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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 76 - 80
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:47 pm 
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Walls of Dis, Hell

This wasn’t like normal sieges. The rules of a siege were well-established; the defenders mounted guard on the walls of the besieged fortress, the attackers started to build their own fortifications around that fortress. Their aim was to cut supplies to the besieged garrison and eventually bring about its surrender. If that didn’t seem likely, they would concentrate on the weakest point of the line and break through there. Or try to, a wise garrison commander kept a force in reserve for exactly that eventuality. The reserve force could be used another way, if food was running out, it could launch an attack on the weakest point of the fortifications and break out. If there was a reserve.

Nobody had ever besieged Dis before, not even during the Great Celestial War. It was too big, its walls too long. It would require more than the total armies of Hell, even before the humans had set about decimating them, to set up a proper siege. Garrisoning Dis was even more impossible. Dagon had 243 legions, of whom 24 were Krakens and 16 cavalry. That left him with 203 legions of foot soldiers, 1,350,000 in total. That meant he had one soldier for every 50 feet of wall. That wasn’t a garrison, it was a fig-leaf. Dagon snorted at the use of the old Earth religious reference. These humans weren’t the blind, foolish followers of superstition that the Demons had known. They were supremely logical, supremely practical, utterly ruthless killers. And nobody had told them that putting Dis under siege was impossible so they had gone ahead and done it.

At first, Dagon didn’t even believe that the city had been put under siege. There were no earthen walls being thrown up, no garrison surrounding the city. The humans had started to arrive and set up their camps, scattered around the city, wherever they felt the ground suited them. Isolated encampments, just their tanks and mickvees parked on the plains, surrounded by a wall of earth. And their artillery of course, Briefly Dagon wondered at how Belial had got to know all the names for the human weapons, was he in league with them? That was a question better not asked because Belial was now Satan’s favorite and to criticize him meant death. Anyway, the names were good, ‘aircraft’ made much more sense than ‘sky chariot’ and few now used the original demon names. That was good for the old names implied magic and there was no magic in the human’s arsenal. They used machines instead. Engineering had met magic and engineering’s victory had been absolute. Dagon knew Dis would fall, his paper-thin screen of soldiers couldn’t stop the human onslaught.

Dagon shook his head and returned to the problems of the siege. He had more soldiers, more by far than the humans. The human encampments hadn’t linked up, they were still separate entities. Last night, some demons outside had tried to get caravans of supplies through to the city, knowing that prices within the walls were already soaring. The great camps between the human positions had seemed an open invitation and that was just what they had been. An invitation to destruction. The caravans had set out and died under a hail of mage bolts – Dagon stopped himself and carefully used the right words. A hail of artillery fire. The caravans had been destroyed, when the light had returned, all that was left of them was charred wreckage. The siege was as tight as if the humans had surrounded Dis. How they’d done it, Dagon didn’t understand but they had and that was all that mattered.

“Keep down My Lord.” One of the foot soldiers near him whispered urgently. That was something else Dagon had noted. The soldiers up here crouched behind the stone crenellation and spoke in whispers. They were afraid, mortally afraid and once more Dagon knew that the fall of Dis was inevitable.

“You fear the humans?” Dagon’s voice was silky as he asked the question that was also a threat.

“Humans, no. Their magery yes. “ The new words hadn’t spread down to the rank and file yet. “My Lord, if they see you, you will die. They can see in the dark and strike without warning.”

The ranker measured distances and the route that Dagon had used to approach. “My Lord, they are watching now for you. They saw you come to us and now they wait for you. When you appear again, if you appear again, you will die. Watch this.”

The soldier placed a spare helmet, Dagon didn’t like to think of how the helmet had become a spare, on a trident and lifted it where Dagon’s head would be if he stood up. There was a dull thud and the helmet lurched and spun. When Dagon looked at it, there was a hole the size of his talon punched in the front but the back was a gaping void, its edges hot and singed.

“Three soldiers we’ve lost tonight to that magery, on just this section of the wall. How many more, I don’t know but if the rest of the walls are like this….”

The soldier didn’t need to finish the thought but Dagon did it for him, silently, in his head. If this rate of attrition kept up, he wouldn’t even have a paper-thin defense when the assault came. He had a mental picture of what that would mean, the humans breaking through the walls, their tanks and mickvees plowing through the streets, their artillery devastating the city and they took in by storm. Every demon knew what happened when a fortress fell to attack by storm, a days-long orgy of looting, rape, pillage and torture than would only end when there was nothing left to kill and destroy. If the humans were as efficient at storming fortresses as they were at destroying armies in the field, and there was no reason why they should not be, then Dis was indeed doomed. And with it the whole demon race.

Dis could not be stormed, its surrender had to be negotiated before the humans got to work. Deumos had been right, somebody had to contact the humans and ask for terms. But, nobody could do that while Satan still lived. The answer was obvious although millennia of loyalty screamed in protest at the inevitable conclusion. Satan had to go. That meant Dagon had to see Deumos and throw his lot in with her plan. Now, quickly because the humans would attack soon and then it would be too late for Dis and everybody who lived within it.

B-1B “Strawberry Bitch” 128th Bomb Squadron, Georgia Air National Guard, Over Tartarus

“I guess that must be the first target?” Major Andrea Czernick swung Strawberry Bitch around in a wide circle, looking at the great black ellipse beneath them. “Sheffield or Detroit do you reckon?”

“No way of knowing is there? Hang on a minute, Sheffield’s lava outfall has stopped, Detroit’s hasn’t. The portal is that crater is clear of lava. Looks like its building up though and will lap over again soon but its clear now. So that must be Sheffield. Damn.”

Strawberry Bitch had been allocated the southern portal, a few miles away, Shoo Shoo Baby was lining up on the other. It looked like Shoo Shoo Baby had got lucky and drawn the Detroit portal.

“Look on the side Jim, at least if this thing works, we’ll stop the Sheffield attack resuming.”

“If it works, I hear the first test was a flop. Lining up Andy?”

“Lined up. Bomb-nav system on, target designated, approach height 29,000 feet, speed 454 knots. All data entered. Take it from here, Strawberry Bitch.”

The B-1B settled into its bomb run, the attack-navigation system taking data from the flight computer and bombing radar and transforming it into precise flight commands. Humanity had come a long, long way from the crude Norden bomb sight in the B-24 whose name the B-1 carried. At a precisely calculated moment, the aircraft lurched as the EBU-5 dropped clear of the bomb bay and arced downwards. Czernik held her breath as she watched it fall in a perfect ballistic arc that terminated in the center of the portal. There was a brilliant flash, one that seemed unnaturally bright against the black of the portal, a flash that seemed to grow out of all proportion to the size of the bomb she had just dropped. The black ellipse of the portal seemed to flicker, its edges pulsating as they absorbed the blast from the bomb. Then the portal started to swell outwards , doubling or tripling in size, before it collapsed and vanished.

“Yee-hah!” Czernik’s scream of triumph was echoed throughout Strawberry Bitch as her crew looked at the featureless crater that now lacked its black crown. A split second later a similar scream of triumph came over the radio from Shoo Shoo Baby. Obviously the Detroit sky-volcano had just been shut down as well. Czernik pulled the control column back, bringing Strawberry Bitch into a gentle climb away from the target location. First responsibility was to clear the target area for the formation of four B-1s that were targeting Belial’s fortress. Second was to send a message home. She thumbed the button on the radio that selected long-range communications and composed her voice into its best neutral-official tone. “This is Foxhound-Electric-Leader to Rivet Crown. Do you read me?”

“Rivet Crown here. Receiving you.” That was a relief, there were no satellites in Hell and the egg-heads seemed to believe there never could be so relay aircraft were being used. Rivet Crown was an old EC-121 that had been ‘borrowed’ from a museum and pulled back into service while Boeing 747s were converted to take her place. She had last directed air intercepts over the Gulf of Tongkin more than forty years before. Another old lady doing her best.

“Report Operation Electric Strike successful. Repeat Operation Electric Strike successful. Both portals hit by bombs and closed down. Both portals shut completely. No sign of further sky volcano action here.”

“Confirming that Electric Strike Leader. Both portals shut down. Wait one.” There was a long humming crackle of static and Czernik thought she could hear the drone of the relay aircraft’s piston engines. “Electric Strike Leader, we have word from Detroit. Sky volcano has vanished, the lava has ceased to fall and the portal has closed. Mission confirmed as successful. Rivet Crown out.”

Czernik relaxed in her seat, as much as was possible in the poopy-suit she was wearing. That was one thing the air force still had to sort out, a decent means of in-flight relief for female crew members. And it was still a long way to go back home.

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

“The sky volcanoes are down!” Rivet Crown just confirms shut-off.” Trafford relayed the message to the crews and heard the explosion of cheering in the four aircraft. “Now let’s get that bastard Belial.”

Even if this part of the strike was a failure, the mission would still count as a success. The volcanoes had to come first, partly so the bombing conditions for the two Foxhound-Electric aircraft would be perfect but also, as the old proverb insisted, business had to come before pleasure. So, taking out Belial and his fortress had to wait for second place. But, the main formation’s time had come and the four B-1s dropped into the appropriate formation.

“Bomb-nav system on, target designated, approach height 45,000 feet, speed 522 knots. Intervalometer on. All Foxhound aircraft synchronize now.” The master bombing system on Dragon Slayer sent out an electronic bleep that aligned all four bomb-nav systems on the aircraft to within a thousandth of a second. Ahead of them was the great square that Abigor had described as “The Adamantine Fortress” and carefully drawn for them. The special forces team that was on the ground below had photographed the installation as well and those illustrations had made up the target pack. Now, the bombers had a radar image of the target and the set was complete.

A mix of BLU-116 Advanced Unitary Penetrator bombs and Mark 83 conventional bombs were stowed within the cavernous forward bomb bay of the B-1s. Trafford had wondered why the BLU-116s were being used rather than the Massive Ordnance Penetrators that had made such a spectacular ruin of Satan’s palace but it had been explained that there were mines underneath the Adamantine Fortress and there were human slaves in those mines. It was, therefore, desirable to destroy the fortress without too high a probability of caving in the mines underneath. The BLU-116 fulfilled that role perfectly. The Mark 83s had been substituted for anti-personnel cluster bombs at the last minute, supplies of the cluster bombs were running very low and they were being saved for even more pressing targets. With the assault on Dis just days away, Trafford could see why.

He felt the snap as the bomb bay doors opened and the vibration as the aircraft’s bomb load started to pour out of its forward bay. That would give the aircraft a C-of-G problem until the fuel in the tank occupying the aft bomb bay had been consumed. But, that extra fuel tank gave them a margin of safety in the event of problems with the intricate chain of tankers that were supposed to get the bombers home. Beneath him, Trafford saw the target area disappearing under a rolling cloud of explosions. Mission accomplished.

South of the Adamantine Fortress, Hell

“Will you look at that!” Tucker McElroy whooped and smacked the nearest member of his team soundly on the back as the fortress they were observing disintegrated into a rolling cloud of brilliant orange and black explosions, punctuated by the roar of the blasts and brilliant flashes of light as the structure of the building shattered under the hammering of the bombs. The whole of his team were dancing with delight as the ground shook under their feet and the air around them roiled from the devastating destruction that was being meted out. Through the blasts, McElroy could see the whole structure collapsing into a pile of formless wreckage. Revenge was definitely an under-rated pastime he reflected.

Beside him Memnon watched the bombing with awe, he’d heard claims that Satan’s palace had been destroyed but he had dismissed them as exaggerations and propaganda. Now, with Belial’s palace crumbling before his eyes he forced himself to remember that where destruction was concerned, nothing was beyond the abilities of the humans. Nothing in hell anyway.

“That’s show the bastard to pour lava on our cities.” McElroy was still whooping with delight. “And once we’ve finished with this place, we’ve got a few other scores to settle as well.”

“With Yahweh?” Memnon was curious. “You humans plan to deal with him as well.”

“Of course.” McElroy paused. “We’ve already got one of his minions. Some bastard called Appollyon or something. One of our tank-heads blew him away in Iraq. The **** had slaughtered an entire family and sat there drinking tea surrounded by the bodies. Until an Abrams turned up and blasted him. He died, just like the ones down here.”

Memnon remembered the incident and thought about correcting McElroy’s version of events but decided it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Anyway, if the mistake meant the humans were going after Yahweh as well, who was he to argue? Yahweh had always been a great one for saying nothing happened without a reason, so he couldn’t complain about this could he? Besides, only two beings, Apollyon and Memnon, knew what had really happened that night and Apollyon wasn’t talking. That made Memnon think back on the creature he had been then and compared it with his present status. The thought made him uneasy, these people had taken him in, cared for him, cured his wounds, respected him for his abilities and applauded his efforts. Compared with the savagery of the demons and the arrogant, supercilious cruelty of the angels, weren’t they the examples to be upheld and emulated?

“Beware, for the angels have powers and abilities all of their own.” Memnon spoke slowly. “We beat them in the Great Celestial War only by great efforts and much sacrifice. You will not find them as easy to beat as the enemy here. I know some, Abigor knows more. What we know we will tell you but I warn you there are many more weapons that the angels can deploy against us than we know.” Memnon looked again at the crumbing ruin of Belial’s fortress then frowned. He focused his vision to great distances and saw the columns heading north. “And I fear Belial anticipated your raid. He had evacuated the Adamantine Fortress and headed north. Why I cannot tell you.”

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

The conference room was bitterly cold, primarily because the air conditioning had been turned up to its maximum setting. Demons liked warmth and President George Bush saw no reason why their visitor should be comfortable. Also, the air purification system was running full blast and the air current out through the vents in the floor were enough to rustle papers.

“This is crunch time Lugasharmanaska.”

“Crunch time Sir?”
“Time to make a choice. You’ve been playing both ends against the middle ever since you surrendered to us. We knew it of course and it suited us to let it continue. Now, it doesn’t. You’re going to have to pick sides. You’re either with us or with Deumos. That means with us or against us. Which? Make up your mind.” Bush sat in his seat with a gentle smile on his face. One he usually reserved for people he was allowing to hang themselves.

Lugasharmanaska stared back. She’d long accepted that her miasma no longer worked but the blunt statement shocked her. Succubae weren’t used to be given ultimatums. She tried to buy time, to think this through. “My choices Sir?”

“You can stay here with us, work with us without reservations, or go back with Deumos. Take your pick.”

The succubus weighed options briefly. “I will work with you Sir. My place is here now.” It hadn’t taken much, when Deumos had contacted her, asking to arrange this meeting Lugasharmanaska had quickly probed her mind, as much as she was able, and detected a tinge of anticipation that did not bode well for her. She had a strong suspicion that despite her efforts, Deumos did not look well upon her and had a gruesome revenge in mind. The humans were a safer bet, much safer.

“Good. Welcome to the team. You may leave now.” Lugasharmanaska left with her guards. She may have joined the team but Bush intended to take no chances. “Show Deumos in.”

The Queen of the Succubae or whatever she chose to call herself, was big, Bush reflected. The creature was walking crouched and bent-over and was still finding it hard to fit into the confined spaces of the White House. Even when she sat on the floor by the table, her horns still nearly touched the roof. Bush had no doubt that the gas chromatographs measuring pheromone levels in the room were going off the chart.

“You are Deumos.” That was a nice, stupid way to start the conversation Bush thought, years in politics and winning elections had proved to him that being underestimated was a valuable attribute. “To what do we owe the honor of this visit?”

“There may soon be some changes in the power structure of Hell. I wish to discuss a way of ending this war with you.” Deumos’s voice was a deep, grinding rasp that she probably thought was seductive.

“We can do that. Your unconditional surrender should do the trick.”

Deumos barely managed to conceal her shock. Wars always ended in compromise and with terms. Never a bland demand for a complete surrender. Even the Great Celestial War had ended with terms demanded and given. Internally, she was worried, normally when she spoke her miasma made them accept what she said. “I and my colleagues plan to remove Satan from power. Very soon, at a meeting to discuss the strategy of the war.” Where Satan thinks he will be giving the orders she thought. “Once that is done we will take power and we will declare the war over. For that, we will demand one third of your dead so we may extract energy from them and the support of your armies against any who stay loyal to Satan. Is this agreed?”

Bush grinned to himself, reveling in the degree to which Deumos was talking herself into a hole. It was true what Ronald Reagan had always said. Just keep smiling and people always hanged themselves. “A very interesting offer Deumos. I can safely say that you may have an answer in accordance with our traditions very shortly and I am certain you will find it assertive. Thank you for attending this meeting.”

Bush watched while Deumos shuffled out, barely fitting through the double doors. Then he thumbed a button on his intercom. “She’s gone. Bring Luga in.”

It was a relief to be dealing with a normal-sized figure again. “Lugasharmanaska, you can lock in on Deumos’s mind at any time?”

“Yes Sir.

“Good.” Bush pressed another button on his intercom. “Condi, please call Vladimir in Moscow. There’s some equipment we need to borrow.”

“Very good Sir. Oh, Sir, there’s something on television you should watch. The Pope’s issued a statement.”

“I thought he was laying low. Oh well. Thank you Condi.” He switched the intercom off and went into an anteroom where a large flat-screen television was set up. His aides checked the channel was set to Fox news and turned it on. Fox’s Rome anchorman was speaking.

“And we have just received the news of the Papal statement. The full version will be issued in about three hours time but we have an advanced abstract now. It reads as follows.

“Current events have challenged the very core of our beliefs and thrown all that we believed into doubt. One thing must remain clear, that we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ that provide a good and just basis for all of human conduct. But we cannot deny that these have been corrupted and misapplied, that grave mistakes have been made and that crimes of great magnitude committed. At times like this we must believe that we have been mislead and deceived by imposters and deceivers who succeeded in leading us down a false path. We can be sure that the ‘God’ whose misdirection has led us down this false path is not the God of whom our Lord Jesus Christ speaks. We can be sure it is those deceivers and imposters and in particular those who lead them, that are responsible for the grievous errors that have been committed in our Church’s name. we must cast out such deceivers and purify ourselves so that we can, once more, follow the teachings of Christ as they were meant to be followed.

“To do this I call upon other religions to join the Holy Catholic Church when we excommunicate God.”

_________________
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 3:49 pm 
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Plateau of Minos, Hell

By the standards of Hell, the Plateau of Minos was well-organized. If was dominated by the great black gate at one end, a gate that had all the appearances of a transit portal but was set in the rocky face of the Hell-pit, in the mouth of a cave that defined its shape. Nobody knew what lay beyond that gate, the Demons who had been brave enough to try crossing it, or had been unfortunate enough to fall through it, had never returned. One thing that the demons working on the Plateau did know was that it was through that gate that the human dead arrived in Hell.

Once working on the Plateau had been an easy position, only a trickle of dead humans arrived to be processed, but that had changed. The demons working on the Plateau of Minos had been the first ones to be aware of the changes on Earth. For millennia the rate at which the human dead had arrived had been constant but a mere few centuries that had started to change. The trickle had become a stream, the stream a river and the river had turned into a flood. Now, three bodies arrived every second and any break in the routine would cause a disastrous backlog. The fact that there were worse disasters than a work backlog never dawned on the demons who worked on the Plateau but it should have done. If they looked over the chasm that separated the Plateau of Minos from Lucifer’s Finger, they would have seen the crumbed ruin of the great spur of rock and the palace that had once stood on it.

But, bowed down by the routine demanded by the constant stream of bodies emerging from the gate, they didn’t. Instead, the ancient tradition held sway. Two demons would pick up each unconscious human dead and carry it over to one of the line of hydras waiting on the edge of the Plateau. The command would form in the hydra’s heads, it would wrap its tail a number of times around the human and then flick it out across the chasm to the Hell-Pit. The number of times the tail was wrapped around the victim determined which circle it would land in. Down there, other demons would receive it, make the preparations needed and the victim would awaked to begin an eternity of torment. On his throne above the plateau, Minos himself sat, commanding the work of the line of 27 hydra that worked on the limits of his domain. Minos had by far the smallest holding of any Lord of Hell but his was also the most important. Without him, no dead human would reach its proper place in Hell.

This morning, Minos wasn’t feeling particularly well. He had a headache, one that had led him to assign the arriving humans to the most agonizing of Hell’s circles. In the last few minutes, his headache had been joined by a curious throbbing sensation, one that seemed to vibrate the air around him and make the dust on his throne bounce. It wasn’t the human aircraft overhead, they were a familiar sight by this time, streaking through the comforting dust of Hell’s atmosphere and then swooping down to pound some selected target in Dis. A palace perhaps? Or a barracks? There were times when Minos was grateful that his realm was so tiny.

What happened next defied his whole concept of reality. A formation of human aircraft, not the sleek ones overhead but ungainly-looking things with wings loaded with weapons and a strange set of whirling blades above them. Painted red and gray like so many other human aircraft but with a blue, six-pointed star on the body. One of them rotated towards him and its wings erupted in fire. Minos just had the chance to see 16 missiles streaking off their racks towards him before his headache was cured forever.

Beneath him, the laboring demons were stunned into immobility as the AH-64D helicopters rose over the rim to pour 30mm gunfire, rockets and Hellfire missiles into the mass of demons in front of them. It was slaughter, pure, unmitigated and relentless. The gunners in the helicopters unleashed salvo after salvo of unguided rockets into the mass in front of them, playing their gunnery controls as if they were musical instruments, switching from rockets to cannon and back again as they split the mob of screaming demons into small groups and then cut those groups down. The demons were unarmed, defenseless, their command cut off by the first salvo of Hellfires that had slammed into Minos and cut him down from his throne. Now, an Apache was hovering over his body, studding it with 30mm cannon fire to make sure he was truly and irrecoverably dead. His minions were workers on the plateau, they didn’t even have their tridents and all they could do was run. Only, there was nowhere to run to, the gunships were advancing slowly across the plateau, mercilessly cutting the demons down no matter whether they stood or ran. As they did, they taught a grim lesson to the shrinking numbers of survivors. This is what helicopter gunships do. This is what they are for.

The demons were driven backwards, always backwards, away from the Plateau rim, towards the great black stain in the wall that represented the death gate. Then, there was nowhere further they could retreat to, some took the dreadful chance and dived through the blackness to escape the relentless hammering of the gunships, the others gave up and stood by the cliff face until the helicopters killed them.

Behind the first line of eight AH-64s, a second group of eight hovered over the hydras that writhed and screamed on the plateau rim. More Hellfire missiles slashed out, thumping into their bodies, ripping them open and sending multi-colored sprays of demon blood arching through the air. In their death-spasms, some fell off the edge, screaming and falling down into the hell-pit where they had thrown so many unnumbered thousands of humans. Others threshed around for a few minutes before the combination of Hellfires and gunfire stilled them forever.

The Plateau was silent except for the thudding noise of the gunships as they circled overhead, looking for any sign of resistance (by which the pilots and gunners meant any sign of life). At the cliff face, the pile of human bodies arriving through the gate was rising steadily, well, the second wave of the assault would handle that. It was already arriving, nine UH-60 Blackhawks loaded with Israeli commandos, their command section and one very special, absolutely indispensable passenger. The Blackhawks touched down, the commandos spreading rapidly across the plateau, quickly ensuring that the dead demons strewing the rocky surface were indeed dead. There were some dead humans in there as well, those unfortunate enough to have arrived just as the assault was starting. They had died with their demon captors although the unconscious humans had never been aware of by how little they had missed salvation.

With the plateau secured, the commandos started picking up the human bodies that were still pouring through and moving them to safety. Another small group disappeared down the tunnel that marked the only access to the Plateau of Minos and started setting explosive charges on the tunnel wall. The men were experts, demolition men who had set more charges than most people would be able to count. A few seconds after they emerged from the tunnel, a dull blast and a cloud of choking gray smoke marked the success of their latest labors. A couple of them went back into the tunnel and re-emerged, their thumbs raised. It would be years before anybody used that access route again.

In his command helicopter, Colonel Jonathan ben Amiel picked up his radio microphone and clicked it to break squelch. “This is Strike Force Deliverance. Objective is secure, hostile access is denied. Minos is dead and the transfer of souls to the Hell-pit has been stopped. We are setting up the gate now.”

Amidst the helicopters a young Indian girl found a comfortable piece of ground near one corner of the plateau, close to the gaping black void of the existing gate. She closed her eyes and concentrated, seeking out the minds of her colleagues the ‘other side’. Then, almost like opening a door, contact was made and the portal began to form in front of her.

DIMO(N) Facility, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

“We’ve got contact! Get the equipment fired up!” Colonel Warhol stopped to stroke his brand-new rank insignia as he gave the orders. One thing about this war, promotion was fast. Pre-war Lieutenants, especially those with experience in Afghanistan and Iraq (which meant nearly all of them) were already Captains and Majors. Warhol guessed that unless he screwed up this mission really badly, he’d be a General within a month or so. After all, this was the most important mission DIMO(N) had ever staged. A mission aimed at nothing less than cutting the flow of deceased humans to Hell and redirecting them to a refugee facility in the Phelan Plain.

Warhol grinned quietly to himself. What had once been the Martial Plain of Dysprosium had been renamed after the security guard in a Chicago Mall who had sacrificed his life to save a group of schoolgirls from a Baldrick berserker. Philip Phelan had to be out there somewhere and Warhol wondered what his reaction would be when he found an entire region of Hell had been named in his honor. Then his mind snapped back to the task at hand. Sisse Petersen, a recently-arrived Danish sensitive, but one with remarkable linking powers was on the couch surrounded by the latest Mark 3 amplifiers. They caused a lot less discomfort than the earlier versions despite generating more power. Even better, once the portal was open, the Mark 3 could keep it that way without a human operator.

“We’re through, portal opening now.” Sure enough, the portal opened and spread until it was wide enough to take the equipment planned for it. Then, Petersen stepped off the couch and the portal was steady. A cheer went up.

“I will take the next one now.” Her voice was uncompromising, she’d started this job, now she would finish it. She took up position on the next couch and waited for the push from the other side. It came soon enough and the second portal was opened. Now, there were two ellipses, about twelve feet apart. Time for the engineers.

The equipment was already waiting. A skid-mounted set of rollers and a belt were pushed through the first portal. Unseen hands the other side grabbed it and stretched it out. Then the process was repeated with the other side. Once again, the unseen hands there quickly stretched it out. Then, the engineers in between the portals adjusted the tension in the conveyor belt and the job was done. With a flourish, the commander of the Army engineer detachment pressed a button and an electric motor spun to life. There was a rattle and crash, then the conveyor belt began to move.

“I’m glad that worked.” Warhol hardly dared breathe.

“No reason why it shouldn’t. The fuel pipeline through the Hellgate is working OK. And we’re getting aircraft and equipment through no problem. So this should be fine. Ah, here we go.”

The first deceased humans were on the conveyor belt that had no accelerated to full speed. The pile of bodies appeared at one portal, rolled across the gap between them and disappeared back through the other. Warhol sighed with relief. Human dead were no longer going to hell, now they were being transferred directly to the waiting refugee camp. One part of the promise had been kept, no human would ever go to suffer eternal torment in the Hell-Pit again.

Refugee Transit Facility, The Phelan Plain, Human-Occupied Hell

Janice Haggerty woke up very carefully. She was in a great room, far larger than any hospital ward she had ever seen. There was a dull reddish light that was permeating through from outside, was this a tent? And where was she? The last thing she remembered was a tree leaping at her out of the darkness. Then, she looked down and realized she was on a hospital-style bed, naked and uncovered. She yelped and tried to cover herself with her hands.

“Don’t worry, we’re all like that here.” A man on the next bed looked at her appreciatively and in a way that Haggerty found upsetting.

“He’s wrong.” Haggerty sighed with relief, a nurse had appeared, her face oddly obscured by a mask. Surely a little nurse-to-nurse professional courtesy could get her some clothes?

“Where are we?”

“We’re in Hell dear. You’re dead I’m afraid. If you’re strong enough to walk, we need you to you outside to reception and task assignment. Every dead human from Earth and Hell is coming through here and this place is only just large enough. Three of you every second arriving.”

“Three of us every second.” Haggerty tried to wrap her mind around the number. It was hard to imagine that was the number of people who died all the time.

“Yes, and its never going to end so please, hurry up and vacate this bed, we’re going to need it soon.”
“I’d like to rest for a while.” It was the man on the next bed.

“I’m sure you would, but this is a temporary facility only. Just while you regain consciousness. Now, move on please, we need this bed.”

Haggerty got up and, to her relief, found there was a hospital-style robe at the foot of the bed. She slipped it on and stepped through the opening, she had been right, the facility was a series of huge tents. Somewhere near was a powerful electric motor running. Ahead of her were lines of people forming and she joined what looked like the shortest one. The man who had been on the next bed pushed in front of her at the last moment. Hell seemed to have the same problems as Earth sometimes she reflected. Then, the woman sitting behind a computer screen. She looked at the man expressionlessly.

“Name and nationality?”

“George Tubshaw, Irish-American.”

“Cause of Death?”

“Choked on a pretzel.”

“Any military service?”

“No, I always thought I could serve more effectively by working in the private sector.” There was a snort from another line at that.

“Qualifications?”

“Degree in History of Folk Music.”

The woman behind the computer pursed her lips and entered “Useless” into the field for qualifications. “Very well Tubshaw, we’re assigning you to a construction gang. Somebody will teach you how to hit nails with a hammer or use a spade. Next.”

“But… I’m an administrator.”

“Why didn’t you say that before, what did you administer?”

“Well, a music appreciation course in community college.”

“Construction gang. Next.”

“Janice Haggerty, British, No military service.”

“What did you do Janice? And your cause of death?”

“I was a nurse. I was in a traffic accident. We’d been treating casualties from Sheffield, there were so many badly burned people to look after. I must have fallen asleep driving home because the last thing I remember is a tree.”

“A nurse. That’s good. Do you fancy working with people recovered from the Hell-Pit? A lot of them are badly traumatized, they need sympathetic handling. You’d be doing a really needed job.”

“Please, umm Miss, excuse me asking but….”

“The name is Fiona. Yes, I’m dead as well. I died in the Great Influenza of 1919. I wasn’t as lucky as you, I spent the last century being drowned in a cess-pit until some Quakers rescued me. So, you see, I know how much you’ll be needed. Thanks for helping Janice. Next.”

Haggerty walked away, hearing the voice behind her. “Nguyen Huu Phai, Vietnamese, two years military service in the Vietnamese People’s Liberation Army. Died of snake-bite.”

“Right, the military authorities will want to speak with you. Please go over there and wait for a truck.”

A truck, Haggerty thought, obviously the fuel shortage that permeated Earth wasn’t affecting hell, or at least not the Armies fighting in Hell. Overhead she heard the scream of jet aircraft and saw two white-painted military jets making their landing runs, their bleached-out roundels showing them to be British. The TSR-2s, the press had been full of their exploits before she had died. They’d made it sound like the “White Ghosts” were winning the war single-handed. She chuckled, poor old Dennis Healey had been excoriated in the press for canceling them so many years ago.

There was a blast on a horn and she stopped short, the blacktop of a road was in front of her and she’d nearly stepped out in front of a huge tank. She looked around and saw a black American woman officer in a Humvee parked by the side of the road.

“Hokay, you want to die twice in one day? Look where you’re going girl. Them Abrams will squash you flat.”

“I’m sorry, I’ve just…. Can you tell me where the treatment area for people who have been recovered from the hell pit is?”

“Sure can. We’ll be passing right by it. I’ll drop you off, get in.”

“Thank you.” Haggerty climbed awkwardly into a Humvee. “Last time I was in a vehicle I went to sleep and that got me here. I’m Janice Haggerty, nurse.”

“Keisha Stevenson, Colonel United States Army. My battalion just got here.”

“You’re new here too?”

“Nah. Last time I was here, this was all Baldrick country. Now its just like downtown Bayonne. There’s even a Macdonalds as if hell wasn’t bad enough on its own.” The Humvee swerved through the column of tanks and dropped off the blacktop on to a dirt road. “Hellpit recoverees are just ahead. Some of them are in pitiful state. Been in torment so long they can’t remember anything else. You gonna be doing a worthwhile thing there girl. Hokay, this is your stop. Keep the faith.”

Haggerty started. “What faith.”

Stevenson smiled broadly. “Why faith in science, engineering and applied firepower of course. What other faith could there be?”

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


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 3:51 pm 
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Grays Lane, Clifton Council Housing Estate, Outside Nottingham

Time, tide and the SAS wait for no man. Gorgons, they were something different. Gorgons needed care, the available intelligence pointed out that they were uniquely dangerous. They had a means, as yet unidentified, of entrancing humans even when their victims were firmly clad in a good–quality tinfoil hat. The experts had been consulted and the results were disquieting, they suggested that the gorgons could entrance a human just be staring at them. Fortunately, the bit about them turning a human into stone had been discounted, it was believed that they were just a greatly exaggerated version of entrancement. It did appear, though, that the gorgons could kill as well as entrance. Some of their victims had been found with curious spines in them, that was a hint as to how they managed both entrancement and killing.

So, the SAS troops were kitted out in head-to-toe Kevlar, woven to give anti-stab protection as well as against bullet strikes. Of course, that wouldn’t help any if the gorgon started throwing lightning bolts around but one took what one could get. All in all, Captain Greg Crowleigh felt he had taken every precaution he could, the SAS might have a reputation for charging into situations but in reality, a vast amount of careful planning went on first. This strike had been no different although Crowleigh was grimly aware that he and his men were considered the B-team if that. The best of the SAS personnel had been deployed to Hell where they were raising their own particular brand of chaos. Well, now was the time to show the powers that be what his people could do.

“Ready Sergeant?”

The figure behind the grenade launcher nodded although the motion was barely visible behind the gas mask and body armor.

“In your own time then. Your shot is the go-signal.” There had been no need to repeat that, it had been stressed in the briefings often enough but Crowleigh was taking no chances. He hadn’t quite got the self-confidence to trust himself to get the message over. Although he didn’t realize it, that was why he was in the B-team.

The grenade launcher coughed, sending a 40mm tear gas grenade through the downstairs window of the house. An instant afterwards, four more launchers sent similar grenades through the other windows at the front, sending white smoke boiling upwards. Crowleigh started his run, jumping up from cover behind the hedge and heading for the bay windows that marked the living room. The house was a standard council property, similar to thousands of others scattered all over the U.K. This one hadn’t been bought by its occupiers during the 1980s but that wouldn’t change its floor plan. If anything, it made the assault easier for the tenants wouldn’t have made any radical changes the way an owner might.

Two blasts from the automatic shotgun he carried dealt with the window itself, then Crowleigh dived through the shattered glass, landing on the carpet inside in a smooth roll. A figure, human, was staggering around in the white haze of tear gas, wailing and holding it’s eyes. Then, it saw the black shape as Crowleigh rose to his feet.

“Goddess, you’ve come down to save us!” Then there was a brief pause as the human stared at the new visitor through streaming eyes. “You’re not our Goddess, get out of our temple.”

The figure lunged for Crowleigh with hands raised in claws. The Captain didn’t hesitate, one shotgun blast threw the human back against a wall, a second sent it tumbling to the floor. As it died, a Sergeant moved past him and flipped the internal door open. It lead to the hallway, stairs to the top floor leading off from one corner. Another figure was standing on those stairs, holding a piece of wood as a club. The Sergeant didn’t let it speak, although it was so racked by coughing that speech seemed unlikely. The burst from the shotgun blew the figure into rags.

Crowleigh and his men quickly fanned out through the tear-gas ridden house. Individual shotgun blasts or short bursts marked the demise of more members of the cult who had made this house their ‘temple’. The old days of HK-5 sub-machine guns had long gone, pistol bullets just didn’t work well enough against Demons. Two more cult members tried to escape out the back doors but were shot down by snipers who were part of the perimeter that isolated the building. The gorgon inside had evaded capture at least twice already, it wouldn’t make it three times on Crowleigh’s watch. The neighbors had been quietly evacuated, the surrounding buildings checked out then used to house the SAS personnel who were conducting the raid. Further out, a second perimeter reinforced the first. Nothing got through either without being very carefully searched.

Upstairs, Lakheenahuknaasi heard the crash of the windows breaking and the sound of gunfire as the members of her cult were cut down. That didn’t worry her, they were expendable and could easily be replaced if she got the chance. That was the problem, if. The house was filled with a strange white smoke that caused her eyes to stream and her lungs to sear. Worse, the same smoke was having the same effects on the tendrils that adorned her head, they were writhing in an incontrollable red and black mass. Completely useless and without their protection, Lakheenahuknaasi felt hideously exposed as she heard the pounding on the stairs that presaged the door of her room exploding inwards.

Sergeant Doyle saw the ghastly figure in the back of the room, its golden scales not hiding the horror of its appearance. It’s head was crowned by a mass of red and black snakes that seemed to have gone berserk, they were flailing about uncontrollably but he could still see the single eye that dominated each. The threads were shooting off barbs, mostly they were hitting the walls and ceiling but a few came Doyle’s way and that was enough. He leveled his shotgun and fired round after round into the struggling gorgon.

Lakheenahuknaasi felt the shots hit her and knew it was over. She had failed her mistress and her time on earth was done. It had been nice being a Goddess for a while and she had had an insight into what made Yahweh tick. It was good to be adored, even if the adoration was forced on an unwilling subject. The human was standing over her with his shotgun leveled and that was the last thing she saw as the world faded out around her.

“That is one ugly mother.” Crowleigh looked down at the mutilated gorgon on the floor. “Is it dead?”

“I do sincerely hope so Sir. I put ten slugs into it.” Sergeant Doyle had already reloaded his shotgun just in case.

“The orders were to take no chances. Tell Private Bodie to get the refrigerated van over here. The medics will want to dissect this one before it rots too much. And wrap that head up in something, the last thing we want is those blasted snakes shooting off more spines.”

Crowleigh left the house and watched the bodies being assembled on the pavement. More than a dozen humans, some men, some women, all entranced by that single gorgon. It had been busy during its brief stay on Earth. Around the barriers set up by the police, a small crowd was growing, mostly just staring at the bodies as the line grew. The sky-volcano over what was left of Sheffield had gone, the gorgon responsible had been killed at last. It had proved a reasonably good day after all.

Underground Fortress of Palelabour, Tartarus, Hell

Euryale woke with a shock, her eyes quickly scanning her lair for an assassin who might have crept in. The cave seemed empty, it wasn’t an intruder who had wakened her so abruptly. On an instinct, she started to scan across the gorgons who had made the trip to Palelabour. They were all present, but one mind, one far removed from the rest was gone. Euryale knew who that mind was and could guess why it was no longer showing up on her scan. Lakheenahuknaasi are you there my child?

Silence.

Euryale repeated the call over and over but there was no response. Her fears were confirmed, Lakheenahuknaasi was dead. She had expected it, the earth-bound gorgon had lasted longer than she had expected and the information she had brought back was more than valuable. It had given Euryale an insight into human habits and capabilities that had stunned her. She had shared only a little of that information with Belial, keeping most of it close to her chest because the implications were so overwhelming. Besides, information was a treasure and nobody parted with treasure when they didn’t have to. Now, the source of that treasure was cut off and Euryale would have to make do with what she had.

One thing stuck in her mind. Lakheenahuknaasi had told her humans were vengeful and held grudges a long time. She had told Euryale of historical disputes that had gone on for centuries over some small, insignificant patch of land. In some parts of the human realm, feuds had gone on for centuries over some minor insult whose original cause had been long forgotten. When she had heard that, Euryale realized that the humans would not forgive the destruction of Detroit and Sheffield. They would want vengeance and would go to any lengths to achieve it. The destruction of the Adamantine Fortress had shown that. Euryale had flown over to it, seeing how it had been crushed into ruins. If Belial hadn’t had the insight to get them out, he and all his clan would now be dead.

Euryale relaxed back on her bed, staring at the ceiling of her lair. Human vengeance was a certain factor and they would not stop until they got it. So how would she and her gorgons survive the impending disaster? That was the question and it still nagged at her mind until she slipped back into sleep.

The Ultimate Temple, Heaven

This, Michael-lan thought was going to be tricky.

Yahweh was sitting on his throne, in the same half-bemused position that he had occupied when Michael-lan had last seen him. His eyes were remote, unfocussed, hypnotized by the rhythmic chants of praise that filled the air around him. Combined with the clouds of incense, they created a glurge of adoring worship that quite turned Michael’s stomach.

“Oh Great and Eternal Father of us All. I bring news of the great conflict between Earth and Hell and of the fate of our Eternal Enemy.”

Yahweh’s eyes snapped out of his trance and focused on Michael. “And have the humans been defeated? Has Satan done as we wished and taken them into his domain?”

Here we go. Michael’s inner mind relished the effect that his news was going to have on Yahweh. And let the good times roll. Michael-lan had liked New Orleans almost as much as he liked Las Vegas. He had been really upset with Yahweh when, in a fit of pique over something or other, Yahweh had turned the course of Hurricane Katrina on to New Orleans.

“No, Eternal Father. In fact, it is our Eternal Enemy who faces defeat. The humans go from strength to strength, they have smashed the armies of Hell, and killed many of the leading commanders. Beelzebub is dead, Asmodeus also, both killed by humans. Many more, too many to name now, although we have the list. The humans bombed the Eternal Enemy’s own palace, reducing it to rubble and killing all who attended him. The Eternal Enemy was spared only by chance. Dis itself is under siege and the Eternal Enemy is trapped inside. The humans command the skies over Hell, they have occupied much of its ground. Their armies go where they wish and destroy all who stand before them.

“But this is not all. Eternal Father, Highest of the High, Ruler of the Heavens” Michael left the ‘and Earth’ bit off, partly to annoy Yahweh, partly out of regard for the truth, but mostly because he’d get to that bit later. “The Humans have struck at the Plateau of Minos. They have killed Minos and all who labored with him and they have seized the plateau. All the humans who die are now transported to the parts of Hell occupied by humans. Not one human soul goes to Hell.”

Yahweh exploded with rage, his fury causing the clouds of incense to roll back and forth. “They have done what? It was my eternal will that humans should suffer for all eternity save those I thought worthy of salvation. And none now are worthy of that. You tell me they have once more rejected my divine commands?”

Oh, this was good thought Michael. Brightens up a dull millennia perfectly. He hadn’t had so much fun since he’d slipped Saint Peter a large dose of LSD he’d obtained on a trip to ‘Vegas.

“There is more O Immaculate One. The human church has repudiated you. They have excommunicated you. They have declared you a false god and affirmed that their beliefs apply to a true god whom you usurped.”

That did it. To Michael’s unrevealed delight, Yahweh went ballistic. Lightning bolts flashed around the throne room of the UltimateTemple and ricocheted off the walls, sending showers of pristine diamond flakes spiraling through the air. Thunder racked and rolled the air of heaven, sending people scurrying through the alabaster streets, seeking cover from the wrath that all too obviously centered on the Ultimate Temple. Eventually, the air calmed down and Yahweh started making sense again.

“Which church did this?”

“The Christians Eternal Father.”

“The one that idiot son of mine invented? Is he involved in this? What is the stupid moron up to now anyway?”

“I believe he is in retreat Eternal Father. Meditating on his existence in an effort to improve himself. By which I mean mentally added Michael He is getting ready to try out some really good grass I scored on my last trip to Earth. And I’ll be joining him as soon as I’ve got this tiresome chore out of the way. Anyway, blaming him for this mess is quite unreasonable, we all told you that the humans were advancing faster than anybody could expect but did you listen? Oh no, you had to know best didn’t you?

Yahweh nodded, his rage subsiding. “Is there anything else?”

“Not much O Heavenly Father. Only that some humans called lawyers have sued you in the Louisiana Supreme Court for damages resulting from Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans. The Church described that as being ‘an act of God’ and that’s been taken as an admission of guilt. According to the judge, you owe the State of Louisiana eighty billion dollars.”

That did it, more lightning flashes battered the already-scarred walls of the throne room. For a moment Michael thought Yahweh was going to have a seizure but he controlled himself. “And what am I expected to do about that?”

“Well, you could pay them. Or you could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That would mean you have to hire some lawyers though and most of them work for the Eternal Enemy. Or you could ignore them but then the humans might send an Army to collect it.”

This time the lightning flashes were multi-colored and went on for a long time. “My patience is at an end. Uriel’s plans are laid, the cups of wrath are ready to be poured. We will inflict tribulations on the humans that they cannon imagine even in their wildest nightmares. Order Uriel to set forth without further delay. The humans will weep for their insults to me.”

“Your will be done Eternal Father.” Michael took a step backwards and headed out of the palace. He’d been right, it had been a tricky meeting but he’d pulled it off. Uriel would set forth and, if Michael was any judge of the way things were going, he wouldn’t find it a happy experience. Anyway, that was for the future and, contrary to Yahweh’s frequently voiced opinions, the future could be trusted to take care of itself. In the immediate present, Michael planned to get stoned.

The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D.C.

“Are we all set up?”

“Yes Mister President. The equipment we asked for has arrived, four AN-124 transports landed with them on board a few hours ago. Putin sent the crews as well, so we wouldn’t have to waste time training our own people. So, all we need is the word and we’re set to go.

“Apart from that, everything is going well. The last organized demonic armies in hell have been dispersed, the city of Dis is cut off. We’ve seized the reception area for our dead and redirected them towards our own territory. That’s going well, Expedia.com are even advertising trips to our refugee and recovery area in hell so grieving relatives can welcome their deceased family members into the next life. Bit pricey but if that’s what the market demands… Anyway, as long as they don’t interrupt the logistics streams into Hell, that doesn’t worry us. The sky volcanoes have been shut down and the source of them bombed.”

“An interesting thing there Sir.” Doctor Surlethe cut across Secretary Warner when the Senator paused to catch his breath. “As far as we can make out, Tartarus is the contra-coup from the Hell Pit.”

“What?” President Bush looked confused. That was the sort of statement that made his head ache.

“Its like this Sir.” Surlethe produced a strip of paper, gave it a half-twist and stuck the ends together with tape. “Any dimension in hell is like this a Moebius Strip. The whole of hell is like this, we can’t visualize it because it needs extra dimensions but it does. Now, look at this.” He took a pencil and drew a line on the paper, around the circle. It kept going, without the point being lifted from the paper, until eventually it reached its starting point. “You see Sir, the paper only has one surface, a loop without the twist has two,. Hell is like this Sir, no matter which way you go, we always end up where we started, in every dimension. Now, the bombers flew to Tartarus and back, its exactly half way around the world from the Hell Pit. So if we draw that in the Moebius Strip, we see that half way around is exactly where the Hell Pit is on the other side of the dimension. Mathematically, that’s fascinating.”

“I’m sure Doctor. Secretary Warner, in spite of all the good news and the progress we have made, I trust nobody is going to declare that we have reached the end of major combat operations?”

“No Sir. That caused enough trouble the last time.”

“Good. Thank you for the briefing. Oh, Doctor Surlethe. You said this Moebius Strip effect works for all dimensions in the Hell-dimension? So surely it should apply to time as well?”

_________________
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 4:00 pm 
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Bravo Portal, Off Bermuda, Earth

The black ellipse had mushroomed open and now dominated the Great Sound of Bermuda. The shipping channel into the ellipse was guarded, for what came one way through the hellgate could be matched by what came in the opposite direction. Naval Base Hell-Bravo was as much a defensive installation as an offensive one.

Out in the shipping channel, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, CVN-75, was making her way slowly up towards the hellgate, surrounded by a bevy of tugs that were working overtime to keep her within the strict navigational limits. She was a big ship, she drew a lot of water and the last thing anybody needed was an unexpected accidental grounding. Up in front of her, two fire tugs were directing their hoses into the sky, the brilliant sunshine turning the spray of water into a myriad of colors. It was incredibly beautiful. Once again, Captain Herman A. Shelanski reminded himself that pulling into a foreign port was an experience that made all the sacrifices of living in the Navy worthwhile.

“Give ‘Em Hell Harry!” The woman was speaking through a bullhorn from a speedboat that was racing alongside the great carrier. A Cyclone class PC was keeping between her small craft and the side of the carrier, this may be the Salvation War but nobody had forgotten what had happened to the USS Cole. That wasn’t going to be the case here though, the speedboat curved away then made another run alongside the Truman. This time, the girl in the back pulled the bra of her bikini down and did as good an imitation of a pole-dance as was possible under the circumstances. The roar of cheering from the seamen manning the rails on the carrier drowned out the diesels on the tugs. Once again, the speedboat peeled away, this time it was for good because the ellipse was near and the girls wanted to repeat their performance on the John C Stennis following behind. Idly, Shelanski wondered what the Russian crew on the Piotr Veliky, third in line, would make of the display.

“Ready for hell Transit.” It was an order, not a question.

“Aye Aye Sir. Ready for Transit.” Master Chief Walker glanced out at the deck beneath him. The Truman was up to her full complement of aircraft for the first time in many years even if some of them were refugees from the boneyard or a museum. The backbone of the group was the 54 F-18 Electric Bugs, backed up by 18 F-4 Rhinos. Then there was the new addition to the group, the 18 AT-45Ds, a single-seat strike version of the T-45 Goshawk. They’d only just arrived in time for the transit, the last had made it on board just as Truman swung to enter the navigational channel. With her six E-2 Hawkeyes and eight SH-60R helicopters, the big carrier had 104 aircraft on board. Too many, her decks were cramped and Shelanski had already decided to off-load nine of the AT-45s to the Stennis

“They’re going to be worn out by the time the group’s through.” Shelanski’s Exec, Captain Ronald Reis waved at the cheering crowds on the jetties that separated the Little Sound from the Great Sound. It looked like the whole population of Bermuda had turned out. As Truman’s bow started to touch the great ellipse, a burst of fireworks exploded overhead. Then, the clear blue sky of earth was replaced by the filthy red murk of Hell.

The tugs had peeled away at the last moment but the Truman was not alone. Six DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers and a pair of CG-47 Ticonderoga class cruisers were waiting for her with another, similar group waiting to screen the Stennis. They were making the air crackle with the power output from the SPY-1 radars of their AEGIS systems and their sonars were lashing the water at full power. Here in Hell, there was no worry that the sonar emissions would harm the local wildlife, in fact creating as much havoc as possible was the reason why the big SQS-53s were cranked up to maximum power. The early battle Astute had fought against one of the Greater Heralds so many months ago had shown just how effective low-frequency sonar pulses could be against the Baldricks.

“Clearing transit area now, Sir.” Navigation passed confirmation up to the bridge.

“Screen forming around us. Johnny Reb is emerging from the portal.” Behind them, the Stennis was half through Hellgate Bravo and Shelanski wondered what would happen to her if the portal shut down for some reason at this precise moment. Anyway, it was a pointless speculation since CVN-74 was already emerging from the gate.

“She’s through Sir. Piotr Veliky will be next. As soon as she’s arrived, we’ll be on our way.”

Shelanski nodded. On the bridge above his, the Admiral was doubtless working out the routing that would take the two carriers all the way north to Tartarus. They wouldn’t be the first human naval assets on their way there; all three Seawolf class submarines had transited the portal days earlier and were already heading for Tartarus at maximum speed. They’d already be almost half way there and they had a load-out the featured a lot of Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Nor would the two carrier battle groups be the last. Once they had finished transiting Hellgate Bravo, the long line of amphibious warfare ships and their screens would start. A Marine division, rich in helicopters, Harrier aircraft and armor, aboard an imposing array of LHDs, LPDs and LSDs, a British brigade group with their LPH and transports, an equivalent French force and another made up from the smaller European Navies. Even the Peruvian Navy was represented, they’d sent the cruiser Almirante Grau, with her six inch guns, she had the heaviest battery in the fleet.

The Baldricks had all their remaining armies bottled up in Dis, besieged and isolated. They had no idea of the amphibious hammer blow that was about to land on the far north of the land they had once claimed as their own. Shelanski felt the vibration building up under his feet. His ship was picking up speed for the long run to Tartarus.

1/33 Battalion, Third Brigade, Third Armored Division, Ninth U.S. Corps. North of Dis.

The Third Armored was officially designated as the Spearhead Division although it was less formally known as the “Third Herd”. And a herd it was, thundering north as fast as its tracks could carry it, modified only by a degree of prudence. The baldricks had nothing that could stop a tank, nothing that was known, anyway. Still, it paid to be prudent.

Keisha Stevenson looked around at the array of armored vehicles sweeping across the countryside. Things had changed since her first tentative forays into Hell months before. A handful of vehicles she’d had then and they were all of human forces in hell, stepping gingerly into unknown and hostile terrain. Now she had a full combined arms battalion, two companies of Abrams tanks, two of mechanized infantry in Bradleys and a battery of the new 57mm armed anti-harpy vehicles. A force that dwarfed her previous command and yet was a tiny part of the armored avalanche descending on anything that dared to get in its way. It wasn’t just Third Armored; alongside them and off to the east was Sixth Armored and to the West was the Fourth Mechanized Infantry Division with the 30th Mechanized Infantry following as Corps reserve. Just to complete the formation was another reformed unit, the 26th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Stevenson shook her head, four whole divisions and an armored cavalry outfit that was called a regiment but was closer to a small division all by itself. Times had surely changed.

“Village up ahead Colonel.”

“Deploy, standard drill.” Since her return to Hell, her battalion had done this operation a number of times. This was the first time that they’d been out of the area that fed and supported Dis though, it wasn’t likely that would make any difference. She looked through the tank’s optics and saw an embankment, a few pitiful feet tall crossing the track that led into the scattering of small huts beyond. She knew what was beyond it, a ditch, digging that had provided the red soil that made the fortifications. She almost snorted at that and then remembered her dignity as a Colonel. Lieutenants snorted, Colonels looked fierce. She had to remember that. Even if she had only been a colonel for a few days and had spent barely more time in the ranks between.

“Hokay, all units, on the barricade, high explosive, open fire.”

Thirty Abrams tanks fired in a single salvo, hiding the earth embankment behind the rolling orange balls as the 120mm guns sent their shells downrange. The two Bradley companies held their fire, they were on overwatch, waiting for any harpies to appear. Stevenson looked at the destruction developing the baldrick position and shook her head quietly to herself. This wasn’t war, it was getting to have the unpleasant characteristics of a massacre. Had the troops at Wounded Knee felt this way?

“Cease fire. Advance slowly, prepare to open up again if there’s any resistance.” The tanks jerked and then started their slow roll forward. There was no hurry, the 120mms were loaded and ready to fire. Her battalion had older Abrams tanks, ones pulled from the boneyard and refurbished. The new production tanks had 90mm guns, once mounted in M47s and M48s and stored away. Those new Abrams were called stubbies and their crews were the butts of crude jokes about the size of their equipment. Stevenson shook her head more obviously, jokes like that was never a problem she’d had to face. But, in truth, the 90mm killed a baldrick just as dead as a 120mm and the smaller gun allowed the tank to carry twice as much ammunition.

“Will you look at that?” The voice came over the vehicle intercom. Her Abrams was cresting the battered remnants of the barricade and the crew could see the baldricks who’d been sheltering behind that. “Colonel, I thought you said these things were big.”
“They are, or the ones we met so far were. Eight feet, sometimes ten or eleven.”

“Well these ain’t. Same size as us I’d say. Six feet tops. And they don’t even have tridents. Looks to me like those poor bastards have got farm tools for weapons.”

Stevenson looked down, at the bodies surrounding the tank. They were smaller than the ones she’d seen on her first tour all right. And their weapons? She could see a pitchfork and a scythe. One had a wooden pole with what looked like a knife tied to the end. A crude spear. They’d faced up to tanks and they’d been armed only with farm implements and kitchen knives?

She flipped to the battalion command frequency. “Hokay, we take the village. Don’t shoot if you don’t have to, the baldricks over here are just farmers. Remember, a scythe can kill you just as dead as a 120 so if anybody fights, waste them. But if they don’t fight, we don’t shoot, got it?”

Her tank nosed forward again, heading for the gap between the rows of huts that served as a main street. There was nobody in sight, no barricades, nothing. It was an eerie sensation, the words ‘its quiet, too darned quiet’ ran through her mind. Then, from one of the buildings a baldrick ran out, one more of the size she remembered and this one did have a trident. She reacted instantly, the remote-controlled machine gun mounted over the main gun swiveled and fired a burst. The baldrick lurched as the .50 caliber bullets tore home, then collapsed as a second burst finished it off. That was it, that was all?

The mechanized infantry were dismounting from their carriers, spreading out through the huts. Stevenson joined the lead group (much to the private dismay of the Lieutenant who was also leading it) and waited while two of the men moved up to the building. The job was done in standard style, they kicked the crude door in, it was barely more that a collection of brushwood anyway, and a second pair dived through, rolling as they landed, their M4 carbines scanning for targets. Stevenson followed them in, just in time to hear the scream from the dimly lit room.

“No, please, don’t kill them.” A female baldrick was in one corner of the hut, crouched over something, her arms spread protectively over whatever it was she was hiding. “Kill me but don’t kill them.”

Stevenson looked closely, and listened. There was a thin wailing from under the baldrick, one she recognized from her childhood in Bayonne. An infant that had picked up on its mother’s terror and was itself terrified although it didn’t know why.

“Hold fire, she’s protecting her kids.” Stevenson looked again, more closely. “There’s two of them. Get a light over here.”

One of the infantrymen brought a flashlight over and shone it on the female baldrick. She was still sprawled over the infants and moaning gently. “Not my kidlings no.”

“Aww, ell-tee look at this. Their babies. Cute little things, even got little beards.” The private looked at his battalion commander. “Sorry Ma’am. Forgot you were here for a moment.”

“Forget it private, I guess I shouldn’t be.” Stevenson turned her attention to the female. “It’s all right, we’re not going to hurt them. You don’t fight us, we don’t fight you. Have you food for them?”

The female nodded, her yellow slitted eyes looking around suspiciously.

One of the soldiers had come over and was looking down at the babies. “They really are cute.” He dug in a pocket and got out a candy bar. “Reckon they can eat this all right?”

Stevenson nodded. “Saw it back at Hell-Alpha. Abigor’s people love chocolate. Even the kidlings. Ma’am, is it all right for us to give your kids some candy?”

The female still looked suspicious so the soldier with the bar broke off a piece and ate it himself. Then he broke off another piece and gave it to the kidling who seized it and started to chew. The chocolate vanished with astounding speed.

“Here, kid, have another piece. YOW! Hey Colonel, ell-tee, be careful they bite.”

Stevenson remembered her job. “Check this place for weapons then move out.” She left the hut, watching the soldier give his candy bar to the female as they left.

Out in the center of the village, her medical team was working on another female, this one smeared with bright yellow blood. “Colonel, we need help. This one caught a stray fifty-cal. Hurt bad.”

A brief nod, one thing her division wasn’t short of was medical facilities. The ToE was built around a reasonable casualty level, not this walk-over. Once again her conscience started pricking her. “I’ll get a medevac for her. Lieutenant, see to it. Pronto.”

Most of the other villagers were kneeling in the dust of the street, their hands clasped behind their heads. They were all much smaller than the ones she’d seen before, the baldrick her tank had killed had been the only one comparable with them. That thought gave her a clue. “Was that your leader?”

“He was our Lord, yes.” A baldrick, perhaps a little braver than the rest spoke up.

“A lord who sent you out to die and hid himself? Hokay, you didn’t get lucky with your choice of lord did you?” There was a stir of agreement at that. “Look, we don’t want to hurt you.”

“You will not kill us all?”

“Of course not.” Stevenson was painfully aware that she could very easily have done just that. All it would have taken was a lightning bolt from a hut and all of these baldricks, and the chocolate-loving kidling would have been blasted as the tanks drove through. “We try not to kill those who don’t fight us. You spread the word to the other villages, if they don’t fight us, we won’t hurt them.”

There was a stir in the assembled baldricks, a mixture of hope and disbelief. She went over to her command track, one she very rarely used. She just felt better riding in a tank. “Patch me through to Brigade.”

There was a wait for a few seconds while the signal went through. One nice thing about Hell, with the baldricks not having electronics, there was no interference or jamming to worry about. “Sir, we’ve got a situation here.”

“Resistance Stevenson?” She picked up on the note of surprise.

“No Sir. Oh, they blocked the road but we blew that away, killed some of them I regret to say, but the village is ours. No fighting in the populated area. We killed the village lord though, he went for a tank with a trident. One other civilian wounded, rest are fine. They seem harmless,

“They are. Stevenson, according to the scientists, these baldricks are Minor Demons. The ones we have been fighting and seen in the hell-pit and around Dis are Lesser Demons, the next size up. These Minor Demons are peasants, serfs, villeins, little more than slaves themselves. We’re getting the same reports across the whole front. You say you killed their lord?”

“Yes Sir?”

“That means you are their new lord. Promotion by assassination, its something the Baldricks understand. How does it feel to be the Lady of the Manor?” There was a degree of humor in the brigade commander’s voice.

“I don’t think my momma would believe it Sir.”

“Well, you’re stuck with the job until we can get civilian affairs up there. Do the best you can.”

“Very good Sir. I’m sending some of the villagers out to tell the surrounding settlements, don’t fight us, we won’t hurt you.”

“Good move. Brigade out.”

Stevenson thought for a few seconds then turned to the baldricks kneeling in the dirt. “Hokay, I’m your new lord.” There was a stir of satisfaction and relief. The baldricks accepted that they weren’t all about to be killed. “And stand up, we’re your lords now and we don’t like people who grovel in the dirt. And we really don’t like people who make others do that. Have you all got food here?”

There silence, the baldricks glancing at each other. Stevenson sighed and pointed at one, the same one who had spoken up earlier. “You, has the village got enough food?”

“We have some noble lord.”

“Enough?”

The baldrick shook his head. “The lords took it for Dis.”

Stevenson’s mouth twitched. Her unit was carrying supplies, mostly MREs. They’d have to do. “Hokay. there are crops on your farms, will they be ready soon?”

“Yes Noble lord. You will be taking them?” There was hopelessness in the voice.

“Of course not. We will give you some of our food. Until your crops are ready or we can arrange something more permanent.”

The shock on the baldrick face was immediate. As the realization spread, Stevenson saw the baldricks expression change to one of hope. The females were first, they realized that they would have food for their kidlings after all. The surviving males picked up on their relief and also started to relax. Stevenson looked around and decided there could be something in this 'Lord' business

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


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The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell

It had once been a gigantic volcanic bubble, a chamber filled with lava from the vents underneath. Then, during the great eruption that had created the Hell Pit super-caldera, the bubble had vented to the outside and the magma had drained away. All that had been left was this great cavern buried deep in the super-volcano mount, its vents long sealed by the action of time and rock. Above it, hundreds of feet of solid rock, far below it, the lava still roiled and grumbled but never tried to make its way to the surface for another devastating eruption. Would it do so one day? Nobody knew but everybody present in the great chamber did understand it was much safer to be down here than on the surface where the human aircraft prowled overhead.

The demons didn’t know the term ‘air supremacy’, not the ones here anyway. They understood the concept though, they were in process of being given a post-graduate education in it. It meant they couldn’t move without being bombed. Yes, down here in the great volcanic bubble was much safer.

Or, to be more precise, the risks were ones they well understood. Most of them centered around the huge red figure at the end of the hall, sitting on a throne hurriedly carved from the volcanic rock. The throne was rough, unpolished and simple, a spectacle far removed from the ornate structure now laying crushed to powder in the ruins of Satan’s palace. If Satan lost his temper, even the Greater Demons here could die. On the other hand, being seen on the surface meant they would die. Could beat would.

“Your Majesty, I have to report that the city is completely isolated from the rest of hell. The humans control all the access points and their troops increase in number every day. Their artillery has already started firing on the walls of Dis.”

Satan listened to the report quietly. Those in the chamber noted this, Satan had changed, dramatically so. The destruction of his palace, his near-death at the hands of human aircraft, his life on the run from the humans who made no secret of their intense desire to kill him. “The walls are standing?”

“Yes Your Majesty. Even the human artillery cannot penetrate them.” That was hardly surprising, the walls were 200 feet high and more than 100 thick, made of the hardest volcanic rock that could be found in Hell. In truth, the walls of Dis were an architectural marvel than made the Great Wall of China seem inconsequential. “But they are battering them with their guns. And slowly the walls crumble at the points they have chosen. One day, the walls will fall. And then we will see them attack. When we do we cannot stop them, our best troops lie dead at the Phlegethon River. My own troops, the last of our trained professionals, hold the city walls but they do so as lightly as dust falling on a glass sheet. Every day their number gets fewer as the humans pick them off, one by one.”

“Sire, there is another problem. The humans have seized the Plateau of Minos. Minos is dead, the work force exterminated. The humans redirect their dead to their own camps in Hell. Since the assault, not one dead human has been received by the Lords of Hell.”

“Then kill the humans and take the Plateau back.” Satan’s scream was an echo of the Lordly Demon he had once been.

“We have tried Your Majesty.” Dagon spoke quietly, soothingly. The time was not quite right yet. The hopelessness of the situation had to be made clear to all so that when he made his move, he would have the support of all here. Quietly he wondered how many of the surviving Greater Demons, the Dukes of Hell, Deumos had recruited to their cause. And what she had promised them. “We launched an assault with harpies and the few Wyverns we have left. The attack failed, the human aircraft wiped out the formations and the few that got through were destroyed by the garrison the humans left on the Plateau. We lost much and gained nothing.” And that, Dagon thought, is the story of this war.

“The supplies of new human life-energy have also stopped; all we have are the supplies from those already in the pit. Those grow fewer every day, the loss is slow but it never stops. Humans now dominate large areas of the pit and as they take over each new area they remove their dead from it and send them out. Our troops in the pit are defecting to the humans in ever-greater numbers and they help the humans recover their dead. Already, armies that are part-human, part-demon are forming. Demons armed with human weapons and taught to fight in the human manner. The forces that remain loyal to you cannot stand against that combination.”

A shudder ran around the room. Humans and human weapons were bad enough but demons with human weapons and human war-fighting methods? It was worse than a nightmare.

“Even Dis itself is not secure. The orcs are rising. Many areas of the city are such that a single demon cannot walk alone. Those that try are found beaten to death in the alleys. Even broad daylight is no defense, many of those who died, did so in the full light of day. Your Majesty, we have lost the war. It is time we sued for peace.”

“This will not be!” Satan’s demented scream rang around the chamber, echoing off the roof so that it seemed like a great choir was raging at the security report. “Belial burned their cities, we will burn more. It is your cowardice Dagon that is costing us this war.” Satan summoned himself to swat Dagon, to reduce him to pulp on the floor. Before he could do so, Deumos’s voice cut across his scream.

“Dagon speaks the truth. We must sue for peace. Terms have been discussed with the humans, we demanded a third of their dead for our energy. They said they would make their response clear to us and they have. By seizing the Plateau of Minos, they have shown us they will comply with our demand. They have taken all their dead so they can give us the third they demand.”

Deumos looked around, in this confined space, her miasma was effective and people were listening to her. She had spent her time well, bringing Duke after Duke into her web, each with the promise that, once Satan was deposed, they would be the one she supported for his successor. They would fight over the succession and she could step forward as the compromise candidate that nobody really liked but one that was better than interminable fighting. And a Succubus could reign in Hell at last. She glanced around, looking at the painfully-thinned ranks of Dukes. What was left of Hell, anyway. Then she became aware of a tickling sensation in her mind. She sensed it, it was Lugasharmansaka trying to make contact. Not now child, affairs of state are in progress.

Dagon still stood, defying Satan’s wrath. “Sire, if you cannot make peace with the humans to save what is left, then you must stand aside and let those of us who can rule!”

There was a gasp, of shock, horror and fear. The idea of a direct challenge to Satan was unimaginable to those not already in the plot. Even Satan was momentarily taken aback by the challenge.

Watching in the audience, Deumos felt the tickle in her mind again. I said, not now she thought irritably. Then the tickle changed to cold, lifeless, impersonal fingers that sank deep into her mind and took hold, twisting her brain around as they established a grip that even her powers were helpless to break. There was a shadow of Lugasharmanaska in the fingers but only that. As if she was steering the power that held Deumos’s brain captive. She howled with the pain, saw her vision blurring and saw the black ellipse of a portal forming.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

“We’re through.” General Schatten’s cry of triumph overwhelmed the rumble of the diesels in the four large trucks far behind him. They looked like fuel bowsers with the great cylinders on their backs but they weren’t. Anyway, all the real fuel bowsers were in Iraq, supplying the armored forces in Hell. In front of him, a black ellipse was forming, poised between the antennas that directed their effort. Off to one side, Lugasharmanaska was writhing on a couch, whimpering, mucus pouring from her nose and mixing with drool from her mouth.

“Hang on, we’re getting there.” James Randi looked at the succubus on the couch, she was certainly proving her new loyalty the hard way. She was in agony and would stay that way until the other side of the portal was secure enough to get a sensitive through and punch a gate from that side back to here. He shook his head quietly to himself, when he had been asked to use his foundations expertise in exposing fraudulent psychics, he’d had no idea it would lead to this.

Behind him the trucks gunned their engines and the great cylinders on their backs started to rise, elevating until they were at a 35 degree angle. Their crews were already lifting metal screens over the glass in the truck cabs. Behind them. In the control cabin, the launch crews were already waiting for the final order.

“Fire Missile One.” The button was pressed, the booster rockets fired and the missile left its launch tube, slowly at first but with increasing speed. Then the turbojet on the Progress anti-ship missile cut in and the missile arched upwards towards the gate that was almost five miles away. In the control cabin, the operator acquired it with his command guidance system and steered it for the very center of the black ellipse. He had little time but he managed it and the missile flew straight through the gate, parallel to the ground.

The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell

The great green monster flew through the gate, its roaring flames filling the chamber with smoke and heat. A few feet from the gate, Deumos felt the blast from the engines shriveling her skin, burning her with an agony that made the pain in her head seem inconsequential. She was blinded by the blast so she didn’t see what the missile did next nor did she see the fine fiber-optic wires it was trailing behind it.

Satan saw it and he saw that the missile was coming straight at him. He tried to summon up the magic needed to throw the missile away. It just needed a second or so to summon up the power but that was time he just didn’t have.

The S-35 Progress missile was doing more than 600 miles per hour when it hit Satan in the chest. The kinetic energy of the blow alone was enough to send Satan reeling backwards but that was inconsequential. The missile also had a 3,300 pound explosive warhead that was configured as a shaped charge. Normally it had a copper lining but this one had been modified with an iron liner and sintered iron powder in the cavity. One thing hadn’t changed; the warhead on Progress was behind the main fuel tank and that tank was filled to capacity with jet engine fuel.

The explosion as the warhead went off was powerful enough to bring rocks down from the ceiling and enough even to roil the lava far below. It blasted a mixture of iron plasma, powdered iron and blazing jet fuel deep into Satan’s chest, leaving him blasted burned and poisoned. The great figure, its chest ripped open and splayed apart staggered backwards, slumping down to the floor to sprawl out in a pool of boiling purple blood. Incredibly, the body was already beginning to repair itself when a second missile erupted through the portal.

The operator had done a fine job with the first missile, he’d hit a small moving target with a weapon never designed for the task and which had been hastily modified. The second shot was much easier. Satan’s body was almost still and the few twitches it made didn’t affect the firing solution. The second Progress missile plowed straight into Satan’s head, vaporizing it completely. The great body gave one more jerk and was still. Satan was dead.

As the echoes following the scream of the missiles and the terrible blasts, a great silence fell on the Amphitheater of Tranios. It was interrupted by only the falling of the rocks shaken loose from the roof and the whimpering of those burned by the blast of the missile engines. Shock paralyzed and silenced every demon present, even those in the plot to remove Satan from power had never contemplated this. Dagon was first to recover his senses although his head felt stuffed with mud and neither his eyes nor his ears were working right.

“By right of succession I clai…..” He got no further for another roar filled the chamber, this time one which too many demons knew all too well. The roar of human diesel engines.

A strange vehicle emerged from the portal, one with tracks like the tanks but with high sides and an open back. Actually, it had been built as a carrier for Lance missiles but that weapon had been declared obsolete and the M667 carriers built for it had been in storage for years. Then, they’d been found and it had been realized they made perfect armored carriers for Abigor’s troops. In it were sitting figures, large ones and definitely not human despite their similar equipment. More vehicles followed the first, one occupied by a single very large figure that the Dukes recognized instantly. Despite his human-design (if greatly enlarged) battledress, helmet and body armor, the figure was known to them all. It was Abigor, commander of the Free Hell Army.

In the background, unnoticed, a Humvee skidded through the portal and a single small figure climbed out, awkwardly and unsteadily. kitten was still recovering from her surgery and was technically unfit for duty but this operation had needed the best sensitive DIMO(N) had and she was it. So, for the first time, kitten was standing in the hell her visions had warned her of so often and now she was instrumental in destroying it.

“OK Luga, I’ve got the portal. I’m punching it through from this side.”

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

The portal shivered slightly then enlarged. Punched through from Hell-side it was much more stable than before. It would have to be, in addition to Abigor’s armored personnel carriers, an entire Marine battalion task group was ready to roll in. The two companies of tanks and a company of infantry in AAV-7s would be the punch backing up Abigor.

Over by the gate, Luga was being disconnected from the equipment that created and amplified the portal. She was so gray that she seemed almost white and was too weak to stand. Medics surrounded her, working to help her recover from the tremendous strain she had been other. Quietly, General Schatten made his way over to the scene.

“Luga, we pulled it off. Thank’s to you. Keeping a gate like that open so long, that was gallantry above and beyond the call of duty. I’ll see to it that you get recognized for what you have done today. Now rest.”

The Amphitheater of Tranios, Underneath the City of Dis, Hell

Abigor glanced down at the badly-burned Deumos as his armored carrier passed. She had been quite incredibly stupid, she had been so sure that the humans could only agree to her demands, she’d failed to see the emphatic refusal that the attack on the Plateau of Minos had been. Then he transferred his attention to Dagon who was standing with his mouth hanging open, his claim for power cut off mid-sentence. His APC mounted the steps that led to the throne Satan had occupied and stopped, just a few feet from the cooling corpse of Hell’s last ruler. The noise of diesels was deafening as the coup forces moved in. Around the perimeter of the amphitheater, humans and their tanks were beginning to form up, their weapons covering the assembled crowd. Abigor noticed, with some grim amusement that they looked at his troops with amazement but they watched the humans with fear.

When the roar quieted down, Abigor picked up his rifle, a conversion of a British 30mm Rarden gun, and stalked over to the platform that overlooked the crowd. Dagon was still standing there. “You were saying Dagon?”

Dagon looked at the humans and their tanks that had forced their way into the great amphitheater. An amphitheater that, despite its size, was getting crowded. He shook his head, he knew a losing battle when he saw one and this was one.

Abigor nodded and raised his voice. “Satan is dead. Humans killed him with their weapons. With their weapons, not with magic for magic and superstition is powerless in the face of human science. We are powerless in the face of human engineering. They have won this war and nothing we say or do can change that. Hell is changed forever and nothing we can do will change that either. The humans have told me they wish me to be the new leader in Hell, answerable only to them. I have agreed. If you do not like the idea of me as your leader, don’t tell me.” Abigor gestured at the Marines and their vehicles. “TELL THEM!”

There was silence once again as the echoes of Abigor’s shout faded away. Then, around the great hall, figures started to sink to their knees. Dagon looked around and followed suite, a move that caused the rest to follow him. Around the room, the chant grew, faint at first but growing louder and more certain. “Ab-ig-or. AB-IG-OR, AB-IG-OR

Abigor let the chant carry on for a minute or two and then silenced it with a chop of his hand. The fact it was the hand holding his rifle was a mere coincidence. “For my first official command.” He waved at the ruined body of Satan. “Somebody, clear away that trash.”

_________________
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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