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 ….. SHIT! 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.
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
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.
(Note of appreciation to Stravo who wrote the first half of the first part and to Her Grace, the Dutchess of Zeon who kindly told me about kitten)
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others