You hadn't worked it out then. The Lamb Beast, speaks with the gentleness of a lamb but fights like a dragon? That's Michael. And the ultra-powerful Dragon is, or was, Yahweh himself."

"Doctor, honest question from a soldier to a physician. Where do you stand in all this."

"I'm a doctor, I fix the wounded and sick. If you have any, feel free to bring them to me. Michael saved me from Hell, saved my nurses and every human I know up here. And he's a likeable guy, arrogant as they come of course and conceited like only an angel can be. But he has a lot of charisma and he inspires loyalty in people. Don't know why because the truth is, he doesn’t return it. But, he does inspire it. But for all that, I'm human. A doctor first and then human. That answer your question?"

Petraeus wasn't sure that he did but he nodded anyway.

Gunn opened a door and led him into a clean, aseptic wing of the palace. On one bed was a figure, one that had a glorious mane of red hair spread out around her. She would have been as stunningly beautiful as the rest of the angels were it not for the vacant expression on her face and the tongue hanging out of her mouth. "This is Dumah, General. She rode the Scarlet Beast. I don’t know what you did to her down there but she has massive brain damage. Vital functions are stable, but her coma is probably irrecoverable. Michael is having me look after her until she either dies or recovers."

He led Petraeus to another room. "This is Azrael. Massive fragmentation wounds from missile warheads, recovery very slow. He doesn't know Yahweh is dead yet. Azrael, a human visitor for you."

"Azrael, the nuclear attacks on our cities."

The voice from the wounded angel was slow and gasping. "So? We are at war."

"You organized them? Did Michael know?"

"Know? Him? Of course not. He is a traitor. He refused to push the war home against you. It was left to me. If my plan had worked, I could have replaced him. My human failed me. But Michael betrayed Yahweh and me." Azrael burst into a fit of coughing. "Leave me human, you tire me."

_________________
There are 550 million firearms in the world, enough for one person in twelve of the world's population. The moral dilemma that faces us is how to arm the other eleven.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 8:05 am 
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Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven. Six weeks later.

The problem with staging a coup is what does one do afterwards? After centuries of plotting and planning, not to mention the last three years of frantic activity, the work was over. Yahweh was gone, a new leadership was in power, the war with the humans was over and the Angelic Host had survived. More than survived, if the experience of the last few days was anything to go by, it would prosper under its new rulers The problem was that the situation had left Michael-Lan nothing to do. How much of a problem that was had become obvious when, in the half-aware period between sleep and wakening, he had started to plot against himself.

The humans had made it worse for him. Aukumea might still be described as his palace but the truth was he was imprisoned here. Just as the rest of his inner circle were imprisoned on their estates. Only Leilah had anything like freedom of movement and Michael knew she was being very carefully watched. The truth was, and Michael knew it very well, that the humans hadn't decided what to do with him. His position as a defeated General was well-established and his links to the more atrocious of his acts had all been carefully severed or buried. Mostly both. If the humans ever found the bottom of the lake by Yahweh's Palace, they would discover things down there that Michael wanted kept secret. On the other hand, his credentials as a benefactor were well-established and carefully over-elaborated. He had saved humans from torment, well-regarded ones whose reputation back on Earth had survived and rubbed off on the Archangel who had saved them from the flames of Hell. He had treated all his humans well and they had reciprocated by speaking well of him when they had been interviewed. What would happen next was out of his control and Michael suspected the humans would be driven more by their own internal political dynamics than any wishes he might have.

There was a respectful knock on his door. Renepes-Lan-Sapreheac, the major-domo of Aukumea, entered and coughed politely. "Michael, there are two visitors to see you. Lemuel-Lan-Michael and Maion-Lan-Lemuel-Lan-Michael."

Ah well, here we go. Michael sighed to himself. You knew this was coming. "please ask them to come right in."

Michael sat down at his desk and pretended to be interested in a file that had been delivered to him. It was actually the bar receipts from The Montmartre Club and Michael was genuinely interested in the contents. More specifically, he was interested in how Leilah was skimming the take. He had no doubt she was, in fact he would be deeply disappointed in her if she wasn't. The door opened and he looked up. Lemuel and Maion were entering. Michael dropped the file, reminding himself to go over it again later, and rose to his feet.

"Lemuel, old friend, you look well. You too, Maion, the humans have taken good care of you."

It was true, Maion looked radiantly beautiful even by Angelic standards. She beamed and flared her wings outwards. "My wings are regrowing well, I should be able to fly soon. In a couple of weeks at most." Her voice hardened slightly and she sounded confused. "And being off that terrible stuff has helped me a lot. The doctors on Earth told me all about it."

"There is much we must speak about Michael." Lemuel's voice was also hard and there was no confusion evident in it at all.

"There is indeed. But first, Lemuel, I have news for you. There are vacancies in the ranks of the Chayot Ha Kodesh still unfilled. I am raising you to that status."

"Can you do that?" Lemuel sounded shocked. This wasn't going quite as he had imagined. He'd heard the stories of how Michael and his allies had fought Yahweh and had expected much the same to happen here. "Will the humans let you?"

"This is nothing to do with humans. When Yahweh died, I felt something change within me. As if something had left him and come to me. So, I raised Leilah-Lan to be Chayot Ha Kodesh. I thought it was a nominal move only, that she would remain Erelim. I was wrong, she has grown in size and power and truly is becoming Chayot Ha Kodesh. So the power to raise others has come to me, perhaps from those beyond the gates. Now, I will use it to raise you."

There was a stifled gasp from Maion, one that ended in a barely-suppressed sob. Michale moved towards her and stretched out his hands. "What is the matter little one?"

"I am only Malakhim. I am not a fit mate for a Chayot Ha Kodesh."

"Maion, did I not tell you that you are part of my clan now? And because of that, I would always look after you? Did you think I would cause you to be taken from your soul-mate after you have endured so much to be with him? Did I not tell you that a leader serves those he leads as much as they serve him? So to solve that insignificant little detail, I will raise you to the rank of Erelim. Your services to the Angelic Host deserve no less. He reached out his hands and placed them on Maion's head. Once again, he felt power running through him and he saw Maion standing tall. Then, he turned and did the same for Lemuel. "Maion, why don’t you run down and show Doctor Gunn your new wings. He'll be fascinated with them. Tell him everything. He's still a doctor, he'll want to know it all."

Maion beamed and ran out of the door, eager to show off her new wings and status. Michael smiled fondly at her, then turned his attention back to Lemuel. "Feel different yet?"

"I don't know . . . . I . . . ." Lemuel hesitated again. Now, he really was bewildered. "Why."

"Why did I raise you up? Because I promised to, because you deserve it and because if we are going to end up having a fight, I wanted to give you a fair chance." Michael didn't even wince at the barefaced lie. He never had any intentions of fighting fairly.

"Fairly? You? You **** pile of vomit. How could you do it to me Michael? Get me hooked on drugs, make me betray everything I held holy. You were my friend."

"I still am, the fact you are still alive proves that. It would have been much easier for me to have you killed. You and your little playmate."

"Maion too. You hooked her on drugs, made her prostitute herself. She almost died because of you."

"Nobody forced Maion to start using. She did that all by herself. Like most of the Angelic Host, she was bored and looking for new experiences to liven up her life. She was Malakhim, what did she have to look forward to? Her rank meant that, at best, she would be mate to a lowly angel and spend eternity washing his dishes. At worst she would end up in a temple making the same reverential dance every day. For all eternity Lemuel. Like those poor bastards in Yahweh's choir. What has happened to them by the way?"

"Humans took them away. They were talking about something called PTSD."

"Well, there you are then. Maion just wanted some thrills before the humdrum eternity set in. She got herself hooked. If you want to blame anybody, blame Yahweh. He was the one who set the system up here. Her getting hooked was a convenience for me. One of the purposes of the Club was to find you a mate who would be more to you than just a mate. You deserved better than that ball-busting bitch Onniel and Maion filled the bill perfectly. Working the club taught her a few tricks to hook you, that was all. There's never been prostitution in The Eternal City so the idea has no stigma attached to it. With Yahweh gone and his maniacal obsessions about sex removed, I think this will be a much healthier city to live in but that's my opinion only of course. It was Belial, working under Yahweh's orders who crippled and nearly killed her. You can't blame me for that." Invisible, Michael tensed. Believe that and we're half way out of this.

Lemuel sat still, churning the information over in his mind. "Onniel is dead."

"Very." And if I want it, there's a pile of evidence pointing straight at you as her killer my old friend. "She was the one responsible for the fate that befell Maion. Yahweh smiled upon her so when she went to him, demanding revenge, he obliged." Michael sighed theatrically. "I suppose in a way, I am to blame for what happened to Maion. I should have anticipated Onniel's actions. I knew of her character and the fact that Yahweh liked her. I should have anticipated her actions. For that lapse, I can only apologize and try to make amends. But never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate the nightmare that Yahweh had created."

The combination of sudden, unexpected promotion and Michael's calm, matter-of-fact discussion of Maion's fate took the wind out of Lemuel's sails. He had been working up a fine head of steam over what had happened to his beloved Maion; now it seemed as if all the major points had been out of Michael's control. Selfishness also tore at him; if Maion hadn't been experimenting with drugs and got out of her depth, he would never have met her or become her patron. She would never have become his mate. He would have been stuck with Onniel and her carping, shrewish ways. The truth was that his home was happy now, so much so it underlined how miserable a place it had been before Maion had become its Lady. His staff liked her and they had spoken well of them both when the humans had come to ask questions. The story of how Lemuel himself had come to the defense of a maltreated human and thrown his own mate out of the house when she was revealed as the culprit had struck a note in his favor.

Confusion eddied and boiled in his mind. He had been so certain in his rage and offense, in his belief that Michael had been behind all his troubles. Forced to look on things from a different perspective, reality seemed a far thing from the simplistic picture he had once had. Michael had exploited Maion, that was certain but had he, Lemuel, done any less? He also had taken advantage of her addiction and bought her services. Was he not as much to blame as Michael?

"You drugged me as well. You tricked me into addiction." Lemuel was uneasily aware that the complaint had come out as petulant whine rather than a soul-searing indictment.

"I did, and if you wish to confront me on that, I will concede it. You have every right to be upset. But, look at the situation Lemuel. Yahweh was going mad, you know that now but back then his madness was obvious to only a tiny few. How mad was something that even we did not guess. Yet you were the chief investigator of the League of Holy Court, the de-facto head of Yahweh's secret police. You had to be separated from Yahweh, you had to see him for what he really was. Much of the blame here lies with you Lemuel, how often did you close your eyes to what the League was actually doing? As you had the victims of your investigations tortured into confessions that might, or might not, be true, did you ever doubt what you were doing?"

Lemuel flushed red and looked at the floor. "No." His voice was small and weak.

"There was that human you picked up. The one you identified as a heretic because she had a small bottle of human garlic seasoning in her possession. You had her tortured, Lemuel. She was three-quarters drowned, raped and murdered while your prisoner and yet your faith was still not shaken. You Lemuel, you were Yahweh's right hand when that and much more happened. It was a small step, Lemuel from the dungeons of the League of Holy Court to Yahweh's concentration camp. So small a step from vigorous enforcement of the law to oppression and mass murder. A step so tiny and easy to make that its implications frighten even the humans.

"You are my friend, Lemuel, we had to save you yet you were so firmly under Yahweh's spell that regular argument would have been futile. So we hooked you. We got you just addicted enough that being with us was pleasant while being away from us was the reverse. Then, we slowly showed you that heresy had its values, that a degree of dissent was essential for a culture to move onwards. That the people who held different ideas from you were not necessarily bad persons because of their beliefs. Nor were people whose beliefs were conventional necessarily good or of pure heart. We showed you that people had to be judged for who they were, not for what they believed."

"So you did it all for my own good?" Lemuel spoke with tones laden with disbelief.

"Of course not." Michael was derisive. "We did it so I would not have to kill my friend. We would have done, Lemuel, we would have had to. But, above that, we needed you as a messenger to the humans. We had to send them the keys to Heaven by a messenger they would believe. Anybody else, one of us, they would have treated our information as a trap. At most they would have used the information to come in their own way at their own time. But when the head of Yahweh's police came over, having given up power and prestige to save his brutally-injured mate, they believed him. Your participation was needed Lemuel, so that also fitted into the schemes." Michael held his breath, almost noticeably. Will Lemuel notice the great flaw that lay in the center of that carefully-spun account? I've massaged the truth so carefully that I really ought to buy a human newspaper. He held that thought in his mind, buying a human newspaper and running it had an almost hypnotic attraction. It could be almost as much fun as running his nightclub.

"But all the plots, the schemes. . . . "

"Some were other archangels who had seen Yahweh's mind going and were moving to take over. Others, most of them, were Yahweh himself. He set them up so he would have an excuse to bring down his tyranny on The Eternal City. Either way led to disaster. Only one led to the salvation of the Angelic Host and that meant engineering an end to the war that left humans in undisputed charge. And got there without them using their military power to overwhelm us. And yet those same schemes Lemuel were as dangerous to you as they were to us all. You stumbled upon them while investigating something quite routine." Even if I did have to hold your hand and lead you to them. "What would you have done if you had found them at some other time. Gone to Yahweh?"

"I suppose but . . . ."

"And he would have killed you. On the spot. Luring you away from Yahweh was more than avoiding the necessity of me killing you or providing a messenger to the humans. We had to do it to save you from Yahweh. You were in deadly danger Lemuel, more so than you realize even now."

Lemuel stared out of the windows at the rolling hills and green forests of Heaven. He felt deflated, without purpose or aim. Once his life had been filled with his loyal service to Yahweh and that had gone. Then it had been filled with his hatred for what Michael had done to him and Maion and a burning desire for revenge. Now that, too, was gone. He had nothing left and that left him with an intense desire to weep.

"I'll say it again, Michael, you are a double-dyed bastard. I'll accept that you were doing what you thought right and it all worked out the way you wanted. And that all Heaven benefitted from what you did. But I can't forget Maion's shattered wings or her selling herself in your club. You'll have to live with that as well. Those memories and all the other things you did will torment you from now on. Every time you look in a mirror you'll remember them. They'll tear you apart and you'll understand how I feel now."

Michael nodded solemnly. Lemuel, you poor innocent sap. You've been watching too many human television soap operas. I did what I had to do and that ends the matter for me. I've been running this scam for centuries and, believe me, anything regrets I had are long gone. And if I had any left, there's a valley of black glass that will act as a reminder of what would have happened had Yahweh had his way.

The door banged open and Maion bounced in. "Lemuel, I've got news. Doctor Gunn gave me an examination just to check on how I was recovering. He says I'm pregnant."

Michael snapped forward in his seat. "Say again?"

"I'm pregnant. About four or five weeks he thinks."

Lemuel reached out and hugged her while Michael watched complacently. Well, that was unexpected, but at least it will give Lemuel something to do. At least until the humans give him the police force back. And they will, he's a good cop. But, an angelic baby? That's a once-in-a-millenium event. Then Michael thought carefully. What if angelic infertility was a by-product of Yahweh's obsession with people's private habits. What if now he was gone, there would be more angels born? Interesting.

"Congratulations, both of you. Would you like to stay here and rest? You're both welcome."

Michael saw them both shake their heads, realizing they both wanted to be certain what was in any food they ate. "Sorry Michael, we have to get back to The Eternal City. We'll be back though."

After they'd left, Michael went for a walk through his grounds. He needed to relax, to run over the events in his mind. Almost without thinking, he made his way to the great greenhouses that housed his marijuana plant collection. Letting himself in, he took some of the prepared product and took a deep breath. It was a blend Elhmas had spoken highly of and Michael could see why. He felt his mind relax and drift away on a sweet and gently-scented cloud.

"Well done Ehlmas. You surpassed yourself with this blend. You know, I really hated having to kill you but you and Yahweh were too powerful a combination for me to beat. You had to go just as Uriel and all the others did. It was the only way. But, I really am sorry."

For a moment, Michael thought the slow handclap coming from the plants was his imagination. He dragged his mind back to reality but the sound continued. Then, a familiar figure stepped out from the serried rows of greenery. "Hello, Michael. I see you took my recommendation."

For once in his life, Michael was almost speechless. "Elhmas, you're dead." Even as he said it, he realized how stupid it sounded and cursed the chemically-induced fog in his mind.

"You wish. You know, Michael, you really ought not to get stoned with people you intend to kill. Especially if they have a higher tolerance of that stuff than you do. I knew what you were up to the moment your messenger suggested I move the Incomparable Legion Of Light as a single body. That's a move nobody who's familiar with human war-making will make. I wasn't expecting that nuke though, were you?"

Michael shook his head. "Air strikes, a lot of them. Not the nuke. How did you survive it? The people we interviewed said you were directly under the blast."

Elhmas laughed, a little sadly. "I wasn't. The commander of the Incomparable Legion was. I left Enatenael-Lan-Elhmas in charge while I performed a reconnaissance. By which I mean I was watching from a safe distance Luckily for me, it really was a safe distance. You know, right up to the flash-bang I didn't know if you would really do it. I kept expecting you to suddenly open a way out. Then – flash-bang, all gone. So I made myself scarce and went into hiding. Oh, I knew what you were planning all right and had a shrewd idea how you would pull it off. So, when I felt my benighted and ineffable stupid father feeling out for my mind, I portalled away. To the Sahara Desert as it happened. When the humans went berserk after Heaven caved in, I came back. Now, it's time to kill you I guess."

Michael tried to summon up power to provide even a minimal defensive screen but the residual effects of the marijuana in his mind snarled up his concentration. He cudgelled his brain with the effort but it was no use. He was as useless and defenseless as an Ishim.

Elhmas looked at him sympathetically. "It's not really fair is it? You're stoned and I'm not. You've got no allies around and I don’t need them. It's almost as unfair as sticking Enatenael under that nuke. You know the only reason why I'm not going to kill you Michael?"

Michael-Lan shook his head, frantically thinking for a way out of this situation.

Elhamas smiled gently. " You see Michael, I recognized how dangerous humans were long before you did. So, I thought I would try and steer them into nice, peaceful ways. There was once this Jewish carpenter, Jeshua was his name. I possessed him and filled him up with nice-sounding ideas and had him go around preaching them. It worked quite well too, only the occupying powers got upset and they crucified him. I had to leave him there. I can still hear his screams while he was begging to know why I had abandoned him. Then some nut called Paul took everything I had had him teach, turned it on its head and inside out. What I had designed came out all wrong and caused even more trouble. A few hundred years later, I tried again and that was even worse. Centuries of slaughter and destruction and they weren't over when this blew up. I had one last shot a few hundred years after that and it got even worse. Everything I has taught turned into an excuse for wars upon wars with more wars to argue the results of the first set.

"My way failed, Michael. Humans really don't respond well to being taught things. They'll ask awkward questions and find their own way. Your idea is to keep us out of their way and not fool around with them. I will say this for you, it does seem to work. That's all that is saving your life Michael. Your way seems to work and it might be our salvation. It's just lucky for you that I have no desire to take revenge for my father. In fact, the old fool got what was coming to him. I was cheering you on then you know.

"Anyway, just remember I'm still around and I can make life very awkward for you. So, don't go mad with power the way my father did and you won't be joining him." Elhmas settled down on a chair and picked out a reasonable-looking joint. "Now, let's get stoned and talk about something pleasant. I hear female angels are starting to get pregnant. That's going to mess your nightclub up isn't it?"

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 8:11 am 
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Human Expeditionary Army Forward Headquarters, The Eternal City, Heaven

"There are three journalists and a gentleman from the Times seeking interviews with you Dave. General Michael Jackson sounded saddened and deeply sympathetic at the news. After what had happened to General McChrystal, the press were being kept at arm's length.

"They can keep seeking." General Petraeus nodded, then hesitated. "Only four?"

"There were five but one of the journalists stuck a microphone into Asanee's face and asked some impolite questions. She told him he had big brass balls and then asked if he had planned on keeping them. He left very quickly. Michael-Lan is here as well."

"Good. Mike, Yamantau want to know if there is an equivalent of the Minos Gate here in Heaven and, if so, where it is. Also, do bodies still come through it. My guess is that the division of Second Life humans between Heaven and Hell is beginning to become a real issue. Who goes where? And who makes the decisions."

"I've got a feeling it won’t be us David."

"I know what you mean Mike, civilian control of the military and all that. Do you want to try that line on Asanee?"

Jackson shuddered slightly at the thought. One of the subtler effects of the Human Expeditionary Army was that it had brought together armies that had never considered working with each other before. Many of those armies came from social backgrounds that were radically different from anything the others had contemplated. Concepts that some took for granted were unknown or even derided by others. Chief amongst these areas was the relationships between military and political authorities. Slowly, the various national contingents were beginning to have a genuine understanding of what made the others tick. Idly, Jackson remembered the fable about the Tower of Babel and how Yahweh had split humanity up by language to stop them building another such marvel. Was the H.E.A. now reversing that action as well?

Across the desk, Petraeus pressed a button on his intercom and asked the Duty Officer to bring Michael in. As he did, he and Jackson exchanged smiles. They made a point of meeting Michael here; although the rooms were oversized, they were still uncomfortably small for the big Archangel. It was quite impossible for him to either enter the room decorously or strike poses once inside. "Mike, do you get the feeling Michael isn't quite what he was?"

"You mean, has he had the stuffing knocked out of him? I got that feel as well. About time too, he was too full of himself when we got here. Tossing him out on his ear was a good move Dave."

"There's more to it than that. We need to keep a close eye on him. But, I meant that it may not be humanity's choice who goes where. We may find we have to play the cards we get dealt. We've still no idea on what lies the other side of that gate." There was a photograph on the wall behind his desk that showed the hazards of the Minos Gate. As an experiment, DIMO(N) had driven a HEMTT up to the gate and then backed the rear half in. The vehicle was now half-size, the part that had been pushed through the gate boundary had vanished. Nothing that crossed that boundary ever came back.

The door opened and Michael-Lan inserted himself into the office by way of a door that was intended for beings half his size. Petraeus looked at him carefully and was convinced his initial impressions had been right. Something had been knocked out of this Archangel, the cocksure, daring self-confidence wasn't gone but it had been dented and tarnished. And there was a calculating air about him, one that indicated he had been given a mighty problem to chew over.

"Michael-Lan. We want to clarify some points with you. It appears that humans haven't entered Heaven directly for many years. Is that correct."

"It is General. Yahweh closed the gates of Heaven to humans centuries ago. About the fifteenth century by your calendar."

"We thought it was earlier than that. Never mind. The humans who arrived here after that, how did they get here?"

"I went down to the Plateau of Minos and collected them. I had a deal with the Fallen Ones who worked there. I took the humans I wanted in exchange for opium. It worked out quite well, I had no intention of telling anybody about my pipeline and the Fallen Ones knew if they gave me up there would be no more clouds of bliss for them," Michael struck a penitent and regretful note that fooled nobody. "I only wish I could have saved more."

"I'm sure," Petraeus was sarcastic. "So, there was a time when humans arrived here directly. How?"

"There was a gate here, like the one on the Plateau of Minos. It still is there in fact, but no humans have arrived through it for many centuries. Poor Peter is really bored down there. I used to slide him a few shots of cocaine now and then, help him pass the time."

Petraeus shuddered quietly. "So, it's possible that Yahweh 'closed' the Gates because no more humans were coming through? That his 'order' was just a recognition of what was already established?"

"The order came first. Once Yahweh had given it, the number of humans coming through slowed down and stopped. At the same time, the number turning up at Minos increased."

"I see. Michael, I'm going to assign a military unit to take over guarding the site of that gate. You will take them there." Petraeus paused and thumbed his intercom box again. "Duty Officer, get me the commander of Third Armored. I'm going to be borrowing one of his tank battalions again."

Spearhead Battalion, Heaven

Her command had grown again. She now had an engineering company attached to what was still laughingly called a battalion. That meant the Spearhead 'battalion' now had eight full companies plus an assortment of platoon-sized attachments. Colonel Keisha Stevenson had the uneasy feeling that the only reason why it wasn't reclassified as a larger unit was that doing so would mean she got a General's star.

"This is it." Michael-Lan stood in front of the black ellipse, one that was guarded by a pair of pearl-encrusted metal gates. "Until Yahweh closed everything down, this used to be quite busy. It's only got a caretaker now, Peter. Nice old boy."

"That would be Saint Peter, I suppose." Stevenson wondered what her old church preacher would have said about this situation. He'd often waxed eloquent about what Saint Peter would do when faced with various members of his congregation but 'obeyed orders delivered at gunpoint' hadn't been one of the options considered.

"That's what you call him, sure." Michael's voice was slightly distant again. In the long drive up here, Stevenson had noted that. It was as if Michael's mind was elsewhere. Given what she had learned about him, that probably didn't bode well for somebody.

"Take me to him." Her voice was blunt. Her orders were to secure this entire area. She had the force needed to do it and those orders included clearance to do whatever that task required. Behind her, the tank transporters were lining up and unloading her vehicles. Getting here had been a ten-hour drive and if she'd brought her armor up on its tracks, half the vehicles would be left by the roadside as mechanical casualties by now. The tank transporters had been an optimal solution and Stevenson understood that being General Petraeus's go-to commander meant that her 'optimal solutions' had a very high priority.


Michael led her over to a hut built beside the gates. It was a small, ramshackle affair, one that would have been condemned as a slum in New Jersey but Stevenson's expectations had been changed by her time in Heaven. For here, and in the eyes of most of the human inhabitants of Heaven, this was as good as it got, better than anything they'd known in their earthbound lives. The door creaked open and a figure with a flowing white beard emerged.

"Michael-Lan, Great General, welcome to the Gates of Pearl."

The voice was obsequious and that made Stevenson's hackles rise. Humans didn’t have to tip their caps to Angels any more. There was a more-than-necessary snap to her voice when she spoke. "You are Peter, the guardian of this gate?"

He looked at her, initially almost with belittlement. Then he saw the uniform and the guns, and he took in the sight of the vehicles unloading. "You are a soldier, a woman soldier."

"I am Colonel Stevenson, commander of this position. From now on, you report to me, not him." She gestured at Michael and saw him nod. "Now, you are?"

"I am Shimeon Kepha Ha-Tzadik. Also known as Simon Peter and follower of Jeshua." He smiled sadly. "I am also caretaker here."

He looked hopefully at Michael who responded by producing a small packet of white powder. Peter whinnied with delight and produced a mirror, knife and a plastic drinking straw from a pocket in his robes. Slightly disgusted, Stevenson watched him cut a line and snort it up through the straw. Peter caught her expression and offered her a line.

"No." Her voice was even sharper and the dislike in it more obvious.

Peter looked at her, then his face brightened. "I have some liquor here if you prefer that. Built the still myself."

"Hokay, when did you learn to do that?"

"Back in the old days, when we were roaming around Galilaea with Jeshua. He used to do his preaching and the rest of us would brew up and sell the moonshine. Only, Jeshua would never stop in one place long enough for us to set up a decent business. As soon as we got the still set up and established ourselves, he'd move on and we'd have to do the same. That's what finished us in the end you know."

"Do tell." Despite herself, Stevenson was beginning to like him.

"We kept moving on and we never paid the tax duty on the moonshine we were selling. That really upset the Romans. They didn’t care about the preaching but tax evasion was something quite else. Then it turned out that Judas had been skimming. He was responsible for giving the local administration their share of the take but he was short-changing them and pocketing the difference. He'd made thirty pieces of silver on the deal before they wised up and sent some Maccabee killers out to whack him. Anyway, Judas decided the only way to get away was to sell the rest of us out to the Romans for tax evasion. Didn't help him much, the Maccabees got him and strung him up anyway. Anyway, the Romans were about to crucify us all but Jeshua talked them out of it and took the blame himself. He took the fall, we all got to walk so we carried on preaching his message for him."

Stevenson laughed delightedly and the old man seemed pleased. "You have got to tell that story to everybody down on Earth. I suppose Jesus – Jeshua is up here in heaven somewhere?"

Michael shook his head. "He never turned up; I suppose he's down in Hell somewhere. He was only a tool you know, he was possessed by an angel called Elhmas. Once he'd finished with Jeshua, he just abandoned him."

Stevenson's head snapped around at that, so she was looking at Michael. "And what happened to Elhmas?"

"Most everybody thinks you killed him. Oh, not you personally, you humans. He was in command of the Incomparable Legion of Light when it was nuked. The Host is certain that he died there."

Stevenson nodded and tried a sip of the moonshine. It was surprisingly good. "Peter, got any more stories about the days in Galilaea?"

"Watch him Colonel." Michael sounded amused. "Peter loves a good story. He'll have you here for hours if you let him."

Stevenson was about to say it didn't matter and that she had plenty of time. Then, suddenly it did matter and she hadn't. Because an unconscious body had emerged through Heaven's Minos Gate and was on the ground.

USS Turner Joy. Seattle, Washington.

The band was playing "Anchors Aweigh" as the crew on the old destroyer made fast. Captain Reynolds gave the order "Finished with main engines" and the adventure was over. A new USS Turner Joy was commissioning soon and she would take over the reputation as well as the name. The DDG-120 Turner Joy was a Flight III Arleigh Burke class AEGIS destroyer with her own portal generation equipment built into her. Yet, she would be a cold, impersonal ship until her crew breathed life into her DD-951 Turner Joy already had her life, a phenomena that only sailors fully understood, but it was already ebbing away as her crew made ready to leave her.

"She'll be back in the museum soon." Sophia Metaxas looked sadly at the ship that had been her home for almost three years. In that time, Turner Joy had fought her battles on Earth, in Hell and in Heaven and had brought her crew safely back from every one of them. "It seems a shame somehow."

"She's steam-powered Sophia, the Navy is all gas turbine and nuclear now. When the war was on, she had her role to play. Especially since the Navy never expected to get her. That's all finished now. Now, she can return to honorable retirement again. She has a tale to tell after all, and it's one generations in the future will want to hear. Reynolds looked suddenly very sad. "I never did get Yahweh under my guns though."

"I expect she'll do a lot better than some of the museum ships have though." Sophia was trying to look on the bright side. The Museum ship fleet had not done well from the war. Mostly, they were too old and too far gone to bring back into commission the way Turner Joy had been brought back. Some had been stripped for spare parts, others of useful equipment. All had been neglected in the driving urgency to concentrate every effort on the ships that could help win the war. Olympia had sunk at her moorings as a result and it was rumored that Texas was in a bad way and unlikely to survive.

"You can count on that. Anyway, my new ship is officially adopting her. We'll be making sure our older sister gets proper care. We won't be leaving you in the lurch." Reynolds would be commanding DDG-120.

"Thanks, Captain. We'll be keeping her ready though, Just in case." Sophia nodded and turned to walk down the gangplank and back into civilian life. As she did so, another small increment of Turner Joy's life ebbed away.

DIMO(N) Headquarters, The Pentagon, Washington

It was over. General Schatten looked around at the rapidly-emptying offices. Within a few hours DIMO(N) would cease to exist. Its military research and development activities would be taken over by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, its civilian activities transferred to other government departments. He recognized it was inevitable, the Salvation War was over, there was no need for an organization like DIMO(N) any more. Others could take over the charge it had led, others could build upon the foundations it had laid. Just as James Randi's Institute of Pneumatology had closed down and dispersed when its work was done, so too would DIMO(N). In his imagination, Schatten heard the sounds of a trumpet playing Taps.

"What will you be doing now General?" Schatten heard the voice cut through his reverie

"Dr. Surlethe. Come to say goodbye to us all."

"And to thank you for a job well done. Considering you started off from a bunch of old texts and grimoires and made a start on turning the legends and myths there into the foundations of real science, you people pulled off a spectacular achievement. We've got a long, long way to go but it all started here. You achieved something else as well. You took legends and myths and replaced them with logic and understanding. We really have got a long way to go but it will be facts and experiments that guide us all the way. Anyway, you didn’t answer my question. What will you be doing now?"

"I've been appointed the new Director of Celestial Intelligence. It won’t be announced until tomorrow and the Senate has to approve of course."

"That won’t be a problem. So you're the new DCI. So we will be working together after all. How do you fancy working with Homo Caelis?"

"Homo Caelis?"

"The genus that contains the Angels and Daemons. They really are closely related, you know. We had to call them something and that was the best bet.

"It'll be hard to think of them as anything but the enemy."

"We can't be sure they aren't. Not yet. And there is who knows what out there. We know there are at least three other groups up there. The Aesir, the Baals and the Olympians. Then there's the devils, we're not sure who or what they are. But, if Homo Caelis is the enemy, they are a defeated enemy. It'll be up to us to keep them that way."

Schatten nodded. "Still, there's Yamantau and what it represents. And we still have the H.E.A."

Surlethe grimaced. "I know, but it's spread pretty thin. We're straining every economy on Earth and a lot of the smaller countries don't like it at all. With the United Nations sidelined and virtually moribund, they feel they've been cut out of the decision loop. Which they have of course. How that will work out is still to be seen. Still, there's one thing we have to be thankful for. Humans don’t have to fear death any more. Not on Earth, anyway."

"No, we don’t have to fear death here any more. I just wonder what else is out there, that's all. And what lies beyond the Minos Gates."

Surlethe grinned. "Well, don’t tell The President that you're wondering. Even the thought of adding another few billions to the defense budget is giving him conniptions. Come on, let's get ourselves a drink. I think we've earned it."

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The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D.C.

"There is no hope of reducing the defense budget?" The President sounded stricken at the news.

"No hope at all, Sir. We're stuck at one-point-six trillion for years to come. The FY11 budget is set in stone and nothing can cut from that. As for FY12, simply controlling the areas we now hold are going to take most of our forces. Look at it this way, Sir, the combined land area of Heaven and Hell are three times the size of Earth. The HEA is the only force keeping both places reasonably stable at this time. How long that will be for is anybody's guess. Secretary Warner shook his head. As usual, the politicians had thought the Army would crash in, defeat the enemy and the problems would all be over. Why would they never understand that defeating an enemy was just that start of a long and complicated situation? He knew all too well what the basic problems were. The armed forces had made defeating the enemy look so easy that the politicians assumed that all the other problems would be equally easy to resolve.

"But we have social programs, essential reforms that have been delayed by the war . . . ." The President was genuinely dismayed at the apparently inevitable prospect of virtually his entire domestic program being flushed.

"Sir, when we got into the Salvation War, we assumed that it was going to last for decades and we geared up for that prospect. We've mobilized our economy and we're on a war footing. Our industry is structured around supplying the armed forces, not just ours but other people's as well, with what they need. We start slashing orders now, we'll bring about an economic depression that's unparalleled in our history. Forget about breadlines and soup kitchens, they'll be for the better off. The ones who keep their jobs. The rest won't even have those provisions to fall back on. We have to ease back, slowly and carefully. That's assuming the situation in Heaven and Hell lets us do even that."

A depressed sigh ran around the room. "You expect more trouble then?"

"Yes, Madam Secretary. The sheer shock of the daemonic defeat in Hell is wearing off down there. In some ways we're to blame for that. The daemons were expecting us to overrun Hell with fire and sword. They thought we would massacre them all. Instead, we were pretty nice to them We fed them, looked after them, protected them. Now, I'm not saying that's wrong and I will say that it has eased a lot of our problems. I'd say about seventy percent of the surviving daemons look on us pretty favorably. Another twenty five percent actively like us and want to learn from us."

"That leaves just five percent." The President pounced on the figure.

"Five percent, Sir. They're swallowed up by hatred for us and a desire to hurt us. They see our treatment of them now that they are in our power as an example of weakness. They think they can exploit that and they're right. To some extent, our hands are tied in dealing with them. If we go after them no-hold's barred, we'll alienate the ones who do support us. We learned a lot of lessons in Iraq along those lines. But Heaven's the real problem. It's strange but it's the humans there that we're worried about. The Jell . . . the angels appear to be pretty quiet. They haven't got the suicidal guts the daemons have that's for sure. But their human servants seem a lot more aggressive. We've had stone throwing incidents already.

"But for all that, it's Hell that we're really worried about. We've had word that there is a resistance movement staring up in Hell, possibly headed by Belial."

"That wretched Baldrick tasks us." The President's voice was tinged with bitterness.

"He's escaped us twice and all the reports we've had, from Heaven and Hell, stress that his hatred for us is surpassed only by that he has for Euryale. I wouldn't like to be in her hooves if he gets hold of her. The point is, Mister President, we have a massive peacekeeping problem that has no easily-visible end to it." Warner paused to take breath, "and to make matters worse, we have no real idea what is out there. We've only explored a tiny proportion of the land surface of Hell and even less of Heaven. There could be entire civilizations out there we haven't even spotted yet.
"And that brings us to another problem. We know that there are other bubble-worlds in the new universe we have stumbled into. Some of their occupants have been on Earth in earlier days and either got run off by Yahweh and Satan or decided that we weren't worth the effort of staying here for. Michael-Lan mentioned the Aesir and the Baals, we also have cause to believe that the Olympian pantheon has some foundation in reality. We know that Heaven and Hell were virtually stagnant but can we be sure that those others are? Might they have developed with the same speed as we have? If so they could be most formidable opponents."

"If they are opponents." Secretary Clinton made the point uncharacteristically tentatively.

"That's right Hillary. They may well be benign; the stories about them certainly suggest they might be but how can we be sure. And if there is a basis of truth behind them, there might also be behind other pantheons. We wouldn't, for example, like to run into the Aztec pantheon unprepared would we?"

There was a general shaking of heads at that. The President sighed. "One point six billion it is then. Hillary, what's the feeling at Yamantau on this."

"Much the same as Defense has outlined Sir. Too many responsibilities, too many potential and actual enemies, too many unknowns. All the other fourteen members are agreed, our present force levels have to be maintained, probably for at least a decade."

The President's air of general depression deepened. "Does the United Nations have much to say about that?"

Clinton smiles sadly at him. "Have you been there recently Sir? I wouldn't be surprised if there are tumbleweeds blowing around the main assembly room. The U.N. just doesn’t count for much any more, not the main body of it anyway. Yamantau has taken its functions over almost completely. That's not surprising though. It's a much better war headquarters after all. Fifteen members can actually get things done. We have less to consider there as well. If a country wants to bring up an issue, it has to get one of the fifteen to present it for them. If they can't convince one country of the virtues of their case, they shouldn't be bothering people with it.

"Having said all that, the U.N. special agencies are healthy. UNESCO, World Bank, World Health Organization are all prospering. So much so that a couple of them are talking of changing their names to make the 'world' bit plural. The UNHCR is coordinating the rescue of people from the Hell Pit. But, for all that, as a policy-deciding organization, the U.N. has been sidelined. After all, in the final analysis, Yamantau has a massive army to back up its decisions. I have no doubt that Yamantau will change in the future but here and now, it's the best approach to a world government we've got."

"Damn." The President's word seemed strangely archaic, as if it belonged to a different era. It did, of course, that was all too true. Whole classes of expletives had become obsolete over the last two years and few had grown up to replace them. Not yet, anyway. "How are we going to pay for all this?"

"It's much worse than just the amount by which we are overspending." Timothy Geithner sounded almost amused by the depth of gloom in his own voice. "The ban on deceased First-Life people leaving their assets to themselves to fund their Second Life failed to get past the Senate. In fact, they voted it down 94 – 5 with one abstention. We should have anticipated that Mister President."

This time, Geithner's voice held disapproval and there was no trace of amusement in it. In his opinion, the President had committed the worst political sin of all; he had put both his personal credibility and the stature of his office into fighting a battle he wasn't quite certain he would win. As a result, he had turned what would otherwise been a minor administrative matter, or at least something that could be spun as one, into a major defeat for his presidency. Geithner suspected that the resulting political blow was mortal.

"But it was the right thing to do. And the assets the dead are taking with them are bleeding resources from our economy."
"That doesn't matter Mister President. Really it doesn't. What does matter is that opinions on the legislation were split down the middle by age. The older people were, the more they wanted freedom to take some or all of their First-Life assets with them. The younger people were, the more they saw those assets as their inheritance. Virtually the entire administration are in the former group. They saw this legislation as an attack on them. Frankly, Mister President, the Senate throwing this legislation out was probably a good thing. If they hadn't, I suspect the Supreme Court would have tossed it out. That would have been even more embarrassing.

"That leaves us with the problem of course. My Department is working on a proposal for a death tax, one that should stand up to constitutional scrutiny provided it stops short of total confiscation. Death taxes are an accepted part of the portfolio so applying them should be no problem. If we make the tax applicable only to the monies that a person takes into their Second Life, I think it might be a compromise people will accept. The First Lifers will still get an inheritance and the Second Lifers still get their seed money."

"What about a flow of resources from Heaven and Hell?"

"Heaven is pretty much a bust Sir. Thomas Vilsack sounded regretful. "They really haven't got much that we want other than agricultural produce and most of the production there is used to keep The Eternal City fed. A city that size is a massive liability and resources sink. If we take any significant level of their present production, we'll start a famine."

"I though angels and daemons didn’t need to eat."

"They don’t need to eat for regular sustenance meaning they won’t starve the way we do if deprived of food. As far as we can make out, they do need to eat if their energy consumption goes beyond a specific level. Then, the nourishment they get from food makes up the difference." Doctor Surlethe frowned, "but there's still so much we don’t understand about this."

"As for Hell, we are getting resources from there." Vilsack sounded pleased about that. "Oil particularly; Hell is absurdly oil-rich. The bottleneck is refining the stuff."

"Let me guess." The President lifted a finger in the traditional gesture of sudden enlightenment. "Gaius Julius Caesar is building an oil refinery."

A laugh ran around the room. "Yes Sir, he is. In fact, he was the first person to start building one. He's in partnership with Sunoco on that. If it's any consolation, things aren't going entirely smoothly there. The idea was to build some parts in New Rome and bring others in from Earth. Only, there's problems matching the parts up. Hell-built and Earth-built don’t go well together. Anyway, we are getting crude from there and a lot of valuable minerals as well."

"There's one good thing Sir." Kathleen Sebelius spoke up, grimly determined to be cheerful. "Health care costs are showing a marked decline. It's the big ticket items that are showing the largest fall. Now people know what lies after death, they aren't fighting it so hard. Rather than use massively expensive treatment to delay their death by a few days or weeks, they're now letting go. Why live for a few months hooked up to tubes and meters and suffering every day of that time when one can go to Hell – or even Heaven – and have a healthy reborn body?"

"What about the costs of treating refugees from the Hell-Pit."

"Not high Sir. Most of the work there is done by volunteers and the dead ones don’t need to eat of course. So, its lower than one might think. However, there is a long-term problem here in that some of the refugees are in really bad shape. Hell wasn't a very kind place Sir."

"Do we know why people go to Heaven rather than Hell?" The President was curious.

"No." Doctor Surlethe rather wished the subject hadn't come up. "We have only a very thin trickle of new bodies turning up in Heaven, one or two a day at most. We can identify no pattern behind their selection. It seems to be completely random. At the moment, the Army unit we have stationed at the Heavenly Gates is looking after them. Actually, they're shipping them to the reception center at Hell and processing them like all the others when they wake up. We're watching the ones that came back through Heaven of course; but at the moment we're showing nothing of any significance. Which leaves us with the problem of who lives in Heaven and who stays in Hell."

"Sort of related to that, I've placed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty." Eric Holder had a degree of defiance in his voice. "I can't see that it performs any useful function at this time. Life imprisonment without possibility of parole remains a viable punishment. Keeping a person locked up for the rest of their life is a penalty all right. But killing them just gives another escape route. They get away with their offence cold and just get to start their Second Life a little earlier."

"We could always arrange to meet them when they get reborn and whack them again."

Raymond LaHood made that suggestion tentatively yet it caused Holder to bristle and respond aggressively. "That would be an unconstitutional exercise of double jeopardy as well as being morally reprehensible. I will not allow it."

"Moderate your tone Eric." The President spoke calmly. "Raymond has a valid point even if you disagree with it. Do we carry over offenses committed in the First Life to people in their Second Lives? And Eric, the Cabinet has collective responsibility. It allows or disallows things, not you. When we reach a decision on that issue, you can either support that decision or resign. I trust I make myself clear?"

Holder nodded, resentfully and reluctantly. The President looked at his and nodded slightly before continuing. "That issue also gives rise to a related one. What happens when one of the great monsters of history is found? Pol Pot died quite recently I believe; he may well turn up quite soon. And what about Hitler? Or Idi Amin?"

"We're been really lucky." General Schatten, the new Director of Celestial Intelligence spoke firmly. "So far, the issue hasn't come up. Most of the people we've recovered have been common people, very few of any distinction have re-appeared. Partly that may be because the rings we are emptying fastest, the first ring for example where they starved in a desolate wasteland or the second where they were either blown about by great winds or pushed giant rocks around, were the easiest to get people out of. The rings get progressively harder to explore and recover as we go down and I suspect that the more distinguished of our ancestors are down there. We do have evidence that a certain degree of private vengeance is already taking place though. When Belial's fortress fell, one of his human assistants was an SS guard from Majdanak concentration camp. An Israeli officer, most of whose family died in that camp, took him away and is believed to have killed him. Again. Both we and the Israelis are trying to find him but no luck so far."

"A nightmare lies that way." Hillary Clinton spoke reflectively, her voice penetrating the silence that had dominated the room. "We go after people, our enemies come after ours, we could end up fighting a war that will kill us all. Haven't enough people died in this war already?"

That caused the silence to deepen. The death toll from the Salvation War was indeed enough. Millions of humans were dead, almost all civilians. The death toll in the daemons and angels was much, much greater. Most of their dead had been warriors, victims of the massive disparity in sheer, raw firepower that had dominated the war. From a military point of view, it was true that the humans had shattered their enemies without breaking into a sweat over it. Economically and socially, the cost had been so much higher. Even now, with the super-hurricanes and super-tornados a thing of the past, it would take decades for the south east cost to recover. The dust storms and the tornados had made the great plains a liability, one that would be put right eventually of course but the short term consequences were still there. The United States was actually a net food importer this year and would be next as well. Another economic fact to be considered. And that brought the meeting full circle.

The President walked over to the great windows that dominated the room and stared out at the world beyond. There had been so much he had wanted to do, so much that he had felt needed to be done and none of it was going to happen. He was quite sure of that. In his heart, he guessed that he was a one-term President and his time in office was already more than half done. It would be for others to take up the dreams he had nurtured and turn them into reality. It would be years before that could happen, the briefing he had just received made that painfully clear.

Ideals and dreams could be gods as well. They were a part of a pantheon just as much as the more tangible 'gods' had been. This had been a war where the human war machine had ruthlessly killed all the gods that had stood in its path. The Pantheon of ideals and dreams had proved no more resilient than the rest.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 27, 2010 1:53 pm 
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There aren't just the pantheons, there's others as well. Say, all the various spirits in Japan and China and in America. If they don't get high and mighty like Yahweh did, the legends would stay much more low key.


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And so it ends.

For now.

I feel oddly deflated. Not by the story itself, which was most excellent from first word to last, but for the continued prospects for Humanity on Earth. I look forward to the next book, but the outlook based on what has been established seems bleak. In short, I think humanity is doomed on Earth. Both Heaven and Hell now have access to Earth technology, and as the number of Second Life Humans in both places grow (and by this I mean those in Hell are rescued from torment, as well as the continued influx from Earth) the knowledge base will equalize within a hundred years or so at best and not much longer at worst since those currently living will still carry all the knowledge they have with them. With the establishment of Universities and technical colleges in Heaven and Hell, parity will swiftly be reached. As some of the great intellects upon whom modern sciences are built are found, they will come up to speed technologically over the course of a human lifetime if not sooner. And even if not, they ARE immortal after all known fashions so what is the rush. But as Einstein, Tesla, Edison, et al all come up to speed, the intellectual heft that will drive further advances in technology will shift irrevocably to the Second Lifers. Unless the laws of physics in Heaven/Hell preclude technological advance past Earth, the first lifers are going to be at the back of the technological bus within a couple hundred years if not sooner.
Earth itself is also on the cusp of great upheaval as the concept of death as it has been known for all of human history is now gone. I speculate that MASSIVE amounts of suicides will take place especially among the poor and underpriveleged. Once they figure out they do not have to live in their up till then crapsack worlds, they are dining on bullets or taking one way flying lessons. The social economic upheavals inherent in the new reality are just beginning and will take forms and directions that can scarce be imagined. The Yamantu alliance will fracture at some point (I think this is inevitable under Maximal Realism) unless they figure out an equitable way to divvy the resources coming from Hell and Heaven (if any as the last chapters pointed out Heavenwise) and to come to grips with their crippling war time economies. At what point will the various governments ENCOURAGE suicide to relieve themselves of the burdens of social programs, and how long will beleaguered taxpayers continue to foot the bill of those who will not produce before they take matters into their own hands?
It is only a matter of time before the Second Life humans chafe under the de facto rule of the Earthbound, another war is already in the offing though it may be a century or two before it comes to fruition. Giaus Julius will not play second fiddle to Earth for very long. Already he is working to build up a susbtantial military and to create an industrial base to support it. He also has the luxury of taking a long view that first lifers simply can not, given he is effectively immortal and first lifers still only have 60-100 years at most IF they choose to hang on that long. I do not recall if any other nations are forming in Hell, but if they do, how long can the peace maintain? Especially among the conquered if it looks like Earth's control wanes...

This is a very pessimistic view, and it is possible that it could go the other way as well. The same forces at work could have an entirely different outcome. I'll post that another time after I think on it some more.
As I said, I look forward to the next book. It will be one hell of a ride no matter which way it goes.


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A wonderfully well written story. Very enjoyable. Are we allowed to write one off stories using this story line? Unknown demons/angels are begging to have there stories told.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:27 am 
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itor66 wrote:
A wonderfully well written story. Very enjoyable. Are we allowed to write one off stories using this story line? Unknown demons/angels are begging to have there stories told.


Thank you for the kind words. If you do have a story idea, sure, go ahead. Just let me read it first to make sure it stays within the universe parameters.

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Admiral_Slade wrote:
Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven. Six weeks later.

Elhamas smiled gently. " You see Michael, I recognized how dangerous humans were long before you did. So, I thought I would try and steer them into nice, peaceful ways. There was once this Jewish carpenter, Jeshua was his name. I possessed him and filled him up with nice-sounding ideas and had him go around preaching them. It worked quite well too, only the occupying powers got upset and they crucified him. I had to leave him there. I can still hear his screams while he was begging to know why I had abandoned him. Then some nut called Paul took everything I had had him teach, turned it on its head and inside out. What I had designed came out all wrong and caused even more trouble. A few hundred years later, I tried again and that was even worse. Centuries of slaughter and destruction and they weren't over when this blew up. I had one last shot a few hundred years after that and it got even worse. Everything I has taught turned into an excuse for wars upon wars with more wars to argue the results of the first set."


Stuart,

The first two people that elhamas influenced are fairly obvious/flatly stated. (Jesus and Mohammed.) But will you answer who the 3rd one is? (Or is this a plot point for the 3rd book and something you want to keep secret until then?)


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Calder wrote:
The first two people that elhamas influenced are fairly obvious/flatly stated. (Jesus and Mohammed.) But will you answer who the 3rd one is? (Or is this a plot point for the 3rd book and something you want to keep secret until then?)


I left that one open to people's imaginations. Could be Martin Luther or Joseph Smith, Jr. Could even be Henry VIII. I really haven't made up my mind.

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I nominate Ghandi! (Yes, I know he was assassinated--err, died in a tragic accident.)

EDIT: oh, bugger, am I confusing universes?


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SpookyZ wrote:
am I confusing universes?


Well, yes, but I'm loosing track of which universe I'm in as well.

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That's fine. Just drink the glass the pretty lady is handing you.

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Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival."
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edgeplay_cgo wrote:
That's fine. Just drink the glass the pretty lady is handing you.

Glasses? You're far too civilised over there. Now don't mind the needle, it'll just sting for a second...

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Just makes me wonder how the TBOverse would handle the same situation, anyway. The obvious answer might not be as obvious - I don't know how much trouble SAC might have operating their as-then current generation of bombers in Hell. Though I imagine that's just one more reason they keep alternate delivery options available.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:20 pm 
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Joined: Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:31 pm
Posts: 246
eh, I was going to say, "Glass? All I see is a plastic sippy cup."


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