Headquarters, 302nd Motor Rifle Division, Left Flank, Phlegethon River Front, Hell
“Lieutenant Edovin, Georgii Aleksandrovich reporting for duty Tovarish Colonel.”
Colonel Aleksandr Klavdievich Parfenov looked up at the young Lieutenant standing before his desk. Reinforcements were always needed but this was an inconvenient time to say the least of it. The baldricks had ground their way through his division, at frightful cost, certainly but they had ground their way through. One of his regiments had been virtually destroyed, the other two had been badly mauled but they had done their duty. The baldricks had been pinned down by their defense, allowed to entrap themselves on the maze of strongpoints, minefields and barbed wire. The harpies had exacted their toll and the wyverns had been a bad surprise certainly. The nagas strapped to the backs of rhinolobsters had also taken their toll. The real cost to the baldricks was that their unit structure had been destroyed by the defenses, where once they had been cleanly divided into their legions, cohorts and maniples, now they were an amorphous mass of mixed units. What that mass didn’t know was that ahead of them, sitting quietly behind a ridgeline, were more that two divisions of tanks including his own tank regiment. What he didn’t need was another green Lieutenant.
“Transfer papers.” Parfenov stretched out his hand.
“I don’t have any Tovarish Colonel. But I am already assigned to your division.”
That triggered something in Parfenov’s memory. He dug through the status reports on his desk, trying to find the one he needed. As was always the case, it was on the bottom of the pile. As he had thought, the name was there on the casualty roster. “Edovin, Georgii Aleksandrovich, you are dead.”
“Yes Tovarish Colonel. But I am reporting for duty still.”
That thought Parfenov represents dedication to duty even by Russian standards. This was something he had to find out more about. He would indulge himself, he had the time to listen before the tanks went in.
“Tovarish Lieutenant. Tell me what happened.”
“It was harpies Tovarish Colonel. They set the engine compartment of my Shilka on fire and we had to bail out. We all got out of the ZSU all right, but the harpies got us as we were in the open. The BMPs we were covering tried to help us with their machine guns but there were too many of the harpies and they tore us apart. The next thing I remember was sailing through the air and landing in a river of molten lava. The pain was terrible, I was blinded and deafened, all I could think of was to get out somehow. I tried to crawl, or swim, a mixture of both really, to where I remembered the shore was. I got there and got out of the lava and started to crawl away. My hearing came back first, I heard a crackle of gunfire, then my sight slowly came back.
“There were Marines there Tovarish Colonel, American Marines. They had shot down a group of six baldricks, the bodies were still on the shore, and they were helping the people escaping from the lava. One of them came to me and asked me who I was. I understood every word he said, even though he spoke in English. I identified myself and told him I had been killed in the fighting along the Phlegethon. He asked my unit, then called on the radio to report finding me. Soon a portal was opened that took me to somewhere in America and then another brought me back to the great American base at the Hellmouth. From there, one of the Americans gave me a lift in a Humvee so here I am. Reporting for duty, Tovarish Colonel.”
Parfenov shook his head. It was quite a story. It also put a quite different complexion on this war, if they could get their casualties back this way, it would solve many problems. Create a few as well but that was for others to think about. “Were other of our brothers there?”
“I think so Tovarish Colonel. The baldricks just stack people into their pits and swamps as they are received. So those who die together tend to stay together. I looked for my crew but did not find them before I was taken out. But the Marines are guarding the whole stretch of that lava river, if they can get out the lava, they will return.”
“Good, Bratischka, very good. I have an assignment for you. There is an American anti-harpy unit not far away, a trials unit. They need a Russian officer as liaison, since you are dead and can thus understand Americans, I will assign you to them. Stay with them, help them as best you can and remember to report anything interesting you learn.
Site of Satan’s Palace, City of Dis
Belial did not know how long he had been standing there, looking down at the settling ruins of Satan’s palace. Time had a different meaning in a hell where eternity was a real, present concept. It might have been a few seconds, perhaps longer. All he knew was that tears of rage and frustration were pouring down his cheeks at the sight. Then, slowly, he became aware of a growing crowd crossing the broken stones of the causeway and staring also at the ruins. That jerked him back into the present.
“You, all of you, get down there, start digging. There may be survivors down there, waiting for us to free them. Get to work.”
“Why?” One voice echoed from the crowd. “Leave us alone,” was another. “He’s dead at last,” was a third. Belial looked at the mutinous crowd of demons and orcs and grabbed a trident from one of the dead guards. It was one of his best, he noted, a definitely premium product as befitted Satan’s personal guard. As he charged it, he swung his eyes over the crowd.
“You don’t rule an……” The orc had spoken unwisely, while Belial was looking straight at him. The trident flashed and the lightning bolt charred him instantly, his body collapsing on the stone. Next to him, two others were burned by the discharge and also fell, wailing with the pain.
“Any more arguments?” Belial looked around grimly. The killing had made him feel a lot better. There was a rumble of discontent but the outright mutiny had simmered down. For the moment. “Then get down there and start digging.”
The crowd edged over the rim and started to make their way down the wall of the crater to where the stone jumble started. Belial stood on the rim and watched, with more of the demons from the city joining him as word spread and curiosity brought out bystanders. Belial spread them along the crater rim so that the orcs working down below could be watched. The first down there had picked up bits of shattered rock and looked around for places to put them. Eventually, they set up a chain, carrying the rocks out of the crater and to the edge of the causeway where they could be dropped into the caldera far below. It took a long time but slowly a dent was made in the pile of wreckage that had once been Satan’s palace. It exposed the first victim, a crushed figure, lifeless.
Belial recognized her, it was Naphula. He recognized her griffin-like wings and the lion-like head. Once she had been a powerful Great Duke of Hell who had commanded thirty-six legions of demons. Belial had liked her, she had shared his taste for mechanical things and the unusual. Once he had even sought an alliance with her but his position as a virtual outcast, only just barely tolerated at court had precluded that. Her pride would not tolerate an alliance with as lowly a lord as he. Now, she was dead and her crushed body looked small and useless. “Take her body out to the causeway and place it up there. Do the same with the rest of the bodies you find. And dig faster. We may find our master awaiting our rescue at any moment.”
F-105D “Frankenwhoosh” 273rd Fighter Group, Over the Sixth Ring of Hell
The fact that any F-105s had survived at all wasn’t so unusual, but the sheer number of them had been remarkable indeed. The search through the museums had found no less than 103 F-105s of assorted marks, in conditions varying from the derelict to the pristine. Some had even had their engines and cannon still installed and three had been in immediately flyable condition. Over the last three months, 15 more had joined the 273rd making up one of its squadrons. They were all a blend of the most intact airframes with parts taken from the airframes too far gone to bring back into service, hence they all bore names starting with “Franken”. The single-engined aircraft were old and tired, all the museum salvaged aircraft were that, but they could still fly and haul bombs. They would do, they would fill the gap, until new aircraft came into service in enough numbers and the Thunderchiefs could return to their quiet life in the aircraft museums of America. Only this time, they would be sporting the red-and-gray camouflage scheme worn by the aircraft that fought in Hell.
Captain Casey “Loco” Jones angled his wings slightly and turned to follow the Styx as it meandered down below. The five other F-105s following him did the same. The aircraft were sluggish, the F-105 was stunningly fast low down but nobody had ever described it as agile. With six 750 pound bombs hanging under its belly, four more on each inner wing rack and one on each outer, a total of 12,000 pounds, the old aircraft were really hard to fly. It had been a wrench for him to be taken out of his Boeing 767 and put back into a Thud, but the old-timers who had flown the bird before were getting thin on the ground.
Down below, he could see a long black snake following the river. It was the column of baldricks he was hunting, apparently they were advancing on an area of Hell that had been liberated. Well, there were things he could do about that.
“All Frankenstein aircraft, target is below, roll out and follow me down.” Jones rolled his wings to vertical, feeling the aging spars and frames creaking in protest then pulled the stick back, hauling the nose of the Thunderchief around. Then, he leveled the wings, dropped the nose and rammed the throttle all the way forward. The F-105 responded gallantly, its engine surging with power, even through the filters built into its engine intakes.
Under his nose, the column was now stretched out before him, his flight path taking him along its length. Something that hadn’t been obvious before, there was a wall between them and the river, an old-fashioned, crenallated wall that marked the division between the fifth and sixth circles of Hell. That wouldn’t make much difference, it offered little cover and wouldn’t even get in the way of the bombing and strafing passes.
The target below was growing rapidly, this was a part of the attack that needed care. The Thud dived very fast and was too ponderous to pull out quickly. More than one F-105 pilot had been so interested in strafing his target that he’d left pulling out too late and flown right into the ground. A gentle pressure on the stick, pull the nose back and then release the bombs. Behind him, the dark green 750 pounders dropped clear, their tail fins spreading sideways as they opened up to slow the fall of the bombs. Those retarding fins and the long fuse extenders made sure that the bombs would explode above the ground, maximizing the radius covered by their fragments. The F-105s streaked over the column of baldricks, unleashing their total of nearly a hundred bombs onto the figures below, then used the energy they had built up in their dive to get clear. By the time the bombs exploded, they were already miles away and thousands of feet above the devastation their bombs had caused.
At the top of his climb, Jones rolled over again and started his second pass. The bombs had mostly hit around the head of the column so he thought it would be only fair to give the rear some attention. He put the pipper of his cannon sight on the last ranks and squeezed the trigger, haring the vicious rasp of the M-61 as it pumped its shells into the scattering mass of baldricks. Then, he lifted the nose, marching the tracers along the column, only ending when he was getting too low for comfort. Still, he had some ammunition left and a part of it was used on a harpy that staggered across is nose. Then he was away again, once more climbing for altitude.
“Frankenstein aircraft, formate on me, we’re going home to get some more goodies.” If there were any he thought quietly, the rate we’re using the stuff up, the day when we run out can’t be that far off.
The six Thunderchiefs formed up into a loose arrowhead and started back towards the Hellmouth and home. Up ahead of him, Jones saw something that he couldn’t quite identify so he angled his course to take a closer look. It was further away than he had thought, mainly because the objects were so much larger.
“Just what the blazes is that?” the voice on the radio wasn’t quite identifiable but Jones shared the sentiments. It was a huge, misshapen beast, flying in an ungainly pattern, not quite holding a true course or height. He looked harder, it had wings of course, and a tail that seemed to act as a rudder. Then he caught his breath – it had seven heads.
“It’s a hydra, a flying hydra. And its huge, those wings must be three, four hundred feet across. Uh-oh look out guys. There’s wyverns with it and we haven’t seen ones like this before.” The wyverns were far larger than any that had been reported to date and were a brilliant gold in color. Jones started to count them and as he got to twelve, they broke formation to attack his aircraft. Simultaneously, the hydra dived away and started to break for cover, it might be ungainly but it was fast.
Jones picked out one of the Wyverns, the old Thud was no dogfighter but this wasn’t the time to argue matters. Once again he firewalled the throttle and felt the surge of power from his engine. The formation of six aircraft split into three pairs, one heading up and right, one up and left, the center pair with Jones in the lead went straight up. He glanced at the speed tape-gauge, he was pulling almost 18,000 feet per minute in a climb that was close to being straight up. As his speed bled off, he timed his climb, then rolled the F-105 over and dropped the nose. The wyverns were beneath him and his chosen target was in the perfect position for a gun pass. The Thud accelerated downwards and he moved the pipper so that it was on the tail of the monster. Then his cannon rasped again and he saw the tracers thudding into its body.
It was a short burst, it had to be he’d used most of his ammunition up on the column of troops. He saw tracers flashing past his wing, his wingman was firing as well, using up what was left of his cannon ammunition on the stricken wyvern. The creature was flailing, dying, the ball that ended its tail whipping through the air. That ball was dangerous, it had already cost the humans aircraft and that had been from the much smaller wyverns seen over the Phlegethon. It didn’t matter though, the Thuds were clear and three of the wyverns were dying, shot to pieces by the 20mm gatling guns in the nose of the F-105s.
“Any sign of that hydra?”
“It’s gone Loco.”
Jones swore quietly, a modern aircraft would have an air-to-air radar that could have found the beast in the dust laden air but the F-105 was old and obsolete. Still, she’d done her best at an age when any aircraft should have expected genteel retirement. The hydra had got away but the troops on the ground hadn’t. Nor had three wyverns.
Sixth Circle of Hell.
Xisorixus pulled himself out of the ditch that he had managed to find when the human sky chariots had found him. It had been so sudden he hadn’t had time to think about what to do, the chariots had screamed out of the sky and dropped their mage-bolts all over his column. Then they’d come back and repeated the performance, spraying fireflies into his foot soldiers. A few seconds that was all it had taken. They’d gone and left this shambles behind them.
The road was torn up, the stones shattered and cast around by the mage bolts that had left craters where they had landed. Around them were torn fragments of black flesh that was all anybody would ever find of those unlucky enough to be hit. Further out from the mage-bolt craters the wounded were sprawled on the ground, wailing with pain from the injuries inflicted by the iron splinters in their bodies.
“Get up, get moving. His Infernal Majesty did you the honor of inspecting you in person. Now show yourselves worthy of that privilege.” Then Xisorixus looked up at the city of Dis towering overhead and saw the great cloud of dust that masked where Satan’s palace had once stood. Others were looking at it as well.
“He might do the inspecting but he’s not around to do the fighting is he?” The voice from his troops was unidentifiable but the murmur of agreement that swept through the ranks showed that the speaker had a lot of agreement. Xisorixus was about to challenge the speaker, whoever he was, but then he decided to let it slide.
“How many have we lost?” Instead it was time to take stock of his losses.
“About eight hundred.” The reply was from the senior ‘Baron’ who Xisorixus had appointed to lead his first Legion. A ‘Baron’ who had led nothing larger than an octurbinium before and whose aristocratic rank was unrecognized by anybody outside Xisorixus’s hastily-assembled Army.
Eight hundred out of thirty thousand. A sharp loss for an attack that had been over in seconds but one that his army could swallow. The whispered words about the fighting on Earth and now along the Phlegethon were that a human attack usually created far more havoc than this.
“Resume our march. We will overrun the rebelling humans and gain great glory. And much favor in the eyes of His Majesty. We will have succeeded where Abigor and Beelzebub have failed!”
A ragged cheer went up and Xisorixus’s Army started to move again, leaving its dead beside the road. As they did, not a few were wondering when the Sky-Chariots would return and what form of death they would bring next time.
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others