Sheffield Cathedral, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Lakheenahuknaasi flapped clumsily over the vast human metropolis, making her way to the place where she could sense the half-open portal pushing gently against the fabric of this plane. She was freezing, aching and frustrated. The city was supposed to be a great engine of industry, but she could see no great fires or forges, nor could she hear the ringing of hammers on anvils. Instead there was an endless jumble of tightly packed stone buildings, tiny ones with peaked roofs and much larger boxy ones. Ahead, surrounding the place where the portal was lodged great towers thrust into the sky. Impossibly, many of them seemed to be made out of glass. No; as she got closer, Lakheenahuknaasi sensed that they had skeletons of iron. She shuddered. Humans were far too fond of iron.
The gorgon sited the spot where the embryonic portal was floating and smiled faintly at the irony. Invisible to the naked eye in its current state, the inter-dimensional nexus was hovering perhaps a hundred yards above a large temple to Yahweh, the walls of which were awash with the light of human magic. Lakeenah blinked. What she had taken to be an outbuilding next to the temple revealed itself to be a giant metal snake. As she watched it whined loudly and began to hauled its segmented bulk away into the city. At this point she had ceased even trying to comprehend the purpose behind the bizarre human constructs.
In truth she was not sure where else to put the portal. The horrid snow had stopped, but the low clouds and mist had kept visibility down to a couple of miles. She had risked one quick, wide circle around the temple and spied a few structures that appeared to be large chimneys, but no smoke issued from them. Lakeenah settled on destroying as many of the huge towers as possible. They seemed more like palaces than castles; undoubtedly they were occupied by the city's elite, the overseers and the most skilled artisans. Even this was not straightforward. The terrain was quite hilly and if she placed the portal in the wrong spot the lava might flow around the towers without destroying them. She settled on a monolithic black tower that stood proudly above and a little apart from the rest. It was sited on a low hill and at the top of a slight groove, which she hoped would act as a channel leading straight to the rest of the towers.
Lakheenahuknaasi finished her approach and began a slow descending glide over the temple. Bracing herself for the pain, she prepared to reach out with her psychic power to grasp the nexus. The familiar stinging sensation washed over her wings and suddenly she had it. Pumping her wings with grim determination, she strained to drag the nexus away from the temple. Immediately she could feel her queen's powerful presence.
“I have it. I am moving the nexus... into position.” Lakheenahuknaasi exclaimed, with the mental equivalent of a gasp.
Euryale replied with a curt “Good. Do not fail me now.”
Lakheenahuknaasi sensed the portal swelling as the naga back in Hell poured energy into it. She had the target in sight, but it seemed agonizingly far away. The pent up psychic force was building to monstrous proportions and she had to switch from 'pulling' the nexus to 'pushing' against it to prevent it opening prematurely. At last she was almost over the tower.
“Ready!” she shouted into the ether, hoping Euryale sensed her over the human din and howling energy of the portal itself. She released the nexus, half-folded her wings and dropped away from the tower, racing to escape the literal piece of hell that was about to be unleashed.
MD-902 G-SYPS (South Yorkshire Police Air Support Unit)
Peter Taranaski swung the helicopter around in a lazy semi-circle, ready for another slow pass over Hillsborough. Police work didn't pay well, but it was a lot more interesting than playing air taxi to overpaid executives or spending all day creeping along power lines. Better yet, there was the regular thrill of accomplishing the mission, protecting the public and nabbing the bad guys. Back in the army air corps, it had mostly been an endless series of make-believe exercises. Even in weather like this, he was usually eager to take to the Explorer up, but when the scramble order came through he was expecting yet another false alarm. Now that command had confirmed baldrick activity in the peaks the tension in the cabin was palpable.
In the left seat Sergeant Oliver Webster was staring intently at his main monitor, which was showing a thermal image of the streets below. The younger man had quickly gained a reputation for competence and calmly directing ground units through crisis situations. In Pete's opinion though, the sergeant took life a bit too seriously; in particular, his jokes were usually met with a disapproving silence. That was one good thing about the war; the second observer position had been replaced by a couple of heavily armed squaddies, who did seem to appreciated his one-liners.
The RT crackled. “Sierra Yankee Nine Nine, new baldrick sighting reported, single flyer low over the town hall, over.”
Webster was quick to respond. “Acknowledged. We'll head over there now. We've covered Hillsborough twice now, nothing to report.” His voice continued over the intercom “Peter, I'd like an orbit of the ring road.”
“Confirmed.” Pete eased the cyclic forward and the aircraft began to pick up speed until it was holding 60 knots. ”I'll take it easy. No sense wasting fuel.”
He looked over at Sergeant Webster, who nodded. Other units were scouring the Peaks for baldrick invaders, they were tasked with rapid response should the demons slip through the net to populated area. That meant maximizing endurance, as they'd do no good if they were down for refueling when the baldricks went on a rampage.
“Sierra Yankee Nine Nine, make that multiple sightings, at least one baldrick over Pond's Forge, priority one, over.”
“Roger control, on our way.” Webster replied. Pete had already dipped the nose and the MD 902 leapt forward, speeding towards the city centre. He cut in on the RT “Have ATC got a blip this time? Over.”
There was a long silence. “Ah, negative Sierra Yankee. They've got some kind of interference though. Radar cover is compromised.”
Sergeant Webster had zoomed the IR camera and had a pulsating speck centered on his monitor. As the helicopter drew closer it took a form reminiscent of a giant long-legged bat. “Baldrick sighted! Single flyer at 600 feet AGL, heading west from cathedral, over.”
The reply was immediate and emphatic. “Say again Sierra Yankee, one baldrick flyer over central Sheffield? We've lost your telemetry.”
Pete had a visual on the baldrick and was maneuvering the helicopter into its rear quarter, staying well back. The Explorer was quieter than most helicopters, primarily due to its lack of a tail rotor, but he was still under no illusions that the baldrick couldn't hear them. He just didn't want to force a confrontation until they were ready.
“Affirmative, baldrick flyer proceeding west towards university at about 50 knots. It's a small one...” Webster's voice trailed off. He had switched back to visual and noticed that the demons wings were glowing with a ghostly blue-white light. Worse, the air beneath the creature was shimmering, as if by heat haze. What the devil was it up to?
“Ack... ledged... alert... intercept com... def..” The duty officer's voice distorted and dropped out. Sergeant Webster flipped channels but the error indicator on the radio panel wouldn't go out. It had to be whatever the demon was doing, if the radar was affected too. Time to make a judgment call.
“Peter, take us up over it for a shot.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Corporal, you're up. Take it down.”
The two riflemen were ready for the order and sprang immediately into action. Private Hughes slammed back the door, while Corporal Sinker heaved his AS50 anti-material rifle onto the pintle mount. The target was easy to make out despite the fog, with the bright glow emanating from its wings... but then the light suddenly went out and the bat-like shape veered off and dropped away. Sinker put his eye to the scope, hoping to line up a shot before the helo started changing position... and then recoiled from a sudden, overpowering rush of heat and light. An impossibly deep, deafeningly loud roar had a moment to pound his ears before the helicopter was sucked into the maelstrom.
The University of Sheffield, 11:26pm GMT
The Arts Tower was a Sheffield landmark, a striking twenty-one story monolith built in the early sixties and still the tallest university building in the British Isles. The midnight black disc of the portal swelled into existence almost directly above the tower, appearing for all the world like a flying saucer from a low-budget sci-fi movie. In the space of an eye-blink a glowing stream of magma had burst out from the disc’s lower surface and begun to plummet towards the building, while from the upper surface a fountain of liquid rock sprayed into the air. A full four seconds passed as the magma blossomed in mid-air; those few onlookers that survived would later report being transfixed by the deadly beauty of the scene. Then the crushing stream smashed into the tower’s west side, driving it into the ground and exploding the opposite side in a spray of fire and shrapnel.
The shockwave created by the magma hitting the ground smashed windows and ruptured eardrums out to over a kilometer. The gas entrained within the rock erupted from confinement, sending clouds of shoking vapor across the city. Half-powered by the gas, half powered by the sheer kinetic energy of the fall, liquid rock splashed out from the impact site, smashing into the lesser tower blocks surrounding the impact point, which immediately began to collapse. After another four seconds the canopy of glowing projectiles formed from the upper spray began to impact on the surrounding area with the force of thousand-pound bombs. The campus vanished into a huge cloud of dust, lit from within by the hellish light of the magma stream. Thousands of tonnes of rock continued to slam into the impact site every second, creating a roar that outclassed even a Saturn rocket launch. The relatively soft ground shook and slipped under the onslaught, leading to further collapses as buildings further out were hit by the deadly combination of tremors and projectiles.
MD 902 G-SYPS
Private Jamie Hughes was being battered by noise, light and g-forces beyond anything his worst nightmares had imagined. After the initial lurch the helicopter had spiralled out of control, shaking as shrapnel hit the fuselage. At first his only thought was to hang on and prepare for a likely fatal impact. Finally the aircraft began to stabilize and he could fight through the shock to assess on the situation in the cabin. Corporal Sinker was down, sprawled on the deck and unmoving. A massive pillar of fire and smoke filled the port windows. Jamie’s first thought was ‘nuclear bomb’, but surely they’d been too close to survive a nuke going off?
He was about to check his C.O.’s wounds when he spotted a flash of movement through the open door. As he struggled to focus the bronze glint resolved itself into the shape of the Baldrick flyer, flapping furiously to escape the destruction it had wrought. Oliver’s mind filled instantly with rage and a determination not to let that bastard get away. Leaning over the corporal’s body, he grabbed the AS50 and swung it up to firing position. The helo continued to shake and buck, making it almost impossible to keep the fleeing baldrick in the sights. Private Hughes knew he had only seconds to make the shot, so he let fly with five rounds rapid. The first one went wide, the second should’ve hit but had no visible effect, then the third one went wide again as the helo started to shudder. Somehow he managed to bring the rifle back on target and the last two rounds hit the creature, spraying blood visibly as he watched through the scope. That was all he saw before the floor dropped away from under him.
Meanwhile Peter Taranaski had been fighting hard to stabilize his bird, which had been thrown violently out of the flight envelope by the initial shockwave. The strong gusts and uneven thermals kept undoing his efforts – the controls didn’t seem quite right either, while all the time that pounding roar bored into his head. Glowing balls shot through the sky all around them and he flinched repeatedly at the near misses. Finally he managed to get the Explorer back into level flight, but they’d lost most of their altitude and airspeed.
“Sergeant? Sergeant!? Corporal!!?” There was no response over the intercom, so he tore his eyes away from the instruments and glanced over at the observer’s position. Sergeant Webster was slumped forward in his seat, seemingly unconscious, but what struck him cold was the sight through the window. Some kind of massive explosion had obliterated the university and fingers of glowing lava were streaming out from the base of the smoke column. They had to get out of here, now. Peter began to pull the bird up and away from the inferno, yanking the collective just as the helicopter entered a powerful updraft created by the lava flow. The swirling air quickly formed into a vortex ring, stalling the rotors as the helicopter literally lost its grip on the air. The Explorer rolled sideways and began to plummet towards the ground.
A moment’s hesitation would have been instantly fatal, but fortunately Peter had encountered this problem twice before, in a combat landing exercises. He shoved the cyclic forwards, trading his precious remaining altitude for speed in a desperate attempt to escape regain lift. He succeeded, but it was already too late to avoid his pressing appointment with the ground. The Explorer skimmed over a half-completed apartment block then ploughed into the corrugated metal roof of a small tow-bar factory.
‘PINDAR’, under the MoD Main Building, Whitehall, London.
The Prime Minister strode briskly through the underground corridor. He’d retired to Number 10 after the initial searches had turned up nothing, but in truth he’d only been napping. He wasn’t ready to believe that the demons had simply retreated after their slaughter, and it would seem that his instincts were correct.
“It’s Sheffield sir,” the aide next to him said, “some kind of massive incendiary attack. Reports of fires burning out of control and of buildings collapsing. No baldricks though.”
Gordon Brown didn’t bother asking her to elaborate, as the situation room was just ahead. He spotted Lord West across the room – the Secretary for Defence probably hadn’t left since the initial attack – along with several other cabinet members. The screens showed images of fire, brimstone and digital maps with conspicuous red outlines superimposed on them.
“How bad is it Admiral?”
“Prime Minister. In short, the Baldricks have hit Sheffield with a weapon of mass destruction, based on their portal capability. We’re looking at a total loss of the city centre, severe damage out to three miles and significant damage to the surrounding areas.”
The PM’s expression was grim. “Comparable to a sub-strategic nuclear yield?” The scenario seemed familiar somehow, but he couldn’t place the source of the déjà vu.
“Not exactly sir. We had one piece of luck, a police helicopter caught the deployment on video.” Lord West nodded to the comms officer, who touched a control. A pair of images appeared on a large screen, documenting G-SYPS’s initial encounter with the Baldrick.
“Right is natural color, left is the thermal image. They intercepted the demon over the cathedral, don’t know if that was significant.”
The PM was staring at the Baldrick. It looked like a grotesque cross between a woman and a bat, with bronze skin and no visible arms. There was something odd about its hair… and its wings had started to glow.
The image began to show streaks and speckles. Lord West continued to narrate. “Intercept control lost radar coverage over the city shortly before the intercept. Radio contact with the helicopter was lost about now.” The buildings began to recede and the angle shifted. “They’re maneuvering for a shot. A little too late, unfortunately…”
The baldrick suddenly closed its wings and fell away, leaving a tower block in the centre of the frame. The image flared; the visual camera quickly recovered to show a blossoming orange firework, while the thermal image stayed whited out. The room was silent as the cascade of magma obliterated the buildings below. Then the image spun crazily before blanking out.
“The helicopter went down?”
The voice came from behind him but it was one the PM had become tiresomely familiar with. Sure enough, Deputy Prime Minister David Cameron was standing behind him.
“Actually no, though it was a close thing.” As if on cue, the video switched to showing a panoramic aerial view of the destruction. “They recorded this before they had to return to base. We’ve established that the burst height was a little over eight hundred feet. Portal diameter is about fifty feet, and the damn thing hasn’t shown any sign of closing yet.”
Threads. That was it. An old BBC documentary, about Sheffield’s destruction during a nuclear war. Gordon pushed the trivia out of his mind, but not before thinking well, at least things aren’t that bad.
"We're guessing at the moment, but I'd be surprised if we take less than ten thousand fatalities. Still, it could've been much worse. That figure would be tripled if the attack had come at noon instead of midnight."
And that was our safest Labour seat the Prime Minister thought grimly.
“What’s our response so far?”
“We’ve got fighters up Sir. Tornados patrolling and some Hawks. They’re trainers but they’ve always had a war-emergency point defense role. They’re carrying a gun pod we’ve had in storage ever since the Phantoms were phased out.”
“Tornados? Hawks? What happened to the Typhoons? For all the money those things cost us….”
“They’re out in Iraq Sir. Anyway, the Home Guard is being mobilized and we’re moving in. With that portal still open, we’ll have to be damned careful. The explosion did one hell of a lot of damage and if there’s another, we could lose all our first responders. Casualties? Quite apart from the numbers issue, we’ve got the lot. Severe burns, blunt force trauma, gas poisoning, you name it. The baldricks didn’t hit us with a nuke but they might as well have done. First priority is to get the scene cordoned off…”
He was interrupted by the telephone ringing. One of the aides picked it up and spoke for a few seconds. “Sir, I have Dublin on the line. They’ve picked up the news, probably intercept of the transmissions we’ve been watching. The Dublin Fire Brigade is already on its way. A ferry is being held for them.”
“Word’s out then. Didn’t take long did it. Have we any more data to give out.”
“No Sir. We’ll be getting download from a Keyhole fairly shortly but that’s all we can expect. All our good stuff is out in Iraq or on its way there. We can get a Nimrod down but it’ll take time.”
“I thought BAE Systems had killed off our Nimrod fleet?”
“Not all of them sir. Just the ones they ‘upgraded’. The old ones are still flyable.” The phone rang again. “Its Norway, Sir. They got the news about the attack but no more than that. They say, whatever they’ve got and we want we can have.”
“Nice of them. Still no theories on why Sheffield was the target? Ground zero was the university, were they doing anything important?”
“Nothing credible Prime Minister. I checked the university… their materials department did some engineering work on the new HEAD shells, but that’s all.”
Another cold war memory bobbed unbidden into Brown’s mind; a novel in which the Russians had destroyed Birmingham with a single ICBM, then tried to sue for terms. Bad end to a good book… he couldn’t remember the title. No matter, it was a plausible scenario here. The attack might be a carefully judged attempt by Satan to demonstrate his power before opening negotiations. But it was also plausible that Sheffield was just unlucky, and that more strikes would follow as fast as the demons could manage.
“We have to know why and more importantly if, when and where the next strike will be. What about that demon general the Americans captured? If he’s supposed to be on our side why didn’t he bother to warn us about this?”
“You’ll have to ask the Americans that Sir, he’s in their hands.”
“We’ll do just that. Mr. Cameron, if you could call the White House and the Kremlin please, I’ll want a video conference ASAP.” Brown was more inclined to assign the twit to making tea, but alas one had to accommodate political realities.
(Hats off to Starglider who did this bit (all the Belial/Lava attack parts are his).
Nations do not survive by setting examples for others
Nations survive by making examples of others