Posted: 2008-02-19 10:38am
On the Shore of the Styx, Fifth Ring, Hell
The six newcomers followed the woman along the banks of the Styx. She moved swiftly and surely, as though she'd been along this way a thousand times before. As they waded through the mud, she spoke back over her shoulder: “You're lucky they put you here in this part of the Styx. This ring is ten miles across; you could have been walking for several days to get to Dis.”
“What’s Dis?” Jade Kim asked.
“Satan’s capital. His palace is there, all the administration is run out of there as well. It surrounds the whole of hell like a wall.”
“And you’re taking us there?” Kim’s voice was loaded with suspicion.
“Of course,” said the woman. “That's where the resistance is headquartered.”
“Tell us about the resistance.”
The woman smiled. “It’s hard to know where to start. You see, the resistance has a long history; it's been around almost as long as I have.”
“And how old are you? And, who are you?” Kim’s growing suspicion and dislike for this woman made getting an answer very urgent.”
“I've been dead for ten thousand years.” The woman laughed at the expression on their faces. “Why are you so surprised? Once you're dead, you're effectively immortal; aging is slowed by orders of magnitude, and you're healthy and robust so the torment doesn't put you under. As for who I am, you may have heard of me. My name is Rahab. That’s right, that Rahab” The woman’s voice was bitter. “I betrayed my country to help the Israelites and their god and he tossed me down here anyway.”
“So, if there’s been a resistance for all these years, why hasn't hell been overthrown?”
“It can’t be. This is it, there’s nothing more. We can’t overthrow the order here. All we can do is try to disappear, save ourselves from torment. That's not as hard as it sounds, Hell is a big place, and it takes a long time to move around in it or communicate. I've just finished a two-month walk from Dis down to Cocytus, up to the first ring, and back. The fact that there are constant patrols is a real problem, and though they don't really go out of their way to look, if they see anything untoward, they light on it immediately. And one demon is more than a match for four or five people.”
“Then how did we manage to take down that baldrick?”
“To be blunt, you got lucky. He came down for a spot of torture and fun, and you surprised him before he could react. If he'd seen you guys free before you were on him, he'd have called for some help and then zapped you with lightning from a distance.”
Once again, the members of Tango-one-five exchanged glances. The picture they were getting was that the so-called resistance wasn’t resisting at all. At best they were an escape group, an underground railway that tried to keep themselves away from the pits that made up the rings of hell. It seemed as if the people here had accepted the line that this was the ultimate end of things, that any effort to change it was doomed to futility.
Kim looked around. They were on the edge of the river, if it could be called that. It was more like a rippling strip of clear water through the mucky water surrounding it. Ahead of them, through the vile, thick mist, they saw a tall, stone tower looming. Rahab turned and put a finger to her lips, then sank lower into the mist, crouching into the mud. She moved forward slowly.
Kim followed suit, but kept looking around. The tower moved closer and closer, and she looked up. At the top, suddenly, an flare burst into existence with a foomp. The light from the signal fire lit everything around them in a dull orange glow, making the mist look a bit like tomato soup. Abruptly, their guide ducked under the muck. Kim caught a glimpse of a towering silhouette looming through the mist before she followed suit – except, she didn't duck all the way. Instead, she sank down as far as she could go while keeping her face above the surface of the mud. Simultaneously, she shrank back toward a clump of stringy, greasy grass.
The baldrick passed within five feet of her. It was mounted on what looked like an oversized rhinoceros with a scorpion-tail arched overhead – A rhinolobster, she recognized it an instant later from that last mission in Iraq, which was wading through the swamp. Looking neither left nor right, the baldrick reined his mount forward when it sniffed and started at something, and kept moving until the mist had swallowed it. The baldrick itself had been huge, twice the height and probably four or five times the weight of the one they'd killed back there.
Rahab surfaced from the mud as the rest of the Tango flight members came up for air. “If you'd attacked him, you'd have had no chance,” she said. Though that was all, the words had clearly been aimed at Kim who had her own thoughts on the matter.
It was very easy to think of ten thousand reasons why something could not be done, it took a different mindset to think of the way it could be achieved. Kim had her own ideas there, she’d thought of two ways of taking the mounted patrol down already, although much depended on what could be found locally. She’d seen the black outcrops that spoke of coal and coal meant powdered carbon. This whole area was volcanic, and that meant sulfur. Now, if there was only some saltpeter around, they had the start of an IED. “Keep a look out for yellow deposits.” She whispered to her people.
“Ahead of you ell-tee. Already been looking. There’s some in the rocks. We’re two for three so far. And there’s some pretty crystals that might be good for fragments.”
They moved on for a while before Rahab broke silence and asked, “So, what are things like back topside?”
McInery piped up. “We were all pilots in the 160th SpecOps in Iraq when the Message came. Lost a tenth of the regiment, then didn't do much of anything until the hellmouth opened in western Iraq and we got sent out to take a look at the baldrick advance. Took down the command structure of a regiment, then got outrun by harpies and taken down.”
The woman was smiling bemusedly. “You lost me at 'Message',”
Kim exchanged glances with McInery. “You don't know about the Message?”
“No, not about this Message. It wouldn’t have been the first you know.”
“Basically, God said that heaven was closed, and told everyone to lay down and die. So those people who really believed laid down and died, and the rest of us had no idea what to do. Then the Navy shot down some bald…. some demons and showed us they could be killed. So we started to fight. Doing pretty good too.”
There was a bridge coming up out of the thinning mist now, next to the road they'd been wading beside for some time. Rahab turned and said, “Stay low and follow me single-file.” She crouched and moved beside the road to the base of the bridge, then slipped underneath. The members of Tango flight followed suit. There, bolted to the base of the bridge, was a rope that stretched across the river beneath the arch of the roadway. The woman took hold of the rope and started pulling herself hand-over-hand across the river. Kim looked at McInery, shrugged, and followed.
On the far side, Rahab crouched and hissed, “Okay, this is the most dangerous part. The walls that separate the fourth and fifth circles of hell are right up on the other side of this embankment, and they are constantly manned. The guards are vigilant and they will see you if you poke your head up, so you stay low and follow me as fast as you can.”
Kim nodded. SERE – still in the “evade” part. Rahab turned and, crouching, ran to a rock outcropping sticking up several dozen meters away. She looked around, then beckoned. Single-file, the escaped soldiers followed, making sure to stay crouched. They followed her from formation to formation, putting distance between them and the bridge as quickly as possible. At one large boulder, they stopped, and Rahab pointed back. Just at the edge of vision, the bridge stretched back into the mist covering the far shore of the Styx; across it snaked a long, black column of baldricks. It was following the road up the embankment to the plain and across that to the city, whose high walls were visible even here. When they moved on after a short rest break, the column was still marching with no end in sight.
“They must have found that body you crucified. See how they react?” Rahab’s voice had a mixture of conceit and spite in it. Kim looked at her steadily, if she couldn’t see the baldrick column was marching out, not in……..
At length, the woman led them up the incline and onto the plain, one that was littered with what looked to be bonfires, although from the distance it was hard to tell. She moved purposefully forward, and as they followed her, Kim got a chance to more closely examine the bonfires. They weren't bonfires; they were what looked like burning coffins, of all things. On some, the lids were half-off; she could hear groans and cries of pain drifting out of them.
Rahab stopped at one coffin, which was glowing dully. “What sort of metal is it?” McInery idly asked.
“Bronze. Everything here is bronze.” said Rahab as she bent down and casually lifted the lid off. The hissing sound as the metal seared her flesh was audible.
Kim gasped. “What the hell ... ?”
The woman shrugged. “It'll heal in no time.” She gestured. “In you go.”
Kim looked down. The coffin had no bottom; instead, it was a stairwell. The top two stairs were afire, but the rest looked cool enough. Hesitantly, Kim stepped in, and gingerly hopped down to the third stair before crouching and continuing down. There was certainly pain in her feet, but it wasn't unbearable, and the cool stone on them felt good.
The rest of her team followed, wincing and grunting as they crossed the fire. Then the woman jumped into the coffin, grabbed the lid, and swung it back on. It fell on with a dull clank, and what little light there was vanished, save that cast by the flickering flames above. There was a flare, and more light: the woman was holding a torch, one she'd obviously picked up from the stash Kim could see on the fourth step.
She descended and brushed by them, then took the lead. They followed her for what seemed like miles -before the tunnel opened into a room. As they stepped into the cave, Kim realized that her feet didn't hurt anymore. The room was well-lit by torches ensconced in the wall, and there were some chairs and a sleeping pad in the corner. She sat down, and gestured to some chairs. “Please, sit.”
For the first time, Kim began to relax, and felt the adrenaline slowly draining out of her. She recognized the signs, end-of-patrol-itis, something that had killed more soldiers than most other mistakes. Assuming that the danger was over because they were about to re-enter their base, the getting ambushed when their guard was down. Kim kicked herself hard, mentally, danger was never over down here, she could never let her guard down. Especially with this woman.
“Anyway,” continued Rahab, “you need to tell me about this 'Message' and everything that's happened since.”
And they did. They told her about the Message, and the peoples' death, the declaration of war on Hell and Heaven – “Mmm, Yahweh's in on this, too?” wondered Rahab out loud – and the opening of the Hellgate in the wastes of western Iraq. When they were done, the woman sat for a long time in silence. Then she said, “If you will excuse me, I will be gone for a couple of days. I will be back to take you to our leader.” Then Rahab stood and exited the room.
“What do you think ell-tee?”
Kim looked around at the room. “We’re like rats in a trap here and I don’t like it. And I don’t trust that woman, her main priority appears to be keeping out of the way of the guards and not getting caught.”
“I can understand that ell-tee.”
“So can I, but Uncle Sugar doesn’t pay us to sit around. She must guess that and knows we are set on stirring things up around here. That could easily mean things get pretty precarious for people who just want to keep their heads down. I’d say it’s a fifty-fifty bet she’s arranging to turn us in right now. If she isn’t actually part of the security system.”
There were nods. A fake “resistance movement” that drew in likely recruits so they could be quietly killed was a tactic as old as the hills. The Company had been running similar things Iraq before The Message had come through. And Satan was known as being the Prince of Lies.
“Yeah, ell-tee, and she’s pretty bitter about Yahweh sending her down here. That could easily translate into her working with the other guy.”
“So let’s get the hell out of here.” McInery spoke decisively.
Kim agreed, it was against the grain to stay in one place under these circumstances. They made their way back up to the surface and out. Then, they moved as fast as they could to put as much ground between them and the hiding hole as possible. A few hours later, well concealed from any observers on the walls towering high above them, they came to a stop.
“What next ell-tee?”
“First priority, find a way of attacking and killing one of those big baldricks on a rhinolobster. An IED should do it. They’re supposed to be so invulnerable, taking one down will be a real blow.”
“That bridge. Now if we could blow it under a baldrick column.”
Kim laughed at that one. “We’ll need something more than gunpowder to do that. What did you think of that column by the way?”
“They were marching out ell-tee. Being pulled out of here, for something else. The only thing I can think of that would warrant that kind of movement is fighting us.”
“Agreed. A sign our boys are doing well back there?” Then her face froze. There was a voice playing in her head.
“Hello, is this Lieutenant Jade Kim? Hello, hello.”
“What’s the matter ell-tee?”
“Got voices in my head. Sound like us, human. Hold one.”
“This is Kim. Identify.
“I’m kitten. I’m in the Pentagon. I’ve been asked to try and find you.”
“Authenticate two-eight-six” Kim snapped the numbers out.
There was a long pause and Kim was about to give up when the voice came back. “Sorry, we took some time to find the security number from the night you were shot down. Authentication is two-oh-five.
Jade Kim tried to stop herself cheering. “Guys, we’re through. Somehow, the brass have found a way to get word through to us. I think we’re back in the Army.”
Headquarters, Randi Institute of Pneumatology, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA
There was no restraint in the laboratory, the cheering could be heard outside the doors and all down the corridor. Randi stuck his head around the corner, beaming at the sight of his staff dancing up and down.
“I take it something worked?”
“kitten got through to those helicopter pilots. They’re on the line now.”
“How solid is the contact?”
“Very Sir.” kitten spoke respectfully. “It’s comfortable to hold and there’s no fade.”
“Ask her where she is and what her situation is.”
kitten’s eyes defocused while she “spoke” with Kim. “She says she’s in the fifth circle of hell, she and her unit have escaped from captivity. They’ve started to set up a resistance, they’ve already killed a baldrick. The resistance is called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Hell. She says they need supplies if we can get them to her.”
“Is there a resistance already? Escaped prisoners and so on?”
Another long pause. “Yes, but Kim says she doesn’t trust them. Their main priority is keeping their heads down and avoiding recapture. Her plan is to keep them at arms length until she and her unit have stirred things up enough so that they don’t have any choice about joining the insurgency. She also says there are signs of major troop movements out of hell itself, suggesting more forces are being readied for the invasion of earth. She’s asking how well the Army is doing up here.”
“That’s my girl.” General Schatten had entered the room quietly. “Tell her we’re kicking ass and taking names, we’ve won the first two battles big-time. Then, kitten, find out what Kim’s supply priorities are please. Tell Kim we can’t promise we’ll get stuff through to her but if its possible, we will.”
One again, kitten’s eyes defocused. “First priority is webbing so they can carry stuff. Then, she wants C-4 explosives, or better if we can send it, M-24 claymores, AT-4 anti-tank rockets and radios. Detonators or as many types as possible. She says an M82A1 .50 sniper’s rifle would be nice as well.”
Schatten finished writing the list on a pad. “Can we get back through to her any time?”
“I think so, Sir. It should be easier to reopen the link than it was to find her.”
“Very well, tell her we’ll be back in touch. We don’t want to keep this link open all the time, it’s a security risk.”
“Very good Sir.” kitten’s eyes blanked out again, then returned to life. “She’s gone Sir. I wished her luck on your behalf.”
“Thank you kitten.” Schatten’s voice was kindly. “I just hope we can send her a bit more than good luck.”
(Note of thanks to Surlethe who contributed the first part of this section).
Posted: 2008-02-19 02:42pm
Hmmm... you know, not only could I see Rahab as an instrument of Hell to round up escapees, but I could see her as an instrument of Yawheh in part of the original agreement. If we presume that the people in Hell are all told that they belong there, and the people in Heaven are given a similar line, then I could see a select number of true believers being given over to Satan to serve as Secret Police. Their job is to do God's Will and ensure that none of the evil, sinful souls escape their punishment, and in turn they are generally left alone by the demons in the course of their duties and are promised greater rewards in Heaven once their service is up. The promise of getting out might be a lie, but these people are all the truest of believers and can probably also be convinced that they have some sin they must scrub out via service before they can get into Heaven, like Rahab's sin of not being born Jewish.
Posted: 2008-02-19 03:38pm
I'd guess that until they can locate some Potassium Nitrate, the Chopper crews are going to be running around in 'evade' mode, with maybe an occasional ambush of a random Baldrick. Another thing I'd expect them to be doing is freeing random people and sending them out to cause confusion among the enemy and maybe enlarge their ranks if they can find some Russians, Germans, what have you who died in wartime and might be willing to help after 60 or 80 some years of torture. The catch would be language of course-but there are those in hell who seem to have learned since they came. Troopers from pre-20th century would be for much later-they are abundant in all probability, but they are going to need to be totally retrained in order to make an effective resistance force.
Radio Free Hell goes on the aether within 40 days I'll bet. Broadcasting talk, traffic, weather and METAL. maybe we can even make them listen to that wretched 'Jesus take the Wheel' song.