Secure Accommodation Block, Camo Hell-Alpha, Martial Plain of Dysprosium
“The Enemy is Dust, dust that gets in your boots, your hair, your eyes, your lungs. Dust in vital systems and gears and axles. Dust is the common enemy DRS Technologies helps to manage, banish or thwart in Hell, every minute of every day. The enemies DRS fights can be huge or as small as a grain of sand. And the solutions can range from providing expert service personnel to developing novel technologies. Like self-lubricating sealed axles for tank trailers. Systems that let pilots see through the clouds of dust in Hell’s atmosphere. And fully-sealed, fanless mobile computers. The goal: to help our forces achieve their objectives in Hell. Bring us your problems, your toughest challenges, we are always looking for a new enemy to conquer and take us one step nearer to completing or mission to save our dead.”
Memnon laid the copy of Defense News to one side, marveling at the casual ease with which the humans spoke of finding solutions to problems. As if problems were games to be won, not hardships to be endured. Almost without thinking he flexed his great wings, now regrowing strong and true. Another problem humans had solved. They’d seen the mangled stumps that had been growing before and he’d explained that the fragments of steel from the missile warheads were the problem. Iron didn’t agree with demon bodies. They’d nodded and come up with a plan. They’d amputate the new growth and remove the iron fragments, then allow new wings to grow back. They weren’t sure it would work, but it was a good chance, their “medic” had said. Memnon had agreed, he had nothing to lose after all.
They’d taken him into a section of the great building that was all white. Then they’d said they would put him to sleep for the operation. Memnon had refused that, refused angrily. Who were they to put him to sleep like a kidling? He was a Lesser Herald, he could endure whatever pain the humans had in store. The doctor had agreed and said that they’d just give him a little injection to help his muscles relax, make it easier to cut his mutilated wings off. Now, if he’d just count backwards from ten……
And Memnon had woken up when it was all over, his failed wings removed and the searing hurt of the iron fragments removed from his back. And he had learned something about “medics” and “nurses”. They could be even sneakier than other humans. But he’d watched as his new wings had regenerated and they were true wings, ones that would support him in flight.
The doors banged and some humans came in, soldiers in the odd clothes they wore. The ones that had a strange pattern that made them hard to see. “Memnon, my name is Colonel Paschal.”
“Colonel.” Memnon stood up and tried to hold himself erect the way humans did. Not grovel on the floor and lick his boots as a high-ranking demon would demand. The Colonel looked at him and nodded slightly, like most of the human troops in Hell, he found the baldrick displays of submission sickening.
“Memnon, do you know of a place called Tartarus?”
“Certainly. It is the stronghold of a minor lord called Belial. I have had little to do with him, he is of little account. A defeated loser surrounded by others of his kind.”
“Well, he’s just become important to us. Critical question, you know where Tartarus is, you can get there?”
“Of course, Now my wings are well again, I can fly there. If I go as fast as I can, it will take me….” Memnon stared at the ceiling and calculated distance. “A minimum of 70 of your hours.”
“Seventy hours. Nearly three days.” Now it was Paschal’s turn to think. “How soon can you leave?”
“As soon as my lord commands. I have sworn fealty to Abigor and he to you. So when your lord orders it I will leave. What message must I give to Belial?”
“Oh, you? Nothing. We have a message for him,. One he won’t forget in a hurry. Your job is just to get to Tartarus, stay close to Belial’s fortress and wait, unseen. We will contact you there and send you the message we will wish delivered to Belial.”
Memnon nodded, now he could see why the humans had restored his wings, they needed his services as a Herald. Was Belial planning to defect to the humans as he and Abigor already had? If so, then he, Memnon, would be well placed in the favor of these strange new lords to whom he had sworn fealty.
Outer Ring, Sixth Circle of Hell
“All set up?” McElroy looked around at his unit. Well, it wasn’t his any more, but he still had a proprietorial feel over it, even though the living troops from Earth had inflated its numbers and provided a proper command structure. The strike team was now nearly 60 humans, living or deceased, and they were about to teach the baldricks a lesson in applied firepower. And applied vengeance.
“All units, get ready. Mortar teams, prepare to open fire on my command.” The voice on the radio was heavily accented. European, where in Europe was beyond McElroy’s ability to identify. Their equipment was Russian, or at least Eastern-Europe though. That meant Poles? Or Czechs perhaps. No matter, they were somebody’s special forces troops and whoever they were, they were very good.
“Fire!” The accented word came over the radio and McElroy heard the coughing thump of the mortars opening fire. They were the big ones, 120mms, the biggest modern artillery deployed within the Hell-Pit. Despite their size, their crews went to work with a vengeance. A good mortar crew can get six bombs in the air before the first strikes home and these crews were better than good. McElroy watched the ripple of explosions walk across the market place, the fragments scything down the baldricks as they stood around the stalls. They’d never been under mortar fire before, they had no idea what it was that was killing them and they just stood there, bewildered, while the bombs crashed down around them.
Mortars are deadly weapons, their rate of fire and high payload making them great killers of creatures caught in the open. Their worst limitation is ammunition supply; especially when the weapons were man-packed in the way these were. The crews were already running short and they kept back one round each as a final envoi for when the humans withdrew, Their role was taken over by three machine grenade launchers, AGS-17s, that pumped their small rounds into the target, picking off the groups of baldricks left standing by the 120s.
Down below, McElroy saw the baldricks starting to react. Cries of “human magery” echoed up the slope and figures broke from their paralysis to try and get away from the unexpected danger. The problem was, they had pitifully few places to go and far more then half their number were already down.
“Move in.” The orders were curt, tense. McElroy brought his M115 up to his shoulder and squeezed off three rounds at a baldrick that seemed unusually active in trying to rally resistance. The figure went down, sprays of green blood erupting from its body. Then it was his section’s time to move forward. The others were laying down intense fire, pinning the baldricks in position. The deceased humans got to their feet, running forward to their next position, a shallow depression about half way down the slope. It took seconds to reach it, seconds that seemed like hours, but they made it and spread out, giving covering fire for the next group to move forward.
It was classic stuff, fire and maneuver, each squad moving forward while the others covered it from their own positions. There were a few bolts coming out from the beleaguered baldrick positions but they were wild, McElroy suspected some of the enemy were just holding their tridents over whatever it was they were hiding behind and blasting away at random. It took only three jumps to close in on the marketplace and by then what few baldricks were left alive had pulled back into their camp, but doubtless they’d be re-organizing in there. Time was short.
That wouldn’t matter much. The great cart that was the object of the attack was in front of them, the mortar and grenade crews had been careful to keep there patterns of shells and bombs away from it. McElroy saw a baldrick, his legs shattered by fragments, trying to drag himself away from the slaughterhouse that had once been a market. He didn’t even pause before shooting the crippled demon in the head.
Indira, are you there?
Waiting for you. Ready now?
Biggest portal possible Indi, big as you can, it will only be for a few seconds. We’re on our way out.
In front of him, the red air of hell shimmered and a black ellipse formed. McElroy and the rest of his unit grabbed the cart and started it rolling forward, ignoring the screams from the children inside, Behind them, the mortar crews already had their weapons on their carts and were rolling them towards the hole while the rest of the special forces group gave covering fire. Then, the red/gray environment of Hell vanished and McElroy found himself inside a large building, a hangar, lit from outside by the clear yellow light of earth’s sun.
Behind him, the heavy weapons group were already through the portal, and the special forces troopers were backing out, firing through the black ellipse as they withdrew. Six of them were bringing three others who were obviously hurt, another carried a dead man in a fireman’s lift. Then, as the last came through, the portal shut down.
DIMO(N) Transit Facility, Moffet Field, Mountain View, California
As the last of the raiding group cleared the portal, a wave of cheering erupted across the occupants of the transit facility. The building had once been used as an airship hangar but had been quickly modified into its present role. It was a much better deal than the cramped Pentagon quarters that had been used before. The size was valuable, the great cart that had been wheeled through the ellipse was testimony to that. Around it, the deceased humans of McElroy’s unit were standing bewildered.
“You OK Sergeant?”
“Its Corporal Sir, Corporal McElroy.”
“No, its Sergeant (deceased) McElroy and if you knew how much trouble you were causing the pay corps, you would be a very happy man.”
“I’m just happy to be here Sir. Out of that place, shit, I feel crappy.”
“You can’t stay here son. You’ll have to go back, but we’re linking you directly to Camp Hell-Alpha. That’s a U.S. Army facility by the Hellmouth. A Colonel Paschal will be waiting for you and your unit, he has orders for you. By the way, you’ll be losing Ori and Aeneas, the historians want to talk to them and, frankly, they’re dead weight for where you’ll be going.” Major Warhol sounded apologetic but in truth he
wasn’t. Anyway, he wanted to talk to somebody who had fought at Thermopylae.
“Sir, I don’t think….”
“No choice Sergeant.” Warhol softened a little. “Look over there, Your mom and one of your sisters has come in. You’ve got a few minutes to say ‘Hi’ then you’re on your way to Hell-Alpha. You can’t stay here, this level will kill you soon.
Warhol looked over to the small crowd of people who were standing beside the doors of the hangar. McElroy’s men had run over to them, recognizing their relatives. Cassidy had her head buried in a young man’s chest while he stroked her hair. At their feet, a dog was sniffing at her, confused, knowing this had been his human before she’d gone but also that she wasn’t human any more. That confused him and dogs do not like to be confused.
‘Sir, over here!”
The staff had the gates at the back of the cart open and were quieting the children inside. They too would have to go back to Hell but to the area occupied by humans. What would happen to them in the longer term was anybody’s guess. People were only just beginning to realize the implications of seizing hell and Warhol knew in his heart that the problems facing humanity when it occupied Heaven and kicked out the previous management were going to be just as bad.
“What have you got?” To his surprise, two of the troopers who had opened up the cart had vomited and three others were openly crying. This was not something he had expected to see from the “Screaming Eagles”
“Look at this Sir, just look at it.”
‘This’ was a large pot, looking for all the world like an old-fashioned chamber-pot. Larger than any thunder-jug he had ever seen though. Warhol looked inside and saw a writhing mass of small red things, some looking fairly human, others barely formed.
Warhol was confused. “What are they? Baldrick kidlings?’
“No Sir. Ours. They’re human embryos. Perhaps those that were miscarried or aborted, I don’t know. But they’re our fetuses and the baldricks just ate them like snacks.” The tears were streaming down the airborne soldier’s face and he didn’t even bother to wipe them away.
Well, that’s the end of Roe versus Wade Warhol thought to himself, more to deny the horror of the scene than anything else. “Right, we have to get this lot back into Hell. Round up McElroy’s people and get them ready. Time to reinsert.
Over by the equipment bay, Indira Singh had shifted off the couch and Jennie Kwang had taken her place. “Ready to go Jennie?” She gave a big thumbs-up and settled back to make contact.
Are you there Private Chestnut?
Do I have any choice? The mind-voice was weak and sulky. From Jennie’s experience in the People’s Liberation Army, the Sergeants were in process of breaking down the spoiled little brat and building the man that would replace him. It was a form of rebirth as well.
No, so please open up the portal. It was much easier to do it from his end and would cause her little or no pain. Even humans needed only marginal amplification when opening a portal from Hell-side. The black ellipse popped open almost immediately,
“Right, McElroy, take your people though, everybody else, get that cart through.” Warhol snapped out the orders. McElroy’s unit finished saying their good-byes to their families and stepped through the portal to Camp Hell-Alpha. When everything that had to go was gone, Kwang snapped the portal shut. Given electronics, and a presence the other side, humans had the best of both worlds, they could open gates easily from hellside and close them equally easily from earthside. Would that the Sheffield problem was so easy to solve.
Warhol was speaking into a mobile radio. “They’re gone General, just a few seconds ago. The kids as well and that’s a sight that I don’t want to ever see again.”
Indira was standing beside him, politely waiting for him to finish. Her normally olive skin was gray but her tinfoil hat shone in the sun streaming through the windows, making it seem as if she was wearing a halo.
“Will they be coming back through here Sir?”
“McElroy’s people? Yes, we can’t portal from place to place in Hell, for some reason the portals can’t form when there isn’t a barrier. Like you can’t have a door without a wall to put it in I guess. But, they’ll be coming back through, in around three days if all goes well.
Oval Office, White House, Washington.
“Well, that’s the end of Roe versus Wade. The public won’t balk at ‘right to life’ legislation now.”
President Bush lifted his eyes from the report and looked steadily at the speaker. “Karl, hear me on this and don’t even think of crossing me. You will say nothing of this, do you understand, nothing. We’re classifying this report so deep that it will never be found.”
“But Dubya, it’s a prime opportunity to get that judgment reversed.”
“I don’t care. Karl, have you any idea how much suffering this report will cause if it gets out? All the women who have lost babies for any reason, natural or otherwise, read it, they’ll think of their baby in those vats, waiting to be used as a baldrick snack. You’ve read the reports on depression and stress disorders amongst women who’ve lost or aborted babies, I will not be responsible for increasing their suffering. We will have a quiet word with the Justices, share this information with them, then when the opportunity comes, they can make the ruling that they think fit. But we will not cause the suffering and grief that results from this report to force their hands in public.”
“I said No Karl, what part of that don’t you understand. And I’ll repeat this, don’t try a leak or ‘arrange’ for somebody else to do it for you. Got that into your head? Because it is a warning.”
Camo Hell-Alpha, Martial Plain of Dysprosium
“McElroy? This your unit? Good. We’ll get you to a briefing room ASAP. We’ve got three days to train you up on operating the navigational beacons and get you prepared for the next part of this operation. Your instructors will be with you shortly.”
McElroy looked around at the Army base, its scene familiar even of its setting wasn’t. He might be out of the Hell-Pit but he was back in the regular Army. And its habits hadn’t changed, it was still ‘hurry up and wait.’
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others