History, Politics And Current Affairs

Opinions expressed here are personal views of contributors and do not necessarily represent the companies, organizations or governments they work for. Nor do they necessarily represent those of the Board Administration.
It is currently Fri Nov 24, 2017 2:38 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 5 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 16 - 20
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:26 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

The six newcomers followed the woman along the banks of the Styx. She moved swiftly and surely, as though she'd been along this way a thousand times before. As they waded through the mud, she spoke back over her shoulder: “You're lucky they put you here in this part of the Styx. This ring is ten miles across; you could have been walking for several days to get to Dis.”

“What’s Dis?” Jade Kim asked.

“Satan’s capital. His palace is there, all the administration is run out of there as well. It surrounds the whole of hell like a wall.”

“And you’re taking us there?” Kim’s voice was loaded with suspicion.

“Of course,” said the woman. “That's where the resistance is headquartered.”

“Tell us about the resistance.”

The woman smiled. “It’s hard to know where to start. You see, the resistance has a long history; it's been around almost as long as I have.”

“And how old are you? And, who are you?” Kim’s growing suspicion and dislike for this woman made getting an answer very urgent.”

“I've been dead for ten thousand years.” The woman laughed at the expression on their faces. “Why are you so surprised? Once you're dead, you're effectively immortal; aging is slowed by orders of magnitude, and you're healthy and robust so the torment doesn't put you under. As for who I am, you may have heard of me. My name is Rahab. That’s right, that Rahab” The woman’s voice was bitter. “I betrayed my country to help the Israelites and their god and he tossed me down here anyway.”

“So, if there’s been a resistance for all these years, why hasn't hell been overthrown?”

“It can’t be. This is it, there’s nothing more. We can’t overthrow the order here. All we can do is try to disappear, save ourselves from torment. That's not as hard as it sounds, Hell is a big place, and it takes a long time to move around in it or communicate. I've just finished a two-month walk from Dis down to Cocytus, up to the first ring, and back. The fact that there are constant patrols is a real problem, and though they don't really go out of their way to look, if they see anything untoward, they light on it immediately. And one demon is more than a match for four or five people.”

“Then how did we manage to take down that baldrick?”

“To be blunt, you got lucky. He came down for a spot of torture and fun, and you surprised him before he could react. If he'd seen you guys free before you were on him, he'd have called for some help and then zapped you with lightning from a distance.”

Once again, the members of Tango-one-five exchanged glances. The picture they were getting was that the so-called resistance wasn’t resisting at all. At best they were an escape group, an underground railway that tried to keep themselves away from the pits that made up the rings of hell. It seemed as if the people here had accepted the line that this was the ultimate end of things, that any effort to change it was doomed to futility.

Kim looked around. They were on the edge of the river, if it could be called that. It was more like a rippling strip of clear water through the mucky water surrounding it. Ahead of them, through the vile, thick mist, they saw a tall, stone tower looming. Rahab turned and put a finger to her lips, then sank lower into the mist, crouching into the mud. She moved forward slowly.

Kim followed suit, but kept looking around. The tower moved closer and closer, and she looked up. At the top, suddenly, an flare burst into existence with a foomp. The light from the signal fire lit everything around them in a dull orange glow, making the mist look a bit like tomato soup. Abruptly, their guide ducked under the muck. Kim caught a glimpse of a towering silhouette looming through the mist before she followed suit – except, she didn't duck all the way. Instead, she sank down as far as she could go while keeping her face above the surface of the mud. Simultaneously, she shrank back toward a clump of stringy, greasy grass.

The baldrick passed within five feet of her. It was mounted on what looked like an oversized rhinoceros with a scorpion-tail arched overhead – A rhinolobster, she recognized it an instant later from that last mission in Iraq, which was wading through the swamp. Looking neither left nor right, the baldrick reined his mount forward when it sniffed and started at something, and kept moving until the mist had swallowed it. The baldrick itself had been huge, twice the height and probably four or five times the weight of the one they'd killed back there.

Rahab surfaced from the mud as the rest of the Tango flight members came up for air. “If you'd attacked him, you'd have had no chance,” she said. Though that was all, the words had clearly been aimed at Kim who had her own thoughts on the matter.

It was very easy to think of ten thousand reasons why something could not be done, it took a different mindset to think of the way it could be achieved. Kim had her own ideas there, she’d thought of two ways of taking the mounted patrol down already, although much depended on what could be found locally. She’d seen the black outcrops that spoke of coal and coal meant powdered carbon. This whole area was volcanic, and that meant sulfur. Now, if there was only some saltpeter around, they had the start of an IED. “Keep a look out for yellow deposits.” She whispered to her people.

“Ahead of you ell-tee. Already been looking. There’s some in the rocks. We’re two for three so far. And there’s some pretty crystals that might be good for fragments.”

They moved on for a while before Rahab broke silence and asked, “So, what are things like back topside?”

McInery piped up. “We were all pilots in the 160th SpecOps in Iraq when the Message came. Lost a tenth of the regiment, then didn't do much of anything until the hellmouth opened in western Iraq and we got sent out to take a look at the baldrick advance. Took down the command structure of a regiment, then got outrun by harpies and taken down.”

The woman was smiling bemusedly. “You lost me at 'Message',”

Kim exchanged glances with McInery. “You don't know about the Message?”

“No, not about this Message. It wouldn’t have been the first you know.”

“Basically, God said that heaven was closed, and told everyone to lay down and die. So those people who really believed laid down and died, and the rest of us had no idea what to do. Then the Navy shot down some bald…. some demons and showed us they could be killed. So we started to fight. Doing pretty good too.”

There was a bridge coming up out of the thinning mist now, next to the road they'd been wading beside for some time. Rahab turned and said, “Stay low and follow me single-file.” She crouched and moved beside the road to the base of the bridge, then slipped underneath. The members of Tango flight followed suit. There, bolted to the base of the bridge, was a rope that stretched across the river beneath the arch of the roadway. The woman took hold of the rope and started pulling herself hand-over-hand across the river. Kim looked at McInery, shrugged, and followed.

On the far side, Rahab crouched and hissed, “Okay, this is the most dangerous part. The walls that separate the fourth and fifth circles of hell are right up on the other side of this embankment, and they are constantly manned. The guards are vigilant and they will see you if you poke your head up, so you stay low and follow me as fast as you can.”

Kim nodded. SERE – still in the “evade” part. Rahab turned and, crouching, ran to a rock outcropping sticking up several dozen meters away. She looked around, then beckoned. Single-file, the escaped soldiers followed, making sure to stay crouched. They followed her from formation to formation, putting distance between them and the bridge as quickly as possible. At one large boulder, they stopped, and Rahab pointed back. Just at the edge of vision, the bridge stretched back into the mist covering the far shore of the Styx; across it snaked a long, black column of baldricks. It was following the road up the embankment to the plain and across that to the city, whose high walls were visible even here. When they moved on after a short rest break, the column was still marching with no end in sight.

“They must have found that body you crucified. See how they react?” Rahab’s voice had a mixture of conceit and spite in it. Kim looked at her steadily, if she couldn’t see the baldrick column was marching out, not in……..

At length, the woman led them up the incline and onto the plain, one that was littered with what looked to be bonfires, although from the distance it was hard to tell. She moved purposefully forward, and as they followed her, Kim got a chance to more closely examine the bonfires. They weren't bonfires; they were what looked like burning coffins, of all things. On some, the lids were half-off; she could hear groans and cries of pain drifting out of them.

Rahab stopped at one coffin, which was glowing dully. “What sort of metal is it?” McInery idly asked.

“Bronze. Everything here is bronze.” said Rahab as she bent down and casually lifted the lid off. The hissing sound as the metal seared her flesh was audible.

Kim gasped. “What the hell ... ?”

The woman shrugged. “It'll heal in no time.” She gestured. “In you go.”

Kim looked down. The coffin had no bottom; instead, it was a stairwell. The top two stairs were afire, but the rest looked cool enough. Hesitantly, Kim stepped in, and gingerly hopped down to the third stair before crouching and continuing down. There was certainly pain in her feet, but it wasn't unbearable, and the cool stone on them felt good.

The rest of her team followed, wincing and grunting as they crossed the fire. Then the woman jumped into the coffin, grabbed the lid, and swung it back on. It fell on with a dull clank, and what little light there was vanished, save that cast by the flickering flames above. There was a flare, and more light: the woman was holding a torch, one she'd obviously picked up from the stash Kim could see on the fourth step.

She descended and brushed by them, then took the lead. They followed her for what seemed like miles -before the tunnel opened into a room. As they stepped into the cave, Kim realized that her feet didn't hurt anymore. The room was well-lit by torches ensconced in the wall, and there were some chairs and a sleeping pad in the corner. She sat down, and gestured to some chairs. “Please, sit.”

For the first time, Kim began to relax, and felt the adrenaline slowly draining out of her. She recognized the signs, end-of-patrol-itis, something that had killed more soldiers than most other mistakes. Assuming that the danger was over because they were about to re-enter their base, the getting ambushed when their guard was down. Kim kicked herself hard, mentally, danger was never over down here, she could never let her guard down. Especially with this woman.

“Anyway,” continued Rahab, “you need to tell me about this 'Message' and everything that's happened since.”

And they did. They told her about the Message, and the peoples' death, the declaration of war on Hell and Heaven – “Mmm, Yahweh's in on this, too?” wondered Rahab out loud – and the opening of the Hellgate in the wastes of western Iraq. When they were done, the woman sat for a long time in silence. Then she said, “If you will excuse me, I will be gone for a couple of days. I will be back to take you to our leader.” Then Rahab stood and exited the room.

“What do you think ell-tee?”

Kim looked around at the room. “We’re like rats in a trap here and I don’t like it. And I don’t trust that woman, her main priority appears to be keeping out of the way of the guards and not getting caught.”

“I can understand that ell-tee.”

“So can I, but Uncle Sugar doesn’t pay us to sit around. She must guess that and knows we are set on stirring things up around here. That could easily mean things get pretty precarious for people who just want to keep their heads down. I’d say it’s a fifty-fifty bet she’s arranging to turn us in right now. If she isn’t actually part of the security system.”

There were nods. A fake “resistance movement” that drew in likely recruits so they could be quietly killed was a tactic as old as the hills. The Company had been running similar things Iraq before The Message had come through. And Satan was known as being the Prince of Lies.

“Yeah, ell-tee, and she’s pretty bitter about Yahweh sending her down here. That could easily translate into her working with the other guy.”

“So let’s get the hell out of here.” McInery spoke decisively.

Kim agreed, it was against the grain to stay in one place under these circumstances. They made their way back up to the surface and out. Then, they moved as fast as they could to put as much ground between them and the hiding hole as possible. A few hours later, well concealed from any observers on the walls towering high above them, they came to a stop.

“What next ell-tee?”

“First priority, find a way of attacking and killing one of those big baldricks on a rhinolobster. An IED should do it. They’re supposed to be so invulnerable, taking one down will be a real blow.”

“That bridge. Now if we could blow it under a baldrick column.”

Kim laughed at that one. “We’ll need something more than gunpowder to do that. What did you think of that column by the way?”

“They were marching out ell-tee. Being pulled out of here, for something else. The only thing I can think of that would warrant that kind of movement is fighting us.”

“Agreed. A sign our boys are doing well back there?” Then her face froze. There was a voice playing in her head.

Hello, is this Lieutenant Jade Kim? Hello, hello.

“What’s the matter ell-tee?”

“Got voices in my head. Sound like us, human. Hold one.”

This is Kim. Identify.

I’m kitten. I’m in the Pentagon. I’ve been asked to try and find you.

Authenticate two-eight-six” Kim snapped the numbers out.

There was a long pause and Kim was about to give up when the voice came back. “Sorry, we took some time to find the security number from the night you were shot down. Authentication is two-oh-five.

Jade Kim tried to stop herself cheering. “Guys, we’re through. Somehow, the brass have found a way to get word through to us. I think we’re back in the Army.”

Headquarters, Randi Institute of Pneumatology, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA

There was no restraint in the laboratory, the cheering could be heard outside the doors and all down the corridor. Randi stuck his head around the corner, beaming at the sight of his staff dancing up and down.

“I take it something worked?”

“kitten got through to those helicopter pilots. They’re on the line now.”

“How solid is the contact?”

“Very Sir.” kitten spoke respectfully. “It’s comfortable to hold and there’s no fade.”

“Ask her where she is and what her situation is.”

kitten’s eyes defocused while she “spoke” with Kim. “She says she’s in the fifth circle of hell, she and her unit have escaped from captivity. They’ve started to set up a resistance, they’ve already killed a baldrick. The resistance is called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Hell. She says they need supplies if we can get them to her.”

“Is there a resistance already? Escaped prisoners and so on?”

Another long pause. “Yes, but Kim says she doesn’t trust them. Their main priority is keeping their heads down and avoiding recapture. Her plan is to keep them at arms length until she and her unit have stirred things up enough so that they don’t have any choice about joining the insurgency. She also says there are signs of major troop movements out of hell itself, suggesting more forces are being readied for the invasion of earth. She’s asking how well the Army is doing up here.”

“That’s my girl.” General Schatten had entered the room quietly. “Tell her we’re kicking ass and taking names, we’ve won the first two battles big-time. Then, kitten, find out what Kim’s supply priorities are please. Tell Kim we can’t promise we’ll get stuff through to her but if its possible, we will.”

One again, kitten’s eyes defocused. “First priority is webbing so they can carry stuff. Then, she wants C-4 explosives, or better if we can send it, M-24 claymores, AT-4 anti-tank rockets and radios. Detonators or as many types as possible. She says an M82A1 .50 sniper’s rifle would be nice as well.”

Schatten finished writing the list on a pad. “Can we get back through to her any time?”

“I think so, Sir. It should be easier to reopen the link than it was to find her.”

“Very well, tell her we’ll be back in touch. We don’t want to keep this link open all the time, it’s a security risk.”

“Very good Sir.” kitten’s eyes blanked out again, then returned to life. “She’s gone Sir. I wished her luck on your behalf.”

“Thank you kitten.” Schatten’s voice was kindly. “I just hope we can send her a bit more than good luck.”

_________________
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.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:27 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Headquarters, Army of Abigor, Western Iraq.

It had been dusk when the flier had arrived. Abigor had been standing outside his tent, basking in the last rays of the setting sun when the flier had staggered in. A very badly wounded flier, its body dreadfully burned along one side, its damaged wing causing it to fly unevenly. As it approached, Abigor saw that it had lost an eye from the same burns that affected the rest of its body.

“Your Excellency, I bring word from General Merafawlazes.”

Abigor looked at the battered flier. Was this the best Merafawlazes could send to bring news of his victory? It was insult. Abigor paused for a second, a deliberate insult? Was this Merafawlazes’s attempt at deposing him? “What word?” His voice was curt and irritable.

“Sire, terrible news. The Army of the North has been defeated. It is in full retreat heading south. The enemy are pursuing it in their Iron Chariots. They move fast sire, faster than the swiftest Beast. As our infantry run, they are being crushed by the Chariots. It is a disaster, Merafawlazes says beware of the fire lances and the Iron Chariots for our forces are helpless against them.

“Defeated?” Abigor was stunned by the news. “How?”

“The humans have terrible magic sire. They cause the ground to erupt and swallow our infantry whole, their fire lances tear them apart. They can call up thunder at will and their breath leaves nothing but the dead where they breathed. In the sky, their fire lances seek us out no matter how much we twist and turn. One touch from them is death Sire. One passed close to me, did not even hit me and look what its fire did.”

Abigor listened in shocked disbelief. There was no way this story could be faked, no Duke would admit to so crushing a defeat. No demonic army had been defeated, not since That defeat, the one before time had properly begun. Abigor had been at that battle and known defeat then. He remembered its taste and suddenly, after countless eons, his mouth was filled with it again.

“Come to my tent, tell me all that you know.” He saw the flier hesitate. “You have nothing to fear.”

That’s what they all say the flier thought, before they kill the bringer of bad news

An hour later, Abigor was trying to absorb the flier’s description of the battle. He had his own battle plan market out on his map, in essentials it was simply a larger repeat of Merafawlazes’s attack. Cavalry first to break up the enemy line, then the infantry in a thick mass to swarm over the wreckage and finish the enemy off. He had his 28 infantry legions in a huge block, seven legions wide, four deep, the ranks massed tight and deep. By all that was traditional it should have been invincible. Merafawlazes had thought that, now Merafawlazes Army was dead or running.

“They hid behind the hill you say?” Abigor’s voice was thoughtful.

“Sire, they did. They were lined up behind the ridge where they could not be seen by our force. Only after our army had been almost destroyed by their magic and we fliers slaughtered by their Sky-Chariots did they venture over the crest and charge us. Even then they did not dare to fight in honorable hand-to-hand combat but let loose their fire-bolts at us from a distance. Only when our comrades lay wounded and helpless did they close on us and then they crushed the wounded under their chariots.” The wounded flier dropped back to his knees again, still not quite sure he could believe the fact he was alive and uneaten.

Abigor thought the information over. He had to change plans, his original was an open invitation to a massacre by the human mages. His mind mulled the information over. His original front was over a mile long with the ranks extending almost two miles backwards. If he lined his legions up in single row, they would form a front almost five miles long. His mind chewed away, the human magic slaughtered by area, why stop at lining up his legions side by side. There was no need for the legions to maintain their block, 81 ranks deep. Suppose each Legion formed three blocks 27 ranks deep? And those blocks were lines side by side? Why, that meant a front approaching 15 miles wide! Abigor stared at his map, with a front like that, he could extend beyond the range of the human mages and their magic, envelop their flanks and roll them up. It was brilliant. It was also, of course against every concept of demonic warfare. Battles were decided by massive blows aimed at the center of the enemy force, the two masses colliding and slugging it out. This idea of thinning his lines and enveloping the enemy was, wrong somehow. Yet the humans were wrong, they didn’t fight like warriors, they lacked the spirit to close in to hand-to-hand combat range. That hadn’t always been the case, there had been examples in the past when humans fought demons hand-to hand. They’d always lost of course.

He wrote the new orders down on parchment and then added another thought. The enemy mages had to be on that ridgeline. If they could be prevented from casting their spells, that would be a major part of the enemy’s defense gone. So he added another line, ordering all the infantry to keep firing their tridents as rapidly as they could recharge them. It didn’t matter if they hit anything, just to keep that ridge crest under continuous fire. Then, he turned his attention back to the flier still cowering in a corner.

“You, what is your name?”

“Tomovoninkranfat Sire.”

“I need you to take these messages to the legion commanders. It must be done tonight.” Abigor was about to issue the usual blood-curdling threats when he stopped himself. This one had flown in with the messages although terribly wounded. Hell ran on fear and terror but surely nothing could be worse than what this flier had already faced. “Tomovoninkranfat, you have already served me well and I thank you for everything you have already done. I see your wounds and know how much this must cost you but these messages must get through.”

To Abigor’s astonishment, Tomovoninkranfat drew himself up. “Your wish is my will Sire.” And he left clutching the parchments in his unburned hand.

Behind him, Abigor felt another wave of surprise. Could it be that it wasn’t necessary to terrorize everybody in sight in order to get things done? That praise and trust could sometimes work as well?

Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.

“They’re moving.”

The great screen in General Petraeus’s command center was showing a sudden surge of activity in the baldrick Army that lay along the Wadi al Gudrhat. Formations were beginning to move shifting sideways, the deployment changing. Far over their heads, the Global Hawk was faithfully recording everything they did but what it could not do was tell General Petraeus why they were doing it. That, he had to work out for himself.

“A night attack Sir?” An aide spoke with unease. It was hard to make a guess based on intentions with so little to go on.

“Could be. They’re moving sideways though, not forward. Extending their line. I’d guess this move started when word of what happened on their flanks started to trickle in.”

“Perhaps they’re trying to replace the flank cover we destroyed yesterday?” Captain David Tall was jumping in with both feet as usual.

“Could be.” Petraeus repeated the same words absent-mindedly. “Any other suggestions?”

This was his “school for Captains”, the time when his aides were invited to give their opinions on what the situation on the display actually meant and what should be done about it.

“I think they’re scared.” Captain Ellen Yarborough flushed slightly as the General looked straight at her.

“Why do you say that Ellen?”

“Because they don’t know what hit them yesterday. They’re still trying to piece it all together. Look what hit us over the last 24 hours. Cavalry, phalanxes of infantry, I mean real phalanxes General, only those harpies were anything even remotely modern. Now look what hit them. Tanks, Mick-vees, artillery, MLRS. Its completely outside their terms of reference. So they don’t know what hit them.

“What they do know, Sir, is what we did to them. I bet the commander over there has reports coming in and he’s trying to make sense of them. He’s noted we kill wholesale, not retail. So, he’s thinning his troops out, trying to reduce his casualties by giving us less to shoot at. He’s also extending his front and might hope to outflank us but that’s a secondary thing.”

“Anybody any comments on that?” Petraeus looked around.

“It means he’s pretty smart. They didn’t fight smart yesterday.” Tall looked around at the group gathered around the screen.

“Oh yes they did.” Another officer, Captain Keith Renshaw cut in. “They fought very smart in their own terms. Can you imagine trying to stop that attack with spears and bows? They’d have stomped straight through us. And they kept going even while we slaughtered them. Can you imagine a human army taking a battering like that and keeping up the advance? I can’t.”

“Important point that Keith.” Petraeus spoke approvingly. “They showed a lot of guts. They didn’t change plans though, that tells us something about how fast their command structure can handle changes. Ellen, you make a good point as well. The commander over there is responding to what happened, doing so pretty fast.” He paused and looked at the display again, it had updated to show the baldrick positions moving further sideways. “Whether he’s simply reducing the richness of the target environment or has thoughts about outflanking us doesn’t matter. What he’s doing gives him the option and we have to allow for it. Any suggestions. Ellen?”

“The critical point is here, at Hit. If Hit falls, and its right on our front line our extreme right flank, he can cross the Euphrates and come down between the river and the Buhayrat ath Thatthar. Cut us off from our supply lines. We have two brigades from the Fourth Infantry Division in reserve, I suggest we order one of them to move to cover that area, position them east of Aqabah. With the divisional M270s in support. That way they can either block the baldrick advance or, if they don’t cross the river, swing and hit their left flank.”

“Comments?” Petraeus looked around.

“Sounds good to me.” There was a mutter of agreement.

“That’s because it is good. Gives us plenty of options. One change, the MLRS launchers stay where they are. They have the range to support the 4th from their present positions and we might need that firepower. 25th Mech and 10th Mountain can provide most of what we need but I want to keep one battalion of M270s on a ready-to-shoot basis in case of unexpected developments. Thank you.”

Petraeus turned back to his display. The baldrick line was definitely extending and thinning. Yarborough had been right, they were learning fast. Not fast enough though.

DIMO(N) Conference Room, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“Doughnuts and Coffee ladies and gentlemen and, errr, other lady.”

There was a quick stir as people descended on the refreshments trying not to be seen as too keen to grab the iced donuts. Lugasharmanaska looked at the plates with a distaste and a certain element of despair. It had been a week since she had eaten and her body was screaming for raw meat. These balls of fried plants were of no use to her.

“You don’t like donuts Luga?”

“I eat meat. Fresh meat. Not vegetables.”

“Donuts aren’t vegetables.” One of the women present, a dedicated vegan didn’t like the way this conversation was going.

“Donuts are made of flour yes? Flour is from plants. Plants are vegetables so donuts are vegetables.”

“I must try that on my doctor.” One of the men spoke quietly but the vegan lady still glared at him.

Robert O’Shea was speaking to the Pentagon kitchens on the telephone. They had some standing ribs down there and he asked for the largest to be sent up. “Beef all right Luga?”

“Human is better but any meat will be good.” She noted the expression on the faces of the rest of the people in the room. “You do not eat your dead?”

“No.” It was a short, clipped phrase.

“How strange. So you just waste them.” Lugasharmanaska shrugged and then her eyes lit up as the raw meat arrived. She grabbed the joint and ripped at it with her teeth, tearing off large lumps and swallowing them. The vegan lady nearly fainted. There was a general agreement that they’d learned a first important thing about the baldricks. Their table manners were appalling.

“If we might get started.” O’Shea looked at Lugasharmanaska who was still grunting, snorting and tearing at her meat. He couldn’t help thinking it was a charming sight to see somebody enjoying their food so much. “First item, communications. We can communicate back up to Hell on a one-to-one basis but that’s all. Luga, how do we open a portal.”

“You can talk to people back home? Then you can open a portal. Just add more power. Get more of your mages to add their power to the message. First you can get messages through then with more power the message opens a gate. It’s easy. As long as you use a Nephilim to contact.”

“What’s a Nephilim?” The vegan lady wanted to keep Lugasharmanaska talking in case she decided she wanted some more meat and created another display like the previous one. The stripped bones were still on the table to remind her of what that sight had been like. Idly, Lugasharmanaska picked one of the ribs up, cracked it open with her teeth and sucked out some marrow.

“Nephilim are humans with demon ancestry. Long time ago, when we were here before, we mated with humans. We succubi still do. Sometimes there are offspring from such matings that are both human and demon. Now, the demon ancestry in a Nephilim is mostly very small but enough remains. We can contact them even from our dimension.” Lugasharmanaska thought carefully, how could her information be valuable without giving away too much? “We can make you see what we want you to see but we must be able to see you for that. But with Nephilim we can contact make messages without seeing.”

“Is that how you come to Earth.”

“Yes. We contact a Nephilim and use our mind-mask to establish a message link. Then our leaders add more power and form a gate we can step through.”

Lugasharmanaska looked around and saw the growing affection in the eyes of the people around her. And gratitude for her assistance. She was doing well, and her stomach was full at last. Only one person present didn’t like her and that was the woman who had complained about eating meat. Lugasharmanaska eyed her and wondered, purely academically and without any intention of actually trying, what she would taste like.

Observation Room, DIMO(N), The Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“What do you think of her Robert?” James Randi looked at O’Shea, his eyes twinkling slightly.

“Well, she’s not the sort of girl I’d take home to meet my mother.” O’Shea thought for a second. “On the other hand, she eats humans so I might take her to meet my ex-wife. But in her way, I thought she was quite pleasant.”

Randi smiled and shook his head. This was why the JREF always filmed their tests and trials, it was amazing what one could see when a situation was played back. “Watch this Robert.”

It was a film of Lugasharmanaska eating, her teeth ripping at the meat, blood spraying around her, running down her chin. She was looking around, half suspicious that somebody might take her food but it was obvious that her eyes were also assessing the chance of eating one of the other members of the meeting.

“Quite pleasant Robert?”

O’Shea looked appalled. “I don’t remember it like that. Oh, I noted she was a bit gross when she was eating but nothing like that.”

“That’s why we record all of the tests we do. See things that get missed first time around. We’ve noticed how that succubus seems to get on everybody’s good side very quickly. Nobody had much bad to say about her. There’s something we need to look at here.”

“We all had our foil caps on.” O’Shea sounded defensive.

“I know, anyway it seems like we need to investigate this a bit more. Robert, something your people can look at, I need to get more power pumped into our links to hell.”

_________________
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.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:29 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Headquarters, Army of Abigor, Western Iraq.

The Great Beast saw Abigor approaching and clicked its claws in greeting. As befitted Abigor’s status, his Great Beast towered over the lesser Beasts ridden by the cavalry brigade and its black skin swirled with iridescent colors that caught the rising sun and sparkled into a shimmering halo. Abigor returned the salutation of his Great Beast and swung up on to the animal’s back. Over his head, he could see the viciously curved tail straighten and then fall back to its natural position. The Great Beast was ready to move, to attack the humans that dared to defy its master.

Ahead of him, Abigor saw his legions start to roll forward, the thinned ranks looking pitifully slender by the standards of demon warfare. The legion was designed to fight as a solid mass, its 81 ranks adding mass and weight to the charge that would strike the enemy with the force of a battering ram. Abigor had knowingly sacrificed that weight, given up the power of his charge in favor of hitting the humans along a much broader front. Ahead of him, he could see the humans had done it again, they had formed up behind the ridgeline where they were shielded from the trident bolts of the demon infantry. They had to be up there though for this was the day of the great battle.

Overhead, Abigor could see the strange white clouds the human Sky Chariots left behind them as they searched out the remaining fliers. He could hear the sound of their battle-cry, a strange roaring scream punctuated by thunder-like explosions as their fire lances tracked their targets and blew them apart. There were more Sky Chariots here that Abigor had ever seen before, they filled the sky above the battlefield, dipping down to slash at the fliers who floundered helplessly below them. Casualties up there must be terrible, Abigor thought. Even as he watched, three fliers fled westwards back to the hell gate. A Sky Chariot was in hot pursuit, closing the range on them with terrible speed. Oddly, this one was silent and if Abigor hadn’t been watching, he wouldn’t have known it was passing. Only after it had passed did Abigor hear the thundering crash and roar of its battle-cry. The Sky Chariot swerved after the fliers and it gave forth a rasping moan that filled the sky with bright lights. One flier exploded, there was a brief pause, then another rasp and a second flier died. The Sky Chariot zoomed skywards, rolled over and slashed down at the third. It too died as the lights engulfed it.

Still, it was the ground forces that were important. Fliers were important for terrorizing a fleeing enemy but in a real battle, it was the cavalry and infantry that counted. Abigor urged his Great Beast forward, keeping close to the infantry as they surged forward. He could sense the uneasiness in the ranks, the infantry felt exposed without the thick mass of the ranks that usually surrounded them. And the Cavalry were staying back, normally they led the charge, the shock of their weight and speed breaking through the enemy lines. Now they were being held to wait on events. If the army started to fall apart, it would be their job to stem the breach and hold the line. Abigor suddenly stopped himself, he was thinking about what would happen if he lost? Something had changed in him the previous night when he had listened to Tomovoninkranfat’s account of how Merafawlazes’s Army had died. Defeat had ceased to be unthinkable, now it was all too real a possibility.

The sky to the east was changing, suddenly, the rising sun was shining through the streaks of the human fire lances suddenly emerging from far behind their lines. Their mages had to be at work already. The front like of the advancing infantry lowered their tripods to the horizontal and let fly with a withering barrage of lightning bolts. The ridge crest was at extreme range and many of the bolts had dissipated before they made it there but enough hit the line to disrupt the concentration of the human mages. Abigor was sure of that. Yet it did not seem to affect the Fire Lances as they arched over and raced down into his infantry. The rippling sea of explosions engulfed a whole section of his front line, devouring it, shredding those unfortunate enough to be caught in its hot breath. That was how Abigor found himself thinking of it, it was the Humans breathing death over his infantry. They were faltering, looking around, seeing the wire ahead of them and realizing what was to happen. Abigor drove his Great Beast into the middle of their ranks, urging them forward, firing his tripod – and hearing the wailing screams as yet more human magic was added to the chaos.

Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.

“Pumpkin-One reports receiving heavy inbound fire Sir. The baldricks are firing on the ridgeline as they come in. Fire is ineffective Sir.”

Petraeus nodded. The truth was, he wasn’t that interested at this point. His artillery was tearing huge gaps in the baldrick attack although the reduced density of targets meant the death toll was lower than it had been yesterday. Standing in front of his screen, he could see the baldricks surging forward, taking their losses from the deadly MLRS barrages and the minefields. They hadn’t reached the wire yet. Not that it mattered to him, the brigade commanders along the front knew what they had to do and Petraeus had left them to get on with it. They had enough on their plate without their commanding general peering over their shoulder and second-guessing them. Petraeus had enough to do as well, in addition to handling his corps artillery, he had to keep supplies of ammunition and fuel flowing towards the brigades. He had truck convoys scattered all the way between the front line and Baghdad, keeping them flowing forward was a job in itself. He had staff handling that as well, his part of the battle was to stand here in front of this screen and spot things going wrong.

“There’s a flight of C-17s coming in from CONUS. Carrying reloads. Make sure our fighters screen them from any harpies surviving out there. And have the fighters report when the harpies are cleared out of the way. The Apache crews will want to get their licks in.”

“Sir, Yes Sir.” That had to be one of the Marines Petraeus thought. Still it was better than the Rangers, that constant Oooh-Agh got on his nerves after a while. Getting the AH-64s into action was going to be critical for more reasons than one. The 25th Mechanized Infantry Division, known on the radio as “Pumpkin” was already tearing the baldricks apart, they had the firepower and mobility they needed. The baldricks in front of them were going to die, it was simply a question of how many of them would do so before the rest broke and ran. Not that there was anywhere for them to run to. In the west, the Shamshar Division and the First Armored were rapidly closing the gap that was the baldrick’s only escape route.

No, 25th Mech were going to be all right. The problem lay to their north, where the 10th Mountain Division, call sign Mango, held the line. They were a light infantry division, they didn’t have the armor that had dominated the battlefield so far. They did have four brigades rather than three and more artillery but their force structure was light. Petraeus had put them on his right for two reasons. One was that they covered a more inhabited and built-up sector of the front where the armor would be at a disadvantage. The other was a more ruthless one, Petraeus had to find out how human infantry would fight against the baldricks. All the reports so far said that the baldrick infantry were larger and stronger than humans and they took a lot of killing. Could human infantry stand up to them? It was a question that had to be answered sooner or later and sooner was better than later.

Hence the importance of getting the Apaches back over the battlefield. They were an important part of 10th Mountain’s firepower.

“Sir, Mango reports the baldricks are moving to attack them. Should we divert artillery support from Pumpkin?”

Petraeus thought for a second. “Negative. Keep battering the troops attacking Pumpkin. We can destroy that attack fastest, then we can thin out Pumpkin’s positions and shift forces to support Mango.” 10th Mountain had its artillery and that would have to do. The 25th Mech and 4th Infantry Division’s artillery was concentrating on the baldricks assaulting Petraeus’s left, over 100 Paladin self-propelled 155s and 60 MLRS launchers. The sheer volume of fire they were pouring into the advancing baldricks was enough to stop even an Army from hell. Or so Petraeus hoped.

“Gee Sir, will you look at that!”
The Marine’s voice had lost its dispassionate inflexion. In the middle of one surging mass of baldrick infantry, pinned up against the wire, was a single jet black figure that towered above the rest, mounted on a rhinolobster that dwarfed the others.

“I guess he must be important.” Petraeus raised his voice slightly and addressed the fire direction center. “Put an MLRS battery on to that location soonest.”

Front Line, Army of Abigor, Western Iraq.

Abigor saw his infantry surging against the river of silver threads that strung across the battlefield. Some of his demons had tried to grab the threads with their hands, only to scream in anguish as the razor edges bit through their flesh to the bones. Others had tried to force their way in through the coils, only to become entangled and slowly sliced apart. The momentum of the attack was broken and all the time the shrieking howls of the enemy magic drowned out any attempt at thought. The infantry had to get through the threads, there was no other choice.

He saw the answer over his shoulder, on their way through to the threads, they had crossed a field covered with bars that exploded when a demon stepped on them. Many of them had been killed and their mutilated corpses littered the ground. Others writhed in pain from the traumatic amputations the bars had caused. Yet, Abigor thought, even the dead and the half-dead could still serve him. “Get those bodies. Throw them on the threads and use them as a bridge.”

The noise was too great for his words to carry far but some heard and started to collect bodies and throw them on top of the coils of threads. Others saw what was happening, understood and copied them. Soon the wire was sagging under the weight and the first of the demon infantry was running across, clear of the wire and into the open ground beyond.

“Sire, there are problems on our left!” One of the lesser demons, a legion commander by the look of him, carried the message but could barely make himself heard.

The left, Abigor thought, ten minutes fast ride away. He had better get there and find out what was happening. “Take over here, keep driving them forward.” Then, he turned his Great Beast’s head and started the ride up to his left flank. This was a problem he hadn’t thought of, in the traditional formation he could see all of his forces, in this new style of attack, he could see only a small portion of the battle at any one time. He was spending all his time running from one crisis to the next, trying to solve each one before it became a major problem. Time he should have been spending in finding the enemy commander so Abigor could have the pleasure of killing him.

There was another shrieking howl and the terrifying ripple of explosions that were the trade-mark of the fire-lances. Abigor felt the blast and the sting as stray fragments at the end of their trajectory flicked at him. Behind him, the area where he had just been had vanished under a rolling cloud of dust and smoke. Abigor had already seen enough fire-lance breaths to know that nothing was left alive in the area he had been in just a few minutes before. Then it struck him, he might not have time to find the enemy commander, but the enemy commander had found him.

Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.

“Missed him.” The Marine sounded disappointed.

“Don’t sweat it son, it was only a chance. He’s heading north, guess on his way to Hit. Sitrep?”

“Mango-Four is in Hit sir, they’ve dug in. They’re all west of the river and there’s only one bridge out.”
Petraeus knew what that meant. If Mango-Four tried to evacuate the city, there would be a massacre as they piled up before the bridge.

“Sir, Mango Four requests permission to blow the bridge. They say it won’t do them any good and taking it intact might help the Baldricks.”

“Tell them to do it. We can throw an assault bridge over easy enough. The baldricks don’t seem to have heard about combat engineering.”

“Sir, with the bridge gone, Mango Four won’t be able to…..”

“I know, so did they when they suggested it. Order Cherry-One up on Hit. Tell them to form up to the east of Al-Ramadi.”

Outskirts of Hit, Western Iraq.

“We’d just got this place quieted down as well.” Corporal Tucker McElroy looked out at the advancing baldricks with certain level of disgust. A year earlier, Hit had been torn to pieces by gangs of terrorists and insurgents whose attacks and murders spared no one. Then, the Marines had moved into the city as part of Task Force 17 and cleaned the city up. It had come back to life and its economy had been improving everyday, so much so that a week before The Message had changed everything, the City had been handed over to Iraqi security forces. Now the baldricks were coming.

Not as many as there had been, that was for sure. At first their long ranks had been a terrifying sight but Mango-Four’s artillery had got to work as the baldricks had stalled in the minefields and on the razor wire. By the time the baldricks had swarmed through the artillery over the wire, their neat ranks and serried formation had gone. In its place was a stream of baldricks in groups of varying size making their way towards the outskirts of the city. McElroy heard the 120mm mortars coughing as they lobbed their first rounds at the larger of the groups, the brigade 155s were still pounding the baldricks hung up on the wire. By now, the leading groups of demons had reached the great divided highway that swung around the outskirts of Hit. It was time to do some real soldiering.

A few yards away Charles Foss was scanning the nearest group of baldricks through the powerful scope on his M82A3 sniper’s rifle, well, it wasn’t actually a sniper’s rifle, officially it was an anti-material rifle. There was even an urban legend that it was illegal to use it against humans but that wasn’t true. Anyway, the targets this time weren’t human. Foss checked his ammunition, the tips of the .50 caliber bullets were green on white. That meant they were Raufoss SLAP rounds, multi-role armor-piercing explosive incendiaries. They’d been pouring in to Iraq for days now, the joke was that they had still been warm from the production line in Norway when they’d been stuffed into a transport and flown here. The infantry formations had been given priority for their issue, they needed the firepower.

Magazine in place, Foss squinted through the scope again. The baldricks cleared ground fast, at least twice as quickly as a human. One figure in the nearest group seemed to be the driving force, urging the others forward. Foss put the cross hairs on his forehead, just between the horns and gently squeezed the trigger, just the way he’d taught his six-year old son to shoot. Never pull the trigger, squeeze it. The heavy Barrett rifle kicked and the baldrick went down.

“Damn.” Foss swore to himself. The baldrick was down, his head mangled, but he was still moving. What did it take to kill these monsters?. A second shot was the answer, it fixed the leader for once and for all. Foss swung his scope to the second in the group and fired again. This one went down hard and finally with the first shot. The rest of the baldricks went to ground, confused by the inexplicable outbreak of sudden death that had struck them. That was a fatal mistake. The mortar teams saw the group stop moving and a pattern of 82mm mortar bombs blanketed their position. By that time, Foss and his fellow snipers were seeking fresh targets.

Inside the fortified house, McElroy looked over the sandbags that blocked the doors and windows to see the baldricks rapidly closing in on the forward defense line. They were over the inner ring road, less than 200 yards away, running into an area of ploughed sand where a new city block had been planned. Those plans had been abandoned and would probably never be revived now that half the city’s population had laid down and died as demanded by The Message and the rest were refugees being sheltered further east. But the blocks either side of the cleared area had been built and then they’d been fortified.

Human infantry would have seen the deadly danger of that open ground and avoided it. To the baldricks, it was an alley into the city and forty or more piled into it. They’d been the first group through the wire and minefields, the first to cross the open ground and get close to the city, the city that was defenseless. To their astonishment, they could see the buildings in front of them, the humans hadn’t built walls or moats to keep attackers out. Just the threads, the exploding bars and their horrible magic fire-lances.

McElroy gave a last check, the baldricks were in a three-cornered ambush with infantry squads on both flanks and another in front of them. Worse, from the enemy’s point of view, McElroy had dismounted the Browning .50 caliber from their Humvee and had it on its tripod, firing through a narrow slit, its green-and-white tipped bullets waiting to bite. Fine, the baldricks were in a trap, time to spring it.

“Open fire. Let them have it!”

_________________
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.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:30 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Defense Perimeter Charlie, Hit, Western Iraq.

“Just how many of these bastards are there?” McElroy was distinctly aggrieved. Despite the fight they were putting up, he and the rest of his squad were being pushed steadily back by the sheer weight of numbers that were being thrown against them. They’d bled the attackers badly on Perimeter Alfa, the baldricks seemed to have no idea of fire and maneuver, they’d just walked straight into the machine gun fire. Only the waves behind the first group had simply climbed over their dead and kept on coming.

“I heard over a million.” Private Gerry Links repeated the rumor with grim relish. “And it looks like most of them are here.”

“If you mean right in front of us, right now, I’d say you’re just about right. There’s more of them than we’ve got bullets.” And that, McElroy thought, was the pure, unvarnished truth. Oh, the .50s were cutting the baldricks down all right and the snipers were having a field day but there weren’t enough of them and they were being swamped by the numbers coming through. More than just the numbers, the bastards were so damned difficult to kill. The truth was that the M16s just weren’t cutting it. McElroy had put a whole 30-round magazine into one baldrick and the damned thing had still torn Jim ‘Cookie’ Fields apart before it had gone down. Explosives were doing most of the work, grenades from the M19 automatic launchers and the M203s. That and the Claymores, human or baldrick, the spray of fragments from a Claymore shredded them nicely.

“Here they come.” There was a crescendo of firing from the block to their left, a mad minute as Baldwin’s squad poured fire into the baldrick assault teams before leaving via the back of their building. That would leave McElroy with an exposed flank and he’d have to fall back as well soon. To his front, he saw black figures suddenly detach from the building in front and run out across the street. He took a careful bead on the leader and fired as fast as he could squeeze the trigger, watching shot after shot slam into the baldrick’s chest. It was staggering but still coming forward, McElroy felt he would have better luck if he spat at it. Off to his left, the squad machine gun snarled out a burst and the baldrick McElroy had wounded went down. There was a crash that shook dust from the walls and wrecked ceiling of the block, the last of the unit’s claymores had gone off.

The front of the building caved in, the baldricks were a lot stronger than humans and the flimsy construction of Iraqi walls wasn’t even close to being strong enough to hold them out. McElroy had lost some of his people first when the walls the baldricks pushed down had trapped the men behind them but they’d learned that lesson. Now they were in hastily-prepared positions at the rear of the room, firing up and out at the baldricks as they loomed over the wrecked structure. Baldricks weren’t actually that much taller than humans, McElroy guessed that they averaged between seven and eight feet tall but they seemed to be much bigger – especially when they were coming straight at you all teeth and claws.

He had a fresh magazine in his rifle, that was the good news. The bad news was that it was his last one, he’d run through his basic ammunition load in just a few minutes. He saw the green spurts as the bullets tore into the chest of the leading baldrick but, as McElroy had expected, the damned thing just kept coming. “Everybody out!”

He heard the rest of his unit scramble out the hole they’d knocked in the back wall of their block. McElroy paused just for a second, tossing a hand grenade at one of the baldricks. The black monster caught it and looked curiously at the small metal egg. The sheer incongruity of the sight caused McElroy to delay for a second and that killed him. The baldrick he’d just shot slashed at him with his claws, ripping through his body armor and tearing his chest open. McElroy screamed as the baldricks fell on him, tearing him apart and stuffing meat from his body into their mouths. Then the grenade went off and he, along with the baldrick who had been holding it, died.

Gerry Links heard the screams and explosion and knew that he was now in charge of what was left of the squad. The building they had been defending backed on to another with a narrow alley down the side. That lead into the divided highway that ran through the center of Hit and, hopefully too the open ground the other side. He turned and hosed out fire from his M16 then he and his men dropped flat as an automatic grenade launcher thumped out a burst from the buildings opposite.

“Down the alley fast, the grenadier will keep them back.” They were being pushed back, certainly, but they were bleeding the baldricks at every step. The time to fight it out, room to room would come later. And that, Links thought, would be a bloody day. Links fired another quick burst and saw a baldrick flinch. The M16s might not be killing them but they could hurt. Off to his left, he heard screams, human screams, was it the grenadier who’d held on to give his squad cover? Links didn’t know and didn’t have time to think about it. He and his men emerged from the semi-shadow of the alley and saw the most welcome sight of their lives. A Bradley was sitting on the road, its turret trained on the alley they had just come from. They could guess what was coming and scattered to either side. There was a rasping burst from the chain gun and this time the screams were baldrick. M16s may be ineffective but 25mm APHE was not.

“In the back fast.” The Bradley commander snapped the order out. Links and his men piled into the back and the ramp closed behind them. They were safe at last, behind armor.

“Where we going?”

“Defense Perimeter Delta. The other side of the clearing. We’re holding there. No more falling back.”

“Just how the hell are we supposed to do that? These 16’s ain’t worth **** against a baldrick.”

“You’ll get sacks of grenades and AT-4s issued when we get back to your position. And M72s. Once we’re in Delta, we’ll do it Stalingrad style. Room to room.

Headquarters, Randi Institute of Pneumatology, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA
“Do you believe her?”

“If I’m in the same room as her, probably.”

Randi chuckled. There had been some discrete experiments going on. Put a subject in the same room as Lugasharmanaska, measure their initial reaction to the succubus and then watch as that changed. Their prejudice started to soften within five minutes and by 30 minutes at most, they were friendly. “What do you think? Mind control?”

“Can’t be. We know roughly why their mind control works, they have the ability to entangle pathways in our brains using a bio-generated electrical field as a carrier wave. Your work with Julie and kitten shows we can do the same only we can’t generate the bio-electric field as a carrier. We also know that electrically conductive headgear blocks out the signal. Humiliating that isn’t it. For years people who were being persecuted by demons tried to warn us and tell us how to block the signals and we laughed at them. Ridiculed them, then locked them up and doped them to the eyeballs. The tinfoil beanie became a symbol of cranks and nut-cases – and all along they were right. Anyway, we’ve all been scrupulous about wearing our tinfoil beanies yet Lugasharmanaska gets the same reactions every time. Must be something else. We’ll keep trying until we get there.”

“Nicely switched away from the subject Robert. Now, do you believe her?”

Robert O’Shea thought for a second. “No. That stuff about breeding with humans can’t be true. We’re different species and different species can’t breed together, that’s a basic definition. The question is why is she lying? And if she is, why don’t we just hand her over to Doctor Surlethe and let him get some real information from her.”

“She might not be lying Robert. Just because she isn’t telling us the truth doesn’t mean that she’s lying. She may honestly believe that what she is telling us is true. It may be true, its just that we don’t understand what she is saying.” Randi paused. “I’ve had that with people who honestly believed they had psychic abilities. They were so convinced they were telling the truth that they just couldn’t believe there were other explanations. Parents were the worst. They got the idea their child was ‘special’ in some way, and which parents don’t believe that, and couldn’t accept that there were rational reasons why the kids were getting the results they were. We had one little girl whose parents honestly believed she had X-ray vision, even when we filmed her moving her head as she read a book ‘blindfolded’. Once we had sealed off her normal vision, her ‘ability’ stopped dead. And don’t get me started on dowsers.

“Look, I’m a conjuror, not a scientist but I’ll say this. Luga’s given us something to work with. It may be true, it may not be, but its something we can test. We have a theory from her, we can test that theory against reality and come up with the disconnects. Then we can learn by explaining those disconnects. And the first disconnect is how everybody feels warm and fuzzy towards Lugasharmanaska when she is, quite literally, a demon from hell.”

Randi stopped and knocked on a door. There was a mumbled ‘Come-in’ from inside.

“Norman, how are you settling in? And how do your cats like the Pentagon?”

“They’re getting overfed already. And I didn’t know the Secretary of State likes cats.”

“That’s a well-kept Washington secret. Did all your stuff get here safely?”

“Sure did, I’m getting it set up now. Any chance of meeting Lugasharmanaska?”

“Not at the moment, you can watch her but we’re trying to keep a limit on who actually sees her. She seems to have an uncanny effect on people around her.”

“I don’t see why; I’ve seen her pictures. She looks like something out of a nightmare. But then given the habits of the Succubi, I suppose she should look gross.”

“What do you mean Norman?”

“Succubi are supposed to mate with humans to collect male sperm. Then mate with their male equivalents, the Incubi and transfer that sperm to them. Incubi then mate with human females and impregnate them with that sperm. I guess that’s about as close to a dictionary definition of yukkiness as we’re ever going to get.”

Randi turned to O’Shea who was standing in the door with his mouth hanging open. “Well, it is a different dimension from ours, Robert. But that might explain how the Nephilim Lugasharmanaska was talking about could arise. They’re not hybrid human-demons, they’re corrupted humans somehow. Score one for the Succubus.”

“I’d rather not. The thought of waking up next to that thing is just about the most horrible thought I can imagine.” O’Shea paused for a second. “Except waking up next to my ex-wife I guess. Thank’s Norman, those were mental pictures I could have done without. My next week’s sleep is likely to be permanently ruined.”

“I aim to please. Doctor Randi…”

“It’s James, Norman. And I’ve never been any sort of Doctor. You want to be formal, you could call me The Amazing Randi if you like, but James will do just fine.” Randi gave Baines a gentle grandfatherly smile.

“James, where are we going from here?”

“Lugasharmanaska gave us some clues on how to open a portal to hell. I’m going to get my people together and we’re going to try it. If it works, score two for the Succubus, if it doesn’t we’ll learn from finding out why. By the way, spread the word, Doctor Surlethe is on his way to Baghdad. The Army is collecting corpses of baldricks for him but the Air Force won’t fly them over here. Dead baldricks decompose pretty fast and the smell is dreadful. Even through a body bag so the Air Force boys won’t have their nice clean transports fouled up by them. So, if dead baldricks won’t come to Surlethe, Surlethe will have to go to the dead baldricks.”

Randi left and went down to the corridor. Outside the conference room his team was using as a laboratory, four armed Marines were on guard. That was new but when Randi went inside, he could see why. The room was stacked with packages wrapped in green plastic. Small packages, rectangular in shape, about two pounds each Randi guessed. He had a sudden premonition that had nothing whatsoever to do with pseudo-science that smoking in this room would be a very bad idea. There was other equipment around, boxes, odd shapes and two vicious looking rifles.

“Sir, General Schatten will be with us immediately Sir.” Randi nodded. In the background, he could hear music playing, Sheryl Crowe’s voice sounding incongruous amongst the electronics, weapons and piles of high explosive.

These, in the days when Heaven is failing.
The days when earths foundations fled
They follow their military calling
And now they fight to save our dead

And now they fight to save our dead.

Their shoulders hold the sky suspended
They stand and earth’s foundations hold
Whom God abandoned these defended
And they saved the sum of things today.

And they saved the sum of things today.


“I hope you don’t mind Sir.” kitten was stretched out on a couch, her boyfriend sitting beside her. “Some music helps me relax.

“No problem kitten. You know what’s going to happen here?” kitten shook her head.

“This room is shielded against electromagnetic radiation so anything we pick up is you linking to hell.” The scientist spoke carefully. When he’d got his PhD (a highly classified one as it happened, in electromagnetic propagation which was a euphemism for some of the more spectacular aspects of electronic warfare), he’d never envisaged working on anything like this. “We’re running those signals through a massive amplifier and blasting them out. According to our information, we push enough power into the transmission and the visions you can experience will be converted to a real portal that we can step though into hell itself. And step out of to get back here.”

He was interrupted by the military members of the group snapping to attention. General Schatten had entered with an Army Major in tow. He returned the salutes and looked around at the room with satisfaction. “I see the Czechs came through with the Semtex then. This is Major Warhol, he’ll be training the A-teams who’ll be organizing the insurgency in Hell. Major, this is the team trying to get through for your people.”

“Thank you general.” The expression on Warhol’s face was one of stunned disbelief. “If I may summarize my mission, I and my people are going to use an inter-dimensional rift created by a masochistic paranoid schizophrenic transsexual acting on information received from a turncoat succubus to invade Hell, start an insurgency with the aim of destabilizing the whole set-up there, subverting the rule of Satan and eventually organizing an internal coup to overthrow him.”

“That’s it in a nutshell Major.” Schatten’s voice was amused by the horrified expression on the Major’s countenance.

“When I selected Special Forces at the ‘Point, they told me there would be days like this.”

“What did they recommend Major?”

“Cyanide Sir.’ A laugh ran around the room.

“People, we’re ready to get started.” The scientist was trying desperately to get back into control. “Once the portal is open, we don’t know how long we can keep it open so we have to move fast. General?”

“Yeah, when it opens, everybody start throwing stuff through as fast as you can. Just throw it through, leave the people the other side to catch and store it. One question Bob, why can’t we keep the portal open? The baldricks don’t seem to have any trouble.”

“Imagine it like this General, a very fast flowing stream with a pair of old saloon doors, the kind that swing both ways in it. The baldricks upstream, us downstream. They can push the doors open easily enough but to close them they have to pull the doors against the flow. To open them we have to push against the flow but that same flow will be constantly trying to push them shut again. kitten, I think there’s going to an incredible strain on you once the portal opens, even with electronic boost, you’re fighting forces we have no way of understanding. Don’t worry about how long you can hold on for, just do the best you can. If you can give any warning when you’re going to lose it, please try but if you can’t, don’t worry. Remember, you’re a unique resource at this time, you’re worth more than pretty much anything else we have.” kitten nodded. “Right people, let’s get going.”

_________________
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.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:32 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

The six members of Recon Team Tango-one-five crouched behind a large rock outcropping beside high walls that separated the Sixth Ring from the Fifth. On the other side of the rocks was the gate, no less than fifty feet high, and probably much higher. It was open, and a steady stream of Baldricks was pouring out of the Sixth Ring, and setting off across the Fifth to where a distant set of gates offered access to the Fourth Ring. . Kim looked over to McInery and hissed, “What’s your count, Mac?”

“I’m at five thousand two hundred twenty, ell-tee. Twenty-nine. Thirty-eight. …”

“Aye. Forty-seven now. How many command units?”

Gerald “Bubbles” Tarrant chimed in. “That’s a little more than seven battalion-sized units, and we’ve seen eight big guys on huge-ass rhinolobsters. I think they’re battalion commanders, ell-tee”

Kim nodded. That made sense. And they were still pouring out from the city in ranks of nine abreast, with no end in sight. It was like being caught at a crossing by a two hundred car train … her gaze softened as she started to think about the wide skies and waving grain of her Midwestern ho—

She slapped herself softly. No thoughts of home now; she was in hell, and she had a job to do. Fifty-seven sixty, fifty-seven sixty-nine – “Mac? How many?”

“Five thousand seven hundred seventy eight and counting, ell tee.”

“Bubbles?”

“Here comes the ninth big rhinolobster; this’ll be nine battalions of 81 nine-baldrick platoons.”

They kept counting for another couple of minutes, and then there were no more baldricks. As the tramping feet died off into the mists of the Styx, Kim looked over at McInery. “You have 6,666 baldricks, including the command groups?”

“Aye, ell-tee. Right in line with what Bubbles has got.”

“Damn. That’s a whole brigade.”

There was silence for a minute, then Bubbles asked, “So, ell-tee, what are we doing now?”

“Now, we move away from the city, stay in the region, and find a relatively safe place to get some rest and wait for more contact.”

“Aye, sir.” They darted one-by-one from boulder to boulder, heading away from the city across the coffin-dotted plain. Around them, the groans and cries of the damned rose into a haunting chorus as the unquenchable flames – What powers them? wondered Kim idly for a moment before pulling herself back to the present – balanced by the supernatural healing powers of their new bodies.

Nearly an hour later, they were again at the shore of the Styx. The soft mud oozing gently through their toes belied the roar of the waterfall ahead, and the thick pea-soup fog was getting heavier as it mingled with the mist thrown up by the falling water. There was a horrible stench in the air, and the mist tasted of sulfur.

Kim led Tango-one-five toward the cliff. The mud thinned at last and gave way to rock; the land rose into a jagged, twisted badland around the river basin as the river gained speed heading toward the gorge. They clambered over the slick rocks and around monolithic boulders, until Kim stopped.

They were standing on a low peak with a commanding view of the surrounding terrain, at least as far as the mist let them see. Ahead of them, the broken terrain dived down into dimness; to the right, the Styx plunged down the gorge; to the left, the cliff edge stretched off into the mist, with a subtle curve that just evaded the eye; and behind them, the badlands stretched for what must have been several miles. They were surrounded by a ring of low, jagged boulders.

Kim nodded. “Here is where we make the base of operations. We’re staying here until command contacts – ” Her eyes defocused, and she relaxed visibly.

McInery was next to her, and grabbed her muddy shoulder. “Ell-tee? Ell-tee??”

She tensed up again with a start. “That was the brass in Washington. They’re going to try to get us some equipment.”

Lieutenant Kim? It was kitten again.

Kim tried her best not to fade out and lose the contact. Yes? “Mac, I’m still talking to them. Hold on a second.”

General Schatten is wondering if where you are is a safe place right now?

Yes, we’re safe enough.

Okay, good. We’re going to try an experiment here. If it works, I’ll see you in a moment. Or something will be happening.” Kim felt a giggle in kitten’s voice. Nobody is quite sure what.

Randi Institute of Pneumatology, the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“I’m through Sirs.” kitten spoke with an unaccustomed level of authority in her voice. “Lieutenant Kim says they are in a safe place right now.”

The attending scientist nodded. “Are you ready?”

Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes tightly, kitten nodded.

“We have kitten’s signal recorded and digitalized?” The question was a rhetorical one only. Nevertheless, one of the electronic techs checked the files in the signals analysis computer.

“Confirmed, we have it. Like nothing we’ve ever seen before but we do have it.”

From his pocket, the scientist pulled what looked like a TV remote and hit a couple of buttons. Across the room, the digitalized version of kitten’s bio-electrical signal was being fed into an amplifying system that had been modified from a deception jammer. The result as the technologists started to increase the output power was immediate. kitten began to shake visibly, rattling the chair she was lounged on. The tendons in her neck were standing out in strain. Her boyfriend held her tightly, and was about to say something when everyone in the room jumped. A black ellipse was staring to form in the room. It was hard to say where it was, it seemed to be at once parallel with the floor and perpendicular to it. It was also hard to say what it was, it seemed black and almost infinitely absorptive yet it also glared and irritated the eyes. A shining shadow didn’t make sense yet that was what they had created.

“What is that?”

“Must be a projection of something our senses can’t cope with so they’re doing the best they can.”

“Hurry up can’t you?” kitten’s boyfriend almost snarled out the words. “Can’t you see how much you’re hurting her?”

Still not quite believing his eyes, Randi picked up the paper airplane he’d brought and threw it; it traveled through the portal and vanished. A split second later it came back out, stained and smelling of sulfur.

General Schatten didn’t hesitate. He grabbed a Barrett M107 rifle from the pile of military shiny toys, a bag of electronic equipment, then tossed a “Warhol, grab some more and follow me” over his shoulder before stepping into the shadowy circle and vanishing.

On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

Kim suddenly felt awake again, but the daydream wasn’t gone. In fact, it seemed to be superimposed on her vision. She passed a dirty hand over her eyes and squinted, trying to get it to go away; her mind was playing tricks on her, she got the sense that something was forcing its way through to her. Then, a black ellipse started to form, one that defied easy description. “Hold on still, guys. I think I’m still hallucinating.”

“You too?” asked Bubbles, who was blinking rapidly.

Kim spun around and looked at her surroundings. All normal, and she was feeling fine. Then she turned back again, and there was the tunnel. “You guys see it too?”

“Yes,” said the others at once. As they did so, a paper dart flew through the ellipse and hit Kim on the forehead before fluttering to the ground. Perplexed, she stooped and picked it up: a paper airplane? Then the anvil dropped and she threw it back through the ellipse. After a few seconds, a man stepped through, an M107 Barrett over one shoulder, a large bag in one hand. Kim and her companions snapped to attention.

“Lieutenant, you’re out of uniform.” General Schatten looked around, a foul, stinking swamp covered with a yellowish mist that stunk of sulfur and fouler things. He was standing on a rocky outcrop amid an atmosphere of desolation and misery that told him, more clearly than anything else could, that he was truly in hell.

“Sorry Sir, that joke was old the first time I heard it. Anyway, this is the uniform of the day around here. Skin and mud.”

“You need uniforms? We’ve got a lot to get through to you and we’re not sure how long we can hold the portal open for at any one time.” Another figure emerged. “This is Major Warhol, Special Forces. He’ll be liaising with you and providing technical and operational assistance.”

“Welcome to Hell Sirs. First thing, intelligence, we’ve counted five brigade–sized units moving out of the lower reaches of hell, heading upwards. There’s a lot more baldricks coming your way Sir. How’s thing going out there?”

“Dave Petraeus is doing a number on the invasion force. He’s literally shredding them with artillery and armor. The baldricks are losing in six-digit numbers.” Schatten paused for a brief second. “Their command structure is shot to hell, you and your team mates did a damned fine job.”

Randi Institute of Pneumatology, the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

Major Warhol was already on the other side of the portal, and the military personnel were forming a line and starting to hand off crates of ammunition and explosives, piling it through the portal as fast as discipline and urgency could make possible.

“All hands to the pumps. Get this stuff through as quickly. Maximum urgency.” Randi looked at where kitten was shivering on her couch, obviously in great distress. “Everybody, this isn’t just a military business. Throw stuff through if you can’t hand it.” He paused for a second. “Is it safe to throw Semtex?”

“Sure is. Thank’s for the help.” The stream of equipment being passed through picked up speed.

On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

“All of you, stand to, and help us unload these supplies,” Schatten snapped, then turned and passed his rifle to Kim. “It’s an M107, hot from the production line. We got you Semtex instead of C-4, its 30 percent more powerful. She, in turn, handed the rifle to McInery, who leaned it against a boulder. The stack of equipment grew until they had received six webbings to carry things in, two slightly modified 0.50 calibre assault rifles, 30 crates of ammunition, 180 kilograms of Semtex with all the requisite electronic fusing, two dozen M24 claymore mines, the same number of AT-4 anti-tank rockets, six pairs of night-vision goggles, and twelve outfits of dark combat fatigues.

Behind them, the portal started to shimmer, Schatten guessed that kitten was finally losing her grip. “Anything else you need Lieutenant?”

“Yes Sir. We need to change our allocations so our dependents get all of our salary. We don’t need money here.”

“But you’re dead.”

“With respect Sir, the contract with the Army says nothing about ‘til death us do part’ and obviously it hasn’t. Sir, this is hell, we are not short of lawyers down here.” Kim grinned broadly, perfectly well aware of the size of the demolition charge she’d just thrown into the Army bureaucracy.

Schatten returned her grin. “Lieutenant, you’ve enabled me to fulfill a life’s ambition. When I hand your – perfectly reasonable – instructions over to the proper authority, I can finally make those REMFs at Pay Corps suffer as much as the troops on the front line. Good luck Lieutenant and kick some ass down here.” Then he and Warhol stepped back through the portal and were gone.

Kim surveyed the equipment and smiled. “Okay, guys. We don’t have to eat. We don’t have to sleep. We heal ten times faster than ordinary humans. We’re the United States military.” Her smile widened into a full-toothed grin. “Let’s go blow up some baldricks.”

Randi Institute of Pneumatology, the Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“I’m losing it!” kitten’s wail cut across the room. The elliptical portal started to shiver as General Schatten and Major Warhol stepped out. A second or so later, it collapsed completely. “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be my dear.” Schatten’s voice was comforting and quiet. “Look, we got all the stuff they needed through to them, they passed some intelligence that was very important back to us and, above all, we’ve made solid contact. You did better than we had any right to expect, so you go and have a rest. You deserve a medal for what you did today.”

“Sir, you should have let me go through first.” Warhol’s comment came as kitten and her boyfriend left the room.

“Major, sometimes a commander has to lead the way. Try it with noodles one day. Try to push a cooked noodle across a plate, then try and pull it across. See which one is easier. We’re going to be literally asking men to go into hell itself. Now, when we do ask, they’ll know that we went first.” Schatten brushed at his uniform, it was covered with foul-smelling mud and a disgusting greenish slime. “I’m going to wash and change. If this smells as bad as it looks.”

“It does.” Said Randi reassuringly.

“Then that’s an early order of priority. I guess the Lab boys will want to analyze this stuff as well.”

“I brought some samples Sir.” Warhol held up what looked suspiciously like a jam jar filled with the mud from hell.

“Well done. And that applies to everybody here. We’re in a position to strike back at last.”

Defense Perimeter Delta, Hit, Western Iraq.

“What the blazes is that?”

The first layer of buildings was acting as a sieve, forcing the Baldricks to break up into small groups as they forced their way through the alleys and narrow streets before breaking out into the open ground that marked the gap between the now-fallen Perimeter Charlie and the disputed Perimeter Delta. That open ground, traversed by a divided-lane highway, was the new killing ground and the carpet of black bodies was growing as the 10th Mountain Division’s armored cavalry units swept it with fire. The problem was the steadily-growing number of bodies in Army camouflage that were joining the baldrick dead. Now, there was something different happening, a white pick-up truck was tearing down the roadway, swerving around the bodies that littered it and heading straight for a large group of baldricks that had just emerged from the buildings.

The Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans of 10th Mountain guessed what was about to happen, they’d seen exactly the same tactic tried out on the Bradleys and Abrams tanks as they’d done their thunder runs through Baghdad. It had failed then but the baldricks didn’t have heavy armor supporting them. The suicide bombers them had died screaming “God is Great” but it was unlikely that they made the same call now. “Death to God” was more likely. It made little difference, the truck plowed into the group of baldricks and exploded, scattering fragments of steel and baldrick for dozens of yards around. Even here, in Delta, the blast was stunning.

“Come on, follow me.” Links screamed out, the last baldrick push had sized a building that was a Delta strongpoint and it was up to him to retake it. While everybody was stunned by the suicide bomber’s blast was as good a time as any. He was pressed up against the wall one side of the door, he swung past and kicked it open. Ina well-time drill, two of his men threw a pair of hand grenades each inside, then the other pair raked it with fire from their M16s. Links rolled through the door, two of the baldricks inside were dead or dying on the floor, two more were still standing although obviously torn up by grenade fragments and bullets. Links pushed up to his feet and slammed into the nearest baldrick, knocking the wounded monster off its feet. He and three of his men piled on top of it, pinning its arms down, slamming their K-bars into its eyes. The baldrick screamed and threshed, one of its clawed feet catching an infantryman in the stomach and disemboweling him.

Across the room, the remaining badlrick turned and ran, out of the door and into the open ground beyond. He made a few yards before smoke trains erupted around him and he vanished into the concussion of RPG-7 warheads exploding. The irregulars in Hit had joined in the fight and the RPG-7s they carried in place of rifles were lethal. Links looked up, the terrific noise of the firefight was joined by something else, a rhythmic throbbing that shook dust from the ceiling and caused the shelves on the wall to bounce. Over his head, the sky suddenly turned black and red as a hail of unguided rockets passed overhead to slam into the buildings opposite.

“It’s the Apaches!” Links’ voice was triumphant as the four helicopters swept low overhead, their 30mm chain guns hammering at the baldricks caught in the open. All along the line, the AH-64Ds of the aviation unit were sweeping the killing zone with gunfire and rockets while overhead, F-16s prowled, ready to take down any harpies that appeared.

Headquarters, Army of Abigor, Hit, Western Iraq.

Abigor watched the human sky chariots pouring fire into his troops. Some of them were simply saturating the area with fire lances, others were using a magic fire lance that would turn in the air to follow its prey. Seeker lances he thought, what else could they be?

“Sire, our demons are falling back.”

“What?” Abigor contained his urge to destroy the messenger. He had learned how futile that could be.

“They have lost eight in ten of their number Sire and the humans will not retreat from us. They cannot hold and now the sky chariots have arrived, the iron chariots will not be far behind. It is over.” The messenger bowed his head and waited for death.

Abigor looked across the roofs of Hit where the sky chariots were attacking the remnants of the legions deployed here. He had had such hopes of this outflanking move but in his heart he guessed the humans had been ahead of him all the time.

“Yes, it is over. Spread the word, order the legions to fall back and regroup.”

Regroup with what? the messenger was tempted to ask but he held his tongue. Surviving this message was good fortune enough for one day, no need to tempt fate.

Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.

The baldrick attack was collapsing, General Petraeus could see the truth now, unfolding on the giant screen before him. He had raw video up. It showed the black line that had pressed up against his defenses melting away, beginning to stream to the rear as it collapsed. Up at Hit the issue had been close for some hours and the brigade holding the city had been battered but they had held and now the enemy was in retreat there as well. Petraeus switched over from raw to synthetic video, the pictures of the battle replaced by blue and red military symbols moving slowly as the baldricks retreated and the human formations started their advance.

Not that there was anywhere for the baldricks to retreat to. The armored spearheads had already linked up behind their lines and blocked the retreat to the hellmouth. The back door had slammed shut, there was nowhere for the baldricks to run to.

_________________
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.


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 5 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
Powered by phpBB® Forum Software © phpBB Group