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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 26 - 30
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:55 pm 
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Central Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Inspector Richard Doherty was a veteran police officer, having been in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, or Police Service of Northern Ireland (incorporating the Royal Ulster Constabulary, George Cross) to give it its full name, since 2001 and had served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for twelve years before the change of name. He was one of the 20 percent of the service’s officers who were Catholic (well, ex-Catholic and it was about 15 percent since The Message), though as a veteran RUC man he thought of him as an eight percenter, 8.3 percent of the old force having been Catholic. The Message had hit Northern Ireland harder than the Mainland; around a quarter of the population had just lain down and died, or committed suicide, including many of the Province’s religious leaders and some of the political ones. Sadly for the police about ten percent of the service had been amongst those who had died.

Like many of his co-religionists he represented the fact that Catholics had been promoted in numbers well out of proportion to the percentage of total officers. He still remembered the days when becoming a police officer, or soldier, was a very dangerous choice for a Catholic. Not only were you likely to be shot in the back, or blown up while carrying out your duties, but your family was also at great risk. Only now, times had changed.

The appearance of the armies of Hell in the desert of Iraq and a baldrick attack in America had really stepped up the level anxiety for the public. To reassure the population, the PSNI had put a strong armed presence on the streets of the Province. Backing them up were a couple of regular army infantry battalions, who would soon be joined by the recently re-formed Home Service battalions of The Royal Irish Regiment. Men and women (known as ‘Greenfinches’) who had served in these battalions had flocked back to the colors when the decision to re-form them had been announced. Fortunately the army still had enough equipment and uniforms in storage in Northern Ireland to equip them.

The Inspector was in charge of a Police Support Unit of twelve officers, mounted in a pair of armored Land Rovers, known as the Tangi. Once upon a time the Tangis of the RUC had been painted grey, now they were painted in the same orange and yellow checkered ‘Battenberg’ high visibility scheme worn by similar vehicles on the Mainland

Doherty shook his head as he saw a man and a woman, both carrying Armalite rifles, walked past as they did their shopping. One of the first acts after the British Government had declared a State of Emergency was to repeal all existing gun control laws. Illegally held weapons were now appearing openly on the streets. It was quite amazing how many of them there were. But then, the various groups of Irish terrorists had been notorious for burying stashes of guns all over the countryside.

“Few years ago we would have been arresting that pair, or worse, Sarge.” Doherty commented.

“That’s right, to be sure.” Sergeant Chris Ryder replied. “I don’t think I’ll ever get use to seeing ex-Provos or Loyalists walking about with their guns openly.”

“Yeh, I know what you mean, Sarge. If I had my way half of them would still be in the Maze; murderous bastards the lot of them. Those rifles won’t do them much good anyway; I hear that a full thirty round magazine of 5.56mm rounds only slows a baldrick down.”

Doherty had every reason to be bitter about the terrorists. One of his friends had been shot in the back by an IRA gunman while administering First Aid to a woman injured in a road accident, while another had been crippled by a blast bomb thrown by a Loyalist mob.

Suddenly a series of loud screams caught the attention of both officers. Doherty and Ryder turned towards the sound, just catching the sound of two ‘pops’, pistol shots. They were just in time to see one of the police support unit personnel, Glock 17 still in his hands, being eviscerated by a three meter high demonic apparition.

“Jesus…I mean bloody hell! ….. I mean, oh ****!” Doherty exclaimed as he watched the baldrick kill a civilian who was too slow in running. His mind seemed to be running in slow motion and he had time to reflect that The Message had eviscerated the English language’s stock of forceful expressions.

“Get the rifles out of the Tangis!” He yelled to the remainder of the unit, then “RUN! RUN!” to the nearest civilians.

Doherty and Ryder both drew their pistols and opened fire, even though they knew that the 9x19mm rounds would probably do little more than piss the baldrick off. The baldrick turned as he felt the new stinging impacts, he turned and saw two more of the humans dressed in green and wearing those funny hats pointing their outstretched arms at him, as if praying, or begging for mercy. He marveled at their apparent stupidity, praying had not saved the last green clad human.

The two police officers retreated towards the Tangis, changing the magazines in their pistols. Several other members of the unit had also opened fire, but to Doherty’s horror he could see that although the baldrick was bleeding from multiple wounds it had not even been slowed down. All he could do was continue to fire until he ran out of ammunition, and hope for the best.

At this point an armed civilian joined the battle, engaging the baldrick with an AK-47, the demon paused, ignoring the police officers for a moment to take hold of the civilian, tear out his heart and throw him through the air.

Finally the two officers assigned to the task managed to get the six HK33 rifles that were held in lock boxes in each Land Rover and threw them out. Doherty dropped his Glock and grabbed the rifle from the police woman with a great deal of gratitude. He had no hesitation in selecting full auto, raised the rifle to his shoulder and opened fire. Now that the surviving officers were armed with rifles, even ones firing 5.56x45mm NATO rounds, the baldrick finally began to show that it was feeling the effects of the gunfire. It began to stagger back under the effect of the massed gunfire, especially now that several armed civilians had joined the fight. Two of them had pump-action shotguns and the heavy slugs produced the first real impacts on the creature.

They drove it back, the bullets pounding on its body. Finally it collapsed to the street, dead. Doherty and Ryder advanced on the body cautiously, changing the magazines on their rifles. To their relief it was very dead.

“Score one for the good guys.” One of the armed civilians was loading his shotgun with more heavy slugs. He looked sadly at the street where a police officer and two civilians were down, in crumpled, lifeless heaps. “Cost us though.” Then he grinned at the police officers. “Still, its good to see true fighting Irishmen all on the same side at last.”

Cabinet Office, White House, Washington D.C.

“We must anticipate that there will be further attacks of this kind. In view of what that monster told us…” Secretary Warner was interrupted by a tangible shudder that ran around the room. Memories of the succubus’s presence at a meeting were all to fresh. “these attacks have been going on for a long time and we see no reason why they should stop now. In fact, with the destruction of the baldrick army in Iraq, they might well pick up in tempo. So, as a line of defense against such attacks, I propose the formation of a local defense force that will protect areas where there are large gatherings of people. Malls, sports meetings etc. The personnel will be drawn from all citizens between the ages of 18 and 50 who are not currently serving in the armed forces. Obviously, we’ll give priority to people whose industries are not needed for the war effort, they can serve one of their work days. We’ll arm them with the new .458 rifles we’re putting into production. I propose the new force be called the Local Defense Volunteers.”

“Local Defense Volunteers.” Secretary Rice’s voice was thoughtful. “LDV. You know what they’ll be called don’t you? The Look, Duck and Vanish.”

“Look, Duck and Vanish?” Warner thought for a second. “I suppose so. How did you come up with that?”

“The British had a similar force back in World War Two. Originally they called it the Local Defense Volunteers but they changed it to ‘Home Guard’ because of the misinterpretation of the acronym.”

“How did you get Local Defense Volunteers anyway John?” President Bush’s voice was curious.

“I was looking at a picture of the Civil War and it made me think of the U.S. Volunteers. The new group is for Local Defense so I put the two together.”

“What’s wrong with U.S. Volunteers?” Bush was curious. “Sounds good to me. We can revive all the names of the Civil War units for the local forces. Add a sense of history to the undertaking. We can even call on some of those re-enactor people to start them off. They’ll have to use their own guns to start with of course.”

“I’d love to see the effect of a minie ball on a baldrick.” Rice’s voice was droll. “They might like the smell of black powder though. Lots of sulfur in it.”

“So, we’ll get the bill written and pushed through. U.S. Volunteers it is. So decided?” Bush looked around. There was a unanimous nodding of heads. “So be it. Next issue?”

“Aircraft production Sir. We’re getting the B-1 production line set up now. It’ll be starting work in around three months time, expect to see the first aircraft off the line this time next year. It’s good we kept the tooling. The first AT-45Cs are coming off the Boeing line now. They’re a minimum-change armed version of the T-45C, they’ll keep the line running until the single-seat D model is ready. F-111s and B-52s are re-entering the fleet from Davis Monthan now. A lot of older aircraft as well, we’ve got some like the F-4 being assigned to wings, more as placeholders than anything else. The rest we’re going to use for tests. To see what sort of aircraft can fly in Hell-like conditions.”

“Any F-102s?” Bush spoke with a mixture of nostalgia and enthusiasm.”

“Yes Sir, nine were preserved, we can make two flyable. Not enough for issue so we’ll be using them for experiments.”

“No you won’t.” Bush spoke firmly. “This is a Presidential directive. Get those two flyable F-102s down to Andrews and designate them the Presidential Fighter Flight. And get somebody to check me out on them, it’s a long time since I flew a ‘102.”

In the background, the Secret Service Presidential Bodyguard detail went white at the thought of a President flying a death-trap like the F-102. The President might think he was going to fly one and the aircraft might be sitting at Andrews with a pretty paint job but he would get in the cockpit over the Secret Service’s collective dead bodies. From the expressions around the Cabinet Room, they weren’t the only ones with that in mind.

‘PINDAR’, under the MoD Main Building, Whitehall, London.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown looked across the table at his new Deputy Prime Minister. God (he’s have to remember not to use that name again), that grinning idiot got on his nerves, he’d strangle him if he asked Brown to call him ‘Dave’ again. Well, it was the price of coalition politics he supposed, and there was not a great deal he could do about it. The PM did reflect on the fact that Deputy Prime Minister David Cameron did rather remind him of a poor clone of his late, unlamented predecessor. Who could have imagined that Tony Blair had been so devout? It had come as quite a shock, even to this son of the Manse.

Given his Scots Presbyterian upbringing, his father had been a Minister in the Church of Scotland, The Message had hit Brown hard. He felt angry and betrayed, but could not help wondering if this was some kind of supreme test by God, or maybe the creature claiming to be Him was in fact not the Supreme Being at all, but some kind of imposter. The latter had certainly been the opinion of the Moderator of the Church of Scotland when Brown had spoken to him.

In the first couple of days after The Message there had been a great deal of uncertainty in the United Kingdom. Those who were most religiously devout, around a tenth of the population, had died; some had just lain down and given up, others had committed suicide in a variety of imaginative ways. Some religious leaders had spoken to the Prime Minister, demanding that Britain surrender to the inevitable; those that were still alive were now residents of HMP Belmarsh, which was rather empty now that most Islamic fundamentalists were gone.

While a smaller proportion of the population of Britain had died, the deaths had been largely concentrated in a few areas. Parts of Leicester and Bradford had become ghost towns and at least a couple of the smaller Western Isles had been totally depopulated. Clearing up the bodies before they decayed and caused a disease outbreak had been quite an undertaking. The government had called in the army, who had assisted in clearing up the corpses and building the funeral pyres used to dispose of them. Facing economic and social chaos on a scale never before seen, Brown had declared a State of Emergency and had signed Queen’s Order Two, mobilizing the entirety of Britain’s Armed Forces. ‘Entirety’ included all reserve forces, service pensioners and all cadet force personnel over sixteen.

Britain was going to need everybody who could hold a rifle, or train others to do so. One largely unknown fact was that the Army Act and its counterparts covering the RAF and Royal Navy allowed for the reintroduction of conscription without any new act having to be put before Parliament. In his second speech to the British people Brown had announced the immediate reintroduction of National Service for everybody between 19 and 55. Finding enough equipment, uniforms, or personnel to train the millions of men and women who would now be inducted into the army, navy and air force was another matter, and would take some time.

The next step had been to examine existing Emergency Powers Bills that had been prepared for potential wars and see what was applicable to this particular situation. While all of the anti-terrorism related emergency plans were up to date those doing the research were rather alarmed to find that the last time the plans for General War (the closest scenario to this one) had been updated was 1992! This set of plans and Emergency Powers Bills had served as the basis for those that had just been rushed through Parliament along with a declaration of war on Hell, which along with Britain’s devolved parliament and assemblies, was now prorogued, the remaining members having dispersed to their constituencies.

At least now with Parliament prorogued Brown would now only have to deal with his Cabinet and the three First Ministers, though they could be something of a pain. At least many of the government’s emergency powers overrode much of their authority. The Prime Minister realized that the Minister of Defence was speaking and tried to look like he had been listening all along.

“…And the news from Iraq certainly seems to be good. The baldrick attacks on Allied Forces have been totally defeated and their army is in headlong retreat towards the Hellmouth.” Admiral of the Fleet Lord West was saying. “Damn all good it will do them because the American 1st Armored Division and the Iranian armored division have cut off their line of retreat.”

Appointing Admiral West as the new Secretary of State for Defence had come as a development of the horse-trading that had taken place during the formation of the Coalition government. The Service Chiefs as well as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had made it very clear that they had no confidence in West’s predecessor, Des Browne, so he had to go. The Admiral was already the Parliamentary Undersecretary for Security, so he had experience of working in government, he had great experience of military matters and was highly respected by both the Services and politicians.

“The 4th Mechanized Brigade has performed very well against the baldrick army; I think our retention of rifled guns for the Challenger 2 has finally proven its worth.” The Admiral said, continuing his briefing. “They’ve demonstrated an ability to strike the enemy at a greater range than the smoothbore guns on the American tanks.”
“That’s certainly true.” General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, agreed. “Our HESH rounds have also proven to be somewhat more effective than the HEAT rounds used by the Abrams, though we do need something like the canister round they have. There was a canister round produced for the old Challenger 1, and if we have any left they may be compatible with the Challenger 2.”

“Talking of shells, ammunition is one thing that Major General Binns has expressed concern about.” Admiral West told the Prime Minister. “A great deal of ammunition was expended in stopping the baldrick attack and while the stockpile in theatre is in no danger of running out just yet he is beginning to run short.”

“I take it we are moving further supplies to Iraq?” The Prime Minister asked.

“Yes, Prime Minister.” West confirmed. “We are moving stocks of ammunition from the UK and Germany to Iraq. The remainder of the 1st Armoured Division is moving to ports of embarkation in Germany in case it is needed in Iraq, and we have alerted 3 Division to be ready for possible deployment, though we may need them at home.

“Immediate reinforcements for our forces in Iraq will come from Afghanistan, where the threat has disappeared overnight. In fact the senior surviving Taliban commander has sent a message to the commander of ISAF offering the support of his men in fighting the war. Iran has agreed to assist in the movement of our troops, and other contingents of ISAF from Afghanistan to the theatre of operations.”

The Prime Minister nodded, indicating that he understood.

“What progress is being made regarding the restarting of tank shell production?” Brown asked. “I don’t think that we can rely on supplies from South Africa, as memory serves they were somewhat shoddy anyway.”

“We have sent a Ministry team up to the site of ROF Bishopton, along with some chaps from BAE. It seems that the factory is still largely intact, so restarting production should not be too difficult, if a bit expensive.” West replied. “Fortunately the plans to build houses on the site were delayed, so no demolition has taken place and most of the equipment is either there, or was put into secure storage. The initial estimate given by my people is that the factory should be up and running within two months.”

“Good.” The PM replied. “I trust there will be no problems regarding finance, Alistair?” He asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“Not at all, Prime Minister.” Alistair Darling replied. “Defence and industrial projects related to the Defence of the Realm will get all the money they need. The Bank of England is printing more money so that we can continue to pay our bills; that does, of course risk the most appalling economic downturn when the war is over.”

Gordon Brown laughed, the first time he had done so in a long time.

“Only if we win, Alistair. If we lose then I don’t think it will be a problem.” He turned back to Admiral West. “Admiral, if at any point BAE drag their heels, either over Bishopton, or increasing production of aircraft, tanks, rifles, or whatever, tell them that should they continue to bugger us around Her Majesties Government will nationalize the company and sack the management, thus making them eligible to be conscripted into the army.”

“Certainly, Prime Minister. I shall certainly look at sending them somewhere nasty if that happens.” West said.

“I’ll deploy them to Iraq.” Dannatt commented. “My soldiers need more equipment as soon as possible, so I’ll not have them putting their lives at risk any more than they are already. There is one thing that we do need to ask your permission to do, Prime Minister. The SA80, along with all rifles chambered for 5.56mm NATO rounds have proven to be less than effective at dealing with baldricks. They will kill them, but it takes a great deal of ammunition, and has resulted in soldiers being killed before the baldrick dies.

“We have found that the .338 Lapua round used in our sniper rifles is far more effective, so we would like to start immediate and rapid development of a rifle chambered for this round to replace the SA80. My staff have identified the old SLR as a suitable basis for this weapon, so we would like to arrange for production facilities to be set up as soon as possible.”

“An Urgent Operational Requirement I take it, General?” Brown asked. “Then by all means do whatever is necessary to get this weapon into the hands of our soldiers.

“On another matter entirely I have heard that the Americans have managed to make contact with some of their soldiers in Hell and are in the process of starting an insurgency. Are we engaged in a similar undertaking?”

He saw the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, smile in very cat like way.

“We most certainly are, Prime Minister. Our Special Forces people are working very closely with the Americans on this. If possible we’d also like to try to contact any of our personnel who have ended up in Hell. We believe that if we can organize all of the ex-military personnel who have ended up in Hell, or even just a small proportion of them, then we may be able to get quite a rebellion 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.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:56 pm 
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Apartment in Queens, New York
He carefully wrote out the name and address on the plain manila envelope with his black sharpie. It whispered across the surface as his elegant but simple strokes spelled out the name James Randi. He stopped for a moment, the quiet dulcet tones of the classical music in the background was swelling up now and he listened. He ignored the palsied shaking of his left hand. There was no time for fear.

His eyes drifted down to the small pile of photos stacked up next to the open envelope. The top photo was a wide angled shot of an African village, thatched huts and low hanging solitary trees with scrub brush everywhere. It was almost clichéd as if he had taken a photo of an African village set in the back lot of Paramount. He only wished that were true. In the wide angled shot there were plumes of black smoke rising up in several locations throughout the center of the village. His thoughts, unbidden as always, drifted back to that moment in time. His eyes lost their focus on the photo and he was no longer in his quiet home in a non-descript neighborhood of Queens. He was stalking through the deep scrub brush of the African village.

The heat was oppressive and the sweat clung to his body unwilling to leave and unable to really cool him in this Subsaharan warmth. He had heard of the atrocities committed here in Darfur and like many of the Western journalists here he was losing hope that anyone cared about the Africans dying in the wastes of this forsaken place. As he walked into the village he was painfully aware of how alone he was here and how exposed should rebel or government forces decide to descend on this village and finish what they had obviously started. He could already hear the lamentation of the women. It was a mournful yet desperate dirge that refused any succor or solace.

It was the wailing of the women, the gnashing of the teeth of the men that must have attracted it here. The sounds of death in the old ways. The way people used to mourn before things got so civilized. But he was getting ahead of himself, wasn’t he? He stepped between huts and abandoned carts, weaving through the debris and the occasional crater caused by some form of ordinance. Perhaps the government had sent another of it Russian made bombers up north to deal more death to these villagers. It had happened before.

He camera whirred and clicked in rapid fire sequence as he took his shots while moving through the village, a discarded doll, a shoe left in the dirt, blood smeared across a doorway. It was all a flowing narrative and he was capturing it as best he could in this miserable heat and squalor. The smell struck him as soon as he approached the town center and he immediately knew what the fires were. People were burning. He pulled his camera up before him like a weapon, fingers tense as he prepared to take his shots.

He stepped over a dead mule, the flies already swirling in angry buzzing clouds. His eyes narrowed on the ruined town center. The market was on fire and there were people trapped within some of the flaming wrecks. A lot of people. The bombs struck at midday when many of the villagers were gathering what they could for dinner. The people who did this knew precisely what they were doing when they carried out the attack. He began snapping photos, lens quietly clicking as it focused in on the flailing limbs of the trapped and burning, capturing the expressions of pain and anguish. The lost hope was stamped across the faces of relatives. He had to keep taking the pictures because if he stopped, even for a moment, he could actually begin to comprehend what he was actually seeing and he would lose all sense of composure and self control.

People were trapped in the rubble and being burned alive and there was nothing anyone could do about it. He captured, with numb resolve, the desperately futile attempts by relatives and good Samaritans to douse the flames with buckets of water or dirt. He continued snapping pictures as they worked furiously. Suddenly a young girl rushed up to him and began tugging at his arm and speaking to him in machine gun like delivery. She was begging him, begging in the most heart wrenching manner for assistance. All he could do was drop his camera for a moment and shake his head sadly. Tears welled up in her eyes and she pulled now, almost as if trying to physically drag him to the scene. He continued to shake his head and then weakly responded in his stilted version of her dialect that he could do nothing.

She shook her head and wailed, slapping herself on the sides of her forehead and falling to her knees. She sunk down into the packed earth and sobbed into it as if it were her mother’s breast. Her body shifting back and forth furiously as if trying to burrow into the ground to escape her grief and her cries were like knives in his heart. He stared down at the sight dumbly, unsure what to say or do. His Western mind was unprepared for this level of grief.

“It is like music don’t you think, Jude?”

He froze. The voice was soft like silk sheets on skin. The person stood beside him, materializing out of the air like a shadow escaping the noon day sun.

“The anguish, the terror, the guilt. When death comes for humanity it is the most feared and awesome event in their too brief lives.” His eyes slowly turned to regard the person. He stood taller than Jude, black as obsidian in the sun and wearing simple white shirt opened at the chest with filthy khakis. His feet were clad in battered hiking boots. The boots were splattered with what he guessed were ancient blood stains. “Imagine it, Jude. You come into this world and breath for the first time you have simultaneously taken one more step towards death.” The newcomer turned his head slowly to face him and it was so achingly graceful that Jude wanted to weep. “The moment you are born you are dying. That is the paradox in which you live.”

Jude shook his head slowly. “Who are you?” he asked quietly. There was an awesome sense of power around him, like standing next to a livewire and he was dimly aware that the activity around them, the dying and the screams were all slowing down and muted as if the world were pausing out of respect for his conversation with the stranger.

The stranger smiled softly as if at a private joke. “I am a traveler in your world, I come and go as I please and where I go death follows me.”

“You’re not human.” Jude replied without thinking and immediately had no idea why he just said that.

“I am more than anything you have ever known, Jude, son of Gregory. I am the sword, the scythe of the One Above All and in my passing entire nations have wept bitter tears. The first born tremble at my name.”

Unspoken, Jude heard a single name whispered with reverence in his head. “Uriel.”

The black Adonis like being said nothing but pursed his lips as if contemplating his next words carefully. “Follow me.”

“What?” Jude stammered.

“Follow me, Jude. I have many roads yet to travel and this continent pleases me. The people here still know how to grieve. They are still connected on a primal level to death and mortality. Your sterile world repels and abhors me. Death in your world is a clinical state with consequences tied up in paper work and inconvenience. Here. In this place.” Uriel slowly raised his arms as if to embrace some unseen thing on the ether. “Death is still felt.”

“This is insane.”

“No, this is life and death happening now. There is something coming. A great message that might make even your great Empires in the West feel again. I wanted to bask in the cold glow of entropy one last time before I must leave this place.”

“I’m talking to the angel of death…” Jude whispered to himself in disbelief. “I finally lost it. I’ve seen too much.”

Uriel suddenly reached out, at least Jude guessed he reached out because he must have done it between the blinks of an eye, for the in the next instant Uriel’s hand grasped Jude’s chin tightly and forced him to look into his eyes. And in the angel’s eyes he saw pool of white within white and something else. Something dark and chittering like a mad insect.

“FOCUS child of Seth.”

Jude’s hair grayed at the temples and he felt a palsy come over him, hands shaking and his bowels released their contents without hesitation. He stood in abject terror, rooted in place and suddenly everything Uriel wanted and said was the sole thing in Jude’s universe.

“Follow me, you will know my wake for in it there is pestilence, war and famine. Follow me throughout this continent and see my great works. For when I am gone there will be none like me again in this universe. I am the One Above All’s scythe, where I go, humanity dies. I am not just some quaint Angel of Death, I am entropy incarnate. I weep for your world for my touch is far more merciful than what is to come. The Morningstar has always been too…blunt an instrument for my taste.”

Jude said nothing but his tongue lolled in his mouth and his vision began to fade. He could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears and the roar of blood., His heart was slowing, inexorably slowing to a dull thrumming and he could feel ice collecting where Uriel’s fingers touched his flesh, his blood had instantly recoiled at the touch and remained away from the points of flesh on flesh contact.

“Within your bloodline is carried the ancient gift like the one borne by the Witch of Endor and all that ilk. You can see me for what I am. So follow me, Jude, I choose you as my final witness in these dark days. A prophet for a new age.”

Uriel released Jude’s chin and watched the young man for a moment as blood rushed back into his face and graying cold clammy skin slowly regained its luster. His hair remained grey and his cheeks had sunk in slightly. There was no doubt these were scars that would remain. One did not touch the divine without scars remaining to mark its passage.

Uriel looked back over the crowd of screaming refugees, the world apparently was coming back up to speed and volume and nodded as if coming to a decision. “Peace be with you and my peace I grant you.” He whispered and suddenly every single living thing in the town square down to the angrily buzzing flies dropped to the earth in an instant. Uriel nodded in satisfaction turned in a slow beautiful motion and strode away. In the glaring noon day sun Jude saw the hint of ebony wings jutting from his back. He numbly looked around and then realized what had happened and acted as only he could. He lifted his camera.

He snapped back to the here and now and saw that he had finished writing the address. He sighed softly and coughed. Blood speckled down on the white coffee table. Yes, one did not walk with the Angel of Death and remain untouched. He gently took the stack of photos and scanned them one last time before slipping them into the envelope. Each photo a place in Africa, each one a record of devastation and death and each one followed by a photo of a black man, black enough to have been carved from obsidian like a walking statute and beautiful, so beautiful that in many instances the photos of his face simply blurred as if man’s technology simply could not capture the sheer grace of the being, and in many of these photos there were the onyx wings unfurled like a predatory hawk as it strode through the wreckage of its passing.

Every prophet needed his gospel. Every prophet needed to warn the people. Jude Sanchez was no different. He had to warn the world that Baldricks were not the only thing that stalked them from beyond. He sealed the envelope.

Hampshire, England.

The knock at the door came while Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward, DSC, AFC, RN (Retired) was eating his breakfast. Cursing the interruption at this hour of the morning he made his way to the door.

“Yes, what is it?” He asked before taking in who his visitor was.

To his surprise he saw a very young looking Sub-Lieutenant, Ward noticed the wings on his sleeve marking him as a naval aviator, with two armed bluejackets, both wearing the brassard of the Naval Police, standing behind him.

“Commander Ward, Sir.” The young officer said.

“Yes, how can I help you, Sub?”

“Your presence is required at Yeovilton, Sir.” The Sub-Lieutenant replied, handing Ward a sealed envelope.

He was shocked to discover that is was from the First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sir Jonathan Band, himself. It informed him that the Royal Navy was returning the Sea Harrier FA.2 to service and as part of this was recalling as many retired Sea Jet pilots to service as it could. As the senior Sea Harrier pilot, and pioneer in operating the aircraft, his services were required for refresher training. Admiral Band also offered him a promotion to Captain should he accept this post, if not he would simply be conscripted as a pilot at his former rank.

“Give me ten minutes to pack a few things, Sub, and those two Regulators won’t be necessary.”

Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire.

The aerodrome echoed to the sound of four Rolls-Royce Olympus turbojet engines being throttled up to full power. A great delta winged shape emerged from behind one of the hangars and made its way towards the runway; Vulcan XH558 was back in service.

Taking their lead from the USAF, the Royal Air Force had been scouring the countries aviation museums for aircraft that might possibly be returned to service. A small collection of various kinds of Tornado and Harrier were already on their way to RAF St. Athan, or BAE Preston for refurbishment, while a small collection of Blackburn Buccaneers was currently being assembled. Finally the air force’s attention had focused on the only remaining airworthy Avro Vulcan B.2 left in the world. They were also now looking at the Vulcans and Victors maintained in taxiable condition, as well as those held in static condition.

Meanwhile the volunteers of the Vulcan Operating Company had either found themselves back in the RAF, or conscripted into the air force. The technicians, assisted by a team brought in from the rest of the air force, had been working hard for the last couple of weeks turning XH558 from a display aircraft into a warplane once again. One advantage that they had discovered was that the modern electronics that they had installed took up less space, and were lighter than the 1950s equipment that the aircraft had once carried; that left more capacity for fuel and weapons. Spares was a potential issue, though at least the VOC had assembled enough to keep XH558 going for a while, and fortunately Rolls-Royce still had the details of how to build the Olympus engine. If push came to shove though, some spare parts might have to be manufactured from scratch.

If returning XH558 to service was successful it would serve as the model for XL426 and XM655, both of which were potentially airworthy, and for any of the other surviving Vulcans and Victors that were in reasonable condition.

For the entirety of the past week RAF armorers had been conducting weapons fit tests, confirming that yes, the Vulcan could still carry 1,000lb bombs, and just as their counterparts in 1982 had discovered, that she could carry three 1,000lb Laser Guided Bombs in its bomb bay. They had also double checked that it could still carry another weapon it had once carried too.

As one of the aircraft chosen to carry the ill-fated Skybolt missile XH558 had two underwing pylons that had been used in the Falklands War to carry Shrike missile and ECM pods. These pylons had been reactivated so that once again they could be used for weapons, or jamming pods.

Today XH558 was heading off to the RAF bombing range at Garvie Island to test her newly restored capability, her belly full with twenty-one 1,000lb bombs. Her pilot and co-pilot advanced the throttles forward to the stops and the bomber began to accelerate down the long runway, once used by SAC bombers on Reflex Alert and roared into the air as if she was young again.

“London Military this is X-Ray Hotel 558, requesting permission to climb to flight level thirty and proceed on flight plan, over.”

“Roger that, 558. Welcome back to air force, over.”

_________________
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 12:59 pm 
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Oxford, England.

Professor Richard Dawkins was a deeply unhappy man. He had spent much of his career trying to prove that God, and by extension Satan, did not exist. He had even managed to convince himself that he had proven it beyond reasonable doubt. Several scholars disagreed with him and had even gone as far as to write books that argued that Dawkins was wrong, though the professor was so convinced of being right he had not even tried to debate with them, despite the apparent logic of many of their arguments. He was right, and that was all that mattered.

The Message had upset all of his work, God did exist, even if he had abandoned humanity to the tender mercies of Hell. Despite all of his efforts to try and prove it was fake, The Message had been all too real. The only crumb of comfort he could take from the situation was that his thesis that religion was inherently bad had been proven right, and at least he had not had to listen to the faithful said ‘I told you so’, which would have happened had a benevolent, loving God revealed himself.

Despite all that was happening in the world Dawkins had decided to devote his time to writing a book that argued that The Message had vindicated his work, glossing over the fact that he had been wrong about the non-existence of Heaven and Hell; most readers would not remember that, he thought. Evidently he had not been paying enough attention to the news, the Government had implemented paper rationing to go with fuel and food rationing, and very few books would be getting published in the near future. In fact very little other than military manuals and very truncated newspapers would be published from now on. To the intense distress of some, The Sun had decided to discontinue Page 3 for the foreseeable future.

Dawkins’ stomach reminded him that it was time for lunch. He left the Oxford University college where he worked, intending to eat in the pub frequented by C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein, idly wondering whether they continued their theological argument now that they were in Hell.

He passed two Thames Valley Police constables, the thought of John Thaw coming into his mind as he did so. What did bring him up short was that both officers were armed, still something of a rare sight in Britain. The two Police Constables carried the standard Glock 17 as a sidearm, though one carried a G36C rifle, while the second carried a pump-action shotgun. The British police had searched through their armouries to for suitable weapons to arm as many of their officers, whether Authorised Firearms Officers, or not.

“Professor Dawkins?”

Dawkins turned back from staring at the two coppers to see a slightly dishevelled, long haired man in his mid twenties standing in front of him. The professor was not worried, lots of his fans and acolytes liked to speak to him about his work, or ask for his autograph. It wasn’t as if he was likely to be assailed by any religious fanatics these days.

“Yes.” He replied. “I think I have a pen here somewhere…” Dawkins continued absentmindedly.

“Good, good.” The man said satisfied. “This is all your fault!” He suddenly yelled, taking the professor by surprise. “You and your ilk denied the All-Mighty and he has abandoned us to eternal damnation as punishment!”

“Look here…” Dawkins began to say hopping that those two police officers he had seen earlier were not too far away had heard the commotion and would come to his rescue, but was cut off by a sharp pain in his chest.

He looked down to see the wild eyed man pull an eight inch knife out of his chest. The man raised his arm and stabbed again, and again and again.

The two police officers had indeed heard the yelling and had been hurrying to deal with it. Instead of seeing two men arguing they saw one man lying on the pavement surrounded by a spreading pool of red, while the other was spattered with blood and held aloft a dripping knife. He looked straight at the aghast police officers.

“All-Mighty lord, today I have truly done your work today. I will gladly do my penance!” The murderer screamed, his voice rich in exaltation.

The shotgun armed constable brought up his weapon and shot him once. The heavy slug intended for use against baldricks made an incredible mess of a human being, blasting a huge hole in his chest and throwing the corpse out into the road.

“Enjoy rotting in Hell mate.” The copper said as he worked the slide on his weapon. “You’ve condemned an innocent man to hideous torture.”

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

“This letter was received by the Institute a few hours ago. It provides us with eye-witness evidence that angels as well as demons have been behind much of the misery that has afflicted our world over the centuries..... Excuse me.”

Randi turned to a secretary who had brought in a message flimsy. He read it, then turned dead white. “Gentlemen, Ladies, my apologies. I must ask to be excused. Please carry on with the agenda.” He turned and left the conference room, the sharper observers noting that he staggered slightly as he did so.

A few minutes later, Julie Adams knocked quietly on the door of his office and went in. Randi was sitting at his desk, his face in his hands, sobbing quietly. She slipped behind him and put an arm around his shoulders, she owed her sanity to this man and some comfort was the least she could provide.

“What’s happened James?”

“An old friend of mine, Richard Dawkins, has been killed. He was attacked in the street, in Oxford. He never stood a chance.”

“A baldrick?”

“No, that’s what is so horrible. It was some religious nutcase, witnesses say he was screaming stuff about how Richard and I brought all this down on humanity, that by denying God, we brought about all humanity’s damnation.”

“That’s ridiculous James. The poor man was probably insane – or possessed. Was he wearing his hat?”

“Is it so ridiculous? Really. We were so sure we were right, that all this talk of gods and devils and great sky pixies was just old, outmoded superstition. Just ancient people without the knowledge to understand what was going on around them giving the only explanation they could think of. We laughed at them, ridiculed their ideas and beliefs and all the time there was a higher dimension, there were creatures who influenced our lives. The old legends did have a base of truth in them and we laughed them off. Just as we laughed off the people who tried to tell us we needed these tinfoil hats. Now its the people who refuse to wear them that are the dangerous cranks. So did we condemn humanity by our arrogance?”

“When did Heaven get closed to new entrants James?”

“Nobody knows. Everybody has different theories but 1000 AD is the most popular.”

“And you and your friend are really that old?”

Rand started at the suggestion and frowned. “This isn’t funny.”

“No it isn’t James. It’s not funny at all. You’re blaming yourself, your friend and all those who thought like you for something that happened more than a thousand years ago. That’s absurd, not funny. Got news for you James, the world does not rotate around you any more than it rotates around any one of us. Your friend was a victim of the same mean, treacherous deception that made victims of us all. So stop blaming yourself and try to think out how we can help your friend.”

“What?” Randi was stunned by the comment.

“Well, we know he’s in hell don’t we. Everybody who dies is. We know kitten can find people in hell and contact them if she has enough to go on. You have pictures of your friend, personal stuff, things he gave you? Then give them to kitten, see if she can contact him. Then we can work out how to get him out of there.”

“Bring him back from the dead?”

“Why not? We’re sending enough occupants of hell in the opposite direction. At least let’s try instead of wallowing in self-pity.”

Inner Ring, Seventh Circle of Hell

Richard Dawkins writhed and twisted on the burning sand, trying to evade the flurries of searing flakes that tormented him. As far as he could see, he was in a featureless desert, broken only by the forms of other victims thrashing about in the same agony as him. He had no idea how long he had been here, all he could remember was the knife plunging into him and then everything round him converging into a single bright dot, the way an old-fashioned television did when the station closed down. Then the impression of a tunnel and the sudden impact of the pain as he had found himself here.

This was it, this was hell and he was stuck here forever. Then he mentally struck himself, no, he wasn’t here forever. He was here until humans could blast their way down to him and free him. That was it, that was it all. He had to hold out until then.

The burns from the sand and those accursed flakes made thinking difficult and Dawkins believed he was going mad. There was a voice calling him. “Richard, Richard.”” He knew the pain from the burning was making him hallucinate. “Richard, Richard?” It was still going on.

“Lalla?” It couldn’t be, she was still alive. He was imagining things.

“No, its kitten. Is this Richard Dawkins?”

“Who are you?”

“You don’t know me, I work for James Randi. You are Richard Dawkins. If you are, we’re using you as an experiment.”

“I’m Dawkins. Please, help me.”

“We’re trying. Hold on.”

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

“I’m through, I got him. Poor thing, he sounds terrible.”

“Being knifed and sent to hell will do that to a man.” The speaker was one of four Special Forces men in the room, wearing orange-red BDUs and armed with the new M4A5s.

“Get ready to move Lieutenant Madeuce. Once the portal is open, we can’t hold it for long. And don’t forget the bolt-cutters. Ready kitten? Here we go.”

James Kirkpatrick started turning up the dial, artificially boosting the signal they’d recorded connecting kitten and Dawkins. Soon enough, the now-familiar ellipse started to form. As it increased in size kitten was threshing round helplessly on her couch, her partner dabbing her forehead and whispering comfortingly to her. Then, it was large enough and the Special Forces H-team stepped through.

Inner Ring, Seventh Circle of Hell

“Get a poncho over him fast. Damn these blasted flakes, what the hell is this place?” Madeuce was angry and hurried, this was nothing like what had been described to them.

“Hell boss. Sir, stay still Sir, we’ll get you out of this. Just hold still.” The tool-steel bolt-cutters sliced easily through even the thick bronze shackles.

“**** we’ve got company!” A figure, tall and black had suddenly appeared. Madeuce squeezed off a burst from his carbine at him and saw the figure lurch with the hits. Then a streak of fire shot across the burning desert and the baldrick exploded. “Well done Frankie. They don’t like them AT-4s.”

Behind them the other two members of the team had freed Dawkins and dragged him through the ellipse. Madeuce and Frankie Portello followed them out and the ellipse closed behind them.

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

“We got him!” The voice from the Special Forces team was triumphant. All four were back in the room and the portal had been open for less than a minute.

The body of Richard Dawkins was in the room with Doctors applying instruments and probes. “We’re getting readings, he’s errr.....” The doctor was about to say ‘alive’ but stopped himself. “With us.”

“Richard can you hear me.” Randi was urgent, almost frantic, far removed from the gentlemanly, calm demeanour he usually maintained.

“James how did you... what’s happening?”

“We got you out. Don’t ask how but we did.”

“Mister Randi, energy levels we’re getting are fading, its as if his life, if he wasn’t already dead, was leaking out.”

“Right.” Kirkpatrick was already speaking to kitten. “Can you contact Lieutenant Kim please. Then we’ll open a portal to her.”

“All right, please hurry though.” kitten relaxed on her seat and closed her eyes, concentrating on her picture of Jade Kim. Over the other side of the room, the H-team was loading up with supplies for the PFLH. No point is wasting trip.

“Richard, we can’t keep you here, we’re sending you back to the Fifth Circle. We have a resistance team there, they’ll shelter you until they can get you into hiding.”

“Ma’am.” Lieutenant Madeuce was speaking to kitten. Don’t hold the portal open after we’re through. Once we’ve arrived, we’ll be staying there for a while.” kitten nodded with her eyes still closed.

On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

Kim’s eyes suddenly defocused. “Message coming through guys. Our resupply hopefully.

Lieutenant Kim? It was kitten again.

“Yes kitten”

“Get ready, portal opening. There’s a special forces team and a passenger coming through with some supplies. They’ll explain what’s happening. Get ready now.”

The black ellipse formed as a point and rapidly swelled to its full size, large enough for a man to step through. Five figures came through, four in red-brown BDUs that matched the foul air of Hell very well. The fifth man was naked, his body burned but already starting to heal. Kim recognized that, it was the enhanced healing power of hell. This person was one of the dead, just like Kim and her little unit.

“Ma’am. Lieutenant Madeuce. Special Forces. This is Richard Dawkins, we pulled him out of somewhere else in Hell and brought him here.”

“Why? We haven’t room for passengers.”

“We needed to know if people can be brought from hell to earth and stay there. Well, they can’t, he was, well, dying for want of a better word. The egg-heads needed to know if kitten could find other people, we needed to know if we can do transits like this. So many things. Look, we’re staying on to help you here. In your reports you mentioned a refugee organization. Can they look after him?”

“Why can’t I fight as well.”

“Because you’re not trained to. This is a job for professionals.” Madeuce’s voice was curt. “Can we get him to safety. Ma’am. My orders are to place myself under your command.”

Kim nodded. Being dead had its advantages, if this war went on long enough, she would be the most senior Lieutenant in history. “There is a refugee organization, headed up by a woman called Rahab. We don’t know if we can trust her, this will make a good test. OK, Bubbles, Mac, we better find Rahab. Madeuce, you bring supplies?

“120 kilograms of Semtex, another M107 a lot of ammunition for same and six M4A5 carbines. Oh, and a video camera. The brass want pictures and films of hell.”

Kim nodded, the Semtex wasn’t enough but it would do. “Who are you Sir?”

“Richard Dawkins. I was an author.”

“I know, I read one of your books. Guess you must be pretty embarrassed huh? Don’t sweat it, we’ll look after you.

_________________
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 1:00 pm 
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Martial Field of Dysprosium, Hell

Had it been only two earth weeks ago? Then, his army had marched out, banners flying, horns, and trumpets blaring, drums thudding. A sight to stir the blood and induce martial ardor in all who saw it. A huge Army, 60 legions strong, 400,000 demons had sortied to defeat the humans. It was all supposed to have been so easy, so glorious. Trampling humanity underfoot, ravaging their cities, destroying their works and carrying their souls back in triumph to Hell.

And what was left now? How many of the 400,000 had made it back alive? Or even half-alive? 300? 400 at most and the majority were wounded, some so badly they would be little more than helpless children. Neither the humans nor their weapons had mercy, those who their weapons spared, they left crippled and feeble. The sounds were as appalling as the sight of the shattered fragment that was all that was left of his Army. No martial music, no bombastic speeches either. Just the wailing of the wounded and the bereaved. Abigor didn’t know which was worse, the cries of the wounded or the yowls of the females as they hunted through the survivors for their mates. Mostly those howls turned into screams of misery as they realized their mate was not on the tiny list of survivors, on rare occasions, the scream of relief was moderated, diluted, by the grief when they saw the awful wounds the humans had inflicted. Rare indeed for a mate to find her demon whole and untouched. Not one in tens of thousands.

Abigor heard the sobbing at his feet. A cavalryman was sitting down cross-legged on the ground, the head of his Beast in his lap. The cavalryman was badly wounded, his side laid open by fragments, but his Beast was dying. The fire in its angry red eyes was slowly dimming and the cause was obvious. The wound in its side was massive, blasted open and burned deep. A seeker lance had caused that, Abigor knew from seeing too many.

“Sire, he wouldn’t stop. I tried to make him stop and rest but he wouldn’t. He just kept going, carrying me back here. I did try to make him rest but he wouldn’t and now he’s dying.”

In this case, the Beast had shown better tactical common sense than its rider, Abigor reflected. If they had stopped, they’d have been caught and killed by the Iron Chariots. But it was true, the Beast had saved its riders life. “What is your name rider?”

“Visharakoramal Sire, of the Right Wing.”

“Visharakoramal, take your mate and go home. Go to somewhere quiet and remote where none who might seek would look and make your home there.” On the ground the light in the Beast’s eyes flickered and went out. It was dead. “Do not let his sacrifice be in vain. Take your mate and go home, when hundreds of thousands are dead, one more will not be noted.”

Visharakoramal nodded and gently laid the Beast’s head down, then took his mate and quietly left. Abigor looked around, catching another three figures coming through the hellmouth. Two demons carrying a third whose legs had been blown off, probably by one of the mage-bars the humans had scattered. That was new also, the sight of demons helping their wounded. They must have learned it from the humans, at Hit, Abigor had seen how many humans would risk their lives to rescue one of their own who was in trouble. He’d seen the great Iron Chariots go places and do unimaginable, terrible things to help one of their own. It was strange, exposure to the humans was changing the demons in ways other than the nightmare of the human’s crushing superiority in weaponry.

“Sire?”

Abigor turned. Behind him was a figure, not as great as he but still larger than the pitiful remnants of his Army. A Lesser Herald, but one whose wings were stunted and malformed.

“Sire I am Memnon, Lesser Herald. I have a message for His Infernal Majesty. May I accompany you to audience with him?”

An audience with Satan? Abigor shuddered, to relay the tale of this catastrophe was certain death. “You realize my company might bring you death? Who is your message from?”

“From Yahweh. And death I think, is the least of our problems.”

That was true, Abigor thought. It might be good to have company on this final walk. He found himself urgently wishing he’d died on the run to the hellmouth just a few hours ago.

Six hours earlier, Hellmouth, Western Iraq

Abigor crouched in the hollow. The hellmouth was clearly visible on the horizon, the impossible geometry glimmering black against the dark blue velvet of the predawn sky. For the umpteenth time that night – he hadn't slept; the quiet desert sounds kept startling him from any pretence of restfulness – he began to mull over the defeat, and stopped himself. There was just no way of explaining how the humans had become so powerful.

Sighing, he shook himself and peeked up; the huge portal was less than ten miles away. A straight run would get him there in less than an hour. He would cross through and – and then what? Report to Satan? Abigor frowned. If Satan had heard already, Abigor was as good as dead; no other Duke would want to begin to associate with him. His position in the court was gone, taken now, probably by Belial or some other scheming coward.

Could he stay with his former allies? The thought flitted through his mind, then was easily dismissed as he began trudging through the soft sand toward his destination. The Dukes who were former allies were just that – former. None of them would touch him with a thirty-foot pole now; given the totality of his defeat, he suspected that nothing could save him. But what alternatives did he have? Stay here, where the human magic crushed everything in its path and they sought out their defeated enemies to slaughter them like cattle? He had to get back to hell, he had to warn the others of the nightmare they faced.

The sun peeked above the horizon behind him, and his shadow stretched far ahead of him. The cloudless sky was striated orange and pink, fading to purple in the western sky before him. For a moment, Abigor stopped and looked around him, at the last clear, white stars fading in the west, at the beautiful dawn panorama unfolding in the east over the flat, unimaginably vast desert wastes. The ground here was as like a part of hell as any he'd seen, and yet above it stretched such beauty. The humans didn't know what they had, he thought; how could they appreciate such sublime beauty? And demons didn't know what they were missing either. With a twinge of sorrow, he contemplated again his ruined future back home under the dull, ceaseless striation of hell's skies.

Suddenly, his ears perked – a small buzz in the distance. Could it be a human implement? He froze for an instant, and in that instant, he detected a now-familiar deeper rumble: horseless iron chariots. He broke into a flat-out sprint for the portal.

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

“Have we got the Global Hawk feed up?” asked General Petraeus.

One of the technicians, Bert, replied, “Yep. It should be on the main screen right ...” there was a ticker of fingers on a keyboard and a mouse click “... now.” The screen blinked, fuzzed, and there was the hellmouth, black against the pink-lit sand.

The whole scene moved slowly as the cameras on the Global Hawk zoomed in on the portal. The entire hellmouth surveillance mission had been on the backburner as the Global Hawks had been used to control the allied forces that had annihilated the demonic army. That was over now, the baldrick army was shattered beyond comprehension or reconstitution, there were only handfuls of baldricks free and alive between the hellmouth and the Euphrates, and that had pushed intelligence-gathering back to top priority. Nobody ever won a war by defending themselves. They won it by taking the fight to the enemy. It was time to begin striking back at Hell, and that meant learning as much as possible about it, especially the terrain near the hellmouth which was, in the plans Petraeus and his colleagues were starting to draw up, the site of the first beachhead.

For a moment, Petraeus wondered if this was how Eisenhower had felt in 1943, then stifled the thought; Eisenhower had known so much more about his enemy, and his enemy had known about him. The two situations were only comparable if you didn't think about it. Then, he noticed a small black figure far below the Hawk, also making for the portal. “What's that?” He indicated the figure.

“Just a moment, sir.” The feed one the screen jumped through the magnifications until the figure was clearly visible: a large baldrick, running as fast as it could.

“Feed this through to the nearest armored unit, with orders to intercept and – wait, zoom in just a little bit more.” Something about the figure had triggered his memory. The feed duly zoomed, and Petraeus recognized the baldrick: his counterpart, the lucky one he'd missed with the artillery during the main battle. “Orders to intercept and capture.” If this worked out, it would be a huge intelligence bonus.

Hellmouth, Western Iraq

The roar of the Abrams engine almost deafening and the imperfections in the land bounced her around in her commander’s seat, adding extra bruises to the impressive collection she had already collected. Captain Keisha Stevenson nodded as the crackling orders came through the radio, and then repeated them on the company channel. “Guys, we've got a target. Orders to capture.”

In the light of the Iraqi dawn, the Abrams tanks and Bradley vehicles under her command sped up and veered left, the Bradleys belching black smoke and kicking up sand that hovered in the air in their wake, slowly dispersing.

Abigor ignored the pain in his side, pushing his legs as fast as they would go. The hellmouth was growing larger, a black swirling void underneath the horizon. If the humans didn't notice him, he was only a few minutes away from home. He could almost taste the sulfurous air.

But the roar of the iron chariots was louder dominating the sounds of early morning. He didn't let himself look over his shoulder, only gamely pushed faster. All he felt, his whole being, was now his feet pounding into the ground, his heart thumping in his chest, and the tingle of the magic in his back (he had long since abandoned his trident), all undercut by the gathering rumble of iron chariots.

All too soon, they were close behind him the cloud of dust they raised choking him. One pulled ahead of the rest and was almost beside him its odd head turning so that the long tube was pointing at him. Abigor tried to run around it, failed, then he switched doubled back and ran behind it, the hellmouth just a few yards away. His senses were overwhelmed by the cold and unyielding taste of the iron, not at all like the friendly warmth of the bronze or tin he was used to. As he dived behind the Chariot, he could feel a blast of heat, uncomfortable even for his own thick skin. Even as he expected the deadly blast off human mage-magic in his back, he continued to marvel at the humans' ingenuity and ability to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Chariots, without horses, that generated their own heat, propulsion, and magic fire lances while carrying humans within them.

Then, even as the muscles in his back cringed in anticipation of the expected blow, the blackness of the Hellmouth enveloped him

“Alpha-Actual. Sorry Sir, he got past us. No excuses Sir, he was so close to the hellmouth we only had one shot and we blew it. Want us to go in after him?”

There was a pause and Stevenson knew the message was going up the line and the response was coming down. “Alpha-Actual, Command Prime was watching on Eye-Five. Word is don’t blame yourself, that big baldrick would make a great football player. Stay out of hell for now. Drop back one klick and go hull down with a line of fire to the Hellmouth. The Generals are thinking.”

And we all know that makes their heads hurt. Stevenson thought, and settled back as much as was possible in the turret of an Abrams. “Biker, take us back one click to the ridgeline we crossed. Time to have a rest.”

University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“... and remember that problems one, three, and four of section 37 in the Munkres text are due next Tuesday. You may assume the Tychonoff Theorem; we will finish proving it next class. Problem five is extra credit. Class dismissed.” As the students in his Topology I class finished packing up their papers, Dr Kuroneko turned to the board and began erasing the proof of a lemma for the Tychonoff Theorem.

A polite knocking at the door caught his attention, and he turned around, adjusting his glasses and absentmindedly smearing chalk dust across his cheek and nose. “Yes?”

To his surprise, it was not a student wanting help with the homework questions; it was three men dressed in military uniforms. “Dr Kuroneko?”

“That's me, yes. How may I help you?”

“I'm General Schatten, of the US Army's D.I.M.O.(N) section. I understand you are the foremost mathematical expert in ...” He wrinkled his nose, fished in his pocket, and pulled out a piece of paper. “... in 'higher dimensional topology.'”

Dr Kuroneko shrugged. “Some people say that I am, yes.”

“Well, we have a team of physicists working on a project for us, and they recommended you as the mathematical expert we need. We've already talked to the math department here; they're more than willing to help with the war effort, so they've granted you indefinite paid sabbatical. We will, of course, be more than willing to provide you with additional compensation for your services. As well, your landlord has agreed to let us pay your rent while you live in Arlington and work for us, again indefinitely.”

The mathematician blinked. “So, I'm working for you? On what sort of project?”

“Dr Kuroneko, we have a problem. We’ve managed to open a portal to hell and we can communicate with those inside on an individual basis. We need to communicate with everybody in there, baldricks, humans everybody. We know it can be done because they did it to us, there was The Message and then that bombastic nonsense from Satan. We need you to work out the mathematics that underlies the situation, we need you to analyze the basis of how this communications phenomena works. The only way to understand something is to understand the maths behind it. At the moment we’re doing it on a purely empirical basis, we need you to make sense of it. Once you’ve done that we can start to use it properly.”

Kuroneko’s eyes lit up. Secretly, although he was too polite to say so, he was amazed that an Army General would understand the importance of basic theory. It never occurred to him that Generals dealt with basic theory and applied mathematics as a routine part of their job. “That sounds fascinating! When do I start?”

General Schatten smiled. “Yesterday if possible. Today at the latest. We're already loading your possessions into the moving van for you.” He stepped forward and shook Dr Kuroneko's hand. “Welcome to D.I.M.O.(N), Doctor.”

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina

“Man, what do we want with a piston-engined bird that’s fifty years old .” The F-16 pilot leaned back on the O-club bar, not noticing the slight air of reproof that went around the room. The two old B-29s sitting on the flight line might be relics of a bygone age but their crews were guests of the mess and the comment was out of place.

“We don’t know that jets can fly in hell yet, in fact we know nothing about the place at all other than its pretty unpleasant. We know that there’s a high content of particulates in the atmosphere, sulfur and pumice. The Predator that went in came back pretty messed up. So, prop birds give us another option. Also, we need every modern bird we can get up in the air, every second or third-line job that gets done by a museum piece is one more modern bird freed up for combat. That’s why we’ve got C-47s back in the inventory as well.” The scientist drank his beer reflectively. The tour around the museums hadn’t picked up that many usable aircraft, there was a big difference between a plane that looked good on display and one that was able to be returned to flying status, but they had a few. By a quirk of history, the B-29s had done better than most and even then only a handful were available for service. The non-flying birds and the aircraft too old to be of even fourth or fifth line use had their own role to play though. They were in the Hell Jars, being experimented on.

“Yeah but prop-engined bombers.” The F-16 pilot spoke with scorn and didn’t notice the frown of displeasure from his commander.

“I know, I know.” Colonel Tibbets put down his beer. He’d kept quiet to date, partly because he didn’t want to rise to the bait and partly because he had his own position in mind. He suspected somebody in Air Force Personnel had a sense of humor and had searched through the Air Force list to find a Colonel Tibbets to command the newly-reformed 40th Bombardment Wing. “We’re really going to need you guys in the fighters to protect us. Like we always have I guess. Why don’t we buy you a drink or three, show our appreciation?”

Next morning Lieutenant Barham woke up in his quarters with a head that felt ready to explode. The party that had started in the O-club had then moved to the strip outside the base and turned into a real bar crawl. He didn’t remember too much after the fourth or fifth bar but his head was dreadful. Those bomber boys certainly knew how to party. He glanced at the flight-line, both the B-29s had gone, probably on their way to whatever experimental station they would be assigned to.

At that point, Barham realized that it wasn’t just his head that was hurting. His rear end was also feeling --- inflamed. With a dawning sense of horror he went to the washroom and looked in the mirror and what he saw their confirmed his worst fears. On one buttock was tattooed the unit crest of the 40th Bombardment Wing and the motto “Old Age and Treachery Beats Youth and Skill”. The other buttock had a plan view of a B-29 and the motto “Four Screws Beats A Blow Job” tattooed on it.

Barham was still dumbly contemplating the sight when the phone rang. “The Squadron Commander wishes to speak with you. Now,” was the message.

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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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The Banks of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell

Another demon had died, his head grotesquely shattered by the human weapons. Rahab recognized the signs by this time, the physical destruction that had been wrought from a distance that gave the victim no chance of surviving, not even warning that it was under attack. She wasn’t quite certain how many had died to date, might have been twelve or more. She did know the number included some of the demons that had once ridden so imperiously on their Beasts. The humans had proved her wrong, they could be killed. In fact the humans had killed them quite easily. There was much to think on there. There was something else to consider as well. In her travels, trying to find the six new arrivals who were causing this mayhem, she had watched the demons and learned something else. They were scared, too many of their number had gone out on patrol and never returned. Now, they were beginning to skimp those patrols, to head through the area as fast as they could, not stopping for anything until they got back to the safety of the walls.

Rahab found herself asking, just how safe were those walls? She had seen what was left of the mighty bridge over the Styx, a mass of destroyed masonry flung around the way an angry child might scatter play bricks. A bridge that had stood for untold millennia had been wantonly destroyed, with, it was rumored, the best part of a whole legion that had been unfortunate enough to be standing on it. There were work gangs trying to repair it, some of them humans driven by demon overseers but the destruction had been so great it was defeating their efforts. She had watched while some of the repairs collapsed again, the foundations undermined by the power of the destruction. There had been other attacks as well, on the great road that led from the depths of Hell up to the city of Dis and from there out to the field of Dysprosium. Rahab had never been outside the great pit of hell but she had heard the area outside Dis where the Demons lived was quite pleasant by their standards.

Getting there would be a problem for the demons now though. That road had been the scene of one attack after another, the dead mounting as explosions tore into formation after formation. Rahab shook her head, it made little sense but she sensed the demons were losing the fight down here. They were trying to protect themselves against ghosts who would strike and slip away before they could be found. The new arrivals didn’t fight the demon way, for pride and honor. Rahab realized they fought for other reasons entirely, they fought to win and woe to anybody who got in their way.

Rahab felt the slam in her back that threw her to the ground and knew the agony of fear. Had she been caught after all this time? A figure was holding her down, her arms twisted behind her back and she guessed what was to come next. An agonizing rape certainly, then return to the hell-pit from which she had so barely escaped once before. Her time of freedom was at an end, there was no point in fighting and she went limp as she was rolled on to her back.

It was a kind of demon she hadn’t seen before, one with huge, staring, lidless eyes and a face below them that was featureless. It was red-brown, a varied skin coloration that merged in with the background. Then, as her senses overcame the blind panic, she realized something else. This creature wasn’t a demon, it was human. More than that, it was a living human, one from outside Hell. A living human that had voluntarily come to Hell? It was rumored there had been others but this was solid fact.

“Hello Rahab. I see you’ve met Lieutenant Madeuce. Sorry about the abruptness of the meeting.” Rahab looked up, it was the woman she had met before, the one who had abandoned the hiding place with her friends. Now she was different, she was wearing the same red-brown clothes as the still-alive had on. Rahab looked harder, she was also wearing a harness with strange green slabs on it and she had a black stick in her hands. An oddly, indescribably-shaped stick.

“Who are you?” Rahab needed to know.

“I’m Lieutenant Jade Kim, call-sign Broomstick. These are the rest of my unit. That’ll do for now. You might have noticed we have started a war down here. It’s going to get a lot worse. That’s part of the reason why we found you.”

“Found me, how…”

“It wasn’t hard. Leave it there. I’d guess the only reason why the baldricks haven’t found you is that they couldn’t be bothered with you and there weren’t enough of you to make any difference. So, they didn’t even try. That’s changing, we’ve hurt them bad and they’re going to start fighting back. You need to warn your people and get them out of here. We don’t have the numbers, yet, to protect a static population.”

“Yet?” Rahab was bewildered. None of what she was being told make sense.

“That’s our first question, you wander all over the place. Have you seen any more like us arriving? If so, tell us where they are.”

“Do you know how many people arrive here all the time? And this is a small part of Hell, a segment of one circle. A small segment owned by a minor duke. A few more have arrived here recently, I can show you where. But what if they are not the ones you want.”

“That’s the second thing. First part. We busted a guy out from one of the other rings. Tried to take him back to Earth but it didn’t work out. He started dying as soon as he arrived. So, he was brought back here. He’s not a soldier, no use to us. We want you to take him in, hide him. Second part. Same with any others that we bust out. If they’re of no use to us, we want you to hide them along with the rest of your people.”

“So you made a mistake and now you want me to put it right for you.” Rahab had the conceit and viciousness back in her voice. “Why should I help you?”

“Because we’re all human, because hell isn’t going to last very long. Our people are coming for us and Satan and all his foul legions won’t stop them. The more chaos we stir up down here, the less resistance he can put up back there, and the sooner we will win. Because we are, believe it or not, on the same side.”

“Or we’d better be.” Madeuce’s voice was muffled by the scarf over his nose and mouth. The first few hours down here had been horribly uncomfortable for him and his chest still felt raw and heavy from the atmosphere. The scarf and goggles had helped a lot, just as they had in the sandstorms of Iraq. “Just an idle question Rahab. What happens when people down here die?”

Rahab felt her stomach drop slightly at the veiled threat. “The Demons believe that we generate some sort of force that helps lift them to their afterlife. Humans, I suppose we just vanish.”

Kim nodded. “Not a good deal is it? We can offer you a better one. Out of this pit, movement elsewhere in Hell, whatever elsewhere is, and a life. We’re on the same side, just lets act like it, huh?”

Rahab thought it over. They were right, things were changing and, like it or not, there was a war starting in Hell. “Very well, I’ll take in your person. And any more you ‘bust out’. Just don’t overload me with numbers and give me time to get them away before your war turns into a bloodbath. Turns into more of a bloodbath.”

“Done.” Kim turned around. “Bubbles, get Richard out of hiding, tell him he’s got a new girlfriend.”

Throne Room, Palace of Satan, Infernal City of Dis

Satan relished the atmosphere of absolute terror that was building up in his great throne room. The word was spreading across the halls and circles of Hell, through the streets of Dis itself, down the great Pit that it surrounded and into the garrisons that held the walls separating the rings of Hell. Abigor had failed. Abigor had been defeated, his army massacred. He had been defeated by the humans, his Army driven back inside the gates of Hell. He had been ordered to crush the humans and he had failed. It had amused Satan to dream up some really inventive punishments for one who had defeated him so badly but there were more important things than petty revenge. He had to find out how this unimaginable thing had occurred. Was Abigor treacherous or just plain stupid?

The audience stirred and shrank back as Abigor entered, a Lesser Herald trailing in his wake. In a way, it was almost amusing, the desire for the other Demons to get out of the possible line of fire. Abigor walked down the hall, conscious of the eyes on him as he approached the great throne where Satan sat, watching him. He reached the foot of the throne and threw himself at Satan’s feet.

“So, Abigor, you have come to tell us of your great victory and regale us with stories of the sufferings you have inflicted on the humans?” Satan’s voice was the silky smoothness that portrayed real trouble and Abigor knew it.”

“Infernal Majesty, I fear…”

“Good”

Abigor felt a flash of irritation at the interruption. “I fear that I have grim and terrible news. My Army was defeated, destroyed by the Humans. Something has happened on their world, something that is terrible beyond belief. They have magic that is so powerful we could not stand against it. They can breath on whole sections of an Army and leave nothing but mangled flesh, they have lances and arrows that never miss their target, that follow the one they aim at no matter how much they run.

“Run? So you admit your army ran?”

“After all but one in a thousand had died, Yes Sire, we ran. All those who did not died. Most of those who tried to escape the humans died. The humans have iron chariots.”

A thrill of horror went around the room. Iron chariots had caused them problems once before, problems that had required a succubus, a peasant girl and a tent peg to sort out. Now they were back in a new and more terrible form?

The thought of Iron Chariots sent screaming rage flooding through Satan’s mind but he kept himself under strict control. There was so much he needed to know. “Tell me all Abigor. From the start.”

Sprawled on the floor, Abigor started to relate the history of his devastated Army. How it had marched out of Hell and across the desert to its first objectives. The strange attacks on the way, the flying chariots that had killed some of his commanders, the mysterious explosions that had wiped out whole command groups. Then, the enemy defense line, the fire lances, the exploding ground, the snakes of iron that tore his troops apart. The way the humans had breathed death, how they never came close to their enemy but killed from distances. How they had slaughtered Abigor’s Army then chased it back across the desert, killing remorselessly as they did so. By the time he finished, the room was silent and the demon Dukes were looking at each other with profound unease.

“So now we know the reason for the destruction of your Army Abigor.” Satan’s voice oozed charm, then suddenly turned to a berserk scream. “It was cowardice. Unmitigated cowardice. You claim that your Army pressed home its attacks bravely yet you are here alive to give the lie to that statement. Your soldiers were cowards who would not charge the enemy but ran away and you were at their head. You led the disaster, you led their failure. Your cowardice was the cause of your army’s destruction.

Here it comes Abigor thought. A hideous death.

“But I am merciful.” The oily cooing was back in Satan’s voice. “I will give you a chance to redeem yourself.”

“Majesty, I thank you. But there is something we must do first. We must close that portal before it can be used against us.”

“Would that we could.” The words were not spoken but formed in Abigor’s mind. It wasn’t Satan speaking but he didn’t know who it was. “Our mages have been trying with all the energy they can command. It is no use. We cannot close it. It may decay on its own, in time, but we cannot close it. It is as much a fixture now as the very walls of Dis itself.”

“That is not your concern coward.” Satan turned to Memnon. “Tell me your story Herald. Let us hear how you ran from the humans and betrayed our kind.”

Memnon stared at the leering, sneering figure on the throne. Satan had no idea, what hew as hearing simply wasn’t registering. He began to speak, the experiences of the last month pouring from him.

Outside the Portal To Hell, Western Iraq

Running. It was all he could think of doing. Legs pistoning like a great machine his hooves kicked up sand and grit into thick clouds with each giant stride. His breath came hard and fast, foam flecked at the corners of his mouth and his eyes were narrowed into slits as he pushed his body to its limits and beyond in a frightful dash towards home. His mind was racing along with his body. The memories of his recent sojourn here on this dreadful plane burned through his fear and panic.

He had watched his wing mates annihilated by sky chariots. They never stood a chance and all their infernal might was no match for human magic. He did not have time to taste the shame that shot through him. It was not the time or the place to wallow in his misery. He needed to survive. He needed to get home. He needed to repeat the words.

Uriel. Damn the Nameless One. To unleash Uriel on this world in all his awesome wonder and glory was almost too much to bear. After all who was he but a humble servant, a warrior for his Duke. And now to be a messenger, a go between for the angelics made him want to spill his guts into these desert wastes and scream with impotent horror into the night.

But there was no time for that. There was only time to run and not think about the sounds around him, the cracks in the air that indicated some human was pointing his plastic lance and firing bolts of fire nearby, perhaps even at him as he rumbled by like a run away freight train. Were his wings healed he would be flying so hard so fast that the very sinews of his shoulder blades and joints would tear away.

There were the more ominous cracks of artificial thunder as human sky chariots blasted their way overhead. Sometimes it was followed by the deep bass rumble of human fire magic as it burst over a concentration of Never born and spread them over the wastes like fertilizer. He had seen one such strike up close as he ran.

One of the cavalry servitors tending to his dying mount looked up at him as he raced by, several foot soldiers were standing by the noble one waiting instructions. One must submit his will and being to a demon of higher order. It was the way of things. It was the natural order. The cavalry servitor demanded he halt and give a chant of greeting and submission. Memnon had actually considered for the briefest moment to do as he was told. Every fiber of his being seemed to tense as it prepared to submit as was custom and tradition.

The artificial thunder rumbled directly overhead and he remembered the death, the fire bolts, the arrows of doom that could pluck them from the sky as easily as a hawk picked off a field mouse for supper. And he responded in a manner that still haunted him.

“Run you fool!” he spat and his hooves did not falter, did not pause. He simply continued running, hot sweat hissing as it touched whatever it fell upon like an obscene rain. The cavalry servitor was stunned. Eyes bulged and tusks snapped loudly in anger and confusion.

“In the name of Abigor you will submit to me now or----”

Then there was the brief sound like parchment tearing or the clothes of some helpless human wench being rent by lecherous claws and then the cavalry servitor, his mount, and several of the closest foot troops exploded into a thick cloud of blood and bone. They were gone in a moment as if they had never been there. Several of the surviving foot soldiers were crawling away screaming in agony as they left liquefied or shattered limbs behind. He looked up long enough to see a sky chariot with its wings whirling over its head roar past in a low trajectory like a bird of prey surveying the carnage of its passing.

“Or what you fool? Everything has changed. Our world has been torn asunder.” Memnon spat to himself in sheer disgust. He paused only long enough to make sure the chariot did not come around for another attack run but the combination of the billowing clouds swept up by the chariot’s passing and his own panicked running had obscured him from its sight and unlike the other higher flying iron and plastic chariots this one seemed to lack the keen senses of its brethren and that saved the wayward servant of the Morningstar.

His body started to seize up and muscles cramped as he took those moments to slow down. He had pushed himself beyond all endurance and his body was now reacting to his fevered pace. At any moment he would collapse in an exhausted heap and sleep through the hazy pain to awaken refreshed.

However, one glance back at the bloody crater where before several of his kith and kin had stood fired him up and he raised one arm to his mouth and he bit deeply into the bicep. Flesh was rent from his bone and blood gushed into his nostrils. He snorted in pain and pleasure and that small spark of pain he was so keen on inflicting upon the useless wretches of humanity kindled a small surge in power pushed by will and fear and the Never born exploded back into his break neck pace.

And so he ran and ran. He ran past the sight of his grand army shattered into bloody remnants and screaming broken brethren who were begging for release, for a return to the fiery bloody skies of home and cursing humanity in whatever tongue they deemed fit. He ran through a charnel house of guts and sinews, hooves cracked exposed bone and ribs. He ran even as the air burned within his lungs like a furnace. He ran as he heard more thunder claps and whistling booms. He ran until he could run no more and collapsed in heap, blood spewing from his ruined bicep, frothy saliva spilling from his mouth and foam flecking along his heaving flanks.

There was no more left. No more to give and not even enough energy to take.

Memnon was spent to the last dregs of his reserves and he looked up to the sky to scream his defiance and await the human magic that was sure to rend him limb from limb. But then he noticed he was right at the lip of the portal to hell. Could it be? Was it not a failure? Had he pushed himself enough? Before him in a pathetic display a great beast dragged itself towards the yawning doorway hone. Both hind legs reduced to splintered messes of dying meat and trailing entrails still it tried to get itself home. A leg from its rider was still firmly in the stirrup the rest of its charge probably scattered along the wastes. Memnon growled and fell upon the beast in a scream of desperation and anger at the predicament he find himself in, reduced to feeding off one of the great beasts to survive. He let his anger and frustration out on the wretched beast as it bleated in its death throes while teeth and claw rent muscle and sinew from bone.

Memnon fed deeply and voraciously as his anger, despair and shame burned in his belly worse than the rancid meat being guzzled in with such relish. He wanted to feed away the pain, the anguish of the defeat, the shame of running from prey, the despair of knowing that their magic had failed so completely and utterly and the gnawing fear that Nameless One was moving behind the scenes, that Uriel would trod this world completely unleashed.

What victory was there in that? It was whispered from the elder days that Uriel’s power was so grand that his death touch obliterated not only human life but also the human soul. His power, one of the greatest of all angels save perhaps for Michael the Great General, was the ultimate weapon because it robbed everyone, including the Nameless of the prize of human essence. When the first born of Khemet were swept aside their souls did not go screaming into Hell or the Etheric Realms. They simply ceased to be. Oblivion.

The very concept chilled the demon to its core. Nothing. Just the great darkness and void. At least in hell these pathetic humans drew solace from the fact that they still existed. Despite the pain and anguish they still mattered. But Uriel robbed everyone of that solace. He was the Nameless Ones’s weapon of last resort. The great scythe that robbed all sides of the prize. Or so it was rumored by those higher than he otherwise why the dread at his coming. Why the reticence of the Nameless to unleash him? His thoughts paused in a moment of revelation.

Standing at the Hellmouth was a Lord. The Duke, Abigor.

In that instant he felt something alien. Something alarming yet exhilarating as he watched his Duke move among the shattered remnants. He was still tall and proud yet there was no longer that cold arrogance to his gait, the sneering pride on his features, the snarl of command on his lips or the lash of rebuke in his eyes.

Haunted.

He looked haunted and humbled yet he was proud now, not a pride borne of Dukedom granted to him in the mists of ancient history but pride in personal knowledge that he had faced the human magic and lived. Pride in that he was still here. He was a Duke of Hell yes, but now he was a survivor. Memnon watched him speak gently to one of the survivors and he heard a brief whisper in his ear.

“Follow him. Follow him till the end of your story.”

Memnon nodded numbly and rose wiping the gore and gristle from his snout. He strode up to his lord and spoke.

“My lord?” When Abigor turned to regard him Memnon knew he had found his leader.

Throne Room, Palace of Satan, Infernal City of Dis

There was, once again, silence in the great Throne Room.

“And what was Yahweh’s message?” Satan’s voice was loaded with contempt.

“He said this. ‘The One Above All has spoken yet he sees vile repugnant defiance from humanity. The Great Chorus must not be disturbed. The Chanting must not cease. Your ilk were given this world and we see nothing but abhorrent failure. We do not want to take a more active role. Uriel awaits on the ether like a sword of Damocles. Last he moved upon man, the Land of Khemet wept bitter tears. Do not force our hand. Cow them. Stop the defiance. Should they find a way to disrupt the Chorus we will end this charade once and for all.’ That and that alone, Majesty.”

The silence in the room deepened. This was unheard-of, the great ones never interfered with the domains of others. When they did, it meant a war. There had been one between Satan and Yahweh already and nobody wanted that experience repeated. Still, Yahweh never interfered in the work of hell, just as Satan never did so with Heaven. Or anywhere else for that matter.

“Despite those ill-chosen words, crushing the humans is a necessity. All our armies are being brought to full strength of 81 legions.” That was almost 550,000 demons in each. “Asmodeus, Beelzebub and Dagon will command three such armies including their own for our renewed assault in Earth.” A gasp went around the room, that meant Satan was committing 729 legions out of the professional Army force of 999 legions, 939 now that Abigor’s Army had been destroyed. They would only have 210 legions left in Hell to train the reservists and conscripts that made up the rest of Hell’s nominal force of 6,666 legions. Almost 5 million demons would be turned loose on Earth. There had never been a military exercise like this, not even in the war with Yahweh.

“Sire, I beg you.” Abigor’s voice was urgent, his mind filled with the picture of what must surely come. “The portal is a death trap even for such a force. There is a ridge that dominates in and humans fight from behind ridges. By now they will have every chariot, every fire-lance, every seeker lance they have aimed at that portal. As our demons funnel through it, they will be destroyed. The death will continue until the portal is blocked by our dead.”
“I know.” Satan’s voice was still calm and oily. “That is why you will take your Army and seize that ridgeline.”

“My Army has been destroyed. Barely 300 are left in condition to fight.”

“Then make up the numbers with your mates and your kidlings. The youngest and the oldest. If they can carry a trident they go. If they cannot, they can go anyway and fight with bare hands. You will leave none of your clan behind. If they can crawl to that ridge, they will go.”

Abigor shook at the sentence. It meant death for him and all of his line, that was clear. He rose to his feet, nodded and left.

“And now, Herald, what shall I do with you?”

“Majesty, I would join Abigor and go with him.”

“So be it.” Memnon turned and left, following Abigor from the throne room.

“Asmodeus, Beelzebub and Dagon. You have many reservists in your ranks. Train them properly before launching your assault. There is no hurry.”

Asmodeus frowned. “But Sire. What about Abigor?”

“Abigor who?”

_________________
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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