Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
“Do you think she’s lying?”
“Of course she is. This is hell, remember. The only question is, what is she lying about?” General Thomas Waldhauser was watching the gates of the fortress with professional interest. “You know, looking at this place, you’d almost think they were expecting an attack by us. That choke point getting into the valley was a perfect defensive bottleneck and the valley itself is a great killing ground. The hills are too steep for Tomahawk to handle and the whole geography is wrong for a ballistic missile attack. This place would have given us conniptions if we’d had to force our way in.”
“Even the baldricks could have fought us on even terms here.” Division Sergeant Major Carter was also watching the gates of the fortress. It was one of those days when killing people and breaking their things seemed like an entirely reasonable way of life. The First Marine Division had been on board their amphibious warfare ships, pounding north at 20 knots when Dis had fallen. That had gained all the headlines but it was this operation, the storming of the northern redoubt, that was the really important one. This was where the attacks on Sheffield and Detroit had been mounted from. Waldhauser and Carter were both definitely of the opinion that breaking things was in order.
“The gates are opening.” Waldhauser was almost speaking to himself but the stir of activity was easy to see. Tank guns, missile launchers, artillery, MLRS vehicles, all were training on the great doors in the rock. If the occupants did try a double-cross, the amount of firepower that could be poured into the fortress was impressive even by human standards. The baldricks inside would learn that there was no worse enemy than the United States Marines.
A golden figure walked out, followed at a respectful distance by others. It was a gorgon, easily distinguished by the mass of writhing tendrils that formed its ‘hair’. It approached Waldhauser and stood in front of him.
“On your knees, hands behind your head.” The Marine sergeant snapped the words out. The gorgon obeyed, indignant at the treatment but determined to obey. Because obedience meant survival.
“I am Chatelaine Euryale, mistress of Palelabor.”
“I will decide what your title is and I will tell you what you are.” Waldhauser’s voice was ice-cold. “Until then, you are nothing. Understand me?”
“When addressing the general, first and last words out of your mouth are ‘Sir’.” Carter spoke abruptly, precisely the way the same order had been given to him, first day in boot camp. “Try again.”
“Sir, yes sir.” Euryale clenched her teeth forcing herself to remember that these were humans, they could destroy anything, any time they wanted.
“Are all your personnel out of the fortress?”
Euryale looked carefully behind her and did a count. “Sir, all that survived yes. Many of my people were killed by the usurper Belial and many more in the rebellion against him. These are all that are left Sir. But Sir, the passageways and tunnels beneath Palelabor are deep and complex. It may be that a few of Belial’s people survive down there. Sir.”
“If there are, and we find them, they will be killed. The gorgons, order them to assemble over there.” Carter pointed at a flat area of ground. “You join them.”
Euryale called her gorgons over and led the way to the indicated area. Flat, no cover, surrounded by rocks, to her practiced eye, it had every indication of being a killing ground. One of the marines made a waving motion with his hand and the party knelt again. Then a group of the marines appeared carrying what looked like bags. They put one over the head of each of the gorgons, Euryale last. He last thought before the bag shut light out was whether this would be the execution she feared.
“Listen up. You may move the bag so you can see. But you will keep those head things of yours covered at all times. Any gorgon seen with its head-snakes exposed will be killed without warning. Do you understand?”
“Sir, yes Sir.” The gorgons echoed the words.
Waldhauser turned to his officers. “Order the men in, search that place from top to bottom. Any baldricks still in there, kill them Find the human slaves, all of them, bring them out. Once we find out how many are here, we’ll decide what to do with them.
Broken Skull Gallery, Shaft 14, Slocum Mine, Tartarus
Publius had set the ambush up carefully. There was a thing strand of wire across the tunnel floor, one end securely anchored to the rock, the other tied around a delicately-balanced support. If something tripped over the wire, the act would pull that support out and drop a barrage of heavy rocks on the victim. Then, the humans could close in and beat it to death with their war-hammers. Publius was proud of those hammers, a heavy wedge of stone, its edges painstakingly sharpened so that they could cut as well as crush. The whole thing tied to the end of a solid handle that gave it extra momentum. The war-hammer could crush a demon skull. If they could find a demon with a skull to crush that is.
“Where have they all gone?” Simplicus looked around at the humans gathering for the ambush. The demon presence had vanished, as if the monstrous creatures had evaporated overnight. It had been three or four days since the last of the demon overseers had gone away and none had come to replace them. The humans had continued working for one of those days, then stopped. Then they’d split into two groups, the sheep and the wolves. No, Simplicus thought, that wasn’t right. They’d split into three groups, the sheep, who sat around doing nothing, the wolves, who had already started to prey on the sheep, and the sheep-dogs, who were protecting the sheep and starting the rebellion against the demons. He, Publius and the rest of the humans here, they were the sheep-dogs and Simplicus felt strangely proud of the distinction.
“Something’s coming.” The words were whispered, alerting the defenders. “A demon from the left, another group from the right.
This is it. Simplicus thought carefully. The demons were coming back, now the fighting would really start. A war of traps and ambushes against the demon’s strength and magic tridents. Perhaps they could get the single demon first and flee, leading the group into another ambush? That should work, doubtless Publius was already thinking that out.
What happened next was totally outside his experience. There were a short series of yells from the group and a series of loud explosions that lit up the tunnels with their flashes and echoed around the rock walls, making Simplicus’s ears hurt with the reverberations. The single demon was hurled back against the wall, his bright blue blood splattering all over the floor of the tunnel. He fell, half-sitting against the cave wall and another barrage of explosions caused more of the injuries that had brought him down. Then, he fell sideways to lay on the floor, very obviously dead.
The group who had killed him came into better view. They were the same size as humans, but they wore red-and-gray mottled clothes that seemed to blend into the cave walls. They were loaded down with equipment and each man carried a strange lance-like object in his hands. Their faces were half-hidden by strangely-shaped helmets that gave them a strange, beetle-browed ferocity but Simplicus could see that their real faces were hidden behind a mask that covered their nose and mouth and goggles that covered their eyes. Strange goggles, black ones that seemed to project forward from their faces and glowed with a strange green light. With a sudden insight, Simplicus knew that these new arrivals were human.
“You human slaves down here?” The leader of the group spoke curtly as if he had a lot to do and not much time to do it.
“We were, we’re rebelling against the demons.”
“Good for you.” The same voice was now warm and friendly. “You don’t know it, but you’ve won. This place surrendered a couple of hours ago and its previous owners are in custody. There’s been a war between Earth and Hell and Earth won. You’re free. Just follow the way we’ve marked to the surface and there’s people there waiting to look after you.”
The leader of the group stepped forward and to his horror, Simplicus realized he hadn’t seen the tripwire leading to the booby trap. There was only one thing to do and Simplicus did it without thinking. “Look out!” He yelled the words as he dived forward, pushing the human leader backwards, out of the way of the rocks. In doing so, he hit the tripwire himself and the last thing he registered was the battering of the rocks as they hit him.
Publius stared down at the body of his friend, crushed beneath the carefully-built deadfall. The leader of the humans picked himself up from the floor where Simplicus had pushed him and carefully inspected the body. Then, he looked at Publius and shook his head sadly.
“And to think that we came down here to rescue you.”
“He was my friend.” Publius’s voice was loaded with grief.
“He was also a Marine.” Sergeant Voight looked down at the man who had saved his life. “You men, take him to the surface, with an honor guard. The rest of us will keep looking down here.”
“My name is Publius. I was a legionary once. May I come with you? I can help you find your way around, show you where the rest of us are.”
“Very well. Lead on Publius.”
Outside Palelabor, Tartarus, Hell
The humans were streaming out, most blinking at the unfamiliar light. As they did, they were being greeted, their names taken for the ever-growing database of the rescued humans and herded out of the way. Not all of them though, a few, a small handful of them were being shepherded to one side where they were guarded by hard-looking men who wore white helmets, white scarves and white gloves. The soldiers were military police, those they guarded were the humans who had turned traitor and aided the baldricks in their plans against Earth. The guards weren’t there to keep them in, they were there to stop the other rescued humans tearing them limb from limb. That had already happened to some, the men here were the survivors.
Beside them, a Humvee pulled up and a man got out, one whose uniform was subtly different from the Marines. He walked over to General Waldhauser, and saluted crisply. “Sir, may I have permission to see the names of those we have recovered.
“Yes, of course Major.” Waldhauser waved and carter passed a notebook computer with the latest records on it.
The strange major loaded a flashdrive into the side and pressed a key. Then his eyebrows went up. “With your permission Sir, I would like to take this one.” He passed the notebook back.
“Obersturmbannfuhrer Herwijer. Guard at Majdanek. Sure, Major you can have him. Take good care of him.”
“Yes Sir, I will take very good care of him,” said Major Ben-Ari of the Israeli Defense Forces.
Route One, Hell.
“So you renamed it Route One.” Gaius Julius Caesar looked at what had once been the Dis-Dysprosium Highway.
“That’s right, makes things a lot easier.” Second Consul Jade Kim watched the humans walking out of Hell. Caesar had assembled his people fast and they were already on their way to the area he had picked out as suitable for his new home. “Its all fixed Gaius, I’ve resigned my commission so I’m a free agent now. A word to the wise, the U.S Army knows what you’re up to and they don’t object too strenuously as long as you don’t make it too obvious. As far as they’re concerned, as long as you keep the peace in the area, its one they don’t have to worry about. The officer who processed my papers kept referring to a Roman Awakening. I’ll explain that later.
“While I was away, I checked my finances, I’ve got my separation bonus, my back salary and a few other things. I also contacted a publisher back on Earth, your original books are public domain but you’ve rewritten them so the rrewritten versions are copyright. You can make a fortune off the royalties.”
“She’s saying things we don’t understand again.” Titus Pullo pulled an exaggerated face of despair.
“It just means our First Consul is going to be rich. Again. And our new state needs the money. For vehicles, weapons, fuel and other equipment.”
“And radios,” added Gaius Julius Caesar. “Don’t forget radios
Banks of the Styx. Fifth Circle of Hell
“Fire in the hole!” The combat engineers gave the time honored cry and watched the workers scrambling clear. A stretch of the Styx and the swamps that surrounded it had been painstakingly cleared of imprisoned humans, then the charges set. They would blow the bank away at a specific spot, diverting the water away down a series of channels. Once the previous river bed was drained, the remaining humans could be located, rescued and taken out of Hell.
“Firing, bank charges, in Three, Two One GO!” The blast rocked the area’s ending ripples across the surface of the Styx and causing the mud in the swamps to shiver. The bank vanished in a carefully-controlled blast that left a deep hole where the high bank had been. The Styx started to flow down its new path and the water level in the old bed started to fall.
“Firing, Bed charges in Three, Two, One. Go!” A second series of charges blasted mud into the old river bed, forming a dam. The remaining water in the old bed drained away, exposing thousands of bodies, nailed to crude crosses.
“Thank thee friend. We can work now and bring help to these poor creatures. Where art thou going now?” The Quaker looked solemnly at the Army engineer.
“To the Sixth Circle. There is a river of lava there that also must be diverted and drained. And after that? Your guess is as good as mine, there’s more than enough work down here for one generation. Clearing this place out will be a job for our children and their children.”
“I fear thou art right friend. But we shall all do what we can.”
Ninth Circle of Hell
“So this is the Ninth Circle of Hell. General Schatten looked at the area beneath him. A tiny area, a sheet of ice on which strange creatures, a mix of gorillas, bears, horses and things he couldn’t even imagine paced. They wandered from place to place, chewing on the heads of humans who were frozen in the ice. From where he stood, Schatten could see six of them. Doubtless, there were more. “Who are these people.”
Abigor looked down on them. “The greatest traitors of history. Brutus and Cassius, Andrey Vlasov, Ephialtes of Trachis, John Anthony Walker, Vidkum Quisling, many more.”
Schatten looked more carefully. In the middle of one group was an unfilled hole. “The unfilled hole. Who is that for.”
Abigor searched his memory. “A countryman of yours I think. One called Robert Macnamara.”
Headquarters, First Human Expeditionary Army, Camp Hell-Alpha, Phelan Plain, Hell.
General Petraeus sighed quietly to himself. He was now commanding, if not quite the largest, certainly the most powerful, army humanity had even put together. A force that was growing all the time as more and more units joined the ranks. Five Army Groups, each with five Armies, each with five Corps. None of them were complete yet of course, the units reflected nationalities, equipment standards, operational doctrine rather than actual numbers. But, one day, they would represent numbers as well. Over 625 divisions, more than 15 million troops. All in armored units, fully mechanized, fully outfitted with tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and salvo rocket launchers. Supported by air forces to match. The factories were humming, the production lines churning out equipment at a rate not seen since the Second World War. Already the museum-pieces were leaving the ranks, sent back to the retirement they had earned yet again.
Petraeus smiled at that, on his desk was a brief note. A unit that had been flying F-105s had just finished converting to F-22s and its aircraft, those that had survived, were going back to their museums. It was a good thing, the losses of the F-105s and all the other old aircraft had been high. Very few had been shot down but they were tricky to fly by modern standards and their structures had been old and tired. The number of crashes due to structural failure and pilot error had been far too high.
“Sir, a letter for you.” A letter thought Petraeus, now that was unusual. The reason why an American General was commanding this Army was that only the United States Army had the communications and command-control facilities needed to run a force this size. Everything was done by email and datalinks, nobody wrote letters any more. He picked up the envelope, noting the script on it. It was beautiful, clear, precise, easily legible yet also beautiful and a pleasure to see. Petraeus was aware, rather guiltily, that his own handwriting was an almost indecipherable scrawl. The art of penmanship and calligraphy were long lost, and this beautiful copperplate showed him just how tragic that loss had been.
The letter inside was equally beautifully written and Petraeus read it with pleasure. Then he re-read it with shock although it was something he should have anticipated. Now this, he thought was a problem, and he started to re-read the elegant letter for a third time.
September 11th, 2008
To General of the Army David Petraeus, U.S,
I regret that ill health caused by my confinement has delayed my communication with you but I have pleasure to report that I am now fit for any duty to which I may be assigned.
I therefore respectfully offer my services to the country and flag once more again.
Very respectfully, your ob'dt servant,
Last edited by Stuart
on 2008-09-12 08:42am, edited 1 time in total.
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others