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 Post subject: Armageddon Parts 11 - 15
PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:14 pm 
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Su-30MKI Tiger Group Leader over the Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

The world rotated around Wing Commander Gurka as his Su-30 hit the top of its climb and he rolled smoothly over. The survivors of the massacre were far below him, their bodies barely visible. His radar could see them though, he’d lost them as he’d climbed out but now he’d re-acquired. The devastating missile salvoes had destroyed hundreds of the harpies, their bodies dissolving in fire as the missiles ripped into them. Once there had been so many that they’d swamped the memory on the radars but now, the situation was clearly defined. There were barely two targets left for each of the allied fighters and Gurka had already killed one of his. He’d picked his target for the next pass already, one harpy flying west, its nerve broken, running for its life.

It didn’t stand a chance. Gurka pushed his throttles over and went after it in a long, smooth dive. His gun-sight carat showed the predicted impact point of his cannon burst, it was sliding towards the harpy, the diamond embracing its back. Then, it turned red and Gurka squeezed the trigger, blasting burst of 30mm armor-piercing incendiary ammunition into the harpy’s body. For a second or so, nothing happened although Gurka could swear that he saw lumps of black flesh flying off the body. Then it flared into orange fire, burning and spinning for the desert floor.

“Tiger Group, time to go home. Call your boys off Tiger Leader, the squids want to play.”

Gurka looked around. Already the American F-15s were heading south, their missile racks empty. “Acknowledged.”

“Head for Dingbat Tiger Group,” Gurka mentally translated that. Dezful. “Some Russian transports have landed with missile reloads for you. Good luck and don’t mix with any naughty ladies.”

“All Tiger aircraft, break off, head for dingbat.” Gurka looked hard to the west. There was a black cloud approaching. “Eagle Eye, contacts to the west.”

“We have the Tiger Group Leader. More harpies, covering the ground force main body. Sea Eagle Group will be handling them. Out.”

The out had a definitive note to it. The Su-30s were out of missiles and very low on cannon ammunition. Eagle Eye up there in his AWACS wasn’t interested in them any more. His attention was steering the group of F/A-18s from the three carriers offshore into the new harpy cloud.

Headquarters of Merafawlazes, Commander, Northern Flank, Abigor’s Army

“The cavalry have gone!”

“They’re through then. Order the flies to pursue the humans and cut them up on the way. The infantry will follow through. Advance on this place the humans call Kirkuk. Ravage it, Abigor will be pleased.”

“No, Noble master.” The messenger dropped to his knees and crawled across the floor to Merafawlazes hooves. “I must tell you, the cavalry have not broken the humans. The cavalry are dead. All of them. The humans killed them all with their magic.”

“What is this insanity? Humans do not have magic.” Merafawlazes’s voice dropped to a menacing growl. “This is not a good time to jest.”

It never was thought Falabrednowsa. Being a messenger was a very chancy and dangerous profession, especially where the recipient of the message was a Duke. They’d been known to eat messengers who brought bad news. “Sire, I fear to contradict you.”

“Good.” Merafawlazes interjected the comment with silky menace.

“But the humans do have magic. They have used it against the cavalry. They can call down thunder from the sky and drown their enemies in fire. They have destroyed our cavalry. It is a horrible sight, our cavalrymen dead on the ground torn to pieces by the fire, the surviving beasts on the ground screaming with pain as they die.” Merafawlazes attention was drawn by a thunder in the skies overhead, a roll of thunder followed by a deafening, hideous scream. “Sire, that is the war-cry of the humans in their sky chariots. A great battle is raging while we speak, the flies fight for their lives against the sky chariots. There is magic there too, the humans throw burning spears that never miss.”

“Our flies do well against them?”

The answer had better be yes was the reply running through Falabrednowsa’s mind. But he was a messenger and it was his duty to speak the truth. “No Sire, they die as the cavalry died. The human sky chariots are so much faster than they are. Our enemies cannot hear them come for the cowards give their battle cry only after they have launched an attack. They travel faster than the wind, they climb faster than any of us have ever seen before. They afraid to fight us in honorable combat so they kill by the hundred with their fire spears without ever coming close. Then, they sit above our fliers and dive on them like hawks. Our flies are worse than helpless against them.”

Merafawlazes grunted and turned his attention to the parchment map on the table before him. It wasn’t much help, it just showed the positions of the cities and his best guess at the locations of his troops. Why had the humans chosen to fight here? There was nothing important to fight for here, the nearest great cities were far away. All there was here were these rolling hills with the strange black strips the humans built across them. As he stared at the map, Merafawlazes got the feeling he was missing something very important.

Twenty minutes later, Merafawlazes strode out of his tent, towards the commanders of his remaining legions. Overhead, the sky was covered with strange, crisscrossing white clouds, although he didn’t know it, the contrails from the F-16C Vipers of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group. The Lawn Dart pilots had, to put it mildly, been having a field day. Merafawlazes didn’t know and didn’t care, he had more important things to think about. “Get the Legions moving forward, all of them. Two waves, seven and seven. Tell all the infantry, the suffering of those who hang back will be legendary even for hell.” Merafawlazes picked a piece of Falabrednowsa’s flesh from his teeth. He’d finally worked out what he had been missing.

Breakfast.

The Royal Dragoon Guards, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“Isn’t this what they call a target-rich environment?” And that, Guardsman Bass thought, was the understatement of the century. The first wave of the enemy attack had been smashed, it had died on the mines and razor wire, the few survivors had been torn apart by the artillery. That had seemed like a victory until the whole horizon had turned black with enemy infantry. The enemy line was almost 10 kilometers long, the rising sun glittering gold off their bronze tridents. It was a terrifying sight, one that told Bass just as surely as if he could look into the mind of the enemy commander himself that the baldricks had never seen wire and minefields before.

‘Look into the mind of the commander’. Bass rolled the words over in his mind. It would come, it would come. The ability of the baldricks to enter people’s minds and create illusions had been a nasty surprise but it had been discovered. Once something was discovered, it could be investigated and measured. That meant it could be understood and one the scientists understood something they could duplicate it. Once the scientists had duplicated it, the engineers would take that work and turn it into practical tools. Once the engineers had created the practical tools, the armorers would turn those tools into weapons. And once the weapons were available, the soldiers would use them. That was the way it had always been, that was the way it would be now.

Bass lased the enemy line, waited a carefully measured ten seconds then lased it again. The computer in the tank thought for a microscopic second, then translated the two readings into a speed readout, one that made Bass raise his eyebrows a second. “Right lads, they’re advancing at 15 kay-pee-aitch. The brass better know about that.” Another guiding human principle, Bass had no doubt the same piece of data was being transmitted in by dozens of other tank commanders but it was better for an important piece of data to be transmitted a thousand times than never transmitted at all because everybody thought everybody else had done so. The fact that baldricks on foot could move three times faster than a human was very important.

Third Legion, Southern Flank, Abigor’s Army

Krykojanklawas jogged forward, most of his attention devoted to the enemy in front, the rest to the leader of his contubernium. Like most of his fellow demons in the ranks, he was holding his tripod underarm, the points angled upwards so he didn’t stab the demon in front. There might be time for that later. He and his fellows were lucky, the ground in front of them was clear, they wouldn’t have to pass through the hideous scene where the human magic had destroyed the cavalry legion. Word that the humans had magic had spread through the ranks like wildfire, the stories growing with each retelling. They could make the ground rise up and swallow their enemies, the stones come alive and crush their victims. They could conjure up snakes from the ground that would wrap themselves around their prey and slice them apart. That story was true, Krykojanklawas decided, he could see the great circular holes in the ground where the snakes had come from.

He could see something else, the ground ahead of him was littered with strange-looking bars, painted gray-yellow so they were hard to see against the sand and rock. There were a lot of them though. Curiously, Krykojanklawas glanced to one side, there were a lot fewer where the cavalry had ridden to its death. Even as he watched, a demon in the front rank stepped on one of the bars and the explosion threw him in the air, spraying yellow body fluid as his legs spiraled away from his body. The bars were human magic, Krykojanklawas realized the truth as additional explosions added their noise to the death toll that was already far higher than the Greater Demons had expected. He didn’t care much about the expectations of the Greater Demons though, what he did understand was that stepping on the bars was death. He’d heard about human explosives, how they could blast even a Lesser Demon apart so that all that remained was stains and rags of flesh. If they could do that to a Lesser Demon, what could they do to a Minor Demon like him? Krykojanklawas had just seen the answer and it didn’t please him.

So there were a lot fewer bars where the cavalry had died? Krykojanklawas did the obvious and started to edge sideways, being careful not to step on the bars, heading for where the ground was just littered with the scraps of flesh and mutilated bodies of beasts and their riders. All along the ranks of the legions, the other demons were starting to do the same.

The Royal Dragoon Guards, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“Here they go….” Bass watched with interest. There had been a ripple of explosions as the advancing horde reached the outer edge of the minefield and the first victims stepped on the bar mines. The mines had been intended for anti-tank work but their fuses had been adjusted so they’d be set off by much lesser pressures. That had worked, a handful of baldricks had died but the rest were starting to funnel in towards the area partially cleared by the cavalry charge. Bass lased them again, the advance had slowed right down as the baldricks tried to pick their way through the minefield. Poor sods. Bass thought, I could almost feel it in my heart to be sorry for them. Almost, but not quite.

Watching through the high-powered optics of his Challenger II, Bass could see the ranks of baldricks stretching, bucking and surging. He knew what would be happening in there, the NCOs and officers trying to prevent the lines drifting into the cleared zone, trying to force the baldricks to keep moving straight ahead, accepting the losses from the minefield. Idly, he wondered what the Iranian division was thinking, hidden far off to the left, but doubtless watching what was happening. He’d heard they’d cleared minefields by marching infantry through them. Looked like the baldricks were doing the same.

Overhead, Bass heard the scream of shells. “Outbound,” the sound easily distinguishable from the ominous “Inbound”. He wondered quickly how long it would be before the baldricks learned to tell the difference. He looked again through the optics, seeing the shells impact on the mass of baldricks hung up on the flanks of the cavalry graveyard. The artillery forward observers were doing their job, directing the artillery in on the flanks, trying to compress the advancing army into a huddled mass. That was happening already in the graveyard, the baldricks lucky enough to be facing that area were moving in but the ones to either side were sliding in also and the resulting congestion was slowing their movement to a crawl. The Spams called this “shaping the battlefield”, a typically melodramatic term in Bass’s opinion but descriptive enough.

Anti-Aircraft Battery, Brigadier Carlson’s Headquarters, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“There are satans approaching. Raid count 20.” The Iranian Lieutenant rapped the report out in Farsi, then translated to English for the benefit of Sergeant Major Harper. “Prepare to engage.”

“With respect, Lieutenant, might I suggest we wait for a short while and let the situation develop?”

The Iranian frowned slightly, more from curiosity than annoyance. “Sergeant, we have modernized Osa-M missiles here. We have more than 20 kilometers of range.”

Harper settled back slightly. He’d been expecting some of the harpies to leak through the fighter screen, no fighter cover in history had managed to eliminate the threat of just one or two survivors getting past. The sheer numbers of harpies had meant more than that would although this was a larger group that he’d expected. “Lieutenant,” Harper’s voice was very quiet so nobody else could overhear, “how long have you been in the Army.”

“Three years Sergeant.”

“I’ve been serving my Queen for twenty. Let me give you a little advice. We blast those harpies now, when they’re 20 kilometers away and the brass will think our job is easy and move us somewhere dangerous. Now, we wait until they’re five kilometers away and the brass is really sweating, then blast them, we get to be heroes, get a commendation and possibly even a three-day pass. And we get to keep this nice soft billet.

“Ahhh.” The Lieutenant was impressed and a felt a little honored at receiving such a free gift of valuable expertise. Truly there was much a young officer could learn from a veteran such as this. “We will hold fire until… five kilometers?””

Harper nodded fractionally so the officer gave the orders to his men, adding the explanation he’d been given as if it was his own idea. He could see his men nodding as the logic appealed to them.

At five kilometers, the four Osa-M missile launchers opened fire, pushing 24 missiles at the 20 harpies now closing in on the base. One harpy made it past the missiles only to be sawn apart in mid-air as the ZSU-23/4s caught it in a crossfire.

Back in the battery command vehicle, the telephone rang. Carlson’s voice was on the other end. “Well done Lieutenant, that was a getting us a little worried. I’ll send a commendation to General Zolfaghari.” He paused slightly. “You left it a bit late didn’t you?”

“Needed to get a proper tactical picture Sir. We’ve only six ready rounds on each launcher and I didn’t want to get caught reloading.” Out of the corner of his eye, the Lieutenant saw Harper giving him a discrete sign of approval.

“Very wise.” Carlson paused for a second. “We gave you Sergeant-Major Harper as liaison didn’t we? Please tell him I would like a few words with him later.”

Local 3751, ATK Medium Caliber Systems, Mesa, Arizona

“Look, it's like this see. The plant is going to triple shift work whether we like it or not. We’ve talked with the bosses and this is what we’ve come up with. Morning shift from 6am to 2pm. Afternoon shift from 2pm until 10pm. Graveyard shift from 10pm until 6am. Graveyard pays double time. Shifts switch around monthly so everybody gets a crack at the double time.”

“What about weekends?”

“Forget them. Everybody works four days on, one day off. That’ll be staggered so there’s a full shift working the plan all the time. 24/7.”

“Four days on, one day off? That’s not fair.”

“Shadap Al, the boys on the front line don’t get one in five off, why should we.” A mutter of agreement ran around the room.

“What happens if we don’t approve the deal?”

“Mexicans. Or the Army gets the sub-munitions from Israel. Or wherever. Anyway, I’ll put it to the vote. All those for accepting the management offer?” Hands went up all over the room. “And against?” A scattering of hands, mostly those the organizer recognized as those who voted against everything. “It’s carried. New arrangements start tomorrow. Management will tell you which shift you’re starting on and your day off.”

A few hundred yards away, another meeting was being held. One where the worker’s spouses were being gathered. Once it would have been an all-women gathering, these days a few men were there as well.

“So that’s the new arrangements. Look, the guys on the production lines are going to be working their asses off, they don’t need to be worried about problems at home. So if there is a problem, deal with it, don’t go whining. If you can’t deal with it, see us here at the Union. We can help. Above all that, help each other. You older women, you’ve been through this before. You know the problems the young mothers will face, be there for them. Even if it’s just baby-sitting so she can get out of the house and have some peace for an hour, do it. Watch out for the oldsters as well, nobody will be around as much as they were so we all have to look out for each other. We know nobody else will. Don’t think some guardian angel will be looking out because we know they’re the enemy as well now.”

Across America and the world the same meetings were being held, the same messages given. Under them all was another simple, deeper message. The whole world was at 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.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:16 pm 
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Headquarters, Randi Institute of Pneumatology, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA

“I see you finally got your new offices.” Julie Adams looked totally different from her first visit here less three weeks ago. Her hair was washed and shining, she was wearing skillfully-applied make-up and was smartly, fashionably, dressed. As with all the latest fashionistas, she was wearing chic aluminum foil hat that covered her head and extended down the back of her neck. Producing elegant headwear out of aluminum foil had proved a challenge but the French and Italian designers had come through with flying colors. Julie’s aluminum hat had more to do with her change in appearance than her clothes or make-up. For the first time in many, many years her eyes were quiet and rested, she looked at the world with peaceful confidence not abject terror.

“They’re nice aren’t they.” The Amazing Randi was sitting behind his desk, sorting through the letters received by his unit, trying to pick out the genuine prospects from the fakes. It was a harrowing job. “Our General bullied the decorators until they did what we wanted. By the way, the walls are foil-lined, we’ve got monitoring equipment here and we can’t pick up any extra-dimensional signals. So it looks like we’re safe. I guess the next set of building codes will stipulate aluminum foil in all walls and ceilings.

“Anything.” Julie shuddered at the memories of what Domiklespharatu had done to her.

Randi smiled again, understanding her expression like any skilled cold-reader. “Julie, would you like to get your own back? Punish Domiklespharatu by hurting him the way he hurt you?”

“Sure. Of course. Can I?”

“Come to the laboratory.” The two went into the next room. There was a comfortable reclining chair with some electronics behind it and a swinging table with a microphone. “Don’t ask me how any of this works, I’m a conjuror, not a physicist.”

“It’s quite easy James.” One of the men in white coats was talking. “The baldrick mind control works by quantum entanglement, essentially they transmit their mind signal to a victim and force its mind pattern to match theirs. When we intercepted the baldrick signal, we identified both the baldrick’s pattern and that of Miss Adams. So we just reversed the procedure and we’re going to try and entangle its mind pattern. The catch is its much easier for hell to transmit to us than us to transmit to them. So, since we’re not short of raw electrical power, we’re going to boost it upwards until we can transmit to hell. If we’ve done this right, you can speak into this microphone and broadcast straight into Domiklespharatu’s mind.”

“Thank you gentlemen, I still don’t understand how it works but you’ve done wonders, that I know. If this goes well, what we plan to do is to open a new radio station transmitting to everybody in hell. And, Julie, you’ll be our first newsreader. Now settle down and start to try.”

Julie slipped into the chair and pushed her headset on. Earphones and a simple microphone. Behind her, the systems specialists started to ease the power up, seeking the threshold that would tell them they had breached the barrier between the dimensions. In her seat, all Julie could hear was the signals hum, slowly increasing in pitch and intensity. Then, suddenly it stopped, there was an eerie silence at the other end and Julie could sense the suspicious questioning as Domiklespharatu felt a new presence in his mind.

“Remember me Domiklespharatu? I’m Julie Adams, the woman you got your kicks from torturing. Well, I’m back only I’m in your mind now. I can get into your head but you can’t get into mine any more. So guess what, Domiklespharatu, its my turn to have some fun and yours to suffer. Let’s see, where shall we start? Oh yes, here’s a good one. We’re coming for you and all your kind. You had the impertinence to invade us and we’re slaughtering your kind here. You don’t stand a chance against us. We’re coming for you and we’re going to free all of our people you hold and hand those of you that survive over to them. We’re going to hand you over and watch all our people do to you what you have been doing to them. There’s a new order coming and we’re the ones on top. So, you’d better start running Domiklespharatu because we’re coming for you and we won’t stop. Not now not ever. You’ve pissed off the human race Domiklespharatu and, oh boy, what a price you’ll pay for doing that. Oh, and tell that freak you have in charge there, he’d better find a good lawyer. He’ll need one for the war crimes trial.”

The system powered down and Julie took her headset off. There was an enthusiastic round of applause. Randi laid an approving pat on the shoulder. “Impertinence. That was great. I guess you’ll be taking the job then Julie.”

On the Shore of the Styx River, Fifth Ring, Hell

The woman was crouched behind a rocky outcrop on the edge of the Styx in the fifth circle, watching the scene unfold in front of her. Luck was an amazing thing, wasn't it? For thousands of years, she'd been purposefully moving through hell, taking account of the humans who suffered here – some worthy of her attention, others, weaklings, worthy only of her contempt. Of course, given the billions of souls – there must be billions, now – she could only rely on her instinct to guide her. And now, this. Just as she was in the area, some new arrivals had escaped with apparent ease, had tackled the demonic overseer with impunity, stabbed and bludgeoned it to death with skill, and had just crucified it to the rocks in front of her. Such open defiance was unprecedented and dangerous.

In ten thousand years, she had learned many languages from the screams and gibbering cries of the tormented, so with only a little difficulty she recognized what they were saying. The woman was speaking to a man, something about resistance. She smiled to herself. If only they knew … As they turned to go, she stepped out from behind the rock.

"Hello!"

The two newcomers whirled, the bronze spikes they carried up and ready. The woman smiled and spread her arms, revealing herself unarmed. "I have seen what you have done. Excellent work."

The apparent leader of this group was a woman, short, already healing from the gang rape. She gestured to her companion and he lowered his weapons, though they still stood cautiously at the ready. All were in excellent physical shape, save for the quickly-healing wounds and scars. "Who are you?"

"A fellow resistance member." Suddenly, the woman felt a stab in her back above the kidneys. She almost fainted with terror, had a demon caught her for the spikes against her were certainly the bronze of a trident. She turned slowly, looking over her shoulder. There were more newcomers behind her, one armed with a cut down trident, the other with a club made from the section of haft that had been removed. The woman was shocked, she’d been so pleased at tracking this group, she hadn’t seen they’d spotted her and had set up an ambush.

Now, the leader of the group was speaking, her voice hard, cold, suspicious. "There's already a resistance?"

"Of course there is. There has been a resistance in Hell since it began."

"Well, take us to its leader."

The woman again spread her arms. "I will certainly do that. But first you must tell me your names."

"When we meet the leader."

"Okay. Then follow me; we're going to the rim between the fourth and fifth circles." And she turned and stepped into the waist-deep muck, wading past the still-bleeding corpse of Jarakeflaxis. The six newcomers followed her at a distance. The woman didn’t notice but two of them dropped out of sight, following from the flanks.

Over her shoulder, the woman said, "If I duck under the mud, you do the same. As long as the demons on patrol don't see us, we'll be fine."

The Tango flight members exchanged glances, that remark was more telling than the woman had realized. It should be the demons who lived in fear. First rule of establishing liberated area – those who stayed out of it were safe, those who entered it, died. Obviously what she meant by resistance wasn’t what they meant. Kim started to form a mental picture of what the resistance here really was, probably groups of escapees hiding out, spending their time avoiding capture. Kim had in mind something far more ambitious.

The Galaxy Turkish Bath and Massage Parlor, Bangkok, Thailand

The succubus slipped into the bar carefully, keeping in the dark as much as possible. Once it had been easy to fool the humans but no more. Now fewer and fewer of them seemed vulnerable to mind-masking. This group seemed to be though. All women, that was good, massacring them would cause great alarm and misery. There were a group of them by a long wooden table at the end of the room. The succubus kept her self-image clearly in her mind, a young Asian woman dressed as these were, short skirt, skimpy top, baseball cap perched on their heads. A couple of women were dancing around a pole on a small stage, under a sign that said “Coyote Dancing”. Well, they could wait until last.

The succubus went up to the group by the table, picked the one at the end and drew back her clawed hand ready to plunge it into her victim’s chest and tear out her heart. Then she paused, she’d never realized quite how big a half-inch could look when it was pointing straight at her face.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking, can you kill me before I pull the trigger? Well, seeing as this is a .50AE Desert Eagle, the most powerful semi-automatic hand gun ever made, you have to ask yourself one question. Do you feel lucky?” The human woman chuckled. “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

The succubus looked around carefully. She was the center of a ring of gun barrels, all aimed at her, all obeying the third law of gun-fighting – calibers measured in inches should begin with a “.4” or greater. It was pointless, over. She let her image drop and from the lack of shock on the faces of the women, she realized her illusion had been just as pointless. These women had recognized her as soon as she had entered and they’d trapped her.

“So kill me.” She’d failed, it was hopeless. Death was the consequence of failure.

“Perhaps not. Sit down. Don’t try anything stupid and we won’t shoot. Why did you do this?”

“It was my mission. Deumos sent me to seduce a leader and bend him to our will.”

“So Deumos is your pimp.” The woman with the Desert Eagle put a mountain of disgust into the word. “That doesn’t explain why you came here to try and kill us.”

“I failed, we were told that politicians here were easy to seduce but I couldn’t make mind-contact with them. I hoped killing you would buy enough favor to save my life. People here no longer are deceived by our mind mask.” The succubus thought for a second. “What is a pimp?”

“Somebody who lives off the money we earn.”

“I do not get paid.”

“Then you’re a sex-slave?” The women in the bar were genuinely shocked. They frequently told their tourist clients they were poor women, tricked into a life of sin by unscrupulous brothel-owners but that was just a line to get some sympathy-money. They were all Bangkok girls, born and bred in the city. Country girls couldn’t compete with them and didn’t try. Not one of the girls in the bar had ever actually met a real sex-slave.

“Aren’t you?"

“No!” Noi, the girl with the Desert Eagle, was horrified and insulted. “We are business-women. We are free professionals and paid as such. Why last week I made more money than an office lady makes in a year. Look…. What’s your name?”

“Lugasharmanaska.”

“Look Lugasharman… do you mind if we call you Luga? Nobody has the right to go around telling you who you can have sex with. Not unless they pay you for the trouble. It sounds to me like this Deumos person has been treating you pretty badly. You’d be better off staying with us that going back to him.”

“Her. Deumos is a female. A Greater Demon.”

There was another round of indignant snorts. “That’s disgusting. A woman treating you like this? A man, perhaps I can understand, they always want it for free but another woman? That’s sick. You should be free to make your own living. It’s your body.”

“I could make a living doing it here?” Lugasharmanaska’s voice was uneven, curious, confused.

The women in the bar laughed, although that didn’t affect the way they held their guns. “You bet. A real demon whore? There’d be men lining up out the door to do you. You could look like yourself, or like their favorite actress or whatever. You’d make a fortune. Why a couple of months and you’d own a bar like this. Less if an American warship pulled into Pattaya.” A chorus of happy sighs ran around the bar. To the women, an American warship full of Walking ATMs was their idea of the Great Cornucopia. Noi continued. “Look, Luga, last time one American carrier pulled in for a week, I made enough money to buy a new pickup truck. Cash down. Lin over there paid for a whole year’s college tuition for her younger sister and Dip bought a house for her parents. How do you think we all ended up with American guns? Tourists are profitable enough, we all make a good living off them. And this Deumos person makes you do it for nothing. It’s not just disgusting, its unprofessional.”

“Well what can I do?” Lugasharmanaska almost wailed out the question.

The girls did a quick conference. “Come with us, we’ll take you to the Army. They’ll look after you, they know if they don’t look after our friends, they’ll never get any in this city again. I’ll get my truck and we’ll go around to the Cavalry Depot in Thonburi.”

Five minutes later, one succubus and five ladies of the night were piling into Noi’s pickup truck, Lugasharmanaska having been strongly cautioned not to scratch the paint with her claws. A ten-minute drive took them to the depot gates where, for the second time in an evening, Lugasharmanaska was surrounded by guns.

“Hi boys.” Noi’s voice was bright and friendly.

“Sisters, you do know you got a baldrick in the back there?”

“Of course. Her name is Luga. She wants to surrender so we brought her here. We don’t trust the police.”

“I can understand that. I’ll have to call the Officer of the Guard.”

Another ten minutes and the group were telling their story to the Officer of the Guard, making it very clear that the succubus was under their protection and if she was hurt, nobody in the Second Cavalry Division would be welcome in a Bangkok bar again. Most of the troops had gulped at that threat and mentally promised to guard their prisoner with their lives. Within 30 minutes, the Thai MoD was on the telephone to Washington.

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

“Well, it’s a step forward but it doesn’t really get us that far.”

“I thought Julie did well.”

“She did, and we told her she can use the equipment any time she likes to torment Domiklespharatu. But its one-to-one communication. It’s using a telephone and we want to use something like radio. We want to transmit to everybody and this system just can’t do that. It needs a mind-pattern to lock in to, like I said, it’s one-to-one.”

“But baldricks can deceive large numbers of people at once.”

“Sure, but we don’t know how. We’re a long way out from knowing that.”

The telephone on Randi’s desk rang and he picked it up, mouthing an apology as he did so. As he listened, his eyebrows lifted.

“Well, this might change things. That was the Ministry of Defense in Bangkok. We’ve got a defector.”

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


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:19 pm 
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The Royal Dragoon Guards, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“How shall a man die better than facing fearful odds?
For the ashes of his fathers and the future of his buds.
It’s showtime boys”.

Guardsman Bass put the tank intercom down. Like every good tank commander, he had anticipated the order, getting his Challenger II ready to move well before the word came down from Regimental HQ. It hadn’t taken that much anticipation in fact, just a modicum of skill and experience. Skill and experience was something that the long-term professionals that made up the British ranks had in abundance. The spams may have the shiny toys, the British tankers said, but the Brits knew how to play with them.

In the valley below, the baldrick army was slowly extricating itself from the tangle caused by the minefields and wire. What had started as a serried mass of infantry was being distorted and funneled into a confused mass, made all the worse by the pounding of the AS-90Ds. The 155mm guns were lobbing their shells into the mass of infantry still seething through the gap in the wire torn where the baldrick cavalry had died. They were concentrating on the mass targets but that meant the infantry was slowly penetrating the first line of defense, breaking through in a thin, steady stream. They were beginning to move across the valley floor, making their way towards where the Challengers were sitting in wait behind the rippling sand and gravel dunes.

Even with the snarled mess down by the wire holding up the bulk of the baldricks, Bass was appalled by the sheer number of them coming towards his position. Intellectually, he had heard the number that was expected, nearly 100,000, but he had never imagined what 100,000 infantry swarming towards him would look like. Now, he knew. It was a sight few had ever seen before even where human armies were concerned. The mass of baldrics were something that belonged out of human prehistory.

“Mark your targets as they come.” The voice over the radio was calm and collected, the boyish pitch already well-controlled and only barely a reminder of how young their officer was. It didn’t matter much, everybody knew a junior officer fresh out of Sandhurst was still being trained in his craft. This one was doing well, Bass thought. If he survived, he might go far. Even while he thought that, his hands were selecting a group of baldricks as his target.

“Lase them.”

A brief pause. “5,003 meters boss.”

Another brief pause and then Lieutenant McLeoud’s voice cut in again. “On my word boys. Hold Fast and ….. shoot!”

“On the way.”

Third Legion, Southern Flank, Abigor’s Army

He had survived the snakes, he had seen their silver bodies stretched out on the ground, tape-like creatures that were threatening even in death. Those who had stepped on their bodies had screamed in agony as the snake teeth cut their feet apart. Demon skin was strong but the silver snakes were stronger.

He had avoided the yellow bars as well, taught by the fearful fate of those who had been careless enough to step on them. He had threaded his way through the maze on the ground, catching only minor injuries from the fragments as more careless, or less fortunate, as Krykojanklawas was quickly beginning to realize, on a battlefield they were the same thing, had stepped on the bars and been blown apart. Krykojanklawas corrected himself, the lucky ones were blown apart, the unlucky ones just had their legs ripped off and lay screaming on the ground.

The bars weren’t the only magic in the ground here. Something else was hidden in the sand and gravel, something nobody saw until it was too late. Something that threw a metal ball up into the air so that it could explode and throw out a slashing rain of fragments. The humans had a touch of true evil in their magic, the balls always exploded at about waist height and the ones caught by them were the unluckiest of all for they were rarely killed, just disemboweled and castrated by the blasts. Their screams were truly dreadful.

That was the worst thing of all, the overwhelming noise, the sensation that the bath of sound they were immersed in was itself a weapon hammering them flat with repeated waves of blasting. The explosions of the mines, the flat crack of the balls as they were thrown into the air and exploded, worst of all, the howl as the human mages created thunderbolts and hurled them into the mass of troops advancing on them. They mixed with the screams of the dying, and those who wished they were dying, in an all-embracing cacophony and the war-cry howls of the humans in their sky-chariots overhead, hunting down the surviving flies. Krykojanklawas had never heard anything like it before. If anything the sound was worse than the magic that was being thrown at him, its pressure on his head made it almost impossible to think straight.

He lifted his head slightly, the human mages were up to something new. A ripple of lightning flashed along the ridge crest ahead of him. His eyes focused on that ridge, there were strange boxes scattered along it and the lightning seemed to have come from them. Before that could really register, the bath of sound that enveloped him was punctuated by ear-splitting screams, more human battle cries Krykojanklawas presumed. How could such puny creatures give out such cries? Off to his left, a tight knot of demons had penetrated the wire, using the body of a dead Beast as a bridge. As Krykojanklawas watched, one of their leaders seemed to be hurled backwards, disintegrating into a fine spray of mist and parts as he did so. Most of those around him fell, spurting yellow body fluid from wounds torn by fragments from the magic bolt. Along the line, Krykojanklawas could see forty or fifty more such explosions as the magic bolts tore into the demonic ranks.

For the first time, he sensed that moving forward was impossible, that he could not do it and survive. All along the line, the same idea was beginning to filter into the minds of his fellows, the advance was faltering. Although he had never experienced anything like this before, the simple instinct of self-preservation cut in and Krykojanklawas took cover in a convenient dip in the ground. He was just in time, another salvo of the screaming bolts slammed into the ranks where the demons had clustered, spreading more death and destruction. At that point he noticed something, the human mages were hurling their bolts where the demons were most tightly packed, the area effect of their blasts ensured multiple kills for each bolt. Krykojanklawas began to wonder if his survival in this human-created hell, he used the phrase without any sense of irony, was due to the fact that he was in a thinly populated section where most of the demons were already down.

The human magic was being concentrated on a section of the line far away, even the terrible noise seemed to have slackened a bit. That gave Krykojanklawas an opportunity. He had already spotted another, better dip in the ground ahead of him, so he leapt up and sprinted across to it. On the way he discharged his psychic force into his trident and aimed a bolt at the ridgeline ahead. The blue bolt shot out, it would take time for him to recharge but at least he’d taken a shot at the mages. Then, he was in his new hiding place, trying to find another one that was both better and closer to the enemy.

The Royal Dragoon Guards, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“What the blazes was that?”

Bass shrugged. Something had hit his tank, it seemed like some sort of ball lightning or something. It had come from the mass of infantry they were pounding. “No idea. Any damage.”

“No boss, computers flickered for a second but that’s all. If I didn’t know better, I’d say we got hit by lightning. If we did, the system hardening worked as advertised.”

Bass looked across the line, it seemed like quite a few bolts were coming in from the direction of the enemy. “The old books said that demons could throw lightning bolts didn’t they? Looks like we just got hit by one.” Ahead, down in the valley, a group of baldricks had penetrated the wire in his sector. “Load HESH.”

“Up.”

“Shoot.”

“On the way.”

The tank lurched as another 120mm HESH round went down range and Bass saw it plow into the group he’d selected, blowing one baldrick into fragments while those around it went down wounded. The thought crossed Bass’s mind that he was currently firing the biggest and most expensive sniper’s rifle in history. It also crossed his mind that snipers couldn’t possibly stop a massed attack like this. He had to give the baldricks credit, the ground in the minefield and around the wire was carpeted with their dead yet they were still pushing forward. It took gutsy infantry to do that.

“Make that a definite on the ball lightning.” Bass had seen another Challenger getting hit by a ball of lightning and briefly lighting up the way a ship’s mast sometimes did in an electrical storm. St Elmo’s Fire it was called or something. He switched to the platoon net. “Lieutenant, Sir, we’re taking incoming fire here. Some sort of electrostatic bolt, like lightning or EMP. Doesn’t seem to be dangerous to us but worth reporting.”

“Roger that Bass. For your information, other tanks and the crunchies in their Warriors are also reporting the bolts. Hold Fast.”

Bass switched back to tank intercom and picked out another baldrick target. Once again, his 120mm gun crashed, sending the baldricks flying. Their casualty rate down there was appalling, the AS-90Ds were still pounding them with their 155s while the tanks added precision fire to the execution yet they were barely making a dent in the mass of baldricks still moving forward. Bass got an uneasy feeling that the battle was not going well.

First Brigade, First Armored Division, Tel Ash Sha’ir, Northern Iraq.

“They may not know what they’re doing but my word, do they have guts.” Colonel Sean MacFarland watched the slaughter on his display. The Global Hawk was relaying real-time video of the battle as it developed, sending back pictures of the baldrick horde as they floundered under the lash of artillery fire. The MLRS batteries were inflicting incredible losses on them, every time they fired, whole sections of the baldrick front just vanished under the Steel Rain. There were two problems with that, the batteries fired about once every eight or nine minutes and that just wasn’t often enough. The other was that they had already dumped more than a million DPICM bomblets into the target area. With a 2 percent failure rate, that meant there were already 20,000 dud rounds scattering the battlefield. That would make it a hazard for years to come.

Still, the gap between the MLRS salvoes was being filled by the Paladins. All 54 guns in the First Armored were now pouring fire into the enemy army. A human army would have broken by now, given up, known that getting through the artillery fire was impossible, and saved their lives by pulling back. The baldricks weren’t doing that. Not yet at any rate. MacFarland know they would, sooner or later. They were fighting the United States Army on its terms, on its ground, giving it exactly the target the Army was supremely good at destroying. The baldricks would either run or die. Even as he watched, a new element was added to the massacre, the Bradleys of his mechanized infantry were firing TOW anti-tank missiles into the enemy formation, picking out the groups the artillery missed and cutting them down. The tanks were silent, MacFarland intended to hold fire with them until the enemy were 2,000 meters away. The 120mm smoothbore didn’t have the accurate range of the British rifled 120mms so the Bradleys had to take over the long-range precision fire role.

MacFarland looked at the mass of infantry threshing in the kill zone and shook his head. They had to stop. Didn’t they?

Cavalry Legion, Left Flank of the Army of Abigor, Tel Ash Sha’ir, Northern Iraq.

They were hunched up, backs bent, heads down, looking for all the world as if they were trying to walk through some ferocious storm. Same grim determination to find shelter. And that wasn’t a bad comparison thought Zorankalirtagap, that’s what they were. Facing a storm that slaughtered everything in its path. Ever since his Beast had been killed, Zorankalirtagap had been advancing with the infantry against the hideous magic of the humans. He caught his breath, suddenly the sky behind the humans had turned white again, white shot with fire as their fire-lances sped towards the floundering demon advance. He watched the sight with fear in his heart, then sighed slightly as it descended on the flank of the line, far from his position. It happened again, the same rippling cloud of explosions that left no demons standing when it cleared. Anything was better than the fire lances, even the magic bolts that screamed and caused the ground to erupt under their feet.

There was something new, from a position in front of them, more human chariots had appeared, barely visible with just a small box over the ridgeline. For all their skills, the humans were cowards, Zorankalirtagap consoled himself with that thought, they didn’t stand proud and fight, they hid in hollows and dips in the ground to kill. And kill, and kill, and kill thought Zorankalirtagap grimly. Oh yes, they were very good at that.

The boxes fired fire-lances at a group of demons on Zorankalirtagap’s right. The targets scattered but it did them no good. They’d been lucky enough to escape the fire-lances and the bolts but these new weapons were different. As Zorankalirtagap watched appalled, the fire-lances changed course to follow their targets. Even those who forget their honor and took cover in dips like humans could not save themselves, the fire lances were following them into the cover they had sought. It was more than flesh and blood, even demonic flesh and blood could stand. The leading demons started to edge backwards, even as the ones behind continued to push forward. The advance ground to a halt in the chaos.

The Royal Dragoon Guards, Al Badiyah Al Janubiyah, Western Iraq

“Air Raid Warning Red! Red! Red!” The scream over the radio was just in time. A group of about 30 harpies had managed to assemble themselves from the massacre in the skies over the battlefield and attacked the tanks sitting on the ridgeline. Bass could feel his tank lurch as a group of them landed on it, heard their claws scrabbling at the armor. His radio went dead, at a guess, he thought the antenna had probably been ripped off by the harpies. Then he heard a ringing noise, the sound of machine gun fire bouncing of armor plate. The Warriors were machine-gunning the tanks in an effort to drive the harpies off them. Bass looked through his vision blocks, some were masked by clawed hands trying to rip them open but he could see Bravo-Three was also covered with harpies, the tracers from three Warriors converging on it as the infantry protected the tanks from the sudden assault. On a sudden thought, Bass looked up and made sure his hatch was firmly clamped shut. One harpy was driven off the tank by the fire, it exploded in the air as the Warrior fired a few rounds from its 30mm RARDEN gun into it. Others were dying as they were shot up by the Warrior’s coaxial chain guns. That was creating a new problem, Bass could see Bravo-Three was starting to smoke, the acid from the harpy’s blood probably. The paint on the Challengers would resist the acid but there were other things out there that could be vulnerable.

The tanks were backing up. Bass hadn’t received any orders but with his radio down, it was a fair guess they were out so he joined in the movement. Like the other tanks, he popped his smoke launchers, the choking white fumes driving off the remaining harpies. By the time the baldricks swarmed over the positions he had once held, the Challengers were back behind the next ridgeline.

Headquarters, British Brigade, Wadi Al Jaram, Western Iraq

Brigadier John Carlson looked at his map, his front line had been driven in, the tanks and armored infantry pushed back to the next defense positions. That left the baldricks spread out between the wire and the next defense line in a vast disorganized mass. He picked up his radio, it was already set to the right frequency. “Now, General Zolfaghari, now’s your time. Put every gun to them Sir, every gun.”

“Getting a bit Wellingtonian aren’t we?” The Iranian General’s voice was urbane and slightly amused. Then his division spoke for him. Outside the sky to Carlson’s left turned white as the massed batteries of Iranian BM-21 rocket launchers opened fire, pouring their rockets into the baldrick’s flank and rear. Under the white cloud was a black one as the T-72s gunned their engines and started their charge at the enemy.

Third Legion, Southern Flank, Abigor’s Army

The onslaught was totally unexpected, the enemy were in retreat, covered by the fog they had conjured up. Then, somehow, they had poured a new mass of fire into the right flank and rear of the demon forces. Krykojanklawas looked over to the left and saw the black cloud as something crossed the ridgeline. He focused his eyes and almost screamed in horror at what he saw. “The humans have Iron Chariots!”

He wasn’t the only one. Others saw the more than 300 T-72 tanks pouring over the ridgeline, moving terrifyingly fast through the sand. They saw them spit fire, the blaze rippling along their front line as the shots went on their way to tear into the demonic ranks. Every demon sensed the new chariots and knew the truth. they were made of iron. Not just any iron but some sort of super iron. The demons recoiled from their old enemy, it was just too much. After the pounding, the mines, the wire, their nerve broke.

Headquarters of Merafawlazes, Commander, Northern Flank, Abigor’s Army

Merafawlazes had learned much about war in the last few hours. He had learned that cavalry could no longer charge an enemy. He learned that artillery was the great killer no matter whether the targets were demons or humans. He had learned that his soldiers were helpless against tanks. He had learned that humans were the supreme masters of mass killing and were only too keen to practice their art. Now he learned that the moment an Army disintegrates and changes from a defeated force to a panicked mob can be measured with exquisite precision. The French Army at Waterloo disintegrated at precisely 8:15pm, the Union Army at First Bull Run at precisely 4:20pm. Merafawlazes saw his army disintegrate with exactly the same precision. As the great iron chariots of the humans emerged from their hiding places, his army dissolved into chaos, running for the rear. The Iron Chariots followed them and they could move much faster than even the panic-stricken demons. That was when he had his next lesson. An Army suffers heavier casualties when it breaks than it does when it stands.

M1A2 Abrams Charlie-Three, Tel Ash Sha’ir, Northern Iraq.

There was thirty dead an' wounded on the ground we wouldn't keep --
No, there wasn't more than twenty when the front begun to go;
But, along the line o' flight they cut us up like sheep,
An' that was all we gained by doin' so.

The M1 crested the ground smoothly, the great barrel of its gun held in place by the stabilization system. There was hardly any need to use it, the baldricks were running for the rear, the Abrams tanks spraying them with fire from their coaxial and turret-top machine guns. In the driver’s seat, SPC Brungardt saw a wounded baldrick fall to the ground in front of the racing tank. The 70 ton Abrams didn’t even lurch as it drove over the body. Brungardt thumbed his intercom button. “Hey guys guess what. Baldricks go crunch too.”

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


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 26, 2011 12:20 pm 
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Wadi Abu Tahir, Western Iraq, late afternoon

Memnon snorted in disgust as he watched the young human die. He stared into those cow-like eyes as they fluttered and the hands feebly clawed at his infernal flesh. He could feel the soul within stirring now as the meat caging it finally ceased its life functions. He casually allowed the corpse the slide out of his grip and he was quiet for a long moment, listening. The humans were about in large numbers and he was no fool. His wings would take time to regenerate and his flesh was still aching from his wounds. Their spears of plastic and metal spat hot burning bolts that could wound even his great personage. This was not the way it was to be. Go find them and challenge them, he was told. They will cower before you. He had found the humans but their chariots of steel and plastic were far too powerful for him. He had lost two wing mates already and he was in no condition to meet them again. Not yet, anyway.

Memnon smiled cruelly. When he did, there would be blood. Enough to drown a thousand human infants, and then the pain would come. Sweet melodic pain. Memnon’s eyes fluttered and the never born knew that it was time to rest. His prey had been bested and he had claimed a lair for himself. At least long enough to heal the wounds and allow his spirit flesh to sing to the domain he called home. This wretched place of cloying life and limited matter was not to his liking. He was his own being and he needed rest.

“Just for a little while.” Memnon growled and curled down onto the floor next to the corpse of the boy. He looked with contentment at the place that surrounded him for sprawled out across the couch was an older woman, head turned completely around and leering at him while a younger woman was impaled on a broken piece of furniture, scream frozen on her face. All were small offerings to the Morningstar and his Prince to watch over him in this moment of weakness. He would repay them with more flesh and blood when he was whole again.

Wadi Abu Tahir, Western Iraq, just before dawn

A single eye snapped open at the sound of the tea pot whistle and Memnon spoke. “For disturbing me in this moment of respite, you shall know such wonders of pain, I will make a cathedral of your bones and sinew and your agony will be my choir, pathetic human.” He snarled coldly at the young Arabic man who now shared the high-roofed barn that was now his den. A man dressed in plain khakis and a billowy white shirt opened at his chest who nodded politely to Memnon and knelt cross legged across from him as he delicately poured himself a cup of tea. The steam rose lazily from the ancient chipped porcelain. It had been brewing on the stove and the smell wafted over to the groggy demon.

“Peace and blessing be upon you, Fallen One. Your absence still saddens my patron.”

Memnon paused. He stirred more now, unfurling like some obscene spider, long leathery limbs reaching out as he rose with eyes like cold embers pinning the young man with a predatory gaze. “Slave of the Nameless One.” Memnon inclined his head with bitter sarcastic politeness as he smelled the clean scent of the Angelic.

“Care for a cup?” the Angelic asked with a child like innocence as he sipped his own, for a brief moment he closed his eyes and seemed to savor the tea like one savored the sensation of forced coupling.

“You’re all whores to your senses, you know that, don’t you?” Memnon chuckled darkly, his cloven hooves clomping on the packed earth floor like a caged bull as he paced back and forth before the kneeling man.

“This world is delight and rapture. It is the fulfillment of all and the joy of bliss.” The young man sighed as he inhaled the aroma from the tea cup.

Memnon said nothing. They liked to talk, they liked to taste, they liked to savor, these slaves of the Nameless.

“What is the purpose of this world if not to delight in its wonders? You must remember, surely, how bright it is in our Ethereal Realm. How the chorus of praise and supplication a constant backdrop to the great one above us all as he basks in our light of selfless devotion.” He continued in a soft whisper like leaves on silk.

“What manner of slave are you, eh? Cherub, perhaps?” Memnon asked silkily. How frail he looked just sitting there, it stirred his predatory urges like a woman’s breast called to a male. Memnon clomped forward a bit, talons gleaming dangerously.

The Angelic inclined his head and closed his eyes and listened to intently for a moment, he looked absolutely beautiful, like a statue carved of perfect alabaster, there was not a blemish on his skin and his body moved with a sublime grace that would have made a human weep. Was it a wonder that these bastards had their way with the women of this wretched place while his kin had to forcibly take what they wanted? Was it any wonder they were always the ones the Nameless sent in his stead to speak for him.

Always put your best face forward they say. They were such supple and elegant heralds. How could the humans resist worshipping the Nameless One when these were the ones he sent in its name? If the humans could only see what they actually worshipped, now that would be worth the price of admission, no?

“It is so…quiet here.” The Angelic announced with tears welling in its eyes. “No maddening chorus always haunting your every thought, no cries of baseless devotion, no shrieks of joyous revelation. Just. Silence.” There was a sadness there, deep and abiding.

Memnon could stand it no longer, it maddened him to see this abject weakness paraded before him. “Slave!” he roared.

There was a rip and whirl of taloned hands and leathery limbs flashing forward and the angelic merely raised his head as if offering his throat to his attacker but it gestured with its hand and Memnon was catapulted off his feet and landed in a heap against the far wall of the shack, shaking the entire frame to its core.

The angelic was off his feet and had crossed the room in a single stride in between heart beats and he had a flawless alabaster hand wrapped around Memnon’s throat. Without a grunt of effort, the Angelic hoisted the still stunned Harpy off his feet and held him high above him. The eyes were no longer human but white within white and there was a low sound growing around him like a chorus of women slowly building up tempo.

“I am Appoloin, servant to Gabriel-Lan, Seraph of the Hosts of Michael-Lan, Devout Servant and Herald of He Above All Others. You will listen to my words and heed them.”

“I…listen.” Memnon managed to choke out.

“Are you certain?” Appoloin asked tightly and there was a cold smile on his face. Oh, yes they were beautiful, but they were also terrible in their wrath. These humans worshipped the Nameless with such zeal and spoke of his Perfect Love never really discussing that when the time came for punishment it was these beautiful angels that delivered death and destruction without hesitation or remorse. In the end, human morality was just as alien to this beautiful creature as it was to Memnon.

“Yes, Appoloin. I attend your words.” Memnon stammered.

“We are watching. Tell your prince that. The One Above All has spoken yet he sees vile repugnant defiance from humanity. The Great Chorus must not be disturbed. The Chanting must not cease. Your ilk were given this world and we see nothing but abhorrent failure. We do not want to take a more active role. Uriel awaits on the ether like a sword of Damocles.”

“Uriel?!” Memnon exclaimed.

“Last he moved upon man, the Land of Khemet wept bitter tears. Do not force our hand. Cow them. Stop the defiance. Should they find a way to disrupt the Chorus we will end this charade once and for all.” Gabriel jerked Memnon down to face him, tusk to nose.

“Clear, foul one?” Appoloin replied like ice and hurled the Never Born back through the wall of the shack. Corrugated tin and sheet rock gave way and Memnon found himself running before he even realized he was touching ground again.

“Peace be with you.” Appoloin whispered into the dawn wind and calmly sat back down to enjoy his tea.

He was disturbed in his tranquility by a roar and a clattering noise that shook dust from the ceiling of the hut and spoiled his tea. Dawn had still only half arrived but standing at the door, he could see a hulking brute made of square boxes sitting in the road. Two more of the same were behind it and three smaller brutes. Appoloin looked more carefully, there were twenty thin black rings painted around the long tube that stuck out of the upper box. The there was a squeaking noise and something opened from the top. At first Appoloin thought it was one of the foul ones but then he saw it was a human. With his eye for beauty, he saw her as comely, and buxom even by the standards of the daughters of Ham.

Lieutenant Keisha “Hooters” Stevenson didn’t feel comely. She was gray with exhaustion, her hair under her communications helmet was matted and her scalp stinging with sweat. She and the crew of Alpha-One-One had been on the move all night, at first chasing down the fleeing remnants of the northern army. Later, they’d split away and were now swinging west and south across the rear of the Baldrick army. If it had been a human force, there would have been supply columns to devastate and rear area units to destroy but here there was nothing. Until they’d come to this tiny village. Here, they had to wait until the great ships of the desert, the Oshkosh Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks, could catch up with them and bring them new supplies of fuel for the greedy gas turbines and ammunition for their guns. Although Stevenson thought, they didn’t need ammunition for all their kills. The roadwheels and bellies of the Abrams and Bradleys were stained green and yellow with baldrick blood. It was a dirty little secret of armored warfare that tanks killed infantry with their tracks just as often as they did with their guns.

There were other dirty little secrets as well of course. One of them, she had found, was that her physique wasn’t perfectly suited to the inside of a cramped armored vehicle. Put quite bluntly her breasts got in the way. Back in her first unit, their impressive size had got her the nickname of ‘hooters’. Woman in the Army reacted to things like that one of two ways, they either got offended, kicked up a fuss and were eased out or they sucked it up, gave back as good as they got and were accepted. Stevenson had been one of the second group but that didn’t help her now. After being thrown around inside a fast-moving tank all night, she was sore, tired, bruised and battered. And she had seen so much killing over the last twenty hours that she was a veteran with a veterans lack of patience for stupidity.

Still the dawn chill felt good after being sealed down for so long. She looked around the village, saw people slowly coming out of the buildings to look at the great American tanks. She checked them over carefully, noting the glitter of silver from their covered heads. The word was spreading fast, cover your head with foil if you don’t want a baldrick stealing your mind. Even out here in the back of beyond. The breeze sure did feel good though, even though it gave her a shrewd idea of just how bad she must smell. She slipped the shoulder straps of her top off to get full benefit from the cool air. That caused a stir of disapproval from some of the men in the village, although she did note they kept staring at her to remind themselves how offended they felt.

In his doorway, Appoloin saw the gesture and felt perturbed. She might be comely but such brazen behavior was immodest. He stepped away from his doorway into the street, projecting an image of love and friendliness with all his might. “Cover yourself woman,” and his kindly voice echoed across the street.

“Screw you!” Stevenson’s voice was harsh for she was a veteran and didn’t suffer fools gladly. “And the horse you ….. ****! Baldrick 20 degrees left! Canister!” She dropped back into the turret of her tank, by long practice ending the fall in her commander’s position. The turret was already swinging to bear on her mark.

“Up.”

“Shoot.”

The gunner saw the cross-hairs merge with the figure standing silhouetted against the rising sun. “On the way.”

The blast of canister took Appoloin full in the chest, hurling him backwards and tearing at his body. Incredibly, it didn’t kill him although there was no way he would have survived wounds that terrible. It was the bursts from the 25mm Bushmaster chain guns on the Bradleys that finished him off. Confused by the sudden, vicious attack and in agony from the wounds, Appoloin died in a spreading pool of white blood.

A few minutes later, Stevenson and her crew were looking down at the body, now revealed in its true form, a white humanoid with wings. “Not the same as the ones we’ve killed so far ell-tee.” Stevenson’s crew were punctilious about addressing her correctly when others were around. Inside their tank she was ‘hooters’ just as the gunner was ‘baldy’, the loader ‘crab’ and the driver ‘biker’ but, for them, using her nickname where outsiders could hear would be disrespectful.

“Not the same at all. I guess this is one of them angels. Doesn’t matter, we declared war on them as well.” She raised her voice slightly. “Did anybody see where this one came from?”

One of the village women pointed at a barn-like building. Crab went over and looked inside, then came back, his face grim and as white as the body stretched out on the ground. “You’d better take a look at this ell-tee.”

Stevenson went into the hut and looked for what seemed a long, long time. When she came back, her eyes were blank. “Well, that puts paid to any idea about them being good guys doesn’t it? We need a camera crew up here to film that.” Suddenly, she shook with rage. “Damn him. He sat there drinking tea surrounded by that horror show. Slaughtered an entire family and then drank a cup of tea.”

“Don’t sweat it ell-tee. We done good here. Nobody believed they were on the side of righteousness any more. Not after The Message.” Baldy was speaking from the barrel of the 120mm gun where he had just finished painting a white ring to match all the black ones.

Far away, in the rocky wasteland, Memnon heard the crash of the gun and crackle of gunfire and decided he’d better vacate the area. Very quickly.

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

“Next.”

James Randi sighed. It sounded so good using the enormous expertise his Educational Foundation had built up in detecting fraudulent psychics and mediums to try and find the real thing. It was hard to believe that the JREF was now the front line in humanity’s fight against its enemies. Neither consideration changed the fact that the day-to-day reality of the task was boring. He had another candidate for testing, a young woman who called herself kitten. No capital he noted, important thing that. It was essential to make the interviewees comfortable. He heard the door open and glanced up. Years of expertise in self control kept his face expressionless but he knew this day at least would not be considered boring.

Two people had entered the room, one a young man dressed all in black with a vaguely military style coat that reached down below his knees. A goth, although that wasn’t what had added interest to Randi’s otherwise routine day. With him was a young woman, another goth dressed in black with her hair down around her shoulders, her long dress low cut and held by thin shoulder straps. The young man was leading her around by a dog-leash attached to a collar around her neck.

“You must be kitten?” Randi’s voice was even. “Would you like to take a seat?”

The girl paused for a second until the man with her gave a quick nod, then she sat down. “I’m kitten, yes.”

“You too Sir, please sit down.” The young man did so. “kitten, why are you here today?”

“I read your advertisement asking for people who can contact the dead to call you. I can do that, sometimes. I can also see into hell.”

“I see, what’s hell like?”

“Some parts of it aren’t too bad. Imagine a really destroyed city, one where all the buildings are smashed, the streets ruined. Like those pictures of those World War Two German cities after the Allied bombing. Freezing cold, raining all the time, people gathered around burning garbage to keep warm, the only food available, trash from skips. And no hope, everybody knowing that it’ll never be any different, never going to get any better. That’s where I’m going when I die. I’m lucky, some parts of hell are much, much worse.”

“How long have you known this kitten? Been able to see these things.”

“As long as I can remember. I’m not quite normal you see. In fact, I’m very far from normal.”

Randi’s secretary came in with a file and handed it over, being very careful to keep her face straight. Randi looked at the psychiatrist’s report. It described kitten as a paranoid schizophrenic with apocalyptic delusions but added that she was perfectly well compensated and, despite her condition, was able to function in society without medication. In fact, the shrink had concluded, functionally she was the most well-adjusted person he dealt with and that included his own staff. Randi allowed himself to smile at that. Then he flipped over to her birth certificate and he couldn’t stop the look of surprise.

“Um, your birth certificate has you listed as male?”

“I was born in the wrong body. I’m having it put right surgically. I’ve had these,” she waved at her chest,” done already. We’re saving up for the big operation now.”

“Well, if you do well here, my government will pay for that operation for you.” Behind them, General Asanee had entered the room, as silently as always. Randi found it perturbing how she could move with so little disturbance. “We have the best surgeons in the world for that type of operation and my Army will see you get the best of the best.”

“Quite. Obviously if your claims are proved, you will be very important to us.” Randi hesitated, not quite certain how to address kitten.

“Please use either ‘she’ or ‘it’ when referring to me. I don’t want to be called ‘he’ ever.” Kitten spoke firmly and decisively on that point. Randi nodded, he could respect somebody who stuck to their guns regardless of public opinion.

“That’s fine with us kitten. Now, did you sell your vision services to people, to contact their relatives, that sort of thing?”

Kitten shook her head. “How could I tell people what had happened to their friends, their family? It would be cruel. I’ve told close friends that I could see into hell but that’s all.”

“That’s very good. Right, kitten, we are going to carry out some tests on you. We think we’ve detected how people can communicate across the dimensional barrier and we can measure it. So we’re going to see what happens when you try and look into hell. Sir.” Randi switched to kitten’s friend. “We have a very comfortable waiting room or, if you like, one of the guides can give you the Pentagon tour.”

“Sir,” kitten spoke deferentially. “I do this much better if I’m comfortable and I’ll be much more at ease if Dani is with me and holding my leash. So can he come in please?”

“If that’s what you wish, of course.” Randi dug into another file. “We’re going to ask you to try and contact these people, they are the crews of some helicopters that were lost in Iraq almost a fortnight ago. If you’d like to study these pictures, perhaps you can get through to them.” He handed the pictures over. They were of Lieutenant Jade “Broomstick” Kim and the rest of the crews of Tango-One-Five.

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


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Headquarters, Multi-National Force Iraq, Green Zone, Baghdad.

Once again, General Petraeus was standing before the great screen in his command center, only this time it was linked directly to the Pentagon, the White House and an increasing number of capitals around the world. The screen showed President Bush, Defense Secretary Warner and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice but he knew that many, many more people were watching than that.

“Sir, we have the initial reports from the battles on the flanks in. We have successfully routed both flanking forces. In the North, the First Armored is already outflanking the baldrick main body and moving into positions to its west. In the South, the Iranian Shamshar Division under General Fereidoon Zolfaghari is also outflanking the enemy and we expect it will link up with the First Armored sometime tomorrow. At that point, the enemy main body will be completely encircled. Our casualties have been remarkably light. A Challenger main battle tank, a Bradley fighting vehicle, two HEMTT trucks and of all the soldiers involved in the fighting, only twenty five have lost their lives. As far as we can tell at this time, all our losses were victims of harpy attacks.”

“Enemy casualties?” Secretary Warner spoke urgently.

“We’re not into body counts Sir, not after Vietnam and the enemy dead are so smashed up it’s impossible to tell how many there are. Details of the pursuit through the night are also only just coming in and it appears the enemy believed that fighting would stop at dusk. We didn’t oblige them of course, we kept going and made it a twenty-four hour battle. During the process, we overran a lot of baldricks who had settled down for the night. So I cannot give you a figure I would be confident with.”

“An estimate, a guess, anything?”

“At a conservative estimate, I would say the enemy cannot have lost less than 60,000 dead, probably many more. What’s left of the flanking forces is falling back on their main body. That main body is still advancing on the center of our line, we expect them to launch their attacks in a few hours. We’ll be concentrating all of our airpower to sweep the sky clean of harpies. Once we’ve done that, the ground forces can repeat the punishment we handed out yesterday. If anything the balance of forces is more favorable to us in the center than it was on the flanks. Once the harpies are out of the way, we can start using our helicopters over the battlefield again.”

“How are your munitions supplies holding up?” Warner’s voice was concerned.

“Very well Sir, we are well-supplied here, we built up a good stockpile in case Iran invaded us and they built up an equal stockpile in case we invaded them. Some, not much but some, of the stocks are interchangeable and the Russians are flying in more. There’s a couple of Il-76s here now, unloading rockets for the Iranian artillery. Secretary Warner Sir, may I ask how the production ramp-up is proceeding? We’re OK for ground forces ammunition but we’re running through AIM-120s at a terrifying rate. After tomorrow we’re going to be real short.”

“Not well General. The problem is that so much of the need is inter-related. The AIM-120 is a good example, we’re accelerating production of the missile as fats as we can but we’re short of guidance systems. We’ve got AIM-120 airframes backing up out of the door waiting for the guidance modules. Raytheon have come up with a partial fix, they’ve designed a new weapon, the AIR-120. Essentially its an AIM-120 with a simple inertial stabilization system that keeps it flying straight and level. They’ve packed it with a warhead that’s three times more powerful than the AIM-120 and given it a fast-burn motor for high speed. It can be carried on a standard triple ejector rack in place of a single AIM-120. Raytheon will build as many AIM-120s as they can get guidance modules for and the rest will be AIR-120s.

“It’s the same across the board I fear. We’ll get it straightened out but we’re running off stocks until we do.”
On the screen, Petraeus nodded. It was more or less what he has suspected.”

White House Conference Room, Washington DC

“Thank you General Petraeus. Doctor Surlethe, what are the results from our investigations of the baldricks.”

“They’re going to start flooding in fast now Sir. We’ve had only limited samples to work with to date but now, with all this in Iraq, that’s going to change. And we’ve got the succubus that defected. We could lean a lot simply by dissecting her.”

“No way.” Director of National Intelligence Donald MacLean Kerr jumped straight on the idea. “She’s the first live baldrick we’ve got our hands on. We need to talk to her, she knows how hell is organized, what its chains of command are, what its social and political structures are like. We’re not dealing with a different country here, or even a different world. We’re dealing with an entirely different dimension. We need to know how that dimension works, what its economy is like, if indeed it has an economy. We need to know what sort of enemy we are fighting and what his resources are like. We can’t get any of that from her dissected corpse.”

“And suppose she won’t tell you?” Doctor Surlethe jumped straight back.

“We could always waterboard her?”

“How do you know she can’t breath water?” Secretary Rice’s voice was droll.

“Exactly my point.” Surlethe was getting impassioned. “Military and political data is all very well, economic information too, but first we need to know much more about the baldricks themselves. How do they work? Can we get some idea of what powers they take for granted but seem magical to us? I’m sorry Don, but investigation of the baldricks themselves must come first. Which is rather unfortunate for her of course.”

“Gentlemen.” The room quieted as President Bush spoke. “You are forgetting that this succubus came over to us on a promise that she would not be ill-treated. We did not make that promise but it was made to her on our behalf by our allies. We cannot go back on our word. We must not.”

“She didn’t defect voluntarily, she had a ring of guns pointed at her.”

“I know. If she’d fought, she’d still probably have killed some of those women. She chose not to.”

“Sir.” General Petraeus spoke from the screen. “There is a practical side to this as well. We have one defector who came over on a promise of good treatment. How we treat her may very well decide how many more baldricks decide to surrender or, even better, defect. If they get the idea that surrendering is a way out from certain death facing our tanks and artillery, it might end this war more quickly. It may very well mean fewer of our people get killed. Treating surrendered enemy personnel with extreme brutality has never worked to the favor of those committing such acts.”

“I agree.” Secretary Warner added his emphasis. “We’ve danced on a thin line during the War on Terror and shot ourselves in the foot doing it. We should not repeat that mistake.”

“General, Secretary Warner, your practical comments add weight to my instincts on this. Doctor Surlethe, you may investigate the succubus using non-invasive methods provided they do not inflict harm upon her. You may, with her consent, take blood samples etc. But there will be no dissection, is that clear?” Surlethe nodded. Unhappily but still a nod.

“Mister Randi, how is your end of this going?”

“Very well Sir, we made a breakthrough today. A young…..” Randi hesitated and then decided to keep going. “… woman came in, she can see in to hell. We have her trying to contact some of our deceased personnel now. Hunting through psychics and mediums was a false step, none of them turned out to be anything other than common mountebanks and tricksters, but we have found some interesting cases under psychiatric care. Also, our advertisements have brought in a few people with promise. We have another young lady who can get into the mind of a demon and she’s exploiting that right now. As soon as we can work out how to expand that from talking to one demon into talking to all of them at one, we’ll launch Radio Free Hell.”

Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, USA.

Lugasharmanaska was utterly bewildered. She’d been on earth not so long ago, a mere couple of centuries, but she’d had nothing like these experiences then. How had all these machines suddenly appeared? She’d flown for hours in a huge sky chariot, one loaded down with crates of more things called supplies. The crew had been nice to her of course, that was inevitable, they’d offered her food and drink and she’d accepted it even though it wouldn’t quench her appetite much. Her body craved raw meat, preferably torn from a still-living body and the thing she’d been given didn’t even come close. Just what was a ‘hot pocket’ anyway?

She could have adapted more easily to the sights around her if there weren’t so many of them. The city she had been assigned to was bad enough, all those tiny chariots racing around, but this great field was full of the huge Sky Chariots. Even as she watched, a different one was coming in to land. To her incredulous eyes, it changed even while it did so, its swept-back wings suddenly swinging forward to reach straight out. Then it touched down on the long black strip and started to slow. Immediately a band started playing, making her jump.

“Yeah, bands do that.” The Air Force policeman watching her was sympathetic. Of course. Her mind-mask didn’t work any more but the miasma was still doing its job of creating sympathy with the humans around her. “It’s the 32nd Tactical Fighter Wing standing up. That’s the first F-111 to rejoin the Air Force.”

None of that made much sense to Lugasharmanaska. She did note one thing though, the Sky Chariot that had brought her was painted light gray, the one that had just landed was a cloudy mix of gray and orange-red. It never occurred to her that its paint job was an exact match to the skies of hell.

A long black ground chariot had pulled up and she was escorted into the back seat. The driver looked at her with hate that quickly faded to mild affection. The door closed behind her and the chariot pulled away. Lugasharmanaska couldn’t see where the horses were hidden. Still, it didn’t matter. What did matter was that she was safe. She quickly recalled the split second of blind panic when she looked at the ring of guns pointed at her and knew death was but a split second away. Miasma had done its work, Lugasharmanaska didn’t know it but the panic had kicked her glands into working overtime and secreting human pheromones that created sympathy for her with everybody around. That had bought her just enough time. She’d worked her situation out with speed and hedged her bets by surrendering. If the demons won, she would have fulfilled her mission and penetrated the enemy leadership, gaining vital information. She would have done her duty and be rewarded. If the humans won, and looking around her Lugasharmanaska had an unpleasant feeling they might, she would be the first defector and would also be well-rewarded. No matter who won, she would be safe.

Sacramento, California

Norman Baines sighed and rubbed his eyes, and glanced at his watch. He'd been sitting in front of his computer for about ten hours, plowing through a weeks' worth of reports for his job. He didn't actually have to work forty hours, as long as it LOOKED like he did. "Time for breakfast." Victor, one of his cats and self-appointed overseer gave a 'rowr' of approval as he hopped down and padded after Baines towards the kitchen. Two other cats, Roger and Clarence, soon joined him as they all gathered around their communal bowl. Baines peeked through the kitchen blinds and gave the sky a glance. "No eternal darkness yet," He said with a wry grin. His 'boys' looked up at him, curiously, "looks like the betting pool is still open!" With that Victor, Clarence, and Roger bent down to their dry food. Fixing a bowl of nondescript bachelor chow, he wandered over to the couch and turned on the TV.

He sighed at the empty beer cans on the coffee table, they were his way of coping with the betrayal he'd felt after the Message came out. A man in his late twenties, Baines had been very active in his church, a faithful man but also fairly rational. And, as Dawkins had said, extraordinary claims required extraordinary evidence. He'd gone to services once, but it had seemed hollow. Now he spent his days processing reports for his job from his home computer, enjoying the relative safety of his home.

Picking up the remote, he flipped through the channels.

*CLICK*
"Hey kids, its Bill Nye the Science Guy here! Be sure to keep your foil hats on at all times, you can never be too safe. Let's see how science protects YOU from the baldr-"

*CLICK*
"The Top Ten Signs that annoying guy in your office might be a demon number ten: Instead of decaf he drinks brimsto-"

*CLICK*
"And if you act now we'll throw in a FIFTH digital camera for free so you can monitor your home for demons twenty-four-seven!"

*CLICK*
"Coming through the desert in West Iraq, if you come to East Compton I'm gonna bust a cap! Don't bring your demon nonsense up in my hood, the Crips are rollin' large and we up to no good!"

Baines sighed and looked at Clarence, now bathing himself on the recliner. "I don't know if its more disconcerting that he's rapping about demons, or that it's a good tune." There was a loud knock at the door. He walked over and picked up a digital camera. Opening the door, he turned it on and looked at the screen. Humans.

He looked up and his eyes widened. It was in fact two men in suits and two men in army uniforms carrying automatic weapons. "Norman L. Baines?" One of the suited men asked.

"Ye-yes, sir." Baines stammered It was a strange feeling to be unused to talking to someone else. He hadn't said five words to a human being since the Message. He stuck out a foot to prevent Victor from making an escape.

“My name is Robert O'Shea, I'm with the Pentagon. This is my colleague, Doctor Watts. May we have a few moments of your time?" He stood solidly, implying that his request was nothing but. Dr. Watts, however, looked like someone who would rather be anywhere else.

"Ah, sure, come on in." Baines shook himself out of his momentary daze and ushered the men in, hurriedly moving dirty dishes and stacks of books and papers out of the way. One guard remained at the front door and the other simply nodded to O'Shea and began to move through the house. "Please, sit down.", Baines gestured to a dingy sofa. O’Shea sat down, but Doctor Watts remained standing, studying one of Baines's bookcases. "How can I help you guys?"

"We wanted to talk to you about your book, Mr. Baines." O’Shea opened his briefcase and pulled out a thick, collated document bound in plastic.

"I never… my…" Baines took the book and his eyes bulged as he read the cover, The Science of Hell, by N. L. Baines. "But this wasn't published! Where… how in the hell did you even GET....CHARLIE!" He looked at O’Shea. "Charlie gave it to you! That bastard!"

"That's right Mr. Baines, your brother gave this to us. Don't be hard on him though. The President recently signed an executive order requesting all knowledge of demonology and demon-history be surrendered to our department. Had Lt. Baines withheld this document, he could have been tried for treason." O’Shea leaned in closely, his eyes scrutinizing Baines inch by inch "Where do you get your information, Mr. Baines?"

Baines's mind swam. He'd had this same feeling in graduate school when he showed up for his final on archaeological methods after spending the night cramming for medieval literature. "What? Uh... I just kinda read-up on it. It's a hobby, you know?"

A snort from Dr. Watts drew Baines's attention to the bookshelf. "This is the Key of Solomon?" Baines shrugged. "In Latin? That's a bit more than a 'hobby', Mr. Baines.

Baines felt his hackles rise, "And what? I'm supposed to trust that dipwad, Mathers to translate it correctly for me?"

Watts wasn't listening as he pawed through more books, "O’Shea look at this nonsense: A Field Guide to Demons, A Dictionary of Angels, Dragon Magic, Secrets of the Vatican, Norse Runes and Magic..." He shook his head in disgust. "He's just a nut. We're wasting our time."

Baines was on his feet in an instant. O'Shea was startled that this mild-mannered scientist could look so enraged "Now you listen to me, you pompus, self-assured, g-man prick! I don't come into the Pentagon and tell you how to polish your desk and shuffle your papers, so don't tell me what I know in my own house!" He took the books out of Watt's hands, and pointed at the couch. "By the way, you're right. Most of what's in these books is ridiculous superstition and nonsense, collected by centuries of nut-jobs. However," his voice began to change into the voice of an excited professor and O'shea was briefly reminded of his History professor back at NYU.

Watts rolled his eyes. "For example?"

Baines sighed condescendingly, "qui habet aures audiendi audiat. Alright, Captain PHD, take a look at this!" Baines walked over to a wall and pulled down a large hanging rug with a flourish revealing a large chart. There were hand-written notes, string, and pictures all over it. Both men stared blankly, as though unsure if Baines might turn into a baldrick at any moment "THIS," He pointed to the chart. "Is just about every book ever written about Judeo-Christian demons and hell, set chronologically." He pointed to lines connecting them. "As you were so kind to point out, they're about eighty-five to ninety-five percent crap, but they have common threads, and those threads migrate over time." He traced the lines with his fingers. "You can see here's old-testament, pre-Christian stuff, and it trends onward, and then BAM." He stopped at a prominent 'zig' "Constantine and the Roman Empire. Changes opinions, but some things stay the same. We also have shifts during the Dark Ages, and a BIG shift with Dante. But, if you look hard enough you can sift through the crap and find out what makes sense."

"Makes sense? Robert, this man is a GEOLOGIST." Dr. Watts got up and walked toward the opposite wall. He scratched some paint from the wall, revealing silvery metal underneath. "And his entire house is wrapped in aluminum foil. I'd wonder if anything DOESN'T make sense to him."

"Wait a second," Baines raised a hand. "I did my house like this because I have an aluminum allergy. You got a better idea? And for your information Doctor," again he spat out the word, "I only WORK as a geologist. You have my book, you have my file. You know what I've studied, but it's obvious you're here because you want to know what I know." Baines spoke slowly and with purpose, as though he were waking up from a dream and finding the real-world was a much better place for once.

"It makes sense to me, Watts. And remember, he figured out how demons could fly before we knew they existed." O’Shea stood up and walked towards the chart. His fingers traced various threads, and as he looked at Baines, he felt he was seeing the man for the first time. "He may be a little crazy, but you should see the people Randi is getting." He pulled out a cellular phone and pressed a button. "He's a keeper." He closed the phone. "Norman, how'd you like to go to Washington?"

The front door opened and soldiers came in with boxes and hand-carts. Baines waved them off. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Back the truck up!" He glanced warily at O'Shea, "I've got a job here, and you still haven't told me who you're working with." The agent handed him a card.

DEPARTMENT OF INTELLIGENCE AND MILITARY OPERATIONS (NETHERWORLD)

"D.I.M.O.(N)? Kudos to your acronym department. You're kidding me, right?" His smirk faded as he looked at his living room. There were two government agents, two armed soldiers, and four more soldiers loading his entire library and home into boxes. "Have I been drafted?"

"Not exactly, Norman. It's kind of like eminent domain. You've been forcibly hired," O’Shea stuck out his hand and smiled for the first time. "Welcome to government work, Mister Baines. The pay sucks, but you get to kill things and nobody will call you crazy."

Baines felt weak at first, with everything moving so quickly around him, but he then gave O'Shea's hand a firm pump and said resolutely "I'll go get my lightsaber and then we can go." Then he thought for a second. “What about my cats?”

O’Shea sighed quietly. “You have carry-boxes? They might as well come as well. Nothing could be crazier than the way things are going right now.”

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


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