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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 51 - 55
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:52 pm 
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Secure Accommodation Block, Camo Hell-Alpha, Martial Plain of Dysprosium

The double doors burst open and Colonel Paschal strode in, flanked by MPs carrying menacing USAS-12 combat shotguns. The concrete room was the size of a small hangar, but the huge demon made it look like a cramped apartment. The big plasma screen was showing images of WWII aircraft attacking warships. The stack of DVD cases next to it confirmed that Abigor had been continuing to absorb military documentaries and war movies. The infernal general looked up with a surprised expression, which quickly hardened as he saw the heavy guard detail.

“General Abigor.” Paschal was carrying a ruggedized laptop, which he opened and placed on a table in front of the demon. “Can you explain this?” The colonel’s tone was not quite threatening, but clearly the humans were not pleased.

Abigor stared in silence as the images of lava, fire and destruction played out. “Belial” he said, in a tone of mild contempt. “This has to be his doing.”

“Belial?” Paschal had studied Abigor’s profiles of the top demon leadership but he didn’t recall the name. “Who is Belial?”

“A sniveling failure. Count Belial is the ruler of Tartarus, a barren wasteland in the part of hell furthest from Dis. Satan exiled him there many millennia ago, after he walked right into a trap laid by Lahabiel and got his entire army captured or killed.”

“If he’s an exile, how did he manage to do this?”

“Belial has been trying to regain Satan’s favor, by all means of craven and dishonorable means. His realm survives only because he makes himself useful, with his fancy tridents and his overgrown wyverns. His retinue is composed of failures like himself, mostly demons that deserted their lords instead of dying gloriously in their service.”

Abigor paused for a moment before continuing, uneasy with how close he had come to describing his own situation. Then he tapped the computer screen with a talon. “I have seen this before. Belial used a similar trick to destroy two human cities, back when we were last surveying this planet. Satan and Yahweh were competing to visit creative forms of suffering on the humans. As I recall, Belial’s flashy little stunt went down quite well, well enough for Mekratrig to allow him back into his court.

Paschal frowned. “The bible speaks of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah… by Yahweh though, not by Satan or his minions.”

Abigor snorted. “Well of course. The angels were always better at propaganda than us. Whatever your books say, it was Belial’s doing.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this earlier?”

“It did not occur to me that Satan would consider this a viable tactic. This is not the way wars are fought…” The demon paused for a second, considering the things he’d seen on the image panel. “At least, it is not the way we fight wars. Most likely Belial is looking for another opportunity to ingratiate himself and Satan has permitted him to proceed in the hope of distracting you while Beelzebub moves his army up for a fresh assault.”

Colonel Paschal seemed to relax fractionally. He couldn’t be sure Abigor was telling the truth, but his story was plausible given what he’d seen of demon mentality so far.

“So how does this work? Is the lava coming from a volcano?”

“Most likely. The last time I was in Tartarus was during the Great War, when we used it as a prison to hold high-ranking captured angels. That was a very long time ago, but I remember the prison nestled in the mountains, many of which were crowned with fire.”

“Can you give us anything more specific?”

Abigor shrugged. “Not really. I don’t know the specifics of the ritual. Large portals are always handled by the naga, they keep many of the secrets of portal magery to themselves.”

“Naga? Is that what you call the demon flying over the attack site? Looked like an anorexic harpy to me.”

A low chuckle escaped the former general’s lips. “No, that was a gorgon. Another exiled failure, not surprising that most of them took up with Belial. Naga are much more common… I’m sure I described them to one of your vassals earlier.”

Colonel Paschal hit a few keys, calling up the interrogation logs for Abigor. Sure enough, there was a page of text describing ‘naga’ along with a striking artist’s impression of the half-snake, half-humanoid demons.

“I had a coven of them in my retinue,” Abigor volunteered, ‘but I didn’t bring any with me to earth. They’re slow and soft-skinned, and I did not appreciate the power of your ranged weapons, so I didn’t see any use for them.” He wondered if it would’ve made a difference if he had brought them. Certainly not to the outcome, but perhaps the human casualties would have been a fraction higher. He thought again, a small fraction higher.

“Is the gorgon necessary to open the portal? If we shoot it down before the portal opens, will that prevent the attack?”

Abigor stared into space for a moment. “I believe the gorgon was there to ensure the portal opened over the target. You see, the larger the portal, the harder it is to predict where it will open. The one you call the ‘hellmouth’ opened a full five leagues from the nephilim I possessed.”

“The naga do have a means of opening portals more accurately, but it requires a portal mage at both ends. I imagine the gorgon you saw was involved in that. If you could kill Belial’s witches as they appear, then he would be reduced to striking at random in the vicinity of whatever nephilim he could find.”

‘Better than nothing’ Paschal thought. “The target was Sheffield, a relatively small city in the British Isles. We aren’t aware of any obvious reasons to target it, other than the fact that British troops played a small but significant role in your defeat. Do you know why Belial chose that target?”

“No. Belial is fond of bizarre schemes… but then he must have used a nephilim to open a portal for the gorgon. It may be that your counter-magic is getting so good that he was forced to take the first nephilim he could find, and the gorgon just flew to the nearest city.”

‘So no way of knowing where they will strike next’ Paschal thought unhappily. “We need to know when he’ll strike next. How many times can Belial do this, and how often?”

“I can’t give you firm answers Colonel. I do know that opening large portals is a great strain on the naga, they are weak and pained for many days afterwards. Tartarus has a great many volcanoes. The rate at which Belial can open portals depends on how many naga he has and how quickly he can find targets. If Satan intends to use this method to exterminate you, then he might order the dukes to loan Belial their covens until the task is done.”

“If not a firm answer, then an educated guess?”

“Belial should be able to open at least one portal a week.”

Paschal was silent for a moment. “I’ve got to relay this to my superiors. Sit tight, Ill be back shortly.” He pulled a black box from a pocket and brought it up to his ear as he left the room.

Abigor stared at the frozen image of the burning city. For a while he was completely certain that the humans would defeat Satan, but now he was not so sure. Old traditions were being discarded, the once unthinkable was being considered. The humans had given hell an object lesson in how efficiently war could be conducted when one made decisions purely on the basis of effectiveness, not honor, politics, auspiciousness or tradition. How fast could hell learn?

Paschal had returned. “Ok General, let’s do this properly. I need everything you can tell me about Belial and Tartarus, starting with its grid co-ordinates.”

Abigor wasn’t sure what ‘grid co-ordinates’ meant but he got the impression it had something to do with maps. “You want to know how to get to Tartarus?” Of course, the humans wanted to stop the attacks by destroying Belial. “It is almost three thousand leagues from here, across all manner of terrain. Even with your chariots, it would take many months to fight your way there, and Satan would harass you and your supply train all the way.”

Paschal smiled grimly. “General, I have a small gift for you.” He handed over a small flat box, one that Abigor recognized immediately as a DVD. It was labeled ‘A History of the Manhattan Project’. “Abigor, you have barely begun to see what we can do when we truly wish to destroy our enemies.”

White House Communications Suite, White House, Washington DC

“Well, if we can’t shut it off, I suppose the only thing left will be to market it as a tourist attraction.”

It was probably fortunate that everybody’s attention was focused on the imagery being transmitted from the aircraft circling Sheffield. Had they been looking at Condoleezza Rice, they would have seen her eyes bulging from their sockets with sheer horror. “I can’t believe he just said that.”

Beside her Defense Secretary Warner nodded fractionally in agreement. “I don’t know which is worse, the fact he said it or the fact that its true.”

“Mister President, thankful as we are for America’s usual generous aid in a time of disaster, I must remonstrate with you. This is hardly a laughing matter for my country.” Gordon Brown looked shocked as indeed he was.

“I agree Gordon, and I am sorry if my remark sounded disrespectful of your country’s loss. But the fact remains, I do not see what we can do about this yet. We will stand by you, fight with you to save what is left of Sheffield and its people, but I do not know how we can stop this torrent of lava. And if we cannot stop it, we must find a way to make use of it.”

“You mean for all our military forces committed to this war, we cannot stop this nightmare? That baldrick General who has defected to us. Is he of no help at all?”

“If I may interrupt Sir.” On another screen, General Petraeus spoke quietly as was his way. “We have discussed this with Grand Duke Abigor. He has told us much of value, identifying the primary culprit, a minor baldrick lord called Belial. He has told us how it was done and from where. Belial’s stronghold, a place called Tartarus.”

“So we can destroy it.” Three people spoke in exact unison even though they were on different continents. A minor marvel of modern communications that everybody in the room took for granted.

“That’s not so easy. Belial is a minor figure, in some disgrace and his fortress is far from our forces, Three thousand leagues in fact, we make that around 10,500 miles as a B-1 flies.”

“Can you get your bombers there?” Brown spoke urgently, the pain of Sheffield making his voice falter.
“We can Sir.” General John.Corley spoke from Offutt Air Force Base. “As soon as we find out where ‘There’ is.”

“Abigor told us. Tartarus.”

“Yes, but where is it. Sir, I’ve seen the map Abigor drew for us. It’s a good map, very carefully drawn, one that Abigor obviously took great care over. But it’s a map drawn by somebody who lives far in our past. It isn’t what we call a map, its more a picture. You’ve seen old maps Sir. The one Abigor gave us isn’t scaled and he doesn’t even know what projection is. Come to think of it, nor do we where Hell is concerned. We’ve got mathematicians working on that. But all we have is a picture. We’re going to be looking for a target probably about the size of a town hall, in an area the size of North America. And we’ll be doing it what amounts to a dense fog. We’re modifying our B-1A to an RB-1A with sidescan radars and a lot of extra fuel and it’ll go out and look but it could be weeks before she spots a target.”

Brown thought for a few seconds. “When we do find it?”

“We’ll smear it across the ground. But we have to find it first. Bombers aren’t the only option of course.” Corley spoke carefully.

“A ground strike? If you need people, the SAS and SBS are ready to go. But how will they know where?”

“They won’t have to.” Petraeus’s voice was precise and emphatic. “We don’ have to know where a Portal is, we just have to know its in the right place. Then we can put a team in with beacon equipment to home the RB-1A in. And she can lead the rest of the Bones.”

“And the Tu-160s.” Prime Minister Putin’s voice was equally emphatic.”

“And the Tu-160s.” President Bush smiled engagingly at the screen. “General Corley wants to speak with you about the Tu-160.”

“One question, General.” Petraeus raised an eyebrow, “if the team are going to be pathfinders, how will they stay healthy long enough? They can’t have armor and air-locked buildings.”

“Mister Prime Minister. We do have military units that are native to Hell now. And we can reposition one of them for the job. In fact, we are selecting one for it now.”

Outer Ring, Sixth Circle of Hell

Hell made you different. It was the only way he could've reacted how he did to what he and the others had seen. But then he had felt the same way when he had heard of children dying of abuse back home. The same sick rage and desire to kill those responsible.

Aeneas, born in an older, harder time, nevertheless felt the same. He and McElroy had crossed one of the low ridges and advanced down on some of the garrisons that were starting to spread along the banks of the lava flow. Not too close of course, even baldricks didn’t feel a desire to be too close to that nightmare, but far enough to provide patrols. The old days, of a single baldrick patrolling the banks for days at a time were gone. Too many had gone out and never come back. Now they patrolled in groups, never far from support. And that meant garrisons. Where there were garrisons, that meant troops who had to be supplied and the baldricks had never heard of logistics. So there had to be a market and sure enough, there was. In a cleared out patch of land, just outside the walls of one of the fortresses, many dozens of demons plied wares, bartered, and went about their business. Aeanas kept losing count, but there had to be well over three hundred demons. The best part of a whole company perhaps?

It was in this market that he spied a particular demon, whose cart was packed with writhing bodies. Human bodies. They were too far away to hear, of course, but every once in a while, a demon would come by and begin some sort of haggling. The merchant would fetch a victim from the cart and pass it the customer who would open its throat with one of its claws, snap its neck for good measure then eat the carcass on the spot, devouring the body in a few short seconds. It did not take any of them very long to realize that the humans in the merchant's wagon were exclusively children.

Aeanas stared at the scene with cold fury. He did not angrily demand that they throw caution to the wind and charge in to save the children, a hot-blooded rage that blinded its victim to common sense would have called for that. Instead, stone-faced, he watched the merchant empty his wagon, pack up his other trinkets, and be off down the rutted dirt road. So did Cassidy and McElroy. There would be a time for vengeance, a time when debts like this one would be paid but this was not it. Three humans attacking 300 baldricks with edged weapons was simply a way to die. Or be thrown back in the lava streams

Aeanas was a Spartan warrior. To him, nothing was more satisfying than battering his opponent down and finishing him with two or three blows. An honorable battle where one man was pitched against another with victory going to the strongest and bravest. Only that way was victory meaningful. So when he thought about helpless children being sold as some sort of delicacy the scene just added to the anger and voluminous hate he held in his heart for his tormentors. He could not be certain, but he suspected that Cassidy and McElroy felt largely the same way. But did they? They didn’t look upon war the same way as he did, war for them was an exercise in cost-effective killing where the objective was to make sure the enemy never stood a chance. Aeneas had tried to explain where true honor lay once but McElroy had simply looked at him and said “If it’s a fair fight, you made a mistake somewhere.”

McElroy, is it all right to talk?


No, kitten is away on leave at last. My name is Indira, I have taken over from her for a while. Have you anything to report?

Too much Indira. Far too much.
McElroy went through the report on the scene at the village.

That is terrible.

This is a terrible place. Can you resupply us now?

Yes, we have rifles, ammunition , explosives coming through. But, I must also tell you that your group has been selected for a special mission. One that will take you outside the Pit.

You couldn’t have said anything better Indira. No place could be worse than this, I guess that must be the whole point.

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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 Post subject: Re: Armageddon 51 - 55
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:56 pm 
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Secure Accommodation Block, Camo Hell-Alpha, Martial Plain of Dysprosium

“The Enemy is Dust, dust that gets in your boots, your hair, your eyes, your lungs. Dust in vital systems and gears and axles. Dust is the common enemy DRS Technologies helps to manage, banish or thwart in Hell, every minute of every day. The enemies DRS fights can be huge or as small as a grain of sand. And the solutions can range from providing expert service personnel to developing novel technologies. Like self-lubricating sealed axles for tank trailers. Systems that let pilots see through the clouds of dust in Hell’s atmosphere. And fully-sealed, fanless mobile computers. The goal: to help our forces achieve their objectives in Hell. Bring us your problems, your toughest challenges, we are always looking for a new enemy to conquer and take us one step nearer to completing or mission to save our dead.”

Memnon laid the copy of Defense News to one side, marveling at the casual ease with which the humans spoke of finding solutions to problems. As if problems were games to be won, not hardships to be endured. Almost without thinking he flexed his great wings, now regrowing strong and true. Another problem humans had solved. They’d seen the mangled stumps that had been growing before and he’d explained that the fragments of steel from the missile warheads were the problem. Iron didn’t agree with demon bodies. They’d nodded and come up with a plan. They’d amputate the new growth and remove the iron fragments, then allow new wings to grow back. They weren’t sure it would work, but it was a good chance, their “medic” had said. Memnon had agreed, he had nothing to lose after all.

They’d taken him into a section of the great building that was all white. Then they’d said they would put him to sleep for the operation. Memnon had refused that, refused angrily. Who were they to put him to sleep like a kidling? He was a Lesser Herald, he could endure whatever pain the humans had in store. The doctor had agreed and said that they’d just give him a little injection to help his muscles relax, make it easier to cut his mutilated wings off. Now, if he’d just count backwards from ten……

And Memnon had woken up when it was all over, his failed wings removed and the searing hurt of the iron fragments removed from his back. And he had learned something about “medics” and “nurses”. They could be even sneakier than other humans. But he’d watched as his new wings had regenerated and they were true wings, ones that would support him in flight.

The doors banged and some humans came in, soldiers in the odd clothes they wore. The ones that had a strange pattern that made them hard to see. “Memnon, my name is Colonel Paschal.”

“Colonel.” Memnon stood up and tried to hold himself erect the way humans did. Not grovel on the floor and lick his boots as a high-ranking demon would demand. The Colonel looked at him and nodded slightly, like most of the human troops in Hell, he found the baldrick displays of submission sickening.

“Memnon, do you know of a place called Tartarus?”

“Certainly. It is the stronghold of a minor lord called Belial. I have had little to do with him, he is of little account. A defeated loser surrounded by others of his kind.”

“Well, he’s just become important to us. Critical question, you know where Tartarus is, you can get there?”

“Of course, Now my wings are well again, I can fly there. If I go as fast as I can, it will take me….” Memnon stared at the ceiling and calculated distance. “A minimum of 70 of your hours.”

“Seventy hours. Nearly three days.” Now it was Paschal’s turn to think. “How soon can you leave?”

“As soon as my lord commands. I have sworn fealty to Abigor and he to you. So when your lord orders it I will leave. What message must I give to Belial?”

“Oh, you? Nothing. We have a message for him,. One he won’t forget in a hurry. Your job is just to get to Tartarus, stay close to Belial’s fortress and wait, unseen. We will contact you there and send you the message we will wish delivered to Belial.”

Memnon nodded, now he could see why the humans had restored his wings, they needed his services as a Herald. Was Belial planning to defect to the humans as he and Abigor already had? If so, then he, Memnon, would be well placed in the favor of these strange new lords to whom he had sworn fealty.

Outer Ring, Sixth Circle of Hell

“All set up?” McElroy looked around at his unit. Well, it wasn’t his any more, but he still had a proprietorial feel over it, even though the living troops from Earth had inflated its numbers and provided a proper command structure. The strike team was now nearly 60 humans, living or deceased, and they were about to teach the baldricks a lesson in applied firepower. And applied vengeance.

“All units, get ready. Mortar teams, prepare to open fire on my command.” The voice on the radio was heavily accented. European, where in Europe was beyond McElroy’s ability to identify. Their equipment was Russian, or at least Eastern-Europe though. That meant Poles? Or Czechs perhaps. No matter, they were somebody’s special forces troops and whoever they were, they were very good.

“Fire!” The accented word came over the radio and McElroy heard the coughing thump of the mortars opening fire. They were the big ones, 120mms, the biggest modern artillery deployed within the Hell-Pit. Despite their size, their crews went to work with a vengeance. A good mortar crew can get six bombs in the air before the first strikes home and these crews were better than good. McElroy watched the ripple of explosions walk across the market place, the fragments scything down the baldricks as they stood around the stalls. They’d never been under mortar fire before, they had no idea what it was that was killing them and they just stood there, bewildered, while the bombs crashed down around them.

Mortars are deadly weapons, their rate of fire and high payload making them great killers of creatures caught in the open. Their worst limitation is ammunition supply; especially when the weapons were man-packed in the way these were. The crews were already running short and they kept back one round each as a final envoi for when the humans withdrew, Their role was taken over by three machine grenade launchers, AGS-17s, that pumped their small rounds into the target, picking off the groups of baldricks left standing by the 120s.

Down below, McElroy saw the baldricks starting to react. Cries of “human magery” echoed up the slope and figures broke from their paralysis to try and get away from the unexpected danger. The problem was, they had pitifully few places to go and far more then half their number were already down.

“Move in.” The orders were curt, tense. McElroy brought his M115 up to his shoulder and squeezed off three rounds at a baldrick that seemed unusually active in trying to rally resistance. The figure went down, sprays of green blood erupting from its body. Then it was his section’s time to move forward. The others were laying down intense fire, pinning the baldricks in position. The deceased humans got to their feet, running forward to their next position, a shallow depression about half way down the slope. It took seconds to reach it, seconds that seemed like hours, but they made it and spread out, giving covering fire for the next group to move forward.

It was classic stuff, fire and maneuver, each squad moving forward while the others covered it from their own positions. There were a few bolts coming out from the beleaguered baldrick positions but they were wild, McElroy suspected some of the enemy were just holding their tridents over whatever it was they were hiding behind and blasting away at random. It took only three jumps to close in on the marketplace and by then what few baldricks were left alive had pulled back into their camp, but doubtless they’d be re-organizing in there. Time was short.

That wouldn’t matter much. The great cart that was the object of the attack was in front of them, the mortar and grenade crews had been careful to keep there patterns of shells and bombs away from it. McElroy saw a baldrick, his legs shattered by fragments, trying to drag himself away from the slaughterhouse that had once been a market. He didn’t even pause before shooting the crippled demon in the head.

Indira, are you there?

Waiting for you. Ready now?

Biggest portal possible Indi, big as you can, it will only be for a few seconds. We’re on our way out.

In front of him, the red air of hell shimmered and a black ellipse formed. McElroy and the rest of his unit grabbed the cart and started it rolling forward, ignoring the screams from the children inside, Behind them, the mortar crews already had their weapons on their carts and were rolling them towards the hole while the rest of the special forces group gave covering fire. Then, the red/gray environment of Hell vanished and McElroy found himself inside a large building, a hangar, lit from outside by the clear yellow light of earth’s sun.

Behind him, the heavy weapons group were already through the portal, and the special forces troopers were backing out, firing through the black ellipse as they withdrew. Six of them were bringing three others who were obviously hurt, another carried a dead man in a fireman’s lift. Then, as the last came through, the portal shut down.

DIMO(N) Transit Facility, Moffet Field, Mountain View, California

As the last of the raiding group cleared the portal, a wave of cheering erupted across the occupants of the transit facility. The building had once been used as an airship hangar but had been quickly modified into its present role. It was a much better deal than the cramped Pentagon quarters that had been used before. The size was valuable, the great cart that had been wheeled through the ellipse was testimony to that. Around it, the deceased humans of McElroy’s unit were standing bewildered.

“You OK Sergeant?”

“Its Corporal Sir, Corporal McElroy.”

“No, its Sergeant (deceased) McElroy and if you knew how much trouble you were causing the pay corps, you would be a very happy man.”

“I’m just happy to be here Sir. Out of that place, ****, I feel crappy.”

“You can’t stay here son. You’ll have to go back, but we’re linking you directly to Camp Hell-Alpha. That’s a U.S. Army facility by the Hellmouth. A Colonel Paschal will be waiting for you and your unit, he has orders for you. By the way, you’ll be losing Ori and Aeneas, the historians want to talk to them and, frankly, they’re dead weight for where you’ll be going.” Major Warhol sounded apologetic but in truth he
wasn’t. He really, really wanted to talk to somebody who had fought at Thermopylae.

“Sir, I don’t think….”

“No choice Sergeant.” Warhol softened a little. “Look over there, Your mom and one of your sisters has come in. You’ve got a few minutes to say ‘Hi’ then you’re on your way to Hell-Alpha. You can’t stay here, this level will kill you soon.

Warhol looked over to the small crowd of people who were standing beside the doors of the hangar. McElroy’s men had run over to them, recognizing their relatives. Cassidy had her head buried in a young man’s chest while he stroked her hair. At their feet, a dog was sniffing at her, confused, knowing this had been his human before she’d gone but also that she wasn’t human any more. That confused him and dogs do not like to be confused.

‘Sir, over here!”

The staff had the gates at the back of the cart open and were quieting the children inside. They too would have to go back to Hell but to the area occupied by humans. What would happen to them in the longer term was anybody’s guess. People were only just beginning to realize the implications of seizing Hell and Warhol knew in his heart that the problems facing humanity when it occupied Heaven and kicked out the previous management were going to be just as bad.

“What have you got?” To his surprise, two of the troopers who had opened up the cart had vomited and three others were openly crying. This was not something he had expected to see from the “Screaming Eagles”

“Look at this Sir, just look at it.”

‘This’ was a large pot, looking for all the world like an old-fashioned chamber-pot. Larger than any thunder-jug he had ever seen though. Warhol looked inside and saw a writhing mass of small red things, some looking fairly human, others barely formed.

Warhol was confused. “What are they? Baldrick kidlings?’

“No Sir. Ours. They’re human embryos. Perhaps those that were miscarried or aborted, I don’t know. But they’re our fetuses and the baldricks just ate them like snacks.” The tears were streaming down the airborne soldier’s face and he didn’t even bother to wipe them away.

Well, that’s the end of Roe versus Wade Warhol thought to himself, more to deny the horror of the scene than anything else. “Right, we have to get this lot back into Hell. Round up McElroy’s people and get them ready. Time to reinsert.

Over by the equipment bay, Indira Singh had shifted off the couch and Jennie Kwang had taken her place. “Ready to go Jennie?” She gave a big thumbs-up and settled back to make contact.

Are you there Private Chestnut?

Do I have any choice? The mind-voice was weak and sulky. From Jennie’s experience in the People’s Liberation Army, the Sergeants were in process of breaking down the spoiled little brat and building the man that would replace him. It was a form of rebirth as well.

No, so please open up the portal. It was much easier to do it from his end and would cause her little or no pain. Even humans needed only marginal amplification when opening a portal from Hell-side. The black ellipse popped open almost immediately,

“Right, McElroy, take your people though, everybody else, get that cart through.” Warhol snapped out the orders. McElroy’s unit finished saying their good-byes to their families and stepped through the portal to Camp Hell-Alpha. When everything that had to go was gone, Kwang snapped the portal shut. Given electronics, and a presence the other side, humans had the best of both worlds, they could open gates easily from hellside and close them equally easily from earthside. Would that the Sheffield problem was so easy to solve.

Warhol was speaking into a mobile radio. “They’re gone General, just a few seconds ago. The kids as well and that’s a sight that I don’t want to ever see again.”

Indira was standing beside him, politely waiting for him to finish. Her normally olive skin was gray but her tinfoil hat shone in the sun streaming through the windows, making it seem as if she was wearing a halo.

“Will they be coming back through here Sir?”

“McElroy’s people? Yes, we can’t portal from place to place in Hell, for some reason the portals can’t form when there isn’t a barrier. Like you can’t have a door without a wall to put it in I guess. But, they’ll be coming back through, in around three days if all goes well.

Oval Office, White House, Washington.

“Well, that’s the end of Roe versus Wade. The public won’t balk at ‘right to life’ legislation now.”

President Bush lifted his eyes from the report and looked steadily at the speaker. “Karl, hear me on this and don’t even think of crossing me. You will say nothing of this, do you understand, nothing. We’re classifying this report so deep that it will never be found.”

“But Dubya, it’s a prime opportunity to get that judgment reversed.”

“I don’t care. Karl, have you any idea how much suffering this report will cause if it gets out? All the women who have lost babies for any reason, natural or otherwise, read it, they’ll think of their baby in those vats, waiting to be used as a baldrick snack. You’ve read the reports on depression and stress disorders amongst women who’ve lost or aborted babies, I will not be responsible for increasing their suffering. We will have a quiet word with the Justices, share this information with them, then when the opportunity comes, they can make the ruling that they think fit. But we will not cause the suffering and grief that results from this report by playing politics to force their hands in public.”


“I said No Karl, what part of that don’t you understand. And I’ll repeat this, don’t try a leak or ‘arrange’ for somebody else to do it for you. Got that into your head? Because it is a warning.”

Camo Hell-Alpha, Martial Plain of Dysprosium

“McElroy? This your unit? Good. We’ll get you to a briefing room ASAP. We’ve got three days to train you up on operating the navigational beacons and get you prepared for the next part of this operation. Your instructors will be with you shortly.”

McElroy looked around at the Army base, its scene familiar even of its setting wasn’t. He might be out of the Hell-Pit but he was back in the regular Army. And its habits hadn’t changed, it was still ‘hurry up and wait.’

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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 Post subject: Re: Armageddon 51 - 55
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:57 pm 
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Banks of the Phlegethon River, Hell

It wasn’t the way Abigor had described in the last report he had made before his disgrace and desertion. He’d spoken of the human forces lining up behind ridges, ready to hurl their mage-fire bolts into an attacking enemy. That wasn’t how these humans were deploying at all. They were spread out, small strong-points forming, each built around four of their iron chariots. There were hundreds of those little forts, arranged in staggered rows with great distances between them, stretching back as far as he could see. The iron chariots were surrounded by earthworks, the red soil of hell piled up in great banks so that only the curious round structures on top of the chariots peered over the crest. Another thing that didn’t make sense, didn’t that provide dead ground close in to each little fortress? Beelzebub thought that over carefully.

“The day of glory draws closer master.” Chiknathragothem spoke deferentially to the great demon he served, Satan’s favorite and nearest-thing-to-trusted General. “Soon we shall lead the great charge that will tear these humans apart.”

“I think not.” Beelzebub was still mulling over the sight before him.

“Sire?” That had been an unexpected retort and Chiknathragothem didn’t quite know what to make of it.

“Abigor made a wild charge at the enemy and look where it got him. Defeated and disgraced. We must try to be a little more cunning. Where is Asmodeus’s Army?”

“A day’s march out Sire. Coming up from the south. Two hundred and thirty three legions including nine of cavalry and three of fliers. All he had save for the ten he took down to the pit.”

“Where they did him little good eh Chiknathragothem?” The death of Asmodeus was still causing shock-waves throughout Hell. The other Great Dukes had descended on his estates and property with unparalleled avarice, hoping to divide the spoils between themselves. And what spoils there were for Asmodeus had been a rich and powerful Duke, to absorb even a portion of his holdings would enhance the power and status of any noble demon.

That was what had made the next step so inexplicable. Normally Satan encouraged infighting and maneuvering amongst his entourage on the very sensible basis that when they were conspiring against each other, they would not be conspiring against him. But this time Satan Mekratrig had stilled the struggle with a single booming command that had echoed throughout the streets of Dis. Rather like the strange flying chariots of the humans that made no noise when coming but went overhead with a dreadful crash and left a deafening scream behind them. Satan had gathered his court and harangued them all for their disloyalty and treachery, asking them why they fought each other when the humans needed destroying. Only his loyal vassals Beelzebub and Belial were standing by him, he said, while others looked only to their own gain. As a result, the holdings of Asmodeus would be distributed by Satan when the war against the humans was over and the extent of the rewards would be measured by the service the recipients had provided. And so far, Satan had concluded darkly, only Belial had qualified.

The thought that Belial might inherit the whole of Asmodeus’s vast holdings had horrified the demon hierarchy. All too many remembered the slights and humiliations they had visited upon him when to do so won them favor in Satan’s eyes. The destruction of Sheffield had added very real fear to the horror, was it not possible that Belial might take his vengeance by doing the same to them? And there were his gorgons to consider; Euryale was well-known for her large collection of cherished and carefully-maintained grudges.

“Chiknathragothem, see here where the Phlegethon bends? It turns towards us here, then turns back to its original course for about 20 leagues, then turns away from us before one more returning to its original course.”

Chiknathragothem looked at the parchment with the line of the river drawn on it. The course of the river was primarily a straight line but here, near Dis, there was a great bulge towards the Infernal City.
“The humans have set up their defenses here, fortifying this bulge. It is obvious they intend to use it as a launch point for their attack on Dis itself. So we must strike first, to destroy this position.” Beelzebub thought for a few seconds. “Abigor told us that the humans like to encircle their enemies, so that none can get away when they start to destroy them. Perhaps we should do the same.”

“But Sire, if an enemy has no means of retreat, will he not fight harder?”

“Chiknathragothem, Abigor took more that 400,000 with him, 60 Legions. The humans wiped them out, almost to the last. One demon in a thousand returned. Do you seriously think the humans can fight any harder than already have? No, I think not. You will take Asmodeus’s Army and move it here, where the river turns away from Dis. And you will thrust across the river there and move into the rear of the defense along the Phlegethon. I will assign you three additional legions of fliers for the assault. And Belial is sending us 80 Wvverns that he has trained to attack forces on the ground. We will see how the humans cope with fire from the sky. My main thrust will be at the upstream bend, and I will also move into their rear. We shall meet behind the great bulge with the human army trapped against the river. And then we will destroy them.

“Think on this Chiknathragothem, had things gone as originally planned, we would be fighting on Earth, far from sight and where the news of our victories would be sung by Heralds. But now, we will win the fight within Satan’s sight, under his own walls. Much will be our glory and great our rewards.”

Conference Room, The White House, Washington D.C.

“What is the news from Sheffield?”

“Cautiously good Mr President. Our vulcanologist, Keavy McManus, has measured the lava flow and its decreasing steadily. Since the eruption started, its fallen off by around 30 percent and the rate of decline is accelerating. There are shifts in the gas content of the lava and its composition that also indicate that the magma chamber is nearly empty and that means the end of this disaster may be in sight at last.

“Mrs. McManus believes that we didn’t get the full blast from a primary volcano. Her opinion is that the structure that caused this problem is a major caldera with a large number of daughter outlets around it. We got the output from one of those daughters. That would match up with the description of Tartarus we got from Abigor and that Herald creature. Where is he by the way?”

“Abigor, still at Hell-Alpha. Spends most of his time answering our questions or watching war movies. He’s very taken with the Hollywood definition of war. Although that Spartan spearmen we found isn’t so enamored, The troops had a showing of “300” and he sat in on it. He was foaming at the mouth by the end and tried to stick his spear through the screen. I hate to think what will happen when our Japanese Samurai sees ‘Kagemusha’.”

“Kagemusha is supposed to be very accurate actually. But I think Zack Snyder had better run for his life if Aeneas finds out where he lives.”

On the great video screen, Gordon Brown drummed his fingers angrily. He wasn’t used to the way American meetings tended to wander off the point sometimes. “Mr. President, I didn’t mean Abigor, I meant the Herald thing that was with him. Menthol, or whatever his name was. What is he doing?”

“ Memnon.” Condoleezza Rice smiled engagingly at the screen. “He’s off doing what he does best, going places in Hell. We can contact him anywhere we want, any time. So, where he is can be very important to us.”

“What Doctor Rice means.” Secretary Warner threw an amused glance at his colleague. She was one of the few people who had contributed her name to the international lexicon. Across the diplomatic world, a Condele referred to a long, impressive and reassuring speech that, on close examination said nothing and meant nothing,. “Is that Memnon is engaged in an undercover operation of critical importance and we’re not at liberty to say any more than that in case that operation is endangered.”

“That is as may be. But the British people want vengeance for Sheffield.” Brown was truculent and the other listeners believed he had every right to be. The destruction of Sheffield with its 15,000 dead, the number was still rising, had been a hard blow.

“And they shall have it Gordon. Pressed down and running over. But, we must make certain that our vengeance is both appropriate and properly targeted. That blow must make our enemies weep bitter tears, not just for the pain it inflicts but for the harm it causes.”

Brown was silent for a few seconds. He knew what the President was really saying, that the vengeance for Sheffield must do real harm to the enemy. For all its horror, Sheffield had not. Which gave rise to the question that had never been satisfactorily answered, why had that city been hit. It was almost pointless, a minimal return for what had surely been a great effort.

“Aye, I can understand that. But the British people, they need to see something happen. Can’t we blow something up? We have the weapons, why not use them?”

Senator Warner suddenly looked weary. “I wish we could. But we’re in a long war, we have no idea of how long. We have a rough idea of how big Hell is, and the answer is frightening. The land area of Hell exceeds that of our own world and it’s all grouped in one great continent. It could take us most of a generation to establish our hold over it and if we’re not careful, we could end up fighting a guerilla war that would last for longer than that. And beyond that, we have the war against heaven . We can be sure those who reside there, have been watching what happens in hell and are casting their plans accordingly. We need to keep as much of our power in reserve as we can. We must release just enough at any given time to maintain our superiority and that’s it.”

“Easy for you to say Sir. But the political pressure here to do something is overwhelming. It is politically essential that we be seen to take a terrible revenge for what has been done to us. There must be some action we can take. If not, I honestly question whether our people’s morale will hold up. It is easy for you to say we should hold on and measure our revenge but it is not your city that is now a lava pit. Our people go to sleep every night, wondering whether this is the night that a volcano will open over their heads.”

“Perhaps there are some things you can do.” From the screen, General Petraeus spoke, the red sky outside the window of his office revealing that he was speaking directly from Hell. In fact, the transmission was going out by way of a fiber optics cable to a transmitter the other side of the Hellmouth but that was another matter. A scant few weeks earlier, anybody who claimed that a television transmission from Hell was possible would have been declared insane. That had happened all too often, but those who had been declared insane were due a major apology. Now it was a mark of insanity not to wear the trademark tinfoil hat.

“In a few hours, perhaps no more than two days, there will be the biggest battle the world has ever seen. We’ve spotted two baldrick armies closing in on our defense line along the Phlegethon river. Between them, they number almost three and a quarter million baldricks. If our intelligence is anything to go by, and our sources have proved reliable to date, this is a major part of the baldrick professional army. We intend to destroy that army and we will be using our tactical air power to achieve a large part of that. That will let the secret of one of our most devastating weapons be out of the bag then. You have your Tornados Mister Brown, we have a map of Dis and we can suggest a few targets that might be highly satisfactory. They’ll act as a curtain-raiser to the main act.” Petraeus hesitated, what he was about to say could endanger humanity’s best hope for preventing further Sheffields. “There is another possibility also. Soon, we will be able to strike directly at the source of these volcano attacks. We need Special Forces troops to do that and our own are already thinly spread supporting the insurgent groups in Hell. Your SAS and SBS troops are well-known as being the best in the world at their trade. If you can ready a strike force, we can, when the time is right, send it in.”

“So something is happening? That is good to know. Thank you General, I look forward to hearing from you.”

The Ultimate Temple, Heaven

“And what is the news of the war?”

“The Humans have done well, oh nameless one, Lord and God of all. They have breached the defenses of Hell and even now mass for an assault on the eternal enemy in his lair of Dis. The infernal one himself is massing his army to strike back. A great battle is looming, one that will pit our enemies against each other.

“The Infernal Enemy has struck back against the humans in their homes. He has destroyed one of their cities by pouring lava over it.”

There was an affectionate laugh from the great throne that dominated the room. Around the walls, the singers carried on their complex chorus of eternal praise, but some of the words had sunk home into their minds, numbed by countless millennia of repeating the same hymns. The humans were winning the battle against hell, could salvation be at hand? Could there be salvation from salvation?

“That Belial, he always was a joker. Even when the Eternal Enemy seized credit for his destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

That was rich thought Michael to himself. Considering Yahweh himself had stolen credit for that particular prank.

“The humans are cowering in fear at the destruction?” The amusement in Yahweh’s voice had gone.

“No, oh nameless one, Lord and God of all. There is fear yes, but much more anger. In their own strange words, they are royally pissed off. I think the Eternal Enemy will rue the day he tried that action.”

“Who cares what he will or will not rue. It is the humans who must be made to bend. They denied me my worship. They challenged my rulings. They dared to argue with my divine truths!” The voice rose into a demented scream and for a brief second Yahweh sounded like Satan in one of his more extravagant moods. Then the voice returned to normal. “They must be brought back into the fold, they must be returned to their rightful state of obedience. If the Eternal Enemy cannot do this then we must. Uriel has been readied, he is planning his attack now. If the humans do not fold before the might of the Eternal Enemy’s army, then they must be made to fold before our anger.”

Underground Caverns, City of Dis

She'd been this way many times, most recently to let others know about the new arrivals, who had slipped back out while she was gone. The new arrivals, who were doing things that she'd never have believed if she hadn't seen them with her own eyes. Her thoughts went back to the assault she'd witnessed, how they had magicked down the walls, then moved methodically through the ruins, ruthlessly killing and killing and killing.

How they did it, she didn't know. She'd never been a fighter, preferring instead to ply a different trade, but she'd been in contact with enough soldiers to tell when someone knew what he was doing. Or she, in the case of this Kim. And, during her six to ten thousand years as a free person in Hell – she wasn't sure how many; the centuries blurred together now – she'd made contacts, and met quite a few military men. Most had been just the humble rank-and-file, but not all. Some had been great leaders and one of them was just down the passage.
In this small underground city hewn from the natural cave network beneath this spur of the giant encircling city of Dis, the torches lit the dark passage with a flickering, orange light that played off the dry stone tunnel; above them was thousands of years' worth of soot staining the rock.

The passage branched; before turning left, Rahab looked at the symbol scratched in the rock, as much out of habit as to remind herself; she'd been this way many, many times over the centuries to consult with the man who lived at its end, behind the simple wooden door that was before her now. She knocked twice, then thrice, a code as old as the resistance. If it's so old, how do we know they don't know? That was a disturbing thought, of the kind she'd been having more and more since the newcomers had arrived with their strange ways.

The door cracked open; a man with heavy eyebrows and what seemed a perpetual frown peered out underneath short golden curls. His face softened as much as it could when he saw who had knocked. “Ah, Rahab. Please come in.” He opened the door wider to allow her to enter, and then shut it behind her.

The room was much like the one she'd left a few minutes before, except that in the fireplace was a fire. In front of the fire was positioned a large wooden table strewn over with piles of dried clay tablets and some parchments. Sitting hunched with his back to her, carefully impressing on a wet tablet with a stylus, was a lithe man of average height, with thin black hair. Standing behind him and looking over his shoulder was a tall, dark, man with a short crew cut and a jutting chin.

At the sound of Rahab's entrance, the man glanced over his shoulder, then smiled broadly, standing up and stretching. “Rahab! Come in! It has been too long!”

Rahab smiled wanly back and embraced him. “Gaius Julius Caesar, it has indeed been too long.”

He returned the hug warmly, then held her at arm's length. “What brings you here, my friend? The changes shaking up this prison we live in?”

The surprise must have been evident on her face, because he burst into laughter even before she could ask, “You know about it?”

“Rahab, how long have you known what I've been doing here? I have contacts all over Hell, and I have information constantly coming in.” Caesar smiled. “I know that there are rumors flying all throughout Mekatrig's domain about an invasion of Earth, about Abigor and his expeditionary force, and about a part of the Fifth Ring, along the Styx, where they dare not go. And most of all, of the assassination of Asmodeus. That news made all of hell ring with its chimes. Have you come to give me a rumor?”

“No,” Rahab said firmly. “I have something far better than a rumor. I have seen it all firsthand.”

Caesar's smile was gone in a flash, and he pulled a chair away from the hearth. “Sit,” he said, gesturing. She sat, he sat, and then she started talking. She told about her first encounter with the four strange escapees, how she'd led them to the holding room, and how they'd disappeared. She told about the explosions that had started echoing across the swamps, how the bridge across the Styx had been destroyed as though it were built of children's blocks, how the demonic patrols had started disappearing. She told how their shattered, lifeless bodies had started appearing, with the letters “PFLH” scrawled in the greenish blood.

After a little bit, Caesar held up his hand. “Forgive me; I was so happy to see you, I did not offer you refreshments. Pullo, please get our guest some water.”

His companion nodded and moved into an adjoining chamber. Caesar nodded at Rahab. “Please. Continue.”

And she did, stopping only to take the cup of water from Titus Pullo. Now, she told of her encounter with the forces, of the assault on the castle she had witnessed. She told of the lightning speed with which the insurgents had moved, of their ability to kill from a distance and to call explosions. As she did so, Lucius Vorenus moved slightly and listened to her words. Always the eternal soldier she thought. And she told of the strange man she had been tasked to hide, the man who was so fascinated with ants. Then she was done, and Caesar stared at the wall, his face hard and unmoving in the firelight. The only clue to his thoughts was the drumming of his heel on the ground, which continued incessantly.

At last, he spoke. “Rahab, I need you to contact the leader of this PFLH. I need to talk to her as soon as possible. Tell her that we will meet on neutral ground of her choosing. She will know that this means I am approaching her in good faith. I will send Pullo and Vorenus with you; they are to collect the man you brought with you and bring him back here. Now go; go now, and may the powerful gods that caused me to be spared down here guard you also.”

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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 Post subject: Re: Armageddon 51 - 55
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:58 pm 
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Tapton Hall, Western Sheffield, United Kingdom

"Come on now, clear out, we can't take you after all."

The older man was furious. "Are you insane? Two of us can barely walk and that guy is completely out of it." His mask was still on and his voice was slightly muffled.

"I'm sorry sir, we have priority orders. There's another unit in the next road over there." Special Constable Amstead gestured towards a row of houses half-hidden by the drifting smoke. "I have to ask you to move, now." He put his hand very deliberately on his holstered Smith & Wesson pistol, but it was more the blank uncaring look in his eyes that convinced the evacuees not to argue.

John watched the civvies limp away, the cursing man trying to support the two girls and the younger man trailing listlessly behind. It was a sad sight but this a was top priority mission. He ducked back into the building, where Constable Hillier was escorting the demoness down the central corridor. He'd managed to splint and bandage her leg and even her damaged wing with creative application of duct tape, but it was obvious that every step was still a minor agony for the creature.

"Affirmative, the weapons discharge was accidental. Piece of falling debris caught me on the arm, no injuries. My partner's radio was out, no cause for alarm. 523 out."

Constable Hillier clicked the radio off. It was lucky they'd found the demon defector first. She'd already been wounded by a unit that obviously shot first and interrogated any survivors later, and if
those trigger happy Home Guard amateurs had gotten to her first they'd have likely finished the job.

"Civvies are clear, we can move her into the van now." John reported.

"My apologies for what happened to you. You did a brave thing coming here." Matthew looked at the demon uncertainly, not sure if he was improving the situation. "I'm sure with your help we
can prevent this happening again."

The gorgon spoke in a silky yet slightly rasping voice. "Yess, of course, but you have to get me to that meeting with your king's advisors. I was told to speak only to them."

"Right, you were flying there when you were shot down."

'Probably the SIS Matthew thought. 'Odd, but if that's what she says...' The idea that the demon might be lying was somehow unthinkable. They'd arrived at the van; the sounds of the fire teams and circling aircraft louder than ever but the thick ashen haze rendered them invisible.

"Where did you say the rendezvous was?"

"A small village, a dozen miles to the north of here. I cannot remember the name..." Lakheenahuknaasi tried her best to look sympathetic.

'Poor thing, probably scared out of its wits.' "Barnsley perhaps? No, that's a decent size town..."

"Grimethorpe?" Special Constable Amstead volunteered. He had an aunt who still lived in that run-down sink-hole.

"Yes, that's it, Grim-thorpe!" Lakheenahuknaasi was desperate to escape this awful place, anywhere would do. She climbed into the yawning interior of the iron chariot, shuddering at the feeling of the cursed metal all around her.

“Huh, lucky guess John.”

'How can she be cold in this heat?' Matthew thought. "There's some space blankets and a thermos of tea in the back there." The gorgon blinked at him. "Shout if you need anything else. We'd best be off then." The two police officers shut the rear doors and climbed into the cab. Moments later, the van pulled away and headed north.

DIMO(N) Special Devices Assembly Facility (formerly Payne Whitney Gymnasium Complex), Yale, Connecticut

The raised track formed a convenient balcony for viewing the main assembly area, one which Dr Kuroneko had taken to spending his breaks in. The repurposed space was packed with tools, workbenches, stacked components and half-finished subassemblies. Many would not be out of place in any light engineering shop, but some were thoroughly exotic and quite a few had been requisitioned directly from high-energy physics labs. The place was crowded with engineers and technicians of diverse specialties; DIMO(N) drafted whoever they needed (not that coercion was required often) and left no stone unturned in building their tiger team. The work went on 24/7, watched by the heavily armed guards that stood at every entrance.

“Quite a sight, isn’t it.”

The flat voice again. Kuroneko tried not to look startled as he turned to face the newcomer.

“You’ve been approved for deployment over Sheffield.” the man continued “Your project plan implies that you’ll be ready to ship the first device in five more days, correct?”

“If everyone continues to work day and night and there are no more component problems, then yes. But remember that this is just a prototype…”

“Yes, you’ve made that clear, we won’t string you up if it’s a dud. Not the first time anyway.” The man smiled. Kuroneko tried to smile back.

“You’ve got a third prototype under production now?” he continued.

“Yes, but we’re holding further components for the weaponised version. The engineers tell me those HT superconductors are hell to work with, we’ve trimmed another three hundred kilos off but I’m not sure how much more we can take out.”

“These aviation types don’t look hard enough. I’ll see if I can get you some ICBM RV designers. There’s no one better at shaving ounces.”

Kuroneko didn’t know how this mysterious civilian was going to rustle up nuclear missile builders and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Both men stared out at the work in progress.

“In any case, you’ve been assigned a designation. EBU-5(V)1, prototypes will be mod 0, first production run will be mod 1. McAlester is turning out the casings for you now, based on the GBU-43 supersize design study. C-17s will be providing emergency capability until we can dedicate B-1s for the role, crews are about to start training in Nevada. Just as soon as we can spray paint some weather balloons black to serve as the targets.”

Kuroneko wished he could tell when this guy was joking. Best to change the subject, the thought.

“What about early warning? Would you believe, the cellphone companies told us to quit bothering them! Told us to go through the FCC, and they’re a bunch of…”

He was cut off again. “Not a problem. I have it on good authority that they’ll be a presidential order going out in the morning. You’ll have full access to network diagnostics and freedom to reprogram the base stations as needed.”

“Right. Well, that’s great. Thank you.” Kuroneko stammered. “Of course that’s just, ahh, how do you say, ‘emergency capability’, until the production line for the dedicated sensors is running.”

“Of course.” The man looked at his watch. “Keep up the good work, Doctor.” He walked briskly away, leaving Kuroneko alone.

‘Damn’, the scientist thought, ‘now my coffee’s gone cold’.

Lady Wood, near Grimthorpe, United Kingdom

The big police Transit rolled to a halt on the loose gravel, stopping under the canopy of trees at the end of the disused lane. Two police officers got out and opened the rear doors. An unearthly humanoid form emerged, trailing oversized bat-wings and gleaming bronze and silver in the fading afternoon light. The silver came from the mylar blanket that the creature had wrapped around itself like a shroud.

"Are you ok?" Constable Matthew Hillier looked at the demon dubiously.

"Well enough, human." She flashed a fanged grin. “Your assistance is appreciated.”

"You're sure this is it? There's no sign of anyone else here."

"I was to meet them at a farmhouse, in that direction I believe." The demon pointed into the trees, seemingly at random. "You will escort me of course."

"Of course." Matthew echoed. He was feeling increasingly uneasy about this. There was something wrong here... had someone tricked the demon perhaps? To what end? In any case they couldn't abandon her. He unslung his MP5 and moved forward.

"That was a close call back at the checkpoint." his partner remarked, after a few minutes walking. “If those yobs hadn't been making a scene, they probably would've searched us.”

“Yeah, then we'd have had some fast talking to do.” Matthew couldn't shake the feeling something was horribly wrong here. The more he thought about it – and for some reason he hadn't until now – this scenario made no sense. Why where they here? Why had they taken that creature at its word? Suddenly he realized that the demon was no longer beside them. Clarity came a moment too late. The spray of paralyzing darts pierced his back and for the second time his limbs went rigid before he could draw a bead on the demon. For a moment he stood like a statue, before falling to the ground stiffly. As he fell he saw that John had suffered the same fate.

Lakheenahuknaasi limped up to the paralyzed humans. They always looked so pitiful, frozen in horror like that. And to think that they'd been trying to show her pity.

“It's almost a shame, after you've been so helpful.” Clinically, she reached down with a clawed hand and ripped out the first man's throat. “But I'm afraid you've become more trouble than you're worth”. The second man was staring at her in terror; he mumbled something, but it was too slurred for the gorgon to tell whether it was begging or defiance. No matter. She grabbed his throat and squeezed the life out of him. Finally giving in to her instincts, Lakheenahuknaasi dropped to her knees and began to feast.

After half an hour she'd had her fill. The demoness dragged what was left of the bodies into a nearby ditch, concealed them as best she could and slipped away into the woods.

Underground Caverns, City of Dis, Hell

Despite the oppressiveness of being cooped up underground, Richard Dawkins was fully recovered and had been for some time. The professor of biology part of him was only half conscious of his surroundings, the rest of his mind was riveted on the world around him. As the trauma of his days of torment had slowly died, long after no trace of the hideous burns remained, he'd begun to take note of hell, his scientific training taking over.

Even here, inside this labyrinth of granite caves, he'd examined his environment. The floor was coated with mud, brown, but flecked with what looked a bit like duckweed, or algae of some sort. It was the consistency of cake batter. There were tufts of thick grass growing out of it here and there, but it wasn't like any grass he'd ever seen – short, thick, and serrated. On the walls surrounding him, were strange lichen formations. And the bugs – the bugs were like nothing in his experience.

An evolutionary etymologist by profession, Dawkins had spent his life studying insects. He knew a new species when he saw one, and right now, all the things he was seeing were new species. The flies buzzing around, flitting from wall to wall, light source to light source, were larger and faster than their counterparts back on Earth. The dragonflies that swooped in and out of the shadows that marked the natural origin of this complex did so on iridescent wings that were colored to reflect the environment of Hell, striated orange beneath and muddy brown above. Dawkins supposed that they must have a natural predator, else there would have been no need for camouflage from above.

So, in the true spirit of scientific inquiry (he would not admit to himself that he had nothing better tp do at this point) he devoted himself to carefully watching the insects around him for several hours. Finally, he was vindicated as a small, dark-orange bird swept out of the shadows, caught a particularly large and (Dawkins supposed) juicy dragonfly in its beak, and perched on a convenient ledge not two meters from him. As it crunched on its meal, it looked for all the world like a little puffed-up bundle of feathers with two large, black eyes and a short, sharp beak.

Yet for all its differences, the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that everything here was similar, somehow, to everything on Earth. The biosystems had to be related somehow; it was all slightly different, slightly off, from the natural ecosystem, but they were so much the same. Certainly not the entirely different life forms one would expect from a completely separated alternate universe. That fitted in with all his observations to date, wherever this place was, it shared a common ancestry with Earth. Or at least the creatures here did. He wondered briefly if they were the, he tried to think of a description, his mind rebelling from using the word soul,

It didn’t help that he wasn’t quite aware of what his exact status was here. Somewhere between a guest and a prisoner and certainly a damned nuisance (literally he reflected bitterly). The door of his room wasn’t locked but he was cautioned that the network of caves was great and it had dangers all of its own. Early in his stay, that woman, Rahab, had taken him for a walk through the tunnels and he had seen a row of ants marching from one crack in the walls to another. They had been the size of his big toe, larger and fatter than any sort of ant he'd ever heard of on Earth. And, they were dark, mud-colored. Their pincers were almost certainly able to break skin; he took some care to take a big step over the line. He’d turned to Rahab and tapped her on the shoulder. “Excuse me.”

She didn't stop, but flatly shot back, “What?”

“Do you spend much time here?”

“Not as much as I would wish. Do you think I want to get caught out in the open by those demons?”

“Ah.” Dawkins was silent for a moment, then spoke again. “Rahab, do you think you can answer a few questions for me?”

She audibly rolled her eyes. “All right.”

“Do you know what kind of ants those are?”

“Ants?” Rahab sounded genuinely surprised. “What ants?”

“The ants we just stepped over.”

For a moment, Rahab cast about her memory. “Ah, those ants. There are a lot of them around here. What about them?”

“Do you know anything about them?” Dawkins asked.

“Not really.” She paused for a second, looked at him, then continued walking forward. After another few minutes, she asked quietly over her shoulder, “What do you care about ants?”

Dawkins, busy scanning the ground for insects, said after a few seconds, “Well, the ecosystem here is fascinating. Those ants aren't like anything back on Earth. So I'm trying to find out about them, and about all the other plants and animals, to learn more about Hell and what its history must have been.”

Rahab frowned. “You can tell the history of the place just by looking at its plants and animals?”

“A little bit,” said Dawkins. “We can make some surmises as to the evolutionary history of the ecosystem by studying the plants and animals. For example, we can tell how long ago their ancestors came here from Earth, and how much has occurred since then.”

She’d looked at him, bewildered, and shown him the way back to his room. And he’d been here more or less ever since. It was comfortable enough although if Dawkins made it back to Earth, he would never complain about a Ramada Inn again. He’d had nothing to do other than watch the insects and try to work out if any of them were dangerous. He was still mulling over the options there, contact poisons, bites, spitting, when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in.”

Rahab entered the room, two men behind her. Dawkins recognized the type instantly. Heavies. Muscle. The names varied from country to country but their kind never did. He didn’t know whether this was a good time to get scared or already too late for that. But, they didn’t look hostile. More curious than anything else.

“Our leader would like to speak with you. We will take you to him and then we must go outside. Do you need help?”

Dawkins relaxed. A little. “No, Rahab, I’m recovered now.” He turned to the two men. “I’m Richard Dawkins.”

“Good for you.” The fair-haired man grunted the words out.

“Don’t mind him. He’s always a bit irritable when Caesar’s alone. I’m Titus Pullo, he’s Lucius Vorenus.”

“The Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus?” Dawkins was stunned.

The big man laughed. “So, you’ve read Caesar’s book then. Spins a good yarn doesn’t he.”

“I’ve read the book, but you’re the stars of a television program as well.”

The big man looked confused. Rahab cut smoothly in. “Don’t worry Titus, none of us understand what he’s saying most of the time. He likes ants though, if you see any, take him to them. They’ll keep him happy for hours.”

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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 Post subject: Re: Armageddon 51 - 55
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 2:59 pm 
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Belial’s Study, Adamantine Fastness of Tartarus, Hell

Of course, Belial never sat with his back to a door. No demon made it past squad leader without learning such basic common sense. Thus when Euryale entered she was immediately met by the count’s calculating stare. She made no sign of having noticed it though, instead concentrating on bringing the food she had prepared for him to his table. She’d made certain that the tray held everything he liked and nothing that he did not. Once Belial’s meal was laid out, she sat quietly on the couch beside him, saying nothing. Belial was very familiar with this game, but still drunk on success he was in the mood to let it play out. He continued to stare at the meal laid out on the table, aware that the Euryale’s tail had curved around his leg and its tip was caressing the back of his thigh.

“Satan Mekratrig is pleased at my success. He has named me as one who stands beside him and is in his favor.”

“My Lord. The Baroness Yulupki is in position with her chorus. The second attack, on Dee-Troyt, will commence when you give the word.” Her voice was quiet and respectful but her tail continued to move suggestively up his leg, its tip now reaching his knee. The torchlight was glittering off her smooth bronze scales. Conniving little harpy. Belial thought, though the constantly-moving tip of tail curling around his lower leg was rather distracting. Still as comely as ever though.

“And then Satan will indeed reward me and grant me back the power I once had. Which raises the question of what to do with you, Euryale. Your display tonight was unforgivable.” Mentally, Belial gulped, the top of her tail had now reached his groin and thinking straight was becoming every more difficult. “You must be punished for your insubordination.

“I am in great fear of your punishment Belial.” Euryale put a distinct tremor into her voice, one that was either lust or fear and there was no way of telling which was which. In fact, of course, the answer was neither but that didn’t really matter. She twitched the tip of her tail and saw Belial jump slightly. You ignorant oaf, half your court want to rebel against you, the other half just want to assassinate you. The only thing stopping them is they don’t regard Tartarus as being worth the risk. As soon as you have something worth usurping, they’ll be at your throat. If it didn’t suit me to have you on the throne… the tip of her tail had reached up and now was circling Belial’s penis.

Any hope Belial had of thinking straight had long gone. Ah well, may as well go with the flow was the one thought that was running through his mind. He lurched upwards, getting to his feet and dragging Euryale up with him at the same time. Then, he pulled the demoness off the couch, and slung her over his shoulder before he carried her through an archway and flung her onto a sleeping pallet. Euryale landed heavily on her back, splayed out on the matted fungus. The briefest flicker of fear crossed her face before her features melted into a look of unbridled lust. Belial couldn’t tell if she was faking that or not, but his matching expression was certainly genuine.

Outside, the listening orcs heard the intense screams and were indeed convinced that a most horrible torture was being inflicted. By the time the story had been elaborated and repeated, it was enough to chill the blood of even the most ruthless of Belial’s minions.

Half an hour later, Belial was back in his study, staring dreamily through the window (or rather, trident firing loophole). This owed less to the massage Euryale was giving him than to the series of drugged darts she’d managed to administer while the count was quite thoroughly distracted. It was a tactic she used most sparingly, due to the likely horrible consequences of him realizing what she was doing, but in this case she’d considered it justified.

“Yes, such a shame really, losing brave Lasee-urk-nasee.”

Euryale sighed mentally. “Actually Lakheenahuknaasi survived. She made contact with me just an hour ago, of course I came to see you immediately. She says that she was intercepted by a human sky chariot and gravely wounded. Lakheenahuknaasi thinks we must minimize the time between sending the pathfinder and the pathfinder and the strike itself. If we do that, her sister will have a much better chance of survival..”

“Of course. Your handmaiden is alive? I expect you will want to retrieve her then?”

“Actually I convinced her to stay for a while. She said that she it may be possible to build a small cult of humans and that from them she can learn much of value to you.”

The idea of any of his subjects having a private cult didn’t sit easily with Belial, but then again they were only humans. After the immense effort it had taken to find the first two targets, the prospect of his own intelligence network on earth was tantalizing, however modest its beginnings.

“Most pleasing, Euryale. What has she discovered so far.”

“Alas she is still evading human pursuit and has not had time to gather much yet. But think on this my Lord, we both know how much influence Deumos gains just from her legion of succubi – yet she could not warn us of the human magery. My handmaiden has shown that given the chance, we gorgons can provide you with a superior spy network. How much would that be worth at Merkatrig’s court?”

The offer would have been tempting anyway, had she managed to get the count to hear it out, but in his current state it was irresistible.

“Very well. We attack De Troyt immediately and we use a nephilim as close to the target as possible. The search must begin immediately, to be sure of finding one who can travel there in time.” Suddenly energized, Belial stormed out of his chambers, bellowing for servants and messengers as he made his way to the great hall. Euryale followed behind, savoring a smug grin before she had to begin her performance for the nobles.

Third Platoon, Second Company, Third Battalion, Fourth Regiment, 247th Motor Rifle Division, Phlegethon River Front, Hell

“Bratischka, many times we have said that the spirits of our ancestors look down upon us but this time, it is true. They are there, Bratischka, there beyond the river. There, the heroes who defended the Bagration flèches, who fought to hold Port Arthur, who defended the Rodina against the Germans, they wait for us. There our gallant comrades who held the ruins of Stalingrad, who broke the fascist beast on the fields of Kursk and who chased him all the way back to his lair in Berlin, they wait for us. Everything we have we owe to them, everything we are, is because they sacrificed everything for us. Now it our turn to fight and to repay our debt to them. Now it is our turn to break the armies of hell on our armor and send them scurrying away under the lash of our guns. Bratischka, the Americans won a great victory in the desert of Iraq fighting these same enemies. Can we show ourselves to be less than them? I say no! I say we should show the Americans how a Russian Army fights! I say we should score such a victory today that the world will be in awe of our power and the enemy shall tremble at the thought of fighting us again!”

Lieutenant Anatolii Ivanovich Pas'kov, standing on the back of the BMP-2 armored personnel carrier, looked down at the cheering men in his little command. Three BMP-2s, one Tungaska air defense system. Not so much as things went but one of hundreds of dug-in strong points that defended the front. Miles deep, each strongpoint covering the others so not one inch of ground was left unswept by heavy automatic weapons. The BMPs had been modified, they each had two AGS-17 grenade machine guns mounted on their rear decking to provide that extra bit of close-in firepower. Outside the earth banks, the ground was covered with wire entanglements and under them were the mines, hundreds of thousands of them. As a final thought, the river banks were criss-crossed with trenches, each carefully calculated to be deep enough and wide enough to catch a rhino-lobster’s hooves and send it sprawling on to the ground.

And far to the rear was the Final Argument. Artillery. Guns were lined up in a density unheard of since Zhukov and Koniev had raced to capture Berlin. In fact, some of the guns had fought at the Battle of Berlin and had been taken out of the storage where they had slept for so many years. Guns, 122mm and upwards, salvo rocket launchers and the short range ballistic missiles that could deliver their own special kind of hell. Further behind them were the aircraft, British, American, Russian, Israeli, Indian, Chinese, other nations too many to remember. All brought together to do one thing. To turn this stretch of the river into a killing ground the like of which had never been seen before.

Piquette Street, Detroit, Michigan

The tremors, the voices, the migraines; Donnie Cook was used to all of these. Indeed in the long, agonizing periods between hits, he had often fancied himself to already be in hell. For three years now heroin had been his demon, the black tar forcing him to beg, to steal, to prey on the unwary, whatever it took to keep the craving at bay. Now all that seemed like just the warm-up. Hell had come to him and made him its own.

Donnie stumbled through the abandoned factory, his emaciated body moving with the jerkiness of a puppet. In truth Baron Zatheoplekkar was having some trouble controlling the human; its whole nervous system seemed to be warped and damaged by the many cocktails of poisons it had consumed. To the demon it almost seemed that to kill this pathetic creature would be doing it a favor, and that quite took the fun out of it.

The man’s wasted form jerked to a halt in the centre of the ground floor, the puppet-master seemingly satisfied that the ruined building was deserted. For over a minutes he just stood there, twitching and staring wildly. At last the black disc of the portal swelled into existence, briefly surrounded by a carpet of tiny sparks as the wash of energy hit the rusting junk littering the floor. The gorilla-like forms of lesser demons began to emerge from the blackness, their tridents held low as they fanned out through the structure. Another minute passed before a single final creature emerged, closer to human in form if one could ignore the writhing hairlike tentacles and great folded wings.

To Donnie the creature seemed anorexically thin, yet moved with a flowing grace that only heightened the sense of being faced by a deadly humanoid snake. The female demon was within an arm’s length of him now and her stare bored into him. Fight fought flight as he alternately wanted to scream and run, or club and stab the monstrosity, but all he managed was a series of low moans. Animal yelps and screams echoed off the crumbling walls before cutting off sharply.

Megaaeraholrakni cocked her head at the approach of the strike leader. “I ssee that they are jusst as pathetic on thiss plane as they are in the miness.” Her imperious gaze switched from the possessed human to the demon. “No others witnesssed my arrival?”

“No humans here, gorgon. Just those.” He gestured at a pair of his demons approaching with the broken bodies of stray dogs dangling from their claws. Their expressions showed a clear disappointment at the lack of fresh human meat on this mission, but a determination to make the most of it anyway. “A fitting audience for your grand entrance.”

The gorgon hissed and thrust out her arm at the insolent demon. A bright bolt leapt from her claws and stuck the strike leader, leaving him reeling and roaring defiance. “Go! Before I fry the lot of you!” Megaaeraholrakni screamed, her form glowing with witchfire. She exchanged a long stare with her opponent before he decided that it wasn't worth risking the count's wrath. At a silent signal from their commander the growling lesser demons began to file back through the black disc and disappear. “And take that wretch with you!” The last demon in line dragged the human through the portal, which promptly shimmered and vanished.

Her flickering aura relaxed as Megaaeraholrakni released the psychic force. In truth, she could not have done much more; her kind were not built to fling lightning the way the naga were and it had taken her millennia of practice just to achieve the limited aptitude she had. No need for lesser beings to know that of course. She made her way to the staircase and from there to the highest floor of the crumbling building (a disused storehouse perhaps? she couldn’t tell and didn’t particularly care). A large section had collapsed completely, revealing a panorama filled by more nondescript boxy buildings, all made of the humans' odd artificial stone and many in a similar state of disrepair.

Like Lakheenahuknaasi before her, she recoiled in distaste from the telepathic clamor which filled the humans realm. Megaaeraholrakni was undeniably the superior witch though, or perhaps just less interested in comprehending the human babble, for within ten seconds she had pushed through the barrier to contact her waiting queen. It was time for this place to burn, so that this silly rebellion could end and she could get back to her studies.

Free Hell, Banks of the River Styx, Fifth Circle, Hell

You Are Now Entering Free Hell

The sign meant that they’d done it. For the first time in its history, there was an area of Hell where humans ruled. After the assassination of Asmodeus, the baldricks had stopped their advance and dug in. A de-facto border now existed, on one side of it the Baldricks continued their network of fortifications, on the other, humans had established their own administration. An uneasy truce existed between them, one that could be summarized from the human point of view as “don’t put your hoof over the border and we won’t blow it off”. It seemed like a small, practical agreement but in reality it was an epoch-defining defeat for the baldricks. They’d been forced to deal with the dead humans as equals and concede ground to them.

“Friend, if I could speak with thee for a moment. I have a request for thine attention.”

The archaic language snapped Lieutenant (deceased) Jade King’s attention back to the reality of Free Hell. For a moment, she thought that it was one of the recovered dead, but the breathing mask showed it was a volunteer from Earth, one who had come to help with the task of finding the victims of this place and rescuing them.

“There’s a problem?”

“There is friend. Many have been rescued from the swamps and have recovered enough to travel. Some wish to stay here with thee to fight.” The speaker’s voice showed his dislike of that concept. “Others, they wish to leave this place. Can thou contact earth and arrange a way out for them?”

Kim relaxed, this had been anticipated. “Some don’t like our company huh? They know they can’t survive on Earth, right?”

“They have been told this, yes. And they understand but still wish to leave.”

“Well, they can. The plan is we’ll portal them back to Earth and then they’ll be relayed straight back to an area of Hell that’s under human control.” To her amusement, her companion looked around in alarm. “No, not like this one. We’re holding a pretty big area between the Phlegethon River and the sea, its called the Martial Plain of Dysprosium. There’s refugee camps being set up in there for the people we rescue. They’ll be looked after until we’ve won. I have no idea what will happen then, I don’t think anybody has. The catch is, I can’t contact out, DIMO(N) has to contact me. We have a schedule for that. Next contact is in a few hours, get the evacuees ready to move then.”

“Thou are kind. Thank you.”

The man turned to leave but Kim was seized with curiosity. “Excuse me, but could I ask a question of you. A personal one?”

“Certainly friend. I will answer if I can.”

“How come you people didn’t just die when we got The Message. A lot of religious people did, too many of course. But none of your people. Why?”

The Quaker smiled gently beneath his mask. “Friend, hast thou ever heard of Testimony of Integrity?” Kim shook her head. “It is one of our central beliefs. It says that we should always tell the truth but it means more than that. It means we should always deal fairly with people, we do not believe we should trick others by making statements that are technically true but whose meaning is false. It is our belief that this is how God deals with us and we deal with others. When The Message came, it did so as an inner revelation at our meetings. Those who received it stood to testify but at once there were doubts as to whether this was a true revelation for it ran against the Testimony of Integrity. How could a God who had for so long demanded we base our lives around the concept of fair dealing countenance such an enormous betrayal? Surely this could not be so and The Message was a trick, perhaps by Satan himself. So our meetings all decided to wait and see what would happen. Then the fighting started, we saw the baldricks invade and we heard what they did. We still do not believe that The Message came from Our God but it does not matter. The Message was true and we must wait to see what the whole truth is. Before then, our beliefs, the Testimony of Peace does not allow us to fight but it does allow us to come here and aid those who have suffered for all too long. So here we are.”

Rather you than me Kim thought to herself. Better to fight baldricks that spend the time here scrambling around in the mud, finding the souls in torment here then rescuing them. Unconsciously she shifted the M115 on her shoulder. Especially since modern weapons gave her such an enormous advantage over her enemies. The baldricks had numbers but even that advantage would fade as more and more souls were liberated from the torment in which they were held. And that, of course, raised issues all of its own.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a long rolling thunder, one that was very far away yet she could still feel the vibrations through her feet. The Quaker was standing politely beside her, waiting for her to speak again, but the sound made him glance up.

“I did not know that there were thunderstorms in this place.”

“There are not.” Kim spoke absently. “That’s artillery fire.”

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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