History, Politics And Current Affairs

Opinions expressed here are personal views of contributors and do not necessarily represent the companies, organizations or governments they work for. Nor do they necessarily represent those of the Board Administration.
It is currently Sun Dec 17, 2017 7:06 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 5 posts ] 
Author Message
 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 61 - 65
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:12 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Comercia Tower, Detroit, Michigan

It was a nondescript conference room in a nondescript office in downtown Detroit. Oh, certainly some lawyer's name was on the door, but this was just a quiet place for two sons of Michigan's most powerful political family. "You know we have to resolve the issue, Carl. You’d think she’d shut up when Barry got the nod." US Representative Sander Levin of Michigan's twelfth sighed. "We can't let those two keep sniping at each-other like a couple of fifth-graders, not when the world is going to hell."

"Hell's coming to the world is more like it, Sandy." Senator Carl Levin, Sander's younger brother, joked. "I know, its bad. But what do you want me to do? Anyway, I don't LIKE that woman. I'd rather have a baldrick on the ticket than her. At least then we know what we'd be getting."

Sander laughed, and blocked out words with his hand. "Beelzebub-Levin in 08, why settle for a lesser evil?" He shook his head. "No, I think the best we can do is to keep supporting Barry and ……" suddenly there was a rumble that turned into a steady vibration, and the lights in the room flickered.

The door burst open. "Sirs!" A secret-service agent stepped in, listening on his earpiece and with a weapon in-hand. "A portal has opened pretty close to us, north of here. Its looking like a replay of Sheffield, and we have orders to get you out of here." His voice made it clear it wasn't a request. After the incident with Bill Clinton, the Secret Service had mandated that all members of congress be protected with at least one agent at all times, to prevent demonic possession. "If you'll follow me to the street, we will evacuate you to the west, we have an airplane waiting but all of the metro-airspace has been locked down."

Both men nodded grimly, and they began following their agents; the meeting room was on the twenty-second floor and it was a long way down. Like every other stairwell in downtown, the way out was clogged with a mass of people, and it only took a few to panic and fall to turn the evacuation into a crush. The secret service tried to clear a path, shouting “Federal Agents!” and “We have a US Representative, let us through!” but with little effect on the crowd. Their hopes picked up when one of the elevator doors began to open, but it revealed a car packed to bursting with bodies.

“Citizens, please, we have a senator and a congressman here, we need to evacuate them.” The men and women in the elevator stared back with panicked eyes. Two of them spilled out into the hallway, but the rest shrank back. The agents looked at each other, considering whether to press the issue, but it was rendered moot as the building suddenly lost power. With set expressions they returned to trying to force a path for their charges through the crush.

Okthuura Yal-Gjaknaath, Tartaruan Range, borderlands of Hell

It was hopeless. No matter how she struggled her ripped wings couldn’t find enough purchase on the air. The magma level had already dropped noticeably, but the receding lava just exposed a steep, jagged rim of still-glowing rocks. To Euryale it looked like a rack of red hot knives ready to tear her apart. Already she seemed to be drowning in an ocean of merciless heat as she fell into the volcano’s throat, the rim drawing away even as the ground rushed closer. She knew it was hopeless, but instinct made her try to flare anyway, throwing away the last of her airspeed to prevent an instant crushing death on impact.

In what seemed like a miracle, as she hovered for that final two seconds the sharp glowing rocks were replaced by a shifting mass of gray-brown rubble. The gorgon landed heavily, splaying onto the still scorching-hot stones and gaining a fresh set of sprains and bruises, but to her utter surprise she was neither incinerated nor broken. Elation lasted for only a moment as Euryale realized that the lip had collapsed and she was crawling on a landslide. Desperately she tried to out-pace the sliding rocks, scrabbling for purchase as the rim continued to crumble into the throat. At last she was out, stumbling into the crater proper and panting despite the searing air.

She wasn’t out of danger yet though; the unstable portal was still churning the lava, which was spitting out globs of molten rock at random. She’d emerged near one of the shrines, a tattered mess of bent rods and half-melted wires, still sparking feebly with residual psychic energy. A half dozen naga lay collapsed in front of it, abandoned by their peers, who were slithering out the crater as fast as their coils could carry them. Euryale found most of the naga rather hard to tell apart, but one snakelike form was unmistakable; Yulupki had always had a taste for tacky jewelry and for the ritual she’d liberally festooned herself with beaten gold trinkets. Euryale had an overwhelming urge to leave her there. It would certainly make explaining the disaster easier. No, it didn’t make sense, too much was riding on Count Belial’s scheme and losing Yulupki would be too much of a blow, to their portal capability and to morale.

As she got closer she saw that the naga’s eyes were still open. “Baroness! Snap out of it! Come on, you can’t stay here!”

“It’s gone! My magic! I have no magic!” Yulupki wailed.

Euryale shook her head. She’d seen Megaaeraholrakni suffer exactly the same thing when she pushed herself too far. It was temporary of course. Demons could recover from nearly anything that didn’t kill them outright, save the touch of iron. “Snap out of it witch. You’re mewling like a kidling.”

The naga didn’t seem to have heard her. “I can’t hear it… I can’t feel it… I am nothing…”

Euryale rolled her eyes then slapped the baroness across the face. The naga hissed and bared her fangs, suddenly focused. “You’ll be fine… if you get out of here now. Come on. I can’t carry you.”

A thump followed by a sudden scream issued from nearby as a piece of lava narrowly missed another of the naga, spraying the creature with glowing fragments. Yulupki painfully began to slither up the slope towards the crater rim, while Euryale went to find a Great Beast to help her move the other wounded survivors.

Ford Field Stadium, Detroit, Michigan

Lieutenant Preston swept the binoculars across the smoke-shrouded asphalt, trying to verify the charge placement. The scene took him back to Kuwait, the same dirty haze backlit by towering flames. The plan was a desperation tactic to start with, worked out in haste at the marathon emergency civil defense meeting just two days ago. With only half his platoon available it would be a minor miracle if they pulled it off. Worse, breathing gear was in critically short supply, the best they could manage was taking gulps from medical oxygen bottles. Even up on top of the stadium’s parking deck, the noxious air was burning his throat and making his eyes water. His men down in the freeway cutting had it much, much worse.

The old-style surplus radio crackled to life. “Sir, I’m seeing lava flow under the Wilkins Street bridge, it’s gonna hit you in five to ten minutes. Over.”

“Got it Private. High tail it out of there. Have you got civvies on board?”

“Yes sir, Alan been picking up wounded, truck’s full of them.”

“Great. Get them clear. Out. Taguba, how are those charges coming?”

Sergeant Taguba’s voice came in ragged gasps. “Just doing the… last column now… Quarrie’s collapsed… put one of the bottles on him.”

Another, higher pitched voice cut in - Sergeant Sharoff’s squad had already finished the northern bridge and moved on to one of the ramps. “Sir, we ran out of satchels, we’ve been improvising with loose blocks but we’re still stringing detcord…”

Lieutenant Preston cut him off. “Sergeants, we’re out of time. Prepare to set timers, three minutes, on my mark.”

There was a long silence – on the radio at least. The city was anything but silent, with the wailing sirens, honking horns, roaring flames, human screams, drawn-out thumps of collapsing buildings and the omnipresent deep rumble of the falling lava. Number four platoon, bravo company was the best approximation of a combat engineering unit the Third Volunteers could manage, but faced with an attack on this scale they most they could hope for was buying a little more time.

“Ready. My boys are pulling back.” Another pause. “Sharoff, in position.”

“Mark!”

“Timer set.” Pounding footsteps came over the voice as Taguba wasted no time pulling back.

“Timer ru… sir…” Sergeant Sharoff’s voice cut off.

”Well done, now haul ass! Samuels, stop the traffic now, any means necessary.”

“Yes sir.”

Preston could just make out diesel starting up as his men moved commandeered trucks to block the freeway overpass. The civvies would hate them for it, but better that than let them get blown up or dunked in lava. His knuckles went white as his grip on the binoculars tightened. The smoke completely obscured the ramps now, but there was a streak of movement… yes, yes! it was Taguba’s truck barrelling down the freeway, his men piled into the bed. But where the hell was Sharoff?

“Sharoff? Report! Sharoff? Lee?” Preston tried to force back the growing sense of horror as the second pickup failed to appear. He dropped the binoculars and jumped back into the SUV, addressing his driver. “Take us out to the edge of the lot. As soon as the charges blow, we go down after our men, understand?”

Private Russell was only nineteen, a trainee machinist when he wasn’t drilling with the regiment. Preston guessed that the kid had spent a lot of his time fooling around with cars before the Message, judging by the work he’d done getting the ex-museum pieces back into working order. Russell’s hands were trembling on the wheel as he steered the Cherokee down the parking ramp, and he gulped before responding with a shaky “Sir yes sir.”

“Steady now. The rubble will hold back the lava, we’ll be in and out before the smoke gets us. If the gas has knocked them out, we’re their only hope…”

A deafening, stuttering series of cracks and booms drowned out the Lieutenant’s words. The smoke swirled and for a moment cleared to reveal the two freeway bridges collapsing in a tumble of concrete rumble. A second later one of the connector ramps came down, breaking into spinning chunks as its support columns cracked unevenly. The charge placement was supposed to tip the decks on end as they fell, and from here it looked like they’d not done too bad job. Splashes of color showed where cars had been on the bridges when they fell. Preston hoped they were abandoned, but if not… well, they were warned, and thousands of lives were at stake here.

Private Russell had the accelerator on the floor before the rubble had stopped falling and the SUV surged forward, smashing through a low metal barrier, crossing an on-ramp and charging down the grassy slope towards the freeway proper. Visibility dropped to mere feet as they entered the now settling dust cloud. Suddenly the vehicle swerved left, braking hard and throwing Lieutenant Preston against the dash. Two shapes emerged out of the gloom, bent low and moving slowly, passing a bright red bottle back and forth between them. Preston shoved the door open, admitting a wash of heat and smoke to the cabin, and pulled the men into the back of the SUV.

“Did the others make it?”

Corporal Lee had a horribly pained look in his eyes. “No… don’t think so.” His voice was a croak. ”Sharoff insisted on wiring more detcord! I think the gas got them, they weren’t moving. Sorry sir, no choice, had to leave them.”

A cracking, rumbling, groan proclaimed the arrival of the lava, punctuated by the distorted screams of tortured rebar. The makeshift barrier shifted but held for now, checking the stream’s headlong rush towards downtown and the river. Preston nodded to Private Russell. “Go!” he shouted, then in a quieter voice “we did what we could. Now lets see where else we’re needed.” He reached for the radio again.

Congress Street, Downtown Detroit

At last, they had reached the lobby. Sander was breathing heavily, at sixty-seven he was hardly a young man. He paused to catch his breath, but what he saw outside snatched it away again. The sky was turning pitch black, and ash was falling like snow. Into the streets they went, but traffic had long since ground to a halt as cars had stalled from the ash or been abandoned by their drivers. Coughing and stumbling, they made their way slowly through the deepening black. It was hard to keep a sense of direction; were they heading towards the river?

After what seemed like an eternity, a piercing scream cut through the darkness. They rounded a corner, only to see a city street backlit by a lava flow. A side-channel of the main flow, it wasn't going at a breakneck speed, but it was steadily making its way down Randolph street. Carl grimaced, knowing the park had to be in flames by now. But worse than that, if the lava reached the entrance of the tunnel to Windsor, a critical evacuation route would be cut. "We've got to do something!" He yelled through the din.

"Our job is to get you to safety, sir!" The agent grabbed his shoulder, but the Senator from Michigan refused to be moved. Lights flashed ahead, dimly in the smoke. A hulking yellow form resolved into a back hoe; it was an abandoned highway repair site.

"There!" He spied a dump truck with a bed full of gravel and ran to it. "We can put a bit..” Carl’s voice trailed off into a hacking cough. ”…A bit of a barrier up, we can dam the lava." The agents looked at each other, then at Sander, who nodded. They weren't likely to make it out of the city alive, but the longer they could keep the streets clear, the better chance other people would have. "I'll do it, sir. I was in the Army Corps." The agent climbed into the cab and fired up the engine.

Coach Insignia Restaurant, Renaissance Center, Downtown Detroit

Gloria had wept for a while, but the sorrow had receded for now. Perhaps it was the unreality of the situation, like a disaster movie. Possibly though it was what she’d been watching below, because she’d never expected to see this much heroism in the face of hellfire and damnation itself. She had a fine view from the deserted restaurant and she’d seen people dragging others out from burning buildings, others digging through rubble of collapsed ones even as the lava closed in on them and private cars actually driving back in to the city to pick up more survivors. She’d seen a news helicopter buzzing around lifting children off rooftops and another big helicopter dropping packages to the survivors – after watching for a few minutes she was pretty sure they were gas masks of some sort.

Then there were the barricades, springing up everywhere as people tried to hold back the burning tide for just a few more minutes. It had started with the freeway collapse, that had gone down and sent up a big cloud of dust right before the lava got to it, so it had to be deliberate. She wasn’t sure if that had been a good idea, the stadium had gone up in flames and then the molten rock had pooled and started heading west along the I75, cutting off escape to the north as it went. Then again she’d probably be in hell already if they hadn’t damned the flow, along with thousands of others caught in downtown.

One particularly bold group had tried to block the road just in front of her skyscraper, piling up rubble and cars and trucks and all manner of junk right under the people mover track. The lava had already reached the barricade, which was burning and melting and shifting dangerously, yet they still kept reinforcing it. Another rumble, another boom… another building was collapsing, just a hundred yards north of the barricade. The lava was closing in, seeming to come at the tower from every surrounding street. Weren’t they going to run? Didn’t they realize that this was the end? Gloria closed her eyes, wondering if a New Detroit would ever rise from the plains of Hell.

Brush Street, Downtown Detroit

Agent Drexler finally found the control that tilted the bed of the truck, and slowly drew a line of gravel three feet high across the street. Other people stopped, and seeing what they were doing, began to manhandle benches, tires, and any still-working cars into the line. After only a few minutes they had a barrier five feet high. The lava began to pool behind it, but as the rocks glowed, they fused into a solid berm. The lava swirled slowly.

Sander clapped his brother on the shoulder, and they both smiled. Before either had a chance to say anything, a loud -CRACK- echoed above the din. On their right, a building bucked wildly, shedding a rain of cladding, and they both saw the lava pouring into the basement windows and storm drains. With all the heat, the foundations were giving way. The crack repeated again, into a deafening roar as the building came down. The two brothers looked each other in the eyes, knowing they wouldn't see each-other for a long time, bracing themselves for what was in store, as hundreds of tons of steel and masonry came down on them.

Neither flinched.

Free Hell, Swamps by the River Styx, Sixth Rings of Hell

In the distance, the Russian artillery rumbled, sounding for all the world like far-off thunder. Jade Kim could only imagine what it was like in the firing zone, or the hell on the receiving end of the steel rain. Once, she'd been near a single large howitzer firing; the sound had knocked the breath out of her and deafened her even through the headphones. And knowing the Russians, they'd lined up their artillery wheel-to-wheel for fifty miles. She wouldn't want to be in that big baldrick army assaulting the Russian positions right now.

Kim brought her mind back to Free Hell. Initial estimates put the number of people imprisoned in Free Hell at a bit over one hundred thousand. The sheer number still surprised Kim on a gut level when she thought about it, so she constantly had to remind herself that there were ninety billion people in the Pit alone, and the surveying flights had shown that Free Hell controlled little more than a mere millionth of the surface area of the Pit. Spread out before her was a rudimentary map of Free Hell. She was in between appointments in her command tent, contemplating the area they controlled. Marked were the major rock outcroppings, particularly dry and wet places, the courses of streams and rivers, baldrick roads, and known human and baldrick positions. She had also penciled in the locations of canals-in-progress and the small, growing city that housed all of the freed humans.

Nearly one-third of Free Hell's border lay along the Styx. Along the other two-thirds, Tarrant had placed extensive minefields and regularly spaced small fortifications, generally taking advantage of particularly wet areas and clusters of boulders thrusting up through the mud. These had repulsed several weak baldrick assaults in the last few weeks; they'd taken no casualties, while the baldricks had gone down heavily.

But there wasn't enough information about the main baldrick forces. The noted baldrick strongholds were vague, and there were all too many question marks. She wasn't sure how many reinforcements had arrived, or even just how many baldricks had been under Asmodeus' command in the first place. This lack of knowledge was disturbing.

Kim frowned. There were several token emplacements along the shore of the Styx, one monitoring the destroyed bridge and the others spaced evenly across the banks. The defenses there were too thin; Tarrant was relying too much on the Styx as a natural barrier. She made a note to speak to him about that later.

McInery stuck his head in the tent. “Ell-tee?”

“Yeah, Mac?”

“Rahab is here with three men to see you.”

Ah, yes. Rahab and Julius Caesar. “Who are they?”

“One identifies himself as Julius Caesar and says the other two are his bodyguards.”

“Please show them in.” She made sure that her pistol was loose in its holster, just in case, and she'd have Mac here as well if things went sour. She had no intention of that happening, however.

The tent flap opened, and Rahab stepped through. She was followed by Caesar, a short man with thin, black hair and a wide mouth. After Caesar were two men. One was large and very muscular, with a forward-thrust head and short hair; the other was shorter, with curly blond hair and jutting eyebrows. Both were wearing scabbards, but no swords. Mac was on top of his game.

Rahab spoke first. “May I introduce Gaius Julius Caesar. With him are Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, his bodyguards.”

Kim nodded. “Thank you, Rahab.” She rose and extended her hand. “I am Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim, commander of the People's Front for the Liberation of Hell and administrator of Free Hell.” Caesar passed her hand and clasped her wrist. After an instant, she grabbed his wrist. His grip was firm, and he squeezed for an instant before releasing.

“Please, take a seat.” Kim gestured to the chair in front of her desk and three others along the wall.

Licking her lips, Rahab said, “If you don't mind, I'll be going.”

“Suit yourself,” said Kim. Caesar, meanwhile, sat at the chair before her desk.

Kim looked inquiringly at Pullo and Vorenus. Vorenus shook his head and spoke for both of them. “If you don't mind, ma'am, we'll be standing.” Kim nodded. In the back of the tent, Mac stood unobtrusively.

“So, Mr Caesar, how can I help you?”

Caesar smiled. “Please, call me Gaius. I'm here to offer you my help.”

Kim raised an eyebrow. Caesar continued, “I know that you're surprised at the possibility I can help you. I've taken your man Dawkins into my protection. In conversing with him, I've learned much about what has happened since I arrived here in Hell, especially in the last few centuries. You have weapons that are far beyond anything I, or any Roman, could have dreamed of.”

Kim nodded her assent. “This is true.”

Caesar leaned forward. “But,” he continued, “in establishing yourself here in Hell, you do lack one thing.”

“And what is that, Gaius?”

“Manpower.” Caesar smiled. “Every year, since I arrived, I have freed men. They have gone on to free men, who have gone on to free men. I have created a network to shuttle these people to safety in areas the demons do not regularly patrol. There are small groups hiding out in the interiors of each ring, ready to act at my command.”

“And what good are they to me,” Kim asked, “if they don't know how to use my weapons?”

“They can be trained. So this is what I propose, Lieutenant Kim. If you equip and train my army, it will be ready to rise up against the demons all at once, throughout Hell, at your command.”

“How many men do you have?”

“At this point, my people number over two and a half millions.” Kim nodded, carefully concealing her surprise.

“Thank you, Gaius. We will be in contact. Can I put you and your men up here for the night?”

“We would be pleased to accept your offer, Lt. Kim.”

“Mac, would you find a place for them to stay over the night?” asked Kim. McInery nodded. “Thank you.”

As Caesar and his two bodyguards exited the tent, Kim turned back to the map, her mind churning. After a moment, it began to settle. First things first – now to talk to Tarrant about the Styx line of defenses.

Bank of the River Styx, Fifth Ring of Hell

Xisorixus had been a nobody. During the last few millennia, however, he'd risen to his own fiefdom at a breakneck pace. Through a combination of military prowess, conniving wit, and sheer raw courage, he now commanded a large, prime piece of territory in the Sixth ring, under the (late) Duke Asmodeus. Now, with the death of Asmodeus and so many lords under him, Xisorixus was the senior demon in the legions remaining near the human-infested territory.

Although he was busy consolidating his control over the lands of those minor lords who had died – his holdings had tripled in the past few weeks – Xisorixus was also consolidating his command and beginning to lay plans for the feat that would cement his place in Hell's hierarchy for all eternity. Xisorixus was going to utterly destroy the humans who had freed themselves.

Through the past few weeks, he had been feinting at the humans, testing their defenses. They were thorough on the sides of the human-occupied territories facing away from the Styx; Xisorixus harbored few illusions about the ability of his forces to storm through the magical defenses and emerge in enough strength to wipe out the humans on the other side.

But his eyes and ears had been busy gathering information. The overwhelming human defensive magic was indiscriminate, he'd learned; one of his spies had watched human mages preparing the spells, and one of the spells had accidentally exploded, leaving the human a bloody mess, screaming and writhing in pain on the ground. This had given rise to the beginnings of an idea: if he could somehow get across the Styx and gain the upper hand against the humans, he could drive them back and trap them against their own magic.

To make the situation even better, Xisorixus had learned that only a few humans watched the Styx. His demons were now able to show themselves in full daylight without earning the slightest magery in retaliation, save in a few places. Once, he'd tried restarting construction on the demolished bridge, but the humans had unleashed their magic on him and he'd lost nearly two hundred good demons.

He emerged from his tent into the bustle of Dis itself. This was the one place he could be assured that no humans would spy on him, so he'd asked permission to bring his legions here. Satan had absent-mindedly agreed – rather, one of the lower bureaucrats in the government had agreed – so his five remaining augmented legions had requisitioned, and were occupying, these few blocks of city. He'd attached to each legion a fifth-legion of flies, from the sizeable air force he had accumulated in his rise to power.

Today was the day he was going to test his plan. In the courtyard of his headquarters, by his tethered wyvern, were ten curious wooden bundles. Standing by them were three wyverns, to which the bundles would be attached for transmission. His air guard snapped to attention as he exited, and fell into escort around him. They would follow him through the air and to the testing grounds, at a wide, shallow part of the Styx between the human area and the waterfalls. There, a cohort of his troops awaited him.

Xisorixus smiled. The floating bridges would almost certainly work, and from there it would only be a few days before he joined the battle.

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:13 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Incident Command Centre, Sheffield Airport, United Kingdom.

“I think me may have a little bit of a problem, Sir.” Colonel Mace said as he stepped back into the command trailer. “I’ve just been speaking to the Chief Constable and it seems that two of his officers along with their vehicle have gone missing.”

“The situation in the city is pretty confused, Colonel.” Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart replied. “I’ve been led to believe that the network that supports the emergency service’s radio network has been damaged, so it is hardly a surprise that officers may be out of contact.”

“Ordinarily that fact would not worry me, or the Chief Constable, Sir, but witnesses some of our men rescued in the city a short time ago have reported that the officers ejected them from their vehicle and placed a baldrick inside. Now no baldrick prisoner has been reported as being taken so…”

“Something was badly wrong.” Lethbridge-Stewart finished the sentence. “Intelligence does say that some baldricks may be able to exercise mind control by injecting their victims with some kind of poison. We’re overstretched as we are, but we better find this baldrick before it does any more damage. Put together a unit to go and hunt it down, I’ll ask Midlands Command if they can send us some Paras, or Marines to act as a hunter unit if necessary.”

“I’ll command it myself if I have to, Sir.” Mace replied.

The Brigadier turned slightly as Keavy McManus stepped into the Command Trailer.

“Ah, Doctor, how can I help?”

“It’s just Mrs McManus, Brigadier.” The vulcanologist corrected him.

“My apologies, Mrs McManus, a habit from a previous posting.” Lethbridge-Stewart replied. “How is your survey team getting on?”

“Apology accepted, Brigadier.

“I just wanted to thank you for your assistance. I understand that you are very busy with rescue and recovery duties, not to mention Law and Order and providing a cordon, yet you have managed to spare manpower and vehicles to escort my team.” Keavy McManus told him.

“Always nice to be appreciated by the best in their business, Mrs McManus.” The Brigadier told her. “Your work is extremely important; we need to learn how to deal with events like this. I Think you must have heard the news from Detroit, we can be sure that it won’t be the last attack of its kind.”

Western Sheffield, United Kingdom.
The convoy transporting the survey team halted as it prepared to take more readings of the lava that covered much of the city. The army had managed to provide a rather eclectic group of vehicles from those it had assembled at the airport. Leading the group was a Land Rover SNATCH 2, carrying some of the RMP escort, which was followed by two Saxon Patrol APCs, which carried the personnel and equipment of the survey team; various aerials and sensors now poked out from the roof hatches; and a Fuchs Reconnaissance Vehicle, its NBC sensors adapted to detect the various products the portal was spewing out, the rest of the RMP escort was carried in a Vector armored patrol vehicle. Bringing up the rear was a Trojan Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers, the engineer variant of the Challenger 2. It was there in case anything large and heavy needed to be moved out of the way, it also had a GPMG mounted in a Remote Weapons Station which might come in handy.

Staff Sergeant John Mann, Royal Military Police, was not in a particularly good mood as he watched the survey team, who were all wearing protective suits, dismount from the two Saxons and start taking readings, assisted by some members of 1st Royal Tank Regiment, who manned the Fuchs, from the Land Rover. Mann was a senior member of a Special Investigation Branch (known in the RMP as the ‘Branch’, and in the wider army as ‘**** In Bulk’) team based in Midlands Command and felt that he should not be here; his job was to catch criminals in uniform, not shepherd civilian scientists. However he had been available and many of his team had been dispatched to the city to reinforce members of a Territorial Army Provost Company. What Mann had seen today reminded him of something out of a disaster movie, or one of those nuclear war docudramas that had been popular during the Cold War. One image that had stayed with him was the sight of a Traffic Warden cradling an old SLR as he guarded a group of looters Were they really so short of manpower that somebody had decided to arm the Traffic Wardens?

Mann put on his mask and stepped out of the Land Rover, intending to check on the troops under his command. He trusted his fellow SIB and RMP soldiers, but he was not sure about the men from the Military Provost Guard Service sent to bolster the escort. Although they were exclusively recruited from ex-servicemen they usually spent their days guarding base entrances and patrolling perimeters. He leaned back into the Land Rover and grabbed his L1A2 battle rifle; the TA and MPGS members of the escort still had L85A2s, L86A2s and Light Machine Guns, all 5.56mm weapons, but as regulars Mann and his team were entitled to the latest small arms.

“Anything interesting happening, Sergeant?” Mann asked one of the senior NCOs manning the defensive perimeter.

“Not a thing, Staff, apart from some poor moggy that must have been killed by something.” Sergeant Jo McDonagh, a fellow member of Mann’s investigation team, replied.

“I reckon everyone must have self-evacuated out of here long ago; it was a pretty well to do area so I hope nobody has been stupid enough to… Hey you three! Yes you, halt!”

Sergeant McDonagh flinched as Mann suddenly yelled at full volume. His was a voice feared throughout the whole of the SIB. She spotted that he was yelling at three youths who had emerged from a house just beyond the perimeter carrying some plastic bags, they looked over their shoulders, saw the soldiers and started to run.

Mann and McDonagh brought up their rifles, as did the other Red Caps present.

“Halt, or I fire!” Mann yelled.

The Emergency Powers only required that a member of the Security Forces give one warning before opening fire, and in extreme circumstances they could fire without a warning. Mann technically obeyed the instructions, his shot coincided with the implied exclamation mark at the end of his shout. The .338 Lapua Magnum round inflicted terrible damage on the body of the looter. He was dead before he hit the ground. The other two stopped in their tracks, dropped what they were carrying and put their hands up. Mann strode up to them and delivered a swift smack in the small of their backs with his rifle butt, knocking them to the ground.

“Do you two idiots know the penalty for looting then?” He snarled to the two terrified survivors. “Search and cuff them.” He ordered the other Redcaps. “Sergeant, search the house in case there are more of them in there.”

“Yes, Staff.” McDonagh replied.

Sergeant McDonagh led half a dozen Redcaps into the semi-detached house. With the power cut it was eerily quiet, though there was the distant sound of dripping water.

“Clear!” Each soldier shouted as he, or she cleared a room.

“There’s a door here, Sarge.” A corporal said to McDonagh. “I reckon it leads to a basement.”
“Right, Corporal, you go first. I’ll cover you.” McDonagh ordered, turning on the torch attached to her L1A2.

The Corporal kicked in the door.

“On the floor! Nobody move!” He yelled as he charged through the door, Sergeant McDonagh close behind him.

He swung his L85A2 around the room until the torch tapped to it illuminated the body of a middle aged man. His head had been caved in.

“Oh ****!” The Corporal breathed.

“Maybe later, Corporal, but now I think we’d better tell the Staff about this.”

“There were three bodies, Staff.” McDonagh said to Mann a few minutes later. “They’d been sheltering in their basement, who knows why. There was a middle aged man and woman, I presume husband and wife; they’d both had their heads caved in; and an old woman, looked like she was in her late seventies, or early eighties.”

“Had they killed her too?” Mann asked, the disgust dripping from his voice.

“There were no signs of violence, it looks like a heart attack.”

Mann kicked the nearest of the two looters savagely, hard enough to break his ribs.

“Is this your handiwork, you scum?”

“No, they were already like that when we got here!” The looter with broken ribs said through clenched teeth.

“It were ‘im!” The other looter protested, indicating the dead man.

“Get these two pricks out of here before I do something they regret.” Mann snarled at the other Redcaps, before storming back to his wagon.

“You heard the Staff, get them moving.” McDonagh ordered. “And don’t forget to bring the evidence.”

One of the MPGS soldiers searched through the plastic carriers. Rather surprisingly one of them was filled with food rather than valuables.

“There’s a packet of crisps in here.” He said to his ‘oppo’, holding up the bag.

“What flavour?”

“Prawn cocktail.”

“They would be, I hate prawn cocktail.

“We’d better get a shift on before Mr Nasty notices we’re dawdling.”

“Did you get their names?” Mann asked McDonagh a few minutes later. “The stiffs, I mean?”

The sergeant reached into the pocket of her DPM jacket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper.

“I found a gas bill by the door, it seems that they were a Mr and Mrs Beckett.”
“Well hopefully that should help us to locate next of kin; as for the bodies, we’ll just have to let command deal with that.”

Sixth ring of Hell.

Corporal Louis Hoffman paused as he spotted some movement ahead, dropping to the ground and signalling the rest of the patrol to halt and take cover. In this part of Hell is was probably a baldrick patrol and while the patrol from Air Troop, G Squadron, 22 SAS, had enough strength and firepower to deal with any isolated group of baldricks they did not want to draw attention to themselves, at least not yet anyway.
Hoffman carefully swung his L1A2 battle rifle from left to right, scanning the ground ahead. Neither his eyes, nor the Combined Weapon Sight fitted to the rifle revealed anything.

“What is it, Louie?” The voice of Captain Patrick Fleming, the patrol commander, said in his headset.

“Thought I saw some movement ahead, Boss.” Hoffman replied. “I’m not sure now.”

“Seeing things now are we, Louie?” The voice of Staff Sergeant Henry ‘Don’t call me Henno’ Garvie remarked. “Better safe than sorry, though.

“Dave, go forward and support Louis. See if you can spot what’s up there.”

Now that the forces of Satan were on the back-foot, Hell was opening up to human Special Forces, and Britain was one of the major providers. Patrols from both the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service were roaming the areas of Hell assigned to the UK, gathering intelligence and rescuing inmates where ever possible. The Special Reconnaissance Regiment had established a number of Observation Posts from where they could watch the comings and goings of Hell’s military forces, and direct attacks when necessary, while the Paras, Marines and RAF Regiment Gunners of the UK Special Forces Support Group were on stand-by to support any patrol that got into difficulty, or add extra muscle to any attack. The only constraints were the shortage of people who could make contact with and open a portal to hell and the deceased the other side who were in a position to be contacted.

The various UK Special Forces patrols had already managed to rescue quite a few former military personnel, who had been marked down as a priority for recovery. These deceased personnel had then been transferred via portal to a safe area near the Hellmouth for rehabilitation. Encouragingly many, mainly amongst the more recently arrived, had volunteered their services.

The Staff & Personnel Support Branch of the Adjutant General's Corps now had the headache of working out the back-pay and allowances of these deceased soldiers. There had also been suggestions that it might be possible to use some of these troops as battle casualty replacements for units deployed in Hell, or to form new units. That didn’t solve the legal problems of course, after all, how does one pay the dead for their services and what were the limits on service terms? Technically, those who were being found in Hell hadn’t yet fulfilled the terms of their enlistments and that raised even more legal questions. It was reputed that several members of the Pay Corps and Legal branch had already gone mad trying to think out the implications.

Corporal David ‘Dave’ Woolston carefully made his way forward. He was a large, powerfully built man of Afro-Caribbean extraction, and thus was one of the two members of the patrol carrying a GPMG, in this case the new L7A3 variant, which was chambered for the same 8.58mm round as the L1A2.

“Spread out, but be careful, we don’t know what we are dealing with.” Captain Fleming ordered.

“Wait, I see something.” The patrol’s sniper, Corporal Finn Younger reported.

Corporal Younger normally carried an L115A1 Long Range Rifle, though for the deployment to Hell he had decided to draw an AW50F from the armory at Credenhill. It gave him an extra reach and the 12.7x99 Raufoss Mk.211 rounds it fired were extremely powerful.

Younger lined his weapon up on the target, preparing to fire if necessary. However to his surprise the figure in the sight resolved itself into a human shape rather than a baldrick. Even more surprisingly the figure seemed to be moving tactically rather than in the way a civilian might cross a piece of terrain.

“I think we have possible friendly forces ahead, Boss.” Younger reported.

“Right everybody, carefully stand-up, its time to reveal ourselves.” Fleming ordered. “Staff, Fin, Dave, Pete, you stay down for now to give us covering fire.”

The rest of the patrol slowly got to their feet to discover that they were being observed by two figures that were definitely human.

“Who are you?” Captain Fleming called out.

“Sergeant Tony Stevens, 2nd Royal Irish Rangers! Who are you?”

“Captain Patrick Fleming, Special…I mean 1st Scots Guards.”

“You’re one of THEM, eh, Sir.” The filthy bedraggled figure replied. “Don’t worry I have heard of you, I died back in 1978, an IRA sniper.

“This is Corporal James Beveridge of the Royal Engineers.”

The other figure nodded.

“If you want any tunnelling done, I’m your man.” The engineer said. “Still that’s what did for me in the end, bloody Bosche heard us coming and blew up ma tunnel.”

“How many of there are you?” Fleming asked.

“About twenty in this group, Sir.” Sergeant Stevens asked. “I think you’d better come and meet our Senior Officer.”

Sergeant Stevens led Captain Fleming and Staff Sergeant Garvie into a poorly lit cave. They could see that someone was sitting at the far end hunched over what looked like a table, though it was probably a large stone. Stevens saluted smartly and introduced the new comers.

“Sir, this is Captain Fleming and Staff Sergeant Garvie of 22 SAS.”

“Which squadron?” The Senior Officer asked.

“G Squadron, Sir, Air Troop.” Fleming replied, saying ‘sir’ because the voice sounded like someone senior in rank to him.

The figure, a veritable giant of a man at just less than two meters in height, stood up and stepped forward into the light, Fleming and Garvie recognised him at one. After all they had seen his photograph often enough.

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Captain Fleming, Staff Sergeant Garvie.” Colonel Sir Archibald David Stirling, formerly of the Scots Guards, 8 Commando and Special Air Service, said stretching out his right hand. “I take it you have orders to extract groups like mine?”

Fleming and Garvie had never shaken hand with a corpse, or was he a soul, and it was a rather strange experience, yet Stirling seemed as alive as they did.

“Yes, Sir I have. Our orders are to gather intelligence and evacuate as many military personnel as possible.
“Can I ask how many of there are you?”

“Twenty three, some British, there are a few Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians, Indians, South Africans and what not. We’ve got a Zulu here who died at Rorke’s Drift and his stories are going to change the history books. I think I can speak for everyone but we are pretty keen to do what we can to liberate this place, just give us the tools. I for one have been waiting for eighteen years to give something back to the daemons.”

“We’ll get evacuation laid on as soon as we can, Sir.” Fleming said. “Do you know of any other groups near-by?”

“There are small groups scattered all over now. Mostly, we’ve been keeping our heads down and trying not to get found but the war’s changed all that. You know there’s a liberated area up in the Fifth Circle?”

“Free Hell Sir. Run by the People’s Front For The Liberation of Hell. That’s mostly a Yank operation but we’re all involved in getting people out.”

“Well, Yanks or not, you better get word to them, they’re in trouble. Our OPs have spotted a big force of demons converging on the river bank opposite the area they’re holding. About 30,000 foot sloggers and 1,300 fliers. No cavalry that we can see.”

Fleming and Garvie exchanged glances. Even with the influx of deceased volunteers and the support of special forces units from Earth, a force over 30,000 baldricks was too much even for modern weaponry to cope with. If that attack got launched, it was going to overrun Free Hell. “Thank you Sir. We’ll get word straight through and see what can be done.”

DIMO(N) Transit Facility, Fort Bragg
“Colonel Aidan Dempsey, Sir, a pleasure to meet you.” The current commander of 22 SAS said once Stirling, who was the last man through, stepped into the transit facility.

“Likewise, Colonel.” Dempsey’s predecessor replied. “I can’t say I feel too clever though.”

“I’m afraid you can’t stay here too long, Sir. We haven’t solved the problem of bring people back from Hell to Earth yet, but we’ll transfer you and your men to an area of Hell we control. I understand you wish to offer us your services?”

“Of course, Colonel. Both myself and my men have been waiting for revenge for a long time, and I think we can help you locate more groups like us. Just give us the appropriate equipment and training and we’ll do the job.”

“It will be a pleasure to have you in this fight, Sir. If you’ll just follow me I’ll take you to Camp Brimstone.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:14 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Third Platoon, Second Company, Third Battalion, Fourth Regiment, 247th Motor Rifle Division, Phlegethon River Front, Hell

The BMP-2 was shut down, its hatches sealed and firmly dogged in place, overpressure system on to prevent harpy gas and flame leaking in from outside. Bullets were rattling off the armor plate as the three MICVs machine-gunned each other in an attempt to drive off the hordes of harpies that were swarming all over the vehicles, tearing at anything breakable. Last time Lieutenant Anatolii Ivanovich Pas'kov had looked through the turret optics, a dozen or more of the beasts were trying to bend the barrel of his 30mm cannon, he didn’t think they had succeeded but he was reluctant to fire the gun anyway. He hunched down, trying to ignore the acrid fumes from the gunfire that was creating havoc with the harpies outside. Only, some of the acrid stench wasn’t cordite residue, it was the smell of the harpies’ acidic blood attacking bare metal. Certainly the chemical weapons-resistant paint on the BMP was protecting most of the hull from corrosion but there were still parts that were vulnerable to acid.

His little command had done well at first. The Tungaska had fired its eight laser-guided missiles and turned more that a dozen harpies into spiraling explosions, then its 30mm cannon had started chopping more out of the sky. The BMPs had joined in, their turret cannon selecting the closest harpies and shooting them out of the sky. But there had been so many of them, more than 200,000 so the intelligence reports said, and the hundred or so that the 30mm guns had killed were hardly noticeable. The rest had descended on the vehicles and started their assault. Oh, Pas’kov knew that their claws and teeth would not get through the armor but the harpies had other weapons as well. They breathed fire and there was much on an armored vehicle that could burn. The Tungaska had already gone, its engine compartment had caught fire and its crew had been forced to abandon their vehicle into the flock of harpies. They’d tried to run for the BMPs but they were brought down, torn apart and eaten before they’d made more than a pace or two. Pas’kov had been glad of that in a way, he wouldn’t have opened his hatches to let them in anyway.

“Ammunition is running out.” The cry was from one of the two riflemen in the fighting compartment of the vehicle. They were hosing fire out of the fighting ports in the rear compartment, the steel floor covered with their expended cartridge cases. The BMP was carrying more that its allowed load of munitions but the rate of expenditure was such that even its enhanced stocks were getting short. Pas’kov swung the turret, feeling the power traverse fighting the harpies swarming outside, and let off a burst from his co-axial machine gun. The harpies trying to bend his 30mm cannon barrel were caught unawares and the heavy machine gun burst tore into them, spraying acid blood into the air and causing their flesh to char. The cordite smoke-laden air inside the BMP got more dense if that was possible, the heat rising further.

“Get us out of here, we must pull back.”

“We cannot, the transmission is jammed.” The driver’s words didn’t really make sense but Pas’kov guessed what had really happened, the suspension was being attacked by acid and the treads were jammed.

Instead, he got the radio, with just a little luck, it might be working. The whip antenna had long gone, torn off by the harpies, but the little blade antenna might still be intact.

“Company, this is Three. We’re running out of ammunition and are trapped. Our AA vehicle is gone. We need final protective fire now. Right on top of us.”

Pas’kov knew his company commander realized the same thing that Pas’kov himself had done. Calling fire directly on his position was suicide, the guns would tear the armored vehicles apart. But it was better to go that way than be shredded and eaten by the harpies screaming outside.

“Request approved. Being passed up. Hold on Three. Seal down tight. Full protocol.”

Guards Special Mortar Regiment, Northern Front, Phlegethon River.

The great 300mm rockets loaded into the Smerch multiple-launch rocket system were black, with glaring yellow bands painted around their nose. No other rocket had quite such vivid or elaborate markings and for a very good reason, nobody wanted these rockets to be confused with anything else. Even the Smerch crews were afraid of them and their cargo. They’d taken them out of their storage boxes with painstaking care, only too aware that one accident, one slip meant a ghastly death for all around them. Guards Captain Yurii Leonidovich Zabelin had personally supervised the loading process himself and inspected all the firing connections and status checks before reporting his battery ready to fire. Then, he had been told to wait for the current barrage was the work of the heavy guns. The Smerch launchers with their deadly black rockets would have their time, when the right moment came.

The radio in the command vehicle suddenly jumped to life. The right moment had come.

B-52H “Emma Peel” 28,000 feet over the Phlegethon River.

“That makes life a bit better.” The red-and-gray camouflaged B-52s had burst out of the murk at 28,000 feet and Colonel Haymen had pulled back on the lever that operated the engine filters. They’d rotated though 90 degrees, so they were now parallel to the air flow through the engines and the pick-up in power was immediate. The Gray Lady was back to performing the way she should and the old adage held true again. Never underestimate the Gray Lady.

“Hammer Control, this is Storm flight, we’ve broken out of the clag at 28,000 feet. Air is clean up here. Light still red, but visibility good. Tell the Bones to get up here if they want a long, fast cruise.”

“We’ll do that Hammer Flight. Be advised, a pair of B-29s did test drops for you. Computed ballistic corrections hold true, no need to correct programming for bomb drops.”

“Thanks Control. And thank the guys in the Superforts for us too.” Haymen sighed slightly in relief. That was one of the problems of fighting in non-Euclidean hell, there had been no guarantee that the bombs stuffed into Emma’s belly and hanging under her wings would drop true. The only way that anybody could find out was to try and that was what the B-29s had been doing. Drop bombs, compare impact points with those projected and calculate corrections. It had been a long, arduous job, constantly dropping and recalculating, it was lucky the old Superforts had been available to do it. Otherwise more valuable aircraft would have had to be taken out of the line.

“Take everybody up to 32,000. We can expect the drop order soon.”

“Hey, wait for me.” The plaintive voice came from Major Hennessy at the back of the formation. His “Vengeance Is Mine” was the only B-52D in the group of 72 B-52s that were lining up ready for their strike. A museum recovery, it just didn’t have the engine power of the Gs and Hs.”

“Come, on, hurry up old-timer. We haven’t got all day.”

“Hurry up? Hurry up!! I’ll have you know that at least our wings are level back here.”

Haymen snorted. The B-52s had all been through a very hurried “Big Belly” modification that had seen provision for 750 pound bombs increased from 51 to 80. The problem was that the G and H models had a lighter wing structure than earlier marks and now those wings were bent in a graceful curve from tip to root. Only the solitary D-model had wings that were still uncurved. It still carried more bombs as well, 88 instead of 80.

“OK, OK. All Storm birds. The Superforts have confirmed the corrections, we can use the programmed bomb drop. Waiting for word now.”

Command HQ, Camp Hell-Alpha, Hell

“How goes the day Tovarish General?” General David Petraeus stood in front of his view screen, looking at the Russian commander at the other end

General Ivan Semenovich Dorokhov was a harassed-looking man, already tired from the volume of fighting that was going on. “It is a bloody day Bratishka. We are holding them in the North at great cost but the force in the south has bitten deep into the defenses. The North too will start to collapse soon, we are already getting requests from the front line to bring down fire on our own positions. The harpies in the north are pinning our men down, our artillery is hammering the follow-on forces but soon they will have crossed the river and then our positions will fall fast. Still, we have some tricks to play yet and your bombers are ready I think.”

“On your word Tovarish General, just give us the word. Good news, the air is clear up where they are, they can hold up there for longer than we thought. And in the South?”

“Bad. The enemy there are half way through our defense zone. They are paying a terrible price but they have naga carried by Rhinolobsters that are very effective and the Wyverns have done us some harm. But our artillery hit the nagas with white phosphorus and the Wyverns are no match for fighters. The advance there will run out of power soon. But we might need to counter-attack them before they can break through. It will be a finely-judged thing, whether their advance runs out of energy before we stop them.”

“The German and Israeli armored divisions are well placed for that. Order them to make the attack.” Petraeus hesitated for a brief second. “Make sure the Israeli unit has plenty of space around it.”

Dorokhov frowned. “You expect treachery? Surely not.”

“Not treachery, stupidity. The Israelis are too trigger-happy for their own good. They will not shoot up one of our own units deliberately but they are all too likely to do so by accident. We know that to our cost. It would be best to give them an end-run so they are well clear of the rest of your forces. Get them over the Phlegethon so the rest of us are safe.”

The Russian General laughed. “Good advice Tovarish David. You heard the enemy used burning brimstone on our troops? Well, know we will show them what we can do when we wish.”

“Weapons Are Free General. And give us the word when you want the Gray Lady to come calling.”

Over the Northern Front, Phlegethon River

It had many names. Some called it 2-(Fluoro-methylphosphoryl)oxypropane, others preferred O-isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate. The military eschewed such long-winded nomenclatures and just called it GB. The world at large knew it as Sarin.

The great black rockets with their gaudy yellow markings had been launched all down the line. This is what they had been waiting for, when their ability to saturate an area with fire could be turned to best advantage. As the rockets had started to descend, the outer casing had been discarded and the ranks of sub-munitions had been exposed. Further down, those sub-munitions had started to be launched and they had formed a spreading pattern that resembled a great shotgun blast. It was the same mechanism that the Americans had used to bring down the hideous steel rain that had destroyed Abigor’s Army. Only this time, when the sub-munitions detonated they didn’t bring down a curtain of steel fragments or blast from shaped-charge munitions. First they started to spin and the action mixed the charges of methylphosphonyl difluoride and a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine. They reacted to form the Sarin and then the sub-munitions burst to release a fine gentle rain, one that none of the screaming hordes of harpies below even noticed for the liquid was colorless and odorless. The only thing that Beelzebub and his Army did notice was that the human mage-fire that was pounding the bank of the Phlegethon furthest from the Russian positions had ceased.

Every so often, in a battle, for no apparent reason, the noise stops. The gunfire, the roar of the artillery, the growls, whines and snarls of engines, the demented shriek of depleted uranium bolts hitting steel armor, the crackling grumble of fires, the screams of dying men stop and there is an eerie silence. So it was as the Sarin descended on the positions under harpy attack. The Russian guns stopped firing so that the passage of their shells through the air would not disturb the blanket of chemical warfare agent that had been so carefully calculated. Beneath, the Russian motor rifle units were sealing down, hoping that the overpressure systems on their vehicles had survived the harpies and that their chemical warfare suits were proof against the gas. In case it wasn’t they had their atropine injectors ready but the truth was that even if they used them the gas would wreck their bodies. With atropine they would survive but they would never again be the men they had been once.

Uxaligantivaris concentrated on the Iron Chariot that was under her claws. She and her companions were ripping at it with their claws and breathing fire over it as fast as their bodies could recharge their gas sacks. They had used so much of the fire-gas that they had lost the ability to fly but it didn’t matter that much. All that mattered was to keep the Iron Chariots under attack so that the foot soldiers following them could destroy the defenses. Then she shook her head slightly, Hell was a dim place, its light levels low and subdued but suddenly she could see everything was becoming bright and clear to her. So bright that the light was hurting her eyes in a way that she had never experienced before. She looked at another harpy that had stopped ripping at the iron projections on the chariot and saw that her flight-mate’s eyes were strange, the slitted black pupil had contracted to a fine line, almost invisible in the yellow of her eyes. Her nose was running, mucus streaming out of it and coating her chest. Uxaligantivaris touched her own nose and realized that she too was streaming fluids from her nose and that there was a strange tightness in her chest, as if she was having problems breathing. In fact, she realized, that was exactly it, she was having problems getting her ribs to suck air into her lungs. The effort was making her feel sick and she could feel herself drooling uncontrollably. She couldn’t help herself, she vomited helplessly and felt her body loosing strength. Across from her, the other harpies were collapsing as well, vomiting on to the Iron chariot that was now forgotten as the agony took hold of them. Her flight-mates were defecating and urinating like helpless kidling, their bodies twitching and jerking as they tried to escape the unseen thing that was inflicting this terrible end on them. Uxaligantivaris felt her muscles become paralyzed and she slipped down the side of the Iron chariot to lie on the ground spasming and writhing as the Sarin destroyed her nervous system. Eventually, what seemed like an age later, she found herself slipping into unconsciousness and never felt the series of massive convulsions that fractured her bones and tore her muscles while she died of suffocation.

Command Post, Northern Front, Phlegethon River Bulge, Hell

Beelzebub looked at the horrific scene with utter bewilderment. When the human mage-bolts had stopped hammering his forces, he had thought the battle was reaching its turning point, that the human mages had run out of their magic and that now the humans would have to fight on even terms. He’s even welcomed the eerie silence that had descended on the battlefield. He wouldn’t make that mistake again, nor would he ever forget what he was seeing. The silence was part of a human magery that went beyond anything he could even imagine, more than he had ever experienced. Not even Uriel could do what the humans had done to his harpies for in the few seconds that the silence held, his great flock, still far more than 100,000 strong started to die. Not just die, but die in horrible, unspeakable ways, twitching and convulsing in a pool of their own body wastes. Where a few second earlier the human Iron Chariots had been swamped in a sea of harpies that were slowly reducing them to burning hulks, now they stood clear, surrounded by the dying remnants of Beelzebub’s prized force of Harpies.

That was when the silence broke for the iron chariots opened fire again, the mage-bolts pouring from the long staffs they carried, sending the orange-red fireflies lashing at Beelzebub’s foot soldiers on the other bank. They’d taken the quiet, the sudden end of the mage-bolts to try and rush the river. The forces at the back had pushed hard as they surged forward but those at the front had seen what was happening to the harpies, the terrible death that was engulfing them and they were reluctant to move. No warriors were braver or more contemptuous of death that the foot soldiers of Hell yet this magery that inflicted a silent convulsing death on its victims was hideous in a way nothing they had previously experienced could be. They hesitated and the combination of their immobility and the advance of those behind was squeezing the foot soldiers of Beelzebub’s army into a dense mass alongside the river.

The crackle of fire from the Iron Chariots was suddenly drowned out by the roar of human mage-bolts slamming into his force. For a moment, Beelzebub thought that the mage barrage had started again but he was wrong. For off to his left, a line of eighteen great explosions had torn into one flank of his Army. They were mage-bolts all right but their size was greater by far than any he had seen to date. Even as he watched the first bolts swelling and bursting, another salvo landed just in front of them, and then another line just beyond them. Then, Beelzebub saw something that had never been seen in Hell before, ahead of the great mage-bolt blasts, a shimmering wall was starting to form, a faint whitish-blue cloud that strengthened with every salvo of bolts that landed and started to race across the crowded mass of his foot soldiers. The great orange and black balls of fire and smoke marched along behind the blue cloud. When both wall and bolts had passed, there was nothing left but bare ground and chewed soil.

It wasn’t magical of course, it was just a matter of physics and the great bomb bays of the Gray Lady. The first of the 750 pound bombs that had poured from them had hit the ground more or less where they had been aimed, hell’s atmosphere was dust-gorged and murky but it also lacked the strong winds that distinguished Earth. For the Gray Lady, this was an easy assignment. The bombs had exploded and created a blast wave that had spread out in a hemispherical pattern from the impact point. Sideways, each blast wave had merged with the other 17 in that particular line to form a long cylinder, fronted by the shockwave and centered by a whirlwind of fire and steel fragments. Normally, with a few bombs, the blast wave would spread and dissipate but this was the Gray Lady and her wrath was terrible. The next salvo of 750 pound bombs, released by the intervalometers in the B-52s at a carefully chosen interval, hit the ground just behind that advancing shockwave, adding its own fury to the wave that was racing across the ground. The third salvo did the same, each series of blasts adding its own power to the shockwave that built up in power with every series of bombs that pounded Beelzebub’s helpless foot soldiers. The shock wave wasn’t just the power of one bomb, it was the power of all of them added together, a cumulative effect that turned blast into a solid, irresistible and strangely beautiful wall that nothing human or demon could withstand. By the tenth bomb, the blast wave was invincible and there were seventy more to come before the second wave of B-52s took over and added their loads to the holocaust that was consuming Beelzebub’s army.

High overhead, so high where she couldn’t be seen or heard from the ground, the Gray Lady wrought death and destruction on the forces gathered below, an apocalyptic catastrophe that hell and its inhabitants had never even conceived. Watching from his hilltop as his army was consumed, Beelzebub at last understood what humans could do when they decided to stop playing with their enemies.

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:22 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Free Hell, Swamps by the River Styx, Fifth Ring of Hell

Human laughter was not a common commodity in hell. Demonic laughter was, but human mirth was rare in the extreme. So, the sound of three humans laughing uproariously struck Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim as worth investigating. Even as she made that decision, it struck her that she too had not laughed for a very long time.

“Whoever these people are, they certainly got you right eh Titus?” Caesar was wiping his eyes clear of the tears that helpless laughter had caused. The three men were gathered around a small portable DVD player, one whose eight-inch screen was showing the end credits from an episode of the HBO series ‘Rome”.

“Yeah, but Atia? She was to busy praying and trying to be sanctimonious to get up to any of that stuff. Now, if they’d said she was Fulvia….”

“Enjoying the show gentlemen?” Kim’s voice cut through the end music.

“Very much thank you. I was quite flattered by my depiction.” Caesar leaned back and started to sort through the disks for the next episode.

“I wasn’t. Bit harsh I thought.” Pullo’s expression belied his words, Kim got the impression he also was impressed by the television show. “And it got my army life really wrong.”

“That’s true Titus, you didn’t need to get drunk to do some really stupid things. You nearly got us both killed over and over again without the aid of bad wine.” Lucius Vorenus wasn’t laughing, his voice was quiet and melancholy.

“Yeah, but if we hadn’t kept going, the gods wouldn’t have taken a fancy to us and we wouldn’t have gained their protection here would we.” Pullo’s chin jutted out, then his voice softened. “They got Niobe right didn’t they.”

Vorenus nodded. “She didn’t have to do it. If I hadn’t lost my temper, she’d would have lived.”

“And so would I, Lucius.” Caesar’s voice was shot with mock severity. “Getting killed wasn’t in my plans for the day you know.”

“She’s down here somewhere Lucius.” Kim tried to sound comforting. “She would have ended up here anyway as far as I can tell. We’ll find her and then you two can make your peace. If you want to.”

That was a good point and everybody around knew it. Sooner or later it was going to have to be addressed, what would happen when couples who had been married were reunited. Would they want to be? Kim quickly considered the problems Henry VIII was likely to face and shuddered. Then she was aware of Caesar sitting close to her in an uncomfortably familiar way. That fitted what she knew of him from the histories, ‘every woman’s husband and every husband’s wife’ had been one of the ancient barbs thrown in his general direction.

“What happened to Servilia? Did she really die like that?”

“Nah, she outlived the lot of them.” Kim paused. “Gaius, you know what happens to women when they arrive down here?” Caesar nodded, guessing where this was going. “Well, I got all torn up inside.”

“We all heal fast down here Jade. We’re not the same bodies we had on Earth, look the same but we’re not. Your wounds have healed.”

“Not the ones up here.” She tapped her head. “I still feel all torn up. So, Gaius, no. Thank you, but, just, no.” Then she smiled quickly. “But I do have one thing to ask of you, personal favor?”

“Anything for the beautiful woman who has brought hope to hell.”

“I got my copies of ‘The Gallic War’ and ‘The Civil War’ brought through when I heard you were coming. Could you sign them for me?”

Caesar chuckled. “Of course. I….” Then he was interrupted by McInery entering the cave, very fast.

“Ell-tee, got a radio message came in, top urgency.” He handed over a slip with the message printed on it. Kim read it and went white.

“Gaius, we got a problem. One of the Spec Ops teams down in the Sixth Circle has sent in a sighting report. There’s a major force of Baldricks, some 30,000 strong with about 1,500 harpies, moving along the Sixth Circle boundary towards us. They’re the other side of the wall at the moment but they can pass through the gates any point they want to. They’ll be here in two days, perhaps three.”

The amiable smile fell from Caesar’s face and suddenly he was the military commander known to history. “They’re coming here?”

“Pretty sure of it, nowhere else they could be going with a force like that. If they link up with the forces we have on either side of us, we got real problems.”

“Why would they want to do that? You’ve already stalled the demons there. They’ll hit the river flank. How many men do you have?”

“I’ve got about thirty soldiers trained to handle modern weapons. That’s it.”

Caesar smiled at the emphasis on ‘soldiers’ rather than ‘men’ but let it pass. “So you can’t fortify the river boundary properly. I can get some people here, a thousand or more in a day or so and five thousand in two or three, but they won’t help much.”

“They won’t help at all, we haven’t a chance to train them to use rifles and we haven’t got the equipment for them even if we could. Humans don’t stand much of a chance against baldricks without them. Still, the river’s still on our side.”

The comment made Caesar’s mouth twist in despair. He kept forgetting that this woman was a Lieutenant only, she was a junior officer and had the training to match. In other words, not very much. “Jade, in Gaul I threw a bridge over the Rhine in a couple of days. The Rhine is bigger and faster flowing that the Styx. This river barrier you’re putting so much hope on counts for very little in the scheme of things. You need all your ….. soldiers …. to hold the two end flanks. You can’t defend that river as well. If the enemy has 30,000 troops coming in, you’re done. Time to get out of here.”

“Can’t do it. We’ve got civilians here now, we have to get them out, and the dead we’ve rescued, we can’t hand them over”

“Ell-tee, the British want a word with you, they ran the special ops team that got this warning to us. They say they have some suggestions.”

British Expeditionary Force HQ, Camp Hell-Alpha, Hell

“Are you sure this is a good idea Sir?”

“Can you think of a better one?”

“Honestly Sir, yes. We’ve got the lift, evacuate the place.”

“Not good enough. Look, Colonel, Free Hell and the PFLH is about the only successful insurgency we’ve got running in Hell. Oh, the other groups are operating there, but they’ve all got tied down rescuing the prisoners and so on. Very estimable and good work but it isn’t actually fighting Hell. Only the PFLH have done that and they’re entirely an American operation. So, while the Spams run around making decisions, we do something to help the people on the sharp end. That way we get to muscle in on their operation, even take it over if everything goes right. The PFLH is run by a Lieutenant, so we send in 2 Para and its got a Colonel, you, in charge. That makes you the ranking officer on scene and puts you in command. And, once we’re in we stay in – with you in command. We’re doing them a big favor inside, that Lieutenant has done well but she’s way out of her depth. They need military expertise in there if they are going to survive.

“We’ve got Chinooks and Merlins to lift your battalion in. You’ll have Typhoon and Tornados for escort, more Tornados and Jags to give air support one everything drops in the pot.”

“Very good Sir.”

“Move out as soon as you can. And remember, you are the ranking officer down there.”

B-1B “Dragon Slayer” 128th Bomb Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard, Approaching Dis

“Everything dialed in?” Major Curtis Trafford looked at his WSO and got a thumbs up by way of response. The four B-1Bs were in a loose, finger-four formation, cruising at 29,000 feet. The discovery that the air was clear up here had been a major advantage but it also meant that their target was lost in the rolling clouds of red dust underneath. The mapping radar was doing a good job of penetrating it though, the city of Dis was ahead of them and the long spur that stuck out into the great caldera of Hell showed up clearly. Their target was where that spur ended in a rounded promontory, for in the center of that feature was Satan’s palace.

Detroit was to be avenged and the United States Air Force did not take its revenge by striking at the inconsequential As many consumer advocates had put it, ‘if you want action, go right to the top’. There was another saying as well, ‘for delicate work, get a bigger hammer’. The hammer hanging under Dragon Slayer was the biggest conventional hammer the United States had at its disposal. The Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000 pound bomb capable of tearing its way through at least 130 feet of moderately hard rock. What it would so to the rock Dis was built on was an interesting question. The hope was that it would collapse the whole spur and drop Satan, complete with his palace, right into the center of Hell.

The MOPs had been modified for this mission, normally they were GPS guided but the global positioning system was useless in Hell. No satellites and it was not certain whether there was anywhere for a satellite to fly or even anything for them to orbit. Hell wasn’t Kansas. Instead, the bombs had been equipped with an inertial system that was supposed to prevent them wandering off a true trajectory. That left the aiming job in the hands of the B-1s radar.

“We’ve got a radar picture now. The spur’s showing up really clearly. Also showing was the red carat that marked the predicted impact point of the MOP. All four bombers were on slightly converging courses and the intention was that all four bombs should hit Satan’s palace at the same instant.

Beast Stables, City of Dis

“Take care of that wyvern. Feed him carefully, do not let him bloat. If he is made sick I will flay you alive and have you eat your own skin.”

The orc blanched slightly and took the reins of the Wyvern away from Belial. In the back of the orc’s stunted mind, a memory stirred of the time before these creatures had come. Perhaps it was a genetic memory, perhaps the effect of stories quietly whispered in the dark of night, but there were memories nonetheless. Of a time when the orcs had been free and this had been their home. Before the demons had come, before the great eruption that had poisoned everything. Now, there were more whispers in the darkness, more words on the wind. Words that said the millennia of slavery to the demons was ending, that the demons had taken on a force to powerful even for them to handle. Words that said the orcs might be free again. And these words were backed by the thunder that never stopped, the thunder that came from the Phlegethon River.

Belial also heard the thunder of the Russian Artillery but it hardly registered. He had other things on his mind, how to present what had happened to his best advantage. He had fulfilled his promise all right, he had identified the two great arsenals of the humans and destroyed them both. The problem was that half his naga were dead and the rest were crippled, stunned by the accident that had taken place during the Dee-Troyt attack. He knew what was the cause of that of course, the other lords had been told to send him their best covens of naga but what they had actually supplied was their youngest and least-experienced. Lying crippled in her sick-bed, Baroness Yalupki had told him of the trouble in getting the inexperienced naga to sing in chorus and how that had caused the portal to flare out of control. Thought of the crippled naga in her sick-bed made Belial think quickly of Euryale but he dismissed the matter. She was a gorgon, in the final analysis replaceable. If she did die of her wounds, she could be replaced with a new consort, one more fitting to be seen at Satan’s Court. In the back of his mind was an uneasy idea that it all wouldn’t be quite that easy.

He shook himself and walked on. The highway to Satan’s palace, gleaming red-gold as its bronze plating reflected the fires of the hell-pit below, led along the promontory towards the domed island ahead. As always, Belial looked down at the tiers beneath, the nine great rings separated by high walls that defined Hell itself. Once he had been banished from the city to the wilds of the North and it had taken millennia to worm his way back in, and then only as something barely more than a court jester. Now he was entering as a potential great lord. One who would bask in the favor of Satan himself. Yes, the attacks on Sheffield and Dee-Troyt had gone very well indeed. All that he needed to do was to convince Satan of that.

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

“Halt” The order was abrupt and there was a tremor of fear in it. The three BMPs approaching the decontamination facility had been right under the Sarin gas cloud that had scoured the harpies from the battlefield. They were doubtless soaked in nerve gas and there was no way anybody here was going to take chances. To either side of the vehicles, high-pressure hoses were already pumping out thick streams of alkaline slurry to coat the BMPs in their white paste. Then, a truck backed up, a jet engine on its back. The exhaust was played over the outside of the armored carriers, swiftly raising the temperatures to almost-intolerable levels. Almost, but not quite and the temperature was needed to hydrolyse the residue of nerve gas on the BMPs. Eventually, the jet engines and the sprays had done their work. Detector waved over the carriers remained silent and Pas’kov’s little command was ordered to one side.

Yet, the work wasn’t done. They opened the hatches on the BMPs and the crews scrambled out, only to be sprayed with alkaline slurry and brushed down with brooms. Once again, the detectors remained silent and, at last, Pas’kov and his men could remove their chemical warfare suits.

“Well done Bratischka.” A Captain was standing to one side, his own suit still on. “You have fought as heroes today. We will repair your vehicles and send you back soon but until then you can rest. We have vodka for you, and fresh food.” Behind them, a group of men were being lead away, gently but firmly. They looked healthy but they moved with the shaking, trembling slowness of very old men. The Captain looked at them sadly. “They were not so lucky. Their radio was down and they did not get the word about the gas. Harpies had breached the seals on their vehicles and they were contaminated, They used their antidotes but…..” He shook his head.

Pas’kov knew what he meant. The atropine and pralidoxime injector had saved their lives but now they were old men in their twenties and would never be anything more. The gas had slaughtered the harpies in a way no other weapon could but it had costs all of its own.

Assembly Area, Southern Flank, Phlegethon River Front
Major Evgenii Yakovlevich Galkin looked at the boxy vehicle next to his tank. One with red mottling applied over its dark gray paint, just as his was mottled with red over its moss-green. The tank looked huge beside his sleek, curved T-90 but there was more to that to fill Galkin with unease. The tank was German.

“Tovarish major” The voice calling from below was in atrocious Russian, the accent making the simple words almost unintelligible. Still, Galkin understood and dropped off the turret of his tank to where the German was waiting.

“Soon we will fight together. I just wanted to wish you good hunting.” The words were a lot better this time, Galkin guessed that the German had carefully rehearsed the phrase in an attempt to be friendly. Time to respond. Galkin’s German was better that the German’s Russian.

“May you have a good bag and a safe hunt.”

The German beamed in response, then caught the Russian looking at the Leopard. “Have you seen a Leopard II before?”

“Only at our tank museum in Kubinka. This is the first one I have seen on service.” The German officer’s eyebrows twitched, there wasn’t supposed to be a Leopard II at Kubinka. How had the Russians got hold of one? “Is this the first Russian tank you have seen?”

“For me yes. My father, he saw many of course.”

“In the Great Patriotic War?”

“He fought at Prokhorovka. With the Panzers, Heer, not SS.”

Galkin nodded. Odd coincidence. “My father also fought at Prokohorovka. And later.”

There was a long silence, neither man quite certain what to say next. Eventually Galkin spoke carefully. “Our fathers caused great destruction, between them, at Prokhorovka. Now we can join together and inflict the same those who threaten us both.”

The German nodded. “We can. As soon as our commanders let us off the leash.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:23 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Winder Street, Detroit, Michigan

“Go ahead and blow it Taguba.” Lieutenant Preston didn't need binoculars this time; the old factory was right in front of him. The weathered brick building appeared to have been a food processing plant, before being boarded up and abandoned. Now it would provide much-needed material for the bulldozers.

The demolition was on a smaller scale than the intersection they'd destroyed earlier, but at this range it was just as loud. The building didn't collapse completely, but it was good enough for the dozers to get to work without risk of being crushed. Right now this was a relatively safe area, the lava seemed to be flowing down towards the river and the inrushing wind made Detroit's wide highways function as acceptable fire breaks. That situation could change at any moment though, and securing a safe perimeter was vital. The improvised levees and wide areas of cleared rubble behind them were the only way to do that.

“Good job.” Actually it was pretty sloppy, Preston thought, but right now morale was a much higher priority than perfecting combat demolitions technique. “Move on to the next block.”

“Thank you sir, will do, Taguba out.” The Sergeant's voice was muffled by the filter mask but still clearly enthusiastic. Probably adrenaline. Preston hoped he didn't use it all up too quickly, this was going to be a very long shift.

“Sir, looks like those Guardians are back.” Private Russell was pointing to the south and sure enough a pair of boxy, angular shapes were emerging from the gloom. The first one didn't slow, heading straight past them towards the field hospital still being set up at the outer perimeter. The trailing armored car rolled to a halt; much of the paintwork was burned black, the hull bore dents and gouges and smoking debris still clung to parts of the body. The side hatch swung open to reveal a familiar face.

“Lieutenant, thought yah should know... the Lafayette's gone up completely now, we won't be pulling any more people out of there.” Preston nodded grimly. Neighborhoods full of trees were a death-trap in a fire this big. The man continued; “The fire's moving west along the bank, it looked to me like the FD are gonna try and hold it at Chene Street...”

He was interrupted by a sudden drawn-out roar, distinct over the omnipresent deep rumble and thuds of the lesser collapses.

“Hell, that was probably the Ren-Cen going. One of the towers at least. The lava must've hit the river by now.”

“Thank you...” Preston struggled to remember the man's name. “...Mr O'Reilly. We'll get down to Chene and see if we can help as soon as we're done here.”

“Right. We'd better drop this lot off and get back in there. Todd, let's go.” The hatch slammed shut and the M-1117 moved off.

Looking back to the destroyed plant, Lieutenant Preston was glad to see one of the dozers already plowing through the far corner, pushing rubble towards the slowly growing levee.

Belial’s Stronghold, Tartaruan Range, Northern Region of Hell

“It's a simple question, Baroness, was it sabotage or incompetence? When our Master returns in triumph from Satan’s court, he will want an answer.” The emphasis Euryale put on the naga's rank dripped contempt. The gorgon stared down at the prostrate Yulupki, her pose imperious despite the nasty burns and tears that marked her bronze flesh. As soon as Belial had left for Satan’s court, mounted on the fastest wyvern in the stables, Euryale had dropped the ‘critically injured’ pose and started to get her arrangements in order. “Of course it amounts to the same thing, since you personally assured the our Master that sabotage was impossible and any attempt would be suicide for the naga that tried it.”

Baroness Yulupki was a much less imposing sight, sprawled on an unkempt couch and still writhing with pain from the injuries she had received in the disastrous ritual. “That would have been true, if the witchesss the other nobles sent been worthy of the name!” she snapped back. “This group might as well have been hatchlingsss, it was obvious that they had never worked as a large chorusss before.” She glared at the memory of seeing yet another limp snakelike form being dragged over the crater rim by the winged silhouette of one of Euryale's handmaidens. The humiliation tasted bitter to the naga leader. “Of course if I'd had a reassonable amount of time to train them...”

“So, what are you going to tell Belial? That his plan was unrealistic? Or that you could not make a gang of hatchlings obey you?”

“I will tell him that this disassster was the result of your ssservant's incompetence!” Yulupki was screaming at this point. ”That a gorgon cannot be trussted with sseriousss witchcraft or expected to ssurvive the least bit of human resissstance!”

Euryale flashed a fanged smile back, but it was a humorless one. “You expect that to be believed, do you?”

She was fairly confident that she could prevail over Yulupki, but a fight over blame would leave both of them looking bad. The plan could be disrupted even more, and she didn't put it past Belial to throw a tantrum and dismiss both of them – and if it hadn't been for the apparently successful destruction of the human city, the consequences would've been much worse. Euryale stared down at Yulupki, waiting for her to falter. It didn't take long. The naga looked away and began to hiss softly; “Well, I mean, I will make it clear...”

Euryale cut her off. “It was obviously sabotage. You detected the culprits, but the unexpected incompetence of the foreign naga masked their actions until too late. They were in the delegation from...” The gorgon's voice trailed off expectantly.

Yulupki looked startled. “I can't be ssure, most likely thosse of Bezeelbub, but it could have been the ssenior ones from those Asmodeusss ssent or even...”

“...the delegation from Asmodeus.” Euryale continued smoothly. ”I hope at least one survived as you know how the Count enjoys dispensing appropriate punishment.”

Euryale sighed. From the look on her face Yulupki obviously still didn't get it. “Getting Belial angry at Bezeelbub will only cause unnecessary problems. Asmodeus on the other hand, firstly he is dead... oh, you didn't know? Of course not, silly me, your commendable dedication has left you a little out of the loop.” At this point Euryale was simply toying with her rival. “Yes, Asmodeus is dead, and his outer holdings lie ripe for Belial's taking. I think a little extra incentive should get things moving nicely. Understand?”

Yulupki couldn't bring herself to reply, but nodded silently.

“We understand each other then. Excellent.” It would be a long time before that one dared challenge her again, Euryale thought smugly.

Detroit River, Michigan

The Stormont ploughed through the fast-flowing water, its engines straining hard to push the massive flat barge in front of it. Its usual cargo of trucks had been replaced with as many humans as would fit onto the deck; the ferry had become one of the few escape routes for residents trapped in the inferno that had been downtown Detroit.

In the wheelhouse Captain Marcie Mahaffey drummed her fingers on the throttle levers, trying to will the ship to go faster. As a girl she’d always wanted to be a trucker, much to the derision of her male relatives. In retrospect, her ambitions had a lot to do with the fact that truckers spent most of their time in places more interesting than her hometown. Somehow, though, she’d ended up on the great lakes freighters, where it had taken near ten years of hard work before she got her master’s license. At last she had a ship to call her own, even if it was just a tugboat. Now fate had come calling and it was up to the Stormont and her crew to save hundreds of lives.

Marcie’s eyes straining to pick out the far bank from the grey-orange glow. By now the entire downtown grid was an inferno and she wasn’t sure there would be any survivors left to pick up on this trip. On each landing it had been agonizing pulling away the last time, but once people started to be forced off the sides of the barge into the water she’d had no choice. Some people had been so desperate they’d thrown themselves into the river and swam for it. Their chances weren’t good; the Detroit river was notoriously treacherous under normal conditions, and with the thick smoke and drifting ash drowning was even more likely. She’d ordered the crew to tie lines strung with floats off the barge, and that seemed to have saved a few strong enough to hang on until they reached the back.

They were close enough to see the buildings now, backed by a bright glow – Marcie gulped as she realized that the lava was nearly at the bank Correction; was already spilling into the river. As she registered that fact a shuddering roar rattled the windows; something was falling, something very big. One of the Renaissance Center’s five towers had come down, briefly dimming the glow from the lava in a fresh cloud of smoke and dust.

Captain Mahaffey pulled the wheel over, steering the barge away from the deadly glow, and grabbed the PA microphone. “Now y’all hear, this is gonna be touch-and-go, the others ‘ll be down in a sec, the whole bank ‘ll be gone not soon after, and we ain’t hanging around for that.” Ahead she could see one fireboat still spraying the shore around the tunnel entrance, but no other ferries. There were even more bodies in the water that before, but there was nothing to be done about that. Marcie reversed the port engine, then a few seconds later the starboard one, trying to soften the barge’s impact on the quay. The thud as it struck the bank in front of Hart Plaza was still enough to throw her against the wheel.

The smoke was so thick it was difficult to see what was going on, but there seemed to be shapes moving on the flat deck of the barge. The roar came again, louder this time and longer; Marcie looked right to see the dim hulking shape of the Renaissance Center’s remaining towers collapse into a giant ball of smoke and flame. Cracks and clunks sounded as debris hit the tug; one window shattered violently and then the deck heaved as the wave from the displaced water spread from the impact point. Marcie had ducked for cover when the window shattered; she could barely hear the screams from out front confirming that the barge had also taken impacts. She looked up to see the that the fireboat just upstream had been hit much worse. In fact it looked like it had taken a beating; its superstructure was smashed in several places and its pumps had stopped spraying. As she watched it lost headway and began to drift downstream – directly towards the barge.

Captain Mahaffey shoved the throttles to full reverse, the Stormont’s twin diesels now straining to pull the barge out of the collision zone. With painful slowness the tug-barge combination began to back off. She keyed the PA mike again, and this time it was to holler that one stereotyped line every captain hoped they’d never have to say. “All hands, brace for impact!”

There just wasn’t enough time to clear the fireboat, and sure enough the stern of the other ship slammed into the far end of the barge, forcing it away from the bank and spinning it almost ninety degrees. The tugboat was designed to push not pull, and the strain was too much for the coupling. The now-untethered cable whipped back to slap against the hull, the Stormont surged backwards and the hapless barge floated free.

Marcie struggled back to her feet, fighting mild concussion resulting from the sudden encounter with the deck. Already painfully hot, the turgid air was becoming increasingly difficult to breath, due to the vast amounts of steam being produced by the lava entering the water. Escaping downstream looked like a good idea at this point, but left to its own devices that barge would likely ground again on the now-burning banks. So she thrust the throttles forward once more, hoping the machinery (not to mention her crew) hadn’t been shock damaged. The tug was built tough and didn’t disappoint her, surging forwards again to catch up with the errant barge. As she feared, it was bumping along the western bank and in danger of snagging on one of the piers. But before her own boat could reach it, the fireboat emerged from the smoke and pushed its prow against the barge’s stern. The two vessels pulled away from the bank; once they had reasonable clearance Mahaffey skillfully maneuvered the Stormont into place next to the fireboat. The lettering on its hull read ‘Anthony J. Celebreeze – Cleveland Fire Department’ - Marcie was surprised it had been able to get up to Detroit so quickly.

With the two boats pushing together the barge was soon downstream of the Ambassador bridge and clear of the steam and smoke. Marcie could now see the people on the deck clearly; most still slumped motionless, but a few moving around, trying to help the wounded. She let out a long, relieved whistle – these people were alive, and clear, thanks to her and the Stormont. Many more hadn’t made it though – and the current definitely seemed to be getting stronger, which meant the channel was becoming blocked. On the plus side, she thought blackly, a little flooding would make controlling the fires easier.

Lady Wood, near Grimethorpe, United Kingdom

“Sir, the dog team has found a body. Could be one of our officers.”

Inspector Heaton looked up from his clipboard, which held a map of local area annotated in felt-tip pen. Laptop computers had their uses but he preferred good old hard copy where possible.

“Already? Where are they?”

“About a quarter mile due north.”

The forensics team were still examining the rear of the abandoned van. “Mitchell, got a body for you, are you done there?”

“Pretty much Inspector. The blood is definitely Baldrick, no surprises there. Still no idea about those needles, we'll have to wait for the lab work.”

“Ok. Constable Dasari, escort them over to the K-9 team please. I'll shift the sweeps north... oh, and here come the squaddies.”

Inspector Heaton didn't recognize it, but the bulky 4x4 roaring down the track was a Panther CLV. He did recognize the machine gun and grenade launcher on its remote weapon mount, though he'd never seen both mounted together like that before. The vehicle came to a stop and Heaton found himself facing a dark-haired officer with a prominent moustache, flanked by two soldiers carrying battle rifles.

“Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.” The newcomer thrust out his hand and Heaton reflexively shook it. “I take it we have a confirmed Baldrick presence?”

“You could say that. That van was driven here from Sheffield and the back is coated in dried green blood. Plus we've just found...”

Inspector Heaton clicked the channel selector on his radio and spoke into it. “Sergeant Taylor, any ID on the body yet?”

The voice that responded sounded vaguely sick. “Yes sir... make that two bodies. They're badly torn up but they're definitely our lads. Sir, the way the entrails are torn out... I think the demon was eating them. They've got more of those needle things, sticking out of them.”

Lethbridge-Stewart's eyebrow shot up. “Inspector, pull your men back. They're not trained for this.”

“And yours are?” Heaton was affronted at the implication that his officers couldn't handle one murderer, however vicious and depraved.

“Not just trained, combat tested. Don't ask, you're not cleared for it. Look, I see you've already got a perimeter in place, good work. You can hold that until my troops can relieve you. But more Baldricks could portal in at any moment.”

Heaton gulped. “Yes sir.” He started barking orders into the radio.

Somewhere in Hell, On The Way To Tartarus

Hello, Memnon, can we talk?”


Memnon recognized the voice in his head. One of the humans making a scheduled contact. The conversation would make a good excuse to rest.

Yes, I am resting for a while. Tell my Master Abigor that I am doing well, that I have covered almost two thirds of the distance to Tartarus.

There was a brief pause and when the voice came back, it was tinged with respect. You have made good time then. We had expected you to be only half way by now. Way to go Memnon!

Memnon basked in the praise, that was a nice thing about humans, when somebody did a good job, they noticed and praised it. Didn’t scream in rage and demand to know why the achievement hadn’t been commonplace in the past. Memnon thought about that, nobody in Hell really tried to exert themselves because if they excelled in anything, that would become the standard they would be held to from that point onwards. ‘Just good enough’ was the watchword.

My Lord demanded that I move as fast as I could. I just obeyed his commands

Nevertheless you’ve done well and bought us a little time we didn’t expect. Take some of it to rest up. Is there anything you need? We can open a portal to you if we need to.

I am doing well thank you. I hunted on the way up and fed well. Soon I will be at Tartarus.

Good. Find yourself somewhere safe, not too far from Belial’s fortress so we can portal our team to you. We’ll be in contact again this time tomorrow.


Memnon settled back on his rocks and relaxed, feeling very good about himself. It was nice to work for people who appreciated his efforts.

CNO’s Office, the Pentagon, Washington D.C.

“We’ll need a portal at least 200 feet wide and at least the same high. For safety, three hundred feet. That’ll mean we can get a CVN through and run the SSNs in submerged. How many of my CVNs do you want to send to hell.” Admiral Gary Roughead paused for a second. “I still can’t believe I just said that.”

Secretary Warner grinned in reply. “It does take getting used to doesn’t it. Anyway, we want to send two carriers through initially, with full air groups. By the way, they’ll be joined by the Admiral Nakhimov and the Pyotr Veliky. They’re on their way over to Norfolk now. Screening ships as required.’

Roughead drummed his fingers. “That leaves us with eight CVNs this side. Pretty thin, even with Newport News working triple shifts on the two new ones. Overrunning Hell is one thing but this is our home, we have to be secure here.”

“The Lyndon Johnson and Herbert Hoover? Even working flat out, they’re four years away. We looked at re-commissioning some of the old dinosaur-burners but they’re too far gone. We’ll have to make do with eight this side I’m afraid.”
“And they’ve lost their E/F-model Superbugs. We can send Truman and Stennis through. They’ve got three squadrons of Bugs and one of Rhinos each. We’ve fleshed the squadrons out, they’re at eighteen birds each right now. Gives them 72 attack birds each. I wish we’d never pulled the A-6s from service. We’ve got some SLUFs coming back though. Question. How do they get back? I’m told its virtually impossible to hold a big gate open from this side.”

“It is, but we’re going to push this one through from hellside to the AUTEC site off Bermuda. We’re going to try and make it large enough so that it’s permanent, like the one in Iraq. That way, if we lose the Iraqi one, we’ve got this as a backup. Has to be a sea gate so we can get freighters through to supply the forces we’ve got deployed in hell right now.” Secretary Warner thought for a second. “Like it or not Admiral, hell is part of our environment from now on. It’s there, no matter what happens. We have to have solid contact with the place, communications, everything else we take for granted. This second permanent portal won’t be the last, there’ll be more, many more. Our world literally has gotten to be a whole lot bigger.”

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


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

All times are UTC - 5 hours


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


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

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