F-111C, Koala Flight, Approaching Hellmouth
“Koala Flight this is Hellmouth Air Traffic Control. Come to course three-three-fiver, altitude three thousand feet for Airstrip Delta Approach. You are cleared to use Runway 31.”
“G’day cobbers. Everything bonzer down there? Throw another shrimp on the Barbie for us.” Squadron Leader Mackay’s weapons systems operator gave him a pained look. “Don’t blame me, that’s how the septics expect us to talk. Don’t want to disappoint them now do we?” Mackay flipped back to the ATC frequency. “Don’t get in tizzy about us landing, we’ll go straight through.”
The voice on the air traffic control net sounded slightly strangled. “Koala flight, be advised, it is against regulations to fly through the Hellmouth. Please land and your aircraft will be towed through.”
“May be against your regulations mate, not against ours. Anyway, you can’t tow an F-111 like that. Nose is too long and the weight distribution won’t hack it. We’ve got to fly though.”
Mackay’s WSO looked appalled. “Sir, that is utter bullshit.”
“Charlie, I know that and you know that but do you think the liability-obsessed septic down there knows that? Its been almost twenty years since the USAF mothballed it’s Pigs, that kid wasn’t even a lecherous gleam in his father’s eyes back then. He’s not going to take the chance of these birds getting damaged on his say-so. He’ll let us go through, our responsibility, you watch.”
“Koala Flight, this is Hellmouth air traffic control. At your request, you are cleared for flight transit of the Hellmouth.”
The four F-111s, three strike aircraft loaded down with air-to-surface ordnance and an RF-111 with a full surveillance fit, dipped down and started to skim across the sand dunes towards the black ellipse of the Hellmouth. The book said that the ellipse was 800 feet high and 1,200 feet wide which gave the F-111s plenty of room to make their transitions. Beneath them, the desert was covered with armored vehicles, some parked in long lines, others forming convoys through the Hellmouth. The F-111s were low enough to see the commanders of the tanks and armored infantry carriers sitting in the turrets, to see them look up as the scream of the jet engines grabbed their attention. Some waved and Mackay rocked his wings in response.
“Have you ever seen anything like that?” Charlie Cartwright was awed by the armored vista spread out beneath him.
“Nobody has, not since the Second World War and not so often then. Every armored formation in the world must be closing in on this place. That’s the pattern, armor comes here, infantry stays at home to protect the people back there. You see the roads and pipelines being built as we came in? Hold one, here we go.”
The ellipse was approaching with frightening speed but Mackay wasn’t aware of having passed through it. The blue sky and brilliant yellow sun had simply gone, replaced by the murky redness of the Hell environment. Mackay could feel the engines starting to labor as they gulped air through the filters that kept the worst of the dust out. The Pig was shaking slightly as the filters vibrated in the airflow, casting off the dust before it could choke them.
“Watch those engine temperatures like a hawk Charlie. If they start to climb, we’re out of here. You got the nav beacons?”
“Both of them. Realigning navigation computer now.” One of the purposes of this flight was to establish a comparative base between the Euclidian geometry of Earth and the non-Euclidian environment of Hell. Once that was done, navigation computers could be reprogrammed and another problem facing humans trying to fight in this, the strangest of all battlefields, would be solved. As they were all being solved, just taking one at a time.
“Koala-Three here. Cameras are rolling.”
“Roger, Koala Three. Any electronic emissions?”
“Ours. The spectrum’s full of them. Radar, comms, you name it. Nothing hostile or unidentified.”
“Friendly aircraft, this is Dysprosium Air Traffic Control. Please identify and file flight plan.”
“This is Koala Flight, three F-111C and one RF-111C on armed reconnaissance flight to Dis and the Hellpit. We’ll let you know the course as soon as we figure it out. This place just isn’t right.”
“You’re telling us Koala Flight. Good luck.”
The F-111 flight soared over the Martial Plain of Dysprosium, heading towards the Phlegethon River that represented the front line of the human advance into Hell. That advance had stopped temporarily while the infrastructure needed to support the next phase was being established. More importantly, there was a lot of evidence that a huge new Hellish Army was moving up against the troops digging in along the river. That was one of the things the aircraft had been sent in to check. In the meantime, the Russians were digging in, establishing a defense in depth. The central portion of it was underneath them now, a sea of platoon-sized strongpoints, the arcs of fire of each interlocking in a maze of death and destruction. Mackay couldn’t see them but he knew the gaps between the strongpoints were filled with minefields and razor wire. Backing the whole defense position up was the artillery. The Russian artillery didn’t have the flexibility or precision of its American equivalent but then, Mackay thought, the septics didn’t line their guns up, wheel to wheel, for 30 kilometers either.
“We’re in hostile airspace now Control.”
“We have you on radar, be advised, you are the only friendly aircraft in the area. You can take it as read, if it flies, its hostile. You’re cleared to shoot.”
“Thank you Control. Be sure to tell the air defense guys on the ground we’re here.”
“Already done Koala Flight. If they open up on you, it will be in a friendly manner.”
“Reassuring that. Charlie, warm up the AIM-9Zs. Be good if One Squadron gets the first air-to-air in Hell. Give those upstarts in Six something to chew on.”
“Koala-Three here, take a look below us. I think that’s the hostile army we were told to watch out for.”
“You think?” Beneath them, the ground was covered with demons moving towards the Phlegethon River. Far, far too many to count, they turned the ground black with their number. Some were harpies, they tried to climb and challenge the racing F-111s but they lacked the speed and the ability to climb fast enough. “Control, confirm sighting of hostile force moving on the Phlegethon. Rhinolobsters, baldricks, harpies, you name it. Better tell our Russian friends to keep their powder dry.
“Roger, wilco. For your information, its not just gunpowder they Russkies have got back there. Any sight of Dis?”
“Ahead of us now. High stone walls, as far as the eye can see which isn’t far in this clag. Looks like an old medieval castle, not the Hollywood version, the real thing. Like they have in Wales. We’re going to try and break some glass now.”
Mackay dipped his aircraft and headed for the walls of Dis. The terrain following radar was working perfectly as he skimmed the wall, barely a hundred feet over the crenellations. Inside was a town that looked something straight out the middle ages, a tight mass of buildings separated by narrow alley-like streets. There were baldricks down there, ones that looked up in stunned shock at the monsters that had suddenly crossed the wall and were screaming defiance at all around them as they passed low over the roofs. The demons stood and watched long after the Pigs had gone, awed by the sight and realizing that things were never going to be the same in Hell again.
Unconscious of having caused a spiritual crisis in Dis, Koala Flight arced over the great pit that formed the center of Hell. Mackay looked at the sight below, a supercaldera that would be a vulcanologists dream but represented all of humanities worst nightmares. His thumb itched to pick a target and release his bombs on to it but his orders were strict, fire on ground targets only in self-defense or to protect the reconnaissance aircraft. Still, he could think of the humanity that had to be suffering in the nightmarish scene below and he could promise to come back with every pound of ordnance his faithful Pig could carry. “You got all that Koala-Three?”
“Affirmative.” Koala-Three’s voice was subdued.
“Lets get out of here then.” The four F-111s made a gentle turn, trying to cover as much of Hell as possible. Mackay hoped that, down below, the souls trapped there would see them, some would know what they were and they would spread the word. Humanity was coming with every weapon it could muster and what stood now would not be allowed to stand again.
Banks of the River Styx, Fifth Circle of Hell
“My leader wants to talk, very urgently. Anywhere you wish. It is most important.” Rahab spoke earnestly, Gaius Julius Caesar had been most explicit with his instructions. These humans, living and dead, were what he had spent two millennia waiting for. A way to fight back against the monsters that ran this place.
“Important for him? Or us?”
“For us both I think. He….” Rahab stopped speaking her voice drowned out by a terrible screaming howl.
Lieutenant (deceased) Jade Kim recognized the sky-ripping sound instantly, the sound of jet fighter engines. Even as she looked up, four F-111s emerged from the overcast, their wings stretched out and loaded with bombs, lazily making a turn over Hell. Then, they were gone, on their way back home, just leaving their sound behind. Around her, the living and deceased members of the PFLH were jumping up and down, cheering and smacking each other on the back. Rahab looked at them in amazement.
“What is that terrible noise?”
Kim looked at her, her eyes dancing with joy. “That isn’t noise Rahab. That’s the sound of Freedom.”
High Peak Youth Hostel, Peak District, British Isles
As Lakheenahuknaasi emerged from the portal the first thing that hit her was the overpowering scent of a great deal of blood spilled in a confined space. The second thing was that this part of earth was unpleasantly cold. She found herself in a rather small room packed with demon infantry, whose cloven hooves continued to crunch the smashed remains of wooden furniture. This chamber and the others she could see leading off from it were littered with human corpses, most of them obviously torn apart by demon claws. She stepped lightly around them for now and addressed the squad leader.
“I see that you have not so much secured the area as painted it with human blood. Did they give you any trouble?”
“Very little.” The demon seemed unsure whether he should treat the gorgon was his superior or inferior. “One of them managed to grab a fire-spear and wounded one of my warriors before perishing.”
Lakheenahuknaasi's gaze followed his gesture. The injured demon was sitting on a broken table, in a white room that reeked of stewed vegetables. His left flank looked like a piece of wood riddled by termites, oozing green blood from numerous tiny holes. As she watched the demon yanked the heart out of a human corpse and stuffed it into his mouth. The dead man still held a fire spear in his hands; a chunk of carved wood with two short black metal rods sticking out of it.
“If you require nothing further?” Some of the demons had slung human corpses over their shoulders, undoubtedly as rations for their victory feast.
“Go. But take that fire spear with you. Baron Trajakrithoth may want to examine its enchantments.”
The demon warriors squeezed back through the portal, which promptly closed up behind them, leaving Lakheenahuknaasi alone in the human building. It seemed to be some sort of inn. with a central common area, what was presumably a kitchen (though she could see no cooking fire), indoor latrines (which appeared to have just been emptied) and several rooms full of (mostly smashed) bunks. It could have been a barracks but for the lack of weapons. A large triangular window showed a sunset obscured by clouds, painting the landscape of rolling grassy hills and forested valleys in a mix of oranges and grays. Here and there beams of golden light broke through and highlighted an outcropping or a stream. It almost looked welcoming save for the sparse flakes of snow melting on the window.
Lakheenahuknaasi could see no other buildings, but if this was an inn travelers could arrive at any moment. She made her way down the stairs, taking care not to slip on the blood still dripping from step to step. The door barring the main entrance was broken and warped; the triple indentations and the dead human woman seemingly still trying to grasp its handle bore witness to a last desperate attempt to escape. Stepping over the body, the gorgon yanked the protesting door open and slipped out onto the moors.
Sure enough, half an hour later Tom Sullivan crested the last ridge and sighted the hostel. “Ah, there it is dear.”
Trailing behind him, his fiancée Jennifer was not in the best of moods. “You said we'd be there two hours ago. This is the last time I let you plan the route.” She paused, out of breath. ”I'm never voting Labor again. If Gordon hadn't commandeered all the planes we could be in Italy right now. Tony was so much nicer.” Tom shook his head. He was beginning to have second thoughts about this relationship.
The couple made their way down the track to the building. What they saw there left both retching for a good five minutes. As soon as he'd regained his senses, Thomas reached for his mobile. He'd entered the number of the national demon sighting hotline just before they set off, almost as a joke, never expecting horror like this to come to sleepy Yorkshire. Five minutes later the first police units were dispatched to set up a perimeter and ten minutes after that the first territorial army trucks began to roll out of Worsley Barracks.
Lakheenahuknaasi had long since found a convenient cliff and launched herself into the air. There seemed to be no convenient thermals in this freezing place and she was forced to hook her arm spurs into her wings and flap strenuously for altitude. She became acutely conscious of how conspicuous her metallic bronze scales made her after the first time she flew through a shaft of sunlight and lit up like a disco ball.
Lakheenahuknaasi muttered a satanic curse and wished she'd had the foresight to cover herself in mud. She would've endured the mocking of the other gorgons if she'd known how much safer it would make her feel now. She considered trying to gain the relative safety of the clouds, but her wing and arm muscles were already tiring and she didn't want to risk accidentally over-flying the target. Instead she flew low, weaving through the valleys and trying to stay in the lengthening shadows. Though she did not know it, the decision saved her life; air defense control at RAF Boulmer began enforcing a no-fly zone over the area shortly after she descended to an area its radar could not cover. The inclement weather had kept most walkers at home and left the rest disinclined to watch the skies.
The gorgon flew an erratic course through the twisting valleys for the better part of an hour, with only her perception of the planet's strong magnetic field keeping her heading towards the target. Even using that was hard due to the sheer density of psychic emanations in this part of earth. Clearly the humans had not only learned the art of telepathy, they were using it to constantly gossip with each other. As she flew she saw several isolated farms and the occasional village visible in the distance. Not enough to concern her, but hardly the 'uninhabited wilderness' Baron Guruktarqor had described. Most puzzling were the lights that speed along the black strips, some constant yellow, some flickering white and blue. They could have been chariots bearing torches, but for their impossible speed and brightness, matching or even outpacing her own aerial progress.
Finally, as her wing and arm muscles were ready to give up she crested a hill and saw a great city laid out before her. It was lit so brightly that at first it seemed to Lakheenahuknaasi that the city was already aflame. On closer inspection however it was clear that she was seeing thousands of torches, strung on poles, shining out of windows and attached to moving carriages. This vast sprawling metropolis had to be the target. She could not see the smoke or fires of the forges yet, but that could wait. The immediate priority was avoiding detection while the portal was summoned. Lakheenahuknaasi glided down to a copse near the top of the hill, keeping the trees between herself and the city as much as possible. Once down she crawled into the undergrowth and crouched shivering under her wings. This world of humans was cold, unbearably cold.
The humans should be thanking me she thought, a nice lava lake is just what this place needs to warm it up a bit.' The gorgon began reaching out with her mind, straining to push through the barrier and contact her superiors. Immediately she was hit by the overwhelming babble of human telepaths. Most of the mind-speech was not speech at all, merely indecipherable gibberish. Some of it was comprehensible though. Curiously the humans seemed to have found a way to enchant their musical instruments to transmit their notes into the ether. Lakheenahuknaasi shook her head at the thought of wasting energy on such frivolous magery. Another particularly powerful human mage seemed to be chanting the words 'Hallam Eff Em' several times a minute, accompanied by jangling chimes. She spent a moment pondering the significance of this ritual before deciding that it must be just another symptom of human insanity.
Pushing the human transmissions aside, she broke through the barrier to contact Euryale. The force of greater demon's mind was almost overwhelming. 'This is Lakheenahuknaasi,' she reported 'the human city lies before me. I am ready to guide the portal.” Euryale's response was swift. “I am approaching Jorkastrequar now. Keep the link open and focus your thoughts on the city. They know it not, but a wave of fire is about to carry those pitiful beings straight into our domain.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others