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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 71 - 75
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:34 pm 
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Dis-Dysprosium Highway, Hell

His army was disintegrating, dissolving into chaos even while he watched. It had sounded so easy, so sensible, to drop back to a defensible line where he could hold and block the human advance. Demonic warfare had few concepts for defensive operations, mostly the two armies just attacked each other, but defense was the only option he had. Or thought he had for it had turned out that the option existed in name only.

He had picked his defensive ground carefully, a low line of hills, steep on the face the humans would have to climb, gentle behind it. It had been good ground, a good defense line and the humans had got there first. While one of their armies had pinned him on the Phlegethon, another had outflanked him and already taken the position he had picked with such care. What was left of his army had crumpled against their gunfire. His last organized legions had been shattered by mage bolts and sky-chariots that had swarmed all over them

Beelzebub heard the scream that announced the arrival of more sky-chariots and cursed Belial. It was that pathetic minor lord with his wyverns who had given the humans the idea of using their sky chariots to attack forces on the ground. If he’d minded his own business and left war to the Great Dukes who were practiced in it, then his force would not be subject to these shattering attacks. Over his columns of retreating legions, two white sky-chariots made their pass, a stream of objects falling from their bellies and under their winds. The objects stopped abruptly in the air as their tails spread out, then they started to shed a cloud of small balls that dropped over the heads of his soldiers before exploding. By the time the smoke cleared, a gaping rent had been cleared in one of his columns, another legion savagely mauled.

Overhead, four more sky-chariots were already closing in, ugly, ungainly looking beasts compared with the sleek white creations than had just passed. They had flown overhead high up, then one had turned and dived, the others following their leader. They were slower too, much slower and Beelzebub briefly wondered where his harpies were, they could destroy beasts like that. Then he remembered, they were dead, wiped out by sky chariots and a magery to horrible to name or even envisage. His pride, his flock of harpies that had gained him his name of ‘Lord of the Fliers’ were dead, their corpses already rotting on the accursed field of the Phlegethon.

Beelzebub watched with resignation as the Sky Chariots got to work, pouring fire-lances into a mass of his foot soldiers that were clustered on the road. What was it for? His army was gone, defeated, destroyed, savaging the remnants like this made no sense at all. Then his spine started to bristle for two of the sky chariots had turned and seemed to be heading for him. He heard a weird noise that drowned out the wail of their battle-cry a rasping, crackling noise that coincided with fire burning in their nose. A few trident-lengths short of his, the ground erupted in a cloud of dust and broken rock, a cloud that raced across the stony soil of Hell and embraced him. Beelzebub felt the slam as the mage bolts tore into his body, felt them bite deep, spreading sickness and destruction permeate him. Without being aware of it, he had dropped to his knees, and he was too tired to move. So tired, tiredness he had never felt before, weakness that made him want to give up and sleep. Overhead, the other two Sky Chariots made their passes and fired two more fire lances. Had Beelzebub been aware they were called Mavericks, he might have appreciated knowing the name of his killer but he didn’t and their impact sent him spiraling down into the sleep that he craved.

Cliffton Council Estate, Nottingham, United Kingdom

It had been ten days now, ten days of being forced to sit here all day staring at the news channels until he had passed out from exhaustion. Even that brought little respite, the foul presence made sure that his sleep was uneasy and his dreams visions of fire and pain. The demons had relaxed their mental leash from time to time, just long enough to see to essential bodily functions, but Christopher was still unable to do so much as leave the house. Every time he'd tried the crushing pain overwhelmed him; after the third day he simply had no fight left in him. The presence did seem to change from day to day, as if different minds were taking control, but he hadn't been able to identify specific demons.

They'd made him watch Detroit burn and the feeling of glee had been even stronger than for Sheffield. The demons seemed certain that the destruction of humanity was inevitable and Christopher had despaired. But when President Bush had made his defiant speech promising swift retaliation, a flicker of hope had returned – not because of the man's inarticulate rhetoric, but because the echoes of harsh laughter in his head had rung hollow somehow. Finally the pictures had come, supposedly 'before and after' infra-red images of 'Satan's greatest stronghold'. The reaction from the hellish presence was difficult to read but seemed to be disbelief. Christopher could feel them prying at his mind, trying to use his own memories to justify the idea that the whole thing was a sham. Before the possession he would indeed have been the first to proclaim the reports a hoax, but now he took a bizarre pleasure in telling himself that it was the unvarnished truth. It was a small victory, but it seemed to be enough to make the demon presence lapse into a morose silence for the last day.

The low throbbing of a diesel engine became audible over the television before cutting off. Someone was coming, in a van by the sound of it. Christopher jerked his head around to stare at the front door, struck by a sudden mix of fear and hope. 15 Psyops group perhaps? There had been rumors of a British counter-possession unit on all the blogs... The doorbell rang, its cheerful little electronic tones seeming surreal in the nightmarish situation, and suddenly his body was moving, his possessor operating him like a puppet. He pulled the door back to reveal a lanky youth with a mop of jet black hair. He looked haggard and strangely blank. Behind him was a large yellow van, parked on the street in front of the house and bearing a logo for 'Dynaflow Plumbing and Electrical - Grimthorpe'.

"Mr Hughes?" Christopher nodded.

"She wants you to come with us. Do you know who I mean?" Christopher had no idea but apparently the demon did because he found himself nodding again.

"Into the back then please. Come on."

The newcomer pulled the house door shut. Christopher wanted to protest but of course he was powerless to do so. The rear windows of the van were blacked out. He got a brief glimpse of bronze scales and glittering eyes before he was shoved roughly inside and the doors clanged shut, trapping him in the dark interior. There was a brief pause before the engine started up again and the van moved off. He had no way of telling where it was going and in any case the prospect of meeting a demon in the flesh was occupying all of his attention.

With a click the darkness was replaced by the sight of a humanoid shape crouching on the floor, clad only in metallic scales and possessing great bat-like wings, a twitching tail and face taken straight from a nightmare. The thing held a fluorescent lantern in one hand and seemed vaguely female. Then there was pain, something lancing into his chest accompanied by a sputtering crack. Chrisopher cried out and pawed at his ribs, his fingers closing around a handful of quills, which he pulled out. The demon presence was still there but it seemed content to allow him to act on his own initiative for now. For a second he considered attacking the demon but that would be suicide, it had claws that looked razor sharp and more of the quills sticking out of the snake-like growths around its head. A minute passed in silence, save for the sound of the van's engine.

Christopher was finding it hard to focus. The creature was staring at him, it didn't seem to want to attack. Finally his curiosity triumphed over his fear.

"Who are you? What are you? Why am I here? What do..."

His voice trailed off as the demoness put a finger to her lips.

"My name is Lakheenahuknaasi, and I am your goddess." In reality her voice was still raspy, but to Christopher it seemed like honey. "I see evil has made you its servant, but not willingly. I will rid you of it."

That's enough Zatheoplekkar, I'll take it from here

Are you sure? The count ordered me to keep this one alive and possessed.

This is how the angels operated, and you know how devoted their servants were. I will take all responsibility. Release him... please.

Very well.

The winged bronze woman made an extravagant gesture and Christopher slumped forward, suddenly in control of his own body again. The demon presence seemed to be completely gone from his mind! All thanks to this creature, who was seeming more pleasant by the minute. "Thank you... thank you..." The combination of stress, exhaustion and the drug infusion was too much, and Christopher collapsed to the floor, out cold.

Lakheenahuknaasi snorted. The earth-humans were so weak. No matter, she would continue later. She turned back to the magic tome the younger human had given her, unfolding it and waiting for it to come alive again. The human device was a marvel. Specifically, it was a marvel of foolishness. The humans had somehow crammed the contents of a vast library into a single tome, but they had filled that library with details of their entire magical arsenal and handed out copies to their most minor laborers. Her tame human had shown her the invocations of 'goo gul' and 'wiccan pee-dee-ah', which had revealed to her a treasure trove of secrets. The last was protected by an insidious spell that caused her to constantly lose track of what she was looking for, flipping from page to page until she was reading irrelevant nonsense about 'collectible card games' and 'sonic the hedgehog'. She persevered though, as it clearly warranted such protection because it was so rich in secrets. The task was made even harder by the casual way in which the humans seemed to mix reality and legend. She was fairly sure that this 'James Bond' was a most dangerous enemy assassin, but the notion of whole cities being destroyed by pieces of the sun was clearly either mythology or propaganda. The 'yoo tuub' and cee-enn-enn spells had shown her images from Abigor's pathetic defeat – for all his failures, his warriors had managed to slay some humans. She was sure that if the humans had possessed such impossible magics, they would have destroyed his army outright rather than face the demons at such close quarters.

Lakheenahuknaasi had already conveyed more valuable information back to Queen Euryale on her own than Deumos had obtained (or at least, shared with the other demons) with all her thousands of succubae. Her wounds were almost healed and she was fairly sure she could fly again if she had to. The next step was to acquire more worshippers. Here on earth her enthrallment darts held for days at a time, so she could easily build a small cult around herself. She would work her way up into the higher ranks and discover the human's most secret plans. Certainly she would at least be made a baroness for her accomplishments.

Broken Skull Gallery, Shaft 14, Slocum Mine, Tartarus

Reusikaanophaar stalked through the tunnel, his hooves crunching on the gravel. He was in a particularly foul mood, all of the demons were. The humans seemed to have settled down again, but there was still something wrong with them, something he couldn't quite put his talon on. Still, he'd heard that the Count's attacks on the humans had been a resounding success. If Satan granted Belial new lands to rule then he'd be sending his loyal servants to occupy them and with luck that could mean a posting on the surface for Reusikaanophaar.

The light here was very dim, but there was definitely something moving ahead. The demon strained to pick out the details... definitely a human, and its chain was broken off.

"Human! On your knees! What are you doing..."

Instead of throwing himself to the ground in the usual manner, the human had taken to his heels and sprinted away. Reusikaanophaar bellowed as he brought his trident up, then let loose with a lightning bolt. He'd had little practice with the weapon in the last few centuries and the bolt went wide, drawing a spray of rock chips from the wall. The human darted into a side tunnel before he could fire again. The demon roared again and charged after the man, now thoroughly incensed. The stupid little thing couldn't escape, all the passages here were dead ends. But he probably wouldn't be allowed to eat it; apparently the convoys of fresh humans from the pit had been interrupted, which meant no killings unless the human actually fought back. Then again, in this remote part of the mine, who'd know?

Ah, there was the human, waiting at the next bend. Probably frozen in fear. Reusikaanophaar closed the distance, bringing his trident up again... and found himself suddenly weightless, surrounded by snapping planks and falling rock. Before he could realize what was happening, there was a horrible impact and he found himself flat on his back, writhing in pain from the bronze spikes piercing his torso. With a roar that was almost a scream, he tried to lever himself back up. He was at the bottom of a twenty foot pit, filled with splinters and gravel. The bottom had pick-axe heads set into it, now dripping with his own blood. The deep wounds hurt terribly but his limbs seemed to be intact, so he should still be able to climb out. Reusikaanophaar looked up to see the face of the human staring down at him. It was a trap of course, it knew it had no chance in honorable combat and had resorted to this cowardly pit. He cast about for his trident and soon enough his hand closed around its hilt, half-buried in the rubble. But before he could bring it to bear a great lump of rock landed on his arm, shattering the bones. Reusikaanophaar screamed and looked up - there were more human faces up there now, and more rocks coming down. Almost every bone in his body was broken were broken before one boulder mercifully fell straight on his skull. The demon's last thought was regret that he'd never see his mate again.

"Well done Simplicus. Going out to face that demon unarmed, that took true courage."

Publius had been overjoyed to find another of the legions here in the underworld mines, even though their lives had been separated by over a century. He had no idea who this 'Mithras' character the man kept mentioning was, but he clearly felt betrayed by him. In any case Simplicus was a reliable recruit with a good sense of discipline and right now that was what he needed most.

"It was nothing. Those brutes are thoroughly predictable. I doubt they've had an original thought in the last ten thousand years."

The younger man's words were modest but his tone was full of enthusiasm - Publius couldn't remember the last time he'd heard that. He'd spent many hours telling his men that the demons weren't invincible, that they would die like all flesh and blood if they could be hurt badly enough, but here was the proof.

"These ones maybe, the leaders though..." But now was not time to discuss what he'd learned about the demon activity on the surface.

"Come on men, let's get this leveled off and concealed. We don't want to give away our tricks before we have to."

Division Wall Between 5th and 6th Circles of Hell

“Looks like they are coming.” Colonel Andy Jackson looked across the Styx at the great wall that separated the fifth and sixth circles of Hell. Gates were opening at regular intervals along its base and troops were starting to pour out. “Time for some action I think.” He dropped his hand to the Bowman radio and patched through to his battery of 105mm guns. “Battery, target reference……” A quick check with the laser rangefinder built into his binoculars and a frown. The dust in the Hell atmosphere played havoc with laser-based equipment. The range read-out was flickering and changing Jackson made a quick guess and read out a six-figure set of coordinates. A ‘best guess’ was better than nothing.

The gunners had their pieces loaded and ready to go, it took only a few seconds for three shells to whistle overhead and explode on the far bank of the Styx. Jackson winced slightly, the shells were well short. “Up 300, fire for effect.” The train-like roar of the shells passing overhead was immensely satisfying. This salvo landed directly in front of one of the gates, turning the baldricks pouring through it into a tangled mass of casualties. Very impressive Jackson thought, But that’s just one gate of the eight or ten the baldricks are using. The rest of them are getting out and forming up unscathed. Time to do something about that.

“Support group, bring down mortar fire on the area between the wall and the river bank. Grenade machine guns, do the same, open fire as soon as baldrick formations are within range. Artillery, keep hitting the present target until I tell you differently. Forward observer, we need some air support, now.”

“We have Jags coming in Sir. They’ll be here in five minutes. Cluster bombs and cannon.”

“Very good, what the hell do you want here.” The last remark was addressed to Jade Kim who had dropped into place beside him.

“Situation report Sir.”

“You’re supposed to be with the flanking forces.”

“Yes Sir. But the people I’ve got there are perfectly capable and don’t need me to look over their shoulders.”

At least she knows how to delegate. Jackson thought, for a junior officer, she’s got a lot of promise. She’d probably go far if she wasn’t dead. “Very good then. Now situation?”

“No movement on our flanks Sir. I’ve got my gun armed people and those who are trained to handle guns but haven’t got them yet spread out. We’ll do it Russian style, the ones who haven’t got guns can pick up ones the casualties don’t need any more. Caesar’s bringing up reinforcements, he’ll throw them in at the right moment.” Kim grinned to herself, Caesar had been very busy for the last 24 hours. She had watched him and realized exactly why poor old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus had never stood a chance.

“As long as he doesn’t get them in the way.” Jackson didn’t like the way Caesar was operating, he had no idea of what modern weaponry could do or the effects that it could have on the recipient of the firepower it generated. He could screw the whole battle up by getting his untrained personnel into the kill zones Jackson had so carefully set up. “Thank you Lieutenant, return to your flank command and hold there.”

“Sir.” Kim slid backwards and set off for her command. In theory, anyway, in fact, it was very important she didn’t go too far.

Across the river, the baldricks were forming up on the banks and starting to throw things into the water, things that floated. Others were carrying planks, the makings of a floating bridge. The mortars and artillery weren’t putting down enough firepower to stop them. That would change, Jackson thought. As he watched, he heard the grenade machine guns coughing and starting to pump their 40mm grenades into the teams assembling the bridges

The baldrick response was almost instantaneous; from along the top of the wall opposite, a great streak of lightning flashed out, lashing at the human-held bank of the river. Jackson guessed that the baldrick commander had a high proportion of his force up on that wall and were firing down at his positions to suppress fire. They learn very fast, very fast indeed ran through his mind. The fire wasn’t, couldn’t, cause many casualties but it would pin down his men and allow the baldricks to build their bridges and cross the river.

“Sir. Large baldrick movement on our right flank. At least four of their legions are moving up to the flank positions in regular formations.” Jackson grimaced as the radio spat out the message. That was it, game over. Kim’s tiny force couldn’t hold against an attack of that size, not even with the minefields and booby traps she had set up. Then the Bowman crackled again. “Sir, Harpies taking off from behind the wall.”

Jackson cursed then looked at the wall through his binoculars. The harpies were there all right, rising from behind the wall as reported. He did a quick count, gave up and made a guess. Eight hundred or so? He knew the enemy force had taken a heavy pounding from air attack on the way down by even the force left was more than he could cope with. What else did he face? He looked off to the right and saw the four great black squares of the baldrick legions advancing in column. They had harpies as well, a great cloud of them. Half a legion, 3,000 or more? This situation wasn’t just critical, it was a catastrophe in the making. Jackson had a nasty feeling that 2 PARA was about to join the Gloucesters as a part of the British Army’s list of gallant last stands. Then his grim thoughts were interrupted by Kim rejoining him.

“Lieutenant, what the hell are you doing here I ordered you to…”

“Sorry Sir, but I have to be here. Your Bowmans don’t talk to our SINCGARS and we need both communications nets working. Anyway, I’m here in my capacity as Caesar’s First Tribune, not as a U.S. Army Lieutenant.”

“Lieutenant, or whatever you want to call yourself, you are going to regret this.”

“Probably Colonel. But please take a look to your right.”

Jackson followed the suggestion. The great black blocks of the baldrick legions had advanced right up to the point where the human defenses started and then stopped. Then, as he watched, they changed subtly although he couldn’t work out why or how. The harpies overhead had also changed, they were splitting into two groups. Then, the ripple of lightning flashes erupted from the baldrick legions, not from the front as he had expected, but from the sides, directed over the river. The salvo tore into the baldricks trying to build the bridges, scattering them. As Jackson watched in disbelief, the harpy cloud crossed the river, the smaller group tackling the harpies rising from behind the wall, the larger group descending on the crenellations that topped that wall. Abruptly the barrage of lightning fire from the wall stopped as the baldricks up there stopped to fight off the harpies that were attacking them.

“Caesar’s brought up his reinforcements Colonel. Four legions of foot soldiers and a half-legion of harpies. The whole of the baldrick army that was on our right flank. Under the command of Plomniferasticas. He used to be one of Asmodeus’s lieutenants but when Asmodeus was killed he was left in command of the force Asmodeus had brought down. He didn’t have a liege-lord any more and wasn’t given one. So Caesar persuaded him to change sides. The baldricks on our left flank are also under the command of Plomniferasticas and they’ve changed sides as well. Plomniferasticas has sworn allegiance to Caesar, and to me by the way as Caesar’s tribune. The left flank force is the anvil, the right flank under Caesar is the hammer. Hold one.”

The radio in Kim’s hand was crackling. Kim lifted it to her ear and spoke quietly.

While she did so, Jackson took another look through his binoculars. Overhead was a swirling mass of harpies, studded with fire as the two flocks fought. The wall over the river looked like it was crowned with fire, lightning bolts sparkling as the garrison tried to fight off the harpies. Far off to the left, he saw the shapes of four RAF Jaguars hurtling through the overcast, bearing down on the baldrick force between the wall and the river. “Forward air control, tell those Jaguars, on no account to hit anything our side of the river, no matter what it looks like.” Jackson looked back at the baldrick force on his right, still pumping lightning bolts into the enemy ahead of them. Then the carnage caused by their fire was blanketed out by the greater slaughter of the cluster bombs exploding over the baldrick force gathered between the wall and the river. As the jets howled away, the legion at the far end of the baldrick line started to move forward, crossing the river.

“Caesar loves radios Sir.” Kim had finished taking her orders from Caesar. “He’s crossing the Styx now, his force will swing through 90 degrees, then advance with the wall on one flank and the river on the other, rolling up the enemy line. He wants 2 PARA to concentrate its fire, especially the artillery, on the baldricks ahead of him so they don’t get a chance to form up. Baldrick warfare depends on rigid formations, so if they can’t form up, they’ll be destroyed.”

Jackson nodded and gave the necessary orders over the radio. The artillery and mortar fire shifted, concentrating on the baldricks who had survived the cluster bombs. By the time he had his orders issued, Caesar had his legions across the river and had executed his change of front. Jackson watched fascinated, knowing he was the first living human to watch demons fighting demons. The front rank of Caesar’s legions fired their tridents at the disorganized mass in front of them, then dropped to one knee to recharge. The next rank passed through them, fired, and dropped as well, followed by the third and fourth ranks. The effect was a constant ripple of fire that ground into the baldrick ranks. The fire from 2 PARA completed the job and in front of him, Jackson saw the force that had threatened Free Hell dissolving into chaos.

“How did he do it Lieutenant?”

“He took my DVD player Sir. And disks we got last night of the fighting along the Phlegethon. He just told Plomniferasticas that he could be with us, then showed him film of the gas attack on the harpies and the Russian tanks smashing Beelzebub’s right wing. Or he could be against us and then he showed him the film of the battlefield, carpeted with layers of dead baldricks, mile after mile of them. Baldricks aren’t fools Sir, Plomniferasticas knew he couldn’t win against us so he changed sides.”

“But we couldn’t have stopped him. Not with them as well.”

“I know that Sir, you know that, Caesar knew that. Plomniferasticas didn’t know that. To him we are the Lords of War, unbeatable. We even blew up Satan’s palace, we didn’t get Satan himself by the way. Plomniferasticas isn’t afraid of Satan any more sir, but he’s mortally afraid of us. Oh, by the way, the army in front of us is commanded by one Xisorixus. Another Lieutenant of Asmodeus left adrift when the Grand Duke was killed. His army was basically Asmodeus’s portion of the sixth ring garrison plus odds and ends he scraped up. Not real legions at all. Plomniferasticas has real legions. Take a look.”

Jackson did as he was told. Across the river, Xisorixus’s army was collapsing, Large portions were throwing down their arms, the rest were being driven into small groups and cut down. At the forefront of the advancing legions was a single figure in polished bronze armor. Jackson didn’t need to be told that was Caesar. He was directing the troops, sending groups forward, navigating the advance so that it would do the maximum damage possible.

Kim’s radio crackled again. She listened and then smiled. “Cease fire Sir. Xisorixus has just been taken prisoner. Its all over. He’s quite a man isn’t he?”

Jackson looked sharply at Kim. She was smiling gently and there had been a lot more than just professional respect in her voice.

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:39 pm 
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Four Leagues West of Belial’s Stronghold, Tartaruan Range, Northern Region of Hell

Memnon settled back and closed his eyes. He was almost gray with exhaustion but he’d made it up and found a good place to hide. One concealed from Belial’s stronghold yet with good observation points near to it. Now, all he had to do was to make contact.

Hello, humans. Anybody can answer? This is Memnon speaking.

Memnon? Where are you? Is anything wrong.

Memnon stirred with pleasure, it was the human female with the rich mind-voice that sounded like water running over stones. The one who had praised his earlier efforts. Nothing wrong, I just wished to report that I have reached Belial’s stronghold. I am four leagues west of it now and ready to receive the humans.

There was a startled silence at the other end. Wow. You must have moved very fast. Well done Memnon. You wait until I tell the Generals this, they’ll want to give you a medal or something. How are your wings?

Memnon was happy, at hearing praise again, and at the fact one of his masters cared about his health. They ache but they will be better with rest. I had to get here fast so I could arrive when the light dimmed. Nobody will have seen me come.”

That’s great. I’ll get word that you’re in place out, we’ll open a portal to you soon.

Memnon relaxed back on his rock and got ready to doze. His wings hurt and he was hungry but he didn’t care.

Recreational Hall, Camp Hell-Alpha, Hell

“McElroy? McElroy?”

“Here, Sir.” The Special Forces Lieutenant looked a bit harassed; he’d been told to find the dead sergeant quickly and it had taken longer than he had expected. And in any case, he felt awkward speaking to somebody who was dead. It was something a lot of people were going to find took a lot of getting used to.

“Get your team together. Quickly, the mission is a go. Get your kit as well, we’ll be gating you to Earth and then to your operational location. Be at the portal hut in twenty minutes.”

“Very good Sir.” McElroy saluted, mentally debating whether he could get away with saluting with the wrong hand and explaining it as being one of the curious effects of being dead. Not worth trying, he decided. Not now at any rate. The Lieutenant, now definitely relieved, vanished in the direction of the command hut.

“Cassidy, DeVanzo and Walsch. Get the rest of the team together, we’re moving out. Mikkelson, get a work detail, draw our gear and get it over to the portal hut. Let’s roll guys, we’re on our way.”

McElroy, turned and headed for the door, almost bumping into a figure as he went. He stopped for a second, hardly recognizing the man in the red-mottled BDUs. “Hey, Aeneas, how goes things?”

“Not fit work for a man. Teaching scholars about what really went on in Sparta and Thermopylae. One of them insulted Queen Gorgo and when I disciplined him, there was much trouble over that.”

McElroy was fascinated. “Disciplined him? How?”

“He wrote lies about our Queen. So I broke every bone in his writing hand. I thought it was only just but the others were most displeased with me. I wish I was going with you and the rest of the gang.”

“I wish you and Ori were coming too but the brass says otherwise. This is a modern-soldier job. Where is Ori by the way?”

“Teaching some Japanese about the way of life in his era.” Aeneas shook his head. “The ideas you people have are so strange, when they speak of us it is like we see ourselves in a mirror coated with mist. The form is there, but the details…. Anyway, take care my friend. I will tell Ori that you remembered him. And kill baldricks.”

McElroy left and ran over to his quarters, picking up the bankroll he had won at poker over the last few days. One thing that didn’t change was the laws of chance and the fact that people couldn’t understand the mathematics of odds. He had a nice roll of bills for his family, enough to keep them going anyway.

By the time he got to the portal hut, his team was assembled, eight modern soldiers, all dead, none more than twenty years ago. All loaded down with the electronics gear for the mission.

“Ready to go everybody? You know the drill, spot Belial’s fortress, then set up the navigation beacon and wait for the B-1s. No fighting, no hunting, no shooting except if we get discovered.”

There was a series of nod, then a pasty faced, sulky-looking man settled back on the portal generation couch. There was a quick hum and the familiar black ellipse opened up.

“That’s quick.” McElroy was impressed.

“Our gear’s a lot better than the early versions, and its easy to push a portal through from this side. You wait, tomorrow we’re opening up a portal big enough to bring a carrier through.” The technical sergeant grinned. “I’ve even heard that Enterprise is being fitted to generate her own portals. Through you go Top.”

McElroy stepped through the ellipse and found himself in the hangar. Once again, a few families were there to greet the relatives they’d never thought they would see again. McElroy found his brother and slipped him the roll of cash. A few hugs and back-slaps later, he was on his way back. An Indian woman in a royal blue sari was taking to the technical operators.

“Excuse me, you must be Indira Singh. I’m Tucker McElroy. I’m sorry to trouble you, but do you know how kitten is?”

“It is no trouble Tucker. kitten is doing well, she had her last operation three days ago and is recovering properly in the best hospital money can buy. She has many visitors, she is something of a hero for the way she held the portals open by herself while other sensitives were being located. She is much honored.”

“Operation? Nobody told us she was sick as well as suffering from keeping the portals open. What was the matter with her?”

“Oh she was not ill, but she had to complete her gender reassignment surgery. Because of her efforts, the governments picked up the charges to make sure she had the very best.” Singh looked at the shock on McElroys’s face. “You did not know that kitten was a trans-sexual?”

“No.” McElroy was aghast. In his pocket was a long letter he had written to kitten, expressing his gratitude for all she had gone through on his behalf. Then to find out she was a……… McElroy stopped himself, hard. She still had gone through all that hadn’t she, still suffered so the people she was supporting in hell could get the tools they needed to stay free and out of torment. How dare he criticize her when she’d done all that? Inbred prejudice and irrational bigotry warred with McElroy’s reason and sense of justice. Reason and justice won out and he reached into a pocket. “Indira, could you see kitten gets this please. And send her our love, that’s from all of us. Tell her we’ll never forget what she did for us and we hope we’ll see her again but if we don’t, we hope she’ll be very happy. And tell her she won’t have to worry about going to hell any more because she’ll have lots of friends there ready to look after her.”

His team assembled, McElroy looked around. Singh was already on the portal opening couch, searching for Memnon’s mind. She found it and locked on. Then she started to shudder as the electronic equipment opened up the portal. McElroy stepped through and found himself back in Hell, but in a vastly different Hell from his previous experience. The mountains were stark, mostly volcanic, but the valleys between them were covered with vegetation, green and purple. It was warm and relatively pleasant, even the choking dust of Hell was less pronounced here. In front of him, the hulking black shape of Memnon was looking at him curiously.

“Sergeant (deceased) Tucker McElroy. We’ll take over the surveillance from here. You are Memnon aren’t you?”

“I am.” Memnon was amused by the way the question had come last. Humans were so confident their machines would work. “I must brief you on this area and where are the things you seek. Then I must fly back to Dysprosium.”

“Why don’t you portal back? We can open a gate easily enough. Just rest up until the next scheduled contact and then we’ll gate you back. No need to work harder than you have to.”

Memnon thought it over. He’d assumed he would have to fly back but the human was right. There was no need to, not now. The humans had a staging point near Belial’s fortress, why should he have to fly?

The Collegium of Fornessa, City of Dis, Hell

“You have heard the fate of Beelzebub?” Deumos sat elegantly in the luxurious seat she had brought with her.

“That he had been defeated, yes.”

“Not defeated. Killed. In an attack by human aircraft. They shot him with their cannon and blew him up with their missiles. He died like an orc, sniveling and weak.”

Dagon looked around at the decaying building that housed the meeting. He needed time to think over the news that Beelzebub had followed Asmodeus into the void. Followed him and all the others. The ranks of the Hell aristocracy had been thinned in a way none could remember. Not even the Great Celestial War had caused carnage like this. So he decided to stall for that time. “Why do we have to meet here? In this disgusting place overrun with orcs?”

Deumos recognized the stall for what it was and knew she had shocked the Great Duke. Time to answer a question with a question. “And where is Satan?”

“He moves from place to place, hiding from the humans and their aircraft. Never stays in the same place long for fear of them finding him and sending their bombers after him.”

“Satan fears the humans. Yet he asks us to fight them while he runs and hides.”

“Lady, those words are treasonous.”

“Does that make them untrue? How many millions have died already? I know you do not know, so I will tell you. More than three and a half million. Of Beelzebub’s army, 476 legions, only 39,000 survive of the more than 3 million who set out. The rest are rotting on the banks of the Phlegethon River. And the humans advance on Dis even while we sit here speaking.”

Deumos’s words were interrupted by the howl of jet fighters overhead. Both Great Dukes paused and looked up. The jet noise receded and was followed by the dull sound of explosions, a long way off. Somebody had just been bombed. The noise did not cause any great surprise, the sounds of human aircraft and their deadly cargoes were familiar. Familiar but still terrifying.

“And their aircraft fly over Dis without opposition.” Deumos smiled briefly. “And what are your plans Dagon.”

“I have been ordered to fight. To attack the human armies. Those orders still stand.” Dagon was uncomfortable, he had chosen to sit far away from Deumos, by an open window so the air gods would protect him from the strange magic that the Succubae used to bend others to their will.

“You will fight.” There was a note of derision in Deumos’s voice. “To what end? How will your army achieve that which eluded Beelzebub?”

“I do not know.”

“I do. You will fight, you will lose, your army will be destroyed, you will be killed. End. Have you learned nothing? The humans are the Lords of War, they cannot be defeated. They squash our armies with casual ease and they still hold back the most powerful and deadly of their weapons. For every move we make, they have a counter, already sitting in their arsenal, ready to be used.”

“But Yahweh?”

“You think Yahweh will aid us? He will sit and watch Hell and Human fight until one is gone, then he will attack the survivor. That is what humans think, it is what I and my Succubae think, and we can be very sure it is what Yahweh thinks. And the end of Hell is coming fast Dagon. It is days away, perhaps weeks at most. Have you heard the news from the pit?” Dagon shook his head. “An entire army, ten legions that were once part of the host of Asmodeus, have rebelled. They have declared their fealty to the humans and attacked those who would make war on the humans. In the pit, human and demon now fight side by side, as allies. A great area of the pit, a segment of the Fifth Ring and a smaller section of the Sixth are now in human hands and those still faithful to Satan die if they go there. That area spreads hourly as the humans rescue their dead and many of them join the human army. Free Hell they call it.”

The demons rebelling and joining the humans. It seemed incomprehensible. Not just joining the humans but doing so as the junior partners in the alliance. Dagon shook his head, Deumos was right, Hell was dying. His mind ran over the options available to his army. They were few indeed and all of them led to death.

“What do you suggest Lady?” Dagon asked the question but he knew the answer.

“The humans hold Satan responsible for what has happened here. The legions in the pit have the right answer and we must follow their example. We must make peace with the humans, we must pay whatever price they ask for that peace. And, the first thing they ask will be Satan’s head. Detached from the rest of his body and very, very dead. You have said how Satan moves around too much for the humans to catch him. So we must do the deed. Kill him and set up a new rulership in hell, one that can make peace with the humans.”

“With you as ruler.” Dagon’s voice was openly scornful. The Succubae were despised, the idea of one ruling Hell was unthinkable. Most demons would die rather than allow it.

“Of course not. I am not stupid Dagon, I know what will be accepted and what will not. I cannot be ruler in Hell. But you Dagon, you can be. You are one of the very few surviving Great Dukes, you have your army to keep order. You have not fought the humans yet, they do not know much about you. We can turn that to our advantage. For we must make you acceptable to the humans, a leader they can accept.”

Ruler of Hell, successor to Satan Mekratrig. Dagon rolled the idea around in his mind. It beat inevitable death on the battlefield. “And how shall we do that, Lady?”

“The humans have been driven by the way we treat their dead. So we try to show you did what you could to help them We will set up an underground movement, we will call it.” Deumos ran the information Lugasharmanaska had sent her, searching for a suitable name. “Demons for the Ethical Treatment of Humans”. We will forge documents, information, to show the humans we were trying to stop the torment of Hell, have been doing so for many years. Humans will see these and accept us. And make you the new ruler of Hell. All that we need is for Satan to die.”

Dagon ran the picture through his mind, then came across a great block that stood in the way. “But without the life energy from humans, how do we ascend to the next level. Satan collects it, it is our tribute to him. He uses it to boost us to the next level when we die. What will happen when he is gone.”

“Then we will control the human life energy. And we can use the existing energy stored for our own ends, to cement the allegiance of those underneath us. And we will make an agreement with the humans, we will continue to milk the energy from some and release the rest. They will agree to that.”

Dagon nodded. “It is agreed Lady. Now, how do we make this fine-sounding plan reality?”

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

Euryale smoothed lotion on her burns and relaxed on her couch. Quietly, she closed her eyes and sent her mind searching for Lakheenahuknaasi. She found the mind she sought and opened contact, feeling the mind-voice in her head, sensed the respect tempered with ambition.

“What have you learned Lakheenahuknaasi?”

“Much, Highness. I have learned about human weapons, seen what they have. Highness, we have not seen a tenth of what they can do.” The near-panic in Lakheenahuknaasi’s mind-voice was evident. “The deadliest weapons they have are still unknown to us.”

“But you have learned how to make them?”

“Highness, I have learned we cannot make them. The instructions in the magic tome are here but they are full of things we do not understand. And when we look up the things we do not understand, those descriptions also are filled with things we do not comprehend. Everywhere we look, we are faced with the impossible. All I have studied has shown us how little we know, and what we do not know will kill us. Above all, Highness, know this. The humans have no magic. None at all.”

“Impossible. We have seen what their magery does.”

“No Highness, we have seen what their machines can do. They have no magic, in fact the best and cleverest of the humans laugh at the very idea of magic. They say it is a foolish game to amuse little children. They call it conjuring and those who practice it do not pretend it is anything but trickery. The humans have no magic so they build machines to do magical things for them. And those machines are what destroys us. Highness. I will say more. There is no magic, for I no longer believe we have magic either. There are simply things we do not understand.”

“Very good Lakheenahuknaasi. Anything else?”

“Yes, Highness. Our Lord was wrong when he said there were a few great places that build the human machines. There are not. The places that make human machines are everywhere and now they all build weapons. What we face is not a stockpile that has been built up over thousands of human years but what they produce today. We cannot destroy them by striking at their production, we must strike their leadership.”

“And do you know where that is?”

“Yes. In a city called London. A place called Pah-Lee-Amant.”

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:40 pm 
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Vulcan XH-558, Over Western Iraq.

XH558 was flying her first operational sortie since returning to RAF service, a survey flight of Hell. With her long endurance she could stay on station for a long time and increase humanity’s knowledge of the geography of Hell. Wing Commander Winters was quietly proud of what the British had achieved in mobilizing their air force, pulling it back from the shadow it had nearly become to a viable multi-role force with a seriously destructive capability. They had managed to put a higher percentage of their museum and reserve aircraft back into service than the Spams had managed. Winters wondered if that meant that British museums kept their exhibits in better condition or that the RAF was simply that much more desperate? Even the old Swordfish from the Battle of Britain Flight was back on duty, patrolling over coastal cities in case a Gorgon turned up to open the skies and pour lava over them. There was a joke running around, if one of the amphibious baldricks turned up, it would get an 18 inch airborne torpedo right where it hurt most.

While the other three Vulcans, XL426, XM584 and XM603 were being loaded up with 1,000lb bombs in preparation for bombing missions in support on British troops in Hell, XH-558 had received a different fit. In the forward part of the bomb bay was a reconnaissance crate containing a number of different radar, IR and visual sensors which would record the ground conditions below the bomber. They would record to digital storage in the aircraft, but could also download to ground stations. As well as the ultra-modern sensors in the bomb bay the Vulcan would be using its H2S bombing radar and a digital video camera someone had installed in the visual bomb aiming blister. Two air sampling pods were also being carried under the wings.

Unlike the Americans the RAF had not bothered to alter the tactical camouflage schemes of its aircraft, as yet. They did not have the manpower to spare at the moment, and to be honest were not really convinced that it was necessary. The most they were willing to do was to paint the two TSR.2s into a similar two-tone grey to that worn by the Tornado GR.4 and Buccaneer S.2B and they hadn’t even done that yet. The aircraft had carried out their first strikes in their gleaming white prototype paint. Repainting the Vulcans wasn’t even on the cards, so the Vulcans were still resplendent in their green and grey wrap-around tactical schemes.

In the aft portion of the bomb bay was an additional fuel tank to reduce the aircraft’s dependence on air-to-air refueling, something that had not yet been practiced in Hell, at least not by the RAF. That was about to change. The Spams were counting on aerial refueling to get their bombers all the way up to Belial’s stronghold and they needed a test of the system to see whether it worked. XH-558 had got that job as well. Plus one or two more. The Vulcan currently had its H2S radar radiating as it closed with a tanker aircraft to top up its tanks before entering the Hellmouth. The first of three planned refuellings, two of which would take place in hell itself.

“You should see her soon, Skipper.” The Radar Navigator, Squadron Leader James Bolam reported.

Wing Commander Winters strained his eyes to see their tanker, reflecting on the fact that his eyesight was not quite as good as it had once been. There, he spotted an object ahead of them trailing a vapor trail.

“I’ve got her, Jimmy, shut down the radar so that we don’t microwave the crew.” Winter said.

“Right, David, let’s see if we can put all that refueling practice to practical use.”

“X-Ray Hotel Five, Five Eight, this is Spartan One, is that you lighting up my ECM display, over?” A voice in Winters’ and Maxwell’s ears said rather unexpectedly.

“Yes it’s me, Spartan One, good to hear your voice, Stu; I’d heard that you were back flying tankers.” Winters replied. “Are you ready to give me some fuel, over?”

“Yup, we have the centre hose trailing, now be gentle with me.” The tanker pilot replied, using a feminine voice to finish the sentence.

As XH558 closed in on the tanker it revealed itself as a hemp painted Victor K.2, in this case XL231, Lusty Linda / Spirit of Godfrey Lee. The Victor was one of the many RAF aircraft that had been forward deployed to Basra airport, it had seemed appropriate to refuel one V-bomber with another one.

While Winters carefully lined up the Vulcan behind the Victor Maxwell maintained careful control of the throttles. The refueling probe made contact with the basket first time and the transfer began, though as usual aviation fuel leaked over the bomber’s canopy, partially obscuring the view. This was a problem which had first arisen during the ‘Black Buck’ missions of the Falklands War. The RAF engineers had never quite found out yet why the probes, which had been perfectly serviceable in the nineteen sixties until they had been removed, should now leak fuel like it was going out of fashion.

“Ooh, you are a big boy.” A sultry female voice said over the radio.

Winters looked at Maxwell somewhat surprised. Below him he could hear the rest of the crew roaring with laughter.

“Ah, do you have a split, sorry female crew member, Stu?” He asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know, lover.” The same voice said.

“Err…can we land somewhere soon, Boss.” The Tactical navigator said, chocking back laughter. “I think I need to visit the bog.”

“I’m not landing so you can knock one out, Flight Lieutenant Pervert.” Winter replied laughing.

Once the tanks were filled up again Winters dropped back and took station off the Victor’s port wing.

“Thanks for the top up, Stu. I think we’re going to need it, over.”

“You’re welcome, Martin. Good luck, I would say ‘see you in Hell’, but I think that would be inappropriate, over.”

“See you when we come back out.”

Twenty minutes later, systems checks complete, Winters and Maxwell stared at the dark ellipse of the Hellmouth. They had seen it on footage from UAVs and combat aircraft and had it described by fellow RAF aircrew, but nothing really prepared them for the sight if the thing itself. Maxwell throttled back and engaged the filters that would protect the Olympus engines from the various kinds of filth found at low level in Hell.

“Oh well, here goes nothing.” Winters said as the Hellmouth began to fill his forward vision. “Hold onto your hats, lads.”

The change from the skies of Earth to Hell was sudden and rather unexpected, catching both Winters and Maxwell by surprise. There was no transition, one moment the Vulcan was in the clear blue skies of Iraq, the next in the red, cloudy murk of Hell. The Vulcan was already starting to climb when they saw another old aircraft making its landing run on the airfield at Hell-Alpha. One of the B-29s the Spams had brought back into service for second-line work. Both pilots peered hard at the veteran but it was too far away and the air was too foul to make out its name. They’d heard the Enola Gay was back in service and wondered if it had been her.

That made Winters reflect on something he had seen just before launching from RAF Akrotiri. Two Globemaster C.1s; the new fifth and six aircraft; of 99 Squadron had landed, taxied to a remote part of the air station where they had been placed under heavy RAF Police and Regiment guard. Rumor had it that their cargo consisted of ‘special weapons’ and having seen the level of security Winter had no doubt that for once the rumors were true. It was logical of course, he did know that someone in the MoD had realized that it would be somewhat difficult to use the navy’s Trident missiles against Hell, so some of the Trident warheads had been remanufactured into free-fall bombs. AWRE Aldermaston and ROF Burghfield had used the most recent design of weapons as the basis of these new ones – the WE.177A/B/C, and they were also working on a warhead for an extended range version of the Storm Shadow.

Hellmouth Air Traffic Control Center, Camp Hell-Alpha, Hell

Sergeant Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Moss liked being an Air Traffic Controller. It gave her a real feeling of power over the officers that flew the RAF’s aircraft. To help manage the flow of aircraft around the Hellmouth Number 1 Air Control Centre had deployed a Type 101 radar and a Tactical Air Control Centre. Some of the ATC staff were less than pleased to be deployed to Hell, but Moss did not mind, it would be the first chance for her to earn a campaign medal, and besides they did have the entirety of 1 Squadron, RAF Regiment defending the radar site, so she was not particularly worried.

She watched as the blip she had been expecting appeared out of the Hellmouth.

“X-Ray Five, Five, Eight, this is GCI. Welcome to Hell, gentlemen. You are clear to climb to operational altitude, over. Keep alert at all times, the air here is crowded and poor visibility means you will have very little warning of any aircraft out of their approved flight path.” There was a note of asperity in Moss’s voice, most pilots were doing their best in the unfamiliar conditions but there were some who just did what they wanted and left everybody else to sort out the problems.

Vulcan XH-558, Over Hell

It was reassuring to hear a familiar accent from ground control. “Thank you, GCI, climbing to cruising altitude, over.”

As expected at 28,000 feet the Vulcan broke through the clag and Squadron Leader Maxwell pulled back on the lever that opened the filters. The power from the engines surged and the bomber immediately began to climb more rapidly, up to its operational ceiling of 55,000 feet.

“Okay, open the bomb bay doors. Time to start our Cranberry impression.”

Underneath, the mapping radars scanned through the murk and started to make their record of the terrain that lay under the reddish fog that masked Hell. The minutes ticked past and turned into hours as the maps were generated, watching his displays Winters wondered how long it would be before there was a Google-Hell to partner Google-Earth. Even the thought suggested to him that Hell had irreversibly changed since The Message had arrived eight long months ago; no matter what happened in the war, it would never be the same again. While the radar system mapped the ground hidden in the murk below, the optical equipment started measuring the density of the dust suspended in the atmosphere, trying to gauge the size of the plume that extended from the giant caldera that formed the hell-pit. Above them, the sky was a red glare, no sign of anything to break the uniform light. Or to indicate what the light was for that matter, a problem that was believed to have given several physicists nervous breakdowns.

“Any sign of anything interesting down there?” Winters nodded towards the H2S display. As primarily a bombing radar, it was good at picking up the rectangles of habitations. Human ones anyway, yet another reason for this flight. Nobody really know how the baldricks actually lived. Did they have houses? Or live in caves? Nobody really knew.

Maxwell shook his head. “Nothing. This place seems almost unoccupied apart from the concentration around Dis.” He looked down to the flight instrumentation. “Time for a tank-up Boss.”

“Gotcha. Dropping down to 30,000 feet. That’ll be above the clag but the tanker should be able to manage it. Who have we got?”

Maxwell looked at the roster. “Lion-Oh-Three. Singapore Air Force KC-135. I’ve got his beacon up.”
“Fair enough, I’ll give him a bell.”

The refueling went efficiently enough, without the backchat that distinguished the RAF-only refueling hook ups. Winters got the impression that the Singapore Air Force crew were going out of their way to seem professional and efficient on this, Hell’s first aerial refueling. Other than the inevitable fuel leak, the hook-up went fine and the tanker peeled away to return to its base back on Earth.

“Humorless lot aren’t they.” Winters was relaxing as XH-558 climbed back to her operational altitude. “Still, coming from a country where one has to get a police permit before chewing gum…”

“Is that true? I thought it was an urban legend.” Maxwell stopped suddenly. “Whoa, now that’s one thing we wanted to see. The beacon is up.”

Sure enough, the navigation display showed a bright light far to the north of them. The beacon set up by a Special Undead Forces team to steer the heavy bombers to their target. Winters didn’t hesitate. “Control, this is XH-558. We have the Belial Beacon on our display. We read location as….” He hesitated and read the numbers off the display. “Have you got that? Then tell the spams their Bones are in business.”

Market Place. City of Dis, Hell

Yellithanakstra went around the stalls in the market, looking for food for herself and her mate. And their kidling of course. Sometimes she had to remember that there were more than just the two of them now. There were some small food-beasts around but the choice had dropped dramatically. Word was spreading across Dis despite the efforts of the surviving Dukes to stop it, Beelzebub’s army had been smashed, destroyed. The humans had slaughtered his forces just as efficiently as they had destroyed those of Abigor. Now they were spreading out, surrounding the city, slowly cutting it off from its sources of supply. As they did so, their aircraft were pounding targets across the city.

Even as she thought of the humans and their machines, a wailing noise erupted from the roofs and walls of the city. The watchers had seen more human aircraft coming in and were blowing their horns to warn the demons in the city to take cover. Yellithanakstra looked around, some of the demons here were already scrambling for cover, trying to hide under abutments and arches from the bombs that would still be raining down. The older hands, like Yellithanakstra didn’t bother. The human aircraft, she rolled the new word around on her tongue, might be fast but they were incredibly accurate. Their bombs, another new word to savor, always hit the targets they were aimed at. Mostly the palaces of the powerful dukes, the barracks where their legions lived, the fields where they trained. They never scattered their bombs at random across the city. Yellithanakstra wondered at that, if they did, just bombed at random, they could create panic and chaos in Dis.

She looked at the aircraft approaching fast. Big aircraft with the strange wings that could flap forwards and backwards. Their camouflage made them hard to see against the red-gray sky but she caught a brief glimpse of the red stars on the wings and tails of the four aircraft. Then they were overhead, their howl making her head shake, and she saw them bank before releasing a rain of bombs. Underneath them, the palace of Naberius disintegrated into a cloud of dust shrouding a pile of collapsing stone. The humans weren’t perfect, she thought, Naberius had been killed when Satan’s own palace had been bombed. Or perhaps they had decided to destroy the palace anyway in case somebody had taken Naberius’s place.

Yellithanakstra sighed and started to return to her home. Her mate would be off duty soon, returning from the walls where he and his legion were waiting for the human assault they knew had to come. Demon armies fighting humans in the open had been destroyed. Would they have any better luck fighting from behind stone walls? She was so absorbed with her worries and the sight of the human bombers flying effortlessly overhead that she never saw the wooden pole being pushed out from behind a cart. It was beautifully timed, going between her legs and catching her feet, sending her sprawling to the ground.

For a second she lay there, on the cobblestones, stunned by her fall. When she had collected her wits, she started to get up again but a violent blow to the back of her head sent her back to the ground. Half-stunned, she looked around and saw greenish, scaly legs surrounding her. Bewildered, she looked more and realized she was surrounded by a group of orcs, almost a dozen of them, all carrying heavy clubs. They were jabbering at each other, rattling away in a language she couldn’t understand. Orcs never spoke in the presence of a demon, to do so was to invite death and so few demons understood orcish. Whatever the argument was about, one of the orcs solved it by taking his club and swinging down, hitting Yellithanakstra on the back.

She screamed in rage and tried to summon up magic to drive them away but the rest had been encouraged by the success of the attack and they joined in, swinging their clubs down on her with all the force they could manage. Yellithanakstra felt the bones in her body breaking with the impacts, felt the ones to her head driving away her ability to concentrate for the generation of magic or even to think. She tried to crawl away but the orcs followed her, still battering her with their clubs. Eventually, she collapsed, her body shaking as the street faded away from her sight.

The orcs looked down on the body of their victim, a few still taking a few last swings although the demon was obviously dead. Then, they heard other demons running towards them and they scattered, running through the narrow alleyways and into the drains. Soon, they would gather and try and set up another ambush for an unwary demon.

Al Sahra Airfield, Iraq

”What a show, what a fight,
we really hit our target for tonight,
though with one engine gone we will still carry on
coming in on a wing but with flair.

The chorus of the old song reverberated around the beams of the mess. Al Sahra had been one of Saddam Hussein’s based, now it was the home of the B-1Bs of the 128th Bomb Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard. Major Curtis Trafford gave out a cheer as the song ended and he finished off his drink. Coca Cola as it happened since he was on alert, waiting for the word to come that the beacon was up and the strike waiting in the dispersal areas could head off for Beelzebub’s fortress. Six B-1s, two of them were carrying the massive EBU-5(1) Mod.1 bombs intended to close off the portals showering lava onto Sheffield and Detroit. The other four ware loaded down with conventional bombs, some unitary penetrators designed to knock down fortifications, others anti-personnel bomblets to slaughter any baldricks caught in the open.

“Attention, your attention please.” General Graydon was standing on a chair at the end of the room. A dangerous thing to do in a mess full of rowdy pilots. “We have just heard from the Brits, a Vulcan they have up has picked up the beacon from Tartarus. The raid is on. All assigned crews, report to your aircraft. The tankers are already taking off. You have already had your briefings, be ready to follow them. Thank you.” Graydon stood down and left the room.

Across the mess, the 24 crewmen assigned to the strike quietly got up and left, collecting back-slaps and salutes as they went. Trafford followed them, out to where Dragon Slayer was waiting. The mission was a complex one, already tankers would be converging on the strike route, some to refuel the B-1s, others to refuel the tankers. It took 14 tankers to get each of the B-1s to their target and back and more than a few of those tankers would be flying two missions. It was a 22,000 mile flight in total, making this the longest-range bombing mission that had ever been attempted. It was one for the history books, and it was one to avenge Detroit.

Trafford started to climb in to his aircraft then stopped half way in, reaching out to pat the airframe. “Well, honey-bunny, we’re on our way at last.”

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:41 pm 
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USS Turner Joy, On Trials Before Leaving For The AUTEC Transition Point

"Kind friends and companions, come join me in rhyme...
..Come lift up your voices in chorus with mine.
Come drink and be merry, from grief we'll refrain..
For we know not when we will all meet again.
So here's a health to our company and one to my lass,
We'll drink and be merry all out of one glass,
We'll drink and be merry, from grief we'll refrain,
For we know not when we'll all meet again!"

"But we WILL meet again!" Rochelle Emerson added with a dark laugh as the chorus faded off, their voices hoarse from shouting over the noise of the turbines and various gear. "Even if it be in the burning lakes of Hell!"

"Does the ship actually have alcohol on board?" Lieutenant Travis frowned for a moment and then looked rather hopeful.

Chief Robert 'Bob" Gaussington, who was effectively heading the revitalization efforts that culminated today, seemed like he had just spat. "I hope they find Josephus Daniels last, with respect, Lieutenant."

He'd lost his right leg in a car accident in '96, and that was why he wasn't called back to the colors himself, blast it all. Particularly since the car accident had cost him his wife; as far as he was concerned, the war was an intensely personal thing. His course in virtually delivering their proud ship to the Navy single-handed had been the best he could contribute not merely to revenge but liberation for the woman he had loved. He masked his dedication with an incredible sense of humor which had carried through all the engineering students he had recruited.

And why not? It's better than never seeing someone ever again. Sophia Metaxas thought to herself as she listened to the banter, in particular, the Chief's ability as a civilian to explain to a lieutenant precisely why Josephus Daniels deserved to burn in Hell longer than any other person so condemned. Also he could hide the location of the liquor store which would just happen to all have to be consumed before tomorrow. Then, if all went well, USS Turner Joy DD-951, would gain her commissioning pennant once more and become one of the last operational steam warships in the navy.

Decommissioned on November 11th, 1982, she was handed over to a preservation society in Bremerton, Washington, in the year 1990 after being struck from the reserves, and the Turner Joy's new owners had found themselves with a luckily well-preserved ship, and enough money to make her last. Almost two years of extensive reconstruction and preservation efforts had followed, and the ship that came out looked almost exactly as she did in 1982 when still in regular service, and might have even been in better condition. And they'd kept her that way: Her hull and her interior and engines bore no sign of rust, her 5in rifles had never been demilitarized, nor her torpedo tubes, and her masts had not been cut nor most of her electronics fully stripped.

Bob Gaussington had been one of the half a dozen or so men who had committed themselves to spending a great chunk of their retirement maintaining the ship. When the general mobilization could not, of course, include him, he went back to work at the shipyards from which he'd only recently retired. But then he'd heard that the steam warships still preserved would not be considered for restoration to active service. And it had irritated him, severely. He'd gotten the rest of the volunteers together, mostly also workers at the shipyard, and they'd spread the word at the 'yards.

Then he'd talked to Dr. Brown, the head of the engineering department at Olympic College, and obtained permission for his students--exempted from the draft due to their needed profession--to abandon their free time with the promise that "we can damn well make her sail again, Doctor." And so more and more men had started pouring in from the shipyards, volunteering their time off to the effort--and with a benevolent ‘official’ eye turned, borrowing equipment not needed for anything else at the moment.

Several weeks later the Navy had got wind of it, and been goaded into sending a survey party. Two days later, everything had kicked into high gear; the poor USS Barry at the Washington Navy Yard and the Forrest Sherman and Edson, both retained for future donation as museums, were ripped apart at the docks where they lay by navy teams for any spare parts that could possibly be redeemed for use, in the same way the few surviving Charlie Adams' had been stripped to support the Germans in recommissioning the Mölders. The work teams had been made official, and additional weapons and electronics started arriving for the ship.

And now under a short crew with most of her civilian workers onboard, monitoring the ship's machinery and running final tests, she was making ten knots through the shipping channel of Rich Passage out to Puget Sound for the speed trials which would put her boilers to the test.

"Sophia!?" Dr. Brown stepped down into the engine room, as unflappably calm about the situation as might be expected, even when he had to shout to be heard. "Can you check some the connections on the foremast!? We're having some problems in CIC with the radar feed from the SPS-64!"

"And I'm the only one who won't fall off the mast, right, because everyone else is a fat nerd."

"Hey! I resemble that remark!" Mark, it turned out, still had enough of his hearing left that he could hear her from his position next to her.

"Yes! Yes you do! Watch to pressure for me?"

"No problem!"

She left the engine room in some relief and climbed up to where the usual Washington rain met her. That, and the other ship that the Engineering students had been tapped into working with, to her surprise at delight--the ferry Kalakala, miraculously restored from a rusting hulk--well, she was still a rusting hulk, but one that worked, hauling a load of shipyard workers in from Seattle on the cross-sound run, her direct drive diesel sounding like it would destroy the army of Hell by sound alone. Along with the four Steel Electrics and the Olympic, they filled out the ferry service while the Super's had been pulled from the regular routes to do commuter service between Seattle and Boeing Everett via Mukilteo, and Todd in Tacoma on the other side of things, also replacing a large number of rationed cars. In some respects, it was a return to the 1880s for the region--every single boat which could carry large numbers of passengers was pressed into service as a new Mosquito fleet now gas rationing was taking effect and they could supplement buses on land. Even the rusted and battered old Kalakala would have to last just long enough for new vessels to be built.

Just like the Turner Joy would. Sophia reached the foretop with some pride in the fast of even a light breeze, the Kalakala hammering her way to Bremerton in their wake, Rich Passage churned with the speed of her effort, all concerns over shore erosion gone, and the destroyer, for her part, was now at last rounding Bainbridge island with the open waters of the Sound ready for their speed run north through Admiralty Inlet to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the national flag crisp in the wind, though for the moment there was no jack. Sophia got to work with her diagnostic equipment--it turned out to be just another artifact of the rush job, and five minutes of twisting and adjustment solved the problem. The climb back down came just in time, too, as Commander Reynolds brought them around to port and rang up revolutions for twenty-five knots. The brave old lady dug in her heels and surged forward. Everything worked perfectly as billows of oil smoke trailed behind her.

They brought their course a bit to starboard to avoid the huge M/V Spokane as she made the Bainbridge Island run, and then leveled off north by northwest while Sophia stepped in to make her report to Doctor Brown--and then to Commander Reynolds, who, effective tomorrow, would be kicking them all off and turning the Turner Joy back into a warship. So life went in the age of gasoline rationing and electronics doubling in price as the industry retooled for War, of vehicles emptying from the dealerships back near home on Auto Center Way, and not being replaced. Of a country, after more than sixty years, united in will and purpose to fight a war for the liberation of their forefathers.

Sophia stepped back out on deck to clamber below to return to the engine room. Commander Reynolds ordered revolutions for thirty-two knots rung up. Now the old lady bit her heels in as far as she could and surged north, under the black trail only an oil-fired steam man'o'war could make, and aimed her bow for Admiralty Inlet, the deep dark waters of the sound combing off and around her and lashing Sophia with spray. She lingered for a moment, looking fore to aft: Three 5in/54cal rapid-fire guns and three twin Type B 40mm DARDO mounts. The Italians had come up trumps there. The OTO Melara facility in Turin was working triple shifts to turn the mounts out and had donated the three mounts ‘for the common good’. Two of the twin-forties replaced her long-gone 3in/50's, the third was amidships. Elsewhere six single unstabilized 25mm mounts were cramming the decks in every place they could be laid, triple torpedo tubes again ready to be fired, and depth charge racks aft.

She was ready to fight; but Sophia didn't want the ship fighting for her family, in a perverse way she still felt guilty about. Her parents and grandparents had died with The Message, religious to a fault and obedient to an end. They had laid down and refused to move or indeed do anything at all, and within a couple days, simply died where they had been, as they had been ordered to do, of natural causes--while she cried and screamed and tore herself to pieces trying to save them, even ripping the earrings out of her mother's ears in a last desperate hope that pain might bring her back where love had failed, and where the emergency services were far to overwhelmed by the scale of the task involved in simply removing the bodies to offer any aide.

The ship thrummed comfortingly below her, and Sophia climbed back inside and below decks. She had helped bring the Turner Joy back to life, but she hoped the ship wouldn't bring her parents back to live. The months of scar tissue, and the searing memory of their brutal abandonment of her and her fourteen year old sister, had turned into a bitter hate that left her to whisper, lost over the engines, "I hope they find you last, right goddamned next to Josephus Daniels." Back to work. They were making 32kts, after all, and engines didn't do that without help.

Belial's Palace, Tartarus, Hell

Euryale had been in the wyvern caves when the lookouts spotted the Belial's meager formation, and by the time she'd glided down to the courtyard he'd already gone inside. The gorgon caught up with the count in the throne room, where he was already issuing orders.

“...full mobilization immediately, you will lead them down into to Asphodel Plains tomorrow. Satan has granted me the whole province, but there may be some foolhardy barons who... Euryale!”

As she made eye contact with her lord, she saw something she'd never seen before. Euryale had seen Belial frightened before, many times when he had pushed one of the dukes too far and Tartarus had come close to being invaded, but there was none of the bluster this time. His gaze was flat and hard, weary yet manically determined. She couldn't put her talon on what this meant and that worried her, though he did seem genuinely pleased to see her.

“I'll need you too, await me in my study.” Belial jerked his head in the appropriate direction and then turned back to his officers.

Euryale arrived to find Baron Trajakrithoth already there. The huge brown demon was wearing his greasy bronze armour as usual – Euryale couldn't remember ever seeing him without it – and cradling the 'gun' he'd spent so much time working on. From what she'd overhead in the throne room it seemed that Belial would want to talk about occupying territory, so she made herself useful by retrieving the largest map of hell from its bronze storage tube and spreading it on the table. The ornate map was covered in tiny images of monstrous creatures and blocky keeps.

The Count arrived at last, accompanied by Castellean Zatheoplekkar, the most trusted of his officers. He was the only one of Belial's original legion commanders to stay with his lord through disgrace, exile and all the millenia of obscurity and ridicule since. Perhaps now that loyalty would pay off, if the Count had really been awarded the former holdings of Asmodeus. At a gesture from his lord, Zatheoplekkar slammed and barred the heavy doors. Belial sat down in his throne and stared off into space for a moment, before fixing each of them with his gaze.

“Our lord Satan has decreed that knowing what I am about to tell you is grounds for immediate execution. I will not hesitate to enforce this order if I discover that you have revealed the situation to any others without my express permission.” Belial paused for a second to allow this to sink in.

“Three days ago, the humans used their 'aircraft' to smash the tip of Lucifer's Finger. Satan's place was completely destroyed, rendered into rubble along with everything nearby. I commanded near a hundred orcs to dig through the ruins for half a day, but we found no survivors. Our lord survived only because he was away, sightseeing over the pit on that monstrosity Euryale made for him.”

“You understand what this means? The humans can destroy any strongpoint, anywhere. Their sky chariots fly too fast, too high to be stopped. With what we've done, and with that traitor Abigor...” Belial's tone dripped with contempt for the turncoat general “...must be telling them, it's only a matter of time before they come here.”

The room fell silent. The destruction of Satan's palace was nearly unthinkable, no one knew how to respond to it. Yet Belial still had more bad news to deliver.

“As I returned from Dis I overflew Beezelbub's army, or rather the tattered remnants of it. The humans had destroyed it almost completely. Our wyvern riders – the few who survived – speak of poison fog that strikes down all who enter and rolling thunder that obliterates everything in its path. In short the human used their magery to destroy our grand army, while suffering trivial casualties in return.”

Belial looked upon the faces of his servants and saw shock, horror and poorly concealed disbelief. “There can be no denying this. We thought we were going to earth to exterminate the humans, but in truth exactly the opposite is happening. They have come here to destroy us utterly, to slaughter every demon in hell, and so far our armies have been as helpless against theirs as theirs once were against us.”

Euryale spoke at last. “Count Belial, you make our doom sound almost inevitable. Yet you do not despair. So you must have a plan to stop the humans?”

“Actually it's Grand Duke Belial now, for what that's worth. I am Satan's favored servant, at least for as long as our Lord can evade the hunting aircraft.”

“I am certain that the humans will strike Tartarus the way they struck Lucifer's Finger. It is only a matter of time. I intend to preserve my own forces at all costs and rally what I can of the Asmodeus's reserves. We will move into Asphodel immediately. Zatheoplekkar, you will devise marching orders that avoid concentrating our troops in obvious strongpoints or large formations. The humans are moving on Dis and despite their magery it will take them time to reduce a city of that size. We have some time to prepare defenses.”

Zatheoplekkar was staring at the map, a charcoal stick clutched in one hand. “My lord, we can occupy the territory, but if what you say is true what good will it do us? If the Lord of the Flies could not stop them...”

Belial cut him off. “Your goal is to buy time. Perhaps you can draw inspiration from the defensive tactics the human use - I will have you question the wyvern riders about what they saw of the battle later. For any hope of success, we rely on the efforts of Trajakrithoth and Euryale.” He turned to the hulking forge master. “What progress have you to report?”

The baron had been eager to demonstrate his new weapon, but now the obvious inadequacy of it in the face of the situation made him almost ashamed. He had no choice but to proceed though.

“The humans call this a 'shotgun'. The escort we sent with that first gorgon, they brought it back from earth. We can't make an exact duplicate, but we can make something that works well enough. I'll show you.”

Trajakrithoth raised the black double-tube, gripping the bulging end with a single massive hand. The weapon now possessed a pair of tiny holes in the top of the chamber, each with a ring of bronze soldered clumsily around it. The demon pulled out a phial of powder and tipped a tiny amount into one of the bronze rings, then drew out a taper and lit it from one of the candles. He pointed the weapon at a wall and touched the burning taper to the improvised flash pan.

Flame spewed from the barrel, accompanied by a retort that was deafeningly loud in the enclosed space. The thick cloud of acrid smoke made the demon's eyes water as it dispersed into the room. The stones in the far wall had cracked and now had several lumps of jagged iron embedded in them.

“The weapons we are making now will be easier to fire of course, though harder to reload, as we have not found a way to make the barrel break open” 'At least not without exploding' Trajakrithoth thought, but no need for his lord to know that.

“Euryale's handmaiden described something called 'flintlocks', which would be even better, but for now we are making what she called 'matchlocks'...”

Trajakrithoth's voice trailed off. Belial had leapt to his feet and his expression has furious.

“Toys! Worthless toys!” The horned demon lord grabbed the improvised arquebus from his servant's hands. “You expect this to stop an iron chariot? How am I to defeat the humans with such pitiful weapons?”

Despite his bulk Trajakrithoth was cowering and for a moment Euryale expected Belial to kill him right there, but amazingly Belial managed to reign in his rage. His expression softened and he handed the gun back to the other demon, then grabbed his shoulders.

“Trajakrithoth, I am certain this would have been a useful terror weapon if we were fighting demon armies. But the situation has changed. You must give me a way to stop the aircraft and the iron chariots. You must find it soon or we are all food for the humans. Do you understand me?”

“My lord, I... what you ask... I don't know it is even possible...”

“Euryale, you still those human traitors who claimed to know how to build their weapons, yes?”

“Yes, my lord. They are here in the palace. I assigned some of my gorgons to continue manipulating them, cementing their loyalties.”

“Send them all down to Palelabor with Trajakrithoth. Secrecy is irrelevant now. Do whatever you have to, tell them whatever you have to, ignore any traditions that get in the way. Just find me a way to destroy those iron chariots.”

Trajakrithoth still looked dazed by this radical turn of events; meanwhile, Euryale was calculating furiously. Belial frowned. “The humans draw closer every moment. Move!” Shocked out of his stupor, Trajakrithoth bowed clumsily and ran from the room.

As soon as the doors had slammed shut again, Euryale spoke up. “Are we to continue the lava attacks on the human cities?”

“Of course. Satan commands it. More importantly, it would be pointless to stop now. The humans will be coming for us either way, so we might as well inflict what wounds we can on them.”

“But if they do strike, destroy your palace, would it not be best to stop attacking, make them think they killed you? If your goal is to buy time...”

Belial stared at Euryale. “I will decide policy here. What news from your servant on earth? Has she identified more targets for us?”

“My lord, not only has she done that, she believes she can attack them even without portals. She has built up quite a cult and her humans have been telling her about 'karr bombs' and 'EyeEeeDees'...”

Belial waved dismissively. “Fine, tell her to continue. But I have a more urgent task for you. The humans have revealed themselves to be a more formidable enemy than the Enemy himself ever was. It is time to see whether the Enemy of our enemy might be our friend.”

Deep Beneath the Tartauran Range

The rough hewn tunnel went on and on, descending deeper than Herwijer had thought possible given the demon's primitive tools. The huge armored demon seemed to read his mind; "It took hundreds of slaves a score of human lifetimes to reach the veins I scried, and two score more to dig out the complex itself." The huge platform bumped and swayed as it ran on into the darkness, its bronze wheels screaming in complaint as they rounded the sharper terms. The hot, dead air suddenly became damp, and presently the walls fell away as they passed over a rough stone bridge spanning a vast chasm. The torches on the cart could revealed nothing in that vast space to human eyes, but Herwijer thought he could make out the faint splashing and roaring of running water before they plunged into the opposite wall. They continued on for another ten minutes, the monotony now broken by the occasional side tunnel, all of which looked thoroughly abandoned.

Presently the tracks emerged into another vast cavern, but this time there was no water and the air became suffocatingly close. Instead Herwijer caught a brief glimpse of monstrous shapes, seemingly half-man and half-rat, clinging onto the walls of the cavern. Their eyes flashed red with hatred and fear, before they scurrying away into the darkness. The platform began to slow as it passed over the second bridge, a persistent whining building into an ear-splitting scream as the servitor demon applied the brakes. Huge piles of smashed rock were visible to either side of the track, the spoil of uncounted centuries of mining. A dim glow appeared ahead, resolving into a pair of ornate bronze doors set in a carved stone archway that must be a hundred feet high. Numerous burning torches protruded from niches in the stonework, maintaining the cavern's smoky atmosphere and giving the whole scene an appropriately hellish glow. For a moment it appeared that they were not slowing fast enough and every human on the platform braced in anticipation of hitting the doors, but with a great crack they split apart, drawing open at the pull of creaking chains.

The platform screeched to a stop in the entrance hall. Great carved columns supported the roof of a vast space, mostly filled with crates, barrels and neatly stacked metal bars. The humans stared around them, seeing a maze of tunnels leading off in every direction. A steady yellow glow lit many of the lower tunnels, suggesting open lava flows close by. Swarming everywhere were short but stocky demons, with grey skin and hairless but for a mass of bedraggled, matted fur hanging from the bottom of their wizened faces. Most of them were carrying picks, axes and tongs. They seemed to move with furious industry; they barely paused to incline their heads to Trajakrithoth before continuing with whatever tasks they were set. Herwijer blinked and looked closer. The tools they were carrying were made of iron.

Trajakrithoth spoke at last, he voice filled with pride. "Humans, know that you are uniquely privileged, for of all your kind you are the first to ever enter the Fortress of Palelabor."

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

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:43 pm 
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RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, UK.

Flight Sergeant John Archibald wiped his brow, reflecting on the fact that changing the gun pack on a Hunter FGA.9 had never been as hard work ‘back in the day’, at least it was not a Lightning ‘quick change pack’. If ever there was a misnamed piece of equipment that was it. Still he and the other ‘old timers’ needed to show these young National Servicemen and women how to do the job of rearming an aircraft and demonstrate that they were still up to the job themselves.

“And that, boys and girls is how we change the gun pack on a Hunter.” He paused for a second to let a patrol of Hawk T.1A trainers, once painted in bright red and white colors, but now hastily painted grey and armed with AIM-9Ls and a 30mm gun pod, take off behind them. “Not as difficult as you might have thought, was it? “We’ll get you started on changing gun packs today and once you’re proficient on that we’ll move onto something more challenging like a SNEB rocket pod, or one thousand pound bomb.”

Before retiring from RAF service as a sergeant Archibald had been an armorer, mainly working on Lightnings and Phantoms. Amongst the milestones of his career had been when a Phantom FGR.2 he had been responsible for had managed to accidentally shoot down a Jaguar GR.1, and he and some colleagues had once managed to trick an airman into standing guard over a WE.177 that was supposedly leaking ‘liquid plutonium’. His face when the ‘clean up crew’ arrived in full NBC gear had been a picture; sadly the RAF Police had been less impressed by the joke. Like so many other service pensioners once Queen’s Order Two had been signed he had found himself back in RAF blue, though at least he now wore a crown above the three chevrons of his former rank.

The RAF had deliberately chosen to form a number of new squadrons equipped with the Hunter. There were still many of them around in airworthy condition, the Avon engine was still in production for industrial use, they were rugged aircraft, not so sophisticated that they would need lots of technical support, yet fast enough to be able to deal with Harpies if necessary, and had a useful ground attack capability. The first source of Hunters that the RAF had turned to had been the one’s the service owned itself, aircraft in taxiable condition that were use for ground movements training, and British museums. After that they had gone abroad, buying some Swiss Hunters, before going as far a field as Zimbabwe, India and Chile, looking for potential airframes. Fortunately the majority of those aircraft exported were either FGA.9s, or had been based on that model, so commonality was not too much of a problem, though the most troublesome aircraft had been the ex-Royal Navy GA.11s which had to have ADEN cannons and ‘Sabrinas’ fitted to them, both of which were not always easy to source.

One other advantage of using the Hunter was that it was a good aircraft to teach newly qualified pilots and ground crew on. The RAF had also been lucky that the Hunter had survived in such prolific numbers and that there was no great shortage of spares. Besides learning to manufacture some spare parts on a lathe was good training for some of the conscripts. Some Hunters had already joined the Tornado F.3s and Hawk T.1As in performing Combat Air Patrol duties over the UK while the small number of FR.10s and similar Photo Reconnaissance variants had already proven themselves to be a useful Tac Recce asset to CINC-Combined UK Land Forces.

One other somewhat newer aircraft the RAF had considered was the English Electric Lightning. The problem with this aircraft, however, was that apart from the former Saudi and Kuwaiti aircraft, they could only carry out the air to air mission and were rather lightly armed for the anti-Harpy role. . Still, the air force could not really afford to ignore a potential combat aircraft, at least not until more Typhoons, Tornado GR.4s and the new Hawk FGR.2 were delivered. Even the Tornado F.3 had managed to diversify into the anti-Harpy mission and the RAF was now looking at adapting some of the F.3s it had brought out of storage to carry other types of air to ground ordnance Given his experience working on the Lightning it was inevitable that as well as his duties which involved training National Servicemen Flight Sergeant Archibald would also be assigned to the Lightning Training Flight that had been established at Scampton. Once he was able to hand over supervision of the trainees to a sergeant he drove over to the dispersal of the LTF, which was currently made up of four two-seat T.5s and five F.6s. The air force was hoping to get a few more F.6s and F.53s operational, but for now this small force was it.
The first problem after restoring the aircraft that the RAF had faced was arming them, while 30mm ADEN shells were plentiful enough and still in production, there were not exactly lots of Red Top missiles around. Back in the 1970s the RAF had trialed fitting AIM-9 Sidewinders to a Lightning F.6 as a possible replacement for the Red Top, though the MoD had decided that there was no money available for such a modification to an aircraft soon to leave service. Now the armorers of the LTF were working on fitting AIM-9Ls to their aircraft and getting missile and weapons computer to talk to each other.

“How’s it going?” He asked another Flight Sergeant armorer once he had arrived.

“It’s not bloody well going, Jack. The ruddy missile will fit.” He said pointing to an AIM-9L attached to the nearest Lightning. “But the bloody plane’s weapons computer, such as it is, doesn’t want to know. Damned thing has less processing power than my watch.

“I don’t suppose somebody has found a bunker full of Red Tops so we can knock this on the head by any chance.”

“Sadly not, this is something we’ll need to crack on with. You be nice to the Lightning and it will eventually do what you want it to.”

Archibald shook his head, perhaps the Lightning was going a step too far. It was just at the awkward point of development, too complex to run as a simple gun-truck like the Hunter, not complex enough to carry modern equipment. That brought him to the next item on his list of duties, one he was looking forward to. He had to go to Nottingham and pick up a cache of electronics equipment and technicians then bring them back to this base. It really was amazing what the RAF had stashed away over the years and, in many cases, forgotten that they ever had it. Perhaps the idea of a bunker full of Red Top missiles wasn’t so outlandish after all. Anyway, he had to take a small convoy of trucks over and that was the pleasant bit. Just over 100 kilometers and petrol rationing meant that the roads would be clear. A pleasant drive in the countryside was just what was needed to take thoughts of the Lightning’s balky computer out of his mind.

Three hours later, he was on the outskirts of Nottingham, doing the unthinkable. He was asking directions. His little convoy had managed to take a wrong turning and somehow got hopelessly off course. The problem was that somebody, in a fit if excessive zeal or perhaps ingrained memory of anti-paratrooper precautions from World War Two, had taken down all the street names. Rather than waste precious petrol he’d stopped at the first large store he’d seen, a garden supply center, and gone in to find out where he was and what he had to do to go where he was supposed to. His uniform had got him some quick attention.

“Twelve sacks of fertilizer.” The voice came from behind him, from a man speaking to one of the service clerks.

“Any particular kind sir?”


That made the staff pay attention and Archibald’s ears pricked up. Nutrafin was an ammonium nitrate fertilizer and, while not exactly a controlled substance any more, it was an ‘object of interest’ when purchased in bulk. Twelve sacks of the stuff were more than slightly ‘bulk’. That made the purchase more than slightly ‘interesting’.

Discretely, Archibald turned around and looked at the would-be purchaser. He was unkempt, dirty, disheveled, well, a man who spent his time working on other people’s gardens and didn’t get paid more than a very basic wage could well look like that. There was something else about him though, something that Archibald couldn’t quite put his finger on. It was as if he wasn’t quite here, as if a part of him was detached. Perhaps he was educationally sub-normal and this was the best job he could get? But if that was the case, why would he have been trusted with what had to be a major purchase?

“I’m afraid we’ll have to get an order that large from the warehouse Sir. It’ll take a while, would you mind waiting? Or perhaps you’d like to come back for it?”

“I’ll wait. And hurry up, the Goddess is waiting.”

Normally a remark like that would have added at least 30 minutes to his wait time but the garden center staff had noted there was something odd about this man as well and wanted him out. Archibald sympathized with them but the incongruity of the remark nagged at him. A worker might well refer to an imperious and demanding female manager as “the goddess” but there was something in the man’s voice that belied that explanation. There had been an echo of love. Adoration even? For a brief second Archibald toyed with the idea that the man might be the bottom in a BDSM relationship but his sordid appearance didn’t fit that either. Then his distanced attitude clicked in Archibald’s mind. He’d read an intelligence report about the gorgon incidents around Sheffield, how they appeared to be able to control people, even those who were wearing their tinfoil hats. Eye witnesses to the two doomed police officers had remarked on their distant, remote appearance. And the gorgon had vanished despite an intense hunt.

“Look, do you have a large-scale map of the area in your back office? That would make sorting me out a lot easier.” Archibald spoke easily and was relieved that the on-the-ball manager picked up the hint.

“Yes, of course Flight Sergeant. Should have thought of that myself. Come with me.” The two men walked away, into a back office where there was no map but which did possess a telephone with an outside line.

“Thank’s. Can you stall that man until I get help?” The manager nodded and quietly left for the warehouse. Delays were about to multiply drastically. After all, nobody could work slower than a British worker when he put his mind to the problem. Behind him Archibald picked up the phone, punched “9” and then dialed the number for the service hotline.

“This is Flight Sergeant Archibald here. Could I speak with the duty officer please?”

“Captain Mannock here Sergeant.”

“Sir, I’m at the Moors Garden Center, just outside Nottingham. A man’s just come in here, asking for twelve sacks of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. He’s an odd one Sir, I may be all wet but I think he’s entranced. He’s acting just like the descriptions of those two coppers the gorgon killed. And nobody buys that much ammonium nitrate for their back yard.”

At the other end of the line, Richard Mannock drummed his pencil on the desk. It was weak, certainly, but this came from an NCO, almost certainly a recalled veteran. Such men did not jump at shadows. Anyway, the leads on the missing gorgon had dried up and there was nothing else to follow. And if gorgons could entrance people, then it was possible they might be able to exploit their knowledge. Most people knew how to make ANFO.

“Well done Sergeant. Can you follow him when he leaves?”

“I’ve got RAF trucks here Sir, bit obvious for a tail. Hold one.” He covered the mouthpiece with his hand and looked at the manager who was just re-entering the room. “We think we’ve got a line on the gorgon that did for Sheffield. Have you got a van or car I can borrow? And a cell-phone?”

“We’ve got the garden center van, its just a plain white one. And you can have my cell phone. But the petrol?”

“If the van’s full and we get the gorgon, I don’t think you’ll ever have to worry about petrol again. Thank’s mate.” Archibald took his hand off the mouthpiece. “Got both Sir. We owe the garden center manager who’s arranged them. Owe him a lot.”

“Noted Sergeant. Get on with the tail and don’t be seen. Call us when you’ve found where he’s going or if you lose him. We’re sending a team down now, they’ll be there in an hour or so. Even if this guy isn’t entranced and its something else, its still worth looking into.” The telephone clicked and Archibald guessed that wheels were already starting to turn very fast.

“Here’s the keys Flight Sergeant.” The manager handed them over and Archibald left by the back door, clutching a local map in one hand. A few minutes later, the suspect finished loading the sacks into the back of his car and, with the rear suspension sagging dangerously, left. Archibald eased out and followed him, trying to keep at least one car between them. It wasn’t hard, the man was driving slowly and steadily, apparently not paying any attention to what was happening around him. That caused a few outraged honks from horns but he apparently ignored them.

Eventually he turned into the driveway of a detached house in what looked like a council hosing complex. He got out of the car and opened the garage door, allowing Archibald to see more sacks of fertilizer stacked up inside. The Sergeant drove past, stopped a hundred yards or so down the road and then got on the cellphone. This time he got straight through to the duty officer.

“Captain Mannock Sir? Sergeant Archibald again. I’ve followed the suspect to his home, there’s a lot more fertilizer in his garage, saw it as I drove past. The address is.” Archibald fumbled the map for a second. “18 Grays Lane, Clifton Council Housing Estate.”

“Good man. An emergency response team is already on its way down. Wait where you are and they’ll be with you soon.” Mannock hesitated slightly, the Sergeant had done well and he didn’t want to sound as if he was putting the man down. “We’re sending in the heavy mob so they can do the rough stuff. We need you to identify the man from the garden store after they’ve finished cracking skulls.”

Archibald grinned to himself, he’d been in the RAF long enough to recognize a tactful ‘stay out of their way’ when he heard it. “Very good Sir. Message understood.”

He settled back in the driver’s seat and, on a whim, opened the glove compartment. To his delight there was a Mars bar and a Twix pack in there. Munching on the chocolate and watching the house through his mirror, he almost missed the sight of two Chinook helicopters passing overhead.

B-1B “Dragon Slayer” 128th Bomb Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard, On The Way To Tartarus

Major Curtis Trafford shifted uncomfortably in his seat, knowing that it was going to get a lot worse. He had been airborne for ten hours, Dragon Slayer pounding north, over the sea of murk that represented the dust clouds covering Hell. They had traveled more that six thousand miles since take-off and he was already aware that he was now deeper into Hell than any living human had ever gone. He also knew that his status in that respect was increasing every minute as the B-1s continued their marathon flight and that meant the aircraft’s fuel tanks were steadily being depleted. Coming up was their first refueling point, the tankers were already closing in on the agreed rendezvous point and their beacons showed clearly on the navigational displays.

The aerial refueling arrangements were a thing of beauty. The tankers themselves, a mix of existing KC-10As and newly-modified KC-10Bs, had already refueled once on the way to the rendezvous and would have to refuel again on the way back. The arrangements for the next refueling of the B-1s, after they had completed their strike were even more complex, the KC-10s would have to refuel twice before making the rendezvous with each of their tankers themselves having to be refueled in mid-air on the way. Overall, more than 100 tankers were assigned to this mission and that didn’t change the fact that it only needed one of the B-1s to develop problems with its air-to-air refueling system and that aircraft would be inevitably lost. The only air base that could take them was 6,000 miles behind them and there were no alternatives or emergency landing fields.

On the other hand, this mission was the only way humans could strike at the source of the attacks that had destroyed Sheffield and Detroit. Not to mention the only way any further attacks of the kind could be prevented. There were special forces in the vicinity of Belial’s fortress, the radar beacon they were using for navigation proved that, but they lacked the strength and firepower to do much about the place. A long way south, two human aircraft carrier battle groups were due to enter the Hellish Sea and start pounding their way up north but even flat out it would be two weeks before they were on station – and supporting them this far away from a home base would be a real pain. No, for the moment, the bombers were it, the best and most plausible form of striking at the source of the sky-volcanos.

“Tankers ahead Curt.” The co-pilots voice was relieved. It hadn’t quite been decided what to do if the complex refueling arrangements hadn’t worked. The B-1s couldn’t make it to the target area without refueling so if the refueling went sour, the aircraft went down. Trafford assumed that the only course of action would be to walk out but 6,000 miles was a long way by B-1. On foot it was an impossibility even forgetting the hostile environment of Hell. So, seeing the glint of red as the light flashed off the silver wings of the tankers was a great relief.

“Got them. This is Foxhound Leader to all Foxhounds. Tankers in sight, prepare for refueling.” Trafford relaxed a little and shifted in his seat again. “3,750 miles out, none of us are going to walk right for a month after this.”

“There’s always the steam baths and massages.” His co-pilot’s voice was droll, the idea came from an old film starring Jimmy Stewart and its ideas on post-flight treatment were a long-standing bomber crew joke.

“Yeah, right. It look to you like the clag is a bit thinner up here? Sometimes I’d swear I can almost see the ground down below.”

“Just your imagination Curt. Take two reality pills and remember we’re bombing the crap out of Hell.”

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

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