History, Politics And Current Affairs

Opinions expressed here are personal views of contributors and do not necessarily represent the companies, organizations or governments they work for. Nor do they necessarily represent those of the Board Administration.
It is currently Sat Nov 18, 2017 7:04 am

All times are UTC - 5 hours




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 6 posts ] 
Author Message
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:03 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Command Area, Free Hell

“Looks good on you Jade.”

“Did I get it right? Nobody back on Earth dresses like this any more, not that I know of anyway.”

“Looks right to me, look if The Boss isn’t interested, you might give me a call.”

Jade Kim punched Titus Pullo’s arm and entered Caesar’s tent. He was bent over a table that doubled as his desk, piles of paper scattered around him. Despite the apparent chaos, Kim noticed that he never had to search for a document he needed. Obviously there was method in the chaos.

“Jade, thank you for coming. Any chance of getting more supplies?” Gaius Julius Caesar straightened up and looked over the crowded desk. “Now that is a sight I haven’t seen for many a long year.”

Kim posed, very self-consciously, one leg thrust forward, hands on hips. “I had it copied from one of Servilia’s dresses in ‘Rome’. Do you like it?”

“Very much.” Caesar paused slightly. “That play of yours was very unkind to her you know. And to Atia.”

“So some historians said.” Kim giggled slightly. “I suppose they’re all out of a job now. Why go through ancient records when they can ask the person who wrote them? Anyway, on supplies, they’re coming through but nowhere near the amount we need. I don’t think that’s coincidence.”

Caesar looked up sharply. “We’re being kept on a leash? By restricting supplies?”

“That’s my guess. I think nobody back on the living level knows what to make of you. They’re worried, a bit frightened. You’ve got quite a reputation you know and getting ten legions to change sides sort of confirmed the image. And they can guess you want out of here.”

“And I want the Romans out of here as well. We’re surviving down here but we can do a lot better. We need land outside the pit. Any word on that?”

Kim leaned back against a tent pole, almost putting her weight on it, then deciding that it wasn’t strong enough. “Gaius, I’m a Lieutenant still, and nobody tells Lieutenants anything. Especially dead ones. All I can pick up are rumors and you know how reliable they are. Anyway I don’t think the politicians have decided what to do next, they’re far behind the curve. We’re winning this war so fast that the politicians are out of the loop. When they took down Minos, they gave themselves all the problems they can cope with just handling all the recent-dead that are coming through. The recovered dead, they haven’t even begun to think about. My guess is, you move fast enough, they’ll accept what you achieve rather than argue it. One caution, Gaius, don’t call yourself Dictator. I know you were but the word has really bad connotations for my people. Try ‘First Senator’ or something like that.

“Another thing, I have got some maps of Hell, the whole place, not just the pit. We’ve only mapped small areas in detail but we’ve got the general sense of the ground here. It’s huge, one continent with a land area at lest 50 percent greater than that of Earth, seas proportionally smaller. Also, the climate doesn’t change no matter where one goes. There’s a huge amount of usable land here, its not like Earth where so much can’t be used. That’s good because there are a lot of people to find homes for. The guess I’ve heard is that there’s 90 billion humans in Hell. To put that into perspective, baldricks and orcs together don’t total a billion.”

Caesar nodded slowly. “Enough room for all the humans in Hell. So we need to grab ourselves a good bit. Anything else?”

“So what are you up to?”

“Reorganizing the Army so it makes a bit more sense. The demons relied on mass and shock charges, they don’t work against firepower. So, I’m altering their legion structure to maximize their firepower at expense of shock. If we could get rifles for them, it would help.”

“Not a chance. There are rumors that we’re making rifles suitable for baldricks but none are finding their way here. All we’re getting is stuff suitable for humans. M114s and 115s, grenades, C-4 packs, mortars. Perhaps if we corseted the baldricks with human troops carrying guns?”

“Corseted?”

“Put small groups of humans in with the demons to stiffen them. Our military technology is so far in advance of theirs even a small number of humans should make a big difference. Corseting is a pretty standard way of strengthening weak armies allied to strong ones.”

“Our British Colonel won’t accept his battalion being split up like that.”

“Doesn’t matter, he’ll be gone soon. The British tried a take-over bid, it failed and they need the troops. Anyway, that’s what rumor says.” Kim took a deep breath, this was what she had been putting off. “Important thing, how do you like your breakfast eggs?”

“What?” Caesar was astonished at the apparent irrelevance. “What do eggs have to do with this.”

Kim was trying to control her shaking breath, and the fact she was frightened in a way that hadn’t been the case for years. “Gaius, in our culture, when a girl wants a man friend to know he’s welcome to spend the night with her, she doesn’t say so outright, she just asks him what he wants for breakfast.” She controlled the shaking, Kim knew she was close to crying and her voice was trembling. “So what do you want for breakfast?”

Caesar stared at her. “You’re terrified. We’ve got a good alliance here, one that works because we need each other. You don’t have to force yourself to sleep with me in order to maintain it. And I don’t force women.”

“And if I don’t force myself, I never will. Like riding a horse, once somebody falls off, they have to get right back up again or they’ll never ride again. Gaius, I want a normal life and I want it with you. So, just pretend I’m not forcing myself, please? This is nothing to do with politics or armies. Just with me and getting my head fixed.”

Caesar nodded slowly. “Ah, so I’ll be doing you a kindness then. That’s different. By the way, I like my eggs boiled.”

Kim grinned and held up a finger. “One moment.’ Then, she went to the flap of the tent and stuck her head out. “Sorry Titus, you’re out of luck. Won’t be calling.”

Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“Baroness Yulupki, when will the chorus be ready?”

The naga shifted uneasily on her couch. “Sssseven dayssss perhapsss. The new nagasss must be trained and we mussssst rehearse. Or we may have another dissssasssster.”

“Then you have seven days. Then we will open up another portal and drown Turin in white hot boiling lava. The humans think they were clever to shut down our previous portals? They will find we can open them faster than they can close them.”

Around Grand Duke Belial, the courtiers applauded the bombast. It was always safer to do that. Euryale masked her own thoughts very carefully. What she had discovered about the humans and their war-making capability gave her no confidence that Belial could, in fact, open portals that fast. Even if he could, humans had a demonstrated preference for striking at the head of an enemy rather than nibbling at his talons. Sheffield and Dee-troyt had made the humans into mortal enemies of Tartarus and all it contained. What would they do if more of their cities were added to that list. Lakheenahuknaasi had passed some information about what humans could do when they got really angry. In doing so, she had made it clear that some of those things scared even them. One of them was something to do with Nagas like Yulupki, They’d done something called a Naga-sarkee.

Euryale didn’t want to be around when they did another one.

Belial had finished his interrogation of Yulupki and withdrew. Euryale followed him, the next stage of the day’s duties was an inspection of the new weapons being developed by the workshops far below. Weapons that might yet change the course of the war. The procession trailed down through the tunnels and caverns, far below the normal workings into areas where the heat grew oppressive. Down here, demon workers would sicken and would die if not relieved at regular intervals. The heat wasn’t the reason but the iron tools they worked with were. Down here, iron was used instead of bronze and that was why Palelabor had been kept such a total secret.

“Have you perfected a means of destroying the human tanks? And shooting down their aircraft?” Belial’s bellow was directed at the human who knelt before him.

“Yes Sire.” Obersturmbannfuhrer Herwijer had, or at least believed he had. The unfortunate thing was, he wouldn’t know whether his belief was true or not until he tried it out and that was likely to be a do-or-die moment for him.

“How?” Belial’s question was short and sharp.

“Sire, we can use the bolts from a naga. They are powerful enough, they contain enough energy, to destroy a tank or an aircraft but it is too spread out. I have built a system that will compress the bolt so that the energy will do its work. It is called a Van de Graaff generator.”

“Show me.”

Herwijer led the way to a wooden cart that was off to one side of the chamber. The Van de Graaff generator was crude, but what it lacked in finesse it made up for in size and the enthusiasm of the workers cranking it. The prototype Great Trident was a humming, sparking mass of hand-wound copper coils and close-packed Leyden jars wrapped around a central iron shaft. Fifteen feet in length and two feet in diameter at its widest point, the weapon was Herwijer's first attempt to make an artillery piece using the demon's unspeakably primitive technology base. In the middle of it all, a young naga, one that had been badly burned and crippled during the attack on Detroit was coiled, fastened down by bronze hoops around her body.

The weapon was sighted down a long tunnel, at the end of which was chained a very unfortunate duergar. Herwijer got the impression that had been sentenced to death for incompetence, something to do with losing a whole shipment of 'mushroom ale' to the 'ratlings', he wasn't clear on the details. While everybody was looking at the equipment, Euryale took the opportunity to stamp on the Naga’s tail. The creature hissed in protest but only one of Belial’s guards noticed and he gave a broad grin. Nagas were even less popular than Gorgons normally were. And the stock of Gorgons was rising, Euryale had gone to great lengths to see to that.

“Sire, the naga generates her charge as before but instead of discharging it in a bolt, feeds it into the capacitor. Then, the operator can discharge the capacitor in a much shorter more intense bolt. Watch this.” Herwijer turned his attention to the duergars working on the cranks. "More power, I must have more power! Endlich, es funktioniert! Ausgezeichnete."

The humming quickly built to a climax and the weapon finally discharged, a great glowing bolt leaping from the trifold prongs and hurtling off down the tunnel. Lightning crackled between the glowing bolt and the tunnel walls as it sped towards the target, who had a fraction of a second to scream in terror before being blown into tiny scorched chunks.

Yulupki took a different view on the proceedings. The naga had been watching the human mage work from the gallery. She still thought it unlikely that the human notions of how to fight a war could be of any use to superior beings, colored as they were by the human's own pathetic weakness. However Count Belial had ordered her to evaluate their efforts and she had no real choice but to obey. "So you have taken twenty days and a pile of metal to do what any naga could do with a mere thought. You expect this to impress?"

"Ah no, meine lady, you see, the device does not generate power, it merely focuses and compresses the power supplied to it much more efficiently than your current equipment."

Yulupki wasn't precisely sure what that meant but it sounded like a slight. "You DARE belittle the great forces of Hell?" She had her tentacles raised and their emitter tips crackled with her eagerness to erase this annoying human from existence.

"Oh nein, meine lady, my weapon can only work in combination with your great powers. Of course you could have learned made such weapons yourselves, doubtless much better than a human could. It is just that you have never had the need, and there is such urgency..." Herwijer had been a high flyer in the National Socialist regime and he hadn't managed that without licking his fair share of boots.

Belial waved dismissively. "Enough. Show me what this weapon of yours can do for me."

"Of course, sire." He smiled and spread his hands. "But I believe we will need a larger area to test it in..."

Belial barked orders to the lesser demons, who swarmed over the weapon, unbolting it and hoisting it onto their backs. The procession wound down through the tunnels, the team of duergar following Belial’s party with the weapon and Herwijer trailing at the rear. Eventually Belial waved at a platform overlooking a smooth patch of rock. "I think a ratling hunt will do nicely. We shall see if your overgrown trident can increase my tally."

"Inspired! Now when we set the barrel down here, on the railing..." The duergar heaved the great trident onto the forward railing of the platform, which promptly sagged under the weight. "...and if the Baroness would grip this part here, then insert her... ah... appendages into these flanges here..." Yulupki's face betrayed a great distaste for the entire process but she tolerated it for now, she could always repay the insolence with some creative torture once the human mage had been proven useless.

Beyond the pool of light cast by the torches around the platform the cave was pitch black and Herwijer wondered how the snake demon expected to find any targets. In fact she had closed her eyes, relying entirely on her electical field sense to pinpoint the vermin. Their thoughts were weak and animalistic, but the bioelectricity of their bodies alone was enough for her to home in on. Closer, closer... she could sense a whole group of them crouching motionless off to the left of the track ahead. Probably waiting to see if the demon party was weak enough to attempt an ambush. Her skin began to tingle as her body built up to its maximum capacity of psychic force.

Now! Yulupki loosed an earsplitting shriek and discharged all her energy at the vermin. The human device caught her lightning before it could even form into bolts, held it for a split second, then spat an impossibly bright discharge from its maw. As the lightning flashed it illuminated the whole cavern; twenty nine ratlings were caught in the act of fleeing from the demon's approach. The great trident's bolt moved so fast it looked like a great spear of light transfixing a huge rat-creature at the centre of the group. The creature was instantly blown apart, replaced by a ball of plasma from which secondary bolts lashed out in all directions. Eight more ratlings were killed instantly, their nervous systems completely fried, while another thirteen were merely paralysed or knocked unconscious. The last seven were merely blinded, mewling and stumbling around helplessly.

Herwijer had dropped to the ground, hands over his ears and stars dancing in his eyes. He wasn't left to cower for long. Coarse hands hauled him to his feet. The demons had lit a pair of torches and his vision was fast returning. What he saw was not encouraging. His device was a write off, fully half the Leyden jars had blown out and runaway arcing had transformed much of the wiring into a twisted molten mass. Clearly the test had been a disaster and he trembled to think of what would befall him next. Then his gaze wandered to the left and he saw the snake demon, slithering around inspecting the char-grilled furry bodies.

Belial was ecstatic. "Why this is glorious! One spell did all this! Human, how quickly can more of these great weapons be made?"

"Well, Sire, it needs just a few little adjustments, I fear I underestimated Her Ladyship’s power..." A look of annoyance was returning to the snake demon's face, probably best she didn't know "...but if you would permit me to optimize the duergar's working methods a little, within two weeks I will have Palelabor turning out fifty great tridents a day."

“You have done well human. Bring this weapon up to the palace level. We will install it at the gate in case the humans come. And you will build more of these.”

“Sire, I need one naga for each. Those crippled by the accident will do, they do not need to move. As long at they can generate the charge.”

“Take what you need, leaving only those needed for Yulupki’s chorus.”

Belial left the chamber greatly cheered. With the next lava attack in hand and a way of stopping the human tanks available at last, things were looking up.

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

The trouble with the situation was that the whole of Ninth Corps was bogging down as it occupied more of the small farming villages on the outer fringes of Dis. Stevenson’s own battalion was now split up between twelve such villages, controlling each of them although, in truth, not that much control was actually needed. Most of the communities had got the message from the runners she had sent out sand simply laid down their arms, such as they were, when the tanks had appeared. A few of the lords had put up a fight and they were now dead. The rest had just accepted it was better to be alive and deposed than killed.

The good news was that the armored cavalry had pushed further north and reported that the villages had petered out and the rest of the territory was apparently unoccupied. As far as could be seen so far, demon inhabitation of Hell was concentrated within a relatively small radius of Dis. The rest of the single great continent was split up as the ‘holdings’ of the various great dukes but they’d done nothing with it. It was all very strange.

Stevenson strolled through the village that had become her base, looking at the baldrick farmers as they got on with their daily routine. They ignored the Abrams and Bradleys that were parked around the buildings, intent on simply making sure they had food enough to eat. A few baldrick kidlings were playing on a tank and over in one corner, a couple of her soldiers had gathered some older kidlings and were teaching them to play basketball. It occurred to her that since she now had a dozen or so minor ‘lords’ reporting to her, that meant she was going up the ranks of the aristocracy as fast as she was through the ranks of the Army.

It was nice and quiet up here though. The aircraft were still pounding Dis last time she had heard, and most of the actual fighting was concentrated down there. With the airfields and logistics bases to the south of Dis, the areas to the north of the city had an almost bucolic charm to them. That charm was interrupted when a V-22 swung overhead, its slung load pivoting as the pilot brought the tilt-rotor in. It was the extra rations she’d requisitioned for the villagers. The V-22 shifted back to forward flight and set off over the horizon. Peace and tranquil calm returned to the village. Stevenson noted that the baldricks had paid little attention to the aircraft as it had made its delivery. Humans and their equipment were already becoming part of the environment.

“Colonel, you better come. Brigade is on the line.”

She walked over to the radio shack, actually her command track with a tented enclosure at the back.

“Kilo-Alpha Actual Here.”

“Kilo prime. Stevenson, are you sitting down?”

“Sir?”

“Got news for you. We whacked Satan just a few hours ago. No doubt about it, he’s gone.”

The news spread across the camp at a speed that comfortably exceeded the speed of light. Stevenson heard the cheering and looked over her shoulder. The local villagers were being just as enthusiastic as her troops.

“What does that mean Sir?”

“We’ve put our own guy in charge. Abigor, now President Abigor. You remember him, the football player?”

“For sure yes. So he’s made President.”

“More like President on a string. Anyway, the second thing he did was sue for peace. There’s a ceasefire in place as of about an hour ago. The following is the word straight from General Petraeus. All offensive actions against the baldricks are to cease as of 1300 Zulu. Defensive only actions will be undertaken. Any hostile forces attacking your positions are to be killed in a friendly manner.

“So its all over Sir.”

“No way. Our guess is that at least some lords will repudiate Abigor’s lead and try to carry on. Belial is the leading candidate, he must understand we want his guts torn out. But, as far as organized resistance is concerned, that’s over. Just try and make sure that none of your people are the last to die.”

“Willco on that sir.” Stevenson thought for a moment. “And there’s always Heaven isn’t there.”

“That’s right Stevenson, there’s always Heaven.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:06 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
HMS Astute, Northern Seas, Off Tartarus, Hell

“The spams said the Seawolfs were fast, they never said they were that fast.” Captain Phillips looked up from the chart plot with irritation in his voice. “We’re falling further behind all the time. How long until we’re off the coast of Tartarus?”

Lieutenant-Commander Michael Murphy grimaced slightly. “We’re not doing so bad ourselves, the old S and T boats couldn’t hold speed like this. Even so, our ETA off Tartarus is in 30 hours. Unless, of course, we have to take a detour. We’re in a deep water channel now but I’ve no idea how long we’ll be able to use it.”

Captain Phillips drummed the chart display with his fingers. “And I don’t like charging around blind like this. We’ve got no idea what the topography is here, we could charge straight into an underground mountain. Just like that spam boat did a couple of years back. That was in an area that was pretty thoroughly charted. We’ve got no clue what’s down here. We don’t even know if it’s like Earth or not.”

“You get the feeling we’re the guinea pigs for the big boys following behind?”

“That’s exactly what I think. Florida and Georgia are thumping along behind us somewhere and my bet is we’re doing the mapping for them. And all the subs are trailblazing for the carriers and amphibs. One good thing, at least the spam boats are already on station. So if there was anything really bad up there, we’d be getting word by now.”

Murphy nodded, in complete agreement with his Captain. The plan was for Seawolf and Connecticut, their torpedo rooms stuffed full of Tomahawk missiles, to stay way offshore while the Jimmy Carter went in and unloaded a group of special forces personnel. They’d be doing beach surveys and preparing the way for the amphibious forces coming up. If Belial was still alive, and if he was planning to continue his lava attacks, the Tomahawks would be the first line of attack. Not all the missiles had conventional warheads; the baldricks might believe their fortresses were tough but they’d never seen what a nuclear ground burst could do. The marines coming over the beach were the second act in the elimination of the threat to Earth’s cities.

“Thirty hours then. And let’s just hope we don’t hit anything.”

56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, City of Dis. Hell

The gates of Dis creaked mightily as they opened, the great bronze hinges squealing as the doors swung outwards. They pivoted slowly, opened by great winches powered by straining teams of orcs whose labors were soon to be ended. What to do with the orcs? That was a very good question, one that human politicians hadn’t even begun to get their minds around yet. The orcs would be freed from their millenia of slavery, that was certain, but how to go from there? Nobody knew, it was just one more set of problems in a vast array that grew by the hour.

It had seemed so easy. Bust into Hell, trample on anybody who gets in the way and free the humans held in torment. And still the list of problems still grew longer by the hour. Still, that was something the soldiers in the field didn’t have to worry about. Their job was to win the war and they’d done just that. The gates swinging open in front of them were proof of the victory. They’d taken humanity’s oldest, most fundamental enemy and crushed them. Now, the city gates were swinging open in homage to the victors.

Colonel Chisholm waved his arm in the traditional cavalry gesture and his command Stryker eased forward. The information from Abigor, backed up by the product from the photo-reconnaissance aircraft had been that the streets in Dis were narrow and poorly surfaced. Too narrow for the Abrams and Bradleys to pass so the job of being the first American unit into Hell had fallen to the 28th Mechanized Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard (Federalized). Along with America’s other infantry divisions, the 28th had been reorganized with three Stryker Brigades and a single armored brigade and was ideally suited to the move into Dis.

Inside Dis, Chisholm was reminded of films he’d seen set in the medieval era. Same kind of buildings, cobbled streets, highly suspect sanitation. The strikers were moving slowly, edging through the clutter than lined the roads and alleyways, the crews keeping a sharp look-out. Dis might have surrendered, the government here might have changed hands but that didn’t mean the war was over. There were a lot of Iraq veterans in the 56th who knew full well that ‘end of major combat operations’ was not the same as ‘peace’. Too many people had forgotten that and not come back. If there was going to be a firefight, the Strykers were going to be ready to give out as much punishment as necessary.

“Any word from the Russians?”

“Some Sir. They’re not hitting any opposition either.”

Chisholm nodded. This was a delicate, dicey operation. The humans were coming in as conquerors, they wanted to be perceived as liberators, as the people who would make things better. Flattening half the city was not a good way to start. The Israelies had been politely but firmly excluded from the initial occupation for exactly that reason. Their instant response doctrine was just that bit too vigorous for this particular situation. There were other situations where their operational doctrine would be appropriate, but not here, not now.

Around them, the baldricks were watching. Mostly females and kidlings, the latter sometimes making shy, quick waves at the troops passing. That was a worry, a wave could easily be mistaken for a throw, and that wave could easily turn into a real attack. Despite the apparent calm, Chisholm could feel his stomach knotting up. This was the real danger, nerves would tighten and tighten until they suddenly snapped and somebody did something very stupid.

“Sir, over there!” Chisholm heard the call and very nearly did something very stupid with his Mark 19 grenade launcher. But, it hadn’t been an attack warning, instead the private was pointing at a female with pink skin and blonde hair. A human female. Chisholm held up his hand and the column stopped. Then he waved the woman over. She came out of the shadows and knelt by the Stryker, looking down at her feet.

“Who are you? What are you doing here? And stand up, stop grovelling.”

“Balthechildis, Noble Sire.” The woman rose to her feet, unsteadily, tentatively. Even when standing she still looked down, avoiding the eyes of the men in the armored vehicles.

“Why are you here?” Chisholm tried to moderate his voice, who knew what this woman had suffered during her stay here? “And I’m not a Noble Sire. I’m a Colonel. Colonel James Chisholm.”

“I am a servant No… Colonel. In the house of Anthrapixicatis. I was brought here when I first came.”

“Are there others like you? Servants of the baldricks… the demons?”

“Some, Colonel, those who wanted human servants took them when we arrived.”

“And how long ago was that? Where did you come from?”

“I do not know how long Colonel, I was a wife in a Frankish settlement of the Danemark. I died in childbed.”

“This Anthrawhatyoucallededhim. Did he treat you well?”

“Yes Colonel. I was not whipped too often.”

Chisholm wanted to say something but he changed his mind. Too many problems could start that way. “Very well, Balthechildis, you don’t belong to him any more. Go outside the city, follow the vehicles along back to the gate. Outside are some people who will help you. You’re free now.”

The woman obediently started walking back the way Chisholm had indicated. Beside him, the vehicle sergeant spoke very softly. “He treated her well, didn’t whip her too often. What sort of place is this?”

“This is Hell Sergeant, you know that. And I guess Stockholm syndrome works down here as well. Think about hit from her point of view, being a servant up here must be a prime choice compared with what goes on in the pit. Roll forward.” He flipped on his radio for transmission to Division HQ. “Sun-Ray Alpha Actual Here. Spread the word, there are humans in Dis, servants and others. Keep a watch for them and send them out to the reception teams when we spot them.”

The message went out and a few seconds later his radio came alive again. “Sun-Ray Alpha Actual, this is Sun-Ray Prime. Be advised your earlier message is confirmed. Russian, British and Czech units all report finding humans in apparently menial positions.” The voice on the other end sounded as if it was trying to stop laughing. “Lead elements of the French cavalry division report they have found what appears to be a bordello staffed with humans.”

“Trust the French to find a brothel.” One of the troopers in the command Stryker looked around at the sordid streets of Dis reflectively. “That we should be so lucky.”

The vehicle procession started again, the crews scanning the ever-growing number of faces watching from the buildings. Eventually they came to a large open area, backed by a second wall, one thinner and lower than the great outer wall. From behind it, plumes of smoke, faint but discernable, were rising. The heat was noticeable, not quite burning his face but giving him the same feeling he had when he’s been out in the sun too long. Chisholm looked at his map just to confirm what his eyes had just told him. “This is it people. The other side of that wall is the Hell Pit. Now, our problems really start.”

Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

Belial was in an expansive mood. In the five days since the demonstration of his new Great Tridents, the workshops had produced half a dozen more, each with a naga assigned to it. Perhaps the disaster at the second portal had been a good thing after all, it had left a good number of crippled naga that were fit for little more than power sources. They could all be used up in powering his new weapons. Entering the Great Hall of his fortress, Belial saw something that made him freeze in his tracks. A figure, only marginally smaller than he was, with great wings that stretched out. Most of his court was prostrate on the ground in front of it.

“Belial.” The great voice boomed out, shaking the stone walls of the fortress.

“I am here Messenger of Satan.” There was no mistaking who this creature was. One of the surviving Greater Heralds, a member of the Corps of Diabolical Heralds.

“No Belial, Not a Messenger of Satan. Here me now. Satan is dead. The Lord Abigor now rules in his place. By my Lord Abigor’s ruling, the war with the humans is over. The City of Dis has surrendered and even now the humans move in to occupy it. My Lord Abigor commands you to lay down your arms and surrender to the humans. The war is lost, the fighting must end. So says my Lord Abigor.”

The Greater Herald crashed a staff down on the floor, sending chips of stone flying.

NEVER!” Belial’s voice thundered around the hall, causing a stir of alarm from the assembled court.

“It is His Infernal Majesty Abigor’s will.” The Greater Herald spoke what was to him a simple truth not to be countermanded.

“Abigor is a traitor, a coward who surrendered to save his own life. Now he is a mindless puppet of the humans. I say he is unfit to rule. I spit upon his will and his commands. If Our Rightful Lord Satan has died, then it is I, I who was his favorite, I who was the only one to strike a blow against the humans, I who shall assume his throne.”

“So you may claim. But Abigor occupies the throne and has been acclaimed as ruler of Hell. He has challenged any who might disagree not to argue it with him but to do so with the humans. Those same humans who have destroyed every army in Hell at trifling cost to themselves. They stand behind Abigor now. And I note that the Adamantine Fortress has already been the subject of their wrath. It looks a little damaged from the experience. Submit Belial. And make your peace with the humans. My message ends.”

Belial looked at the Greater Herald and then looked at the Great Trident beside him, one that had just been delivered and was fitted with a naga in place and was charged up. His foot reached out and he kicked it so the barrel was in line with the Herald. One closed contact and the bolt flashed out, striking the Greater Herald full in the chest. The creature went down, its chest torn open, its blood already starting to burn its flesh. There was an awed silence in the great hall, nobody, dared to kill the Greater Heralds. Unless they were human of course, they killed everything that got in their way, Greater Heralds included. But demons never killed the personal representatives of the rulers of Hell. Belial looked at the audience and measured his power. It was growing fast and had just been confirmed.

“So perish all traitors to Hell. Surrender? Never. My orders from Satan were to destroy human cities and that is what we shall do. This Herald of the Traitor Abigor has received my reply to his insulting message. Now the humans shall receive my reply to theirs. Their cities shall burn. Yulupki, the chorus is ready?”

“It is Sire, although two more days…”

“Will be two days too long. We move out tomorrow at dawn. Are the shrines at Okthuura Jorkastrephas ready?”

“They are.”

“Then there is no reason to wait. My first act as the new ruler of Hell will be to bring the humans to their knees. I say this again, their cities will burn. This is their legacy from Satan just as my supreme power is his legacy to me.”

Belial gazed around the great hall again, drinking in his new-found power and status. His planning and scheming had worked better than he had any right to expect. With Satan dead and Abigor a traitor, all hell would rally to him. From a humble and forgotten count to the Supreme Ruler, the Infernal Majesty of Hell, he had much to thank the humans for. Not that he intended to show any gratitude for their services to him of course.

City of Dis. Hell

The Humvee drove down the street, the center of a convoy of five vehicles. The first pair contained troops from DIMO(N), the fourth was a communications truck, the last contained more troops. The center vehicle contained Julie Adams and a mass of electronic equipment. Every so often, her mind reached out, amplified by the electronics and touched a mind she knew all too well.

“He’s here Jack. That building there.”

“Got it ma’am.” The convoy came to a halt and the troops started to dismount, their .50 caliber M4s swinging into firing position with comfortable ease. It seemed a long time since the M4 carbine had fired the puny .223 caliber round.

Julie dismounted also, touching her hat to make sure the tinfoil screen that stood between her and madness was still in place. These days, every cap on sale, be it a baseball cap or a British bowler had its tinfoil lining – and the days when a man or women was seen without a cap were also long gone. Building contractors were making a fortune, rebuilding houses, apartment blocks and office complexes with continuous metal linings built into their walls. Just one part of the way humanity was reacting to its new reality.

The soldiers kicked the door of the house down without any real effort. It was flimsy, a nothing when matched with steel boots. Inside a group of demons, some male, some female, cowered at the sight of humans with guns. They knew what guns were now, there wasn’t a family in Dis that hadn’t lost many of its males to humans with guns.

“Domiklespharatu. Where is he?” Julie rapped the words out, impatiently, angrily. She was carrying Desert Eagle handgun, also chambered for .50AE ammunition. It was a very popular hand gun these days for people who liked semi-automatic pistols. People who liked revolvers tended to go for the Smith and Wesson 500. Then she looked around the house. It wasn’t what she had expected. She’d thought Domiklespharatu was a prince living in a great palace somewhere, not a hut that was barely more than a hovel. A slightly better hovel than those around it, agreed, but still a hovel. Across the room, one of the females gasped, another pointed to a curtain-covered doorway.

Julie went through it, brushing the dirty curtain to one side. “Remember me Domiklespharatu? Remember what…”

Then she stopped. It was Domiklespharatu all right, but he was as little as she had imagined as this house had been. He was cowering against a wall, shaking with fear, his eyes already beginning to glaze over. As she watched, he started to lose control of his bowels, urinating on the floor in sheer panic. And it was hardly surprising, Domiklespharatu was barely a half-grown kidling.

“It was a game, it was just a game,” he was whimpering with fear, trying to drop to his knees to grovel in front of her yet he had lost the muscle control needed to do it.

“Just a game.” Julie looked at him with loathing. All the misery she had endured for years was ‘just a game’. “And you think that made it all right.” She lifted up her Desert Eagle, feeling the comfortable bulk of it in her hands. She had dreamed of this ever since her tinfoil hat had brought her sanity back.

Domiklespharatu looked down the bore, his mind seeing it grow by the second. “My father said it was all right. He gave you to me to play with. It was just a game. Please, I didn’t know you’d….”

“You didn’t know I’d come here. You didn’t know you would have to face what you did to me.”

That did it. Domiklespharatu lost whatever was left of his composure and burst into child-like crying. Julie stared at him, her gun still aimed, held steadily in the approved two-handed grip. ‘It was just a game’, the words running through her mind. As if that made it all right. Then she thought some more, about the people on earth who thought that adding ‘just kidding’ to the end of a phrase made everything all right, no matter how rude or offensive they’d been. Or the humans on the internet who thought that they could do what they liked to people’s lives because they’d never have to face the victims of their ‘games’. Were they actually that different from Domiklespharatu? If she killed this one, shouldn’t she kill them as well? She thought of one friend of hers whose life had nearly been wrecked by an internet user who’d tricked him into doing a highly illegal search on the FBI’s server. Wasn’t he just as bad as Domiklespharatu?

The Desert Eagle was still aimed at the sniveling wreck on the floor. Quietly, one of the DIMO(N) troopers stood behind Julie, watching her aiming the pistol at the baldrick. “Is that really worth a bullet ma’am. Bit of a waste if you ask me.”

“You didn’t have him in your mind for all those years Jack. You didn’t have him tearing at you, wrecking you. If it hadn’t been for James and all the others who sorted this thing out, I’d still be like that.” Then she sighed and the barrel of the Desert Eagle lowered. “But you’re right. He’s not worth it.”

Julie Adams walked over and spat on Domiklespharatu. “We won, you little ****. Just like I told you, we came for you and we never stopped and we won. And when we did, you weren’t worth the effort of killing. Just remember that. You weren’t worth the effort of twitching my finger and blowing your brains all over that wall.”

Julie turned and left the house, sliding into the front passenger seat of the Humvee. “You know Jack, that felt good.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:07 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Hills Around The Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“Team-One reporting in Sarge, there’s life down there.” Cassidy shifted her position on the rocks and steadied her binoculars on the gates concealed in the canyon walls. Whoever had built the approach had done a fine job of concealing it, the canyon itself had a narrow entrance that was lost in the folds of the rock. It was narrow, so much so that the baldricks had difficulty using it. Behind that restricted path, the canyon opened up but the rocks had a marked overhang and shadowed the gates that lay underneath them. Even then, those gates were masked by more variations in the rock walls. Somebody stumbling across the canyon would have to go almost to the farthest end before the gates became visible. McElroy’s team had steered reconnaissance aircraft in over the site and they hadn’t seen a thing. Even using the battery of image modification technologies available, the underground fortress was virtually invisible.

“What’s happening?” Tucker McElroy crawled up to the observation position. His team was split in two parts, one was watching the gates themselves, the other the path that led away from the canyon towards the daughter-volcanoes that marked the flanks of the great cone overhead.

“Can’t see anything yet. Team One reports that the gates have opened and that there appears to be some sort of procession emerging but .. hold one Sarge.” Cassidy listened to the radio again. “Make that a definite on the procession emerging. Baldricks on foot, rhinolobsters with a burden, looks like those snake things, Nagas intel called them. They’re going down the canyon now, we should be seeing them soon.”

“Good. DeVanzo, get the laser sight set up. Cassidy, stay on watch, let me know as soon as that procession appears. Walsch, radio. Patch me through to Saber.”

It took a couple of minutes to get through to Saber, the duty submarine on Communications watch. As far as McElroy knew, there were three submarines offshore who rotated radio watch between them. All used the Saber code-name as required and there was no indication which boat was actually answering.

“Saber. Sitrep?” Submarines didn’t like transmitting, it ran against their collective ethos and the messages were terse.

“We have activity, procession now leaving the underground fortress. From intel, it looks like another volcano attack being initiated. We are setting up the laser target designator now.”

“Confirmed. Wait.” The radio went silent for a couple of minutes. “Ready to launch. Twenty four cruise ready. Half and half. ETA 15 minutes from launch. Indicate when firing is needed.” The radio went dead again.

“Right guys. As soon as we give the word, there will be twenty four Tomahawks inbound. Cassidy, any sight of the target yet?” In just a few seconds, the procession had become a target.

“Emerging through the canyon now Sarge. Confirming, baldricks on foot with tridents, rhinolobsters with, confirmed Sarge, they have nagas coiled on their backs.”

“Saber, confirm target is volcano-initiating party. Fire when ready.”

“On the way.”

The seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. Ten minutes after the launch confirmation, DeVanzo turned his laser designator to active and trained the dot on the ground just in front of the column that was advancing across the plain towards the volcanoes about twelve miles away. McElroy was amused to note that they’d be passing the ruins of their previous home on the way. If they lived that long of course.

“Remember not to shine the laser on the baldricks until after the missiles start to arrive.” McElroy’s voice was urgent, the baldrick’s skin was sensitive to laser light and shining it on them might give them enough warning to get clear.

“I know that” DeVanzo spoke irritably, annoyed at the interruption disturbing his concentration. He was holding the designation dot just in front of the feet of the leading baldrick. He’d flip it back as soon as he heard the Tomahawks making their run.

He didn’t get that much warning, the first group of three missiles skimmed over the hill to their east and started the run down towards the column before he could register their presence. Originally, the Tomahawks had been GPS-guided but the Global Positioning System didn’t work in Hell and it was looking increasingly unlikely that it ever would. The older option, radar terrain mapping and matching required accurate maps of the target area and those would come eventually, but not now. So, for want of a better choice, the missiles had been modified to use laser designation.

The first salvo of three missiles had unitary warheads and the explosion of the 700 pound charges enveloped the head of the column in rolling orange-red fireballs. Through her binoculars, Cassidy saw the baldricks start running sideways trying to get away from the onslaught they knew had to come. Word from the survivors of Abigor’s and Beelzebub’s armies had spread fast, when the humans started shooting with their missiles, the only way to survive was to run far and fast. And so they did, or they tried to. Cassidy swung her binoculars back on to the great Rhinolobsters. They had been abandoned on the track and the magnification of her binoculars allowed her to see the great beasts swinging their heads around, looking for an enemy to gore, while the terrified nagas on their backs screamed and tried to struggle free.

That’s when the second wave of three Tomahawks hit. DeVanzo had switched his point of aim back along the column and the three missiles sensed the change of aiming point and lifted their nose just a little. In a straight line, about 100 yards between each missile, the three weapons soared straight over the shattering baldrick column and started to distribute their submunitions. The launching submarines hadn’t known what the warhead requirements would be so they’d loaded their eight tubes with four missiles with submunitions and four with unitary warheads. The skippers had alternated the loads as they’d emptied their tubes but the spotting team on the ground didn’t know that. Each type came as a nice surprise.

It wasn’t so nice for the demons on the receiving end. The first three explosions had blown the leading demons into unrecognizable chunks of flesh and bone, then the submunitions had scythed down the others as they ran. The only thing that saved some of them was that the missiles were too spaced out and the coverage too thin to blanket the area the way and MLRS salvo would have done. Cassidy smacked DeVanzo’s arm and pointed to the group of Rhinolobsters. He swung the laser designation spot on to them and held it there while the third wave of missiles slammed their unitary warheads into the great beasts. Even far away, on the hills, McElroy’s team heard the animals screaming as the warheads blasted them.

DeVanzo held his designator on the same spot, directing the fourth salvo of missiles so that their submunitions would cover the area just pounded by the blast of the high explosive charges. The nagas were the creatures that opened the sky volcanoes, they were the primary target. The other baldricks were just meat on the table, footsloggers who found themselves in the target area. Slaughtering them was a bonus but not really necessary. In his heart, DeVanzo found himself feeling slightly sorry for them, the war was over but they were still going to die because their boss was too dumb or too stubborn to admit it. Reflecting on it as the fourth wave of missiles blanketed the Rhinolobsters, DeVanzo decided that it was just too bad.

A group of baldricks were running south, towards where the team had their position. It wasn’t an attack, the baldricks had no idea what was killing them let alone where it was being done from, it was just plain bad luck on their part. DeVanzo designated them and watched the fifth and sixth salvos of missiles tear into their ranks and send them stumbling into the ground. Then, a final switch to another group who still seemed to have some level of organization and it was all over.

McElroy looked down on the devastation that lay in the valley underneath his position. “Well, that livened up a dull morning didn’t it.”

Valley Leading To Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

Belial couldn’t quite believe he was still alive. He’d been on the edge of the bombing that destroyed Satan’s palace, he’d seen the shattered remnants of Beelzebub’s army retreating from the Phlegethon River but he’d never been under the relentless hammer of the human war machine before. He was stunned by the enormity of the attack, but even more so by its impersonal, faceless nature. The humans didn’t fight, they just stood far away and destroyed their enemies by remote control. He felt hatred surging, uncontained, within him. The humans had been his route to greatness, his attacks on them had won him favor with Satan and now lifted him further than he’d ever dared hope he’d rise. Now, their machines were tearing him down again.

Around him, the survivors of his column were picking themselves up and trying to make sense of the carnage that surrounded them. Some went to help wounded friends who lay helpless on the ground, their bodies slashed by the deep gouges that were the marks of human weapons. Not all could be helped for the humans used iron in their weapons and iron was poison. Enough of his minions had died in the mines of Palelabor from iron-poisoning to show how deadly that particular aspect of human weapons was.

Then, Belial looked at the center of his column, where the Beasts and their Naga burdens had been caught on the road. They were dead, all of them. Blown apart then the survivors cut up by the humans. There were no survivors, none. They were all dead and that meant the attacks on human cities were over for there were too few nagas left to open the portals. It was over, he would have to think of a new way to continue this war for it was only by continuing the war that his rise to power could be confirmed and yet more power gathered into his claws. He would have to think of a new way, Euryale would help him. Quietly, Belial gave thanks that she had not been here to fall under the human onslaught for he needed her support and insight.

“We will return to Palelabor. Bring along those who can recover.” Belial set off, unknown to him, watched by Baroness Yulupki who had managed to slide off her Beast in time to worm her way under the rocks and so protect herself from the explosions and slashing iron fragments. She would not join the sad procession back to Palelabor, Belial thought she was dead and it was better that way. Now she could quietly leave his retinue and find a way to get back into the changing world of Hell.

Belial’s column, the healthy and the wounded, the latter supported by other demons, wended their way though the twisting canyon that led to the valley that was their final refuge. They’d left barely an hour before, on their way to inflict another great blow against humans. Now all they needed was shelter. Belial led the way back, down the valley and then turned to approach the gates that marked the entrance to Palelabor. Those gates were still closed, and Belial quietly gave thanks for Euryale’s common sense in closing them as soon as she’d heard the explosions of the strike that had wrecked his column.

“Open Up, Your Master Awaits.” His voice boomed out, echoing across the valley.

The reply was sudden and deadly, a barrage of lightning bolts slashed out from the firing ports in the walls around the gates, tearing into the survivors of his column, cutting them down as they stood motionless, in shock. Then, the spell broke. Some ran, trying to escape from the vicious crossfire, others attempted to charge their tridents and return fire. Both were futile, there was nowhere to run to and the demons inside the fortress were behind firing slits, protected from all but the luckiest of shots. Belial knew what was happening, there were three demons behind every slit, two charging tridents and the third firing them. The result was a steady rain of fire that decimated what was left of his force.

“Euryale!” His voice echoed again and this time there was hopelessness in it.

Hills Around The Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“Team-One reporting in Sarge. You’re going to love this.” He ought to, Cassidy thought, she did. “The survivors got back to the fortress and the garrison first slammed the gates in their face and then opened fire on them. Team-One says it’s a massacre down there. The baldricks outside are being cut to pieces. There’s a big one, he must be the Belial we heard about I guess, just standing there and shouting something.”

McElroy nodded. “Tell Team-One to watch and report. I’ll radio this in.”

Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“Euryale!” Belial called again, but there was no answer. For the second time in an hour, he couldn’t understand while he was still alive. There was no sign of her, she must have been imprisoned, there must have been some kind of coup while he was with the column. Then his heart sank for he knew that in hell coups never involved taking the deposed prisoner, they were always killed. Euryale had to be dead, She had to be.

The fire around him slackened and he saw movement on the gallery over the gate, artfully carved so that it fitted in with the natural contours of the rock. There was a flash of gold up there, and Belial adjusted his vision for long distance. It was Euryale, standing on the gallery, her wings folded behind her.

“Euryale, you’re alive!”

She looked down at him; Belial wasn’t certain whether he actually heard the words, read her lips or received a thought transmission but its words were clear. “Kill him.”

The warning was just enough. Belial dived for cover as a hail of lightning bolts slashed at the rocks where he had been standing. He took cover, feeling one bolt tear into his wing tissue. Not a serious wound for a Grand Duke of Hell, it took many lightning bolts to kill a Greater Demon. He wormed his way behind the rocks, sensing the relentless battering of the massed trident fire that was aimed at him. When he’d got clear enough he took the chance of looking. Euryale was standing on the gallery still, directing the barrage of fire against likely hiding places. Beside her was one of his new Great Tridents, a naga strapped to it. Belial didn’t kid himself that it wasn’t fully charged.

Then Euryale saw him, she must have had her vision set for long distance as well, and the Great Trident was aimed straight at him. Again, Belial dived and rolled, trying to get clear and escape from this murderous ambush. The Great Trident bolt hit exactly where he had been, shattering rocks and sending fragments tearing into him. “Euryale!” Belial’s voice was closer to being a sob than anything else.

Belial knew there was only one chance, he had to get out of the killing ground before the Great Trident was recharged. He leaped up to his feet and started running, ignoring the lightning bolts that hissed around him, paying no attention to the one that hit his back. He was running from battle, something no Great Duke ever did and the thought of it shamed him. It was the human’s fault, all the human’s fault. They’d disrupted his plans, they’d stopped his rise to power, they’d resisted him, defied him. They’d turned Euryale against him.

At that point, instinct made Belial dive suddenly to one side and roll over. The Great Trident bolt again hit exactly where he had been had he not made that dive. With luck, he’d be out of range before the machine was charged again. There were more thuds as lightning bolts from normal tridents hit him and he could feel the injuries taking their toll. He was weakening, slowing but he had to keep running. There was a point in the hills where the slopes were not so steep, where he could climb his way out. He dived again, this time around a fold in the rock and he was, at last, out of the killing zone. He had survived, somehow.

Belial’s mind didn’t really appreciate the fact that he had, yet again, survived. It was too filled with hatred for the humans who had done this thing to him. All he could think of was revenge, revenge for the destruction, revenge for his fall when he had so nearly reached the apex of power in hell. Revenge for taking Euryale from him. It had to be human magic, it had to be human magery, some unknown power they had that he was not aware of. Had not her handmaiden said the humans had other weapons they had not used yet?

“Euryale.” Belial moaned the word, the pain of his wounds seeping slowly through the red fog of rage and grief in his mind. He didn’t know what the humans had done to her but he would have his revenge. Even if it killed him.

His breath recovered, Belial started off on his escape from Palelabor. One thing nagged at him, Hell had fallen to the humans, his was the last outpost of resistance. Where was he to go, what we he to do? The questions nagged his mind as he staggered across the valley and climbed out of the valley. As evening wore on, all he could think of was the sight of that golden figure on the gallery and the words “Kill Him.”

Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“It is done as you ordered, Chatelaine.”

Euryale looked at the major-domo of the fortress. “They are all dead?”

“All of them Chatelaine. All those who remained loyal to Belial are dead. It was a cunning move to put most of them in his column to the volcano. May I ask, how did you know the humans would be there?”

“The humans are the Lords of War, nothing is beyond them. They destroyed the Adamantine Fortress, that showed they knew who was responsible for the attacks on their cities. They shut down the two existing portals, showing they knew how to do it. It was certain they were watching us in case we started a third. And if they were watching us, they knew how to kill us. I did not know how they did it, but they would. And they did. Now, are all our people well-briefed?”

“Yes Chatelaine. Belial seized your fortress and imprisoned you and those loyal to you. Then he and his people set about their evil schemes. It was a time of great hardship but we managed to plot our escape and recover the fortress. We have stopped Belial’s plans for more attacks and killed those responsible. Now, we wish to surrender to the humans who killed those who treated us so brutally.”

“Very good. Make sure everybody remembers it. For the survival of us all depends on our being seen as Belial’s victims.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:08 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Hartlepool, Lancashire.

“BBC Radio 2, online, on digital and on 88 to 91 FM.” The voice of veteran DJ Terry Wogan said over the car radio.

“It is eight o’clock, here is the news read by John Marsh.” The news reader said once the time signal had finished. “Allied Forces in Hell continued their advance today against negligible resistance and have reportedly entered the city of Dis, Hell’s capital, without a shot fired. BBC reporters embedded with the 4th Mechanized Brigade, the first British formation to enter Dis, report that Allied troops have freed large numbers of human slaves apparently used as domestic servants from demonic captivity. Human forces are already beginning to move into…….”

Inspector Kate Langley turned off the car radio as she parked outside Hartlepool Police Station. It was a small town police station, originally built in the late Victorian period and was now more than a little crowded as the builders had not envisioned all of the electronic communications equipment that the modern police force required to function; indeed Lancashire Constabulary was currently seeking new accommodation in Hartlepool to replace the station. The overcrowding was even worse now that the station had to accommodate the Special Constables on permanent duty, new recruits and retired officers returned to duty.

“Good morning, Joe.” She said to the desk sergeant. “Any messages for me?”

“Morning, Ma’am, nothing bar the usual.” Sergeant Joseph Beck replied. “Oh, there was a call from Mrs. Durbleigh, she said she would call you later on this morning, I believe it was with regards to the firearms registration business.”

“I see, I’m sure that’s going to keep us busy.” Langley replied, not relishing speaking to her now promoted predecessor, she was after all busy enough as it was.

“Where’s Sergeant Parrish?”

“I believe he’s off cleaning his rifle, Ma’am. I’ll let him know you’re here.

“Shall I send in some tea, Ma’am?”

Langley thought for a second, she did not often drink tea, though her sergeants always asked just in case she changed her mind.

“Yes thank you, Joe, I’d like that.”

The Inspector hung up her coat and hat after entering her office and took off her holster. She hated having to carry a revolver, she had not joined the police to carry a gun, this was Lancashire, not Texas after all, and knew that the majority of the officers under her command hated it as well. Langley hoped that once this war was over, whenever that was, the officers not assigned to Force Firearms Units would be able to hand their weapons back into the various armories, she would hate it if the war changed the character of the British police. It was a matter of pride to her that British Police officers, unlike those in America and Europe, had remained without firearms as part of their standard equipment for so long.

Langley placed her revolver, an old, but sound, Webley Mk.VI .455, in her desk drawer and locked it. It, five other revolvers, four No.1 Mk.III Lee-Enfield rifles and four Mk.V Sten submachine-guns had been found in the basement of Hartlepool Police Station; evidently from the dust that had gathered on the box the revolvers were stored in they had been down there since around 1945.

After some testing the revolvers had been issued, as had the rifles, but the Sten guns were worn from use in the Second World War and had been condemned. Amazingly the police had managed to get their hands on useable stocks of .455 Webley Mk.III ‘Manstopper’ bullets, which were felt to be more effective against Baldricks than the later rounds, which had been designed to comply with the Hague Convention. Less surprisingly, they had also managed to get a supply of .303in rounds from South Africa. The South Africans were doing well with their .303 production, as were all the other producers who had retained production lines for full-powered rifle ammunition. The remaining officers had been issued with a variety of firearms from police and others armories.

Langley sat down and reviewed the paper work waiting for her, as expected most of it related to the issue of firearms registration. In the panic after the first Baldrick attacks the government had suspended the majority of the country’s firearms legislation, meaning that anyone could effectively own almost any weapon they chose. The Home Office had now decided that when it came to firearms legislative anarchy was not a good idea, instead they had decided that anyone who wished to own a firearm should register it and that the local police should decide if the person was suitable to hold a firearm; they did not want a repeat of Hungerford, or Dunblane.

Of course the job of interviewing those who wished to legally own a firearm fell to the local police, not that they did not have enough to do as it was.

Just after Constable Sparks had brought in the tea the phone on Langley’s desk rang.

“Chief Inspector Durbleigh on the phone for you, Ma’m.” The voice of Sergeant Beck said.

“Put her through, Joe.”

“Good morning, Kate, how are you?” The voice of Chief Inspector Jean Durbleigh said. Before her promotion to fill a vacancy at the constabulary’s headquarters, Durbleigh had been the uniformed Inspector at Hartlepool and occasionally still took a special interest in the place.

“Good morning, Ma’am, I’m fine thank you. How can I help you today?”

“It’s about this firearms registration business, I know you are busy enough as it is, but we’ve had another message from the Home Office this morning. They’d like us to ‘encourage’ applicants who are fit enough to join the Home Guard if they have not done so already, should they be reluctant we are to take it into account when considering their application.”

“I see, and I take it we are to confiscate any weapons from those we refuse a certificate to, Ma’am?” Langley asked.

“I’m afraid so, and I know all too well how limited your manpower is. Of course should you confiscate anything useful then I’m sure nobody would object to you keeping hold of it. Well I won’t keep you any longer, Kate, I’ll speak to you later, good bye.”

“Good bye, Ma’am.”

Once Chief Inspector Durbleigh had hung up, Langley called Sergeant Beck.

“Joe, I need to speak to both you and Sergeant Parrish, I’m afraid we have a busy day ahead of us.”
“No change there then, Ma’m.” Beck replied.

H.Q UK Special Forces Support Group, Camp Brimstone, Hell.

Colonel (D) David Stirling watched the comings and goings around him with interest; he had taken in the various cap badges associated with the SFSG, the majority of the group wore the maroon beret of the Parachute Regiment, the next biggest group wore the green beret of the Royal Marines, while he had also noticed the blue beret of the RAF Regiment and a number of other cap badges, including the Royal Engineers, Royal Signals and Royal Logistics Corps. Men from his own regiment, the SBS and this new regiment, the Special Reconnaissance Regiment could occasionally be seen visiting the headquarters on a variety of errands.

While it was clear that the modern soldier was not a whole lot different from those of the past what had amazed Colonel Stirling was how much communications technology had improved in the eighteen years since he had died. The ability to send text and pictures as well as voice communications in a few seconds was incredible as was the development in computer technology in what was, after all a very short time. The H.Q was full of small thin portable computers known as ‘lap-tops’, many of which showed information being sent back from radio controlled drones, which those controlling them insisted on calling Unmanned Air Vehicles, evidently the military habit of giving something simple a long complicated name had not disappeared since he had left the army.

As well as being home to the H.Q UK Special Forces Support Group Camp Brimstone was also the rear logistics base for all British units assigned to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and it was also the base from which the British had launched their power-play into Julius Caesar’s growing territory and to where 2 PARA battle group had been recovered to once the fighting was over.

Stirling had also observed that logisticians had not changed a great deal either. He was also interested to see that while the technology inside was radically different the latest Main Battle Tank, the Challenger 2, was not radically different in configuration from the Chieftains he remembered in the last decade of his life on Earth. Actually the British Army had managed to get enough old Chieftains running to form an RAC training regiment and had managed to get hold of quite a number of old Challenger 1s from a decimated Jordanian Army.

“Good day, Colonel Stirling, I hope you are being well looked after?” Colonel Dempsey asked cheerfully.

“I’ve few complaints, Colonel Dempsey, apart from the fact that I feel my talents are being a little underused.” Stirling replied. “The improvements in technology in the last few years have been pretty impressive; perhaps I’m hopelessly out of date.”

“If I can learn to use a computer, Colonel, then anyone can, besides computers of today are somewhat easier to use than the computers of the late ‘80s.

“Anyway the reason I came was to give you this.” Dempsey said with a smile holding up a bottle of single malt whisky and two glasses.

“Ah, now that is a sight for sore eyes.” Stirling replied. “I wonder if it’s still possible for a dead person to get drunk?”

“I can’t think of a better opportunity to find out.” The present Commanding Officer of 22 SAS told the regiment’s first Commanding Officer. “I’d be honored to research that problem with you.”

Stirling smiled. “I’d be more than happy to drink with any commander of the regiment, Colonel Dempsey.”

“And I with its founder. But, I’m afraid we have business to discuss as well. The war in Hell is over, the major combat operations part of it anyway. What’s left is peace keeping, not that such operations can’t be trouble enough.”

“I know, I’ve whiled away the hours reading the files on Iraq. Idiots.”

“Can’t blame the Spams, not really. They were hit by a manpower shortage and they needed to know if there was a way of doing things that economized on manpower. There wasn’t, they just took time to realize it.”

“Not just the Yanks, everybody. Including us. So, if the war here is over, what’s next?”

Colonel Dempsey leaned back and sipped his whisky. “Have you any ideas about raising Hell in Heaven if I may put it that way?”

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

James Randi looked around the empty office and sighed. It had been fun while it lasted but his part in The Salvation War was over. His brief had been to filter the world’s population of mediums, psychics and other ‘supernaturalists’ to see if any of them really had useful talents. He’d tried to do that once with his Million Dollar Prize and failed, the big names had refused to come anywhere near him and the small fry had been winnowed out early. Then The Salvation War had started and he’d had the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI and eventually Interpol and every intelligence organization in the world working to find likely suspects. Those that had been reluctant to submit to rigorous scientific testing had been dragged in by whatever force was needed.

None of them had qualified, not one. Of all the ‘names’ that had dominated the ‘psychic’ industry before the War had started, not a single one had shown any genuine ability to contact the Hell dimension, or anywhere else for that matter. Randi grinned to himself, the courts were blocked with law suits, some individual, some class actions, brought against the fake psychics for fraud and extortion by their victims. They were all using his Institute’s test results and the damages being awarded to their victims was mounting satisfactorily. The work he had started with the James Randi Educational Foundation had born fruit at last.

With it, the need for his Institute had gone. The existence of a ‘world after death’ had been proven but it wasn’t a matter of faith or religion. It was just another plane of existence, one that had been predicted by scientific theory but never proven. Well, now it had been proven scientifically and science was showing the way to understanding what was going on there. Humans understood the Hell dimension a bit, there were human tanks and artillery sitting in the central plaza of Dis to prove that. The Hell dimension was a strange place, its basic laws of physics differed a little, not much but a little, from Earth. Just enough to make it interesting, Massachusetts Institute of Technology was already offering a Master’s course in “Hell Studies” and were promising a PhD course as soon as they knew enough to decide what it should contain. Humans were at work on what made Hell tick and would worry away at the mysteries until they weren’t mysteries any longer.

What was it General Petraeus had said to Congress? “Their faith met our firepower. Firepower won.”

Randi nodded and closed the door behind him. His work was done all right, the protocols, the strict testing, the constant guard against fraud, all the techniques he had pioneered at JREF were now a standard part of the investigative techniques at DIMO(N). It was strange though, all the ‘professional’ psychics and mediums had turned out the be tricksters but ever-increasing numbers of people with real abilities were being located. Some had been aware of their abilities and in most cases their knowledge of what awaited them the other side had driven them mad. Others had been unaware of their gift and had been as surprised as anybody else when their abilities had been revealed.

Science again, Randi noted, there was even a DNA scanning test to pick out likely candidates. There were hundreds of people who could open portals and the number was growing steadily. Randi thought back to the early days when kitten had been the only reliable link between the dimensions and she had worked herself into exhaustion to keep the war effort going. She was a civilian, she wasn’t eligible for the Congressional Medal of Honor, but there were equivalent medals and she was getting most of them. It seemed that nations around the world were in a race to give her the highest award they could find.

But, all that was past. Randi adjusted his tinfoil had and set off down the corridor to where his car was waiting. The inside of the Pentagon was being refurbished, again, this time to install metal linings in the walls. That was a part of the Federal Building Code now, all new buildings had to have metal linings in their walls. That left only one question, just what was he going to do next?

First Circle Of Hell, Hell-Pit, Hell

“This isn’t how I saw it,” kitten looked out of her Humvee at the First Circle. It was a desolate scene, that much was right, there were ruined buildings, mud, trash everywhere. But the bitter cold, the biting wind, the night-time darkness and the constant ravenous starvation were gone. “but this is where I’m going.”

“You’re wearing your tinfoil hat, kitten.” Colonel Paschal was slightly amused. “If you had been here when we blew the gates open and hadn’t been, you would have seen what you expected. Starving people gathered around crude campfires in the mud, eating maggot-ridden food from garbage skips. Some of it was real, some illusion and when we took down the mind entanglement, the latter went away. But, kitten, you’re wrong. You’re not coming here.”

“But that’s what the future holds for me. I saw it.”

“Sure you did. But you’re making a mistake, what you foresaw isn’t in your future. It’s your now. This, here, now, is what you foresaw all those years. You came to the first Circle of Hell, sure, but what you didn’t see was you brought the whole United States Army with you. And quite a lot of others as well. You didn’t come to hell as a victim, you’ve come as a conqueror. You fought the demons and you won. Now you can get on with the rest of your life.”

“Hey, kitten!”

The shout came from outside the Humvee. kitten looked around and saw a group of eight soldiers running across to the Humvee. Her mind reached out and she recognized them instantly.

“Tucker!” She jumped out of the vehicle, just in time to be swept up in Tucker McElroy’s arms.

He gave her a resounding kiss and then passed her around the team. “kitten, we’ve never been able to thank you for everything you did for us. Not properly. And I guess we never will be able to do it right. But we’re here to do our best.”

“Tucker, I thought you were up in Tartarus?”

“We were, but the Marines landed an hour ago and the DSEALs took over from us. So we portalled out and then over to here. How are you feeling? Did your op go well?”

“Very well, The General had everything lined up ready for me. Pretty much all the work is done now.” kitten hesitated. “You know what my operation was don’t you?”

“Sure I do. Be honest, it would have got to me once. Not now. Might be being dead and all more likely I just grew some common sense but seems to me you had a problem and the surgeons sorted it out for you so now you’re the way you always should have been. And every one of us here’s going to get drunk to celebrate for you. If we can get drunk of course. We haven’t really tried yet. Want to join us in the experiment”

kitten giggled. “Can’t I’m afraid, still on medications that don’t allow alcohol. But when I’m off them, I’ll come and look you all up and we’ll try then OK?”

Executive Office, Pima Air & Space Museum , Tucson, Arizona

The sound of R-3350 engines winding down woke Daniel J. Ryan, Executive Director of the Pima Air and Space Museum up from an exhausted sleep. He’d been trying to arrange what was left of his museum so that he would have at least an approximation of a display for his visitors but it had been a hard job. He’d heard it was worse over at Davis-Montham, there every aircraft worth salvaging had been removed and the ones that had been left reduced to piles of junk, stripped to keep the others flying. Then, the significance of the sound sank home. He looked out of the office window and saw that his B-29 had returned. Ten seconds later he was running across the taxiway towards the parked aircraft.

“She’s back.”

Colonel Tibbets turned to look at Ryan. “She surely is. And she fought well for an old Lady. Did three bombing raids on Beelzebub’s army and that’s the least important part of it. She and her sisters did nearly all the experimental work that was essential for the bombing raids to work. They freed up the more modern aircraft for strikes and without them, The Salvation War would have taken a lot longer. Yup, these old ladies more than earned their keep. Cost us too, you know three of the ladies crashed when their structure gave out?

“Now, they’re being retired again. The 40th is to receive B-1Cs and we’re gonna start conversion soon. So, Mister Ryan, the Air Force says you can have her back again. On one condition though. You keep her in her Hell camouflage scheme and with her Hell mission tallies in place.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way Colonel.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:12 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

“Do you think she’s lying?”

“Of course she is. This is hell, remember. The only question is, what is she lying about?” General Thomas Waldhauser was watching the gates of the fortress with professional interest. “You know, looking at this place, you’d almost think they were expecting an attack by us. That choke point getting into the valley was a perfect defensive bottleneck and the valley itself is a great killing ground. The hills are too steep for Tomahawk to handle and the whole geography is wrong for a ballistic missile attack. This place would have given us conniptions if we’d had to force our way in.”

“Even the baldricks could have fought us on even terms here.” Division Sergeant Major Carter was also watching the gates of the fortress. It was one of those days when killing people and breaking their things seemed like an entirely reasonable way of life. The First Marine Division had been on board their amphibious warfare ships, pounding north at 20 knots when Dis had fallen. That had gained all the headlines but it was this operation, the storming of the northern redoubt, that was the really important one. This was where the attacks on Sheffield and Detroit had been mounted from. Waldhauser and Carter were both definitely of the opinion that breaking things was in order.

“The gates are opening.” Waldhauser was almost speaking to himself but the stir of activity was easy to see. Tank guns, missile launchers, artillery, MLRS vehicles, all were training on the great doors in the rock. If the occupants did try a double-cross, the amount of firepower that could be poured into the fortress was impressive even by human standards. The baldricks inside would learn that there was no worse enemy than the United States Marines.

A golden figure walked out, followed at a respectful distance by others. It was a gorgon, easily distinguished by the mass of writhing tendrils that formed its ‘hair’. It approached Waldhauser and stood in front of him.

“On your knees, hands behind your head.” The Marine sergeant snapped the words out. The gorgon obeyed, indignant at the treatment but determined to obey. Because obedience meant survival.

“I am Chatelaine Euryale, mistress of Palelabor.”

“I will decide what your title is and I will tell you what you are.” Waldhauser’s voice was ice-cold. “Until then, you are nothing. Understand me?”

“Yes master.”

“When addressing the general, first and last words out of your mouth are ‘Sir’.” Carter spoke abruptly, precisely the way the same order had been given to him, first day in boot camp. “Try again.”

“Sir, yes sir.” Euryale clenched her teeth forcing herself to remember that these were humans, they could destroy anything, any time they wanted.

“Are all your personnel out of the fortress?”

Euryale looked carefully behind her and did a count. “Sir, all that survived yes. Many of my people were killed by the usurper Belial and many more in the rebellion against him. These are all that are left Sir. But Sir, the passageways and tunnels beneath Palelabor are deep and complex. It may be that a few of Belial’s people survive down there. Sir.”

“If there are, and we find them, they will be killed. The gorgons, order them to assemble over there.” Carter pointed at a flat area of ground. “You join them.”

Euryale called her gorgons over and led the way to the indicated area. Flat, no cover, surrounded by rocks, to her practiced eye, it had every indication of being a killing ground. One of the marines made a waving motion with his hand and the party knelt again. Then a group of the marines appeared carrying what looked like bags. They put one over the head of each of the gorgons, Euryale last. He last thought before the bag shut light out was whether this would be the execution she feared.

“Listen up. You may move the bag so you can see. But you will keep those head things of yours covered at all times. Any gorgon seen with its head-snakes exposed will be killed without warning. Do you understand?”

“Sir, yes Sir.” The gorgons echoed the words.

Waldhauser turned to his officers. “Order the men in, search that place from top to bottom. Any baldricks still in there, kill them Find the human slaves, all of them, bring them out. Once we find out how many are here, we’ll decide what to do with them.

Broken Skull Gallery, Shaft 14, Slocum Mine, Tartarus

Publius had set the ambush up carefully. There was a thing strand of wire across the tunnel floor, one end securely anchored to the rock, the other tied around a delicately-balanced support. If something tripped over the wire, the act would pull that support out and drop a barrage of heavy rocks on the victim. Then, the humans could close in and beat it to death with their war-hammers. Publius was proud of those hammers, a heavy wedge of stone, its edges painstakingly sharpened so that they could cut as well as crush. The whole thing tied to the end of a solid handle that gave it extra momentum. The war-hammer could crush a demon skull. If they could find a demon with a skull to crush that is.

“Where have they all gone?” Simplicus looked around at the humans gathering for the ambush. The demon presence had vanished, as if the monstrous creatures had evaporated overnight. It had been three or four days since the last of the demon overseers had gone away and none had come to replace them. The humans had continued working for one of those days, then stopped. Then they’d split into two groups, the sheep and the wolves. No, Simplicus thought, that wasn’t right. They’d split into three groups, the sheep, who sat around doing nothing, the wolves, who had already started to prey on the sheep, and the sheep-dogs, who were protecting the sheep and starting the rebellion against the demons. He, Publius and the rest of the humans here, they were the sheep-dogs and Simplicus felt strangely proud of the distinction.

“Something’s coming.” The words were whispered, alerting the defenders. “A demon from the left, another group from the right.

This is it. Simplicus thought carefully. The demons were coming back, now the fighting would really start. A war of traps and ambushes against the demon’s strength and magic tridents. Perhaps they could get the single demon first and flee, leading the group into another ambush? That should work, doubtless Publius was already thinking that out.

What happened next was totally outside his experience. There were a short series of yells from the group and a series of loud explosions that lit up the tunnels with their flashes and echoed around the rock walls, making Simplicus’s ears hurt with the reverberations. The single demon was hurled back against the wall, his bright blue blood splattering all over the floor of the tunnel. He fell, half-sitting against the cave wall and another barrage of explosions caused more of the injuries that had brought him down. Then, he fell sideways to lay on the floor, very obviously dead.

The group who had killed him came into better view. They were the same size as humans, but they wore red-and-gray mottled clothes that seemed to blend into the cave walls. They were loaded down with equipment and each man carried a strange lance-like object in his hands. Their faces were half-hidden by strangely-shaped helmets that gave them a strange, beetle-browed ferocity but Simplicus could see that their real faces were hidden behind a mask that covered their nose and mouth and goggles that covered their eyes. Strange goggles, black ones that seemed to project forward from their faces and glowed with a strange green light. With a sudden insight, Simplicus knew that these new arrivals were human.

“You human slaves down here?” The leader of the group spoke curtly as if he had a lot to do and not much time to do it.

“We were, we’re rebelling against the demons.”

“Good for you.” The same voice was now warm and friendly. “You don’t know it, but you’ve won. This place surrendered a couple of hours ago and its previous owners are in custody. There’s been a war between Earth and Hell and Earth won. You’re free. Just follow the way we’ve marked to the surface and there’s people there waiting to look after you.”

The leader of the group stepped forward and to his horror, Simplicus realized he hadn’t seen the tripwire leading to the booby trap. There was only one thing to do and Simplicus did it without thinking. “Look out!” He yelled the words as he dived forward, pushing the human leader backwards, out of the way of the rocks. In doing so, he hit the tripwire himself and the last thing he registered was the battering of the rocks as they hit him.

Publius stared down at the body of his friend, crushed beneath the carefully-built deadfall. The leader of the humans picked himself up from the floor where Simplicus had pushed him and carefully inspected the body. Then, he looked at Publius and shook his head sadly.

“And to think that we came down here to rescue you.”

“He was my friend.” Publius’s voice was loaded with grief.

“He was also a Marine.” Sergeant Voight looked down at the man who had saved his life. “You men, take him to the surface, with an honor guard. The rest of us will keep looking down here.”

“My name is Publius. I was a legionary once. May I come with you? I can help you find your way around, show you where the rest of us are.”

“Very well. Lead on Publius.”

Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell

The humans were streaming out, most blinking at the unfamiliar light. As they did, they were being greeted, their names taken for the ever-growing database of the rescued humans and herded out of the way. Not all of them though, a few, a small handful of them were being shepherded to one side where they were guarded by hard-looking men who wore white helmets, white scarves and white gloves. The soldiers were military police, those they guarded were the humans who had turned traitor and aided the baldricks in their plans against Earth. The guards weren’t there to keep them in, they were there to stop the other rescued humans tearing them limb from limb. That had already happened to some, the men here were the survivors.

Beside them, a Humvee pulled up and a man got out, one whose uniform was subtly different from the Marines. He walked over to General Waldhauser, and saluted crisply. “Sir, may I have permission to see the names of those we have recovered.

“Yes, of course Major.” Waldhauser waved and carter passed a notebook computer with the latest records on it.

The strange major loaded a flashdrive into the side and pressed a key. Then his eyebrows went up. “With your permission Sir, I would like to take this one.” He passed the notebook back.

“Obersturmbannfuhrer Herwijer. Guard at Majdanek. Sure, Major you can have him. Take good care of him.”

“Yes Sir, I will take very good care of him,” said Major Ben-Ari of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Route One, Hell.

“So you renamed it Route One.” Gaius Julius Caesar looked at what had once been the Dis-Dysprosium Highway.

“That’s right, makes things a lot easier.” Second Consul Jade Kim watched the humans walking out of Hell. Caesar had assembled his people fast and they were already on their way to the area he had picked out as suitable for his new home. “Its all fixed Gaius, I’ve resigned my commission so I’m a free agent now. A word to the wise, the U.S Army knows what you’re up to and they don’t object too strenuously as long as you don’t make it too obvious. As far as they’re concerned, as long as you keep the peace in the area, its one they don’t have to worry about. The officer who processed my papers kept referring to a Roman Awakening. I’ll explain that later.

“While I was away, I checked my finances, I’ve got my separation bonus, my back salary and a few other things. I also contacted a publisher back on Earth, your original books are public domain but you’ve rewritten them so they’re copyright. You can make a fortune of the royalties.”

“She’s saying things we don’t understand again.” Titus Pullo pulled an exaggerated face of despair.

“It just means our First Consul is going to be rich. Again. And our new state needs the money. For vehicles, weapons, fuel and other equipment.”

“And radios,” added Gaius Julius Caesar. “Don’t forget radios

Banks of the Styx. Fifth Circle of Hell

“Fire in the hole!” The combat engineers gave the time honored cry and watched the workers scrambling clear. A stretch of the Styx and the swamps that surrounded it had been painstakingly cleared of imprisoned humans, then the charges set. They would blow the bank away at a specific spot, diverting the water away down a series of channels. Once the previous river bed was drained, the remaining humans could be located, rescued and taken out of Hell.

“Firing, bank charges, in Three, Two One GO!” The blast rocked the area’s ending ripples across the surface of the Styx and causing the mud in the swamps to shiver. The bank vanished in a carefully-controlled blast that left a deep hole where the high bank had been. The Styx started to flow down its new path and the water level in the old bed started to fall.

“Firing, Bed charges in Three, Two, One. Go!” A second series of charges blasted mud into the old river bed, forming a dam. The remaining water in the old bed drained away, exposing thousands of bodies, nailed to crude crosses.

“Thank thee friend. We can work now and bring help to these poor creatures. Where art thou going now?” The Quaker looked solemnly at the Army engineer.

“To the Sixth Circle. There is a river of lava there that also must be diverted and drained. And after that? Your guess is as good as mine, there’s more than enough work down here for one generation. Clearing this place out will be a job for our children and their children.”

“I fear thou art right friend. But we shall all do what we can.”

Ninth Circle of Hell

“So this is the Ninth Circle of Hell. General Schatten looked at the area beneath him. A tiny area, a sheet of ice on which strange creatures, a mix of gorillas, bears, horses and things he couldn’t even imagine paced. They wandered from place to place, chewing on the heads of humans who were frozen in the ice. From where he stood, Schatten could see six of them. Doubtless, there were more. “Who are these people.”

Abigor looked down on them. “The greatest traitors of history. Brutus and Cassius, Andrey Vlasov, Ephialtes of Trachis, John Anthony Walker, Robert McNamara, Vidkum Quisling, many more.”

Schatten looked more carefully. In the middle of one group was a line of unfilled holes. “The unfilled holes. Who are they for.”

Abigor searched his memory. “Some network television executives. The ones who cancelled Firefly.”

Headquarters, First Human Expeditionary Army, Camp Hell-Alpha, Phelan Plain, Hell.

General Petraeus sighed quietly to himself. He was now commanding, if not quite the largest, certainly the most powerful, army humanity had even put together. A force that was growing all the time as more and more units joined the ranks. Five Army Groups, each with five Armies, each with five Corps. None of them were complete yet of course, the units reflected nationalities, equipment standards, operational doctrine rather than actual numbers. But, one day, they would represent numbers as well. Over six hundred divisions, more than 13 million men. All in armored units, fully mechanized, fully outfitted with tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and salvo rocket launchers. Supported by air forces to match. The factories were humming, the production lines churning out equipment at a rate not seen since the Second World War. Already the museum-pieces were leaving the ranks, sent back to the retirement they had earned yet again.

Petraeus smiled at that, on his desk was a brief note. A unit that had been flying F-105s had just finished converting to F-22s and its aircraft, those that had survived, were going back to their museums. It was a good thing, the losses of the F-105s and all the other old aircraft had been high. Very few had been shot down but they were tricky to fly by modern standards and their structures had been old and tired. The number of crashes due to structural failure and pilot error had been far too high.

“Sir, a letter for you.” A letter thought Petraeus, now that was unusual. The reason why an American General was commanding this Army was that only the United States Army had the communications and command-control facilities needed to run a force this size. Everything was done by email and datalinks, nobody wrote letters any more. He picked up the envelope, noting the script on it. It was beautiful, clear, precise, easily legible yet its elegance made it a pleasure to see. Petraeus was aware, rather guiltily, that his own handwriting was an almost indecipherable scrawl. The art of penmanship and calligraphy were long lost, and this beautiful copperplate showed him just how tragic that loss had been.

The letter inside was equally beautifully written and Petraeus read it with pleasure. Then he re-read it with shock although it was something he should have anticipated. Now this, he thought was a problem, and he started to re-read the elegant letter for a third time.

September 11th, 2008

To General of the Army Davis Petraeus, U.S,

I regret that ill health caused by my confinement has delayed my communication with you but I have pleasure to report that I am now fit for any duty to which I may be assigned.

I therefore respectfully offer my services to the country and flag once more again.

Very respectfully, your ob'dt servant,

R.E. Lee

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 4:13 pm 
Offline
Site Admin
User avatar

Joined: Fri Oct 03, 2008 6:29 pm
Posts: 5285
Heavengate, Hell

Belial looked at the great fortress that guarded the one single gate that led directly from Hell to Heaven. The guards were sloppy, ill-disciplined and this compared badly with the days under Satan’s rule. The humans hadn’t found out about this place yet and their machines were not surrounding it. To Belial, it looked as if the whole place was about to fall apart. That was an insult of course, Belial knew this place, knew how solidly it was built, in fact he knew it far better than anybody suspected. He knew there was a way in that by-passed the narrow twisting tunnel that the guards here used.

In the darkness, he slipped over the wall, making his way down the stairway towards the entrance. It was tiny, too small by far for him to use. But, once he had found it, he was able to orientate himself. He had to go one hundred blocks to the left, ten blocks up, then five back to the right. It was a measure of how cunningly this place had been built that going 95 blocks to the left and then ten up would not take him to the same place. In any case, climbing at anywhere other than the right place was impossible.

“Sire, what are you doing here?” The demon guard had come on him unexpectedly. Belial cursed himself for being so distracted that he had allowed a traitor to some so close. Had Euryale sent him? Or the humans? It didn’t matter. Belial swung around and fired the modified human shotgun that had been made at Palelabor, watching the iron fragments blast the unfortunate demon into wherever came next.

Belial know the blast would attract attention and he had to work fast. His talons found the holes and he started pressing the keys inside, in the right order, hearing the panels drop inside as he did so. With the last one, the stone block was free to move. Belial pushed it, sending it pivoting backwards. He was getting feverish with hurry, he could hear the guards approaching but the second block was free to pivot. He was inside the secret tunnel and the blocks pivoted back in time to conceal him from the approaching guards.

The tunnel was still cramped for a demon as large as Belial but he scrambled down, feeling the undressed stone tearing at him. It was utterly dark, and the sudden end caused him a heavy blow to his head. Now, he had to find the correct sequence again and this time his life hung in the balance. Get this wrong and the stones would swing to close the tunnel completely, crushing him out of existence.

Finally, the slabs were free and Belial was able to drop into the Heavengate chamber. It was empty, the guards had gone. He took a deep breath and stepped through the gate, into the Heavengate Chamber the other side. The guards there had gone as well and there was but a single figure sitting on a convenient stone.

“Don’t shoot! I am the Grand Duke Belial, seeking refuge from the humans. Hell has fallen, the Humans rule everything.”

“And why should we take you in?” Michael’s voice was teasing, condescending.

“Because I know how to beat the humans.”

“So do we.” Michael stared at Belial. He’d been expecting the former Great Duke for some days and had been getting to the point where he assumed the demon wouldn’t make it.

“No, the humans have weapons that outclass anything we have. Remember in the Great Celestial War, we fought for eons without gaining an advantage? Yet the humans crushed us utterly in a few of their months. Heaven cannot stand any more that hell could. Not without the weapons I have built.”

Michael nodded. He would take Belial to Yahweh, perhaps the idea of a refugee in Heaven would amuse him. Or, at least, keep him out of the way while Michael got on with his own plans.

Bush Ranch, Crawford, Texas

“I am pleased to report that we now have six divisions fully formed and a second corps headquarters is now operational. We believe that the British Army will soon be able to contribute twelve full divisions to the First Army Group. With our allies in Canada contributing two divisions, Australia three divisions and New Zealanders putting in another full division, we’ll be up to 18 divisions, organized as three whole Corps. We’re expanding our marines to a whole division as well, bringing us up to 19 divisions. That’s nearly a whole Army and with the four American armies in the First Army Group, we believe we can hold our heads up high. Then of course, there’s all the troops we’re holding back for home defense, I’d say we have nearly two million people under arms at the moment. Proud moment for us all, I can tell you.

“May I ask who will be commanding the Commonwealth Army?”

“Yes indeed. We’ve appointed Sir Mike Jackson to take on the job, he’s the most experience senior officer we have who is still fit and healthy enough to take on such an arduous job. He’s used to serving with and under our allies, so I doubt we have much to worry about. I’m more worried about our equipment problems, we’ve still got units armed with SA-80 rifles but at least new aircraft are coming off the production lines to replace the museum pieces and the six Type 45 destroyers cancelled by the government have been reinstated.”

“Thank you for your time Admiral.” The television reporter turned to face camera and resumed “That was Admiral of the Fleet Lord West who kindly agreed to share his insights into the British contribution to the new Human Expeditionary Army. Back to you Greta.”

“Thank you Brian. Now, recapping our main news stories again, Hurricane Ike continues to batter the Houston area although it is now moving off to the North East. Meteorologists are puzzled at the way the storm seemed to pause over the Houston/Galveston region for several hour. However, President Abigor of Dis has offered work teams of demons to help with rescue and repair efforts. He said that the demon teams were a first effort to help heal the breech between humans and demons caused by Satan’s insane conduct.”

“I don’t think we need to see any more of that,” President Bush used the remote to flip the channel over to the CBS network. He was just in time to catch a fanfare of music.

“And now, CBS is proud to present the first in our new series of our late-evening current affairs debating programs hosted by Luga ‘You can’t lie to a succubus’ Sharmanaska.” The music swelled up and the familiar figure of Lugasharmanaska appeared at the back. She was wearing her usual black robe but in deference to CBS decency standards she had a red evening gown on under it. She took her seat beside the coffee table and her yellow eyes swept over the crows, the black vertical slit of her pupils contracting under the spotlights. The applause from the audience was enthusiastic if slightly restrained.

“My guest tonight is Michael Vick.” She paused as a string of hisses went around the theater. “As you all know, he was arrested and sent to prison for his part in a dog fighting ring. He has been released on temporary liberty for tonight’s show. Hello, Michael thank you for coming.”

“Why hello Luga. May I say….”

“No. We will ask the questions. Firstly, Michael, can you give us any good reason why we should not throw you into a ring full of rabid pit-bulls?

A thunderous burst of cheering echoed around the theater, the audience was beginning to warm to Lugasharmanaska and the show’s promoters relaxed. Selling this concept to the network bosses had been a hard deal to make. Still, Luga was turning out to be a hit. In many ways, they thought, it was a pity they couldn’t throw Michael Vick into a ring full of rabid pit-bulls, it would make excellent television. And their new chat-show host was just the person who could organize it.

Back in Crawford, Bush thumbed the remote control switch again. This time, he missed the program and hit an advertisement break instead. A picture of an office in New York with an urgent package while the manager berated a delivery organizer for not getting the package to Japan on time. Then, mid-tirade, he stopped as a black ellipse formed on his desk and a hand came out to take the box. As it disappeared into the ellipse, the screen split to show a desk in Tokyo, with another ellipse forming there. The hand emerged with the package in it and deposited it’s cargo on in front of the recipient. The voice-over was a seductive contralto.

“Any where, any time, use the Yulupki Express Delivery Service. We go through hell to make your deliveries on time.”

President Bush hastily changed the channel again. “Well, at least those naga things have found a non-destructive use for their talents.”

Ensconced in an arm chair, Condi Rice nodded. Then her attention was caught by another advertisement just starting. The voice-over was a dramatic baritone.

“Yes, you can take it with you! You’ve worked hard for your wealth, a life-time’s effort and sacrifice. Why should your children waste the products of your thrift and industry while you live here.” The scene cut to one of the refugee camps in the Phelan Plain. The huts were neat, clean and comfortable but small and there were a lot of them cramped together. That was inevitable of course, with Earth’s normal death toll and the humans being rescued from the pit, demand for housing far exceeded supply.

“Let your children stand on their own two feet, that’s what you did wasn’t it? Right, of course you did, now you can do it again. In partnership with the Government of the New Roman Republic, the Euryale Real Estate Company is proud to offer these beautiful plots of land along the banks of the Askaris River in the Elysium Fields.

“Yes, you too can live in the Elysium Fields, once the chosen homes of the gods and now the scene of an exciting new second-life community development. Chose one of three types of Villa. We have the Augustus, our top of the line atrium-style villa with four bedrooms and all modern conveniences. Then we have the Tiberius for the young-at-heart, slightly smaller but with great recreation and playtime facilities. And for those looking for a little more economy, we have the Nero, just perfect for the smaller family. All our villas have metal-lined walls and dust-filters so your living relatives can come and stay. If you want them to of course. And remember, property ownership brings citizenship in the New Roman Republic. So call us today on 1-800-EUR-YALE and get set up for the second life of your dreams.”

“Isn’t that the Euryale who was somehow involved with the attacks on Detroit and Sheffield.”

“It was, but she and Caesar got together and set this up. He got a huge land grant from her and that’s his New Rome.”

“Can he do that Condi?”

“Who, Caesar? Sure he can. He’s even been recognized as an independent state in hell, by the Italians of course. From the Army’s point of view, he’s set up a nice little well run state that’s keeping order and not causing trouble. He’s even building roads. Straight ones of course.”

George Bush shook his head. “Condi, I thought we’d won this war.”

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


Top
 Profile Send private message  
Reply with quote  
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 6 posts ] 

All times are UTC - 5 hours


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests


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

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