Martial Field of Dysprosium, Hell.
His troops were formed up on the field, awaiting his inspection. 60 legions, each with 6,666 demons, a total force of over 400,000 demons if Abigor’s own command staff were included. By far the largest force that Hell had ever sent to another world yet it was only a tiny fraction of the army that Hell could deploy if it wished. There were 6,666 legions in hell, a total of 44,500,000 demons under arms, a mighty host that had never in its history been deployed against a single foe. There had never been a single foe whose ability had demanded that level of force. Always, those lower down the scale of existence had cowered in fear when the demons had arrived, genuflecting at the appearance of the creatures from a greater dimension. Mostly, the armies of Hell had never been needed, the Heralds had been terrifying enough to put their victims into a state of catatonic terror.
Only, not this time. This time the creatures from the lower dimensions had the temerity to fight back, even more than that, they had killed the Heralds. That had disturbed Abigor more than he let on. If the Heralds could be killed, what did that mean for the demons in his ranks? The Heralds were deliberately created to be awe-inspiring, terrifying by virtue of their size and apparent invulnerability, yet the humans below had fought back and killed them. Individually, the demons in the ranks of his legions were much less formidable than the great Heralds. They were formidable enough, that was true, their tough hides were impervious to arrows and the blows of swords yet would that be enough? What did the humans have that could kill so effectively?
There was another point that worried Abigor. The Heralds had been killed, what had happened to them? The rulers of Hell knew what happened to those on the lower dimensions, their creation and life built up a form of energy that, when they died, boosted them over the threshold and translated them to the next level of dimension. Unfortunately for them, the energy needed to surge the occupants of this reality level was much greater. That’s why Hell existed, the second deaths of the unfortunates from realities below were prolonged as much as possible, by millennia or longer, nobody knew the limit yet, so that the energy released by their suffering would boost the rulers of Hell up to their afterlife. The creatures from below suffered in their afterlife to provide the creatures of this level with theirs. But suppose the beings who lived in the reality above this one adopted the same philosophy. Was there a super-Hell that awaited Abigor and his kind?
The infantry in his legions were crashing the butts of their tridents against the ground as Abigor rode past on his beast. 56 of his 60 legions were his infantry, Abigor’s host was one of the less mobile of its kind, he had only three mounted legions and one flying legion. The information he had was that the humans lived mostly in cities, that meant the war would be one of sieges, the cities fighting from behind their defensive walls in a series of last stands. That would put a premium on his infantry, his mounted and flying legions would only be of use in isolating each city before the infantry besieged and destroyed it. It had been done before, Abigor knew that human myths were full of stories of cities that had been besieged by hordes of monstrous, inhuman foes. Now they would find out where those myths had come from.
The horns sounded, their wailing drowning out the crashing cadence of the trident staffs. The legions did a right-face, towards a black dot that had suddenly appeared against the roiling red smoke of the sky. The dot expanded, opening a gate into the lower dimension that had dared to defy the will of higher beings. This was the critical stage, the energy gradient ran steeply from the lower dimensions to the higher, it was relatively easy for the higher dimension beings to gain access to the lower, much harder for the lower dimensions to ascend. Only opening a portal could ensure easy access between the dimensions. Yet that same energy gradient meant that once a portal between the levels was opened, it would be very hard to close. Size also was a factor and this was the largest portal that had ever been created. Just how hard would it be to close again? Abigor had an uneasy feeling that nobody had thought to ask that question.
The portal reached its full extent and the horns wailed again. Abigor lead his host forward, into the black circle of the portal and from it into the brilliant yellow light and the clear blue skies of Earth.
Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, Task Force Iron, Multi-National Force Iraq
“Have we got the Global Hawk Feed set up?” Major General Wilkens snapped the order out. The situation was breaking loose at last and he didn’t want to fall behind the loop.
“Sir, yes Sir. Direct feed to us, to Washington and to Moscow.” The latter part was new, one of the hurried preparations that had been made over the last two weeks. There had been a frantic effort to link up the world’s military headquarters so that the fight, if it started, when it started, would be properly coordinated. Task Force Iron also had a direct download from Russian satellites and other recon capabilities but it was the RQ-4B Global Hawks that were the key asset. Nobody knew where the attack would come, on paper it could be anywhere but Iraq had been a leading bet. The association of old legends and the fertile triangle of the Tigris-Euphrates was too powerful to ignore.
High above the desert, the Global Hawk turned lazily, its long wings biting at the thin air. Its stabilized cameras focused on a strange sight in the desert of Western Iraq, a black oval that had suddenly appeared in the stony wastes, one that spread even though it had no apparent substance. It wasn’t even a shadow, it was more of an absence of anything. The cameras zoomed in on the strange spreading stain that still grew beneath it.
“Well, that looks like it.” Brigadier General Boothe looked at the image with horrified fascination. If the guesses were right he was looking at something humanity had discussed, described and occasionally cursed but never actually seen, the mouth of Hell itself. The black shadow had stopped spreading and seemed to be holding its breath. “Is that thing flat on the ground or perpendicular to it?”
“Can’t tell.” Wilkens spoke quietly, the tension in the room seeming to dull voices. “I think it’s a different dimension entirely, we’re not seeing it, we’re seeing its shadow. I don’t think it has dimensions or proportions as we understand them.”
Something stirred in the shadow and a line of figures started to appear. “Zoom in on that.” The order came from the commander of the UAV detachment that was operating the Global Hawk. The image enlarged in a series of jerks as the operator clicked up through the zoom scales. The group of figures resolved, one huge figure surrounded by a group of others. Then, another smaller group appeared out of the shadow, followed by lines of others.
“What do you make of that?” Wilkens wanted other opinions, other eyes looking at this.
“First group, the command group. Now. We’ve got combat troops appearing.” The analyst looked quickly at the emerging lines. “They’re coming out in a parade formation. If we only had the assets within range.”
“The alerts gone off to the fly-boys and the squids. We’ll have jets here soon enough. And we’ve got the friends with their toy on scene.”
On the screen the figures had continued to pour out of the portal, forming up into a huge square on the desert. The UAV operator dialed his cameras in again. “OK, that formation seems to be complete. I make it 81 ranks, each of 81 baldricks. They’re subdivided into 9 groups of 9 ranks with a command section between each. I guess that gives us 6,666 down there.”
“Appropriate number. About a brigade-sized formation then? And that would make the smaller sub-divisions battalions.” There were nods around the room, it seemed fair enough, 9 ranks of 81 meant 729 demons in a battalion. This was translating raw numbers into a structure that could easily be understood – and to the people in this room, what could be understood could be destroyed. Once structure, form and numbers were evaluated and put into context, destruction was a matter of planning. “Each line is a company with nine nine-baldrick platoons?” More nods of agreement
“If that’s it, this is something we can cope with.” Boothe spoke as if he was trying to convince himself. He needn’t have bothered, the situation was changing even while he spoke.
“More coming out Sirs.” On the television screen, a second square was forming beside the first, the stream of black figures emerging from the Hellmouth coalescing into a second square to the right of the first. Even as it was completed, a third square started forming to the left of the first. Still the figures poured out, new squares forming until the line had seven in all.
“Assuming the squares are all identical, there’s almost 47,000 of them down there. The baldricks aren’t playing games are they?”
Wilkens shook his head. Even as he did so, the line of seven squares started to move forward and another wave of black figures poured out, forming into squares exactly as their predecessors had done. The command center was utterly silent as the imagery poured in from the cameras on the Global Hawk. The second line of squares was finished, moved forward and a third row started, then a fourth. By the time the figures ceased to pour out, there were eight rows in all, 56 of the black squares spread out on the Iraqi sand.
“Rows are divisions, the whole thing’s a Corps.” More nods of agreement, faced with the huge numbers assembling on the screens in front of them, naming units seemed trivial yet it was utterly important if the enemy was to be understood. “Span of command is very large. Seems to run in nines.”
“Probably personal command, we’re going to be looking at a slowly-reacting army here. It’s very low-geared. Big but ponderous. Suits us just fine.” More nods around the room. The United States Army was built to fight large, ponderous opponents. It was beginning to look like it had finally found one.
“What are those?” More figures were pouring out, larger ones. The UAV operator played with his camera controls, zooming in on the new arrivals. They were baldricks still but sitting on a beast, one that looked vaguely like a rhinoceros with a great horn on its nose, but with a scorpion’s tail arched high over its back and claws like a lobster.
“I’d guess those are the cavalry. We don’t know how fast those things can move, mark them down as priority targets.”
“More coming.” The figures pouring out of the Hellmouth were flying, winged creatures, like the harpies show down by the squids a couple of weeks earlier but smaller. They landed and formed a last square. Seconds then minutes crept by but no more baldricks joined the awesome parade in front of the Hellmouth. The Global Hawk wasn’t equipped to pick up sound but nobody watching was in any doubt that the desert was alive with the sounds of drumming and the hammering of feet.
Hellmouth, East of Ar Rutbah, Iraqi Desert
Unnoticed in the noise and confusion, a small winged structure danced in the dust and glare. It was an odd little thing by anybody’s standards, a lumpy fuselage with two longish wings, a tripod tail unit and a propeller was at the rear. Its name was an MQ-1B Predator.
The Predator didn’t have markings which was hardly surprising, it’s operators, far back at Task Force Iron’s command center weren’t from the U.S. armed forces, they were Central Intelligence Agency. For almost five years, the CIA had been operating a clandestine force of Predators, using them for covert assassinations of terrorist leaders and others considered undesirable. That role had abruptly ended with The Message, those who had taken the “submission to the will” bit seriously had died, the rest had thrown their lot in with the rest of humanity. Now, the U.S. Army and CIA had the strange but not unfamiliar experience of working with people who only a few days before had been their blood-enemies.
The change had meant the Predators had a new job, one which was of absolutely vital importance. It was essential to find out if human weapons, human technology could be sent into Hell and return. More importantly, were those weapons as destructive there as they were proving on Earth. If the answer was yes, then humanity had a means of striking back at its foe, if not, then they would forever be condemned to an ultimately futile defense. The Predators were the vanguard of this exploration, the information they gained within the next few minutes would mark the start of the investigation. It was, quite literally, reconnaissance by fire. It’s orders received, the MQ-1B obediently turned around and headed for the shadowy ellipse that marked the Hellmouth.
Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, Task Force Iron, Multi-National Force Iraq
Back in the command center, the CIA operative held his breath as the little drone approached the disk and became swallowed in it. Then, the whole section erupted into wild cheers for on the monitor screen, images had emerged. Pictures of a vast plain, bare rock under a swirling red-orange sky, dust clouds sweeping backwards and forwards over the desolate scene. The image brightened and sharpened as the computer-controlled adaptive optics compensated for the wildly unfamiliar light levels and spectra but the images were there.
The operator manipulated his controls, getting the vision head on the electro-optical pod to pivot around. The pictures swirled, grotesque and unfamiliar but still vaguely recognizable. The imagery was coming back, that had enormous consequences.
“Tell Washington, and everybody else, Phase One is complete. We got the bird in and we’re getting data out. There is something the other side of that gate and we can get at it.” The agent’s voice broke into a chuckle. “No huge letters of fire yet, now we’ll try and change all that.”
He played with the optical head again, looking for something important. He found it, at least it seemed important. Some sort of review stand at a far part of the field. The Predator was closing in on it, the trouble seemed to be that it was hard to judge ranges in the red-clouded murk. A quick flash with the laser rangefinder built into the Predator told him what he needed to know. The target was four thousand yards away, easily within range of the two Hellfire missiles hanging under the Predator’s wings. He locked their homing heads onto the stand and fired them both.
Martial Field of Dysprosium, Hell.
The parade was over, the Army of Abigor had departed into the lower dimension, and the guests who had watched it leave were making their way off the stand. It had been quite an unusual sight, never before had such a force been sent to a lower dimension to enforce the will of those above it. Defiance was unprecedented, such a display had never been required. Now, with the mighty force appearing before them, they would be regretting their failure to submit. The demons who had watched the army leave never saw the two missiles streaking through the red murk towards them, or, if they did, they never realized the significance of what they were seeing.
The explosions destroyed the stand totally, sending fragments of wood and stone flying through the air, ripping into the hides of all around them. Blast seared their skin, flaying flesh from bones, shattering limbs, tearing at bodies. What had just a demonic second before been a decorated review stand was now a pile of shattered wreckage, splattered with the green, yellow, black, red and white body fluids of those who had been standing on it. Those outside the blast area looked on appalled at the catastrophe that had suddenly enveloped the senior guests. The more astute of them started running towards the disaster, hoping to gain status and rewards by being the first to aid the stricken. Above the chaos, still unnoticed by those below, the Predator turned around and flew back towards the Hellmouth.
Headquarters, 1st Armored Division, Task Force Iron, Multi-National Force Iraq
“Phase Two complete! Two solid hits, it’s chaos down there. Wherever it is, whatever it is, our weapons work there. Look at that people, boy have we just kicked an anthill over.” The CIA Agent’s voice was triumphant, the camera on the Predator was showing a boiling mass of confusion where the target had been. He had no idea of who or what he had just killed, if indeed he had killed them, but there was no doubt of the destruction. The reviewing stand had gone, its position marked by a pyre of smoke and flame. There was just one thing to check and that was coming up soon. The Predator approached the Hellmouth and flew through it. It took a second for the optics to readjust but when they did they showed the blue sky and yellow sand of the Iraqi Desert.
“Phase Three complete. UAV recovered.”
“Confirmed, we have a radar paint.” The transponder in the Predator marked the position of the drone as it set off on its long flight back to base. It had done its job better that anybody could have hoped and certainly far better than its manufacturers could have ever contemplated.
The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D.C.
“My fellow Americans.” President Bush paused, then shook his head. “No, my fellow humans, for today we all stand shoulder to shoulder against a threat that promised to engulf us all. Truly, in these desperate days, if we do not hang together, we will all hang separately. Today, there are no Americans, no Russians, no Japanese or Chinese or Australians. We are all humans together and it is to each other that we must look for our survival. We cannot hope for aid or help from others, we stand alone with only each other and the tools of our joint ingenuity to protect us.
“We have learned, beyond any shadow of a doubt that Hell and Heaven both exist but that the doors to the latter are closed to us. If we lose the fight in which we are now engaged, the entire human race faces only a screaming eternity. Hell and Heaven both have, by both word and deed, declared their undying hatred of Mankind united, and as such we return it tenfold. As of this day, we find ourselves embroiled in a war, the war, Armageddon as it was never once dreamed in the worst nightmares of our forefathers, a war not between Heaven and Hell for our own salvation, but between Heaven and Hell and Humanity, a war we must win completely and utterly if we desire the slightest chance of sparing untold generations of future men and women a literal eternity of suffering. We claimed to be fighting in a 'War on Terror', now we find ourselves allied with our former enemies, they are our brothers in a wider struggle, on all of those who would condemn humanity to an eternity of suffering.
“Once, mere weeks ago, I would have prayed to God to have mercy on our souls. Now I, and all others on this Earth, know better; the being many of us once worshipped as a God has stated in no uncertain terms that there will be no mercy on our souls. To that 'God,' to Lucifer, to all the angels and devils massing to rend and destroy the hope of Humanity's future, I respond: You who would show us no mercy shall receive none in return, for the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve do not suffer betrayal!
“Today we struck our first blow at our oppressors. Acting on national intelligence information received from reliable informants, a Predator aircraft operated by the an intelligence organization struck at a major enemy leadership figure. It is believed the attack was successful and the target was killed. This is the first in a series of targeted assassinations aimed specifically at the enemy leadership. There will be more. They will not know where the blows will come from or when they will strike but there will be more.
“In the war we are about to fight, we will take casualties, probably more than at any time in our history. But in this war, our fight does not end with death. I charge those who fall to spread the word in hell. Humanity is coming. We will not stop, we will not cease, we will not fail. To all those in hell we say, hold fast, we are coming. No matter what it costs, no matter what the sacrifices we must make, no matter how long it takes, no matter who we trample on the way, we are coming for you. You will be freed, your souls will be liberated from torment. You will be saved, not by prayer or submission to the will of some self-proclaimed deity but by the force of our arms. No human will be left behind. I will say that again so there is no misunderstanding. Myths speak of rapture in which many will be ‘left behind’. This may be their way but it is not ours. We serve notice. No human will be left in the clutches of those who would hold us in bondage for all eternity. On that promise may our enemies rest in an uneasy and frightened sleep.
Thank you, and good night.”
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.