RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus.
Wing Commander Martin Winters eased Vulcan B.2 XH558 down onto the air station’s long runway after taking her up for an air test. RAF Akrotiri was being used by the RAF as a staging post for aircraft bound for Iraq and onwards for operations in Hell.
The station was crowded with military aircraft and was busier than it had been at any point in its history, since the old days of the Near East Air Force anyway. In fact apart from more modern aircraft like Typhoons and Tornados it even looked like something out of the old NEAF days. Other than XH558 there were three other operational Vulcans and two Victor K.2s, a line-up of twelve Buccaneer S.2s, some of which had come all the way from South Africa, now wearing the markings of a reformed 208 Squadron, while four Phantom FGR.2s sat at the end of the row of Buccaneers, their paintwork looking a little faded, but were every bit operational. On the opposite side of the runway parked among ultra-modern Typhoons were a pair of Canberra PR.9s and a T.4. Winters expected to see the Battle of Britain flight with its Spitfires, Hurricane and other Word War Two veterans turning up an any moment. Then he reminded himself that those aircraft had been assigned to the Home Guard and were patrolling over cities in case of any more lava attacks. Of course, there was always the Shuttleworth Trust……
Ground Traffic Control was bleating as usual, they just weren’t used to having this many aircraft on the ground at once nor were they accustomed to the big bombers being around. Wing Commander Winters taxied the big bomber to the end of the row where the rest of the V-Bomber Flight was parked and shut down the four Rolls Royce Olympus 201 engines. Within seconds with the air conditioning turned off the cockpit began to get unbearably hot.
“Come on, lads, let’s get out of here before we all fry.” Winters said jocularly to his crew.
Like many of the aircrew in the flight Winters was a recalled pilot who had last flown the Vulcan in the early 1980s. The flight had the highest average age of aircrew of any unit in the Royal Air Force, and the highest average seniority, there were far more Wing Commanders and Squadron Leaders in such a relatively small unit than there normally would be. The air force was now attempting to rectify this situation by transferring some aircrew from the Nimrod and Tornado force to the V bombers. Since the RAF was hoping to buy some of the B-1Cs that the Americans were planning to put back in production the experience of flying large bomber aircraft would be valuable. Just as was happening all over the world, the museum-pieces were filling the gap until new production could replace them and allow them to return to retirement.
Winters climbed down the crew ladder, making sure he remained in the shadow of the big bat-winged bomber while he waited for the four other men to climb down. While he was doing so he heard the sound of another pair of aircraft making their approach. He did not recognise the engine sound and decided to go take a look, perhaps it was a visiting aircraft from another NATO unit.
“Bloody hell!” He remarked in astonishment as he saw the first of the pair of new aircraft flare out and release its braking parachute.
The large white aircraft’s nose wheel touched down and it began to decelerate, demonstrating the short-field capability that had been designed in from the start. As it passed XH558 Winters took in its pale, bleached national roundels and its serial number – XR220.
The Vulcan’s co-pilot, Squadron Leader David Maxwell, noticed that Winters was standing as if he was in a daze. He had not yet noticed either of the two arrivals.
“What is it, Boss…?” He said just in time to see the second aircraft, XR222, taxi past. “No…that couldn’t be! Tell me the Sun has finally gotten to me and that was a Tornado, not what I just thought it was.”
“I’m afraid that’s what you thought it was, it’s the second one in fact.” Winters replied.
“Well they kept that pretty quiet, Boss. I never heard so much as a peep that anybody was working on them.”
“Considering that they’ve got no hours on the airframe and have been cosseted for the last forty odd years it must have been fairly easy to get them flying again. Depends how extensive the internal damage was I guess, I’d heard Healey had ordered them cut up inside. Either the staff fixed them up while they were on show or the orders sort of got lost. I suppose they looted the Concorde program for engines and spares. I always heard Maggie Thatcher wanted the aircraft put back in production so some work must have been done back then as well.”
“Way I heard it, it was just the electrical wiring that was hacked up, they even cut the cabling rather than disconnecting it. But they’ve been in temperature-controlled and air-conditioned environments so the wiring may have been the only thing that needed replacing. Winters turned to the great bomber above and behind him. “Sorry, Old Girl, I’m afraid you’re no longer the star of the show.”
Winters could swear that he heard the bomber ‘harrumph’, evidently she disapproved of such show-offs as the ‘Grey Ghost’. On the other hand it could just be the airframe expanding and contracting as some bits of it heated up in the Sun and others cooled down.
The two new arrivals taxied to the end of the line of Buccaneers, shut down their Olympus 22R engines and opened their cockpit canopies. Winters and Maxwell recognized their aircrew as belonging to the Fast Jet and Weapons Operational Evaluation Unit, which until recently had the number plate of 41 Squadron, though that unit had reformed as a Jaguar GR.3A squadron. Since nobody had flown an aircraft like these since Roland Beamont had test flown the first prototype it was probably quite sensible to have the most experienced pilots in the service fly them.
Behind him, Maxwell shook his head. If this looting of museums went on, there wouldn’t be an aviation collection left intact. Idly, he wondered what the Russians were recovering from Monino and whether the Chinese would let the Americans have their U-2 back. Then it struck him that this showed just how seriously humans were taking this war. They were prepared to destroy their past, their history, their background, everything that they normally held dear if by doing so they could get one more combat aircraft, one more ship, one more tank into the battle zone. They were fighting this war regardless of cost, regardless of effort. All that mattered to them was winning. Suddenly he felt quite sorry for Yahweh and Satan whose posturing had unleashed this fury upon them.
Mission Control, Detroit
“Now, this is going to present an interesting problem.”
“I thought this test shot was pretty well worked out. There’s nothing that problematical about a radio-controlled aircraft surely?”
“Not that. The test will work or it won’t. We’ll just have to wait and see.” The Targeteer gestured at the newspaper that was folded up and discarded on the desk. “That will.”
Doctor Kuroneko looked confused. “The election.”
“That? It won’t really make that much difference who wins. The Republic is stronger than a retired warhorse and a jackass combined. No, I meant the court ruling from Texas. They’ve just sentenced a sex offender called James Kevin Pope to 40 life prison terms — one for each sex assault conviction — and 20 years for each of the three sexual performance of a child convictions. They’ve made the sentences consecutive so he’s got 4,060 years. He will be eligible for parole in the year 3209.”
Doctor Kuroneko still looked confused. The problem with the targeteers was that their disinterested, inflexionless voices gave no hint as to whether they were joking or not. “I’m sorry, I still don’t follow.”
“Well, in the past, all such jail sentences were a bit absurd, after all, what were they going to do? Hold parole hearings around a two millennia old grave? But what happens now? Pope goes to jail, dies in his cell sooner or later, probably sooner, ordinary decent criminals don’t like child molesters, and goes up to the next level. Does he serve out the rest of his sentence there? Or does he get a pass since he’s dead? And if you think we had trouble over capital punishment in the past, wait until everybody starts arguing the issue now.”
“Excuse me Sir, the transport aircraft is approaching the portal now.”
“Thank you Captain. Any problems?”
“No Sir, the C-119 is behaving like a charm. A very well-behaved old lady. The museum we got it from looked after her well. It’s a pity to blow her up really.”
“Not really, the other option is to waste a modern transport and we need all the ones we can get.”
In the distance, the great waterfall of molten rock was still pouring down over the city of Detroit. Most of the city itself was hidden behind the clouds of smoke and steam that were rising from the blocked river and the burning city center. Detroit had been a horrifying experience for everybody involved, much worse than the disaster that had engulfed Sheffield. The river had been the real factor that had made everything so grim, after the lava flow had blocked it, the city had been flooded, drowning many of the trapped people before they could be rescued. New Orleans had been bad enough, Katrina had left the city so badly damaged it was doubtful if it would ever fully recover but Detroit was worse. Even with FEMA actually doing their job this time, Detroit was still far worse.
The electro-optical display showed the view from the cockpit of the remote-controlled C-119. The torrent of lava was filling the screen and the temperature readout was reaching critical levels.
“It’s time, touch her off.”
“Sorry old girl.” The Captain at the remote flight controls whispered, turned a key on the control board, then lifted a switch cover and pressed the button it concealed. Just below the sky-volcano, a brilliant flash momentarily eclipsed the orange-crimson stream.
The watchers held their breath while the blast was absorbed by the portal. The lava stream seemed to falter, spluttering as the black ellipse of the portal fluctuated in size. There was a breath pause, the darkness seeming intense without the great luminous stream.
“Do you think it…” Doctor Kuroneko could hardly bring himself to say the word ‘worked’.
“No.” The targeteer stared at the ellipse, it was reopening and a surge of lava poured through, a much greater torrent than there had been before the blast. It faded away again as the pent-up mass dropped through but only to return to its previous volume.
“I was afraid of that.” Kuroneko sounded distressed. “I think we’ll have to explode the bomb from the other side to close the portal.”
“No problem. We’ve got a for that plan in place. Several in fact.”
Site of Satan’s Palace. City of Dis, Hell
“Work faster you lazy fools. Our master may be waiting for you.” Belial screamed out the challenge. He had assumed responsibility for the rescue effort, sending out his demons to bring in every orc they could find. Now the crater was full of them, digging out the shattered stone. Some had already been killed when the stones had shifted and they had fallen into a void, only to be crushed when the stones moved again.
Belial looked down in growing frustration, there had been no survivors found yet and his hopes were fading fast. All his efforts to win his way back into Satan’s favor couldn’t be wasted, could they? Then, he was aware of a darkening, a shadow over him. He turned and looked up, afraid this may be yet another devilish human trick. But it wasn’t, with a surge of relief he recognized the great wings and the seven heads that looked down on him. Euryale had bred this creature herself, using all the skills and magics she could bring. A cross-breed of a Greater Harpy and a Hydra, a mount that had no equal anywhere else in Hell. It had been a gift for Satan, a great mount that was unique, that Satan could use to overawe any who saw him. The seven great heads stared at him and he wondered if they knew it was to his house that they owed their existence. Or if they cared. The implication of the sight dawned on him and relief surged through his body.
“Your Infernal Majesty. You live!”
Satan looked down on the figure below him. “Belial, you brought the humans here! You betrayed me to them.”
“No Sire, I was on my way here myself when the human aircraft struck. They dropped their bombs but I was just far enough away to live.”
Satan stared at him still, weighing up the scene before him. “And you started the rescue effort. How many other Lords of Hell aided you?”
“None, Your Majesty.” Because they are all dead he thought but no need to say that. “But the lesser demons you see here rallied around to aid. All they needed was direction. We gathered the orcs and started digging. We will not stop until we have an accounting.”
Satan nodded slowly and focussed his vision on Belial’s face, seeing the traces of his tears from frustration and rage. “And you wept for me Belial.” Satan’s voice was dumbfounded, disbelieving. “You wept for me and fought for my life while others scurried away to save themselves. Such bravery and loyalty deserve recognition. The realms of Asmodeus remain unawarded. From now on they shall be the realms of Belial. I give them to you, holding them of course is up to you.”
Belial looked around, he was heir to Asmodeus and faced wealth unparalleled. Then he frowned slightly, Euryale hadn’t just created the giant flying hydra, she had bred the golden wyverns, greater by far than the normal breed, as its bodyguard. She had created twelve of them but there were only nine surrounding the crater.
Satan saw him look and deigned to give an explanation to his now-favored vassal. “I was meeting with my Greater Heralds for information on the battle for they can be trusted when the reports of others cannot. I was there with them when this happened. On the way back, a group of human sky-chariots, you called them aircraft? attacked us. Three of my wyverns were killed. They attacked me!” Satan’s voice went into a pitched, intense scream. “I must have revenge. How did the attacks you promised succeed.”
“Beyond our best hopes Your Majesty. Sheffield and Dee-troyt have been destroyed, one of my agents on Earth reports that the human herald Cee-En-En says that many factories have been destroyed. My promise is fulfilled Your Majesty, I await your further orders.”
“Destroy more cities. And your next target will be?”
“Turin Your Majesty. One prisoner identified it as a great arsenal city also. And there is something strangely satisfying about the idea of pouring white-hot lava over Turin. But Sire, we will need more Naga, to open more portals.”
“Then take what you need from the other Lords.” Satan looked down at the pit where the orcs were laboring to excavate the ruins. “And when those orcs have finished digging down there, kill them all. I do not want their stories being told.”
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others