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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 21 - 25
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:41 pm 
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Executive Office, Pima Air & Space Museum , Tucson, Arizona

The sound of R-3350 engines starting up woke Daniel J. Ryan, Executive Director of the Pima Air and Space Museum up from an exhausted sleep. For weeks it seemed as if his whole museum had become a research center, digging out old documentation that allowed the aircraft stored at the AMARG boneyard down the road to be brought back into service. His prized restoration experts had suddenly found themselves wearing Air Force Blue uniforms and preparing aircraft to go to war again. AMARG was slowly beginning to empty as the aircraft capable of being returned to service were brought back to operational status and the rest were stripped of what parts they had left.

He got off the couch in his office, hearing the whine of the R-3350s outside pick up in volume. He shook his head and headed for the executive bathroom, his mouth tasted foul after what had passed for a night’s sleep and he desperately wanted to clean his teeth. He checked his tinfoil hat was on safely, a gesture that had almost become a reflex amongst the human population over the last few weeks, and then headed for a shower and a shave. Half his job involved being the public front for the museum, and that meant looking well-groomed whenever he could. His wife was bringing him freshly-pressed clothes over each day and he couldn’t let her down by not shaving. Even though the R-3350s were making his mirror shake and his hand unsteady.

Finally, he was ready to face the coming day and he went back to his desk. He’d pulled a cup of water from the dispenser and the R-3350s were causing concentric ripples on the surface. He looked at them for several seconds before the significance sank in.

Ten seconds later he was out his office door and running for the flight line, shouting “Hey, bring my B-29 back!”

Flight Line, Pima Air & Space Museum , Tucson, Arizona

“I’m sorry Sir, technically the aircraft still does belong to the Air Force and we’re repossessing it. We’ll be taking your KB-50 as well, as soon as we can get it flyable and converted back to a bomb carrier. And, of course we will be taking all three of your B-52s.”

“But these are museum pieces…..” Ryan spluttered, aghast at the thought of Pima’s superb collection of aircraft being dismantled.

“They can still perform useful roles Sir. If its any consolation, the Commemorative Air Force and the New England Air Museum are losing their B-29s as well. Not to mention Wright Patterson losing Bockscar and the Smithsonian parting with Enola Gay. There’s more than 20 others as well, although there are only five B-50s and they’re in pretty rough condition. Except yours of course, Still, we should have enough to make up a mixed B-29/B-50 group by the time we’ve finished.”

“But they’re obsolete.” Ryan’s voice was weak.

“Not so much so Sir. They still haul bombs and are fast enough, and fly high enough, to keep out of harpy claws. And we’re not sure how well jets will adapt to the conditions in hell so we’re hedging our bets.” Behind him, there was a roar and the B-29 took off, heading for its new operational base. Ryan could barely stop himself crying.

“What else are you taking?”

“Oh, not much Sir. Your F-111 and your A-10 of course. You’ve kept the planes here in superb condition, I must say. We may want some others as well, depends what we can find elsewhere. We don’t want lots of single aircraft but if there are enough to make up a small group……”

“I suppose you’ll want our replica Wright Flyer?” Ryan spoke bitterly.

“No Sir, not under current plans. But we would like to talk to you about your B-36.”

Executive Office, Alexander Arms Corporation, Radford Arsenal, Virginia

“Mister Alexander Sir, it’s a Colonel Matthews from the Defense Logistic Agency.” Alexander’s secretary sounded urgent.

“Put him through then Jeanie.” There was a click on the line “Bill Alexander here.”

“Mister Alexander, its Colonel Matthews here from the DLA. If you haven’t heard already, you will be fairly shortly, our M16s and M4s aren’t showing up very well in Iraq. Don’t have the stopping power to finish off a baldrick. So, we need to change approach fast. You’re making .50 Beowulf M16s for the Coastguard, well, you can start expanding that production line right now. We need you to start mass-producing .50 Beowulf upper receivers with a 24 inch barrel right away. We’ll issue them and mate them with in-service lower receivers. We’ll be faxing you the paperwork later today. Take this telephone call as authorization to start work.”

“How many?”

“Our initial production target will be one million sets of parts needed to convert in-service weapons. For your information, the new rifle will be the M16A6 and the M4A5.”

The room was swimming around Alexander’s eyes. “We’re a small company, there’s no way we can make that number of rifles. And the ammunition.”

Matthews sounded more than slightly irritated. “Then license other producers. Talk to Ordnance, they may have facilities you can take over. Listen man, this country is awash with weapons producers, if you can’t meet the production targets, make some arrangements. Our boys have died out there because their rifles didn’t do the job. And you know where they go when they die. You’re a manager, so get the lead out of your pants and start managing. Don’t make us write more letters to mothers telling them their kids died because they didn’t have the tools they need. Understand?”

Alexander didn’t have a chance to answer before he heard the telephone bang down. He stared at the receiver in his hand for a long moment that was only interrupted when his fax machine started to spew pages out. “Jeanie? Get me a list of all our subcomponent suppliers, we have to jack production up soonest. And get me the heads of Bushmaster, DPMS, Olympic Arms, Colt, FN and any other rival you can think of.”

Headquarters, Boeing Military Aircraft Division, St Louis, Missouri.

The voice as impossibly British. “I say, is that Mike Graham, T-45 project manager?”

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“Sorry, old chap. James Kendrick here, Hawk 200 Project Manager at BAE Systems. We’ve had some calls from our respective governments asking us to put our heads together and come up with a new aircraft for our forces.”

“Excuse me, I’ve heard nothing of this.” There was a ‘ding’ on Graham’s computer indicating a top-priority email from corporate HQ in Chicago. He read it. “My apologies, I’ve just been told.”

“No problem. Everything is screwed up. Anyway, basically the RAF want a cheap, light fighter to make up numbers, the Navy want one for their carriers and your chaps want some for everybody. So, our governments have decided to combine your T-45C trainer with our Hawk 200 light fighter and produce a single-seat, radar-equipped fighter for everybody. My bosses think it’s a pretty good idea, one that should sell well. So, we need to get cracking. Can we arrange for our design team to come over there?”
“Sure, or would you prefer us to come over to you?”

“Really, we’d rather come to you if you don’t mind. Have you ever tried to get a decent steak in Britain?”

Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Blasted rock, pools of mud and other less wholesome liquids, gauzy wisps of orange fumes, the odd crucified body; Hell wasn't anything pleasant to look at, even through a window. Standing in front of that window was an Army officer facing out towards a room occupied by a mix of civilian and military engineers along with a sprinkling of figures in Air Force, Army, and Marine uniforms. As the last straggler slips through the door set in the far wall, he began to speak.

"Gentlemen, ladies, my name is Major Warhol, and welcome to Section Twelve of DIMO(N). I'm sure we'll be assigned a mouthful of an acronym soon, but for now we've just been calling it the Hell Lab." He stepped to one side and waved an arm at the window behind him.

"To get straight to the point, sooner or later we're going to have to fight in Hell, and from what limited intel we've gathered so far, it's a hell of an environment." He winced slightly at the awful pun, then shook his head with a sheepish smile before continuing, "It's going to do a number on our gear, and long-term exposure isn't going to do humans any good either. That's where we come in. We've put together a mock-up, our own personal Hell-in-a-jar based on the intelligence we've received so far, and we're going to be testing our gear in it. That's for the servicemen among you. The rest of you," he nods towards one of the engineers closes to the window, "are here to fix whatever doesn't work, or failing that, to devise something new to fill a gap where our existing equipment doesn't cut it. We've got five other rooms like this one, with different speculative environments, and we'll be updating all of them as we learn more of the makeup of Hell. At the moment, we’ve only got actual data on one part of hell, one segment of the 5th circle. However, it looks like Dante’s Inferno was a pretty accurate description so, until we know more, we’re working on that basis. We’ve got people here digging through other old records as well so we’ll refine the picture as we go. Across the hall, there's another team that'll be doing the same with Heaven once we know something about it."

He singled out a lone man in a suit with a nod, "Agent Carson accomplished the only strike mission so far into Hell, albeit remotely. He's at your disposal for questions, and the CIA was kind enough to send the Predator he used for the strike along with him." Carson’s lips cracked in a wry, sardonic smile. He’d sat behind an operator’s terminal and sent in a drone but that made him a celebrity. "I'm told we're free to disassemble the Predator, but the Agency would like Agent Carson back in one piece. Or at least, if we do dismantle him, can we number the pieces so The Company can reassemble him. Also, please remember, he’s a star on the war-bond sales pitches."

A chuckle ran around the room, accompanied by a snort from Carson himself. Major Warhol let the room settle for a few seconds before he started back into the briefing, "Air Force types, the wind tunnel's still under construction, but once it's up, you'll have down-checked aircraft of more or less any make you need in the hangars on-base to test in a Hell-condition wind tunnel. Sorry to give you the castoffs, but we're short there as it is. Some of the birds are types we don’t have in the inventory any more but we’ve repossessed from museums. Feel free to test those to destruction. Infantry, there's a target range with variable-density cloud generators to simulate atmospheric conditions. Armor, you're going to be a bit limited for a while, we're not going to have room for a half-dozen large-scale Hell-jars for you to play with, and the one we will have won't be finished for a week or two."

Warhol signaled with his hand, ordering a guard to open another door. A group of a dozen Arabs filed into the room, dressed in loose white robes. A rustling murmur passed through the briefing room's other occupants as they turned to look at the newcomers, several frowns flashing into place. Before anything could get out of hand, Major Warhol's voice called out again, louder at first to cut through the whispered speculation,

"I’d like to welcome Abdullah Rashid, formerly one of the Iraqi insurgency leaders, and now head of the DIMO(N) S12 insurgency team. I know!" he shouted, cutting through a rising babble of voices, "That many of you will be uncomfortable working with him and his men, but the fact remains that the Iraqi insurgents have had quite a lot of experience in running insurgencies recently and their people fought alongside ours in Hit. We’re allies now." His lips quirk in a thin, humorless smile, "And there’ll be others joining us as well, including some explosives experts from the Provisional IRA. They are probably the best on the world at their particular art, they should be, they fought the British for long enough. If I hear of them being frozen out of discussion here, I'm not going to be a terribly happy man, and none of you want that. These teams will be focusing on the best ways to manufacture explosives, weapons, IEDs, anything they can think of that can be made and used in whole or in part using Hell-native resources and conditions."

Warhol surveyed the assembled men and women for a few more seconds, and then nodded to himself,

"Alright, dismi--actually, one thing I forgot. Everyone, if you'll please inspect the walls."

He waited for a few seconds for people to turn and look, Scattered around the walls of the room at regular intervals were glass-fronted cabinets loaded with shotguns and submachine guns, On each one was printed in tall, red letters, 'IN CASE OF BALDRICKS, BREAK GLASS.' Another chuckle ran through the room, albeit a somewhat nervous one.

"We don't know the limitations of the Baldricks' teleportation and portal abilities yet, so we're going to assume they could pop up in here. Familiarize yourself with the locations of the emergency arms cabinets, and with the weapons. There's an earth-environment firing range on base, feel free to avail yourself of it if you want to brush the rust off; I'd hate to lose any of you to something as silly as a lone baldrick raider Dismissed." He pauses for a moment, then grins, "And I mean it this time. Break into teams and let's start figuring out how to raze Hell."

The Oval Office, The White House, Washington DC

“My fellow humans.” President Bush looked into the camera and gave a careful, friendly smile. The truth was that he was actually feeling reasonably happy at this point, his approval rating had gone over 50 percent for the first time in years. “You have all been following the events in Iraq where allied forces have engaged a baldrick invasion army estimated at over 400,000 strong. Much of the fighting has been obscure due to the area it has covered but now, I am able to give you some accurate information on what has taken place.

“The baldrick army has been defeated, not just defeated but destroyed. Our troops and those of our allies, most notably the Iranians under General Fereidoon Zolfaghari and the British under Brigadier John Carlson have beaten back the enemy and inflicted enormous losses upon them. We believe that the total of their dead is in excess of 300,000, a number that is rising hourly as our forces pursue the defeated enemy back to the very mouth of hell.” Bush looked down at his desk briefly, the retreating enemy hadn’t yet encountered the blocking force that was between them and safety. That was a nice surprise that was waiting for them.

“Our own losses so far are just over 600 dead. Most of these were suffered in the battle for the town of Hit. There, a brigade of the Tenth Mountain Division held the town against an overwhelmingly powerful force of baldricks and drove them back, fighting room to room in the process. In doing so they proved that not only do our armed forces have superior equipment to our enemy but our men are better trained, braver and more resourceful than their baldrick counterparts.

“Now, however, we must look to the future. We have learned that the force that struck us represents only a small portion of the forces that the enemy has available to him. Beyond that, we know that the forces of Yahweh still exist and must be numbered on the list of our enemies. Already, we have killed one of them, one responsible for an atrocious massacre carried out against defenseless civilians in the peace of their home. Our forces have achieved wonders, General Petraeus has won a victory that will forever place him amongst the Great Captains, but this is not enough.

“We must mobilize for war. Our armed forces depend on armored vehicles for their mobility and for defense against baldrick attacks. Those armored vehicles need fuel and the battles over the last few days have shown how much they require. We must give them priority for supplies of gasoline and diesel fuel. Accordingly, I have given orders for fuel rationing to be instituted here in the United States. Each licensed driver in a family will be allowed to buy no more that twenty gallons of automobile fuel per month. Government help will be provided for car pooling and other requirements. There is a crying need for more vehicles to carry the supplies needed to our troops. Therefore, most private automobile production in this country is to be converted to military use. Heavy truck plants will, of course, be converted to produce military trucks. Car and SUV facilities will be converted to produce light armored cars or aircraft depending on their level of technology. The only exception to this will be factories producing electric cars or small commercial vehicles. We have talked much about replacing gasoline-powered automobiles in our society. Now, our hand has been forced.

“In the last two days, 600 of our men and their allies have sacrificed everything they had for us. They gave their lives, knowing what awaited them beyond death. Now, we must match their sacrifice and bend every will, every nerve, every muscle in a great national crusade that will see our enemies driven into the dust and humbled. Thank you all, and good night.”

President Bush turned off the microphones and stared at the office wall. He’d just told the American people that they couldn’t drive around any more they way they used to. Ah well, it had been nice being popular again for a while.

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:42 pm 
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Ibn Sina Hospital, Baghdad, Iraq

“These things smell dreadful. Couldn’t we have chilled them?”

“We did Doctor. Unfortunately dead baldricks appear to rot very fast indeed. As far as we can tell, its daylight that causes them to decay, not temperature.”

Doctor Surlethe nodded and looked at the baldrick corpse stretched out on the dissection table in front of him. “This is a big one even by baldrick standards, nearly 3 meters tall, weight 200 kilograms?”

“Before your army shot large pieces off him, yes.” A ripple of laughter ran around the operating theater. The relationship between Iraqi and American had eased to the point where they could make jokes about each other. The Iraqi nurse flushed slightly, even now she felt ill at ease receiving public attention.

“Let’s have a look at the X-rays.” Surlethe had them set up on the overhead displays. “Is everybody seeing what I’m seeing?”

“It’s very human.” One of the watching doctors spoke hesitantly. “Human but not human, as if it was a human body seen through a nightmare.”

“Exactly, the body is laid out almost identically to ours. The single upper arm and upper leg bones, the two bones in the lower arms and legs. The same number of ribs, of vertebrae. If we go by bone count and position, this thing is human. But, of course, we know it isn’t. The bones themselves are twisted and distorted, and there are things here that have no equivalent in our anatomy. Not just superficial things either, like the horns and tail. There’s these things as well.” Surlethe tapped the body where what appeared to be huge muscles ran down its back. They were so large they made the creature’s spine look as if it was in the middle of its body rather than its back. The creatures stunted wings stuck out of them reminiscent of broken branches from a snow bank. “50 percent of its body mass would you say?”

There was a ripple of agreement. “I thought they were muscles that allowed it to fly but they’re not. This thing can’t fly. Did histology come up with anything?”

“Doctor Surlethe, we find this hard to believe but we think they are electrocytes. The samples we took show them to be very similar to those in the electric eel but they are much larger. The electric eel generates 500 volts at 1 amp, if these cells work the same way, the baldrick should be able to generate 5,000 volts at 10 amps. Almost 100 times more power.”

“That would explain much, especially their ability to fire bolts of lightning. Let’s have a look inside shall we?”

Surlethe took an electric carving knife, he’d already found from bitter experience that surgical scalpels had a very short life when faced with baldrick skin, and sliced into the dead baldrick. The smell was far worse once the skin was opened up and inside, the internal organs were already decomposing into slush.

“From what we can see here, it’s the same as with the bone structure. It’s human, but wildly different from us. Thoughts people?”

“It is as if it was human but became corrupted.” The Iraqi nurse was speaking slowly. “Almost as if this was once human but something got at it, corrupted its DNA.”

“It’s worth noting that the other bodies are very similar to this. If this is the result of DNA being corrupted, then the corruption was done systematically. It’s created a new species.”

“Did this evolve from us? Or is it parallel evolution?” Another Iraqi doctor watching the dissection spoke. He was slightly guarded, he’d heard that there were Americans who were still dumb enough to believe in creationist stories and deny the truth that stared into their faces. He didn’t want to upset one of them, they had guns as well as strange beliefs.

Surlethe thought carefully. “I’d say its parallel evolution, they started out as the next-level-up version of us and something happened to them. Either they’ve been infected with something that messed up their DNA or they’ve been engineered to look like this.”

“Genetic engineering needs technology.” Yet another Iraqi doctor. “And we know they don’t have it.”

“We think they don’t Doctor. Its very probable they don’t and we certainly haven’t seen it yet. But we can’t rule out the possibility that there’s pockets of technology somewhere. However, genetic engineering doesn’t need that high technology, just patience and breeding experiments. Look at dogs, a Rottweiler and a Chihuahua were engineered from the same ancestor. These could be the same.” I wish they’d let me dissect that succubus Surlethe thought. Then we’d have something to compare this with. “Right, well, lets look a bit more before this one decays to nothingness.”

Outside Gary’s Shoe Store, New Market Mall, Chicago, Illinois

“But its….. una ropas de puton.” Maria looked at the top her school-friends were urging her to buy. If she’d worn it back in Honduras, her mother would beat her and old women would whisper accusations behind her back. But here?

“Look girl, you’re in America now. Halter tops, mini-skirts and fuck-me pumps get issued at the border. Get used to it.” Shana’s voice was severe but she was laughing underneath it.

Maria looked dubious but she could see her friends were right. Dress standards were different here. She’d only been at the school six weeks and this was her first time hanging out in the mall with her new friends. She didn’t want to embarrass herself or them. What she didn’t know was that she was far from the first new arrival from Central America who’d joined the school and all the girls with her understood how difficult the adjustment from the highly conservative lifestyle she’d come from was. The Immigration Department might run assimilation classes for new arrivals but the high school girls had their own, much more efficient program. She should have guessed from the way they were speaking, the group had two African-American girls, three Anglos and two Latinas. They were speaking in a strange mixture of Spanish and English, switching from one language to the other in mid-sentence with unconscious fluency, the whole mixed in with ebonic slang. Viewed objectively it was an awesome display of bilingualism.

She held the blouse up against herself again. In truth, it was quite modest by the standards of teenage girls at a mall and was on sale, 80 percent off. And it did make her look nice. She pushed her hat a little back on her head, trying to make up her mind. All the girls were wearing the fashionable kepi-style caps with aluminum foil built into the crown and neck, that was one thing that had changed since The Message. Now, everybody wore caps, all the time. The stores here were full of them, some cheap baseball caps with foil inserts, others much more expensive. Maria finally made her decision. She’d take the top. She took it to the counter and, as she started to pay, her friends broke out in a round of applause. She’d just done something her mother would not approve of and that was her first step to becoming a real American teenager.

“Hey man, you, like, going to get some more donuts?” One of the Anglo girls, Marcie, was speaking to Philip Phelan, the shift supervisor of the Mall security guards. He smiled a bit weakly at her, it was a joke all the rentacops on duty here had to put up with but she was a customer so her jokes were, by definition, funny.

“Fraid not ma’am. Crispy Kreme ran out of original glazed so I’m going to have to make do with Pop-Tarts.”

“Poor baby.” Marcie’s voice was sweetly consoling. “The red light comes on again in an hour so I’m told.”

“Why thank you ma’am. I’ll bear that in mind.”

Marcie watched Phelan continue his rounds, a shadow of concern crossing her mind. He was way too far over-weight and she could see him wheezing slightly. It reminded her of her father before he’d had his first heart attack. He really should be sitting comfortably behind a desk, she thought. Then she frowned slightly, there was a ripple in the air down by the food court. Something overheating? Or a fire? She was just about to call attention to it when the ripple changed to a black dot and then to an ellipse.

She’d seen what stepped out of that ellipse on news programs, on film of the fighting in the Middle East, but she’d never expected to see something like it in her local mall. A baldrick, fully nine feet tall, complete with horns, tail and trident. Eyes glowing red and small pointed beard seeming to bristle at the stunned shoppers. There was an eerie silence as people tried to absorb what was happening. A silence that was interrupted by a crack and brilliant blue flash as the baldrick discharged his trident at a woman pushing baby carriage. The crash as the woman went down, convulsing from the massive electrical shock, broke the spell.

“Run!” Shana grabbed Maria and started bundling her forward. Years of threatened shootings in high schools had lead Americans to learn a vital lesson; when trouble is breaking out, get as far and as fast in the opposite direction as possible. Maria didn’t have that inbred instinct and had to be shown. Her friends half-pushed, half-dragged her towards the exit adjacent to the mall’s Macy’s store.

Across the mall, the shoppers were dispersing in different directions, depending in which exit was nearest. The silence was replaced by the sound of screaming from the chaotic mob of people. In its midst, the baldrick grabbed another victim with the claws of one hand, ripped him open with the other and threw the disintegrating body into the mass of running people. Then, it looked around, its eyes fixed on a group running for the Macy’s exit and set off after them.

Philip Phelan didn’t run. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a gun either. The mall rentacops weren’t allowed to carry them. He did have a taser and he used it, helplessly watching the barbed metal spikes bounce off the skin of the baldrick. The monster had already carved its way through three more people, throwing their dismembered remains around and Phelan believed that his job was now to buy as much time as he could for the rest to get clear. The monster reached out for him, almost lazily , its great claws reaching for his throat. Phelan had drawn his baton and he swiped at the grabbing hand, knocking it to one side. Them he slashed back in the opposite direction, hitting the monster in the throat, causing it to stagger for a second. For one delirious moment, he actually believed he had a chance of winning the encounter, then he felt the claws on the baldrick’s other hand sinking into his abdomen. They hooked around the bottom of his ribs and the last thing that Phelan ever felt was him being hurled into the air as his chest came apart.

The baldrick watched the fat old man land in the food court on the floor below and looked around for another victim. A middle-aged woman had stopped running and was facing him, holding both hands out as if she was praying. A ridiculous idea but who knew what these humans would try. Then there were a series of bright flashes from the woman’s hands and the baldrick felt six jabbing pains in his chest. He paused for a brief second then started after the woman.

“Lady you got reloads?”

“No.” She wailed, looking at the monster bearing down on her.

“Run!” The man speaking had another handgun out. One a lot bigger than the woman’s little Kel-Tec .32. He was in the correct position, M1911A1 in both hands, right hand pushing, left hand pulling and his nine shots made a perfect group on the baldricks chest. Then, his slide locked back on empty, he followed the woman running for the exit, the baldrick now streaming green blood from the wound in its chest, closing rapidly on them.

They were saved by the shoe salesman in Gary’s Shoe Store, who had been a mighty athlete in his day. As the baldrick crossed in front of his store, he ran out and took it in a perfect football tackle, slamming it off its feet and into the guard rail. The railing, more decorative than practical, cracked free of the floor and for a moment looked like it might give way under the impact, but it held and the fighting human and baldrick bounced off it back onto the floor. The baldrick managed to tear at the human’s face with one hand and that gained him enough of an advantage to throw him off. The shoe salesman was blinded, crippled by the injury and didn’t have a chance of evading the slash that tore out his heart. By that time, the man and woman who had shot the baldrick were safely away.

Out in the car park was a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, covered with NRA stickers. More significantly, both its driver and passenger were hunters who had come in for some supplies at the Northwest Face store before going off on a trip. Bill Redfield saw the people pouring out of the exits and managed to stop one as he ran past the truck.

“What’s going on?”

“Baldricks, in the mall. They’re killing everybody.” The man tore himself free and continued running.

“Can’t get in though the doors Jim, too many people coming out. Like running into an avalanche.”

“The Café.”

“Hit It.”

The Coffee Cup Café was on the ground floor level with the car park and, better, it had a terrace and windows that were a rare interruption in the otherwise blank mall walls. Jim Caldwell slammed his truck into gear and floored the accelerator. He was doing over 60 miles an hour when his truck ploughed through the terrace tables and smashed open the windows beyond. The glass exploded inwards, scattering across the café in shards. Caldwell had wanted to do that for years, in his opinion charging five bucks for a cup of coffee merited destruction. As a result, Redfield and Caldwell, not to mention their truck, were in the mall. A few seconds later they were running into the main concourse holding their hunting rifles.

“Escalators, up.” The screaming said the baldricks were on the top floor. They sprinted up the escalator in time to see a single baldrick, there was only one, tearing a man apart outside a shoe store. The baldrick stood up and started to close in on the people struggling outside Macys but Caldwell dropped to one knee and took aim. He had an old Garand, sporterized and fitted with a scope, across the width of the mall it was murderously accurate. He squeezed out his eight rounds of .30-06 and heard the characteristic ‘ting’ as the clip was ejected. The baldrick staggered with the impacts, obviously finding it had to stay on its feet, but it was still obviously determined to get into the crowd of humans. That wasn’t bad tactics either, once mixed in with humans, the usefulness of the hunting rifles would be much diminished.

Redfield stopped that happening. His favored game was elk and moose and he had the rifle to match. A Weatherby Mark V Deluxe chambered for .416 Weatherby Magnum. With its scope, it had cost him almost $3,000 and his wife had given him the silent treatment for three months after she’d found it in the gun safe. He dropped flat and took careful aim, squeezing the trigger and feeling the brutal recoil as the rifle sent the heavy bullet tearing down range. He didn’t stop to see what the result was, he was working the bolt to feed the second round into the chamber. By the time he got his eye back to the scope, the baldrick was sitting down, the wall behind it splattered green with its blood. Redfield fired again, seeing the baldrick jerk as the bullet ploughed into it. There was no doubt, it was down for good but he still had a single round left in his rifle and the thing was still moving. He worked the bolt again then took careful aim at the monster’s head. It burst very pleasingly as the bullet struck home.

Redfield straightened up, pleased with himself despite the pain in his shoulder. Caldwell was looking at him. “Remind me never to poke fun at that cannon of yours again,” he said.

Across the concourse, it was hard to believe it was over. The baldrick lay dead barely ten feet from where Maria stood crying. She was in shock, from terror and the deafening explosions that had brought the monster down. She and her friends had been at the back of the crowd trying to escape and they would have been the first to die if the baldrick had reached the crowd. Maria knew it but all she could think of was that in the panic she’d lost the bag holding her new blouse. Now she’d lost it, it seemed enormously important to her. Behind her, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey Maria.” It was Kelly, one of the Anglo girls with Maria’s shopping bag. “You dropped this. Second lesson on being a mall rat, never, ever, let go of your loot.”

Across the mall concourse, two men in hunting clothes stood up. There was silence for a second, then an eruption of cheering. One of the men waved, the other held his rifle above his head. The cheering redoubled.

Maria found a microphone stuck in her face. “KVTW News. What did you see?”

“I saw the devil coming to kill us and an old security man attacked it with a stick. It killed him but he saved our lives. Éra el hombre mas valiente que nunca haya visto.”

The television reporter turned to another person, a woman who was staring at a tiny semi-automatic pistol in her hand. “Ma’am, what do you think?”

She looked dazedly at the camera. “I need a bigger blissful delight gun.”

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:45 pm 
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Military Attache’s Offices, Royal Thai Embassy, Washington DC

Major General Asanee settled back in her seat to watch the early morning news. She knew what the leading item was likely to be but the U.S. news networks always amused her. She flipped the television mounted on the wall to Fox and waited for the headlines. She wasn’t disappointed.

The death toll in the baldrick attack on the Lakeview Mall in Chicago continues to rise. At least ten humans are reported to have been killed when a lone baldrick materialized in the shopping area of the mall and started to indiscriminately kill shoppers. Hero of the hour was 56 year old security guard Philip Phelan who saved the lives of a group of teenage girls when, armed only with a baton, he defended them from the baldrick. Now, from the scene of the attack….

The General pursed her lips for a second and asked herself the same question that was puzzling people in government offices across America. Why had this happened now? Was it linked to the crushing defeat of the baldrick army in Iraq? If so it appeared to be opening an entirely new front in the war. Almost absent-mindedly she flipped channels to CBS.

An incident in a Chicago mall turned violent yesterday when two gunmen opened fire with assault rifles on a baldrick that was visiting the shopping plaza. The gunmen, both members of the NRA, had brought their guns into the mall in flagrant violation of the operation’s “no guns” policy and started shooting without warning. More than ten people were killed in the attack.

The General sighed quietly to herself, the American media never changed she thought ruefully. Perhaps it was better that nobody believed a word they said. Still, that comment about the NRA started a chain of thought in her mind, one that rotated around the phrase “a well-organized militia”. Her country already had one, the Tahan Phran and it was a key part of their defense against terrorism. She nodded quietly to herself and picked up the telephone, dialing the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “Hello, this is Major-General Asanee here. I would like to speak with Secretary Warner, this morning if possible.”

Outside the White House, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC

The television cameras had been waiting outside the White House since early morning, hoping to catch one of the Cabinet members in a limousine just after the imposition of gasoline rationing on the rest of America. So far, they had been sorely disappointed since the only footage they had got was one sequence of Condoleezza Rice on a bicycle and John Warner jogging into the building. The cameraman was about to give it up as a bad job when he felt a tap on his shoulder. A small, nondescript van was pulling into the White House driveway and, significantly, it passed through security with hardly a moment’s delay. It wasn’t much but it was better than nothing.

White House Conference Room, White House, Washington DC

“You all got the warning about the television cameras then?” President Bush glanced around the assembled members of the Cabinet, reassured by the nods he received. “Right let us continue. Just what happened in that mall? And why did it happen?”

Secretary Michael Chertoff looked down at the brief he had been given. “The eye witness accounts are pretty confused as one might expect. As far as we can make out, the baldrick just appeared within the mall and started killing people, more or less at random. It carried on doing so until it was shot dead. And that’s pretty much all we do know.” The Homeland Defense Secretary looked up at the meeting. “It’s critical we don’t confuse what we think with what we know here. We can make all sorts of guesses but the amount of hard information we have is very limited. We can really screw ourselves up if we start thinking our guesses are facts.”

There were a series of nods around the table. In some ways, it had been an unnecessary comment, not confusing facts with deductions from those facts was a caution that everybody knew. In another way, the warning was timely and vital for, although everybody knew the principle, they forgot it with dreadful regularity. People treating their opinions as facts was called the Rumsfeld Syndrome in this room.

“Another fact for the pile.” Secretary Warner spoke quietly as was his usual practice. “That baldrick took a lot of killing. It got hit 15 times with pistol fire, OK six of those were .32s but the rest were .45s. Also eleven rifle-caliber hits. Only the last three really hurt it.”

“Not quite so John.” Secretary Michael O. Leavitt consulted his brief. “My people tell me that the .30-06 hits would have killed the baldrick eventually but the .416s really hurried things along. This fits what we’re getting back from Iraq I believe?”

“It does Mike. Baldricks appear to die from bleeding out, they can take quite devastating hits but if they don’t cause massive blood loss, they can keep going for some time. Some of our snipers report that baldricks have kept going after taking .50 caliber bullets to the head. On the other hand, fragmentation damage rips them up and causes extensive bleeding that finishes them quickly.”

“Very interesting.” Bush was a little annoyed, this was all very well but it didn’t answer any of the key questions he needed to deal with. “But why did this happen, how likely is this attack to be repeated and what can we do to stop them? If this thing just appeared in the middle of a mall, it can appear anywhere – can’t it?”

In one corner, General Schatten coughed gently. “If I may be permitted Sir, we have brought along about the only expert we have on how and why baldricks think the way they do. If I may be permitted to bring her in?”

Bush nodded. General Schatten left for a moment, then returned with a companion whose appearance stunned the room into silence. It was about six feet tall and was wearing a cape-like red robe which did not hide the fact that it was naked. Its skin was the sort of shiny black normally associated with insects except around the head where is faded to a corpse-like white. Its hair was pinkish-blonde with two red-tipped horns emerging from its lank folds. Its the mouth large and vivid red, the eyes sunk deep in shadow, their yellow gaze darting around from one person to the next. On closer inspection, it was female.

“That’s a baldrick, are you insane bringing that thing in here?” Secretary Warner’s voice almost cracked with the shock.

“Ladies, gentlemen, this is Lugasharmanaska, a succubus who has defected to us. She has provided us with a significant amount of intelligence over the last few days. Secretary Chertoff, you stressed the need for facts, not opinions. Luga is the only person who can give us facts.”

“Take a seat my dear.” For want of any more appropriate attitude, President Bush dropped into his genial Texan host mode. Lugasharmanaska took a vacant seat, appreciating how those nearest to her shifted away. “You heard what happened yesterday afternoon in Chicago?”

“No.” Her yellow slitted eyes darted around again, measuring up the people in the room with her.

“Show the film please. Lugasharmanaska this is film taken through our video surveillance system at the mall. It shows a baldr…. a demon …. Attacking the crowd.”

Luga watched the film without any real interest. “So?”

“So why this attack, why now?”

“Why not.” Lugasharmanaska shrugged, a curiously human gesture. “This is nothing new. Just another berserker attacking. Odd your people fought back though, usually they do not.”

“Wait a minute.” Secretary Rice jumped on the last phrase. “Usually, this has happened before.”
Lugasharmanaska was almost impatient. “Of course it has. How many times have you had mass killings in your schools or parks? How many times has an isolated community been mysteriously wiped out? Always it was either us or Yahweh. Sometimes our berserkers would do it themselves, other times they would possess another human to do it.” She stirred slightly in excitement. “That was always very good because we would let the person see what they had done and know they would be punished for it. Their despair was joy to us.”

“Yahweh did things like this?”

“Of course.” Impatience had become scorn. “Most were his, to keep you frightened and depending on him. Ours were just for sport.”

Bush glanced around the assembled cabinet, gathering in the expressions of horror and disgust on their faces. What must it be like working daily with a monster like this, listening to these horrors?. “Always the attacks were on schools and malls?” The question was soft, he was controlling his voice very carefully.

“Of course. That is where fear and terror would be greatest.” Lugasharmanaska paused for a second. “You were very wise keeping your guns out of such places, it hid them from us.”

“But you can go anywhere, appear anywhere.”

“No.” Impatience returned again. “We need nephilim to home in on. In malls and such there are large concentrations of people so the homing signal is strongest there.”

“So you can only appear where there are concentrations of people.”

“That is what I said is it not?”

“So the timing of this attack has nothing to do with the fighting in Iraq?”

“What fighting?”

Bush glanced at General Schatten who shook his head. They’d told Lugasharmanaska nothing of the battles in the Iraqi desert. “Your army invaded us. We defeated it, totally. Wiped it out at little cost to ourselves. What isn’t dead is running. And don’t think this will end there. We fight to win.”

“Defeated? Which Army?” Lugasharmanaska was stunned, she knew humans were unexpectedly powerful but to defeat an entire Army? Lead by who? She gathered herself, noting the renewed confidence in the humans. Her shock had cost her ground. “No, this attack has nothing to do with that. The Duke who launched it may not even know the war has started yet. Hell is a big place and communications are very slow. By messenger mostly. Many parts may not have got the word yet.”

The interrogation went on, pushing Lugasharmanaska for added details of the berserker raids. In the background, one of James Randi’s JREF observers was filming the whole process.

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

“Notice something odd about this film Robert?”

“About a demon in the Conference room? Nothing at all odd. I’d guess in some previous administrations there were several. I’ve always wondered about Robert McNamara myself, he’s a good candidate for a fiend from hell.”

“Not bright enough. No, look at how this meeting starts. See how everybody is disgusted by Lugasharmanaska, repulsed by her. Combination of hatred, loathing, abomination, abhorrence, you name it, every negative emotion imaginable. Now look at these scenes at the end of the meeting. What do you see?”

“Doesn’t look very different to me. The President is being charming but if looks could kill, Condi’s laser gaze would have fried poor Lugasharmanaska on the spot.”

“Right, and what is it we’ve noticed about people meeting Lugasharmanaska?”

“Everybody accepts her and gets sympathetic, warm and fuzzy about her. Oh, I see what you mean. The Cabinet didn’t.”

“And they all had their caps on so it isn’t mind control. Whatever it is that she does, it didn’t work there.”

“Must be environmental, must be. How does that conference room differ from ours?”

“It’s a lot bigger of course. And more expensively equipped. That’s all.”

“And its air is screened.” General Schatten cut in from one corner


“The air is screened, its continually drawn out, filtered and recycled. There’s quite an airflow but is through vents in the floor so people don’t notice it. You can throw a tear gas bomb in there and the air will be scrubbed clean before it hurts anybody.”

“The air gets scrubbed clean. All the time. James – pheromones sound likely to you?”


“Scents used by humans to modify behavior around them. For example, women who are ovulating use them to be particularly attractive to men, pheromones from pregnant women make people around them feel warm and fuzzy, its part of our non-verbal communication system.”

“I do not like thee Doctor Fell
Why this is I cannot tell
But I know this and know full well
I do not like thee Doctor Fell.”

“Exactly James, a lot of our subconscious likes and dislikes are determined by pheromones. We’re only just beginning to get into what they do and the field’s opening out. It may well be that our sense of smell is vastly more important than we ever gave it credit for. The conference room is big, that means Lugasharmanaska’s pheromones didn’t have time to build up the necessary concentration before they were swept out and scrubbed out.”

“Does that mean we have to wear a gas mask before we speak with her?”

“Might not do any good, there’s some evidence that pheromones work by skin absorption as well. The upside is that pheromone effects are insidious but if people are aware of them, they can filter them out, recognize and discount them if you like. Another good thing about this…”

“What’s that Robert?”

“I doubt if Lugasharmanaska understands what it is that makes people agreeable around her. I bet she just takes it for granted that they will be. That means she must be a very confused succubus right now.”

“Did you see her face when the President told her about our victory in Iraq? She was shaken to her very roots. She’s shaken up in more ways than one.”

Office of the Secretary of Defense, The Pentagon, Washington DC

John Warner sighed and rubbed his eyes. The logic laid out by the charming but ice-cold Thai General was undeniable, especially with what they’d learned from that foul monster General Schatten had brought into the White House. Baldricks could teleport into any large group of people. So there had to be guards everywhere. That meant a militia, well, the Constitution provided for that, encouraged it even. And there were enough guns floating around in America to arm it. His pen sketched doodles on a pad. Of course the term militia was out, too many negative connotations these days. His eye rested on picture of the American Civil War and the letters USV. United States Volunteers. That wasn’t right though, these people would be defending their homes. Local Defense Volunteers. That had a good ring to it and glossed over the fact that they were going to be drafted.

Every man and woman between the ages of 18 and 50 who wasn’t already part of the armed forces, that was what the new draft would bring in. To be armed and sent as patrols to sports stadiums, schools, malls, anywhere people would be gathering. Average strength on any given day, 25 million. One more burden for a nation that was already working long hours with little rest. Yet, the benefits were already showing, new M270A2 rocket launchers, M2 Bradleys, M1 tanks were starting to flow from the production line. Aircraft were the problem, production would take a long time to ramp up and bring retired old aircraft back from the graveyard could only achieve so much.

His phone beeped. “Mister Secretary. A Ms O’Leary to see you. She’s your eleven o’Clock.”

Warmer sighed again. What did she want? “Miss O’Leary, How can I help you?”

“Secretary Warner, I understand you’ll be needing a lot of guns, needing them quickly and they have to be powerful enough to take down a baldrick with a minimum number of shots.”

“That is so.” More than you can possibly realize he thought.

“I own a small custom gun producing company. We make a derivative of the M1 Garand in.458 Winchester. Our production isn’t great but we can expand a bit and we know other companies that can do the same. There are quite a few others, including Springfield who make the M1A, a semi-automatic version of the M14, who can retool to make .458 Winchester versions of that weapon. Between us we can make a lot of these rifles. They’re accurate at longer range than the .50 M16s you’re introducing and they don’t use the same industry resources. We can use furniture makers for the wooden stocks etc, and the parts are milled, not stamped. There’s lots of small engineering companies that are hurting right now, they aren’t into the high-tech stuff our modern weaponry requires. But for something at World War Two levels, they’re perfect. And they want in on the war effort.”

And in on the profits Warner thought. But she was right, and this would help arm the Local Defense Volunteers. And it did make use of small industrial capacity. “An excellent idea Miss O’Leary. Let’s talk money on this.”

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:46 pm 
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The Banks of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

Chondrakerntolis rode his Beast carefully along the banks of the Styx. Something worried him about this area, not so very long before, his Beast had been alarmed by something along just this stretch of road. And then there was the mysterious death of Jarakeflaxis. They’d found his mangled body, studded with stab wounds and crucified on one of the rocky outcrops. The letters PFLH had been scrawled over his head, in his own blood. Nobody could make sense of it, or them come to think of it. PFLH? No sense at all.

Somebody was up to no good that was certain. Crucifixion pointed to Yahweh and his people but they rarely came down this way. He had heard that a delegation from Yahweh was on its way to visit Satan but who knew what for. Wise demons did not involve themselves in the affairs of those so high up for when giants fought, midgets got trampled. The most likely bet was that one of the Dukes was making a power-play, trying to expand his influence over the netherworld at the expense of Chondrakerntolis’s Duke. Now that would make sense.

Something weird had been happening recently. The number of souls that had been arriving in hell had suddenly accelerated, rising by orders of magnitude. They’d been dispatched to the various regions of hell of course but at every level the numbers were being hidden so that their essence could be used by the lower-level demons instead of restricted to those of higher caste. Was that why Jarakeflaxis had been killed? Had one of the Dukes or Greater Demons found out that human life essence was being diverted and settled for that public punishment. But if it was an example, why was there no indication of what it was an example of?

That question so Chondrakerntolis that he never noticed the thin wire stretched across the pathway. His Beast saw it but the threat it represented didn’t register. The prime characteristic of a Beast was its unthinking ferocity, caution was not a desired characteristic. As a result of their inattention, neither was quite aware of what happened next of the skill with which it had been planned. The wires were attached to push-pull detonators fixed to four claymore mines, placed so that their victim was the center of an X defined by the cones of cubical metal shrapnel they generated. The wires also tripped a timer switch on four one-kilogram blocks of Semtex that had been buried under the path’s surface.

Chondrakerntolis tried to make his brain work, he was surrounded by flying mud and dust, his body ripped by wounds that sprayed his green blood around. His Beast was down, its front legs and one of its claws torn off, it’s body broken and bleeding. Even as he watched, the path surface erupted, shredding the already-dying Beast and throwing its parts around. The connection was inevitable, whatever the reason for the death of Jarakeflaxis, he was also to be its victim.

The mud and mist stirred and three figures emerged. HUMANS!. Chondrakerntolis cudgeled his dying brain into absorbing this data. Humans had done this? How? They were cattle, prey to be milked of their life essence, nothing more. They had killed him? How?

A human female knelt beside him and he heard her voice. “Somebody told us you couldn’t be killed. Guess they were wrong huh?”

Chondrakerntolis tried to reply but couldn’t. As his vision faded out, one question tormented him. What happened to demons when they died?

Watch Tower, Banks of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell.

The thunder, strange and mysterious had echoed around the Fifth Ring. Naxalavorsetys looked over the rim of his tower, there wasn’t much to see, just the seething of the mud in which the humans spend eternity on the edge of drowning. Just to be sure, he fired off a flare, lighting the area around the tower a bit better. Still nothing. He shrugged, strange noises were not unknown in hell. It was nothing to worry about. His shift would be over soon and he could go back to his normal life. The regular legions were all being called away and the jobs of the guards were being taken over by civilians such as him. This was something that he did not like at all.

The second blast was very definitely something to worry about. It was stunningly close, Naxalavorsetys felt the superheated air blast at his skin, felt the shock-wave pummel him. More importantly, he felt his watch-tower lurch as a major portion of the stonework on one side was blown away. His tower was collapsing and he realized what that meant even though he couldn’t comprehend how it had been done.

It wasn’t the fall that killed Naxalavorsetys, it was the wreckage of the watch-tower landing on top of him that did the job.

A few minutes later the two three-human strike teams joined up and set off for the next target.

The Division Wall of the Sixth Ring, Hell

Kerflumpus always enjoyed stretching his legs, even if just to torture a few humans here and there. Now, he was marching out of the Sixth Ring into the Fifth he proudly threw out his chest and swung his arms. News had been all over about the crushing defeats inflicted on the insurgent humans, and his legion was mobilizing to move out and continue the pursuit of the shattered human nations, to spread out and batter their world into submission.

The prospect excited him. They said that the sky in the human world was different, that it was light and dark, instead of the dull orange-and-brown striation. Well, now he would get to see it – and to experience crushing the humans and driving them before him, to taste their panic, blood, and flesh, as a member of the second army to pour from the portal into the humans' plane.

Kerflumpus was in the second platoon of his legion; ahead and to his left, the commander, a Greater Demon, was swaying with the gait of his Great Beast as it stepped off the Styx bridge. Its arched tail curled over his head, and he was sitting in the saddle with a bored look on his face when, with a sigh, his head exploded. Kerflumpus caught it out of the corner of his eye, and swung around with horror, as every other demon in the unit did.

Suddenly, something similar happened to the demon next to him: there was a whistling sound, and then they were both staring in horror at the fist-sized hole that had opened up in his chest. Spattering green blood all over Kerflumpus, he staggered a few steps and fell over the parapet of the bridge into the slow-moving, murky Styx below. All across the bridge, it seemed that demons were falling at random every ten seconds or so, and the situation was proceeding nicely toward absolute pandemonium: the head of the legion was held up at the forward edge of the bridge by the dead commander, milling about with no idea what to do; the tail of the legion was crowding into the bridge with no idea what was going on. Meanwhile, the legion ahead of them was marching off along the road into the mists of the fifth ring, with no idea what was happening behind them.

There was obviously some wizardry at work here, heretofore unknown in hell. In sheer, undiluted panic, Kerflumpus charged his trident and loosed it off the bridge. He was watching the head-sized ball of magic zip across the river toward the far side when the air punched him, blanking out all sound as he was thrown up, spinning in midair. All around him, he saw other demons thrown up, some weakly flapping their vestigial wings; it was almost comical, and it was the last thing he saw before the masonry fragments and shrapnel shredded him.

Across the river, Lieutenant Kim whistled as the bridge blew. It was more spectacular than she'd expected; the initial flash of detonation was impossibly fast, and the blast wave ripped apart the bridge as though it were made of sand, sending Baldricks flying. She nodded back at McInery and Terrant. “Good work placing the semtex, Mac and Bubbles.” The two were grinning ear-to-ear.

Behind them, two of the other three members of Tango-one-five were setting down the M107s. “Good shooting to you guys, too,” said Kim. It hadn't really taken much; the Baldricks had been tightly packed on the bridge, and all they'd had to do is fire into the crowd. The .50 caliber Mk213 bullets had done a fabulous job. As usual.

After surveying the scene for few minutes and letting the two pilots – both avid big-game hunters before their units were called to Iraq – pick off a couple of more bad guys and the commander of the next brigade-sized unit, Kim hoisted a satchel of webbing onto her shoulder. It had about two dozen more bricks of Semtex, the detonators, and several boxes of ammunition. “Okay, boys. We're done here. Let's head out and get the next ambush set up.”

Adjusting her webbing straps so they didn't chafe her through the mud caking her body, Kim led Tango-one-five back down the Styx toward their supply cache and the rope bridge they'd strung across the river. Once on the other side, they would set about making the Dis-Dysprosium road a hell within hell, one that Baldricks would fear more than they feared Satan himself. Kim already had a name for it. La Route Sans Joie.

Palace of Satan, Infernal City of Dis, Sixth Ring of Hell

The banners of kingdoms long conquered swirled in the red mist as the Akropoulopos approached the diamond throne of Satan. He had always known being a messenger was a bad idea, and now he knew that his life was a couple of minutes from ending. “Oh mighty prince,” he began, “overlord of the innumerable legions of – ”

“Get on with it,” snapped Satan irritably, clicking his claws against the hewn gem. “What news have you brought me of Abigor's brilliant success?”

“Sire, the messengers from Abigor are silent. I bring news not of Abigor, but of terrible happenings much closer to your throne.”

“Well, what is it? Hurry up; my time is not your kidling's plaything.”

The messenger swallowed and groveled. “My lord – I do not know how to say this. The bridge leading to the road to Dysprosium has been destroyed.”

Satan stopped clicking his fingers. “What?” His voice was quiet, which was even more terrifying than the hysterical fits. “Repeat yourself.”

Akropoulos was shivering uncontrollably. “Your invincible eminence, the bridge across the Styx has been destroyed. Those legionaries who were there report that it burst into many pieces with the roar of ten thousand demons. Flying stones killed many, and –”

“What,” asked Satan, cutting him off with a word, “do my advisors think to be the cause of this ... outrage?” Still silkily smooth and quiet.

The court was silent, save for the shuffling of feet as some of the more perspicacious demons positioned themselves so that the inevitable rage would not claim their lives.

“Speak!” roared Satan. “I COMMAND you all, SPEAK!!”

One demon timidly cleared his throat. “Um, Sire, none of us can think of any explanation, save ... .” He trailed off, but not in time to save himself.

“Save what?” screamed Satan, balling his hand into a fist and pounding it on his throne.

“Save ... uh ... save, perhaps, most improbably, a bit of stray human magic?”

Satan's glare squashed him into an unimaginably horrible pulp. “You will all find us the cause of this outrage! You will ensure that it does not happen again! This is our domain; our immortal, invincible will decrees that no human mage shall ever work his magic once more in this infernal pit!”

As the court demons hastened to obey, scrambling around the wide hall, Akropoulos took the opportunity to scuttle unnoticed away. As he hurriedly left the palace, he promised himself to try again to join the legions; messengering was too hazardous a job.

Fifth Ring, Hell

The road, large flat paving stones laid atop a low causeway of dirt, wound through the foggy swamps. The half-muted groans of the eternally-drowning souls crucified in the mud echoed dimly through the stinking air. McInery surveyed it with a grim smile. “You think we can actually blow the causeway, ell-tee?”

Kim shrugged. “Why the hell not try, Mac? Bubbles, you got the Semtex?”

“Aye, ell-tee, right here.”

“Let’s lay it.” Kim directed the other members of Tango-one-five recon flight to lay eight Semtex bricks on each side of the road, spaced several hundred feet apart. The bricks were pushed down into the soft earth, no more noticeable than large rocks.

As Tarrant finished pushing the electronic detonators into the last brick, McInery hurried up to where Kim and the rest of Tango flight were standing. “Ell-tee, we have contacts coming from that direction.” He waved behind him.

“How many, Mac?”

“Didn’t count; just saw the torches and heard the voices.” In the distance, dim chanting floated through the mist toward them.

“Everyone, off the road!” she hissed. She grabbed the last bag, slung it over her shoulder, and waded into the bog after the others. They made toward a low granite outcropping just within view of the road. As they hurried behind it, stumbling past several submarine crucifixes, the chanting grew louder.

“Pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem.” The tramping of the feet, all in step, grew, and the first torchbearers appeared through the mist. Kim suppressed a gasp; they were not Baldricks. These were honest-to-God Cherubs, dressed in pure white that seemed to glow like pearl through the thin fog, and they were chanting something – was it Latin? Whatever it was, Kim had enough of a musical ear to note that the singing was perfect, the pitch exactly correct, the timing exquisite. She couldn’t have emulated it herself, when trying to sing, she hit all the right notes, she just hit them in the wrong order.

In the midst of the Cherubs – all chanting, all bearing torches, and all wearing swords at their sides – were greater humanoids head and shoulders taller than the others, with flawless skin and, damningly, white wings folded across their backs. “Mac, how many you count?” whispered Kim.

“I got seven angels, ell-tee, and seventy-seven cherubs.”

“We’re at war with heaven and hell both, right, guys?”

There was a mutter of affirmation from beside her, and a brisk, quiet, “Let’s take them!” from one of the big game hunters, who had been a devout Catholic up until The Message. Kim nodded and thumbed the detonator.

The concussion knocked the breath out of her, even at this distance. The blast tore the heavenly emissaries apart, spattering white and red blood and body parts along with the dirt, mud, and chunks of rock. After, where there had once been a road, there was a giant gaping hole filling with vile, gurgling swampwater. The group of angels and cherubs was scattered in many pieces through the surrounding swamp.

When she got her breath back, Kim was last in line as Tango flight trooped away from the carnage as fast as they could, quietly jubilant. Then a stray thought crossed her mind. “Boys, we’re going to need some more Semtex.”

The Banks of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

Rahab looked at the dead Beast and its rider in horror. The Beasts and the demons who rode them were invulnerable, everybody knew that. Those few who had tried to kill them had died deaths that were terrible even by the standards of hell. Yet those new arrivals had killed this pair. She knew who had done it all right, nobody else would have the gall to even try. And if that wasn’t enough, the letters PFLH written n the Beast’s side in its own blood were enough.

Were they insane? Rahab’s stomach clenched with fear at what was likely to happen. Once these deaths became known, there would be revenge, reprisals. The demons would come down here by the legion, searching every inch of ground for those who had done the deed. In the process, they would find all those who had escaped from the pits over the millennia and, at best, return them to torment. Thousands of souls doomed to return to their agony because these six decided to upset the natural order of things. When she had left them in the underground room, Rahab had been sorely tempted to ‘arrange’ for them to be found by the guards and returned to the pits. She had dismissed the idea, believing that their comments and stories had been just wild boasting. Now, she guessed they were not and she bitterly wished she had betrayed them. Condemning six souls was better than dooming the tens of thousands of escapees.

She’d been searching for them for days, trying to catch up with them and bring them into shelter. Now she had found this. She agonized over the decision, what to do? At that point another fact penetrated her bewildered mind. She had seen no flares from the watchtower that lay close at hand. Fearfully she made her way to where it had stood, only to be appalled by the sight that loomed through the mist. The watch tower was a blasted stump, its wreckage spread all over the paths, some of it sinking into the mud. And on the stump were the letters PFLH. Written in the blood of the watch-demon.

What else had these mad humans got in mind? And what to do about them? In Rahab’s mind was another question as well. Was it time to join them? And did she have any choice in the matter?

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:47 pm 
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Somewhere In The Desert, Western Iraq, late afternoon

The sand collapsed underneath his clawed feet, sending him tumbling downwards into a ravine he had never seen. Memnon had been staggering through the desert, at first with purpose, trying to make his way back to the Hellmouth and deliver his message but all plan or intent had long since been burned out of his brain. The sun had seared him, brutally, without mercy, sending his body temperature soaring and fogging his brain with mists that owed as much to hallucination as the shimmering heat haze. The bitter cold of the nights had been worse, if anything, than the roasting heat of the sun. There were parts of hell where the souls of humans were roasted in coffins or blasted around on super-heated winds. Now Memnon knew the sufferings they endured

He’d also had a plan, to keep going until his wings regenerated and he could fly the rest of the way. That plan too had died, his wings were regenerating although slowly. They were growing back twisted, malformed, useless. Memnon guessed that the fragments of iron that he could feel in his back, the legacy of the fire-lance that had torn his original pair off, were interfering with the growth patterns and leaving him with these poor apologies for wings. Whatever the reason, he knew that he would never fly again. Never soar through the comforting skies of hell, looking down on the great city of Dis that surrounded the pit where human souls were forever condemned to suffer.

Nor were his mutated wings the only parts of his body causing him grief. His stomach was an empty pit, chewing at the very center of his being. His last meal of human flesh was long forgotten in his screaming need for raw meat, yet in this endless expanse of sand there was no sign of food. Nor was their water and his throat was closed tight, swollen with the thirst that was adding its measure of suffering to the madness that was slowly but surely taking him over.

He rolled down the sandbank, seeing the sky rotate above him, the hated yellow sun glaring down as it laughed at his suffering. His body stopped its role, impacting on a strange irregular mass that yielded on his impact. Memnon looked harder at where he had ended up, it was a gully through the sand, perhaps one carved by flood water and not yet erased by the wind. It was not the sand that had stopped his roll though, it was the bodies of dead demons, perhaps half a dozen of them, piled in the bottom of the crevice. Had they crawled here for shelter and died? Or had their wounds overcome them?

Memnon pushed at the bodies, feeling one firmer than the rest. That is what kicked his mind into action, here was meat. He ripped off a large chunk from the firmest corpse, the others were already far advanced in decay and sank his teeth into it. His throat was too swollen to swallow at first but a thin stream of fresh blood from the meat eased it enough. Then, the implication of that thought struck Memnon at the same time as there was a faint, racking groan from the body he was eating. The demon was still alive. It took only a second for Memnon to fix that, his claws lashed across its throat, killing it. It was, probably, a merciful act.

Memnon filled his stomach with fresh meat and the blood eased his thirst a little. It was then he heard a strange sound, a thumping from the sky that reminded him of clawed feet marching down the road from Dysprosium. There was a great bridge on that road, one over the River Styx, where a demon could stand and drink in the sufferings of the humans below. He would like to stand on that bridge again.

The thumping grew worse and to Memnon’s horror a human sky-chariot flew over a hill, obviously searching the ground. It was not one of the sleek ones, the ones that had mutilated and maimed him, it was an uglier, more ungainly monster that had a strange rotating structure over its head. As if its wings spun around instead of flapping. The sky-chariot slowed down abruptly and its nose started to swing backwards and forwards, searching the ground ahead of it. Memnon knew what it had spotted, the pile of bodies in the ravine and it was checking to see if they were dead. He paused, then froze. Perhaps if he played dead, it would go away. The shame of that thought made him want to weep but he remained motionless anyway.

There were a series of explosions, very fast, and streaks of fire from under the sky-chariot’s nose. They ended in the ravine and walked a long it in a series of small blasts. Memnon willed himself to remain still, if he got up and ran, the sky-chariot would kill him for certain. If he stayed still and silent, he might survive, and he did have the message to deliver. The blasts stopped well short of him, it had only been a very short burst. Memnon realized that it had been intended to scare any living creature in the mound into moving so that it could be killed. He congratulated himself on defeating the cunning plan, and again when the sky-chariot turned and flew away.

Soon the desert was silent again and Memnon could start moving. He left his ravine, it took much longer to climb up the sandy banks than it had taken to descend, and started off again, heading west towards the setting sun. He didn’t even have a clear idea of where he was any more, only that the portal home was somewhere to the west. He wanted home so badly he could taste it, anything to get away from this hideous planet and the humans with their deadly chariots.

Some time later, he had no idea whether it was minutes, hours or days for his whole world now concentrated on the effort needed to pick his feet up and lay them down again, to keep up his slow journey west, he saw a strip of black. A human thing that they laid across the desert so that their chariots could move faster. Memnon’s heart stirred for on it were familiar figures, infantry demons. Also heading west. From a rocky outcrop on top of a hill overlooking the blackstrip, he summoned up his energy and focused his far-seeing vision on them.

The sight of a defeated army was a pitiful one, it always was, always would be. Memnon had seen a defeated army before, in the skirmishes that constantly went on in Hell as the Great Dukes jockeyed for position there were defeated armies often enough. This was something else, something that went so far beyond pitiful that Memnon had no words to describe it. The infantry had thrown their tridents away and were staggering as they walked west. Some supported others, helping them along and that amazed Memnon for in Hellish armies the demons lived or died by their own strength. Even as he watched, he saw one fall to its knees and try to collapse in exhaustion but the two nearest helped it to its feet and half-carried it onwards. He had never seen anything like that before. Nor had he heard anything like it, a moaning, half-wailing sound of demons in dire distress.

Then he heard the same dull thudding noise only this time he knew what it was. The Sky-Chariot was coming back. He looked and saw it, black against the sky and with three more of its kind in company. They were heading in fast, obviously knowing precisely where to go and, as Memnon saw, what to do. Two fire-lances erupted from each of them, swinging out towards the column of misery he had been watching. The fire-lances streaked in, too fast to see properly and terminated in explosions, all eight equally spaced along the column on the blackstrip. He could hear the explosions from where he lay and heard the screams they caused.

The Sky-Chariots didn’t leave it there, they were closing on the column and Memnon saw them rake it with the same weapon he had experienced earlier, the same rapid series of explosions the same red streaks ending in smaller bursts on the ground. Only these ones were in the mass of living demons and he saw them flayed by the bursts, chopped down. Two of the sky-chariots flew parallel with the column, peppering it with the explosions, tearing at it. Some demons tried to escape by running sideways but the sky-chariots followed them and chased them down. Each attempted escape ended the same way, the demon vanishing in the dust of the blasts, to be seen torn and dead when it cleared. It didn’t take long for Memnon to understand that the sky-chariots were playing a game, competing between themselves to see who could kill the largest number of escapees.

What sort of people were these humans? Memnon was bewildered by what he was seeing, the army was defeated. Anybody could see that. What was to be gained by this slaughter? In Hell battles were fought until one side had lost then stopped. Sometimes a battle would never start, one commander would see he was clearly outmatched and stand no chance of winning so he would concede the issue. He had never seen this before, this relentless pursuit and destruction of a beaten enemy. The sight made him shift with rage, boiling anger at human cowardice seething within him. Even destroying the retreating foe, they stood off and killed from a distance, they never closed and fought their enemy honorably. He controlled himself, he had no desire to be a target of the sky chariot’s games.

Finally, when all on the blackstrip was still, the four sky chariots made a final pass over the scene of carnage and left. Memnon was about to leave his cover in the rocks that topped his hill when he saw dust on the horizon. He shrank back into his rocky shelter and watched. The cloud materialized and Memnon saw something that chilled his heart still further. A long column of Iron Chariots, some big, some smaller, with a sky-chariot flying on each side. He watched, appalled as they drove over the demon corpses stretched out on the blackstrip, grinding them into green and yellow smears on the black surface. Then, once clear of the remnants of the column Memnon had watched, they peeled off the blackstrip and spread out in a circle the long tubes pointing outwards.

He was fascinated by the sight. As far as he knew, nobody had ever watched the humans in their iron chariots when they weren’t killing. He saw humans climb out of the iron chariots, oddly the smaller ones seemed to have more humans than the big ones. They walked around, he could see them unloading things from the chariot and pass them around. Then more chariots arrived, great ones that dwarfed even the bigger iron chariot. Some had tents on the back, others great cylinders.

The tented ones started to unload boxes, the humans breaking them open and passing the contents to each other. Strange things, pointed cylinders that gleamed in the sun. They put the cylinders inside the iron chariots and seemed to be happy at the labor. Others were passing around other things from the boxes. But it was the great cylinders that confused Memnon. The chariots carrying them pulled alongside the iron chariots and somehow the humans connected the two with a long snake. Were the two chariots mating? Memnon shook his head in disbelief and continued to watch what happened beneath.

Alpha-One-One, Somewhere In The Desert, Western Iraq, before dusk

“That’s it Hooters, we’re out of gas. Or as near to it as makes no difference. Got a little in case we have to maneuver but we go no further.”

“We don’t have to Biker. This is where we’re supposed to wait for the supply trucks. We clear of the stink?”

That was a lesson the tankers had learned early. Dead baldricks rotted fast in the sun and the smell was dreadful. It was so bad back where the baldrick army had been broken under the hammer of artillery fire and the anvil of armor that there was serious question whether people would be able to live there again. The smell seemed to seep into the soil.

“We’re fine Hooters.” Baldy had stuck his head out and sniffed. “The fly-boys in the Apaches did a good job on this lot.”

“Hokay. Take five guys. Crab, Baldy, stay on overwatch while Biker and I stretch our legs.” She picked up the M4 carbine from its clips and heaved herself out of her commander’s hatch. It took a moment’s effort to scramble down the outside of her tank and then the sand felt good and solid under her feet.

“This sounds crazy Ell-tee, but you know, I’m kinda getting to like the desert. It seems grow on us dunnit?”

“It does Jim, it truly does. There’s a grandeur here, something elemental somehow.” They’d both noticed the crews of the other Abrams tanks and Bradley infantry combat vehicles also dismounting to stretch their legs and dropped the nicknames. “You ever seen a desert before?”

“Nope. I’m from Vermont. Just a rubber who spent the week in the city and the weekend in the hills. Then my Guard unit got called up and here I am.”

“Rubber?” Stevenson looked curiously at her driver. He didn’t look like a contraceptive.

“Rich Urban Biker. Where you come from El-tee?”

“New Jersey. Bayonne to be precise. Joined the Guard to work my way through college and found myself here in the sandpit instead. Then the Message came, your old Ell-tee laid down and died and I was the only spare officer available.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised, he always was a sanctimonious old bastard. When we at camp and he visited a local knocking shop, he’d get on his knees and pray for forgiveness first. Cracked the girls up it did.”

Stevenson whooped with laughter and shook her head. “Don’t it always go to show? Them that talks the talk don’t walk the walk. Right Jim, we better give the others a chance to stretch.

She’d timed it just right. By the time her crew had got their break, the big Oshkosh ships of the desert had arrived and were driving into the laager. Critically, all the fuel trucks were there, their load of fuel was desperately needed. She watched carefully as the hoses were unreeled and the fuel trucks started gassing up the Abrams and Bradleys. Other trucks were unloading boxes of ammunition.

“Hey Ell-tee. You need reloads?”

“Sure do.” She looked at the barrel of her tank. They’d stopped using a single ring for each baldrick kill, now they had a one-inch band for 10 and a quarter inch band for singles. Plus their single white band as well.

“Right, can give you ten Sabot, twenty HEAT, the rest canister.”

“I’d like more canister if you’ve got it. Not much use for sabot.”

“Sorry Ell-tee, we’re running low. We’re sharing out the HEAT and canister and making the numbers up with sabot. The brass tell us they’re flying 120 in direct from home and more’s coming from Europe but we’re still running low here where it counts.”

“Hokay.” Slightly resigned but there it was. Nobody said war had to be easy. Stevenson and her crew started breaking open the crates and bombing up their tank.

They were interrupted by the sound of a Blackhawk landing.

“Captain Stevenson?”

She turned around, slightly irritated. She assumed the mistaken rank was a comment on her dress, she was wearing a tank top and had left the top of her BDUs in the tank. The desert may be grand but it was still hot.

“Its Lieutenant, Err Sorry Sir, I’ll get my blouse right now.” She did a double take. Colonel Sean MacFarland was standing in front of her.

“Well, when you do, you can get to pin these on it.” He handed her a small box, containing double silver bars. “Congratulations. You’ve done a fine job out here.”

“Sir, thank you Sir.” Stevenson looked at the bars in her hand.

“You’ll take over this combat group. You done good Stevenson, especially for somebody thrown in the deep end the way you were. The whole group will be staying here tonight, the way the pocket is shrinking around what’s left of the baldricks, there’s too much danger of friendly fire if we don’t take things carefully.”

“Big jump up Sir.” Stevenson was nervous, what amounted to a company command was a challenge to put it mildly.

“Same for everybody Stevenson. Army’s growing fast, we’re taking cadre out of units to help train new outfits as fast as we can. You stay alive, you’ll have a battalion in a few months. Well done Captain.”

MacFarland wandered off, apparently at random but to those under him, it always seemed that he would turn up an exactly the time needed to spot a problem developing. Around the laagered combat team, the dusk started to settle and the flashes of artillery fire grew more distinct.

Somewhere In The Desert, Western Iraq, night

Abigor huddled in the rocks, looking out across the desert. If his instincts were right, the hellmouth was very close. The last few days had been a horror, the human sky-chariots had hounded his force as it had disintegrated. They’d never let up, their curious rotating wings beating the air, the thumping of their weapons always so deadly. His Army had started retreating, what was left of it, then the retreat had become a rout. Still the humans hadn’t let up, they’d pursued him until the rout had become a panic stricken flight for the rear and the defeated army had become a helpless mob that had been slashed into ever-smaller pieces. Then, when he thought he had finally escaped, he’d seen more of the human iron chariots in front of them, blocking the retreat.

That was when he had understood at last. The humans didn’t fight their battles to make a point, they fought them to destroy their enemies. He’d noted something else. In Hell, armies fought their battles bottom-up. The foot infantry would get killed but rarely any of higher rank. Commanders had better things to do that kill each other. Anyway, how could one negotiate a deal with somebody one had just killed? But the humans fought their battles top-down. They started by killing the enemy commanders and then slaughtered the decapitated mass that was left. There was a corollary to that, they fought that way because they didn’t intend to negotiate with the losers.

How could they have understood humans so little?

Abigor shook himself, and cautiously looked around. The humans could see in the dark, shots could come out of nowhere. Still, it looked safe enough and there wasn’t far to go. The hellmouth was so close now, just a few more hours away.

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

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