Command Area, Free Hell
“Looks good on you Jade.”
“Did I get it right? Nobody back on Earth dresses like this any more, not that I know of anyway.”
“Looks right to me, look if The Boss isn’t interested, you might give me a call.”
Jade Kim punched Titus Pullo’s arm and entered Caesar’s tent. He was bent over a table that doubled as his desk, piles of paper scattered around him. Despite the apparent chaos, Kim noticed that he never had to search for a document he needed. Obviously there was method in the chaos.
“Jade, thank you for coming. Any chance of getting more supplies?” Gaius Julius Caesar straightened up and looked over the crowded desk. “Now that is a sight I haven’t seen for many a long year.”
Kim posed, very self-consciously, one leg thrust forward, hands on hips. “I had it copied from one of Servilia’s dresses in ‘Rome’. Do you like it?”
“Very much.” Caesar paused slightly. “That play of yours was very unkind to her you know. And to Atia.”
“So some historians said.” Kim giggled slightly. “I suppose they’re all out of a job now. Why go through ancient records when they can ask the person who wrote them? Anyway, on supplies, they’re coming through but nowhere near the amount we need. I don’t think that’s coincidence.”
Caesar looked up sharply. “We’re being kept on a leash? By restricting supplies?”
“That’s my guess. I think nobody back on the living level knows what to make of you. They’re worried, a bit frightened. You’ve got quite a reputation you know and getting ten legions to change sides sort of confirmed the image. And they can guess you want out of here.”
“And I want the Romans out of here as well. We’re surviving down here but we can do a lot better. We need land outside the pit. Any word on that?”
Kim leaned back against a tent pole, almost putting her weight on it, then deciding that it wasn’t strong enough. “Gaius, I’m a Lieutenant still, and nobody tells Lieutenants anything. Especially dead ones. All I can pick up are rumors and you know how reliable they are. Anyway I don’t think the politicians have decided what to do next, they’re far behind the curve. We’re winning this war so fast that the politicians are out of the loop. When they took down Minos, they gave themselves all the problems they can cope with just handling all the recent-dead that are coming through. The recovered dead, they haven’t even begun to think about. My guess is, you move fast enough, they’ll accept what you achieve rather than argue it. One caution, Gaius, don’t call yourself Dictator. I know you were but the word has really bad connotations for my people. Try ‘First Senator’ or something like that.
“Another thing, I have got some maps of Hell, the whole place, not just the pit. We’ve only mapped small areas in detail but we’ve got the general sense of the ground here. It’s huge, one continent with a land area at lest 50 percent greater than that of Earth, seas proportionally smaller. Also, the climate doesn’t change no matter where one goes. There’s a huge amount of usable land here, its not like Earth where so much can’t be used. That’s good because there are a lot of people to find homes for. The guess I’ve heard is that there’s 90 billion humans in Hell. To put that into perspective, baldricks and orcs together don’t total a billion.”
Caesar nodded slowly. “Enough room for all the humans in Hell. So we need to grab ourselves a good bit. Anything else?”
“So what are you up to?”
“Reorganizing the Army so it makes a bit more sense. The demons relied on mass and shock charges, they don’t work against firepower. So, I’m altering their legion structure to maximize their firepower at expense of shock. If we could get rifles for them, it would help.”
“Not a chance. There are rumors that we’re making rifles suitable for baldricks but none are finding their way here. All we’re getting is stuff suitable for humans. M114s and 115s, grenades, C-4 packs, mortars. Perhaps if we corseted the baldricks with human troops carrying guns?”
“Put small groups of humans in with the demons to stiffen them. Our military technology is so far in advance of theirs even a small number of humans should make a big difference. Corseting is a pretty standard way of strengthening weak armies allied to strong ones.”
“Our British Colonel won’t accept his battalion being split up like that.”
“Doesn’t matter, he’ll be gone soon. The British tried a take-over bid, it failed and they need the troops. Anyway, that’s what rumor says.” Kim took a deep breath, this was what she had been putting off. “Important thing, how do you like your breakfast eggs?”
“What?” Caesar was astonished at the apparent irrelevance. “What do eggs have to do with this.”
Kim was trying to control her shaking breath, and the fact she was frightened in a way that hadn’t been the case for years. “Gaius, in our culture, when a girl wants a man friend to know he’s welcome to spend the night with her, she doesn’t say so outright, she just asks him what he wants for breakfast.” She controlled the shaking, Kim knew she was close to crying and her voice was trembling. “So what do you want for breakfast?”
Caesar stared at her. “You’re terrified. We’ve got a good alliance here, one that works because we need each other. You don’t have to force yourself to sleep with me in order to maintain it. And I don’t force women.”
“And if I don’t force myself, I never will. Like riding a horse, once somebody falls off, they have to get right back up again or they’ll never ride again. Gaius, I want a normal life and I want it with you. So, just pretend I’m not forcing myself, please? This is nothing to do with politics or armies. Just with me and getting my head fixed.”
Caesar nodded slowly. “Ah, so I’ll be doing you a kindness then. That’s different. By the way, I like my eggs boiled.”
Kim grinned and held up a finger. “One moment.’ Then, she went to the flap of the tent and stuck her head out. “Sorry Titus, you’re out of luck. Won’t be calling.”
Underground Fortress of Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“Baroness Yulupki, when will the chorus be ready?”
The naga shifted uneasily on her couch. “Sssseven dayssss perhapsss. The new nagasss must be trained and we mussssst rehearse. Or we may have another dissssasssster.”
“Then you have seven days. Then we will open up another portal and drown Turin in white hot boiling lava. The humans think they were clever to shut down our previous portals? They will find we can open them faster than they can close them.”
Around Grand Duke Belial, the courtiers applauded the bombast. It was always safer to do that. Euryale masked her own thoughts very carefully. What she had discovered about the humans and their war-making capability gave her no confidence that Belial could, in fact, open portals that fast. Even if he could, humans had a demonstrated preference for striking at the head of an enemy rather than nibbling at his talons. Sheffield and Dee-troyt had made the humans into mortal enemies of Tartarus and all it contained. What would they do if more of their cities were added to that list. Lakheenahuknaasi had passed some information about what humans could do when they got really angry. In doing so, she had made it clear that some of those things scared even them. One of them was something to do with Nagas like Yulupki, They’d done something called a Naga-sarkee.
Euryale didn’t want to be around when they did another one.
Belial had finished his interrogation of Yulupki and withdrew. Euryale followed him, the next stage of the day’s duties was an inspection of the new weapons being developed by the workshops far below. Weapons that might yet change the course of the war. The procession trailed down through the tunnels and caverns, far below the normal workings into areas where the heat grew oppressive. Down here, demon workers would sicken and would die if not relieved at regular intervals. The heat wasn’t the reason but the iron tools they worked with were. Down here, iron was used instead of bronze and that was why Palelabor had been kept such a total secret.
“Have you perfected a means of destroying the human tanks? And shooting down their aircraft?” Belial’s bellow was directed at the human who knelt before him.
“Yes Sire.” Herwijer had, or at least believed he had. The unfortunate thing was, he wouldn’t know whether his belief was true or not until he tried it out and that was likely to be a do-or-die moment for him.
“How?” Belial’s question was short and sharp.
“Sire, we can use the bolts from a naga. They are powerful enough, they contain enough energy, to destroy a tank or an aircraft but it is too spread out. I have built a system that will compress the bolt so that the energy will do its work. It is called a capacitor.”
Herwijer led the way to a wooden cart that was off to one side of the chamber. On it was a pile of strange looking structures and wires. In the middle of it all, a young naga, one that had been badly burned an crippled during the attack on Detroit was coiled, fastened down by bronze hoops around her body. While everybody was looking at the equipment, Euryale took the opportunity to stamp on the Naga’s tail. The creature hissed in protest but only one of Belial’s guards noticed and he gave a broad grin. Nagas were even less popular than Gorgons normally were. And the stock of Gorgons was rising, Euryale had gone to great lengths to see to that.
“Sire, the naga generates her charge as before but instead of discharging it in a bolt, feeds it into the capacitor. Then, the operator can discharge the capacitor in a much shorter more intense bolt. Watch this.”
Herwijer instructed the naga to generate and fire a normal bolt. It shot out, briefly illuminating the darkened recesses of the cavern and revealing the hideous creatures that lurked in the shadows. The bolt hit one of them, sending it to the ground, its fur burning.
“That was a normal bolt sire. Now, we try the enhanced bolt.” He connected wires to the bronze rings securing the naga and told it to generate its charge.
“Nothing is happening.” Belial sounded disappointed and that was a serious threat in itself.
“Not yet sire. But when we fire the weapon…” Herwijer closed the switch and another bolt shot out, one that was many times more intense than the previous one. It was gone so quickly that the audience could barely believe it had happened yet it left colored after-images dancing in their eyes. What was not in doubt was the damage the bolt had wrought on its target. The rat-monster had exploded and its burning fragments were scattered over the floor of the cave. Behind it, a dark crater scarred the wall. A murmur of appreciation went around the room. This was a weapon indeed.
“You have done well human. Bring this weapon up to the palace level. We will install it at the gate in case the humans come. And you will build more of these.”
“Sire, I need one naga for each. Those crippled by the accident will do, they do not need to move. As long at they can generate the charge.”
“Take what you need, leaving only those needed for Yulupki’s chorus.”
Belial left the chamber greatly cheered. With the next lava attack in hand and a way of stopping the human tanks available at last, things were looking up.
1/33 Battalion, Third Brigade, Third Armored Division, Ninth U.S. Corps. North of Dis.
The trouble with the situation was that the whole of Ninth Corps was bogging down as it occupied more of the small farming villages on the outer fringes of Dis. Stevenson’s own battalion was now split up between twelve such villages, controlling each of them although, in truth, not that much control was actually needed. Most of the communities had got the message from the runners she had sent out sand simply laid down their arms, such as they were, when the tanks had appeared. A few of the lords had put up a fight and they were now dead. The rest had just accepted it was better to be alive and deposed than killed.
The good news was that the armored cavalry had pushed further north and reported that the villages had petered out and the rest of the territory was apparently unoccupied. As far as could be seen so far, demon inhabitation of Hell was concentrated within a relatively small radius of Dis. The rest of the single great continent was split up as the ‘holdings’ of the various great dukes but they’d done nothing with it. It was all very strange.
Stevenson strolled through the village that had become her base, looking at the baldrick farmers as they got on with their daily routine. They ignored the Abrams and Bradleys that were parked around the buildings, intent on simply making sure they had food enough to eat. A few baldrick kidlings were playing on a tank and over in one corner, a couple of her soldiers had gathered some older kidlings and were teaching them to play basketball. It occurred to her that since she now had a dozen or so minor ‘lords’ reporting to her, that meant she was going up the ranks of the aristocracy as fast as she was through the ranks of the Army.
It was nice and quiet up here though. The aircraft were still pounding Dis last time she had heard, and most of the actual fighting was concentrated down there. With the airfields and logistics bases to the south of Dis, the areas to the north of the city had an almost bucolic charm to them. That charm was interrupted when a V-22 swung overhead, its slung load pivoting as the pilot brought the tilt-rotor in. It was the extra rations she’d requisitioned for the villagers. The V-22 shifted back to forward flight and set off over the horizon. Peace and tranquil calm returned to the village. Stevenson noted that the baldricks had paid little attention to the aircraft as it had made its delivery. Humand and their equipment were already becoming part of the environment.
“Colonel, you better come. Brigade is on the line.”
She walked over to the radio shack, actually her command track with a tented enclosure at the back.
“Kilo-Alpha Actual Here.”
“Kilo prime. Stevenson, are you sitting down?”
“Got news for you. We whacked Satan just a few hours ago. No doubt about it, he’s gone.”
The news spread across the camp at a speed that comfortably exceeded the speed of light. Stevenson heard the cheering and looked over her shoulder. The local villagers were being just as enthusiastic as her troops.
“What does that mean Sir?”
“We’ve put our own guy in charge. Abigor, now President Abigor. You remember him, the football player?”
“For sure yes. So he’s made President.”
“More like President on a string. Anyway, the second thing he did was sue for peace. There’s a ceasefire in place as of about an hour ago. The following is the word straight from General Petraeus. All offensive actions against the baldricks are to cease as of 1300 Zulu. Defensive only actions will be undertaken. Any hostile forces attacking your positions are to be killed in a friendly manner.
“So its all over Sir.”
“No way. Our guess is that at least some lords will repudiate Abigor’s lead and try to carry on. Belial is the leading candidate, he must understand we want his guts torn out. But, as far as organized resistance is concerned, that’s over. Just try and make sure that none of your people are the last to die.”
“Willco on that sir.” Stevenson thought for a moment. “And there’s always Heaven isn’t there.”
“That’s right Stevenson, there’s always Heaven.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others