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Original Fiction The Salvation War - Pantheocide

The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 27

LTR

Don't Look Back In Anger
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Temple of Everlasting Acquiescence, Eternal City, Heaven

They had to be around here somewhere. Lemuel-Lan-Michael looked around for one of the angels he and Michael had picked out as likely openings for the attempt to infiltrate the Second Conspiracy. It had been a careful choice. The subjects had to be high-ranking enough to have real knowledge of the Conspiracy, lowly enough to be impressed by Lemuel's rank, ambitious enough to value the rewards that bringing such a high-ranking angel into the Conspiracy would bring, and innocent enough to lack any suspicion over why this plum should fall into their specific laps. A demanding set of requirements to be sure.

It didn’t help that the thick, clinging clouds of incense made searching the sanctuary of the Temple difficult. Lemuel had the uneasy feeling that the ones he was searching for were there, only just out of sight. This was new territory for him. His previous investigations had always been from the outside, the investigator probing the unknown. Now, he was inside. Or, at least, that was where he wanted to be. It made his mind-set even less comfortable to know that he was on his own. He had no back-up, no group of hired humans or lowly Ishim to do the leg-work for him. Even Michael wasn't here to help him. Michael-Lan was away and would be for some time.

Where Michael-Lan had gone was technically a secret but word had already started to spread through the jewelled buildings and alabaster streets of the Eternal City. Uriel, the Sword and Scythe of the Peerless One Above All, was in desperate danger and Michael was on his way to personally rescue his old friend from the murderous intentions of the ruthless human killers. It was never spoken aloud of course, never mentioned in more than the most subdued of whispers, but the voices on the wind said that Uriel had failed in his attacks, that he had let the great Michael-Lan down and fled the scene of battle. Lemuel promised himself that when this investigation was completed, he would hunt down those 'voices on the wind', locate those quiet whisperers and haul them before the League of the Holy Court on charges of blasphemy. Uriel was the Sword and Scythe of the Eternal Father. For him to fail was inconceivable.

"Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar. It is a pleasure to meet you here. Does it not bring joy to your heart to take time from your onerous duties and give thanks for the Boundless Blessings that Our Eternal Father has bestowed upon us?"

The Bene Elohim turned around at Lemuel's voice and dropped to his knees, covering his face with his wings. "This is true, Most Lordly Ophanim. The One Above All bestows such gifts upon us that there are not enough hours in all of eternity to give thanks for them. Even knowing that, it brings joy to my heart to offer such adoration as is in my humble capacity. Most Noble One, may this humble one have the honor of knowing to whom I speak?"

"Of course. I am Samandiriel-Lan-Michael." Lemuel felt his spirit rebel as he told the lie here in the Eternal father's own temple but needs had to be filled when desperate circumstances demanded it. "It is the first time I have attended here. Truly this Temple does honor to the Lord Above All Others."

"It is but modest compared with the great bounties bestowed upon us." Perpetiel-Lan looked up from behind his wings. "And your presence here adds honor to our humble gathering."

"I was recommended here by friends who said that the devotion and worship of the congregation would restore my spirits. Come, friend, stand, there is no need for such humility. Compared with the Divine Presence, even the greatest of us is as nothing. Let us stand together in adoration of His Spirit."

Perpetiel-Lan rose to his feet, looking curiously at Lemuel. "Your spirits are troubled, Great One?"

Lemuel sighed, a touch theatrically. "I fear so. It is this war with the humans. It does not go well and my heart aches to think of the pain human defiance is causing Our Eternal Father. I ask myself, is there not more we can do to ease His burdens? Can we not give our strength, such as it is, to help shoulder the burdens of this war? My spirit cries out, 'thou shalt do more' yet I can find no way to satisfy this righteous craving."

"Would you permit this humble servant to offer your Greatness an opportunity to do more?"

"If this would ease my heart, I would be indebted."

"There is a small group of us, we assemble in private where there are no interruptions or distractions. Without those, we can concentrate our whole power into a chorus of adoration for The One Above Us All. Although it is tiny in comparison with His Great Power, perhaps it is of some little worth. You would be welcome to join us Most Noble One. If you would condescend to be seen with such lowly ones as us."

"Your kindness shows the greatness of your heart. I would be pleased to join you for adoration of The Most High."

"Then meet me here again, at the hour of Compline."

War Room, White House, Washington DC.

"It's not a weapon." Admiral Gary Roughead spoke wearily, repeating himself again. "Look, I don't think the crew on Normandy will be allowed to buy their own beer in San Diego for a long time to come, but they drove off Uriel with missiles, not some mystical death ray."

"But the reports we have say that the radar hurt him."

"It probably did, it’s a very powerful radar indeed and Uriel was, in its terms, very close to it. We have tight limitations on where the crew can be topside when the SPY-1 is operating. And we know from our experience with the Baldricks that they are sensitive to radar emissions. But it's not a viable weapon. Normandy burned out a significant proportion of her SPY-1 antenna faces during that engagement. I know, it was worth it and she saved San Diego in the process but she'll still be in dock for months and it'll cost a lot of money to fix her. For all that, the radar was a minor contributor to the battle at most."

"The ground crews found burned tissue at the point of impact."

"Most likely from the missile hits. Uriel's shot up and burned really bad, but we did it with missiles and that's the real problem. He ducked missiles once by jumping through a portal, the only reason we got him this time is because the Standard missiles arc up and over, they came at him from above, not below. He was simply looking the wrong way. We can be sure he won't make that mistake again. We have to get him with a weapon that doesn’t give him a chance to run through a portal. I'd guess that the radar irritated badly, probably caused him a lot of pain but it really didn’t do that much damage. What it did do was point us in the direction we should be looking."

"How about the YAL-1A? If the targeting beams from an SPY-1 aren't powerful enough to do the job, what about the laser on the YAL-1?" General Norton Schwartz posed the question.

"How many YAL-1s are available?" President Obama asked the question a little self-consciously

"We have two built, two more in pieces, they were on the line when funding for the program was cut. They're still there. We can restart building them if the funding is restored."

Obama sighed. He'd wanted to do so much, to restore the social programs funding that had been neglected during the years of Republican administration. Instead, he was pouring money into the military forces while those social programs continued to wither. It wasn't the way he had wanted to go at all. "Very well, we'll add funding in the next monthly supplemental. Can you divert funding from somewhere else to bridge the gap and get the aircraft started again?"

There was a quick consultation amongst the Chiefs of Staff. Eventually, Secretary Warner tapped his finger on the table. "We'll divert the required resources from the Navy P-8 program. We don’t need ASW birds at this time so a slow-down there won’t hurt.

"Good. Next question. Munitions. How are we doing there."

"We're rebuilding stocks although not as fast as we would like. Problem is, a lot of our capacity is in things we don’t use any more, 5.56mm rifle ammunition for example. Retooling the lines for munitions we do use, .50 Beowulf, .457 Winchester Magnum for example, is taking time and production is only just picking up after the switch. Same across the board. We used to make a lot of 120mm sabot ammunition but our need for that is very low, what we do need is HE and HEAD. They're still in critically short supply. Some areas we're doing all right, we're stocking up again on 155mm artillery ammunition, mostly thanks to the Chinese. Their factories are becoming the arsenal of humanity. This long delay between assaults is really working for us. If Heaven had come straight at us after we'd crushed Hell, we'd have been in a desperate position. Now it's just disturbingly critical."

"Aircraft?"

"Good news Mister President." General Schwartz spoke proudly. "The first B-1C left the re-established production line yesterday and was delivered to the 40th Bombardment Group. They've been training using the B-1A we found after they gave up their B-29s. Next group to re-equip will be the 509th, they're stood down at the moment. They lost all their B-2s at Whitman. Anyway, we've also stood up Air Force Dimensional Strike Command to control all our strategic assets."

"SAC rides again?" Admiral Roughead spoke with studied neutrality.

"It does indeed. Modernized of course. Curt LeMay can stop spinning in his grave. Has anybody found him yet by the way?" There was a general shaking of heads. "Pity, he was the best operator the Air Force ever had, We could use him now."

"Ships? How are we doing there."

"It's our lowest priority area Sir. But, we've cut First Metal on two new CVNs, the USS Millard Fillmore and USS James Garfield. Newport News are working triple shifts on the Lyndon Johnson and Herbert Hoover and they plan to have them out the drydocks in time to start module assembly on the second pair. That will bring us up to 14 CVNs, assuming we pull Enterprise as per plans. Otherwise, we're just concentrating on DDG-51s, additional LHDs and the LHA-6 class. And subs of course, we're ordering three Virginias a year. With luck, we can start pulling the museum pieces out of service again soon."

"Doctor Surlethe, any advance on the scientific front?"

"Yes and no sir. We're making impressive gains in cosmology and a few things are starting to fit together. But, we still can't find a way to get at Heaven. We know it's out there and we know where it is, in a cosmological sense, but we can't find the place. Until we do, of course, we can't attack them. We can make random stabs into Universe-Two, that's the name we're using for the Hell-Dimension now, but we could end up anywhere. One thing we have learned, it behooves us to be careful. We have no idea what we might run into up there.

"There's one thing that is confusing us, we got hammered by the first three Bowls of Wrath and we're only just recovering from them. But, why the long delay on the Fourth? All we've had is the Leopard Beast attack on Fort Bragg that did relatively little damage. The Fourth is supposed to be fire from above, well, we've had that already from Belial so why aren’t we seeing it again. There's something going on here we don’t understand. The bad news is the weather attacks have restarted. You all heard about Taiwan? That cyclone made three passes over the island. No way that's a natural occurrence."

"Is aid on its way there? Hillary, international scene?"

"There is Sir, we're sending amphibious and naval forces, other countries are sending food and medicines. Otherwise, not much to report, Mister President. The Pope has stated that the Roman Catholic Church is forming a division of 'ardent volunteers' to join the fight and 'restore the True God to his throne'. He's offering it to the HEA."

"If they're so ardent, why aren't they already in the Army?"

"Good question John. But this does point to a problem. The Human Expeditionary Army is all armored units, pretty much every division-sized armored unit on Earth. That's the way it has to be, our troops are pretty much safe behind armor. But a lot of countries don't have armored units anything like that size and they're being left out. Worse, from their point of view, the countries forming the HEA and, in particular, the 15 members of the War Council at Yamantau, have all the political power as well. The UN is pretty much isolated and marginalized. Those countries that aren't represented feel the same has happened to them.

"Sucks to be them." General Casey's spoke levelly.

"It does indeed, but we have to recognize this causes problems. The fighting in Myanmar and the threatening war in North Korea are manifestations of this problem. . . ."

"I'd dispute that, those countries were going to blow up sooner or later anyway."

"Perhaps, but the division that's forming between the countries that are at the center of things and those that are not is exacerbating the situation. We don’t want a split in our ranks at the moment, at least not before we have Yahweh's head on a stake in front of Capitol Hill. Also, some of those countries are helping the war effort, either supplying munitions or picking up the slack from efforts that have been diverted to the Salvation War. That's why I think we should encourage the Pope's initiative. It's a way of getting smaller countries together and making them feel they're part of things again. Perhaps the other surviving religions could do the same. There's a long human tradition of the Church Militant after all, and who amongst us has not gone down into the dungeons of Moria as a mace-swinging cleric?"

A guffaw of laughter swept the conference room. Eventually, Obama wiped his eyes and picked up the discussion. "Very well then, I propose that we support the Pope's suggestion at Yamantau. After all, even if the troops aren't that good for much, I'm sure Dave Petraeus can find a use for them. Even if they are all armed like the Swiss Guards."

There was another eruption of laughter. General Casey shook his head, "Actually Sir, it’s a war crime to use Swiss pikemen as mercenaries. Been that way for centuries. But I doubt if we'd find much use for pikes in today's battles."

College of Revised History, Phelan Plain, Hell

"So, the strength of the Phalanx was dependent on each man bearing his part. Any weakness in one gravely weakened the strength of the whole. That was why training was so rigorous and started so early. Every man had to trust every other and that meant they had to have a common background. Shared experience, shared knowledge made for a strong phalanx and that meant victory. I believe it is the same today even though modern weapons are so different from ours."

"Thank you Aeneas. That was a fascinating insight into the thinking of society and the strategy that lay behind the cultural features of Sparta. I think I speak for us all in saying that we wait with the greatest anticipation for your next presentation."

The round of applause shook the classroom walls. Aeneas nodded briefly in response and left, trying hard to hide his resentment at being relegated to the roll of a teacher. As he walked down the corridor, he bumped into a very familiar figure.

"Ori, how are you old comrade."

"Bored and frustrated. And you?"

"Much the same. I understand why the today-people want to learn the truth about their past but why choose us to teach it? There must be many by now who can do better than us."

"Perhaps not, there are many who have been rescued but to find those who have worthwhile knowledge to pass on? Perhaps not so many." Ori glanced around. "But if you are truly sick of speaking to these numbskulls, perhaps there is somebody you should meet."

Ori led the way into the College canteen. A man, wearing the red-and-gray fatigues of the Human Expeditionary Army was sitting at a table, obviously waiting for the samurai. Ori gave him a wave and then introduced Aeneas to the stranger.

"And this is Sergeant Gray Anderson of the First Mechanized Infantry battalion, (Demonic)."

Aeneas picked up on the unit name immediately. "You mean the today-people are training daemons to fight with our weapons." His voice was a hiss of disapproval.

"We are. Although only in a way. Single-shot rifles and lightly armed infantry fighting vehicles only, no artillery, no tanks, no missiles."

"Why?" Anger bubbled under the disapproval.

"Because today-people are in short supply. We have barely enough to keep the units we have up to strength, expanding the army further is hard. So, we're experimenting with training demons and recruiting the deceased, especially ex-soldiers, into the ranks.

"What do you mean 'we'. You're dead like us."

"I am, but I died quite recently. Never went through Hell."

"If you had, you would be less keen to see guns in the hands of demons."

"We're going to see that anyway. They'll get guns, somehow. Everybody who wants them can get them, that never changes. The only question is whether the ones we can trust get them first. Perhaps trust is a bad word there. Mistrust less if that makes you feel easier.

It didn't. Aeneas still remembered what had been done to him in the pits, and that his wife and children were still out there, suffering.

"Aeneas, Gray has a proposition we might like to hear." Ori spoke quietly, he'd been as shocked as Aeneas at the initial idea of training Daemons to fight as humans but he'd had time to get used to it.

"It goes like this. We're training daemons to fight like humans. It's not just shooting although that's a problem. Most daemons shoot like the A-team." Aeneas was confused. Gray grinned at him. "Shoot all day, never actually hit anybody."

"How can Ori and I help, we're not gunmen."

"But you are soldiers. I listened to your speech in there about teaching people to fight as units. That's what daemons don’t do and breaking them of the individual-hero mindset is a real problem. There's a whole lot of pre-military training to be done and you two seem good candidates. You can learn to shoot at the same time. Of course, if you want to stay here and teach historians. . . . . "

It wasn't a decision. Ori and Aeneas looked at each other and their reply was perfectly timed. "When do we start?"
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 28

LTR

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Hills South of Barona, Southern California, USA

Uriel looked skywards and cursed. The aircraft were up there again, circling, methodically and patiently searching for him. It wasn't the fast ones that were the problem. He could hear them coming and ease his battered body into cover. It was the small, slow ones that were causing him grief. They flew down low, methodically checking out the valleys and ridgelines. Despite their bright colors, they were hard to see until it was too late. They would pop up over a ridgeline before he could respond and it had only been a matter of good fortune that he hadn't been seen by one of them.

The worst thing about the small aircraft wasn't that they were so hard to evade. It was that they meant the humans were close. If Uriel listened very carefully, he could hear sounds of their approach. The roar of their vehicle engines, sometimes the sound of shots as a suspicious object was raked with gunfire. It wasn't a good time to be something that might look like a wounded angel when this hunt was underway. If he listened really carefully, Uriel could hear the baying noise that chilled his blood. Humans had brought their dogs along to help with the hunt. He had little doubt that it was the dogs that were doing the tracking. Dogs to track, humans to kill, it was a deadly combination and one that was forcing Uriel to run for his life.

He listened very carefully, acutely aware that the humans had come close to blinding him with their missiles. One of his eyes still wasn't working, the other gave only blurred vision. It was clearing slowly but even with the ability of angels to recuperate from near mortal wounds, his injuries were crippling. Yes, he could hear the baying of the dogs echoing through the canyons. The enthusiasm evident in the sound was worse than the threat it conveyed. The dogs were thoroughly enjoying themselves. They were pleasing their human partners, that was some of it. But, wrapped up in the enjoyment and the pride in performing a task that the humans couldn't was pure, cold hate. The dogs hated him, to them, this was personal. Faint though the baying was, Uriel could sense the dogs' desire to get their teeth into him for just a few good bites before the humans finished him off.

It was time to move again. Once again, he looked upwards, peering through his fogged vision to try and detect the little aircraft. For once, the sky was empty, the latest of the aircraft had dropped behind a ridgeline, probably to scan the ground in another one of the canyons. Uriel sensed something else though, an aircraft high up, so high that even with his vision perfect he would not have been able to see it. It was moving fast, so fast that it seemed silent as it passed, the sound of its passage only arriving later in a dull boom. Surely an aircraft so high and so fast wasn't a threat? Even if it was, it didn’t matter. Uriel noted that the sound of the dogs and the humans was getting louder. Even if the so-high, so-fast aircraft was a threat, he had to move.

He heaved himself up and started to move along the canyon. As he did so, he looked down, checking where he put his feet. He'd made that mistake on the first day after the humans had wounded him. He had been so busy checking the sky and the ground for his pursuers, he'd ignored the warning rattle. The snake had bitten him and the pain in his leg from the bite still burned. Snakes always had been servants of the Eternal Enemy and even with Satan dead, they seemed still to carry on in their accustomed style.

The problem was that his options were narrowing quickly, narrowing in a very literal sense. The mountain range he was hiding in was shaped like a funnel and he was moving steadily towards the narrow end. North of his position was a human settlement, south was a rock-covered plain that offered him no cover at all. Behind him were the humans with their dogs and guns, in front of him, a narrow series of canyons that offered the only way out. Only, beyond those canyons was another human settlement. Uriel would have to swing east to avoid it and that pinned him against a river. He desperately tried to remember what the ground had looked like when he had flown over it before. The riven ran through a valley, one that was lush with green vegetation that would offer little or no cover to a creature his size. But, if he could cross the river, there was a maze of mountains and canyons for him to hide in. So, north then east.

The thought of the river made him remember his thirst. His mouth was dry, as parched as the hills around him. He was also hungry, desperate for food. The demands of his body as it tried to repair the damage that had been inflicted on it during the battle multiplied his need for food and water. Without them, his healing process was slowed still further. Uriel looked around, saw the yellow-gray hills under the blue sky and bright yellow sun and desperately wanted to be back in the clear white of Heaven. The thought made him try and form a portal for his escape but the black ellipse eluded him. That power too had been taken from him by the humans. Just how badly had they hurt him. The thought tormented Uriel, he could feel the burn of the steel and tungsten fragments in his body but their were other injuries as well, ones he couldn’t name or describe. He could feel them though, feel the sickness they caused.

Summoning his strength, trying to subdue his pain and exhaustion, Uriel started his trek north, his wounded leg dragging behind him. Could he fly? His wings were torn and burned, at least some of the smaller bones broken. More as an experiment than with any intention of flying, Uriel tried to inflate his flying sacs. He could feel a tiny trickle of gas into them, but that was all. It didn’t matter. Uriel knew that any attempt at flight would simply lift him up to where the humans could see him. And there, their missiles and aircraft were waiting.

443rd Battalion (California), United States Volunteers

"Any word from the Civil Air Patrol?" Captain(V) Artemis Gordon spoke to the radio operator with longing in his voice. He was hot, tired and dirty. The 443rd had been on the hunt for Uriel for four days without rest. Not that they wanted any, they needed it but they didn’t want it. In fact, had a messenger turned up with orders for their relief, the men would probably shoot him. They wanted Uriel, they wanted him dead and they wanted the 443rd to be the agent of his timely demise. Compared with that driving goal, heat, exhaustion and dirt were minor inconveniences.

"No pop. Sorry, Negative Sir." Bobby-Lynne Gordon kept forgetting her father was also her commanding officer. "The airdales are still hunting."

Artemis Gordon nodded. The Civil Air Patrol, everybody who owned a private aircraft and wanted to get some fuel for it, was carrying the burden of the search, their little Cessnas and Beechcraft threading through the canyons and arroyos that made up the tangled mess Uriel had taken cover in. They weren't alone, up high, circling the area was one of the fabled Auroras. They'd come out of their dark world of secrecy as the hunt for Uriel had gained momentum and they were using their futuristic array of sensors to probe the hills for the wounded angel. They existed, that much was known at last, but what they were, that was still a secret.

"Hold One." Bobby-Lynne patted herself on the back for getting the language right for once. "Report coming in on the special channel. Our Friend Upstairs reports he's picking up movement on his radar. Large object, too big for a human or local wildlife, heading north. About eight to ten miles in front of us, heading around 10 degrees true."

"All right!" Gordon slapped his daughter on the shoulder and climbed out of the Ford Excursion SUV that served as the battalion command vehicle. It just looked so much better with the 20mm cannon mounted on the roof. Around him, his men were pouring water into bowls for the thirsty tracking dogs. The officers of the 443rd worked on the old cavalry principle, animals first, then men, finally self. The humans were desperate for water but every one of them made sure that the dogs get their fill first. Not just the tracking dogs, there were attack dogs here as well. Their handlers were feeding and watering them ready for the meeting with Uriel.

"Listen up men. Our Friend Upstairs, thinks he's spotted Uriel north of us. Eight to ten miles. We need to get moving. Everybody into the trucks, we'll run up through Cabela Canyon, that'll take us to within a mile or so of the reported position. Harry, make sure those 106mm rifles of yours are ready, we'll need their hitting power."

"Sure thing Boss. We've got three rounds of HEAD per gun, then we're back to conventional HEAT."

"Whatever, as long as it hurts the bastard. Everybody else, make sure your heads are wrapped up in foil, we don’t want to lose anybody. You can bet word's going out to the squids and airdales. They'll be turning up with their goodies as soon as they can get here. That'll keep Uriel occupied but you can bet in the final battle, he'll use all that stop-living power he's got to try and beat us off. So, lets not give him any chances. Remember El Paso and all the other towns he's raped. Just remember he's been doing that for thousands of years against people who had no defense against him. People who had never done him any harm. So, everybody, kill Uriel. Don’t mess around, just kill him."

Gordon swung up into his Excursion and started to roll forward. All around him, people were packing up camp and mounting their vehicles. The dogs didn’t need orders, they jumped up on board. They had their own reasons for wanting to kill Uriel, reasons in which vengeance warred with the desire to please their humans. But, dogs are supremely logical creatures and they saw no point in walking when they could ride. Gordon looked at the 443rd starting to move and felt a strange contentment in his heart. There was something immensely satisfying about commanding good men – and women – on a dangerous but important mission. It certainly beat his day-time job of Liberal Arts professor at the local University.

The Montmartre Club, Heaven.

"Look, people, I'm going to need your help here. Artie, Glen, Duke, Louis, Benny, Shep, can you all get together please, select some music you can all agree on and do a rehearsal. Betty, Billy, Mahalia, Janis, Ethel, Mamie, when the boys have picked the music they want, could you make up a chorus and do the vocals. We'll put a hold on the stage show while we get this done, the girls can hold the fort out there."

"Don’t we have to sing praises or sumpin?" Billie Holiday was curious.

"Not unless you want to." Michael-Lan's voice was soothing. Actually, he found this cajoling of his human employees irritating. Why he had to persuade them when he could simply order angels around confused him slightly He had noted though that humans, especially the really talented ones did not respond well to being given terse orders. A degree of explanation and polite requests got better results faster. "It's not the words that are important, it’s the music and the singing. It gets everybody's mind together. On the same page. That makes our powers so much more efficient. Ladies, this is a chorus of equals not a diva with her back-up singers. You've got to work as a team."

Behind them, the band-leaders were hunched over a table pawing through the music. Artie Shaw looked up and caught Michael's eye. "How about Black Velvet?"

Michael-Lan looked at the singers and they nodded. "That'll do fine Artie. Use the area here for your rehearsals, when you're ready, let me know and we'll do the performance. I'm not sure how long it'll take me to get through and make contact so we may have to do several runs through the score."

"No problem, Michael." Glen Miller hesitated. "May I ask what this is all about?"

"I've had orders from Yahweh. Direct orders even I can't duck or evade. I'll be honest with you, Uriel-Lan tried an attack on a city down on Earth and got really badly shot up doing it. Yahweh wants him rescued so we can find out what happened. We've got to locate him and open a portal to him so I can go down and get him out."

The musicians started to exchange looks. Eventually Miller spoke up for them. "Michael, we all know who and what Uriel-Lan is. If the people down there shot him up, well, we don’t feel right about helping you get him out. From our point of view he's better off dead."

"From a lot of points of view, he's better off dead. I don’t like this mission any more than you do." Michael bit back the instinctive desire to yell orders at the humans and force their obedience. "But, Yahweh wants him back up here alive. If I don’t pull it off, he'll ask why. At the moment he's nicely bottled up in his palace and knows little or nothing of what’s really going on. But, if he starts asking questions, he'll learn. We don’t call him the all-knowing for nothing. He'll find out about this place and everything we've all worked for will get blown away. The humans down on earth have got the measure of Uriel's attacks, he's not doing much damage and they're hurting him worse every time." And why they haven't killed him yet is beyond me. " So, helping me won’t do any appreciable harm down below and will do us a lot of good up here. Not least of which, it'll stop Yahweh taking over the war and hitting Earth in a full-scale invasion.

"Like the one Hell launched?" Artie Shaw asked the question with a degree of relish.

"Just like the one Hell launched. And the carnage will be dreadful, for both humans and us. That's what I'm trying to avoid. When the humans get here, and they will, they'll tear this place apart. You have the humans up here to worry about, I have the angelic host to look after. Believe me, rescuing Uriel-Lan is the best of some very bad alternatives."

The musicians looked at each other again and nodded. "Very well Michael, we'll get rehearsing."

Michael-Lan heard the instruments tuning up behind him and the first tentative notes of "Black Velvet" echoing out of the improvised rehearsal chamber. He walked through the corridor down to the main body of the club and stopped for a second to check the buffet was up to standard. Then he glanced around the room and picked out the next people he wanted to see.

"Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar, glad you could make it here. How goes the special task I have assigned you?" Michael picked up one of the chairs, spun it around and sat on it.

"Very well, we made contact with the subject. He's calling himself Samandiriel-Lan-Michael by the way. We took him to an adoration session yesterday evening, three hours of chanting praises to Yah-Yah."

Michael winced, that was dedication to duty. "And he was happy?"

"Of course, he went away feeling very righteous. We're having him back for a six-hour session in a couple of days. Once we've got him on that, he'll be ready for movement to the next stage. We've gota plan to handle that."

"Good, you and your team deserve a round on the house for that. Remember, he's got to find out enough to keep him interested and if by chance, he should become a convert. . . . . "

"We'll talk to you about it before doing anything."

"Excellent." Michael-Lan stood up and left his nightclub. Things really were going splendidly.

417th Flight Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base, California

"And where do you think you're going Mikey?" Colonel Samuel Allansen stood behind his co-pilot who was stuffing possessions into a travel bag.

"Oh, hello Sammy. I got transfer orders, with the ABL program axed, I've been assigned to the 40th Bombardment Group for conversion to B-1Cs. Sorry, I thought you knew."

"I did, you didn't." Allansen was grinning all over his face at the confusion on Mickey Jennings' face.

"Sorry?"

"The ABL program is on again, funding was restored by executive order last night. Your transfer has been countermanded, you'll be staying with the 417th. In fact, we should be getting two new birds as soon as they can be assembled. One of them will be yours."

"Hey that's great." Jennings paused. "What is going on?"

"Uriel."

"I thought he was down somewhere in Southern California?"

"He is. And the Volunteers are closing in on him. But if he gets out or if Heaven turns out to have more like him, then it'll be the job of the 417th to hunt him, or them down, and kill him. The Big Brass think our laser will be just the job to slice and dice him."

"So the whole program will go splat again as soon as Uriel's dead or there aren't any more of him?" Unspoken was Jennings' thought that he'd prefer being in a bomber.

"Not from what I hear." Allansen looked around and dropped his voice. "From what the wind says, the really big brass at Yamantau have decided that these so-called gods are more trouble than they’re worth. After we've dealt with Yahweh, we're going hunting for the rest of them. If they want to live peacefully with us, fine. If they want to throw their weight around. . . . ." Allansen pointed at the laser in the nose of the YAL-1A.

"It'll be slice and dice time – again."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 29

LTR

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Yangon, Myanmar

This was, on consideration, more impressive that the entry of allied forces into Paris in 1944. The liberation of Paris and that of Yangon sixty five years later had many things in similar/ They included the population surging around the tanks and armored personnel carriers, slowing their progress to a crawl while they wound flowers around the gun barrels. The local girls hugging and kissing the soldiers, then riding on the tanks as they made their slow, stately progress down the road. Other occupants of the liberated city throwing gifts to the troops. All those things were shared by the liberation of Paris and Yangon. Only, the liberation of Paris had not had elephants. The liberation of Yangon did. Four of the great beasts were leading the column of armored vehicles down the long road that ended up at the great Schwedagon Pagoda. Already the spire of the temple was jutting into the sky in front of them.

That reminded Senior Colonel Mahindra of another sight that the liberators of Paris would have found remarkable. Down each side of his regimental column were arrayed ranks of saffron-robed Buddhist monks, their alms bowls turned triumphantly right side up. Most of them had emerged from the safe houses where they had been in hiding since the failed Saffron Revolution two years before to walk beside the tanks, giving the M-41s the aura of a divine crusade. The few monks that hadn't been forced into hiding had made their rounds with their alms bowls turned face-down, implying that the favor of the gods had been withdrawn from the country. Now, they too had their bowls turned right side up.

"Any trouble?" The radio crackled with static but the contralto voice was unmistakeable.

"No ma'am. We came out of the portal at Mingaladon Airport, formed up and drove straight in. No trouble at all, except the number of flowers on my tank are giving me hay fever."

There was a snort of laughter on the other end of the radio. "If that's your only problem, I'll have to try and find you some more. That might be difficult."

"No problems here ma'am. The only fighting going on is the local population hunting down the white-shirts." The white-shirts were the members of the USDA, the Union Solidarity and Development Association whose uniform was a white shirt and green pants. They'd been named the white-shirts in deliberate reference to Hitlers brown-shirted SA and fulfilled much the same function. Street thugs whose sole role was to beat down any opposition. They'd done that with enthusiasm but now the boot was on the other foot and those that could run were doing so. A lot hadn't made it, the mobs after their blood had cornered and killed them. The lucky ones had been lynched, the less fortunate had died bloodier deaths. All too often with their families beside them. Payback was a bitch.

"What are your people doing about that? Other than collecting garlands of flowers."

"I have my armored cars patrolling the cities, if they see any fighting, they break it up and take the USDA people into custody. We're holding them at the Inwa Hall, temporarily at least. We could use some help there, my people aren't policemen."

"I'll get some White Mice down to you as soon as I have some available. Until then, do the best you can. And take care Colonel, we're lucky we didn’t have to fight our way into the city but things can still go sour. Also, be advised Third of First is crossing the Aung Zaya Bridge, that'll put them behind you covering your rear. First of First is crossing over from Syriam, that puts them on the other side of the Nga Moe Yake river. There shouldn't be conflict but be aware of blue-on-blue."

"Yes Ma'am." Mahindra thought for a moment. "May I ask, where do we go from here?"

"North towards Naypyidaw of course. But we need to regroup and re-organize before pushing into Northern Myanmar. We're all over the place at the moment." There was a brief pause. "There's no serious opposition anywhere, we're just rolling through. The Myanmar Army is collapsing like a house of cards. Be advised, the invasion force they sent into our territory has surrendered to the Ninth Infantry. For all that, don’t drop your guard and don't let your people do that. I'll have more movement orders for you in 36 hours. Until then, make sure Yangon is secured."

Command Complex, Naypyidaw, Myanmar

"We need help, we need it now. This war was Michael's idea." Senior General Than Shwe was furious. He might not be the ideal general as envisaged by the profession of arms. In fact, most competent generals regarded him as a semi-trained butcher rather than a military officer. That being said, he had enough military knowledge to recognize a disaster as it unfolded around his ears. Almost superstitiously he touched his ears as the thought occurred to him. He didn’t want them decorating the Thai general's key chain.

Gabriel looked disparagingly at the human. "You were keen enough to launch the attack when it was suggested. No hesitation at all as far as I can remember. And you were pleased enough when it looked like you were winning." And you were very quick to follow Michael's suggestion. Now, Kim Jong-Il, he's being much more cautious.

"Michael told us that all the Thai troops were in Hell and that the border was weakly-guarded." Than Shwe looked at the map on the wall. In some ways, his lack of conventional military experience was a minor assistance in trying to understand what was happening to his country. A trained, competent staff officer would have expected to see a situation chart that looked like a tide flowing over the border, reaching into the Myanmar heartland, fingers advancing where resistance was weakest, being held back where the defenses were holding out. The problem was, the rules had been changed out of all recognition. Instead of a tide, the map was covered with spots, apparently isolated but in fact connected by links that led back to Hell. Each spot would appear and then spread outwards until it joined up with the others. Conventional defenses were pointless. Set up a defense around one area and the spots would appear all around it, isolating it and leaving it to wither. Looking at the map, Than Shwe guessed that it would not be long before those spots started to appear around Naypyidaw.

"And it was. Your troops advanced far in the first few days."

"Against border guards. If that was all, we would still be there. But the Thai had regular forces and deployed them quickly."

Actually, it appears they brought them in from Hell. Which means that the human commander must have realized that Heaven's fingers were behind this whole affair. With shock, Gabriel realized that Michael-Lan had been out-thought on this one. The whole idea of these human wars was to force human countries to bring back their armies and split up their alliance. Instead, the human had recognized the gambit and used elements of his army to destroy this invasion. In doing so he had convinced all the governments whose troops formed part of the human army in Hell that if they faced trouble, they wouldn’t just have their own army to protect them, they'd have everybodies. So the human alliance was stronger, not weaker. Damn the humans. They were good at this.

"What would you have Michael do?" The question was asked gently.

"Support us. Send us aid, troops, equipment. We are loyal to Michael, it is time for him to be loyal to us."

"We cannot, will not, fight a human army head-on. Not yet. They must be weakened first. You must do the best you can." Stupid people. Believing your loyalty to the Angelic Host is enough to win our loyalty to you. Our loyalty is to ourselves, you do not merit it. You are servants for us, nothing more. Gabriel swept his wings forward and strode from the room. He had to make a trip to Korea and find out just why Kim Jong-Il wasn't moving."

Suwon Palace, North Korea

"Four months! You've been moving troops around for four months! Just when are you going to move south." Gabriel-Lan hammered his fist on to the table.

Kim Jong-Un didn't even blink. "And what do you know about mechanized warfare? How many armored units have you commanded in the field?" Gabriel jerked back slightly, not expecting the response. He opened his mouth to reply but the Korean cut him off. "That's right, none. So how dare you tell us what we need to do and when we should move."

"But. . . ."

"But me no buts. We have 15 armored divisions and the same number of mechanized units to move to assault positions, almost fifty infantry divisions to do the same with. Three and a half thousand tanks, same number of infantry combat vehicles, seventeen and a half thousand guns to move. Do you think any of that is easy? Each of those units has to have a supply line. Do you know how many tons of supplies a tank division needs per day? Or a mechanized division? Or an artillery division? Those supply lines can't cross because if they do, the traffic jams will ensure nobody gets any supplies. Amateurs talk tactics Gabriel, professionals talk logistics. Launching an assault of this size takes months of preparation. We're professionals, keep out of our way and leave us to do our work."

Gabriel's jaw was dropping with the sheer impertinence of the human who was lecturing him. "I have seen your movements. They have no objective. This unit here." He tapped the symbol for an armored division.

"Moved east three weeks ago and then moved back last week. To the same place it originally occupied."

"Of course it did. We had to move it to clear a supply line to the division here." Kim put his finger on the map. "And to do that, we had to put that division, the 324th Tank, somewhere where it could be supported while the line was established. And then when that was done we moved it back. I'll say this again, Gabriel, and you can tell your master the same. We're the experts at handling armies, don’t tell us how to do our job and we won't tell you how to play harps and sing praises. Or perhaps your Michael would prefer to see those three and a half thousand tanks and seventeen thousand guns joining the Human Expeditionary Army. Now, I have work to do. You are dismissed."

Gabriel nearly passed out with shock and by the time he had recovered, Kim had stomped out of the room. The archangel had nothing left to do but leave quietly.

In the next room, Kim Jong-il laughed weakly and wiped his eyes. "I did well choosing you my son. To send that angel running away with his tail between his legs, that was a sight to cheer my old age. 'You are dismissed.' I'll bet he has never been told that by a human before. Now, what are we doing."
"The angel put his finger on it father. We are just shuffling units around, moving them backwards and forwards. Using activity as a substitute for achievement. We could launch the great attack tomorrow, if we were as foolish as those idiots in Myanmar. We won't of course. Instead, I think we should join the Human Expeditionary Army."

"Why?"

"Two reasons. One is that if we do otherwise, we will become a meaningless footnote to history. Myanmar has shown that Hell gives the HEA a commanding position on Earth. They can strike anywhere they can open a portal and they can open portals anywhere. They are the dominant force on Earth now, whether they realize that or not. And secondly, father, so sorry but you have not got many weeks left. When you die, you will go to Hell. Your status there as the donor of our Army for the greater good will be much greater than that of the man who kept our Army out."

"You are wise beyond your years. We will do as you say."

HQ, Third Corps, Third Army, Fourth Army Group, Human Expeditionary Army

General Asanee put down the speaker and glanced around the headquarters unit. It had direct video-links with both the headquarters of Fourth Army Group and the HEA command itself. The former was barely used, it was almost irrelevant in this sideshow. She used it to keep General Thimayya informed on what a part of his Army Group was doing. To all intents and purposes, she had an independent command here on Earth, answerable only to General Petraeus. That was a command link she used much more often. The link was open now, and ready for her to use.

"General, Sir. It's my great pleasure to advise you that our troops are securing Yangon. No significant resistance except for the local population taking overdue vengeance on the white-shirts. I anticipate a hold of 36 hours while we regroup and get ready to push north. Oh, one of our recon teams has rescued Aung San Suu Kyi, there was some fear that the junta may have her killed so we pre-empted it. She's in our hands now, receiving medical treatment."

"Very good General. Aung San Suu Kyi will make a good candidate for a new leader. Carry on with your preparations for moving north but do not launch the attack. Not yet anyway. We've had word from Than Shwe that they wish to discuss a ceasefire and are asking for terms."

"What do they offer Sir?"

"Their primary demand seems to be that you don’t take Naypyidaw. Than Shwe seems to believe you want his ears. They also want a refuge in a third country, enough money to live in luxury, usual things for deposed dictators. In exchange, they're offering full information on their relationships with Heaven and their trade with various Heavenly figures. We're hoping what they tell us will help crack open a way into Heaven."

"Very good Sir. I'll instruct our units to regroup and get ready to move but await further orders before doing anything other than defend themselves."

Interrogation Room, DIMO(N) Field Facility, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

How had they missed her?
Agent-In-Charge Sith was both relieved that the leak, or at least one of them, inside the DIMO(N) facility had been found but embarrassed that so obvious a security breach had taken so long to spot. It was her clothes that should have given her away, the loose blouse buttoned up around her neck, the long skirt. A young woman these days simply did not dress that way unless she had some specific reason, like particular kinds of religious belief. That wasn't why she had become a suspect. She'd been trapped by the oldest of all investigative techniques, information leaked to various people with subtle differences that identified the recipients. Then, when the net had started to close, everything else had dropped into place. A fundamentalist family, a preacher for a father, it had all made sense.

"Hey Kamikaze, we've got some help with the interrogation." Sith lifted up his eyebrows. The nickname had come from a time long ago when he was a newly-qualified agent and the Bureau had staged a raid on a bar that had been identified as the headquarters of a multi-state drug smuggling ring. For some reason unknown even to himself, he'd tied a Japanese hachimaki around his forehead before the team had broken in. Whatever the reason, the name had stuck. "Lugasharmanaska, this is Agent-in-Charge 'Kamizaze' Sith. The suspect is the interrogation room."

"Pleased to meet you Luga. I enjoy your television show. Is it true nobody can lie to a succubus?"

Luga laughed and shook her head. "That was thought up by the show publicists."

"Oh well, I guess the powers that be think your pheremones will get us some co-operation. It's good of you to help us out"

"I was here anyway, Agent Sith, so it was not a matter of difficulty for me. I think that is what they hope yes. If not, perhaps the presence of a daemon from hell will scare her? I understand she was very religious?"

"She wore this." Sith held out a crucifix and was interested to note that Luga didn’t shy away from it or cover her eyes. Another legend busted. "After The Message, to keep wearing that, yes I'd say she was religious. That's why she sold us out."

Inside the room, Kathryn Branch was terrified of what might happen. Her father should have been at Waco years before but had been delayed on his trip to the community and hadn't been there when the FBI had assaulted the building. Ever since that day, she'd been brought up to fear and hate the Federal agencies her father had held responsible for all the deaths. Then, The Message had come and she and her family had laid down and waited to die as ordered. Only, the Archangel Michael himself had come down and picked her up, explaining that she had been chosen for a very special mission, to watch over the humans who were Left Behind. He had explained to her that she had become part of a very special group of humans chosen for this role, ones who were exempt from the ruling of universal damnation. And so she had become one of the group, reporting back what she had found out. Then she had been drafted and assigned to DIMO(N) and her services had become of even greater value.

She looked up and saw to men from the FBI and a third figure, a tall woman with a dead white skin and small red horns pushing through her hair. Branch recognized her immediately, the succubus that had a new career as a television star. The grim words ran through her mind 'you can't lie to a succubus.' She found herself realizing that Luga was actually quite attractive, then understood that its evil was already corrupting her.

"You are Kathryn Branch?" One of the FBI men spoke quite gently. Branch shook her head, she might not be able to lie with a succubus present but she could say nothing. It took an effort because she had this continued urge to please the daemon in front of her.

Five hours later, she had, with great effort, managed to continue her refusal to speak. Maintaining silence had taken every bit of strength she had but it had been worth it to see the frustration on the faces of the two FBI men. The daemon just stared at her, emotionless, unblinking, evil.

"We're not going to get much out of her." Sith eventually sighed, "we can carry on tomorrow."

Luga stared at the girl. "I'm hungry."

"So am I. There's some nice restaurants in town."

"No, I'm hungry now. They look nice." Luga pointed at Kathryn Branch's breasts.

"Luga, you can't!" Sith was horrified.

"You can't stop me. I'm stronger and faster than you and it takes a lot of bullets to kill us. And I'm hungry now." Luga reached out and ripped open Branch's blouse, then grabbed one of her breasts. She pulled it, stretching it out and opened her mouth exposing her fangs just a few inches from her supposed snack.

"Get her away from me!" Branch panicked, screaming the words, mixed out with weeping and fear. "Get that hell-spawn away from me. I'll tell you anything, just don’t let her . . . . ."

Luga stepped away and grinned at the two stunned FBI men. "There you are. You humans are so afraid of being eaten. Of course, you can't use her confession in court. Call me back if there are any more problems with her."

Kathryn Branch was already babbling out a long list of the people she had contacted in her espionage ring. As she left, Luga stopped and patted her on the head. "Kathryn, fangs for the mammaries."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 30

LTR

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Eastern District Federal Court, Raleigh, North Carolina

"Your honor, this is the most outrageous infringement – no, your Honor, infringement is too mild a word – the most outrageous flouting of my client's constitutional rights that it has even been my misfortune to encounter. Miss Branch was denied legal representation. . . . . "

"Objection! Your honor, the defendant made no request for legal representation, in fact she made no statement at all until her final breakdown."

"Sustained. Strike the reference to the defendant being denied legal representation."

"My client was also drugged and threatened with sexual assault and mutilation at the hands of a cannibalistic. . . . ."

"Objection! Miss Sharmanaska is not a human being therefore the accusation of cannibalism is contrary to fact. In any case, as the videotape records of the interrogation clearly show, the defendant was never threatened or hurt in any way. Nor was she deliberately drugged. At this point, we believe it would clarify matters greatly if the court was to watch these videotapes. We believe they clearly refute the statements made by the defense.

Judge Candlass looked at the courtroom, the federal attorney prosecuting the case, the FBI agents who had made the interrogation and the succubus who had assisted them. His eyes were drawn to Lugasharmanaska, noting the yellow eyes with slit pupils set in darkly-shadowed sockets, the dead white skin of the face and hands, changing to the shiny black of the rest of her body, the red horns emerging from the pinkish hair. She was, he thought, quite charming. Then he shook himself. "Very well, we will watch the videotape. How long is it?"

"Five hours and five minutes your Honor." The judge winced.

"Your Honor, the defense is prepared to stipulate that my client said nothing for the first five hours. The essential part of the tape is the last five minutes. We would be agreeable to showing just the first ten minutes of the tape to prove my client made no incriminating statements and the last ten to show the court the despicable assault upon her constitutional rights."

"That sounds reasonable." The judge spoke with relief. "Clerk of the Court, please show the tape in the manner described."

Up on the television screen, the grainy image showed Kathryn Branch refusing to answer the questions put to her. The two FBI agents couldn't even get her to confirm her name or any other personal details. She just sat their, ignoring their increasingly-irritable questioning. Throughout the whole procedure, Lugasharmanska just sat there, emotionless and unblinking, her yellow eyes fixed on Branch. Eventually the Agent-in-Charge turned to his assistant.

"We're not going to get much out of her." Sith eventually sighed, "we can carry on tomorrow."

Luga stared at the girl. "I'm hungry."

"So am I. There's some nice restaurants in town."

"No, I'm hungry now. They look nice." Luga pointed at Kathryn Branch's breasts.

"Luga, you can't!" Sith was horrified.

Lugasharmanska turned slightly and the videocamera picked up her winking at Sith. Then she turned back to Banch and stared at her again. Branch went white, her eyes widening in fear, then she suddenly collapsed across the table, sobbing in fear. "Get her away from me!" Branch panicked, screaming the words, mixed out with weeping and fear. "Get that hell-spawn away from me. I'll tell you anything, just don’t let her . . . . ."

Luga stepped away and grinned at the two stunned FBI men. "There you are. You humans are so afraid of being eaten. Of course, you can't use her confession in court. Call me back if there are any more problems with her."

Kathryn Branch was already babbling out a long list of the people she had contacted in her espionage ring. As she left, Luga stopped and patted her comfortingly on the head. The tape continued to run, showing Branch continuing to pour out all the information she had on her spying activities. Then, it ended.

"Your honor, the prosecution submit that the tape clearly shows the defendant was neither drugged nor coerced. In fact, except for the brief, comforting, pat on the head as she left, there was no physical contact at all between the law enforcement authorities and the defendant."

The Judge frowned and privately wished this case had gone before somebody else. Judge Simpkins perhaps, Candlass had never liked him. This case had the potential to be a career-ender.

"Your Honor, the key part of the defense case is not shown by this tape. Succubae are well-known to have pheremones that make those around them sympathetic to them and they also have the daemonic ability to entangle people's minds and make them see and experience things that are not real. We contend that Miss Sharmanaska's presence in the interrogation room was equivalent to drugging my client and that she implanted the visions in her mind that led to her collapse. She may not have been physically coerced, but the threat of mutilation was very real Miss Sharmanaska herself confirms it when she said, and I quote, 'You humans are so afraid of being eaten.' And she herself said 'Of course, you can't use her confession in court.' I submit that my client's confession should be thrown out on these grounds. And, of course, any information derived from it should also be cast out as the fruit of the poison tree."

"Your Honor, Miss Sharmanaska is not a lawyer, her opinions are those of a lay. . . . . lay," The prosecuting attorney hesitated then settled for the conventional, "person."

"I think Miss Sharmanska should answer for herself on this. Clerk of the Court, swear her in."

Lugasharmanaska took the stand and the Clerk approached her, a little nervously. "Repeat after me, I affirm that the evidence I shall give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so he. . . ." From sheer force of habit, the Clerk had almost ended the oath with the traditional 'so help me God.'

Luga smiled at him and helpfully added "So help me, me?"

The Federal attorney took up the questioning. "Your name is Luga Sharmanaska?"

"It is now. My original name was Lugasharmanaska, one word. All daemonic names are one word. But when I became an American citizen, it was split into two."

"Please explain to the court about these pheremones?"

"I do not know much, only what I have been told. All succubae know that we make those around us friendly and agreeable. We always thought it was magic, we called it miasma, and never questioned how it happened. Then humans came and asked questions. How and why. They found that our bodies emit pheremones that change the emotions of those around us. So, they say, do humans, although their pheremones are not as effective as ours."

"I see, so your pheremones are just a developed version of something all humans have. Can they make people do things against their will."

Luga hesitated. "No, if somebody really doesn't want to do something, the pheremones won’t make them. For that we must use trickery."

"And, for five hours, the defendant refused to speak although she must have known doing so would please you. Did that surprise you?"

"Not really. I said, if somebody is determined not to do something, my miasma won’t make them. But, the government asked me to help protect itself from the defendant and who am I to refuse aid to the country that gave me refuge?"

"Your honor, please let the record state that Miss Sharmanaska has been of great assistance in the war effort, often at considerable personal risk and has suffered severely during her efforts. Her loyalty is not subject to doubt." We don’t doubt that she has no loyalty at all to anybody but herself. The Federal attorney was very careful not to give a hint of the thought. "You said trickery Miss Sharmanaska. How?"

"Before humans started to wear your silver hats, we could create images in your mind. I could make myself look like a wife so a faithful husband would lay with me not knowing who or what I was. The Incubi, our male equivalents could make themselves look like a faithful wife's husband for the same reason. Or I could project an image of empty space so that people would not see me at all."

"And you could project this image to multiple persons at one."

"Only if they were not wearing silver hats, yes. We used to do it all the time."

"What if they are wearing silver hats?"

"Then unless I was very close and concentrated on a single mind, I cannot entangle that mind. Even under ideal situations, penetrating a silver cap is exhausting."

Judge Candlass tapped his gavel. "I want to see this. Miss Sharmanaska, can you change your appearance please?"

"If you take your hat off. Who would you like me to look like."

The judge remembered his favorite poster from the 1980s. "Farrah Fawcett."

The Court recorder called the famous poster up on his computer and showed Luga the picture. She nodded and the judge took off his tinfoil cap. Even doing so made him feel uneasy and his head felt naked without its protection. It was no wonder that going around without a tinfoil cap was a sign of madness. Then he looked at the witness stand and saw Farrah Fawcett standing there in the trademark red swimsuit. He gasped, put on his cap and, once more, he saw the succubus in her real form.

"Miss Sharmanaska, you must be the most dangerous person I have ever seen in this courtroom."

"Thank you, your Honor." Lugasharmanaska sounded pleased.

"Miss Sharmanaska, do you have any legal training?" The Federal Attorney returned to the case,

"No, only the studies of the Constitution required for me to become a Citizen."

"So your comment about not being able to use the information gained in court was your own, unqualified opinion?"

"In a way, although I thought the information we gained would be secret and not revealed to anybody. That is what I meant.

"Ah, I see." Well done Luga. That throws a spanner in the defense. "No further questions."

The Defense attorney rose to his feet. "Miss Sharmanaska, do you eat human meat?"

"Not now, no."

"Have you ever?"

"Objection your Honor. Relevence?"

"Goes to credibility of the alleged threat."

"Overruled. Witness will answer."

"Once, yes. But that was before I joined humans."

"Did you project an image of you eating my client's breasts."

"Not her breasts, no." Luga smiled to herself. She'd noted how lawyers played with words.

"Oh." The attorney was confused. "So what did you project an image of?"

"I haven't said that I did."

"Well did you?"

"Yes."

"What of."

"Eating one breast. Singular. Not both of them." A ripple of laughter ran around the courtroom. That made Luga feel a lot easier in her mind, her pheremones were having their usual effect.

"Your Honor, there we have it. A hideous, coercive threat of permanent mutilation."

"Not permanent. It would grow back."

"Not on Earth it won't."

"Oh. I forgot that." Luga had honestly forgotten that bodies didn't regenerate on Earth.

"Irrelevent. Your Honor, I maintain that the statements we have heard today are enough to support the claim that my client's constitutional rights were trampled underfoot, that she was drugged and terrified into making her confession. In fact, I would go as far to say she was tortured mentally until she confessed. She was threatened with dreadful physical harm by a creature she had been brought up to regard as the epitome of evil. I mean no disrespect to Miss Sharmanaska, her record of valued service to the human cause is well known and her television program is loved by millions. She was doing what she believed was helping her adopted country as best she could. We should respect that. But she is a daemon and what she did was wrong. As such, her confession and all that stems from it should be ruled inadmissible and stricken from the record."

"Prosecution?"

"Your Honor. We have already disproved the charge that the defendant was denied her legal rights. The accusation that she was drugged also falls since the defense has admitted she spent five hours under interrogation without the pheremones having any effect on her. In fact, the interrogation was on the point of being ended as a failure, showing that the alleged drugging did not take place. As to the threat, the courts have always been prepared to accept that the law enforcement community has a degree of latitude in such things. It is commplace, for example, to tell an alleged murdered that if he does not confess, the prosecution will seek the death penalty. The horrors of going to an American prison are also described in an attempt to produce a confession. Who amongst us has not heard going to prison being described as 'starting a new career as a bad man's girlfriend?' How often do we see the deal being offered 'five to ten if you confess, 25 to life if you do not?" Such threats and intimidation may not be a happy part of the law enforcement system but they are an accepted one that does not invalidate a confession. All that happened here was that the same such threats were made in a slightly more vivid and persuasive form that usual. There was no real danger of the defendant suffering physical harm. The law enforcement officers would not have permitted it and I feel sure that Miss Sharmanaska, with her pride in her American Citizenship would not have carried out her threat. And, I must point out that the information gained as a result of this interrogation will greatly benefit every citizen of the world. Remember, Uriel is still out there. We still face unknown dangers from Heaven. Can we afford to tolerate traitors in our midst. Your Honor, I implore you not to rule this information inadmissible."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 31

LTR

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Eastern District Federal Court, Raleigh, North Carolina

Judge Candlass looked across the court, making up his mind. "This is a hard case and breaks new ground. The society we face today is unimaginable two years ago. Creatures we once thought were mythical have proved to be all to real and they have powers that our laws do not even begin to cover. Until new laws are written, and writing law is not the role of the Judiciary, we must do the best we can by applying existing law to these new circumstances."

"Working on that principle, it is this Court's ruling that the statement from Miss Branch was obtained in violation of her rights under the Fourth Amendment. This states that 'the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' She was rendered insecure in her own person by the invasion of her mind and it was this invasion that led to her confession. In addition her rights under the Fifth Amendment were also violated. This states that 'no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.' Miss Branch was clearly compelled to be a witness against herself. For these reasons, this evidentiary hearing finds in favor of the Defense. The statements made by Miss Branch are inadmissible and may not be presented at her trial."

The judge paused for a second and took a breath. "This court takes no pleasure in making such a ruling. On a personal note, the idea that Miss Branch should seek the protection of the society she has so comprehensively betrayed is abhorrent. This brings us to a very important point. Recently, there has been much talk of judges needing to have 'empathy' or 'understanding the situation of the accused'. This case shows us very clearly the deadly danger of that delusion. Miss Branch, if this court had empathy for you or understanding for your position, you would be taken from this court and hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead dead. But it is not the role of the law to have empathy for those who appear before it. It is the role of the law to be cold, stoic and isolate. It is the duty of the law to treat every person who appears before it with dispassionate objectivity be they poor and humble or the highest of the high. For that reason, and that reason alone, the court has found in your favor on this matter.

"District Attorney, do the People have adequate evidence to continue this case without the inadmissible statement?"

"We believe we do Your Honor. We have the original honey trap information that specifically links the defendant with the leaks of data from the DIMO(N) field facility. Obviously, our interrogation of the defendant will continue."

"Without the presence of Miss Sharmanaska of course. Miss Sharmanaska, it is the opinion of this court that you acted in good faith, cooperating with the law enforcement authorities at their request as is the duty of a law-abiding citizen. No blame can be attached to you although I will rule that any interrogation in the presence of a succubus will be presumed to have infringed the suspect's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. As for you gentlemen from the FBI." The judge wagged his finger in the time-honored gesture. "Shame on you sirs. You conceived this attempted end-run around the Constitution and deceived this poor innocent succubus into becoming part of your schemes. The one redeeming feature is your forthrightness with this court, your clear explanation of what was done and the refusal of yourselves and Miss Sharmanaska to conceal your actions. This matter will be referred to your superiors and they can decide on whether further disciplinary action is required. This evidentiary hearing is adjourned."

Eight hours later, Judge Candlass woke up in the middle of the night and mentally reviewed his statement. It occurred to him that one thing he has said was indisputably right. Succubae were dangerous, especially in a poorly-ventilated courtroom.

Montmartre Club, Eternal City, Heaven

"Mama's dancin' with baby on her shoulder
The sun is settin' like molasses in the sky."

The chorus echoed around the club. The bandleaders had orchestrated the music to take advantage of the unprecedented assembly while the singers had harmonized perfectly. Michael absent-mindedly tapped his foot in time with the music. The song was about Elvis Presley, a subject that was one of some regret to Michael-Lan. He'd really wanted to rescue Elvis and bring him to the club here, but he'd failed. He couldn’t quite understand it, he'd never had any trouble before in intercepting a dead human and whisking them away before they turned up on the Plateau of Minos.

Around the club room, Michael's most trusted followers were also listening to the bands, the music surrounding them and concentrating their minds. Yah-yah might be "The All-Knowing", thought Michael but he didn’t know squat about how the Chorus actually worked. He still held to the old belief that the constant chanting was necessary to generate energy and stopping the chorus for any reason would have disastrous results. Michael knew differently, there was nothing magical about the chanting, it just acted as a framework that would allow the Angels to get their minds into perfect harmony. And that magnified their powers greatly. Any music would do, any music at all.

Michael-Lan closed his eyes, and let his mind wander, seeking the signal that would mark the exact spot where Uriel was dying in the hills of eastern California. Briefly, he measured the possibility of leaving him there unrescued and taking a quick holiday in his beloved Las Vegas instead. The idea seemed so attractive, yet it was quite impossible. He'd had a direct order to rescue Uriel and simply ignoring it was premature. One day, the time would be right to tell Yah-yah what to do with his orders, just the way the humans had, but that time wasn't now. Anyway, staying on Earth was hazardous these days, especially anywhere in North America.

There it was, weak and flickering, but it was there. Uriel's mind. Michael-Lan seized on it, amplifying the contact and refining it to give an exact position. This had to be a quick, in-and-out job. If he stayed on Earth for more than a few minutes, the aircraft and missiles would be on to him. They had come so very close to killing Uriel, they could do the same for him. He and Uriel were the same, the first rank of the Chayot Ha Kodesh, the Archangels that represented the peak of the Angelic Host. In fact, Michael was more than half-convinced that Uriel possessed powers that exceeded his own and that was another reason why Uriel would have to go. The same conviction was why Michael wanted the humans to kill Uriel for him; he was by no means certain that he would win a direct confrontation with Uriel.

"We have him, Noble One." Another group of Angels, Erelim and Hashmallim, triumphantly shouted out the news. There glee was two-fold, partly at being of service to their hero Michael-Lan who had brought life and pleasure back to Heaven. The other was relief that once the location process was over, the session could be brought to a close and the club get back to its normal life.

"We too!" Another group claimed their location.

"And us!"

Michael-Lan concentrated harder, drawing on the power of the Angels unified by the music. The spot of light that located Uriel contracted, shrinking until it became a single, almost dimensionless spot. For a brief moment, Michael hoped that it would continue shrinking until it vanished altogether for that would show that Uriel was dead, beyond saving. But no such luck, the spot remained, weak and indistinct but still there. "Wish me luck, this is going to be interesting."

Hills South of San Felipe, Southern California, USA

It was over, Uriel knew now it was just a matter of time, the humans had trapped him and they intended to kill him. A dozen or so yards away, a rock exploded as another human shell plowed into it. The humans who had been chasing him were close enough for him to see their vehicles, to see the cloud of smoke from them as they fired at him. Already, they had come close, adding to his injuries. Uriel could feel his body beginning to give up. Angels, like their fallen siblings in Hell, had an uncanny ability to regenerate and recover from their wounds but damage could mount up faster than they could repair it. When that happened, the system would collapse and the Angel would die. Just as hundreds of thousands of the fallen ones had died under human artillery fire.

Overhead, the small, brightly colored aircraft were circling his position. They'd seen him, they'd called for the humans to close in on him. At first, he'd tried to bring his peace to them but he was too injured, to weakened to summon the necessary power. A few birds had dropped dead, especially the ones circling over him with hungry looks on their faces, but the humans hadn't been affected. That left only his power to trumpet. It had been so long since he had done that he wasn't quite sure whether he remembered how but his options had shrunk to almost nothing. In fact, they were less than that for Uriel knew that even if his trumpeting was effective, there were too many humans. All he could do was die bravely. That was the only real option left and Uriel wasn't even sure he could do that.

Another shell exploded near to him, this one sending up a cloud of dense white smoke. Overhead, one of the small aircraft had peeled away from the rest and was diving on him. White streaks shot out from under its wings and slammed into the ground all around him, sending more of the dense white smoke clouds upwards into the clear blue sky. Rockets, Uriel guessed what the humans were doing. They would see no point in closing in on him and risking their lives in a close-range fight. They would call in their aircraft to drop bombs and fire missiles instead. His fear had been right, he wouldn't get a chance to die bravely.

To the southeast, Uriel saw four streams of black smoke. Adjusting his vision to long range, they became four aircraft, strangely shaped ones whose wings went up, their tails went down and they seemed bent in the middle. And they were trailing the black smoke as they closed fast on him. Uriel summoned his strength and tried to trumpet. He managed a weak blast of sound but that was all and the oncoming aircraft hardly seemed to notice the trumpet call. He could see them change course slightly, refining the direction that would take them straight to him.

Then, everything seemed to go dark around him and strong arms were wrapped around his waist. "Come on, old friend, let's get you out of this mess." Michael-Lan braced himself and tried to take in the situation, carefully holding Uriel so that the critically-wounded archangel would screen him from any bullets. He didn’t need much to tell him that the four approaching aircraft were the most serious threat he faced. Michael-Lan stared at them, concentrated all the power he could into his lungs and emitted the most powerful trumpet blast he could manage.

1,500 meters west of Uriel, Southern California, USA

"Look at the Rhino's go, Pop. . . . . . Err, Sir." Bobby-Lynne Gordon kicked herself again and then pointed at the four Phantoms as they swept down into the attack. They could actually see Uriel now, surrounded by the white smoke of the white phosphorus shells and rockets. As her father had put it, the zoomies would almost certainly kill Uriel but the 443rd could make his eyes water with willie-pete first.

Off to their right, Sergeant Vincent Mitrakis had the best view of the end-game. He was using a high-powered optical scope attached to his Barrett Model 99 rifle to try and get a killing shot in before the fighter pilots claimed all the glory. Even with the Raufoss multi-purpose incendiaries the army had issued, he doubted that he could get a clean one-shot kill in but, it was worth trying and the great figure sprawled on the ground was already sorely injured. If he fired enough shots, he might just make it. Then he cursed, the white smoke from the marker rounds was fouling his line of sight. Something was roiling the smoke, spreading it. He swept his rifle across the target area and saw a black ellipse forming. Then, a huge figure, easily as large as Uriel but glowing so purely white as to make the clouds of white phosphorus smoke seem gray and dirty in comparison, stepped out and reached down to pull Uriel to his feet. Mitrakis moved the aim of his scope up to the new arrival's head and, as he did so, he gasped. The face on the angel was incredibly, stunningly beautiful. As handsome as the familiar Baldricks were ugly. Before he could recover from the shock, the new arrival looked at the four approaching Phantoms and opened his mouth.

Bobby-Lynne Gordon heard the note, unearthly pure in its beauty, echoing across the ravines. Even here, far away from its main focus, it had a power and impact that briefly stilled the 443rd's efforts to finish of Uriel. She could see that its effects on the chosen target were much more dramatic. One of the four Phantoms fell apart in mid-air, its wings torn from its body, its tail crumpled with the impact. A second, the one beside it was thrown out of control and it dived into the ground before its pilot could react. The two outer aircraft were also thrown out of control but to a lesser extent and their pilots managed to save their aircraft. That didn’t change the fact that the attack had been broken up and the great white angel had bought a few seconds of time.

Mitrakis took advantage of the opportunity and squeezed off his first round. He'd aimed for the head but the trumpet blast and the swirling air around the site foxed him and he saw the bullet slam into the great white angel's shoulder. Through his scope, he saw the silver blood scattering in the air and a trace of smoke rise from the wound. Then, he was frantically working the bolt, trying to get another shot in. A round from a 106mm crashed into the ground a little short of his target just as he fired and that left his second shot going wild. Another frantic working of the bolt and a third shot slammed into the white angel, this time dead center on his chest. By this time, his target had shifted Uriel to provide cover from this new direction. Then, with a cheerful wave to the humans, Michael-Lan stepped through the portal and it slammed shut behind him.

"I don’t believe it, he got away!" Artemis Gordon stared at the blank area of scrub in frustration. "We had him cornered and he got away."

His daughter looked over the hills to where the funeral pyres of the two F-4s stained the sky black. "He'll be back. We'll get another chance at him. Boy, he was hot though."

HQ, Third Corps, Third Army, Fourth Army Group, Human Expeditionary Army

"General? General Petraeus is on line twelve for you." General Asanee took her eyes off the map and picked up the videophone receiver. "Sir, Asanee-actual here."

"How are you doing down there General?"

"We're ready to go Sir. Fuelled up, bombed up, everything in place. We can head north as soon as we get the order."

"That won’t be necessary. Than Shwe has surrendered, he's been spilling his guts to us for the last six hours. What we've got is interesting to put it mildly. The Myanmar regime had been supplying large quantities of heroin, methamphetamines, marihuana and ecstasy to a representative of Heaven. And when I say large quantities, I mean tons of the stuff. So much so, the recipient uses an electrically-powered trolly to take it all back."

"Very interesting. I see no reason why we can't continue supplying that filth to them can you. Opium wars and all that. Who was the representative, anybody we know?"

"Very much so. Michael-Lan-Yahweh. Just about the top angel in Heaven."

"Michael-Lan is running drugs into Heaven?" General Asanee's voice was incredulous and to her embarrassment it went up into a squeak. She breathed for a second and carefully remembered her elocution lessons. When she resumed, it was back to her usual contralto. "Is he shipping them to customers here?"

"Not as far as we can make out. As far as some initial inquiries have determined, the stuff is going into Heaven and staying there."

"So Michael-Lan is running dope. Well, now that is interesting. You do realize we execute people for that."

Petraeus laughed. "He won’t fit in front of a firing squad."

"He doesn’t have to, we've changed to lethal injection." The General sounded sad for a second. "I spoke against that, there's no dignity in laying on a table being poisoned."

"General, you're missing the point. Michael-Lan picks the stuff up from the Myanmar Junta and takes it back through a portal to Heaven. We've been unable to crack Heaven open for over a year no. This offers us another possible way to get one. If he can be persuaded to pick up another consignment, we can monitor the portal and try to find out how to drive one of our own through."

"Another Sir?"

"Yes, bad news is Uriel got away from us. Michael-Lan-Yahweh again, he did a combat pick-up and got Uriel out. But, we have some recordings of that portal as well. If we can get a second batch of readings, we might be able to move."

"Another pick-up." General Asanee broke into a smile. "We could always send him something he didn’t expect with his cargo. Like a tracer or . . . . . ."

"Something that makes a very big bang? Ahead of you General. We're getting one sent over."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 32

LTR

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Temple of Ceaseless Compliance, Eternal City, Heaven

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Oh nameless one, Lord and God of all, we prostrate ourselves in your presence service. Please accent these trivial offerings of our strength and support that they may lessen the great burdens of your everlasting care for us."

Lemuel-Lan-Michael was sprawled on his face in front of the altar. This was a small temple, one that he had never heard of before and it seemed new somehow. He could smell the raw stone, the freshly-sawn wood of the altar table. It also seemed to be a poor temple, the semi-precious stones that layered the walls were of inferior quality and the workmanship seemed hurried somehow. That was all the information he could gain with the quick glances he had been able to make between choruses. Them the chant would start again and he would go along with it. Being a part of this congregation was vital if he was to maintain his cover and infiltrate the Second Conspiracy.

It didn't help matters that the case was hitting his home life. He was having to be away more and more often, for longer and longer periods. It wasn't that his mate was complaining, the duties of a female mate in Heaven were clearly defined. Serving her mate was one of them, nagging him was not. But there were ways a female could convey her displeasure and recently Lemuel-Lan had been on the receiving end of them all. The message had been quite clear, his absences from his home were not appreciated and she was even implying that there might be more behind them than his work. There were those masters of a household who might have chastised their mates for such insinuations but Lemuel-Lan was not one of them. Instead he just resented the implications and let them seethe in the back of his mind.

The latest repetition of the chorus finished, Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar rose to his feet and extinguished the bowls of burning incense that had filled the room with their odor. When he had arrived, Lemuel-Lan had found the scent of the incense pleasant but now, after six hours immersed in the aroma, the thick, clinging clouds were sickening. They hung around him, irritating his throat and stinging his eyes. His throat felt sore from the constant chanting, his stomach was turned by the smell and his head ached. In short, in a phrase that he would never dare admit in public, he felt like hell. It was almost enough to make him feel that his mate was right and that added to his distress greatly.

"Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar, we have done well tonight. Six hours of adoration will surely aid The One Above All in his care for us."

"We can but hope so, Most Lordly Ophanim, but we must beware falling victim to the sin of pride. Even our most valiant efforts are as nothing compared with those of The Nameless One. Please, Most Noble One, I crave your indulgence and beg you to excuse my impertinence but do you feel unwell?" And if you don't, we'll have to double up the dosage next time.

"My throat is sore and my head aches. But these are minor things, nothing to be concerned about."

"Perhaps I may offer a little help?" Perpetiel waved to one of the other angels who disappeared into the shadows. A few seconds later he emerged, bearing with him a cup. "We have an elixir here, one that is a sovereign remedy for a sore throat. And these." He held out a pair of tiny white tablets. "Are of wonderous efficiency in quelling the pains of a headache."

"Thank you Perpetiel-Lan." Lemuel took the tablets and swallowed them, washing them down with the contents of the cup. Although it was dark red, it wasn't the wine he had expected. Instead, it was a fruit-flavored drink, deliciously chilled. It soothed his parched throat and calmed his stomach. As he stood in the temple relishing the flavor, he felt the throbbing in his head slowly start to subside. "These are indeed of marvellous effect. What are they?"

"The tablets are called Tylenol, Most Noble One. And the drink is called Gatorade."

"I have not heard of these?" Lemuel was curious but within the curiosity was a thrill of pleasure. Was he finally on to something?

Perpetiel looked guilty. "They are human products, Most Noble One."

Lemuel looked at him, his bearing crying out in condemnation. "Human products? Here? This is forbidden?"

"An old rule Most High, from the days when humans were foolish and ignorant. But, if they help us provide support to The One Above All, is not their use justified? The ban on them dates when their use was for evil and inspired by The Eternal Enemy. Yet now that Enemy is dead, killed by humans. Surely it is the use to which a thing is put that is important, not where it comes from?"

Lemuel nodded slowly, his headache already faded to a memory and his stomach calmed. "There is much wisdom in what you say Bene-Elohim. If something aids Our Most Heavenly Father, then surely there cannot be sin in it."

"This is the teaching of our temple indeed. Here, Most Noble One, take this small bottle of Tylenol, as a gift in celebration of the honor you do our small temple."

"A kind gesture and one most appreciated. We will gather again tomorrow?" Perpetiel nodded, carefully hiding his smile. Lemuel-Lan took the bottle and placed it in his robes. For the last ten nights, every time he had turned to his mate, she had refused him, claiming she had a headache. Now, if nothing else, he finally had a solution to that particular problem.

Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven

Michael-Lan twisted on the couch, his body writhing. "Get those wretched things out of me!"

"They have gone deep, Greatest of the Archangels. One may have broken a bone in your shoulder and the other has penetrated far into your chest. Already your wounds close around them. We will have to cut as deep to remove them."

"They're burning me alive!" Michael gasped with pain. "What did the humans do to me?"

"They shot you." The doctor spoke with unseemly relish. "Twice. With bullets the like of which I have never seen before. I don’t think they like you."

Michael-Lan opened one eye and looked carefully at the doctor. It occurred to him that the human was speaking to him much the same way as he, Michael-Lan, spoke to Yahweh. "Get the bullets out. Now."

"All right." The doctor didn’t seem at all sympathetic but he got a long pair of probes from his bag and stuck them into the bullet hole in Michael's shoulder. The probes slid in deep and he could feel their tips touching the chips of bone in the wound. As he had feared, or hoped he wasn't quite sure which, the bullet had hit the bone in Michael's shoulder and splintered it. The bullet had penetrated more than 20 centimeters and the wound path ended in a gaping cavity, one that showed every signs of burn as well as explosive damage. The doctor reflected that human bullets had improved a lot since one had killed him a few years earlier. He probed again and this time he found the end of a solid object. Once he had it, it was relatively easy to get a grip on it and pull it out. He dropped it into a dish where it landed with a dull-sounding clinking noise.

"It's not iron or steel, something much denser and harder. Tungsten carbide probably. I'm going to have to lavage the wound."

"What?" Michael's voice was shaky. The pain from the surgery had distressed him more than he had let on.

"Lavage it. Wash the wound cavity out. There's a dozen or more fragments of bullet jacket in there, and something that looks like the residue of an incendiary mixture. Hold still, this will hurt."

The doctor worked for a few minutes then sat back. "Right, we started with your shoulder because that was the easiest one to deal with and it showed me what we face. Otherwise I would have been poking around blind. Now, the one in your chest. I ought to put you out for this, it's going to be rough."

Michael nodded weakly, if the hit in his shoulder was the easy one to repair, he didn’t want to be awake when the main event started. He felt a mask being out over his face and his doctor's voice speaking quietly. "Lee-Ann, we're going to put Michael-Lan to sleep now. Keep a careful eye on his breathing and make sure he doesn't get too much of the anaesthetic.

"Very good Doctor Gunn."

"David, please, or I'll call you Nurse Nichols. Shannon, how is our patient doing?"

"He seems stable Doctor. . . . Sorry, David. It's hard to say, his reactions are different from ours. He's sliding under now though."

"Good, let's get started. This could be risky ladies, we don’t know what the guys down there are using but it's nothing like the bullets that finished us. We can't be sure the wretched thing won't go off when we pull it out."

Shannon Lowney shuddered, the last thing she remembered from her life on Earth was the crazed man standing at the door of her clinic, firing at her. Then the blackness and waking up surrounded by the white light of Heaven, Michael-Lan standing by her to welcome her in.

Doctor David Gunn was probing the wound in Michael-Lan's chest. It was similar to the one in his shoulder but deeper, the bullet had penetrated more than 30 centimeters and gone straight through his sternum. There were bone fragments all over the wound and he had to remove each one of them. "The sternum is broken right across, whatever this bullet was, it must have been designed to penetrate armor. Suction, Lee-Ann, normal blood is bad enough, this silver stuff is a real nuisance. Another major wound cavity, the bullet looks as if it combined explosive and incendiary fillings. Both lungs are damaged and leaking blood, we'll have to over-fold to correct that. Metal fragments, at least a dozen of them."

"I'm beginning to see why we screwed Satan over so badly." Lee-Ann Nichols glanced around to make sure nobody had heard her comment. With Hell safely in human hands, being sent there wasn't the threat it had been once. Now, it might almost be interpreted as a promise. But who knew if the Angels hadn't already found a new punishment for humans who defied them. Anyway, the medical team who lived in Michael's palace had a luxurious life compared with those in the slums surrounding The Eternal City. She had a thought, suddenly, of the films she had seen of the Second World War, and of human guns surrounding The Eternal City and pouring artillery fire into it.

"Focus, Lee-Ann. This guy is our meal-ticket remember. Without him, we'd be swabbing floors at best and screaming in Hell at worst."

"Like the man who killed us." Shannon spoke with quiet hate. John Salvi had died in prison and his Second Life body hadn't been found yet, as far as they knew anyway. He was still somewhere in the Hell-Pit.

"I said focus." Gunn snapped at them. "You're lucky, the bastard who killed me is still alive, he'll duck Hell completely. More of these metal fragments in the wound. We'll have to lavage again and the lungs are still leaking. Michael's a tough one, no doubt of that."

"All the angels are."

"True. Right, as far as I can see, the wound is clear and we've got leakage down to a minimum. No bubbles. Let's get him sealed up. Get the extra sharp needles, penetrating this skin of his is a job all on its own."

A few minutes cursing and swearing later, the bullet hole in Michael's chest was sewn up. Gunn flexed his fingers and dabbed some iodine on the spots where he had jabbed himself. In a way it was quite a relief to see red blood again. "All right, he's done. Now, lets take a look at the other one."

"Do we have to? You know who he is?"

"Yeah. But treating those who need it is part of the job description. Who and what they are doesn't enter the equation. It was people who disagreed with that who killed us, remember. Now, let's see. Fragmentation damage, one eye gone, multiple broken bones, radiation burns. . . . . radiation burns? What are our boys using down there? There's been no word of them tossing a nuke."

"Shush David. They might not know about them." It was clear who Lee-Ann meant by "they".

"Surely they must. We know Michael-Lan's been to Vegas and they let a lot of them off around there in the fifties and sixties. Anyway, you're right. Don’t tell them anything we don’t have to. Now back to Uriel-Lan. Other burns, white phosphorus poisoning, severe concussion, multiple penetrating bullet wounds. Oh my, we have our work cut out ladies. Clean up the theater and wheel him in."

The Oval Office, The White House, Washington D.C.

"We've had a message from Pyongyang, Mister President. Kim Jong-Il has offered to join the Human Alliance and contribute a fair proportion of the North Korean Army to the H.E.A."

"Has he now? What does he want?" President Obama was wary. His early optimism about international relations had become more clouded with experience.

"He wants a seat on the Council at Yamantau. . . . ."

"No way. The Council is the preserve of the nations that have been in this war since the beginning. The ones that put up a fight from the start. North Korea let our people do all the bleeding and dying, no way are they coming in and grabbing a seat now."

"Prime Minister Putin said the same thing Sir. Only he added a few spectacular Russian obscenities. Very impressive vocabulary the Prime Minister has." Hillary Clinton looked quite respectful. She'd memorized the more lurid language for use in the next row with her husband. "They want free oil, enough to run their military and civil economies and then some, free food for their entire population. They want military equipment to bring their armed forces up to the latest standards including F-22s and M1A4s. Not the B2 version, they want the 120mm gun tanks. The list of military equipment alone goes on for quite a few pages.

Obama sighed. Negotiating with the North Koreans was positively painful. "Who do we send?" His tone was almost despairing.

"I thought Joe Lieberman Sir."

"Nice one. Do it. Now, what else?"

"Myanmar Sir. There's a ceasefire in place and we've left the previous junta in charge of the northern third of the country. For a while anyway. They're trying to contact Michael-Lan-Yahweh, they're telling him they have a huge stockpile of drugs they have to get rid of before we capture it and burn the lot. So they're offering it to him for whatever he wants to pay. Better a low price than none. But, there's no reply as yet. We're still hoping of course. If it doesn’t work, we'll head north and finish taking over."

"Thank you, Hillary. Janet, internal security?"

"We're clearing up after the FBI's screw-up. Judge Candlass made the right choice in my opinion but its made rolling up the network that much more difficult. One thing does amuse our people, commenting on the whole mess, Lugasharmanaska said that succubae used to recruit the extremely religious by pretending to be angels."

"That's no surprise." Leon Panetta wasn't impressed. "False flag recruiting is as old as humanity. It all goes to show, if you're going to betray your country, do it for the money. You'll never have any idea who you're really working for."

The working group laughed. "Funny, that's what Luga said as well. Problem is though, the FBI can't use the list they wormed out of Branch. Since they got the list illegally, any arrest they make based on it will be illegal and any information they got from those arrests will also be illegal. So, they have to pretend it doesn’t exist. We've sent copies of it around the world though, if anybody on it turns up somewhere where the controls aren't so tight, well, you know the rest."

"That sounds like extraordinary rendition." Holder was visibly angered.

"No, we're saying if anybody on the list leaves the country voluntarily and goes somewhere by their own choice, that's good for us. We're not picking them off the streets and sending them. The law enforcement agencies are continuing their investigations from the admissible evidence and that's quite productive. Anyway, we'll see how well we can stop up the leaks to Heaven."

"Doctor Surlethe, anything to tell us?"

"No good news, no, Sir. We have a portal signal from the Uriel rescue and we're analyzing it now. Once we’ve done that, perhaps we can duplicate it."

"We still haven’t got through to Heaven?"

"No Sir. After trying for more than a year, we're still stuck. One thing Sir, not scientific. We're coming up to the first anniversary of the victory over Hell. We ought to have a celebration, a big one. People are getting dispirited, tired of the hardship and deadlock. Some really good street parties, a few parades, lifting the meat ration for a week or so will work wonders."

Obama nodded. "Good idea. We'll announce it next week. Make it a three-day vacation and tell everybody there'll be another when Heaven falls. Thank you people."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 33

LTR

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RAF Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire.

Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome had last been used by the Royal Air Force in 1962 when the 19th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron of the USAF and its RB-66Bs had moved out and the station had closed. Since 1972 the aerodrome had become privately owned and used for a number of uses; it had recently become famous as the home of Vulcan B.2 XH558. Shortly after her first flight as once more an RAF bomber XH558’s home had been requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence, becoming home to the V-Bomber Flight and its four Vulcan B.2s and two Victor K.2s, and the RAF’s new Heavy Bomber Development Unit. The HBDU’s job was to prepare the RAF for the arrival of the B-1C Lancers that it had ordered from the Americans.

“What? Four aircraft in 2011?” Group Captain Martin Winters (he was still getting used to his new rank), the new Commanding Officer of the HBDU, shouted into his phone. “What are they doing, building them by hand?”

"That's not so far from the truth. They had the production line tooling in storage but reconditioning it and setting it up was a seriously difficult job. Rockwell moved a lot faster than anybody had a right to expect as it is. Now, they've got to get long-lead components. They're only moving as fast as they are because they're drawing down on the spares inventory for the B-1Bs to bridge the gap."

Winters fumed. “I thought that the Spams were supposed to be the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ and all that male bovine excrement.”

“I’m sorry, Sir.” His contact at MoD Main Building replied. “But the Americans are starting production of the C model Lancer from scratch. It's not a B-1B, it’s a modified and simplified B-1A. For the first six months they’ll only be producing one aircraft a month, rising to two six months after that. Best case scenario has the Americans operating eighteen new Lancers this time next year. Their first priority will be to replace the B-29s and B-50s, and replace the B-2s that were lost in the Whitman tornado. After that they’ll probably be happy enough to give us four aircraft for training purposes. There is some good news, they’ve also promised to allow our personnel to go on exchange to America so they can get some hands on experience with the B-1C.”

“Very nice of them I’m sure.” Winters replied, still far from happy. “I do hope that the Brass Hats and politicians are happy that the RAF’s bomber force will remain at four aircraft for the foreseeable future. Unless somebody else can come through with some spares.

"Between us Sir, the Brass have been trying that. They went to the Russians asking about Tu-95s and Tu-160s."

"Bears and Blackjacks? I don’t suppose. . . . ."

"Not a chance it turned out. Tu-160s are coming off the lines at one per month now, big increase on the pre-war one per year. They're good birds, apparently our people were impressed, but the Russians want them all. As for the Tu-95s, they're restarting the production line but they're having the same problems as the Septics. That left the Chinese of course. . . . ."

"I don't suppose they have anything we could use."

"Oddly, they've got the most productive bomber line at the moment. The good news is that they're churning six Xian H-6Ks off the line a month. The bad news is that the H-6K is a modified Tu-16. Some Rolls-Royce people are over there now. Back in the '80s, the Chinese were playing with an advanced H-6 with Spey engines, they called it the H-8. It never got anywhere but the Chinese are trying again and the guys from Roller are helping them. Again, you're looking at years, not months. There's nobody else, not at the moment. So, you're on your own resources. How are they looking?"

Winter thought for a moment. "Well we might be able to get one, or maybe two more Vulcans flying, but that’s the limit, the remaining survivors are only good for spare parts. At least we’ll be able to retire the two Victors soon, now that our A330 tankers are in production.”

"You should hear the airlines moaning. It's been almost two years since they got any new aircraft. Airbus are building as fast as they can but their entire output is going into military transports and aerial refuellers. Hell's a big place and we've a lot of ground to cover out there. Anyway, talking of spare parts, Sir, the bosses would like to know what the situation is.”

“Could be better, could be worse.” Winters replied. “We’ve been lucky in that Rolls Royce still makes the Olympus engine for maritime and industrial uses. It wasn’t too difficult getting part of the production line switched over to engines for the Vulcan. Other components were more of a problem, though you’d be surprised how many Vulcan and Victor spare parts were sitting forgotten in RAF stores. At current sortie rates we’ve probably got enough to last six to eight months, by which time I hope new components will be in production."

“The Rolls-Royce Conway engines of the Victor were more of a problem, they’re not in production any more and spares are in short supply, but so long as Airbus get their fingers out it shouldn’t be a great problem.”

“I’ll pass that along, Sir, thank you.”

Winters heard a click and knew that the connection had been severed. He replaced the receiver of his own phone and sat back in his chair wondering how he was going to draw up a training program for heavy bomber air and ground crew using six aircraft that had been designed in the 1950s; well challenges were what life in the Services was all about. Winters looked up at two pictures on his wall, one was a print of a new painting depicting XH558 flying through the skies of Hell, the other, of somewhat less artistic merit, was a photo-shopped picture of a B-1B Lancer in the markings of 617 Squadron. The latter had been hung up when there had been an early expectation of delivery of the Lancer B.1 (as the RAF were planning to call the B-1C), now it just served to mock Winters.

He stood up and removed the picture from his wall and placed it in a drawer and locked it away.

Training Camp, 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Demonic), Dis, Hell

"What a phalanx they would have made." Aeneas looked sadly at the daemons who were sitting around cleaning their rifles. "Keep them shoulder-to-shoulder in a phalanx and they would have made chopped turds of everybody."

"Even the Spartans?" Anderson enjoyed goading Aeneas.

"Even us." One of the delights of teasing the Spartan was that he took everything so seriously.

"Well, they did, didn't they." Ori was less easy to needle. "They took us apart over and over again. That's where all the legends of humans fighting against armies of monstrous beasts come from. Sergeant Anderson says that even a few years ago, humans would have had bad problems with them. Still, that's all gone now. Just as our way of war is a thing of the past."

"Could you samurai have taken them?" Aeneas was genuinely interested in the concept.

Ori shook his head. "A small number perhaps. But our arrows would have taken many, many shots to bring them down and to fight a daemon with a sword is a desperate thing. Rifles are better and with them, each of us stands on equal terms with one of them."

"Which brings us back to tactics. Or lack of them."

"Having problems gentlemen?" Sergeant Gray Anderson pulled over a chair and joined his two drill instructors.

"The daemons. You were wrong about them. They can fight as units perfectly."

"That's the problem." Aeneas finished off Ori's comment. "As long as they're in one large unit, they're fine. They move as a unit, fight as a unit, keep their ranks perfectly. It's not on an individual level that you have your problem, it's the next level up. Split that big unit into two small ones and try to get them to cooperate, that's where it all comes apart. Each unit tries to outdo the other, each one wants to 'get the glory' and leave the other behind. They just can't get that idea out of their minds and we're not the people you need to change things."

"If anything, we see their point." Ori added the coda to Aeneas's lecture. He couldn’t help thinking that the weeks lecturing human historians on the realities of life in ancient Greece had done wonders for the previously-reticent Spartan.

"I was rather afraid you'd say that." Anderson sighed. Trying to turn daemons into modern soldiers was proving much harder than anybody had thought possible. The human way of war was a product of how modern humans thought at a very basic level. Daemons seemed incapable of duplicating it.

"Give you an example of this." Aeneas was on a flow now. "Fire and manoeuver. One squad lays down covering fire while the other maneuvers to a better position. Then that squad takes over the firing work from its new position while the first squad moves to its new and improved position. One squad takes a risk to cover the other knowing the other will do the same for it. But the daemons just don’t understand that. Try it and one squad doesn't see why it should take a chance to help its rivals, the other knows that so it doesn't take chances either. So nothing happens."

"So how does Caesar manage it?" Ori was interested. "He has mixed daemon and human units?"

"As far as we can make out, he's keeping humans and daemons in separate low-level units and spacing them out down the line. The humans lay down suppressive fire and provide the support, the daemons do the actual assaults." Anderson thought carefully, "perhaps we could try that. It can't work any worse than the things we are trying now. Anyway, how's your musketry lessons going?"

Ori frowned. "Musketry?"

"Sorry, riflemanship. Musketry is an old term for the skills needed to handle a rifle properly. Making progress?"

"Yes indeed. It is good to get everything working together and make the rifle do what I wish." Ori had adapted to firing rifles quickly and his aim was improving daily. "But there is a part of my mind that hates what they stand for. What honor is there in warfare if a few weeks training can turn out a rifleman who will cut down his enemy at a distance? A sword, a bow, these take great training to use but a rifle? With a little training a peasant can shoot down a valiant warrior."

"That was the whole point." Anderson spoke dryly. After his retirement from the Army, he'd lived alone for a few years before advancing age made that impossible. Then his children had put him in an 'assisted living facility' that, to him, had been a warehouse for people waiting to die. During that time he'd read a lot. "It was guns and citizen-soldiers who ended the reign of absolute kings. Once the king no longer had a monopoly for firepower, their day was done."

"But you still had dictators." Aeneas had listened to his audience as well as speaking to them.

"We did, but they were different. They held power by force, not by an absolute right. Be that as it may, Aeneas, how are you getting on with the M-115?"

"It is a hard weapon. So much to think about. The phalanx was so much easier."

"Isn’t that rather the problem the daemons are having?" Anderson leaned back in his seat and waved to the bartender for three beers. "Let's drink to rifles boys. And in beer, not fungus ale."

MoD Main Building, Whitehall, London.

"Well, the spams blew it. They had Uriel cornered but they let him get away. Again." Field Marshal Dannatt sounded gloomily pleased.

"It's not all a complete loss, according to DIMO(N) we gained a lot of information on portals to Heaven that might crack the place open. We all know this siege is getting on people's nerves."

"Siege, Admiral?"

"What else do we call it? Heaven has us locked out and we're trying to find a way in so we can storm the place. Heaven's locked in and they're making sallies out to try and disrupt our efforts. If that isn't a definition of a siege, I don’t know what is. As for the spams, well, that was quite a spectacular rescue Michael-Lan-Yahweh pulled."

"Did you see the film of him stopping to wave to us as he pulled out? That took big brass ones."

"Courage has never been in short supply with the daemons, nor with the angels I suspect. Although Uriel's chosen mode of attack doesn’t necessarily agree with that. But, if Uriel keeps hitting the septics, they'll get him eventually. It's the information from Myanmar that I found much more interesting."

"The way the Thais pulled off their counter-attack. Very innovative." Dannatt was genuinely impressed.

"That wasn't the Thais, that was the Human Expeditionary Army showing how Petraeus plans to fight future wars. The Thai Corps was just the maneuver element. But no, it was the drugs thing that interests me."

"Michael buying industrial quantities of hard drugs? Yes, that was rather curious. One wonders what he's up to. I understand the septics are watching what is left of Myanmar very closely."

"They are. But I rather think they have missed the point." Admiral West looked thoughtfully out of the window. It's been my experience that vices don’t come singly. Might it be a good time to ask, given Michael buys large quantities of drugs, what else he is buying?"

"I suppose he's going to South America for cocaine, but . . . . ."

"Not drugs, drink. Doesn’t it seem likely to you that if Michael has this immense need for drugs, he also needs drink for the same reasons?"

"Whisky." Light was dawning in Dannatt's head.

"Exactly. Whisky. And brandy, vodka, schnapps, gin, whatever else that's drinkable. Has it struck you that one or two of the Scottish distilleries are doing very well despite the effects of the war? We should put a watch on all the distilleries, at the very least try to catch him buying the stuff. And we should tip the French, Germans, Russians off as well."

"And the Americans, they distill whisky."

Admiral West looked severely at the soldier. "The Americans do not make whisky. They make a light brown, whisky-like fluid. A description that could also include horse's urine to which it bears a strong resemblance. Be that as it may, remember what I said about a siege. Well, think on this. Buying this stuff from Earth is a risky activity for Michael-Lan-Yahweh. Yet it's important enough for him to do and for him to do personally. Surely if it is that important to him, it's equally worthwhile for us to disrupt that supply. At the very least it will annoy him. At best, it'll disrupt his plans enough to force him to something desperate and that'll give us a chance to get him. When people are desperate they make mistakes, bad ones."

"Yahweh hasn't put a foot wrong yet. Although the scholars are telling us Michael is actually the great general of Heaven. So, I suppose we should say that Michael hasn't put a foot wrong yet."

"I might not agree with that." From one corner of the room, Sir John Sawers, head of the SIS, spoke for the first time. "We don’t know of Michael making any critical mistakes but we know nothing of what is happening in Heaven. He might have made that critical mistake already and we just haven't seen it yet. If anything that adds importance to your suggestion Admiral. Any way we can keep pressure on Michael-Lan and Yahweh the better."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 34

LTR

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Home of Lemuel-Lan-Michael, Eternal City, Heaven

Onniel-Lan-Lemuel, mate of Lemuel-Lan-Michael, still resented the reprimands she had received from the guardians of the local temple. They'd noted the growing unhappiness in the Lemuel household and made their own quiet investigations. That had led them to summon her to the temple for advice and counsel. That was what they had called it anyway. Onniel remembered it as being her kneeling in front of the altar for five hours while the Temple Elders lectured her on her failings as a mate and her negligence as a householder. It had been all the worse for the fact that the session had been held in the nave of the temple, open to the view of all. Onniel had no doubt that word of her reprimands would be spreading around the community. She knew without any shadow of doubt, that when she next went to the market, fingers would be pointed at her behind her back and caustic comments made about her failures.

It was made worse by the fact that she knew the comments were justified. She had treated her mate badly, resenting the way his position in the League of the Holy Court was taking up his time. Heaven was facing an existential crisis, that much was whispered in the markets and meeting places. Nobody admitted it but all knew the war with the humans on Earth was not going well. The sheer speed with which they had overrun Hell and killed Satan had been bad enough. The Angels who were old enough to remember the Great Celestial War had spoken of the long, drawn-out deadlock, the inability of either side to gain an advantage over the other. The pointless fighting that had gone on for millennia after millennia was still a sore memory that had led to Satan being called "the Eternal Enemy". Yet the human armies had not just withstood his assault, they had counter-attacked and defeated him within a few short weeks. It was whispered, very quietly, with great caution, if humans could score such a rapid victory against Hell, why could they not do the same against Heaven? And why wasn't Heaven crushing them?

Onniel knew the answers whispered in the street. The humans gained their power from the fact there were traitors in Heaven. There were those in high places who sided with them, obstructing the plans long-developed by the All-Knowing and protecting the humans who defied His will. It was only as she had knelt before the altar with the constant chanting of condemnation and criticism pouring over her that she had finally realized the League of Holy Court was the primary line of defense against such treason. Lemuel was its leading investigator and in devoting himself to its work, he was directly shielding The One Above All from the treachery that threatened all of Heaven. Her petty grievances were of no importance at all compared with the vital work he was engaged in. That had been made clear in the remorseless censure that had been her lot. Lemuel and his work were important, she was not and if she couldn’t adapt to it, there were plenty of others who would be pleased to take her place. By placing her own petty needs ahead of those that affected all of Heaven, she was succumbing to the deadly sin of pride.

That ultimatum was the turning point, the prospect that had made her decide to change her attitude. The fact was, she liked being the mate of such an important person. It gave her power and influence, it meant that others stopped and gave way to her. If she was displaced and it became known that this had been so because the sin of pride had caused her to fail in her duties, her descent would be far and fast. She could not bear to contemplate that so she had laid her grievances aside to labor on behalf of Lemuel. She had spent the rest of the day watching the servants clean the house until not a speck of dust remained anywhere. The stones that inlaid the walls had been polished until they glowed and the refractions of light from their hearts filled their rooms. Finally, she had sent other servants out to procure Lemuel's favorite foods and she had prepared their evening meal for them herself. It had been a long time since she had done that. Now, the table was laid and everything was ready. She took one last look to ensure the room and meal was perfect, then went to greet her mate.

She reached the entrance hall as Lemuel closed the doors behind him. There, she dropped to her knees and swept her wings in front of her face. Lemuel barely nodded at her, still swept up in his attempts to understand the arrays of conspiracy that existed in Heaven. Onniel bit back a sarcastic comment and, instead gave the traditional greeting to her returning mate. "Most Noble One, your home is tranquil and a haven of rest. Food and wine have been prepared for your pleasure."

She saw Lemuel look at her and frown slightly. Had she got the formal greeting wrong? She hadn’t used it for a long time but she was sure that she remembered it properly. It wasn't as if it was a long or complex chant.

"There will be no time for that. I must go out again, to worship The One Above All and continue my dedication to his service. I will be out very late again so do not wait up for me."

Onniel blinked and looked up at him. "But I have prepared our meal myself and remembered all your favorites. Surely this evening's worship can wait for such a short period?"

She saw Lemuel shake his head. "This is work of such great importance that it goes to the highest of the high. I must leave right away. If there is too much food prepared, throw the rest away, there is no need for us to be concerned about such things." Then Lemuel turned and left.

Almost blind with rage, Onniel forgot her new resolutions and ran back to where the meal table had been arranged. She grabbed the food-loaded central plate and hurled it at the closed doors, watching it explode against them with spiteful satisfaction.

Temple of Ceaseless Compliance, Eternal City, Heaven

Once more, Lemuel-Lan-Michael was sprawled on his face in front of the altar chanting his choruses of praise while his companions followed his lead. It was nice to find somewhere he was treated with the respect due to his rank and position. That thought made him slightly guilty, not just because of the deception he was practicing on these people but because he was only going through the motions of prayer. His mind was focussed on his home and the neglect that Onniel seemed to regard as adequate performance of her duties. He had heard the crash behind the doors of his home and seen them shake as the things she had thrown struck them. There just was no way to understand what made women act as they did. He resolved to have another word with the local priests, obviously they hadn't spoken to Onniel forcefully enough.

The Chorus completed, Lemuel straightened up and eased the kink out of his back. His eyes were itching again and he felt his chest filled with the urge to cough. Behind him, Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar smirked slightly, it was amazing what the addition of a little Mace to the bowls of burning incense could achieve. The humans really were so very clever, packaging such a useful chemical in those easy-to-use spray cans. Two of his co-conspirators had upped the effect of the Mace-doped incense by giving Lemuel a couple of discrete puffs of the undiluted product at suitable points in the chorus. As a result, Lemuel was in a slightly improved state of distress. Well, it was time to "cure" him.

"Some Gatorade, Most Noble One? To ease your throat and add extra harmony to the praises we sing to the One Above All. We have the green one this evening."

"That would be most acceptable." Lemuel liked the green Gatorade. He accepted the glass gratefully and drank the contents down, hot noticing the small quantity of hash oil that had been mixed in with it. He felt the warm glow though, and the world began to pick up a rosier hue. Then, to his embarrassment, his stomach rumbled slightly.

"Most Noble One, you have not eaten this evening?" Perpetiel-Lan-Paschar faked the concern beautifully.

"No, I came straight here, feeling a most urgent need to join in a chorus of praise to The Nameless One."

Perpetiel grinned to himself, this urgent need to pray was a lot more chemical than emotional. In fact, it put a whole new meaning on the phrase 'hooked on phonics'. The amount of opiates he was consuming was beginning to have its effects of Lemuel. Even the Tylenol he took for his headaches, ones that were growing more frequent every day, was actually Tylenol 4 and contained sixty milligrams of codeine per tablet. It was time to up the ante a little.

"Most Noble One, you are not alone in this problem. One of our experiences here is that so many of our congregation come here straight from their daily duties and do not have time to eat. So, as part of our temple we have a small eating place, one where food can be properly reverences and then served to the needy. After all, is not sharing good fortune and spreading one's advantages to those in need also a form of service to the One Above All?"

Lemuel nodded, that made sense after all. He followed Perpetiel out of the main chamber of the temple to a central courtyard where the smell of cooking meat wafted deliciously across the garden. Perpetiel waved in the direction where two female angels were tending what appeared to be an old-style reverential altar, one where hot coals were placed underneath a metal grid and food offerings were placed over the flames, to cook in the heat. Humans had once made their offerings to The Almighty One that way, but they had ceased doing so. Lemuel reflected it was good to see the old traditions being restored. Perhaps if they hadn't fallen into abeyance, things would not have reached this pass. Then he shook his head, for some reason his thinking seemed a little fuzzy these days.

One of the angels had been working quickly. She had taken a small, round loaf of leavened bread and split it in half. Then, she had placed some green leaves on the bottom half, added a red sauce and put it to one side. A white sauce had been added to the top half before it too was put to one side. Then, she lifted a cake of cooking meat off the altar, placed it in the loaf and handed it to him with a respectful smile. "It is called a hamburger Most Noble One. Enjoy it in the spirit in which it is intended."

Lemuel took a bite of the meal and found it was good. So much so that he had finished it almost before he was aware of the juice dribbling down his chin. One of the female angels wiped it for him and respectfully offered him another hamburger. This one took him a little longer to eat but the sensation in his stomach was that of warmth and satisfaction. He suddenly realized he was actually happy, for the first time in a long time.

"This is most kind of you Perpetiel-Lan. Your community here is an example to us all. I am sure He Who Must Not Be Named would be profound in his recognition of your services to him and to our community."

Like Hell, Perpetiel thought. He'd massacre us all on the spot. "That thought is profoundly pleasing to us Most Noble One. Might I suggest you try these poor snacks? They are called fries."

An hour later, a well-fed Lemuel left the Temple, already writing his report in his mind. There was no doubt, no doubt at all, that this Temple was the center of human influence and the portal by which human goods were arriving in Heaven. The situation saddened him, it was obvious that the people here were working from the best of motives but the whole Temple of Ceaseless Compliance set-up was an example of how sin and depravity wormed its way into the heart under guise of honest virtue. Lemuel sighed, he really didn't want to go home this evening. Compared with the temple, it was a cold, unwelcoming place and after Onniel's behavior earlier, he had no doubt that it would be even more so. Instead, he decided to go back to his office and write up the report that was forming in his mind. That decision made, as he stepped out of the door of the temple, he turned right for his office, not left for his home.

That change saved his life. The concentrated sound blast that hit the wall of the temple was above and behind him, not directly over his head. The outer wall collapsed under the blast, dropping a great pile of masonry where he would have been standing. Lemuel was caught on the outside of the avalanche, rocks hit him and threw him to one side. His skin was lacerated by the shattered sheets of sapphire that followed the masonry down. But, he lived and was merely stunned by the explosion. Dumbly, his mind still fuzzy and confused, he realized that an attempt had been made on his life. This was unhead of, nobody ever tried to harm another being in Heaven. Well, not another Angel anyway, humans didn't count of course. Then a shocking thought struck him. The assassination wasn't aimed at him as a casual worshipper at the Temple of Ceaseless Compliance, it was aimed at him as an investigator of the League of the Holy Court. Somebody knew exactly who he was and had tried to take him out.

Inside the temple, the meeting was breaking up as the 'worshippers' got ready to head back to the Montmartre Club for a few badly-needed drinks. The crash of the front wall's collapse brought the hasty preparations to a grinding halt. Perpetiel led the race to see what had happened and stopped dead at the sight of Lemuel, sprawled out on the sidewalk with masonry on top of him.

"If I'd known we were going to kill him, I wouldn't have used the top-grade hamburger." Lailah-Lan sounded slightly grumpy. She was justifiably proud of her hamburgers.

"We weren't going to kill him. This is somebody else." Perpetiel looked at the figure on the ground. It was moving, trying to get up. "He's alive, get him inside, make sure he stays that way. Whoever did this might try again."

DIMO(N) Conference Suite, Pentagon.

"Books Luga?" Colonel Baylor was surprised. Somehow he hadn't thought of Luga actually studying anything. Surreptitiously he put his foot near one of the floor vents. To his relief he could feel the air current, the system was running full blast.

"Law books. I have decided to study law. I think it is hard to live here unless I am a lawyer. There are so many laws covering so many things. So I must study law."

"Didn’t you have laws in Hell?"

"Only one. If Satan gets mad, take cover. Other than that, the law is what the strongest person says it is. Here it is different."

"Our Luga a lawyer. Now there's a terrifying thought." The voice came from the stenographer sitting in the corner. The interjection got her a stern glance from Colonel Baylor, stenographers by job definition were supposed to be neither heard nor seen.

"What about Heaven Luga? Do you know much about the laws there? Do they have any?"

"They do although I do not know much about them More or less the same as your ten commandants. That should not surprise you. They came from the same place after all. They have a sort of police in Heaven, it is called The League of the Holy Court. I think it is mostly concerned with keeping the humans in Heaven in order."

"There are humans in Heaven then?"

"Of course, there are many of them. The Angels use them as menial servants."

Baylor sighed. If Lugasharmanaska could be believed, and that was always open to question, everything in the Second Life was very different from the pictures that had been presented. "Right Luga, today, I'd like to talk about the wars here on Earth. Particularly about the other beings, ones we think of as gods."

"Why do you want to know about that bunch of losers?" Luga was openly scornful.

"They existed then?"

"Certainly. They probably still do. We ran them off Earth, Yahweh and Satan together did. They had a good-cop, bad-cop act going for them."

"I wonder who the Bad Cop was?" The stenographer got another angry glance from Baylor.

"Usually Satan. But we converted their followers and deprived them of power. By the time we'd finished they had so few followers it wasn't worth them staying. Only one of the groups really put up a fight and we had to strike a deal. If they went, their followers wouldn't be tormented in Hell."

"So that's what Gaius Julius Caesar meant when he said he and his friends were protected by powerful gods." Baylor spoke thoughtfully. "There always were rumors that he and some other Romans were part of a mystical cult. Whatever it was, it must have saved their necks."

"You'll have to talk to him about that.' Luga was dismissive. "There were quite a few others as well. I think they were the first ones out of the Hell-pit."

"Hardly surprising. So there are other beings from other bubble-worlds in Universe-Two."

Luga took a moment to work that one out. "Certainly. But they haven't been seen on Earth for millennia. We saw the last of them off at least three thousand years ago."

Luga spoke for a couple of hours, describing the battle for control of Earth. "So, you see, most of the religions are based on memories of those other groups. That's all I know really."

Baylor relaxed and the stenographer signed off on the transcript she'd created. Then, he leaned forward again. "Do you really want to become a lawyer Luga?"

"No, but I want to understand the law. These laws you have are a new concept to me. My television show makes me too much money for me to give it up."

Baylor couldn’t resist asking. "How much do you make on that show Luga."

She grinned exposing her long yellow fangs. "When we broadcast, one thousand dollars per day. Or, as my bank manager says, 'how now, green thou'."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 35

LTR

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Home of George and Rose Matthews, Cæsaraugusta, Cisalpine Gaul, New Rome, Hell

He was sitting in a cold, dark street, the constant rain soaking him to the bone while the bitter wind chilled him until every joint in his body ached. Starvation gnawed at him, cramping his stomach and making his insides clench with pain. Soon, he would have to root through the garbage for something to eat, fighting the rats for the worm and maggot-riddled fragments of food in the filthy trash. Even when he found something, the relief it would bring would only be temporary, lasting just long enough to add emphasis to the agony of starvation when it returned full-force. Even worse, while he was foraging, he would have lost his place around the fire and would have to fight his way back in. George Matthews sighed and started to dig into the trash. If he was lucky, he might find a piece of rotten meat.

"Wake up George, it's only a nightmare." He opened his eyes and saw his wife looking down at him, a gentle smile on her face. A younger face, much younger than he had remembered looking down on him before, in the moments between feeling the agonizing pain in his chest and left arm and the darkness closing in on him. Now, she looked as if she was in her mid-forties, a very well preserved and elegant mid-forties. He felt no jealousy because he too had undergone the same rejuvenation and looked around the same age. That had been one of the subtle torments of Hell, to be restored to one's best only to suffer all the agonies had made Hell what it was. But all that was in the past and now he had a future to look forward to. He had been found in the First Circle of Hell and taken to the reception camps on the Phelan Plain. There his name and particulars had been taken down and fed into a computer. There had been a celebration when the answer came up for so very few of those recovered found close family they could turn to. Amid the applause, he'd been told that his wife was waiting for him, that she already had a home waiting for him and he could join her as soon as he wished.

Quietly, without saying anything, he had worried about that. How much had she been changed, what had she suffered here in Hell before she had been rescued? What sort of home had she managed to build here? Then he had met with her, she had run to him and held him and everything seemed to be good again. She'd explained that she had died after Hell had been conquered and that she'd brought all her assets with her. She'd used them to buy this villa in the new city of Caesaraugusta, in the province of Cisalpine Gaul of the New Roman Republic. She'd registered it in both their names and owning property made them Roman Citizens. Even now, months into his Second Life here, he wondered at the good fortune that had led him to marry the woman who had so painstakingly built a home for him to return to. He shook the sleep from his head, got up from the couch and hugged her. "Rose." There was a world of love and admiration in that single word.

"Oh George." His wife returned the embrace and led him to their dining room. A simple breakfast was laid out on the table, some fresh bread, cheese, mushrooms and wine. None of it was quite what it appeared, the cheese was made from the milk of female foodbeasts, the grain for the bread and the mushrooms were species native to Hell and the wine was actually made from a fermented red fungus but they tasted right and the truth was that humans here didn’t need to eat, not physically. They needed to eat emotionally, communal dining was too deeply ingrained in their psyche to be discarded, but the driving starvation he remembered from the Hellpit was a delusion. He sighed and looked out of the window. The villa was built on the banks of the Askaris River, their plot of land actually ending on the river itself. Across the Askaris was a low range of hills, ironically called The Alps. They were in the adjoining province, Transalpine Gaul, one that was still largely unoccupied. The rolling hills were tree-covered and their dark red foliage complemented the lighter red of the river beautifully.

"What have we got happening today?" George carefully spread some cheese on a lump of bread and took a bite. The sharp, clean taste of the cheese was perfect for cutting through the residue of sleep. That was another thing humans here didn’t actually need but couldn’t really do without. Sleep.

"Well, we have the monthly election coming up. One of the Senators for Cisalpine Gaul has reached the end of his term so we have to go and vote for his successor." There were 120 Senators representing the individual provinces of the Republic and each served a term of two years. Their elections were spread out so that 1/24th of their number were elected each month. So far, most elections were unopposed. The whole political system was a work-in-progress after all. The previous month Second Consul Jade Kim had been up for re-election and she, too, had been unopposed.

"And I've had a message from Naomi and John. They'd like to come visit now we're established here." A mischievous grin crossed Rose's face. "I suppose they must have forgiven me for taking all our money. It shook them when they found we can take it with us after all."

The couple looked at each other and laughed. "You did well there Rose, that John was always a bit full of himself I thought. Not nearly good enough for our Naomi. Anyway, they're welcome here. This villa's got the room for them, thanks to you. Now, time for work."

Rose nodded, put on her silver cap and gathered up her bag. She'd started work as a seamstress in one of the new factories but had quickly been promoted to a shift manager. She and her husband didn’t actually need to work, not yet anyway. The funds she had brought form their First Life had been adequate to get them started but work was psychologically needed just as food and sleep were. George Matthews had a job on a road-building gang. That had worried his wife, she remembered, all too well, the heart attack that had killed him, but he had reassured her that his health was better than it had ever been on Earth. Anyway, as he'd explained to her 'working on the road is good, honest work and it feels good to be building something for our future'. She knew what he meant, the Republic was new and raw around the edges but it was their future. "I've put your toga out for the election this evening and a new stola for me."

George nodded in appreciation. Most times people here wore the clothing they were familiar with, in the case of Rose and George, jeans and T-shirts, but for an election, formal Roman attire was required. Even if their senator hadn't been up for re-election this month, the fact it was election day still meant that he had to appear before his constituents to answer their questions and address their concerns. But, since he was up for re-election, there would be a formal debate between the candidates on questions from the audience, followed by the vote.

Together, they left their home through the double set of doors that kept the dust out of their home and went out to the road that serviced their sub-division. At the moment, the area was served by a Beast-drawn bus but in due course, a proper motor-bus would replace it. For a moment, George Matthews thought that the replacement had happened because he heard the sound of engines but it was something different. A small column of military vehicles, a mix of Humvees and armored cars. Human vehicles armed with long-barrelled guns. They pulled up alongside the bus stop and a figure got out, one wearing a breathing mask. Obviously he was still in his First Life.

"Ave Citizens." The officer's right hand was extended in a careful Roman salute, the clenched fist striking his chest above the heart and then extended towards the Matthews, upper arm close to the body, lower arm level with the ground, hand open, palm down. Not the way it had once been depicted at all, historians had been quite shocked when they had seen the real thing.

"Ave Colonel." George and Rose returned the salute. "May we be of assistance to you?"

"Colonel Paschal, DIMO(N). I have an appointment to meet with First Consul Gaius Julius Caesar and Second Consul Jade Kim in New Rome." Paschal flushed slightly, partly from the effort of remembering to get the formalities right, but also from embarrassment. "We seem to have lost our way. My driver insisted we stop and ask directions." Behind him, the female driver of the Humvee was grinning. Rose reflected that Hell and Earth had some things in common, a reluctance to ask directions being one of them

Rose smiled at the Colonel. "George and Rose Matthews. It's easy to go astray Colonel, the roads around here are being built and extended all the time. We Romans love good roads you know. Go straight on for about five kilometers until this road ends in a T junction. Turn left at the junction, that'll put you on the Aemilian Way. Stay on that, it'll take you all the way to Rome."

"Thank you, Citizens." Paschal looked at them curiously. "Please forgive the intrusion but, you are Americans?"

"We were Colonel, but that was in our First Lives. We're Romans now."

Temple of Ceaseless Compliance, Eternal City, Heaven

"So just who dared to try and pull this off?" Michael-Lan winced slightly, the wound in his shoulder was healed, the one in his chest very nearly so but he still got a twinge if he moved too fast.

"Humans?" Lemuel put the question tentatively. It was the only answer he dared think of.

Michael-Lan almost snorted with laughter. "If this was human work, you'd be dead. The favorite expressions of humans where killing is concerned are 'if some is good, more is better', 'nothing succeeds like excess' and 'more dakka'. If humans wanted to kill you, you wouldn't just be dead, your body parts would be strewn over half the Eternal City. This wasn't human work, this was somebody else."

Lemuel-Lan thought about it carefully. His body ached from the wounds suffered when rubble had fallen on him and he'd taken some Tylenol to ward off the pain. "It must be the First Conspiracy." His voice had dropped so the words would not carry.

"Not The Second Conspiracy?" Michael-Lan dropped his voice to match.

"No, Most High One. I have infiltrated that group. There is heresy there, certainly, but it is well-intentioned. An excess of zeal has led the congregation of this Temple to use human products in order to serve Our Eternal Father more diligently. They have been led astray by good intentions and need only a little re-education to bring them back to the right path."

Michael-Lan nodded, making a note to reward the team who had worked here for a job well done. "Nevertheless, maintain your infiltration of the group and find out its extent. They may be well-intentioned but when we pick them up, we must arrest them all at once. No loose ends. Make sure you identify them all." And that should act as your orders to take you into the club. "You think it is the First Conspiracy then?"

"It must be, Noble Lord. I can think of none other. I would guess they have learned of our investigation into their organization and decided to strike. Perhaps a cell feared they were about to be discovered and wished to prevent that."

"It could be." Michael-Lan was thoughtful. This whole situation didn't make sense from most points of view. Rivalry between cliques of Angels were well-known but they never, never got to the point of assassination. At worst, blackening reputations in Yah-Yah's eyes and causing loss of influence. That didn’t worry Michael, as the Great General, he was above such things and anyway, he was a past-master at such games. Had one of the other Chayot-Ha-Kodesh decided to break the rules of millennia and start playing for keeps? Michael-Lan ran through the names in his mind. Of the Chayot of the First Rank, only Azrael, Zadkiel and Chamuel were likely candidates. Were the Chayot of the Second Rank trying a powerplay? Sariel, Raguel, and Remiel could be ruled out, Sariel was already a member of the Montmartre club, Raguel was one of Yahweh's most devoted followers and Remiel was a mindless nonentity. Jophiel and Haniel? They were possibilities certainly but Michael didn’t think they would have the initiative to try something this radical. That left Barchiel and Salaphael. Michael couldn’t help but run the last name over in his mind. He was in mild disfavor and filled with resentment because of it. And he had the originality to think up an assassination plot. It was, after all, originality that had got him into trouble in the first place. It was not a valuable trait to have when Yahweh was around.

The simple fact that the attack on Lemuel had been tried was what worried Michael-Lan. It suggested that the First Conspiracy was moving closer to its goal of a take-over in Heaven. He knew enough to realize that any such effort would be a catastrophe, that it would result in a war at least as destructive as the Great Celestial War had been. Better the status-quo than fighting in the streets of the Eternal City. That would be casting the whole situation into the hands of the Humans. That thought made Michael-Lan stop cold. Could he be wrong? Was this a human strike at Heaven? He was going to great lengths to keep the humans on the defensive, to make sure their efforts were focussed on Earth while the sheer effort needed to support their war machine slowly exhausted them.

But suppose they had found a way to infiltrate Heaven? He'd heard how they had started a rebellion in Hell itself and used it to assassinate the highest of the Daemonic hierarchy. They'd even dropped the hammer on Asmodeus, the Hellish equivalent of a Chayot-Ha-Kodesh. Assassinating people was right in their line. That just left the question, why was Lemuel still alive. Anyway, there were no traces of explosives around here. The human preference would have been for a bomb, a big one packed into a vehicle. This attack had used a trumpet blast. That had to be angelic. Unless the humans were using an angel as a front. Humans manipulating an Archangel. That would be one for the books. Once more, Michael found affection for humans rising in him. They made life so interesting.

Then, another thought stopped Michael-Lan cold. Suppose, just suppose, it wasn't angels or humans? Suppose another player had re-entered the game? One who hadn't been part of it for millennia? It was possible that one of the others had seen the destruction of Hell, the death of Satan, seen the Humans fighting against Heaven, fending off the worst that could be thrown at them. The others might have decided that Heaven was so weakened by this war that it was time to strike back, to avenge the defeat that had driven them from Earth millennia ago. They might even see the opportunity of reasserting their domain over the Earth. If they did think that, Michael-Lan felt sorry for them for tackling the Humans head-on meant death.

Despite his ingrained apprehension at the thought of the Others returning, Michael-Lan was entranced by the idea. It would certainly mean his plan needed revision but that's what plans were for. He could use this development, use it very effectively.

"Lemuel-Lan, continue here. I will look after the First Conspiracy. Return to your home."

"With respect, Most Noble One, I would prefer to go to my office. There is much to be done there."

Aha, you and Onniel are on the outs are you? Took long enough. Time to throw some more temptation your way. A little tender loving care should do. "As you wish, old friend. Your devotion to duty honors me."

Michael watched Lemuel limp off and turned to the temple staff inspecting the damage to the outer wall. "Don’t sweat that guys, I'll get the master mason to deal with it. He owes me a few favors. Charmeine-Lan, how's Maion doing?"

"She's settled into her new life Michael-Lan. Sometimes her resentment at selling herself surfaces but not so often now. And a little assistance goes far."

"Good. We'll throw her at Lemuel soon. Once he's a little more frustrated and resentful at the way Onniel is treating him, you can take him to the Club. Just warn me when so I'm not there when he is. Charmeine, tell Maion to dance for him and coo over him. Just pay him unconditional attention, that'll do the trick. Once he's gone with her, he'll fall into line easily enough.

Throne Room, The Ultimate Temple, The Eternal City, Heaven

"Lord of All, I most humbly beg that your servant Uriel be excused from displaying the customary genuflections at your immaculate presence. His wounds suffered in carrying out your duty are crippling and render him unfit for such actions." Michael-Lan was sprawled out on the floor of the throne room, his peerless lips pressed to the alabaster tiles. Around him, the strange creatures that kept Yahweh amused during the long hours he spent in this room drifted slowly away into the billowing clouds of incense. It was a conditioned reflex after the number of lightning storms that had occurred in this room since the war with the humans had started.

"Uriel unable to pay due and proper respect?" The Voice of the Father of All echoed around the throne room, causing a rumble of thunder and a flicker of white lightning. In the background, the master mason made sure there was nobody between him and his bunker.

"That is the case One Above All Others, he fought valiantly at San Diego and was terribly wounded there. He received further injuries while fleeing from the pursuing humans and would have died."

"But for your rescue. My Wuffles did not flee from the humans even when their bombs tore at him." The roll of thunder had a distinctly sorrowful note as Yahweh remembered his late pet.

I'll have to get the rest killed as soon as possible Michael-Lan thought. Yah-Yah thinks better when he's mad with grief, leaves him only two eggs short of an omelet instead of three. "Indeed so, Immaculate Father Of Us All. But the humans fought with unusual cruelty even for them. Uriel's condition is sorrowful indeed."

"Then let him enter." Uriel-Lan made a sorrowful picture indeed as he staggered into the throne room. His wings were twisted and bent out of shape, he showed burns all down his body and his legs were malformed. Michael-Lan's doctors had done their best and Uriel's massive healing power had done more but he was still a critically wounded Archangel. Michael-Lan was actually quite surprised he had made it to this meeting. Up on the throne, Yahweh seemed shocked at the sight. "The humans have done this to my faithful servant?"

The thunder cracked and a sheet of lightning rippled across the room, glancing off the walls and lighting the darker recesses of the antechambers. In the glare, Michael distinctly saw the Master mason vanishing into his bunker, his feet waving in the air before being hastily pulled to safety.

"I beg your forgiveness, Eternal Lord of All." Uriel's voice was shaky and seemed to crack, as if he was forcing the words out through a throat half-closed. Which wasn't too far from the truth, being too close to the blast of exploding missiles had more damaging effects than were obvious. "My attempts to bring my peace to the humans have failed, they discovered how to resist me and defy Your will."

To Michael's great surprise, Yahweh didn’t incinerate Uriel on the spot. Better luck next time passed through his mind. Instead of throwing a tantrum Yahweh was nodding seriously. "How did the humans manage this?"

"I do not know Greatest of All. They have missiles that never miss, they have weapons that burn and sear their enemies. They have a weapon I have never encountered before, that makes my skin burn and my flesh boil. All of these they have ringed around their cities. . . . . "

"I do not care about such things." The crack of thunder silenced Uriel. "Their weapons are of no concern to me. How is it that they defy My Will?"

"They have barriers between their minds and the peace I bring them. It takes much effort to force through them and to get at the minds underneath. So much so that it is only possible to bring peace to a few at a time. By the time I have forced my way into their minds, their missiles are tearing at me and their weapons burn my flesh. Then, further attack becomes impossible. Greatest Father Of All, I swear to this with all my heart. For those who fly near a human city, death is certain. Each time I have tried, the humans grow more skilled at fighting me. The time I have to enforce my peace grows shorter."

"Then your task is impossible?" Yahweh's voice was silky-smooth and the menace was unmistakeable.

"No, Holiest of Holy Ones. One my injuries are healed I will try again. Perhaps this time success will attend me."

"Lord Above All." Michael-Lan cut in with unsurpassed fervor. "Uriel's courage is indeed an example to us all. We can all draw strength from his devotion to Your Immaculate Presence." Just in case you were thinking of letting him off.

"Indeed so. Uriel your courage is indeed notable. Consult with my treasured servant Michael to decide on your next target."

"Lord Above All, might this humble servant suggest a possible strategy? If we send Uriel in to make his attack at the same time as the Scarlet Beast and the Whore of Babylon attack Jerusalem, perhaps we can split the human defense and score a crushing victory."

"A cunning plan Greatest of my Generals. Make it so. Is there anything else?"

"Most Immaculate Lord, the matter of treason we discussed earlier. There is reason to believe that it does not stem from inside Heaven but from outside. Today, an attempt was made to assassinate one of Your most faithful servants, an investigator of the League of the Holy Court. We must believe that there are those in this city who have linked their name to The Others."

Across the Eternal City, the thunderclouds roiled and spread, drenching the streets with the lurid glare of multi-colored lightning. Even the highest of the Host took cover inside buildings as hailstones the size of ostrich eggs pelted the streets, shattering on impact and crushing the more fragile of structures. The storm roared on, circling and recircling the Ultimate Temple. Eventually, it ebbed and terrified heads emerged from their hiding places to wonder at the destruction that they saw. Inside the throne room, Michael looked around the rubble where one of the curtain walls had collapsed, burying some of the exotic beasts that had taken cover behind them. In one corner, a hand emerged from the Master Mason's bunker and started to clear the rubble away from the entrance. I must get myself one of those. Michael-Lan thought. This is getting hairy.

"Arrest them!" Yahweh's voice was a scream that was eerily reminiscent of his deceased brother. "Arrest them all."

"Thy will be done." Michael-Lan genuflected and made his way out of the semi-destroyed throne room, picking his way between the piles of rubble as he went.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 36

LTR

Don't Look Back In Anger
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The Montmartre Club, Eternal City, Heaven

"I suppose I have to thank you again Michael-Lan." The Master Mason was stretched out on a couch with one of the female angels gently caressing him with her wings. "The idea of selling tickets to my bunker was a real money-spinner. I'm going to have to build another one just to hold all the applicants."

"Don't get greedy, Zacharael-Lan. There's a reason why greed is a deadly sin, the original list of deadly sins actually made a lot of sense. It took Yah-yah to bring the whole idea of deadly sins into disrepute. Greed's a good example, more enterprises have been brought down by over-reaching greed than anything else. Look at it this way, the more bunker spaces you build, the less you'll get for each of them. Keep them rare, keep them hard to get. That way you establish a loyal clientele."

"Just like you do with membership here?" Zacharael-Lan held out his glass and his angelic companion filled it for him.

"Just like I do here." Michael-Lan confirmed. "Except here, it's a matter of practical necessity. All the goodies that make life in Heaven tolerable come from Earth. I'm working on changing that but for the meantime, its true. Going to Earth to restock with this war on is getting harder all the time and it's never safe to mess around with humans. So we have to use the stocks we have carefully."

"How about those things I built for you. Greenhouses you called them although they don't look green."

Michael-Lan laughed. "They do now. You should see them. Full to bursting point with various strains of Cannabis Sativa and Indica plants. Poor old Jesus is working hard sampling them all, trying to decide which ones give us the best high. Trouble is by the end of a test session, he's so potted he forgets the results and has to start again."

Zacharael-Lan joined in Michael's merriment. "That I should have such work to do. Instead of patching the holes in the walls after The Irascible One's tantrums. The last one was a doozie, he managed to bring down two curtain walls and a load-bearing column. The palace roof is sagging at that point and the whole thing could fall in. You say your greenhouses are full?"

"They are, we're trying to keep the strains separate but I've got some more coming in and will need space to plant them. Or rather Jesus will, he loves working with plants. I've managed to get some White Widow seeds, they're supposed to be really something. So, if you can get around to building a new greenhouse?"

Zacharael-Lan made a mock motion of weighing things in his hands. "Hmm. Repairing The Irascible One's palace and stopping it collapsing on one hand or building you a new greenhouse for pot plants on the other. No real conflict there, I'll be around with the supplies first thing. I'll charge the materials off to the repairs on the Ultimate Palace. Nobody will notice, I've been delivering stuff there in the morning, taking it back at night and redelivering it again the next day for centuries. The Palace treasurer has probably paid for the same slabs of alabaster and jewels four or five times over. New greenhouse in the same place?"

"Think so, even if the Unbearable Father starts to look, he'll never think of starting with his own son's palace. Umm, Zacharael-Lan, could you do me a big favor?"

"Sure Michael-Lan. Name it."

"I'm going to be away for a few days again. I've got a big pick-up to make with the guys in Myanmar. They're clearing their stocks out and want me to collect it. In exchange for large additions to their 'retirement' funds of course. My fault, I got them involved in what I thought would be a nasty, long-running border war and they went and lost in a few days. Humans learned to use portals for maneuvering faster than I thought possible. Anyway, it’s a get-it or lose-it situation. I've organized an attack on Los Angeles for Uriel and another by Dumah and the Scarlet Beast on Jerusalem to act as diversions."

"Good. Never liked Uriel, far too much of a cold fish for me and there always was something a bit strange about him. And as for Dumah and Fluffy, he leaves his droppings everywhere and she's got altogether too high an opinion of herself. She's just an Erelim like me but she spends her life looking down her nose at all of us. No respect that's her trouble. Just because she gets on with that Scarlet Beast, she thinks she can get away with anything."

"Well, she has The Unbearable Father's ear so she can." And that's why she has got to go along with that wretched pet. "For a while, anyway. Anyway, I won’t be here so could you front for me for a few days? Gabriel and Raphael will do all the actual work but we'll be having an outsider coming in and I'd rather he didn’t know how high the leadership here really goes. Having an Erelim in charge would be perfect."

"Lemuel-Lan?"

"That's right. Just make sure he has a really good time and doesn’t learn anything important."

The Palatine Palace, New Rome, Hell

"Ave Caesar." Colonel Paschal gave his Roman salute with a bit more confidence than before. He would have preferred to have used the military salute he was familiar with but his orders on the matter were quite strict. Gaius Julius Caesar was too important a player in the evolving social structure of Hell to risk offending so in his country, Paschal was to play by his rules. Paschal had a nagging suspicious that Caesar made the powers-that-be back on Earth nervous. The rate at which New Rome was growing and the speed with which its society was settling into a cohesive whole was a tribute to his ability. It also made him a potential threat and humanity already had more problems than it could handle.

"Ave." Caesar returned the greeting and salute formally. "Colonel Paschal I believe? You have met the Second Consul Jade Kim?"

"Ave Consul. I believe we met when you were running the PFLH in the Hellpit. To create a successful insurgency from such an unpromising start was a remarkable achievement."

"Thank you, but without the aid of my husband, it would all have collapsed." Kim put a gentle but distinct emphasis on the words 'my husband'. Paschal couldn't help but reflect she was learning the political game very fast. Wasn't surprising, she was getting the lessons from a master.

As if he was reading Paschal's thoughts, Caesar took the lead in the conversation back. "How are you enjoying your first visit to our new Republic?"

"New Rome is a remarkable achievement Sir. You seem to be recreating the old Republic of Rome with incredible speed."

"Celeritas, Colonel. Always Celeritas. Speed and decisiveness in maneuver are always the key to successful efforts. But, I needn't tell an officer in a human army that, you've taken speed and mobility to levels I'd never imagined possible. We're not recreating the ancient Republic of Rome here though, we are trying to take its best features and adapt them to the modern world your generation has so successfully created. If we take the best parts of my era and combine them with the best parts of yours, then there are wonders we can achieve."

Paschal nodded in agreement, reflecting that despite the two millennia since his death, Caesar's ability to inspire people with enthusiasm for his plans was still unchanged. It wasn't surprising that Jade Kim had cast her lot in with him, although it was becoming apparent to Paschal that people's allegiances for their Second Life in Hell rarely had much in common with those of their First Life on Earth. Expecting otherwise had already proved to be a bad mistake. "If I may ask Sir, what part of our modern practices do you seek to change?"

Caesar thought for a second. "Voting. Here in Rome, the right to vote is restricted to those who have demonstrated their commitment to the Republic by owning land. And we make voting a solemn affair where Roman Citizens are expected to dress formally and hear the candidates debate the great issues of the day before casting their votes. A vote cast casually without thought or consideration is a vote wasted." Caesar spoke gravely, then seemed to brighten again. "But we are not here, I think to discuss political theory. If you will join us for Cena, perhaps we can continue then."

"Thank you Caesar, I would enjoy that. My task here is a curious one. May I ask what gods you worshipped during your First Life?"

"The ones who protected me in the pit? And others of course. Why do you wish to know?"

"Caesar, our assault on Heaven is stalled. All access to the place has been shut down and we can't get at them. For almost a year now, we have been trying to force our way in and for all that effort we still do not know how to do so. Yet, the inhabitants of Heaven are able to attack us almost at will. They direct storms against our cities, bring plagues upon us and attack us with their beasts. We beat off their attacks with some loss to ourselves but we cannot, we will not, remain on the defensive for ever. Nobody ever won a war by defending themselves."

"That's true." Caesar laughed nostalgically. "Defeating the enemy means taking the war to them."

"Yes Sir. But we can't. But, in our investigations, we've learned that the daemons here in Hell fought other groups on Earth and expelled them. Although the fighting took place long before human history was recorded, we believe that memories of those other groups form the basis of many world religions. We have also learned that one such group, daemons call them devils, was so hard to defeat that they struck a deal with Satan and Yahweh. That they would withdraw from Earth only if those who believed in them were protected from the torments of Hell. You, Sir, are the only person we know of who falls into that category. So we seek to identify this other group. If they are loyal to those who believed in them and sought to protect them, they may be the kind of people we can deal with."

"Deal with as in make arrangements with, or deal with as in shoot full of holes?" Kim spoke drolly although the intent behind her question was deadly serious.

"Their choice ma'am."

"A very Roman answer Colonel. When you die, have you thought of settling here in Rome?" Caesar was teasing him and Paschal knew it but it was a good question. "To answer your question, in public my family worshipped the Roman gods but in private I and a few others were members of the cult of Cybele. We kept that quiet, the authorities really didn't approve of it. But, a few of us kept up the faith in secret and were rewarded. Does that really help you find a way to get your tanks into Heaven?"

"It might Sir. It gives us another avenue to research at least. At the moment, we'll try anything to break in and give Yahweh what's coming to him. And I don't mean that in a nice way."

"Good." Kim's voice was forceful and very determined. Subconsciously her thumb stroked the palm of her hand where a bronze spike had once been driven through it.

"I'd like to offer more help than just a name Colonel, but my army here is only adequate for defending what we have. And we are desperately short of equipment. Some of my soldiers still carry tridents instead of rifles. And we could use more armored cars and some helicopters. Not to mention more radios."

"MH-6s would be nice. If there are any going spare." Kim smiled fondly, she thought that she would like to get her hands on a helicopter again. Especially an armed one.

"I can't promise anything, I just don’t have that authority. But, if you can make out a list of what you really need, I can present it to my superiors. DIMO(N) has a shallow command structure and the point is very close to the top. A word of advice though, with modern equipment, it's not getting it that breaks the bank, it's supporting it."

"Rather like a beautiful woman?" Caesar was teasing again but this time the gentle barb was directed at Kim who responded by punching his arm.

"Exactly Sir. Best modern equipment in the world is useless without proper support. We've walked all over armies that forgot that. A state with limited funds is better off with smaller amounts of equipment and investing the money in support facilities."

"That's good advice Gaius." Kim had given Caesar the same lesson herself. "We're mineral rich here, we've got iron, chromium, titanium, vanadium, you name it. And oil, lots of oil."

Napyidaw, Myanmar

"And we want our gold back." General Asanee spoke quietly but very firmly.

"What gold?" General Petraeus actually know the answer but just wanted to hear her say it.

"In 1767, the Burmese launched an unprovoked attack on us and eventually stormed the old capital of Ayuthya. They massacred all the inhabitants, burned the art treasures, the libraries containing our literature, and the archives housing our historic records and then took all the gold in the city back to their capital. Now we want it back."

Petraeus tried to stop himself grinning. "Was it a lot of gold? Where did you get it from?"

"All the gold in the country's treasury. We'd collected it for centuries, mostly from what is now Laos and Cambodia."

"Ahh, so it's their gold. Why didn’t you say so? After all, those countries could use the cash. They're totally broke."

"But they were our vassal states, their gold belonged to us." Asanee looked at Petraeus and realized her leg was being gently pulled. "It's a sort of cash float. Whoever wins the latest war gets the gold. And we won this one."

"General, this kind of thinking has to stop if we're going to win this war. I don’t mean the one with Myanmar, this is just a mildly irritating sideshow. If that, it's more like a live fire exercise in how to use portals for warfare."

"A live fire exercise that cost the lives of more than six hundred of my men."

"Yes, I'm sorry, I shouldn’t have said that." Petraeus looked at her reflectively. He happened to know that she'd personally written to the family of every soldier killed in action under her command and had visited those families within reach. From her record, he guessed she would take the time to get to the others as soon as the war was over. "If it's any consolation, the H.E.A. has picked up your dead as they arrived in Hell and made sure they are looked after properly. By the way, there were some pretty good brawls in the receiving area when your dead and the Myanmar Army dead arrived simultaneously. In the end we had to keep a contingent of military police on site to break them up. In future, we'll have to make sure war casualties get sent to different reception areas.

"Anyway, back to the issue. The political alliance that stands behind the Human Expeditionary Alliance is a fragile thing. It's held so far because of the pressure from outside but how long that will remain the case is a good question. As long as this damned stalemate holds, the chances are that some of the old issues we faced will reemerge and screw the whole thing up. Humanity's got to draw a line under the past and make a fresh start if this thing is going to work. If we don’t, the war effort will fall apart. I never thought I'd say this but North Korea's actually setting a good example. They're coming in from the cold, no matter how difficult they're making the process."

"So, we don’t get our gold back." Asanee sounded disappointed.

"Not a chance. You'll have to go and dig some more. Anyway, here we are."

Petraeus had to admit that General Asanee's command team had this kind of thing down to a fine art. Long practice he supposed. As the two generals approached the conference room doors, two of her men moved ahead and ostentatiously flung them open. Petraeus and Asanee stalked into the room, the rest of their party following them in and spreading out so the Myanmar ruling junta members were covered by their guns. They rose reluctantly too their feet, acknowledging the fact that they were the beaten side, waiting to hear the terms they were offered. The two H.E.A. generals just stared at them for a few moments before Petraeus broke the silence.

"You have sent Michael-Lan-Yahweh the messages as we instructed?"

Than Shwe nodded, his face a picture of anger, resentment and humiliation.

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

"We have done as your terms dictated. We have sent Michael-Lan a message telling him that a large stockpile of heroin, methamphetamines, ecstasy and other drugs have been gathered here and he would come and collect it. Otherwise we will have to destroy it. We have not yet received a reply."

"Good. We have some special weapons technicians with us. They need to see that stockpile right now."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 37

LTR

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West of Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles, California

The location had been chosen with great care. Uriel's wings were still not fully healed and that had left his ability to fly impaired. In any case, he had come to the opinion that flying over his target, as has been his tradition, for millennia was no longer practical. Human aircraft and missiles made it far too dangerous. He had tried that tactic twice and both times it had come close to killing him.

This time, he was trying a different approach. The hills west of Hacienda Heights gave an excellent view over the city of Los Angeles. He would have line-of-sight access to some of the most populated areas of the mega-city beneath him and a huge number of people would where Uriel could bring his peace to them. He had thought long and hard about that. At El Paso he had tried to annihilate everybody and everything within his reach, only to fail and bring peace only to a small proportion of them. Based on that lesson, he had tried to concentrate his power on a small community at Eucalyptus Hills. There, he had come achingly close to bringing his peace to the entire community. If it had not been for the aircraft and the missiles. . . .

Uriel felt unfamiliar feelings running through his mind. He hated the humans and their machines for what they had done to him and mixed in with the hatred was rage that his divinely-ordered purpose should be denied. He fought the emotions, aware that they represented mortal sins, and tried to squash them. This time it would be different, this time he would stay on the ground where the missiles could not strike at him. It had taken days for the humans to corner him after Eucalyptus Hills, he would need only a fraction of that time to bring his peace to the community that would lay helpless at his feet.

To take them all or just concentrate on a few? That was the decision that Uriel faced. He had tried for all at El Paso and failed. He had tried for a few at Eucalyptus Hills – and failed. But the size of his target at El Paso meant that even failure meant that a large number of souls had found their way to perfect peace. Uriel made his decision, he would try for all. Even a small percentage of a large number was better than a large percentage of a few.

Uriel made his decision. He had locked in on his target, he had selected his strategy. He knew what to do and where. Now, he would place his faith in the All-Knowing Father of All and honor His Immaculate Name by bringing more of these recalcitrant humans to their final peace.

al Za'im, West Bank

The air-raid sirens woke a very resentful Husni al-Sohl from well-deserved and much-needed sleep. The last year and a half had been a very strange time for him. Once a dedicated member of Hamas and a key member in one of its undercover cells, now he worked in an Israeli munitions plant, helping to churn out the sub-munitions that the world needed to fight off the satans who had declared war upon it. The Israelis he worked alongside were equally confused; once these same submunitions would have gone to arm missiles and artillery rounds. Ammunition that was intended to defend Eretz Israel against the hordes of terrorists and assassins that besieged it. Only, The Message had changed everything. Mankind had a common enemy that counted for more than petty local squabbles.

At least that was what Husni al-Sohl believed and the Israelis who worked beside him had said the same. They had all noted something rather peculiar. When the command to lay down and die had come from in high, the religious fanatics, the idealogues and extremists who had shouted longest and loudest about the purity of their faith had been conspicuous by their absence from the dead. Those who had sent others out to die in suicide bombings, who had incited others to die for their beliefs, who had fired people's hearts but seemed curiously reluctant to do any other sort of firing had found many excuses for not obeying the command that formed a key part of The Message.

Oh, there had been those who had laid down and died, but they had been the quiet ones, the ones who had kept their religions in their hearts, not their mouths and their fists. The others, the ones who had made ostentatious public displays of their faiths, they'd used their alleged religion as a path to power. With The Message, some had slunk away and tried to hide, others attempted to carry on their foolishness. They hadn't lasted, their previous supporters had seen them for what they were and killed them. Now, they had all gone from both sides and things had settled down to an uneasy truce. There was too much history, too much spilled blood, for the truce to be anything but uneasy but al-Sohl and his Israeli co-workers both agreed that with the self-serving fanatics out of way, they could at least agree to differ quietly. And everybody needed the sub-munitions that the factory made.

The sirens that had blasted him awake made him think, for one brief moment, that the bad days had returned and he was back in Gaza with the Israeli helicopters closing in. So many had died, blown apart as the missiles had plowed into their targets. Was al Za'im to be a target now? There was an Israeli border guard post only a few yards away. Had one of the idiotic morons who had brought so much death down tried to attack it? The fact that he hadn't heard any explosions suggested otherwise. Then his brain woke up fully and he realized they weren't air raid sirens. They were warnings that a portal was opening and that an attack would be coming through it soon.

"What is happening?" His wife had woken as well and was staring around with frightened eyes

"It is an attack. Perhaps it is Uriel, deciding to leave the Americans alone. Or some other devil." He grabbed her arm and hustled her to their shelter room, the one whose walls were lined with extra-think layers of aluminum foil. As they went, he glanced out of the window and saw a black ellipse forming to the east of the township.

417th Flight Test Squadron, Edwards Air Force Base, California

The wailing sirens made the base look as if it had been a giant ant's nest and somebody had kicked it over. A stream of pick-up trucks was spreading out from the base buildings and heading for the aircraft that were already being prepped for flight by their ground crews. Some headed for the row of F-15Es, a few in the original lizard green camouflage paint but most in the red/gray mottled camouflage of Hell. The paint job wasn't an affection, the paint itself was designed to protect the aircraft from the abrasion caused by flying through the dust of Hell's atmosphere. Others headed for the two B-1Cs that were parked in the test area. Their paint job was white as befitted prototypes that were under test. A very accelerated test program, the B-1s were desperately needed and the Air Force couldn't wait for a leisurely pre-war test and evaluation.

Two other pick-up trucks headed for strange-looking aircraft that were parked by themselves. Boeing 747s they had been, once, but now they had the firing turret of a chemical oxygen-iodine laser in their noses. They were YAL-1s and they had first priority for the runway. Technically at least, although they had to get there before the others would make way for them. Getting the new and complex laser platforms started up was a battle in its own right. The YAL-1 was unlike anything else in the Air Force and procedures for it's operation simply didn’t exist. An accelerated test program wasn't an option for the YAL-1, there was just too much that was new. Eventually, the systems were up and running, but by that time bomb- and missile-laden F-15Es were streaking off the runways, heading south-west. Los Angeles thought Colonel Samuel Allansen grimly. Uriel is hitting Los Angeles.

"Scalpel-One ready to roll." Mickey Jennings was already on the radio to the tower.

"Scalpel-Two ready to roll." The voice on the comms system followed a bare second later.

"Scalpel aircraft, form up behind the two B-1Cs. You are sixth and seventh in line for take-off."

"Sorry about that Scalpel-One." A British voice sounded over the channel. "We're past the last taxiway turnoff, we can't turn off and let you through."

"No problem. . . ." Allansen hesitated, not certain who he was talking to.

"Winters, Group Captain Martin Winters, RAF Heavy Bomber Development Unit. I just arrived here yesterday, on exchange to get ready for our B-1s."

"Welcome to California. Tower, what the blazes is going on?" The YAL-1 edged forward as two F-15s went down the runway side-by-side. Behind them two more turned into position and started powering up, ready for their take-off runs. From the load hanging under their wings, Allansen guessed they were pushing the maximum weight limit as far as it would go and maybe just a little bit further.

"Small portal started to open over Los Angeles, Hacienda Heights area. It's Uriel, we're sure of it. Nobody's going to let him get away this time. There's aircraft converging on Los Angeles from all over. Including Navy and Marine birds so watch it. And there's two AEGIS ships running in at 30 plus knots."

The tower voice was interrupted by the scream as the next pair of F-15s streaked down the runway and staggered into the air, the aircraft obviously straining to stay flying. Yup, well over maximum take-off weight Allansen thought. The lead B-1C was turning on to the runway. "Good hunting Wing Commander."

"Thank you Scalpel-One. And good luck with that magic ray-gun of yours."

4th Street, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

In the street cars were swerving to a halt as the sirens blasted out their warnings. From them, people were running to the buildings where doors were being held open so they could get to cover. The lessons of Eucalyptus Hills had spread quickly, people should get together, in the largest possible groups so they could share their strength against the onslaught from Uriel. Just in case anybody failed to hear the wailing sirens, the street lights were flashing a visual warning.

"Come on, hurry up. Inside, quickly." The bouncers on the doors of Harvelles Blues Club were adapting well to their changed role. Normally their job was to prevent undesirables from getting in and throwing the unruly out. Now, it was to get as many people as possible in. They were manhandling people inside, pushing them through the doors as fast as they could. Outside, the street was blocking up rapidly with abandoned cars. The earliest refugees had put their cars between the trees lining the road, or in one case the bouncers could see, into a tree. Well, the insurance people could sort that out when the attack was over. It would have been much worse before gas rationing had taken so many vehicles off the street. "Wait, let these people through."

'These people' were a small group of teenagers probably high school students and all loaded down with cages. They were staggering under their loads and two of the bouncers moved out to help them carry their loads. They knew the teenagers by sight, they were working summer jobs at the pet store across the street and it looked like they'd brought as many of the animals with them as they could carry.

"Many more left in the store?" The bouncer barked out the question.

One of the girls was almost in tears. "Too many, we brought as many as we could carry, but the rest, and the bigger dogs, they were just too many and too heavy."

"Doors locked?" The girl shook her head. "Right, get inside. You men, yes you over there, come with me. We'll pick up the other animals and bring them over." The group of men who'd just been drafted looked at the bouncer and decided that weight and bulk gave authority to his orders. The group ran across the street and vanished into the pet store to emerge a few second later with more cages and a variety of dogs on improvised leashes.

By the time they got back to Harvelles, the street was clearing as people got under cover. They herded their livestock through the doors, then the remaining staff slammed them shut. They had a well-rehearsed drill, the doors themselves were lined with aluminum foil but they reinforced it with additional layers mounted on wooden frames. Another lesson from Eucalyptus Hills, defending against Uriel meant using multiple layers of foil. The sirens had switched from their pitched wailing to a long, steady note. The attack was imminent.

In the main body of the club, the host was already up on stage, tapping his microphone. "Good evening, ladies, gentlemen and other species." There was a quick burst of laughter as the crowded audience looked at the stacks of cages around the walls. "Welcome to Harvelles. You are all doubtless aware that Uriel is coming to visit us and I can say with confidence that the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have prepared a welcome for him that is in the best American tradition." Another roar of laughter and a series of war whoops. "All we have to do is stay under cover and wait out the attack."

He paused slightly to take a breath. "Now, we all heard how the Diegans rode out the attack down there and is anybody here going to tell me that Angelenos can't do better than they did?" There was a roar of 'No' and the host made a 'winding up' gesture with his hands. "That's right, so the management will take it as a personal affront if any of our guests passes on. To encourage you all, the management have announced that all drinks will be on the house until either the attack is over or the first person dies, whichever comes first. So, if you all want the free drinks to keep flowing, don’t die. And make sure your neighbors don't die either."

His address was interrupted by howls overhead that easily penetrated the building. The host looked up. "There we are, the Air Force is overhead already. Uriel is going to get a truly warm welcome and to add our contribution to the festivities, I ask you to put your hands together and give a true Harvelles welcome to The Key Frances Band."

The Palatine Palace, New Rome, Hell

"Ave Caesar. Ave Kim."

"Ave Paschal." The exchange of Roman salutes interrupted breakfast. Caesar's response was almost automatic, he was deeply engaged in reading a file. Jade Kim grinned at Colonel Paschal and tilted his head in Caesar's direction. "Gaius never stops, literally. Even in the middle of the night, he'll get up, slip away and do a couple of hours more work. Titus tells me he was like that even when he was alive. Did you have a good sleep?"

"I did, thank you. It's a relief to find you have filtered air here."

"Even us Second Lifers prefer clean air if we can get it. Breakfast is fruit, bread and wine. I hope that's all right? We're working on getting honey down here."

Paschal chuckled. "That'll be fine. I'm more curious about how you get the power to run the air cleaners and so on."

"Geothermal energy." Gaius Julius Caesar looked up from his file. "We've struck a deal with a company called Calpine. They've built a pilot plant to try and exploit geothermal energy here. If it works out, they'll build a lot more. We have a pilot grid here as well, it's servicing New Rome. Apparently Hell is a lot better for geothermal than Earth. Much lower investment costs. We could end up supplying California with energy." He took a bite of wine-soaked bread and looked again at his file. "Jade, I think we'll approve this."

"The Insula? I think so." Jade Kim looked at Paschal. "An Insula is like an apartment block, the occupants own the land in common and their own unit. Pretty much like a condo. Not everybody can afford their own villa although that's the way we want people to go. The Insula make a good first step. People who live there will satisfy the conditions for becoming Citizens and get them started."

Overhead, there was a whupping noise that almost caused Kim to drop her breakfast. Paschal grinned at her reaction. "I put the request through last night. These are a gift from the U.S. Government."

Kim had recognized the sound instantly. "MH-6s? You got me an MH-6?"

"MH-6T. Three of them. They're new production, they've got all the Hell modifications built into them, not slapped on as an emergency refit. So the filters are a lot more efficient and they affect performance less. You've got all your old unit here?"

"I have. With the addition of Titus and Lucius, they're the Consular Guard now."

"Well, you'll need to be checked out on the T version, there's new kit on it you'll not have seen before. But, welcome back to the Little Bird community. Roman Chapter. Caesar, you're getting some M1117 armored cars as well. They're not new or first-line, they were ones in the factories at Detroit when the city got smeared. They were rescued from the lava but they got beat up in the process. Rather than fix them, we're passing them through to you."

"Very generous of you." Caesar's voice was suspicious.

"The feeling is that you have a well-organized state here that's keeping the peace and setting a good example. There's others around that aren't. More like warlords leading gangs of brigands and terrorists. So, we're giving you some quiet backing. There'll be more kit coming through as soon as General Petraeus can get his staff to organize it."

"Let me guess." Caesar dipped another piece of bread in the wine. "Enough to defend ourselves, not enough to go around conquering people."

Paschal smiled. "Exactly."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 38

LTR

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Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven

"Do you have to do this?" Raphael-Lan was seriously concerned.

"If you want to stay hammered and stoned, yes." Michael-Lan grinned to take the sting out of his words. "We're going to be running short of a lot of supplies soon and this is a perfect opportunity to restock at fire-sale prices. I can't afford not to make this trip. Where's Gabriel by the way?"

"Down at the club. Theoretically supervising it, but actually paying proper respect to Lailah-Lan. He was late with his tribute again." Raphael chuckled at the thought. "You know, if Yah-yah had known Lailah-Lan a few millennia ago, it would have saved us so many problems."

"I've thought the same thing myself. The things we could achieve if we only had pre-emptive hindsight. Or time travel. Humans have many stories about time travel you know."

"They can't do it can they?" Raphael was genuinely scared at the prospect. If the humans could go back in time, they could create havoc. They could even go back to the time of the Great Celestial War and change that.

"No, they can't. And I think their top people have dismissed the idea as impossible." Michael saw Raphael relax, and smiled. The idea of time travelling humans had terrified him as well. "But if they did, it could work for us, we could nip the Yah-yah problem before it ever reached this level. It's a pity, but time travel is impossible and we won't be facing it."

Raphael picked up his glass of whisky and sipped the contents. "How are our supplies of this?"

"Pretty good. I stocked up well as soon as Yah-yah came up with the idea of closing down the Earth operation." Michael sighed and looked around his palace. "All this idiocy because he threw a temper tantrum when humans refused to believe he created them."

"Well, he didn't." Raphael was just pickled enough to let his guard slip.

"I know that and you know that and the rest of Heaven knows that. Guess who doesn’t know that . That's right. Yah-Yah. Remember this Raphael, remember it well because you'll be running the show up here if anything happens to me. Yah-yah believes his own propaganda, believes it implicitly. Every myth, every legend he's imagined has become the truth to him and he won’t accept anything else. He'll drive out anybody who's thought patterns or beliefs differ from his. He hears what he wants to hear and nothing else. The Unbearable One believes what he wants to believe – and nothing else."

"If anything happens to you." Raphael paused as the implications of the words sank in. "You think the humans will kill you?"

"They might. They can. I don’t anticipate letting them succeed but they might pull something off. Only a fool expects everything to go the way they plan, Raphael. Another lesson for you. Success doesn’t depend on having the perfect plan. It depends on changing plans to match circumstances fast enough for the changes to be effective. And that means spotting deviations from the predicted course of events early enough to have time for those changes. If Yah-yah had watched humans and realized they weren't developing the way he expected earlier than he did? Well, we wouldn’t be fighting this stupid war for a start."

West of Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles, California

Uriel stepped through the tiny ellipse and closed it behind him. It had only been open a few seconds and he had hoped that the opening would have passed unnoticed but one look at the city spread out beneath him was enough to end that expectation. The lights across the city were flashing and the wailing of the sirens was enough to wake the dead. A curiously apt phrase Uriel thought. He noticed something else, as soon as the portal behind him closed, the sirens changed from their wailing to a long, steady single note. The humans were aware he was here and they knew his attack was about to start. He was becoming familiar with unusual sensations brought about by the humans so another one didn’t floor him. It's implications did for Uriel realized that he was afraid of humans.

He lifted his hand in the traditional benison and intoned the time-honored phrase. “Peace be with you and my peace I grant you.” His mind stretched out to the brilliantly-lit city below and started to squash down on all the life therein. Some of the response was familiar, he could feel the wildlife withering and dying under his touch. Other responses had become familiar over his last few incursions into this heresy-ridden and blasphemous country. He felt the solid blow of rejection, the grim determination of people not to succumb to his will. But there was something else there, a touch of something that hit Uriel much harder than just plain rejection. Some of the humans were welcoming his assault, they were using him as a measure against which they could test themselves. He was shocked beyond measure, the humans did not fear the god-like power that Uriel had over their lives, they were using it to assess themselves, to show they could do better than their rivals. They saw fighting Uriel as playing a game and they did so with the grim determination that they brought to every competition, every trial they faced. They were pitching themselves against the gods and they were doggedly certain that they were not going to lose. That was only one tiny step short of believing that they were gods themselves.

Then Uriel realized one other thing, one that he simply couldn't believe or accept. Some of the humans weren't just welcoming his attack as a chance to prove themselves, they were laughing at him.

Harvelles Blues Club, 4th Street, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

The Key Frances Band had lost the thread of their number when the assault from Uriel started. The sheer impact of the attack, driving the breath from their bodies and stopping their hearts made that inevitable. They and their audience was saved by the layers of foil that wrapped the club, from the outside walls down to the tinfoil hat that everybody present wore. It slowed down Uriel's attack, gave the intended victims that their autonomic systems were being suppressed and allowed them the few seconds they needed to adapt and fight the attempt to do murder upon them. Around the room, people grabbed each other's hands and braced themselves for the battle that was now starting.

Near the bar, one of the cocktail waitresses dropped the tray of drinks she was holding and staggered against a customer. He grabbed her and kept her on her feet, quickly reading her name-tag while he did. "Come on, Fantasia, keep going. You got a lot more drinks to serve, we're not all blasted yet."

"Then stop fondling my ass." Fantasia's voice was shaking but she's made it past the first few seconds of the attack and Eucalyptus Hills had suggested that was the critical bit. If people could switch from their breathing and heart beating being automatic to something that required a conscious effort to keep going, then their chance of making it went up many times over.

"But it’s a beautiful ass. Reminds me of mine." The customer winked at her and the waitress burst out laughing.

"Well, that's fine. I think. You can give one more pat for good luck then." She picked up another tray of drinks. "Hey, Joe, the first lot aren't coming out my pay are they?"

"Sure are Fantasia, you gotta pay what the customers pay." The waitress giggled and set off carefully across the floor towards a table where the glasses were running low. The band had picked up the rhythm again although their playing was noticeably shaky. Her sight was seriously impaired with dark shadows rubbing out most of her peripheral vision and darkening the rest. She guessed the others were having the same problems because the management seemed to be turning the lights up. That wasn't the worst though, it was the ever-present pressure, the constant effort needed to breath and live that were hardest. Finally she reached the table.

"Free drink people? Got whisky, vodka and brandy here And some mixers."

"Straight whisky for me, whatever type you've got." The man seemed to be suffering much less than most. Beside him, his wife panting hard while stroking a puppy she'd taken from one of the cages. Most of the tables seemed to have at least one adopted pet.

"You look like you're doing fine Sir." Fantasia managed to get the words out between breaths.

"Well, I got this pacemaker see. It's doing most of the work for me." Her customer smiled then looked at her with concern. Her skin was graying and there were shadows under her eyes. "You're welcome to sit with us and rest for a while if you want."

"Well, that's kind Sir. But I got my customers to serve." That was what was keeping her going, just the need to make sure that her tables were kept supplied and her customers happy. One trip from the bar to the tables and back at a time.

Mevaseret Tsiyon, Israel

The monster was horrible to behold. More than two hundred feet tall, brilliant scarlet that glowed in the moonlight, a huge misshapen head with seven faces scattered across it and ten horns sticking out. Giant bears paws for feet. And riding on its back, a stunningly beautiful angel, clad in red and purple robes. The Scarlet Beast leapt through the portal that had opened on the hills east of Jerusalem and stared at the city spread out before it. In its eyes was nothing but the lust for destruction. It took a couple of paces forward, towards the city where the warning sirens were wailing, then stopped. It crouched slightly and then left a giant steaming pile on the ground behind it. Nobody had ever house-trained the Scarlet Beast.

Ravseren Daniel Orlevaw had his section of Romach 175mm guns dug in just north of Mevaseret Tsiyon and that gave him a direct line of sight to the great beast that had emerged above Jerusalem. His gunners were already loading rounds into the breeches of the three guns in his position. He should have had four but one gun was away for repairs and the forces in Hell had top priority for spares and support. His fourth gun had been away for more than three months and he doubted very much whether he would see it again for another three at least.

There was one good thing at least. Before the Israeli army had pulled back from that particular area, they had pre-measured the ranges to every spot on it. With GPS telling him exactly where his own guns were, it was a simple matter to work out the firing solutions that would put his 175mm rounds on top of the Beast's head. It took but a moment and the three guns crashed almost simultaneously, the muzzle flash tearing the sky apart. Orlevaw watched the target through his binoculars and cursed as the rounds exploded on the hillside far behind the Beast. He'd allowed for it moving at normal animal speeds but this creature was capable of far more than that. While his guns reloaded, Orlevaw watched helplessly as the Beast tore into one of the small townships east of Jerusalem.

al Za'im, West Bank

"Leave your homes! Run for your lives! The Scarlet Beast Attacks!"

The jeeps raced through al Za'im, broadcasting their message as they went. The message was dire and there was little time. This was not a Uriel attack, the Israeli Army knew that Uriel was half a world away, assaulting Los Angeles, this was the Scarlet Beast and the Whore of Babylon. They were making their attack on the city of Jerusalem itself and anything that got in its way. Hiding was not an option, taking cover under metal foil and riding out the attack was not an option. The only way to survive was to run far and fast.

Husni al-Sohl, once a dedicated member of Hamas and a key member in one of its undercover cells, heard the message and knew what he had to do. The warnings were for civilians, for women and children and those without courage for a fight. These days there might be an uneasy truce between Israeli and Palestinian but when a greater enemy attacked, even uneasy and untrusting allies were well advised to stand together. And al-Sohl had an ace card in this battle, one that he knew the Israeli Army would badly need. Most of its soldiers and all of its new equipment were fighting in Hell. The troops here, on the roadblocks and in the general area were all reservists of the lowest category with old, time-expired equipment. Uzi 9mm machine pistols and 5.56mm rifles. Neither of them were much use against daemons and against the Scarlet Beast they were mere toys.

Al-Sohl had something that was not a toy. It was a pick-up truck, a Toyota Tundra to be precise, and it was packed with explosives. The stories had been told across the West Bank, of how the Americans at the Battle of Hit had been losing, their troops forced back, torn apart and eaten by the invading daemons. How they had been pushed to the last line of defense, their backs to the river, when the martyrs in their explosive-filled trucks had saved the day. How they had driven their trucks into the daemon formations, exploding them and taking the daemons to Hell with them. They had broken the daemon attack and that had allowed the Americans to regroup and bring up their helicopters to finish the job. And the stories were true for even the Americans had admitted the martyrs in their bomb-loaded trucks had played a vital part in that great battle.

He hustled his wife forward, pushing her towards another truck that was already filling up with people from the street. "Go, go!" He shouted at her. She looked at him and knew what he was planning. With a brief, heartbreaking nod, she boarded the truck and it rolled out, leaving him standing in the dust.

Husni al-Sohl walked back to the garage next to his house. It was much smaller than it had appeared from the outside but that was quickly corrected with a crowbar and hammer blows to the right places. The back wall collapsed and the truck was exposed. al-Sohl climbed into the driving seat and turned the key in the ignition. To his relief, the engine turned over and ran smoothly. He left the garage and turned left. There was no doubt where he had to go, the great figure of the Scarlet Beast already towered over al Za'im

Over Jerusalem, Israel.

The A-4 Skyhawk was old and it had already been grounded once as a result of a maintenance scandal. But, needs must when the devil drives and that expression was never more apt than during the Salvation War. The old aircraft had been pulled out of storage, hastily refurbished and issued to pilots that had already been retired themselves. Also for maintenance issues as the pilots wryly referred to their various medical conditions. But, in their hearts, they were still pilots and Menachem Gerev felt at home in the cramped cockpit in a way he felt nowhere else. Once again, the old Skyhawks were riding to the rescue the way they had back in '73. Gerev had fought in that war and still remembered the first day when more than 30 Skyhawks had failed to return from their strikes over the Suez Canal.

Still, he could see his target, the great Scarlet Beast that was moving through the ridges east of Jerusalem. His aircraft was armed with retarded 500 kilogram bombs fitted with fuze extenders. The reports from Hell Had been very clear. It was hard to kill the daemons and angels but massive damage and bleeding out would do the trick. With a little luck, his six bombs would do that. If they didn't, there were four more Skyhawks behind him who would take their turn. They were taking off as fast as they could be armed, each pilot desperate to get to the scene in time to save the city.

Gerev rolled out of level flight and started the long dive down towards the Scarlet Beast in front of him. Looking more carefully, he could see that the Beast had an angel on its back, her red and purple robes streaming back as her mount loped along. Well, that made things more interesting. He kept his Skyhawk under careful control, she was an old lady and had already reached the end of her years. Pushing her too hard would be a terminal mistake and this wasn't the time to make such errors.

As a matter of fact, it didn’t matter. The Skyhawk was too old and too slow for the job it was being asked to do. Making its bomb-run at subsonic speeds, the scream of its engine could be heard well before it was within drop range of its target. Sitting on the back of the Scarlet Beast, Dumah heard the noise and saw the jet approaching. Her mind focussed on it and she summoned her strength to emit a trumpet blast that rocked the clouds and shook the dust in the cracks of the rocks.

The old Skyhawk couldn’t take the shock. The trumpet blast crushed its structure as thoroughly as any mechanical scrapping equipment could have done. It folded up and disintegrated in mid-air, trapping Gerev in his cockpit. He was still there when the wreckage plowed into the ground just outside Jerusalem.

Triumph joined the exhilaration that came from riding the Scarlet Beast. Dumah reached forward and scratched it between some of its ears. "Well done Fluffy. We'll show them how humans should be treated, right?"

Then Dumah looked ahead of her. A small group of humans had formed up around some green vehicles and they were firing on her. She lifted her golden goblet to her lips and blew hard, sending a stream of dust-like smoke towards their positions. The men vanished under it and by the time it cleared, they were dead. sprawled out on the ground. As Fluffy galloped over the scene, one of his paws crushed the vehicle into fragments. Ahead of them, Jerusalem was wide open.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 39

LTR

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Over Los Angeles, California

"Just where the blazes is he?" Commander Mike Wong pulled his F-18H around, allowing its radar to scan the volume over Los Angeles. An older radar would have been swamped with returns, so many aircraft were crowding into the airspace over the City. But, the AESA radar could cope with the workload and, in any case, they had a E-3 AWACs up controlling the air battle. Or what would be the air battle if they could find somebody to battle against.

"Not up here, Squid." The voice on the radio was gently mocking. An Air Force pilot taking the opportunity to goad his naval equivalent.

"Cut the unnecessary chatter." The controller in the AWACs bird snapped the order out. "We've got enough to do making sure you hot-shots don't fly into each other."

"Say again, Coronet, he's not up here. All contacts are accounted for. He's got to be on the ground. Unless he's already made a run for it."

"Negative on that Dolphin-One. Ground reports the attack is still continuing, First deaths are being reported now."

Wong's mouth twisted as he pulled his F-18 into another turn. The theory was that the deaths from a Uriel attack would be exponential, a mere scattered handful at first but picking up numbers quickly as people's strength gave out. "If he is on the ground, he could be anywhere. We've got a real problem here."

Aboard E-3G "Coronet", Over Los Angeles

It was lucky Coronet had just arrived from the upgrade facility with her new displays and data processing computers. She'd been sent to Edwards for testing before the rest of her kind were pulled in for similar upgrades. Now, even the advanced data handling capability was being strained as far as it would go.

"The Squid is right, Sir. He just isn’t up here. He's got to be on the ground somewhere." Captain John Lacrosse stared at the displays showing the aircraft orbiting Los Angeles. He had a strange feeling that he was looking at Uriel's location right then, but he just lacked the insight to dig the answer out of the data. "Colonel, let's assume he is on the ground right?"

"We can take that as being pretty definitive."

"Well, he usually flies over the target but he's learned that's just too unhealthy for him. So, he's going to do the next best thing. Find himself some high ground and look down from there."

Colonel Findel thought that one over. "Do we know Uriel's capability is line-of-sight?"

"Do we know it isn't?"

"The DIMO(N) network location on the portal just said Los Angeles, it wasn't specific as to where. I don’t think its accurate enough for that. Uriel's down there somewhere. Even on the roof of a building."

"Doubt that Sir. Everybody with a heavy-caliber hunting rifle would be shooting at him. What we need is a display that shows us where the effects of the attack are being felt. That'll give us an idea. Problem is, we can't do it. Our equipment isn’t set up that way. Now if we had a JSTARS here it could be different. They're built to give land pictures."

Findel stared at the displays of the fighters circling the city, then glanced down at the brilliant lights of the city below. Finally, the penny dropped. "We have got a display, we've got the biggest one ever built."

The communications center was a few feet further forward from where he was standing. He took the few paces needed and patched through to the emergency control center on the ground.

"Report center? We need help up here. Uriel's grounded and we can't find him. We need to know what parts of the city are under attack and which ones are not . . . . . . . Yes, killing the lights in the unaffected part of the city will do fine. Just a minute or two should do it."

Down below, the lights covering more than half the city winked out. The E3Gs electro-optical system recorded the picture and by the time the lights came on again, the image was displayed in the airborne command center. The computers had superimposed a map on the image. Findel looked at it. Everything north of a line from Pico Rivera to Culver City was blacked out. So was everything east of a line from La Habra to Huntington Beach.

"So it is line of sight." Captain Lacrosse was relieved that his guess had been right. "And the only place that can give us that pattern is here, Hacienda Heights. If he was on Beverly Hills, he'd be hitting the whole coastline, not just this segment of it. And if he was south by lake Irvine, we'd have more coverage east. It has to be Hacienda Heights. All we need is to flush him out."

"We can do that. If we assume he's in an unpopulated bit, it has to be around here, by Turnbull Canyon. Get those two Bones on the line. We won’t flush him out, we'll blast him out.

Harvelles Blues Club, 4th Street, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

People were weakening, slowly but surely. Fantasia could see it and feel it within herself. The animals weren't doing so well, a tank of fish had already died and were floating on the surface of their aquarium. The reptiles were doing just as badly, the snakes and lizards were dead or dying. Looking around, she could see the dogs were doing best but even they were in grave distress, drooling helplessly and whimpering. There was a distinct pattern, the animals that bonded best with humans were surviving, those that did not were dying. As her drinks tray was refilled, Fantasia had a flash of insight, was the time-honored alliance of man and dog a relic of the time when both had sheltered together against the fury of a Uriel attack?

She was suddenly aware that her vision had almost dimmed out completely and she was on the verge of fainting. That would be certain death. She forced herself to breath deeply, sucking oxygen into her lungs and echoing the beating of her heart in her mind. Up on the stage the band was still playing but the drummer had peeled away from the score and was now tapping his drums in a fair simulation of a heartbeat. Fantasia focussed upon the sound and imagined her heart beating in time to it. The fuzzy gray from her vision cleared slightly.

"You OK Fanny?" The barkeep's face was a waxy white-gray with sweat beading his forehead and lips.

"Yeah, think so, just slipped for a moment there."

"Well, don’t do it again." The mock severity was as near as anybody could get to being funny. "Your customers are getting thirsty out there."

She was halfway across the floor when the whole room seemed to shudder. That's all we needed. An earthquake. But, the rolling thunder wasn't like any earthquake she'd heard. In fact, it wasn't like anything any American city had ever heard.

Israeli Army Road Block, al Za'im, West Bank

"Turn back, can't you see the Scarlet Beast is down there?"

The Israeli sergeant commanding at the road block tried to wave the truck down. His men were setting up their machine gun to stage a last-ditch defense of this point against the beast that was now barely a kilometer away. Husni al-Sohl brought the truck to a halt and wound down his window/.

"Let me throught. I am of Hamas and this truck is loaded with explosives. I can hurt that abomination much more than you."

The sergeant did a double take at the words. Not so long ago, the words would have caused the truck to be raked by machine gun fire. "You'll never get close enough."

"I will. Just put my foot down hard. I have the explosives on a simple dead man's switch, It'll work. And Sergeant, there are two RPG-7s in the back and a dozen rockets. Your men will need them."

Al-Sohl felt the truck rock as the soldiers scrambled into the truck bed and unloaded the rocket launchers. He heard on of them whistling. "Just how much explosive is in the back of this thing?'

"Six hundred kilos of the best anfo Hamas can make. And another two hundred kilos of nails. Iron nails.

"Be careful you could damage the suspension carrying that lot." The sergeant grinned at al-Sohl then snapped out something almost unknown in the Israeli Army, a reasonable approximation of a decent salute. He and his men held it as the truck drove through their checkpoint.

The Scarlet Beast had moved some more and was across the highway that led east from Jerusalem. Al Sohn floored his accelerator and headed straight down the road at the great monster that was carving a swathe of destruction through the valley leading up to the city. He had his windows up tight and the air conditioning turned off, hoping that the seal would be enough to keep the strange dust the Whore was using to wipe out those who stood against her. The truck was shaking and shimmying on the rough road surfaces, for all Toyota's efforts, their pick-up trucks just didn’t have the strength and stability of the Dodge and Chevvy rivals. The speedometer continued to click upwards and by the time the Beast and its rider responded, it was too late for them to stop the manned missile that was being aimed at them.

Dumah blew her stream of smoke at the racing truck and al-Sohl lost sight of his target as the gray fog enveloped his cab. He felt his lungs seizing up as the poison took hold, but he was close enough now and his last conscious act was to release the dead man's switch in his hand. Around him, the picture of the inside of his truck shrank to nothing, a tiny white dot in the center of his vision.

Al-Sohl saw strange things, weird shapes, strange colors, indescribable things that he forgot as soon as he saw them. Things that no human mind could ever recall because they were swamped out by the great white glow as the tiny dot in his vision swelled up and filled his vision. It changed, dimmed slightly then resolved into white and gray shadows. He blinked, his eyes slowly recovering and the shadows started to make sense. The white glow was lighting, the shadow was a woman bending over him. A nurse.

"Mr al-Sohl? Husni al-Sohl?"

He tried to croak out an answer but all he could do was to nod his head.

"That's wonderful. We've been keeping an eye open for you as the dead came through. The Israeli Army asked us to."

"Did I kill the Beast?" The voice was still a croak.

The nurse hesitated. "No, but you hurt him badly enough that he broke off the attack to recover. That bought enough time to evacuate more civilians from the area. Your sacrifice saved a lot of lives, tens of thousands of them. You’re quite the hero you know. We've even got some virgins who've volunteered to come over and give you a proper welcome."

Presidential Palace, Naypyidaw, Myanmar

"You let us down!" Than Shwe's voice was accusing and peevish.

Michael-Lan stared down at the ridiculous figure with something close to disbelief. "Pardon?"

"You promised us you'd help us with the war against the Siamese. Now we will have to run, spend the rest of our lives in exile because you failed us."

"If you think I promised you anything, little humans, you are sadly mistaken. I merely pointed out that the opportunities that were there for you. If you can't turn them into reality, then that's your fault."

"You owe us! We have been together for years, we closed our country off from the world so you could come here in peace."

"You were well paid for your services. Do you think I do not know how high were the prices you charged for your goods? And how low were the values you gave me for the jewels and gold you got in return." You are really, really pathetic, thought Michael, as if I, an archangel owe you anything or should treat you as anything more than humble menials. It is you who are duty-bound to us, not the other way around. We owe you nothing. Michael-Lan reflected that he rather liked humans but their constant demands to be treated as equals were wearing.

Still, despite these people's whining, they had done him proud on this trip. The power-assisted cart that he was using had been piled high with highly-refined number four heroin and huge numbers of methamphetamine tablets. They'd said they were cleaning out all their stocks and that appeared to be just what they had done. Even with his own literally superhuman strength augmented by the electric motors on the cart, he had difficulty overcoming the inertia of the huge cargo. It really was very, very heavy.

"Here, despite your rudeness, I have a final payment for you." Michael-Lan fished inside his robes and tossed Than Shwe a large bag, one stuffed with precious stones Michael had 'liberated' from Yahweh's palace. "They are a generous payment."

Than Shwe counted the stones, running them through his fingers. "Generous indeed. And they will have to be now our country is collapsing before the Siamese Army. Our exile will be a long one."

Michael-Lan raised his eyebrows at the whining voice, then jerked hard on the cart to get it around the corner that led out of the storeroom into the corridor that led to the outside of the palace building. At least, when the palace had been built, they'd had his bulk and size in mind so the corridors were high and wide. That made maneuvering the cart much easier. Michael reflected that the cart really was remarkably heavy.

Israeli Navy Submarine "Tekuma". Eastern Mediterranean

"The news is still bad?" Captain Alex Ben-Shoshan was almost hoping nobody would hear the question so he wouldn't get an answer.

"Very bad. The Scarlet Beast has broken into Jerusalem. It is laying waste the city and destroying all that is sacred there. The Whore of Babylon spreads her contamination across the city and none survive its poison. The Whore protects the Beast while the Beast destroys and together they kill everything. The dead already number in their hundreds of thousands. " The Executive Officer on the submarine took a deep breath and stabilized his voice. The news from Tel Aviv had been shocking, the city had fallen, surviving humans were streaming away from it in great columns. For the first time in the Salvation War, a human city had fallen to the netherworlders and its population reduced to panicking refugees.

"What about our allies? Is there no help coming for us?"

"General Petraeus is sending aid, at least a corps of his army. But he must assemble them first, they are spread all over Hell, trying to stabilize the situation there. Then he must open a portal, move them through and get them ready to fight. By that time, there will be little left of us to save."

Ben-Shoshan sighed. The eternal strategic curse of Israel, the country was simply too small. All its vital areas were packed closely together and an attack on one could hardly avoid damaging the rest. If the Scarlet Beast and the Whore finished destroying Jerusalem and then moved to the country's heartland, it would all be over.

"Is there any word from Tel Aviv? Do they have orders for us."

"Yes, Captain. For us, for Dolphin and for Leviathan. We are to prepare for Operation Masada immediately. We are designated as the prime shooter with the other two backing us up. We must destroy the Beast before it moves out of Jerusalem. Authorization to fire can be expected very soon. Tel Aviv says we are to be ready."

"Then we shall. Order the munitions experts to prepare the packages and get our missiles ready to shoot." Ben-Shoshan laughed sadly. "When I joined the submarine arm and learned of our missiles, I had many ideas about the day we would finally use them. But never once did I think of a situation like this."
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 40

LTR

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B-1C “Spirit of Sheffield”, Over Los Angeles

“We’ve joked about doing this you know. Never thought we actually would.” Group Captain Martin Winters was keying the GPS coordinates for the 96 GBU-39 bombs nestling in the Spirit of Sheffield’s bomb bay. Behind him, he knew that the weapons systems operator on the second B-1C, Spirit of Detroit was doing the same.

“What, bomb a U.S. City? We had plans for that was well, and we weren’t joking. But then SAC had plans for everything.” Colonel Fitzhubert was an old SAC hand, recalled to the colors along with every other veteran with a pulse and a body temperature greater than ambient. Or so it seemed. “Double and triple-check those coordinates, we’re threading a needle with these things.”

That was an understatement, Winters thought. The bombs had to go down along a thin strip of rough country between the built up areas on Hacienda Heights and the crowded city of Whittier down in the valley. They were lucky they had small-diameter bombs. He could imagine the chaos that two thousand pound bombs could cause down there. “Everybody keeping out of our way?”

“You bet. The fighters are hanging back, waiting for us to flush the game. As soon as Uriel bales out of his cover, we’re out of here and they’re in. Guns and missiles blazing. And the two Scalpels of course.”

“How does that look?” The display showed the bright areas of built-up Los Angeles with a red spot indicating the predicted impact point of the bombs. They formed a dense mass, completely blanketing the Turnbull Canyon area. Spirit of Detroit was making her run at almost a 90 degree angle, pounding the area between Hacienda Heights and La Habre. They had the bad job, there were a small number of scattered homes in that area and the chance of people in them surviving was slight.

“Good job. Let’s hope it all works.” Fitzhubert swung the B-1 around and set the bomb-navigation system to make the optimum delivery run. Bombing people had come a long, long way in a just a little less than a century. “And how do you like the B-1C?”

“She’s beautiful. Can’t wait until we get our hands on ours.” Winters paused and then spoke awkwardly. “I’d like to thank you guys for her name. On behalf of those who didn’t get out of the city.”

“It seemed right somehow. You know two of the Russian Blackjacks are named For Sheffield and For Detroit?”

Winter nodded . “The cities need to be remembered, it’ll be hard enough rebuilding them in our lifetimes. Ah, here we go.”

Underneath the B-1, the bomb bay doors had opened and the GBU-39s were spilling out in a steady stream.

West of Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles, California.

Uriel sat cross-legged on the ground, his wings folded behind him, every nerve concentrating on transmitting his will to the humans gathered beneath him. They were resisting him, fighting him even more strongly than the humans at Eucalyptus Hills and El Paso had fought him. It was as if the very fact that others had proved fighting was possible that inspired these humans to try and outdo the earlier efforts. With almost grim despair, Uriel realized that was precisely what was happening and its significance was not lost on him. Every city, every target he attacked from now on would fight harder than the last. His brain tiring from the effort just added pathos to Uriel’s sudden realization that Heaven was going to lose this war.

Whether paying attention to his surroundings would have made any difference to Uriel was dubious to put it mildly. The B-1s were flying so high that their sound barely reached the ground anyway and it was lost in the blizzard of noise from the circling fighters and the howling of the sirens in the city below. Uriel was lost in his effort to bring his peace to the humans below and even if he had heard the sound of the B-1s high overhead, there was little he could do about it. The bombs were already on the way down.

It was the first ripple of explosions that warned him of the mortal danger he was in. They snapped him out of his trance and broke the concentration of effort he needed to maintain his drive to peace. The bombs exploded several hundred yards to the north of him, their orange flowers looking curiously beautiful in the darkness. As the tide of fire grew nearer to him, Uriel saw something strange and terrible forming, a hideously beautiful silver-blue wall that seemed to devour everything in its path. The sight filled Uriel with terror for as an archangel more deeply associated with death than any other, he knew that silver-blue wall meant death and it was coming for him. For a brief, terrible second he thought of the oblivion he had sent so many millions into and he feared it. Worse, he feared that those others might be waiting for him there.

It was that thought, that he would have to answer for what he had done to the humans in the name of his peace, that broke the spell. Uriel hurled himself into the air, clawing desperately for altitude, his efforts to bring his peace to the humans forgotten. All he knew was that he had to get away with that deadly silver wall and make a portal through which he would escape. In his heart, Uriel knew that he would never again bring his benison of peace to another human community. Even if he survived this night, the humans had broken his spirit. They’d won.

Harvelles Blues Club, 4th Street, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, California

The earthquake shook the club, rattling glasses behind the bar and sending them shimmying off the tables. For a brief moment, it looked as if the crowd were going to panic but the club host was on top of the situation. In any case, he had been listening to a police scanner and knew what the shaking really meant.

“Ladies, gentlemen and other species.” Once again the joke got an appreciative roar from the crowd. “There is no need to panic. The Air Force had found Uriel and the noise is their aircraft bombing his position on the ground. There are more fighters than we can count overhead and they’ll get him. Oh my, will they get him.”

The host paused, he’d suddenly realized something critically important. He wasn’t having to force himself to breath, the pressure forcing him to die was gone. “And, everybody, the Uriel attack is over. The bombing must have forced him to stop. We’ve won. Everybody, we’ve won. And to celebrate, everybody join the band.” He spoke quickly and the band nodded gleefully. Then the thumping rhythm started and the entire audience slammed their hands down in time and echoed the chorus.

“You got mud on yo’ face.
Yo’ a big disgrace.
We’re kickin yo ass all over the place.
We will we will rock you.
We will we will rock you.”

F-18H Over Los Angeles, California

“There he is! Damn, he’s a big bastard.” Wong pulled his F-18 around in a tight racking curve to bring its nose to bear on the great shape that was leaping into the sky. The monster was at least twice the size of the Greater Harpy Heralds he had killed on the first day of the Salvation War, it’s massive bulk starkly outlined by the orange-red explosions that swamped the area where it had been hidden just a few seconds before. Wong saw it trying to claw skywards, trying to get away from the jets that were already converging on its position. Uriel tried to face one of the jets and trumpet but the sound blast was weak and feeble. Probably winded by the blast of the bombs that were still exploding underneath him Wong thought. Then, Uriel seemed to stagger in mid air as two AIR-120 rockets from an F-15 plowed into him.

That was when Wong saw the one thing that none of the human pilots wanted to. A great black ellipse was forming in the sky ahead of Uriel. The monster was running for it, running to escape the pent-up vengeance that was waiting for him at the hands of the humans. The F-18 suddenly bounded forward as its throttles were firewalled and the afterburners turned raw fuel into thrust. Uriel was lurching in the air, Wong realized that he was already hurt, his flying ability degraded by cumulative injuries. He saw Uriel lose stability in the air as the supersonic shock wave from the F-18s passing hit him and the beast tumbled down before trying to regain a path to the ellipse and safety.

The F-18 was doing almost 900 knots when it went through the ellipse. Wong saw the dark of an Earth night replaced by the clear white light of Heaven, saw the green fields and crystal clear sky surrounding him, saw the ellipse behind. He had little time, he skidded his fighter around in a tight curve whose shock waves flattened the crops underneath and sent the humans laboring in the fields flat on their faces. Well, Wong thought at least they’ve learned about supersonic bangs today. Ahead of him, staring at the racing fighter was an angel, a white figure, taller than a human, with great wings folded behind him. Wong couldn’t resist the temptation, the Angel was on a direct line between his aircraft and the portal. It was the work of a split second to dip the nose slightly, thumb the cannon button, then watch the angel fall and disappear in a cloud of dust and explosions as the strafing pass bit home.

Then, white light and green fields were replaced by the darkness of Earth night, a night lit up by the city lights below and the streams of gunfire and the exhaust trails of missiles in the skies above. Wong saw almost instantly that the only reason why Uriel was surviving lay in the sheer numbers of human aircraft that were fighting him. He was alone, he had no allies, no friends, everything that surrounded him was hostile. The human pilots were having to watch each other, avoid each other’s maneuvers and make sure they didn’t shoot each other down. It was an old story, then had been many such tales in the past, of heroic fights by one against many. They always had the same basic problem at their heart, the way a single fighter alone could use the numbers of enemies surrounding them to survive. But they all ended the same way, one day, the single fighter would run out of luck and die.

Uriel had been heading for the ellipse again when Wong’s F-18 streaked out of it. It was a perfect AIR-120 shot, the angel and the fighter were on a direct collision course, there was no need for deflection, no need for leading the target. Another quick thumb stroke on the firing button and four AIR-120s hurtled from their racks and closed the target. The last one missed, to avoid a collision Wong had had to swerve at the last second and that had thrown his aim off, but the other three scored direct hits, one up high near Uriel’s chest, the other two low-down in his groin. Wong passed Uriels head so close that he could see every detail of his face. For the rest of his life, he would swear that Uriel’s eyes were crossed as a result of the pain and shock from the two AIR-120 hits in his groin.

He had worse problems than just trying to avoid colliding with Uriel though. Brilliant orange-red streaks passing his cockpit. Tracers, an F-16 was behind him, snapping out short bursts of cannon fire.

“Can it, you damned fool!” Wong almost screamed in rage.

“Sorry Squid. Saw you come out of the portal and I thought you were one of them.”

“Bloody Air Farce.” Wong simmered down slightly and swerved his fighter around to line up for another pass. Uriel was still airborne but he was staggering, trying to trumpet, to create a new portal and to emit his killing waves all at once. Shock and injuries were overcoming him and in his anguish he was trying to do everything at the same time and, as a result, he was achieving nothing. He was writhing and flailing in the middle of the mass of fighters that tormented him. Wong felt not the slightest shred of pity for him, and he lined his F-18 up for another pass at the dying archangel.

Presidential Palace, Naypyidaw, Myanmar

Captain Madeuce coughed, the spasms racking his body. The cloth he used to cover his mouth came away stained with dark green mucus, a darker, red-gray dirt that was even more ominous than the infection-laden slime and a spattering of bright red blood. None of it surprised him. The scientific name for what was killing him was Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, the common name was acute silicosis. To Madeuce it was ‘rocks in the chest’ and he knew he didn’t have much longer to go. Every time had had seen the doctors, the prognosis had been worse. Their forecast had dropped from decades to years, and now was but a more few months. And those months would not be good ones.

It was his visit to the Hell-Pit that had killed him. He’d breathed the dense clouds of volcanic dust for over a week without any form or protection and the fine pumice had infiltrated every portion of his lungs. It was too heavy for the normal actions of breathing to expel so it had settled there, irritating the tissues around the particles. The lungs had dealt with the problem their traditional way, by producing mucus. Only, that had been absorbed into the pores of the pumice and what had started as a fine dust had quickly set into solid cement. In its simplest, most accurate version, Madeuce was suffocating as his lungs filled with rocks. Just to make matters worse, the pumice agglomerates had sharp edges and were tearing at the delicate tissues around them. The doctors had tried everything they could think of but it was no use. The damage was too great and it all went to show that First Life human beings had no real place in Hell and even less in the Hell-Pit.

“You all right boss?” His sergeant had real concern in his voice, he recognized the symptoms of asphyxia easily enough. The blue shadows under the eyes and around the lips, the constant heaving for breath, the blue-tinged fingertips.

“Will be soon enough.” Madeuce shook himself. He had this last job to do then he would be out of the Army. Total disability for the few months he had left. Then, things would get better. He’d been quietly contacted by some old friends who knew some other friends who were part of the new Roman Army. There were commissions for those who wanted them, who had talents that the new army needed. And it helped that Jade Kim was Second Consul. Madeuce looked back on his work with her with nostalgic affection even though he knew the fighting there had killed him as surely as a bullet, bomb or artillery round. She’d remembered him as well and put in some glowing words on his behalf. So, his Second Life as a Tribune in the Legions was set up. He just had to live out his first one.

“Here he comes. That’s Michael-Lan-Yahweh himself. He’s one big sucker isn’t he.” The Sergeant sounded impressed.

“He’ll be one dead sucker soon.” Madeuce coughed again and wiped his lips. It was getting so that even coughing was wearing him out. “He’s opening the portal now. Is the kit getting all the readings?”

“Sure is Boss. And we’re datalinking them right out of here, back to DIMO(N) field operations. They’re getting everything we pick up.”

“Right. He’s moving down there. Taking his crap with him.” Madeuce reached down and punched a code into a transmitter box, unlocked a keyed handle then lifted it up and twisted it. “Surprise package now activated. It’ll blow in five minutes. Let this be a lesson to the whole team Sergeant, just say no to drugs.”

Down in the palace courtyard, Michael-Lan stopped pulling his cart and looked at Than Shwe with exasperation. The idiotic man was still whining about how Michael had betrayed him and left him to the mercy of the wretched Siamese. While Michael thought he did have some cause to be upset, in the final analysis he had brought all this down on his own head. One of the signs of wisdom was the ability to resist temptation. Michael reached out with his mind and detected the familiar ground he used for his transits to and from Earth. He found it, localized it and then opened up the portal. He waved a cheery farewell to the assembled Myanmarese dignitaries and then pulled his cart through the portal to its destination.

It really was a remarkably heavy cart. Michael-Lan was using a significant portion of his strength to pull it, even with the electric motor helping him. Once the other side of the portal, he paused to catch his breath. It was a blessed relief to be away from that wretched Myanmar junta. They’d spent all their time whining at him, instead of shutting up and listening to the wisdom he could impart. Complaint after complaint, accusation after accusation. Nothing but the constant effort to shift the blame to other shoulders. Self-justifying miserable. . . .

Michael-Lan stopped suddenly. It was just as if they had spent all their time justifying themselves. Just as if . . . . .

He found himself looking at the cart he had pulled through the now-closed portal. It really had been incredibly heavy for the load it represented. Neither Number 4 heroin nor methamphetamine pills were that heavy. An idea suddenly came to Michael-Lan and he shook his head in admiration. “Clever, clever little humans.”

It was the work of a moment to start the motor on the cart and fix its towbar so it would move in a straight line. Then he reopened the portal, pushed the cart through and closed it again behind the cargo. He wasn’t quite sure what was in there but he did guess that he wanted to be as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible.

Captain Madeuce and his small team were already beginning to take down their equipment when he saw the portal suddenly reform and the cart loaded with a variety of drugs and a single fifty kiloton nuclear warhead come rumbling back through it. He dived for the weapons control box, trying to slam his hand down on the emergency abort transmitter built into it. He almost made it.

Human Expeditionary Army, Field Headquarters, Yangon, Myanmar.

“Well, we always knew it was a win-win proposition.” General Petraeus looked at the mushroom cloud boiling over Napyidaw on the direct feed from the Global Hawk reconnaissance drone. “If it worked, we got rid of Michael but if it didn’t we got rid of those idiots in Napyidaw. One of the nice things about governments that insist on putting themselves in remote locations with only their closest supporters for company, makes a clean sweep just that. Nice and clean.”

“We lost Captain Madeuce and his team.” General Asanee was looking at the mushroom cloud as well. With the last remnants of the Myanmar military junta gone, the country could be handed over to a reasonable civilian administration again. There was so much rebuilding to do, it would keep them occupied for decades.

“They got the information through though. Complete readouts on the portal Michael-Lan-Yahweh used to get back to Heaven. The DIMO(N) people are ecstatic, they reckon we can duplicate that portal within days. Then we can get the Army into Heaven and start taking that place apart. We did good here General, let’s hope the battles at Los Angeles and Jerusalem go as well.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 41

LTR

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Israeli General Command Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel

There had been a time when Muamur al Zahari had dreamed of getting into this room. Of course, in those dreams he had been wearing an explosive vest and the blast that took him to Paradise would also send the entire command staff of the Israeli defense forces to Hell. Now, he was their guest, an ally of sorts and the whole question of who went to Hell and why had been changed out of all recognition. The implications of that could be confusing, but only a fool refused to recognize the changes brought about by time. Anyway, he was finding the chaos in front of him amusing. Just one question tormented him. If this was the Israeli General Staff in action, didn’t the fact the country they defended had survived so long suggest that his own command staff were even worse? The likely answer to that simple question appalled him.

“Just what the blazes is going on up there?” General Andras Marosy stomped across the operations room floor and stared at the map.”

“It’s bad ground, terrible ground in fact. The inclines are steep, there’s more dead ground than we can shake a stick at, and the valleys all run against us. We’ve got some artillery but it’s all long-range stuff. A Romach battery, some 155s of assorted types. All guns, no howitzers. We can’t lob shots into the valleys. Whoever picked this location knew exactly how to exploit our weaknesses. The only thing to hurt the Scarlet Beast so far was that truck bomb.” The Israeli officers looked at al Zahari with a mixture of respect and resentment. After sixty years of hostility it was hard to admit that they were on the same side, even harder to accept that Hamas had struck the only effective blow against the Scarlet Beast and the Whore so far.

“Well done Colonel, a masterly exposition that completely fails to answer the question. I said, what’s going on up there? Or would you prefer I sent you in a jeep to find out?” General Marosy closed his eyes and muttered some choice epithets under his breath. A classically-trained officer he had long believed that the IDF were a superb example of the concept of lions lead by donkeys. It was significant that there was not a single Israeli officer in multi-national command positions anywhere in the Human Expeditionary Army. They were brave enough, gallant to a fault, but their staff-work was appalling. And, in the final analysis, staff-work won wars.

“The last message we had was 30 minutes ago.” The Colonel glanced sideways at the situation map and, to his relief, saw it had been updated. “It said that the Scarlet Beast had resumed its attack on Jerusalem after breaking off to recover from the effects of the truck bomb. It was reported in the city and was being fought by whatever troops, our own and Hamas, some Fatah as well of course, but they had only small arms. The Beast made a point of getting as close to our people as it could, as quickly as it could. That’s limiting our heavy weapons use. It’s crushing the city.”

“Crushing it? Is that all we have?”

“Yes General, it is. Not quite, one of the messages from police units inside the city said that the Whore of Babylon riding the Beast is stunningly beautiful.”

“I’m sure that is going to make a great deal of tactical difference.” Marosy spoke with a combination of weariness and anger. “Patch me through to H.E.A. Headquarters.”

The Communications Officer created the communications link. It was a complex one for the relatively short distance it had to go. It went from the HQ to the communications complex, up to a satellite, down to the earth station outside Baghdad, by microwave link to Hellgate Alpha, through the Alpha portal on a fiber optics link, then back to a microwave to the HQ building outside Dis. It took all of 20 seconds to establish.

“Could I speak with General Petraeus please?”

A clipped British accent responded. “General Petraeus is in Myanmar wrapping up operations there. I am his Chief of Staff, General Michael Jackson. You need help with the Scarlet Beast of course?”

“Yes Sir. We have only light infantry here and it’s tearing us apart.”

“I understand. We have portals opening now. We’ve brought in kitten to open them and she’s hard at work. We’ll have five divisions between the Beast and Tel Aviv by morning. The Aussies are sending in some F-111s to do the strike work.”

“General Jackson, we’ve lost eight aircraft already.”

“I know, all old Skyhawks. The Pigs are a different class of aircraft entirely and the Aussie pilots know how to fly them. Very aggressive pilots they are.” Sir Michael Jackson paused, it was the times when people standing on a parade ground had to drop flat as Australian F-111s flew overhead that were the epitome of ‘very aggressive’. And they had made the USAF rue the day they had pulled the F-111 from service. “Just hang on, Jerusalem’s a write-off but we’ll be there to stop any further damage. And don’t send any more troops in without full chemical warfare suits. The Whore sprays something we haven’t identified yet. Whatever it is, it’s lethal.”

“Thank you sir.” Marosy broke the connection before sighing. It appeared the H.E.A. knew more about what was happening few miles away that he did. That did not surprise him.

“Excuse me General.” al-Zahari was standing at one side of the room, looking at the operational display. “I thought you had three submarines at sea?”

“We do. Dolphin and Tekuma were at sea anyway, Leviathan sortied as soon as this attack started.”

“Well there are only two on this map.”

Marosy looked at the map and saw that the Palestinian was right. There were display indicators tagged for Dolphin and Leviathan but no sign of Tekuma .

Over Hacienda Heights, Los Angeles, California.

“Gangway, big boys coming through.” And that was an understatement thought Michael Wong. With the Bones on their way back to base, the YAL-1s were by far the largest aircraft in the battle. They had taken time to join in the wild furball over Los Angeles but now their great shadows were making a beeline for Uriel. It wasn’t hard to miss him. Wong stopped himself there, actually it was very easy to miss him. He guessed that only a small handful of the thousands of cannon shells that had been poured at the archangel had actually hit him. The fighters had stopped using rockets, to Wong’s certain knowledge at least three aircraft had gone down to friendly fire in the chaos. He’d seen them go, an F-15 taken down by an AIM-120, an F-16 by a pair of AIR-120s and a National Guard F-4 that had made the terrible mistake of getting between a Warthog and its target. Going by the fires on the ground, there had probably been others. In a strange way he was glad he had run out of ammunition and was leaving the battle area. Fighting Uriel was one thing but the thought he might accidentally take out a friendly weighed heavily on his mind.

Uriel was floundering, lashing out at the aircraft that swarmed around him. Wong was forced to remember the old King Kong movie with the giant ape trapped on top, his arms clutching at the aircraft flying around it. Uriel kept trying to form portals to escape but the aircraft were constantly forcing him away from each. Nobody had yet tried Wong’s trick of flying through the portal and coming back out on a collision course and that pleased the Commander greatly. That maneuver would give him bragging rights for months. Then he saw something he had never seen before and for the first human to shoot down a daemon and the first living human into Heaven, that said something. A bright red streak of light flashed across the sky and transfixed Uriel.

YAL-1A “Scalpel-One ,” over Los Angeles, California

“Laser is powered up, Sam, we’re ready to shoot.”

“Very good, lock on to that beast with the target designation laser. Main laser, prepare to fire.” There was a problem in using big, powerful lasers in an atmosphere. Microscopic drops of water in the air vaporized when the laser hit them, forming tiny lenses that dispersed the laser beam. It was called blooming and that’s what allowed the otherwise invisible beam to be seen. It also degraded the power of the laser and increasing the energy it contained to compensate didn’t help much. The more power in the beam, the faster the droplets turned into lenses and the greater the energy losses became. On its own, that made for a losing game. The answer had been remarkably simple once somebody had thought of it. Shine a medium power laser at the target first and it would clear all the water droplets out of the way. Then fire the main beam down the channel before they had a chance to reform. It sounded cranky but it worked.

Mickey Jennings had Uriel firmly in his sights. The target designation laser was already pouring data into the fire control system. Then, he initiated the main COIL laser and held the firing switch down for the full four seconds, watching the temperature gauge read-out as he did so. It crept higher as the laser shot stressed the system. Then the beam snapped off.

It had struck Uriel just under his rib cage, between his spine and the side of his body, slicing straight through him. For all four seconds of its life, it tracked backwards, cauterizing the wound as it went, but carving off a great swatch of Uriel’s side. For a fraction of a second, the slice stayed with him, but it quickly peeled away and plummeted to the ground beneath him.

To Uriel, already dazed with pain from the damage done by the fighters and exhausted from his efforts to escape, what had hit him was beyond any form of comprehension. The burning pain of the target tracking laser had been bad enough but the agony from the main COIL laser filled his mind and soul. He could feel it slicing into him, feel it tear at his body but there was nothing there to explain the horror that he knew was ending his life. Just light, clear, pure light. His muscles crippled by the great tear in his body, he started to fall from the sky. In a strange way, that saved his life for a few moments because the sudden change in direction threw the laser beam from Scalpel-Two off. The YAL-1 was an anti-missile system, designed to shoot down targets that moved on a steady, predictable course. The COIL shot just brushed Uriel’s face but that was enough to blind him, the thermal bloom destroying his eyes in a way that even his superb body repair capability couldn’t fix.

“He’s getting away!” Allansen brought his big aircraft around in a tight turn, its airframe creaking and groaning with the G-loads. It was, after all, a converted Boeing 747F and it was designed to civilian standards. Its airframe was flexing in ways that its designers had never contemplated. Nor had the designers of the COIL laser that filled its fuselage. “Hit him again.”

Jennings looked at the temperature gauges, they were still too high but Uriel had slaughtered tens, hundreds, of thousands in this war alone. How many he had massacred in his life was a number nobody else would ever know but Jennings had already decided that there would be no more. He designated Uriel’s falling shape and once again the great laser in the YAL-1 flashed out for its four second burst.

Uriel, blinded, desperate and dying didn’t feel the laser as it carved through his chest and into his neck. He was beyond pain, beyond exhaustion. All he wanted now was some of the peace that he had brought to the humans. The humans who had once cowered beneath him but had learned how to resist his will and to enforce their own on him. A fourth laser burst, the second fired from Scalpel-Two, slashed through his wings, finishing any chance he might ever have had of flying his way out of this death trap.

In Scalpel-One, Allansen and Jennings saw Uriel plummeting to the ground far below. The YAL-1 was still turning and Jennings saw the body drifting into his sights. Without having to be given the order, he designated the archangel and squeezed out his third burst from the laser, noting grimly that the temperature gauges were already well into the danger zone. It was a well-aimed shot, one that finally split Uriel’s head and ended his long life. He never heard the explosion that coincided with him hitting the ground.

It was the combination of turns and rising temperature that had done it. The turns, far tighter and faster than authorized had stressed the aircraft and the plumbing of its laser well beyond specifications. The three laser shots, fired in faster sequence than the book permitted, had pushed pressure in the system up to lethal levels. One pipe, not an important one as it happened but in this context that didn’t matter, ruptured and sprayed the volatile laser fuel over the heated laser modules. The flash fire that resulted did the rest by rupturing the fuel tanks and igniting their contents. Scalpel One exploded in mid-air at the precise moment Uriel died.

Orange Crush Interchange, Los Angeles, California

The Salvation War was a truly multi-national enterprise. That was why sub-munitions made in South Africa were delivered to China for installation in 227mm rockets that were shipped in Greek freighters to Hell where they were issued to American MLRS batteries that gained their mobility from oil that had been drilled in Saudi Arabia and refined in Singapore before being carried by Norwegian tankers to Dutch-built storage facilities on the shores of Hell. Early in the war, at least three economists were reputed to have committed suicide after trying to work out how to pay for everything.

What had made the system possible was the revival of an old system called Lend-Lease. In effect, every nation in the Grand Coalition was supplying whatever it could and it had been agreed that the nations would settle up after the war was over. This was where the Principality of Monaco played its vital part in the war effort. Monaco didn’t have tanks or jet fighters although it did have a well-armed and remarkably courteous police force. What it did have were armies of accountants who were furiously engaged in tracking who was building what and who was supplying which arms to which country. They knew what the balances were and who would owe what to whom. They also acted as a clearing house who matched operational requirements to suppliers.

And that was how a Russian-built MZKT-79221 truck painted U.S.A.F. blue was making its way up Interstate 5. Air Force Sergeant Franzing had been watching the fighting over the city as he had neared Los Angeles, the sky covered with the red streaks of tracer fire and the exhaust trails of missiles. He’d also seen the massive explosion that had ended the battle and wasn’t surprised to find Los Angeles was studded with fires. There was one massive one over to his left and at least half a dozen medium-sized ones scattered over the city. The small fires were everywhere. Whatever had happened here had done a lot of damage. He was making his way towards the Orange Crush interchange when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. They had the road blocked with police cruisers and emergency flares were marking out all the available lanes. That meant an imposing array of flares. State Police Officer Earl Scott was, nevertheless, impressed by the sheer mass of automobile engineering that was stopped in front of him.

“Just what is that thing?”

Air Force Sergeant Franzing looked down at the police officer below him. “It’s a very big truck.”

Once, that remark would have been an invitation to a prompt arrest on a charge of ‘contempt of cop’ but the police officers were too overwhelmed by the chaos in the city to take umbrage. Scott had sheltered from the Uriel attack in a Salvation Army hostel before returning to duty when the attack ceased. Now he was trying to keep traffic away from the disaster area north of the Santa Ana River. “Doesn’t matter how big it is, you’ll have to stop here.”

“Not possible Officer, I’ve got to get this baby back to AMARC right away. There’s aircraft needing to be rebuilt up there.”

“Just do as I tell you. There’s no way you’re getting through, no matter how big that thing is.” The gearhead side of Scott won out. “What is it anyway, 16 by 16?”

“Nah, the trailer wheels are powered as well. 24 by 24. This mother can go anywhere I want. So let us through, OK?”

“Not OK, no way. Look, Sergeant, we’ve got a 747 down on Angel Stadium that’s blocking the highway completely. There’s an F-15 down in Disneyland and believe me, the Sleeping Beauty castle ain’t never going to look the same again. There’s another Air Force bird down on Katella High School. Couple of other crashes and small scattered fires. The city transport system is shot. This area’s bad enough normally, now with everybody wanting home after the Uriel attack and the Man himself skewered on the Crystal Cathedral, it’s as bad as it has ever been. You’re stuck, live with it.”

“Whoa, Uriel’s down? I saw the air battle going on driving up here but we got him?”

“We sure did. Or the Air Force did. They had a couple of laser planes in at the end. Never seen anything like it, they sliced and diced the bastard in mid-air. Sergeant, I’d get you through if I could but there ain’t no way at all.”

Franzing sighed. The big trucks were used to carry aircraft from the AMARC facility to factories around the country where they could be refurbished for use or broken up for spares. It had been a pretty good detail all things considered. Still if I really am stuck here. . . .

“Officer, sorry I mouthed off at you. Look, can I go see Uriel’s body?”

Scott laughed. “You and a hundred thousand other people. Everybody not going home is converging on Chapman to view the body. Those that can, those downed planes have screwed traffic up beyond all reason. Get in the line Air Force, it’s gonna be a long wait before you get to spit on the corpse.”

Franzing looked back at the long length of empty trailer behind him. “You know, the brass are going to want that body moved sooner or later. Study it, cut it up, stuff it and mount it, whatever. It’ll fit on this baby just fine. What say you we load Uriel on the back and parade him around the town for a bit? I can’t take my baby off the main streets but we can have our own victory parade and when the brass decide what to do, well, you’ve already got him on a truck ready to move out right.

Scott burst out laughing. “Parade the sonofabitch around the town. That works for me. I’ll pass the idea back to my watch commander. I guess the high-ups will want the final word on this but if I had my way, we’d be on our way down there right now.”
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 42

LTR

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War Room, White House, Washington D.C.

Chaos, pure unadulterated chaos. The entire war-room staff had gone collectively mad to the point that even Air Force and Navy commanders were exchanging high-fives and back-slaps. Four Secret Service men had rushed into the room, believing that the uproar meant the President was being attacked. Now, the one female member of that team had been grabbed by a grizzled Marine general and taken for an impromptu waltz on the war-room floor. Only the sight of two words on the great screen that dominated the room had stopped her throwing him across the floor. Those two words were very simple. Uriel Dead.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please calm down." President Obama noted how quickly the room returned to order once he had made the demand. "Celebrations are in order and we'll have a proper one shortly. First order of business, we have to count the cost of our victory tonight. Is there any word from Los Angeles?"

"Sir, the local law enforcement, National Guard and U.S. Volunteers are recovering Uriel's body while we speak. It's impaled on a glass spire, part of the Crystal Cathedral. Problem is congestion in the area, everybody and their brothers are turning up to see the sight. Police are trying to get a big Air Force truck through to the scene but the roads are blocked to Hell and back." General Van Allan couldn’t help reflect on the fact that the expression he had just used now had a literal and tangible meaning. Despite the numbers of permanent portals linking Earth and Hell, traffic congestion was a problem at all of them.

"Casualties, how many casualties?"

"Word is still coming in Sir. So far we know we lost more than a dozen aircraft including one of the YAL-1s. Some were shaken apart by trumpet blasts but most were own goals. It was a wild furball over the city Mister President, a completely uncontrolled dogfight. On the ground, Uriel was breaking through the screening when the B-1s flushed him. A few moments more and we would have had hundreds of thousands of deaths on our hands. It was that close. As it was, we think between ten and twenty thousand people died city-wide from the Uriel attack and many more from the lost aircraft crashing. More still from expended munitions and fragments hitting the ground. Sir, we may have won this one, but it's been the bloodiest fight on American soil since Gettysburg."

Obama nodded. "Find out what aid Los Angeles needs to get the situation under control and make sure it arrives there. FEMA is already committed helping the refugees from the East Coast and Tornado Alley, we'll have to ask for outside assistance on this. The Canadians perhaps?"

Hillary Clinton spoke up. "They're already funnelling food aid down to refugees from the tornados in Kansas and Nebraska. The Cubans are helping with Florida after the hurricanes down there. These weather attacks are battering us, Sir. Individually the damage isn’t that great although they get lucky once in a while, but it's mounting up all the time. The East Coast is badly hit, we can see that from here."

"Food production is down Sir." Secretary Tom Vilsack cut in, earning himself an angry glance from the Secretary of State. "Productivity of farms in the mid-west is in free-fall."

"We can deal with all that later. Our main concern is the battle tonight. What's happening in Myanmar, General Petraeus?"

The General's face appeared on the display screen. Behind him, the sky was red rather than blue, suggesting that he was back in his operational headquarters in Hell. "Mister President, I am afraid that our plan was only a partial success. The attempt to send a nuclear device into Heaven failed. Michael-Lan appears to have realized what was happening and pushed it back. Cost us the capital city and the Special Ops team we had in there. On the credit side, the old Myanmar government has been blown to Hell."

Petraeus paused and cracked a grin at the phrase. He, too, realized that language was changing to match new realities. "Quite literally. And a new civilian administration is being set up. There'll be elections there in 2011. Also, we got the data from the portal Michael opened, as soon as we have it programmed, we'll do a jump from Earth to Heaven."

"A Thunder Run General?"

"That's right. Form a battalion-sized battle group and send it into Heaven with orders to shoot up whatever they see and then leave. I know just the officer to command it. Apart from that, there's Jerusalem of course. We're moving a Corps to the Jerusalem Valley as soon as the force is organized for the portal-shift. That'll be by dawn."

Obama took a deep breath. "Well done David. Please make sure I have the next of kin names for the special forces people we lost there. I'll write to them myself. However, I have some very disturbing news that demands urgent consideration. The Israelies have lost contact with one of their nuclear missile-carrying submarines."

On the screen, Petraeus raised his eyebrows and muttered something under his breath. "It could be they've just screwed up their operational plot Mister President, they've done that before and will do again no doubt. I would recommend we put our naval assets in the Mediterranean on alert though. If there's one thing we've learned from the Salvation War, it's that we keep getting hit by things out of our normal terms of reference."

Levin Reception Center, Phelan Plain, Hell

The last thing that Madeuce remembered clearly was diving for the emergency abort switch. Then everything went blank and he was drawn into a tunnel of light. He knew he had seen things then, heard them, felt them, but they were beyond his understanding and he couldn't quite get the memories into his conscious mind. A line from his favorite television program swam into his brain "you know what it's like when you have a word on the tip of your tongue? Well, its like that with every thought you never have." His memories of the time between the dive for the switch and waking up in this bed were like that. They were almost there, but not quite near enough to be visible.

"Captain Madeuce?" A nurse was looking down at him, a brightly professional smile on her face. "Welcome to Hell. We'll have you all sorted out soon, we're much better-organized now than we were in the early days. Anyway, a friend is waiting to see you as soon as you are discharged. Now, if you can just fill out this form."

She handed over a clipboard that had the traditional cheap pen attached to it by a piece of mangled string. Madeuce read the form and realized it was a pretty close copy of the one he filled in every time he saw a doctor. Did this mean that bureaucracy was taking over Hell? "Thank you ma'am. What happens next?"

"Normally, you would stay here until the clerks put your details into a computer and then you would be discharged. If you had nowhere to go, you would be given temporary quarters and a job suited to your talents. But, we've been waiting for you and you're already set up."

Madeuce scribbled away, putting in the required data. "Forms and clerks. I guess doing the filing for eternity really must be Hell."

The nurse smiled sadly. "Remember, for some people, a job where they just move paper around for all eternity is Heaven, not Hell. You finished? Good. There's some coveralls been sent over for you. Once you feel fit enough, you can go."

The coveralls were dull red and Madeuce instantly recognized them as BDUs. The badge on the right breast was unusual though, a golden eagle on a purple background with the letters SPQR underneath. He slipped them on, revelling in the freedom to breathe that he had lost back on Earth. The boots were standard military issue and he slipped those on also. Then he was ready to leave. By the time he had reached the doors of the ward, his bed had already been taken by the next arrival.

"Tribune Madeuce?" The voice was instantly recognizable and he turned to meet her with delight. "Jade. Sorry, Second Consul Jade Kim, Thank you for coming."

"I had to meet the person blown into Hell by a nuclear device." Kim smiled. "And I've got to accumulate flight hours to get back into the swing of things. Anyway, Gaius wants to meet you ASAP. Made the trip here OK I see?"

"I think so. Still getting used to the idea of being dead though."

"It grows on you. By the way, one thing you won’t have to miss out on. Fox cancelled Dollhouse a few minutes ago."

"Damn them. I liked that show."

"I preferred Firefly. A commercial television station is one thing Gaius is looking at right now. He wants our Senate televised. All the time."

"That's brave."

"Not really, he believes that if the Senators behave like jackasses, everybody should see it and remember."

She led the way across to the helicopter pad where a red MH-6T was standing. It had the same crest as on his uniform, a purple circle on its tail boom with a gold eagle and the SPQR lettering. Now his mind was working more clearly, Madeuce recognized the Eagle as the same one carried by the Roman legions of old. Just to confirm the detail he had to ask. "SPQR?"

"Senatus Populusque Romanus. For the Senate and the People of Rome. And the number 3 at the top is for Third Legion. That's going to be yours by the way. As soon as we can train and equip it."

"Humans or Baldri . . . daemons, Second Consul?"

"Both. And it's Jade in private. Although the helicopter and armor units are human for the time being. We can't get aircraft or tracks sized for daemons yet." She climbed into the pilot's seat and started running through the pre-flight checks on her MH-6.

"I've heard there's problems integrating daemons and humans in military units." Madeuce paused as the turbine spooled up and the rotor overhead started to turn.

"Hellish ones." Jade gave a quick grin at the joke and tapped her microphone. "Phelan Air Traffic Control, this is Rome-Senate-Alpha requesting flight clearance through to New Rome."

"Rome-Senate-Alpha, this is air traffic control, you have clearance, maintain altitude fiver-six-zero until you reach destination. And maintain visual watch for Harpies."

"The Harpies are so used to flying around without anybody arguing about it, they can't get used to having to clear flight paths above a hundred feet or so. The Canucks lost a CF-18 a few days ago, mid-air collision with a Harpy. Pilot turned up in the reception center three hours later and was back in his squadron three hours after that." Kim moved her controls and the helicopter lifted off. She climbed to the specified altitude and then set course for New Rome."

Madeuce looked down through the murk and dust to the land underneath. "There's fields down there."

"That there are. Remember for most of humanity's existence we were farmers. A lot of us still are and most of the people rescued from the pit are. All they want is to get a piece of land and start farming it, it's a vocation I guess. And the land down there is incredibly fertile once somebody got a plow to it. Food's not a problem in Hell."

"I didn't think it was anyway. We don't have to eat do we?"

Kim made an indecisive, well-sort-of noise. "Not really, not physically, although you get to feel wrong of you don’t. Psychological. But, you do hard work that burns a lot of energy, you'll feel hungry and you either have to eat or rest until the hunger pains go. Get hurt, you'll be hungry until your body fixes itself. Don't ask me why or how. The egg-heads are working on it, they've got theories coming out of the wazoo. All I can tell you is this. These bodies look human but they’re not. We're here, we're human, we are who we were but these bodies the ones we inhabit, are not human. We're Second-Lifers, not First-Lifers. Never forget that."

The cultivated areas of the Phelan Plain behind them, the ground beneath reverted to uncultivated grassland. "Who does all this land belong to?"

"Us, by right of conquest." Madeuce looked sharply at Kim, but she wasn't smiling. "I'm not joking, it's the only thing that the daemons understand. We won so everything belongs to us. Anything they keep is what we are presumed to have given back to them and they're grateful for it. Oh, there's some that resent us waltzing in and taking over and there's an incredible amount of trouble with rogue humans setting up as warlords. Another thing you shouldn't forget. Hell is huge and we've only seen a small part, a tiny part, of it. You remember the Leviathan things that showed up? Well, its likely there's a lot more nasty surprises out there waiting for us. That's why I wanted you with us."

Throne Room, The Ultimate Temple, Eternal City, Heaven

There was one immediate reaction to Michael-Lan's arrival in the Throne Room. Tucked away in a corner, one of the Chayot Ha Kodesh was arguing over the price the Master Mason was charging for spaces in his bunker. As soon as he saw Michael-Lan arriving, he paid the asking price without question and squirmed behind the protective walls. That was a sight Michael-Lan found profoundly satisfying. Not because of its actual content but because it showed that now, even here in Yahweh's throne room, it was he, Michael-Lan-Yahweh, who was determining the course of events. He paused for a second, contemplating the meaning of his name. It wasn't true, not any more. Michael-Lan-Michael had a much better ring to it.

With that thought coiling in his mind, Michael-Lan once more entered the Holiest of Holies and his eyes adjusted to the dim glow that contrasted so strongly with the clear, white light that saturated Heaven. Once again, the sight of the great white throne with the dimly-seen shape of the One Above All Others sitting on it awed him. Or did it? He looked again at the figure he derisively thought of as Yah-yah, the Unbearable One and realized the awe was gone. Michael-Lan had seen real power now, seen the great boiling mushroom cloud that had consumed the city of Naypyidaw, surveyed the devastation that had been left when the cloud had passed. He had been saved from destruction by a fraction of a second for he knew and knew well that had he not pushed his cart back through that portal, he would have been in the center of that unimaginable blast. He would have been destroyed so thoroughly that it would have been as if he had never existed.

Michael-Lan had known humans, understood humans or so he had thought. He had watched their ability to destroy grow by leaps and bounds as they had given up their blind acceptance of dogma and begun to ask the one simple word that Michael-Lan knew Yahweh feared above all others. Why? Did simply asking why things happened always lead to such terrifying power? And was that why Yahweh hated those who questioned his will so much? With those thoughts troubling his mind, Michael stopped in the middle of the ring of lamps and knelt down on both knees. He prostrated himself and pressing his lips, still marred with the faint scars from the wounds he had taken rescuing Uriel, to the cold, dark jade floor. As though sensing intentions, the four Seraphim quieted, and the twenty-four elders' murmurs died to whispers.

From the white throne, the voice of Yahweh thundered: “Michael, my good general, what news do you bring me?” There was a stir of sheer, raw terror around the room and those left in the open cursed the fact they had been too late or too poor to afford a seat in the Master Mason's bunker.

"Oh Immaculate One Above All whose Unspeakable Name brings indescribable feelings to us all." Michael-Lan chanced a quick glance upwards at that, but was reassured. Yahweh was still half-dazed by the chanting of his choir. "I bring excellent news. The Scarlet Beast has broken into Jerusalem. It is laying waste the city and destroying all that is sacred there. Dumah spreads her contamination across the city and none survive its poison. Dumah protects the Beast while the Beast destroys and together they kill everything. The dead already number in their hundreds of thousands. The human city of Jerusalem has fallen. The surviving humans stream away from it in great columns, its population reduced to panicking refugees. The Scarlet Beast and Dumah have scored a great victory."

"By My Unconquerable Will do we triumph." Yahweh's voice cracked across the room in triumph, the clouds around him seething with energy.

"Truly The Nameless One's Example shines like a shaft of gold in the darkness." The voice echoed across the room, one of the Chayot Ha Kodesh trying to curry a little favor.

Not unlike a stream of bat's piss, thought Michael, more than slightly annoyed at the interruption. "And that is not all. We have started to pour the Fourth Bowl of Wrath upon the humans and with it we have scorched men with fire. We have destroyed the great city of Naypyidaw and the men of the remarkable empire of Burma were scorched with the fierce heat of its destruction. Yet even as they died, they blasphemed Thy Mighty Unspeakable Name and did not repent or give glory unto your Unbelievable Self. Soon four more cities shall follow and their grief shall be multiplied many times over."

"And Uriel? What of Uriel?" Yahweh's voice was breathless, almost carried away with excitement.

"Alas, Oh Unmentionable One, Uriel inflicted great harm on the City of Los Angeles. Many parts of the city burned with unquenchable fire and its streets are full of humans on his account. Yet in his great efforts, the humans treacherously slew him with weapons unknown to us. A great loss. One Above All."

Yahweh shrugged and the clouds around him roiled. "Ah well, he wasn't doing much good anyway. Forget him. You have done well my Great General. Carry on with your plans."

You can be sure of that. Michael-Lan thought. As he left he saw the Chayot Ha Kodesh who had been arguing about the price of a seat in the bunker was trying to get his money back.
 
The Salvation War: Pantheocide - 43

LTR

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Israeli General Command Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel

Orders should be clear, concise, unambiguous and decisive. General Marosy’s order to the Israeli Navy officer-of-the-watch was all of those. “Explain yourself.”

“Well, Sir, it appears that the Tekuma was correctly designated on the plot as of fifteen hundred when the watch shift changed. When the new operations room staff took over, the first thing they did was purge the board of outdated contacts. They noted that the contact report representing Tekuma hadn’t been updated since the early part of the previous watch so they removed her from the board. Then, when the present watch took over control, they had no means of knowing that the submarine was not represented on the plot.”

Marosy stared at the naval officer in awed disbelief. “I’ve heard of things like that happening. I never thought I would actually be present to see one. If somebody was to write that into a novel, nobody would believe it. Yet you imbeciles have done it, not once but twice? Give me strength. Have you people learned nothing in the forty years since you last pulled something like that off? Then you just shot up a ship belonging to your only ally. Now, you’ve mislaid a nuclear-armed submarine?” Marosy almost lost control of his voice and nearly heard it go up into a squeak. He paused for a second and swallowed, wishing he had a good shot of slivowitz to help him endure the unendurable. Then, he took a deep breath. “And just what do you plan to do about it?”

“We’re putting out radio messages, ordering Tekuma to report in.”

“And?”

“And what Sir?”

“And suppose she can’t report in, or doesn’t want to? We’ve no idea what is happening out there. She could have been sunk by collision with a merchant ship, simply had a radio failure or hit an uncharted rock. Remember that Chinese boat a few years back? Snort valve jammed while charging batteries, she got back to the surface but the pressure differential prevented her from opening her hatches and her entire crew suffocated. Happened so fast nobody got a distress call out. She was drifting for ten days before the Chinese Navy found her. Now, are you sure Tekuma isn’t out there, drifting around with a dead crew? Think, man. Get some recon birds out there and call Dolphin and Leviathan. They’re the only capable ASW assets your Navy has. Find that submarine.”

Marosy slumped into a seat, trying to think of a reason why he could be transferred to another posting in the Human Expeditionary Army. This one was just too much.

Jerusalem, Israel

The Scarlet Beast paused for a second to scratch his back on the Crown Plaza Hotel, then headed for the Bridge of Chords. Seated on his neck, Dumah screamed in triumph as the Hotel crumbled with the impact of Fluffy’s body. She ignored the steady crackle of gunfire, most of the shots were aimed at the Scarlet Beast and she seriously doubted whether they were penetrating his thick skin. She was bleeding where some of the heavier-caliber bullets had hit her, the silver of her blood disfiguring her red-and-purple robes. None of the wounds were severe enough to worry her though, not while the sheer exhilaration of destroying the city pulsed through her veins.

Underneath her, the Scarlet Beast reared on his back legs and took two swings at the Bridge of Chords with his front paws. The first ripped the column from its foundation and hurled it backwards, the second caught it as it fell and batted it backwards, causing the iconic structure to shatter in mid-air. The wreckage sprayed across the nearby buildings with the same effect as a shotgun blast. The sight drew another scream of triumph from Dumah, this time one of professional fulfillment. When not riding the Scarlet Beast, she was one of the Eternal City's better architects and destroying that eyesore of a bridge had been a real pleasure. Meanswhile, Fluffy had spotted a group of three tower blocks close together and he galloped over to them. One massive swing of his paws topped the end one down and it took the other two with it.

"Stee-RIKE." Dumah cheered and slapped Fluffy on the neck at the sight of the three blocks collapsing into dust and gravel. The sight of the tower blocks going down was an entirely new sensation to her. The last time she had destroyed Jerusalem, it had been a miserable collection of hovels that the Scarlet Beast had trampled without a second thought. This was much more professionally satisfying.

Thoughts of her previous rampage through this area so many millennia ago distracted Dumah for a second. It had always upset her slightly that the scribes who had told of Fluffy's exploits hadn't been able to accept that their beloved Yahweh could pull such a rampage of wanton destruction. In the end, they had assigned the blame to Satan and assumed that she and her Beast were his creations. As a result, poor Fluffy had been written down as a Hell-spawn and she as a demon. That really offended Dumah. Perhaps it was because of that moment of reflection that Dumah didn’t see the four shapes hurtling through the night towards her. She heard nothing because the F-111Cs were coming in at Mach 1.1and their sound wave followed far behind the bombers.

F-111C, Koala Flight, Approaching Jerusalem

Each aircraft was carrying four two thousand pound retarded bombs and the great beast trampling the ruins of Jerusalem was hardly a target they could miss. The great red monster seemed to glow amidst the clouds of dust and smoke, illuminated by the starlight and what was left of the city lights. Squadron Leader Mackay had already obtained clearance for this raid, it was a matter of how desperate the situation was that the Israelis had authorized the use of these heavy bombs on the city. But then, if these failed, the next option was the use of a nuclear weapon and he guessed they would do most things rather than authorize that.

"Target in sight Charlie, get the nav-attack system locked. All Koala aircraft, we'll try and get that wee beastie trapped in a four-by-four box of bombs. Set intervalometer for a one hundred-foot spacing around him. One pass and we're out of here."

"Roger." The affirmatives came over the radio swiftly as the target swelled in size before them. Neither the beast nor its rider were aware of the threat that was racing through the sky towards them. Making attack runs over Mach one had that effect. Mackay tapped his controls slightly, lining his aircraft up to pass directly over the beast below. Then, he felt his Pig lurch as eight thousand pounds of steel and explosive, the finest two thousand pound bombs that Norinco in China could make, dropped clear. Their tale find split open and spread out, stopping the bomb's forward movement and slowing their descent so the four F-111s could get clear. The Scarlet Beast and his rider barely had time to notice their arrival before they exploded all around them.

Jerusalem, Israel

Dumah had heard about human weapons and their terror but she hadn't imagined anything like the waves of blast, sound and fragments that enveloped her. The stories, those she had heard, and she had thought she understood them but they hadn't even begun to convey the nightmare of being caught in one. She heard Fluffy screaming as the fragments slashed into his body and the blast from the bombs pummelled him. Somebody else was screaming in fear and agony as well and to her horror Dumah realized she was hearing her own voice. She looked down, through the billowing smoke and stink of human explosives Why human weapons even smelled of the hell they created she thought, and saw the streams of silver blood pouring down the sides of her Beast and splattering on the ground far below. Only then did she realize how badly the bombs had hurt her.

Even breathing was painful. She could feel the bones grating in her chest when she tried to take a deep breath, heard the bubbling in her lungs. Her mind didn’t seem to be working properly, it was as if it had been filled with a strange jelly that wrapped around her brain and stifled her thoughts. There was something she had to do but she couldn’t quite get a handle on it, the memory of what she had to do and where she had to go seemed to be stuck somewhere and she couldn’t quite get it loose. Underneath her, Fluffy was weaving around, his own scarlet blood pouring from the gaping wounds in his chest and belly. Slowly the thought came to her mind. I have to get the hell out of here.

That's when the second part of her instructions came clearly into her mind. She had to open an escape portal to a specific point, one Michael-Lan had been very insistent on. That one point, nowhere else. No matter how bad things were, she had to go to that point first. She joined her mind to that of the Scarlet Beast and together they opened the great black ellipse that was her road to safety. Stunned with shock and pain, she and Fluffy leaped through it and into the refuge that lay beyond.

Radio Room, INS Tekuma, Mediterranean

The radio message chattered its way through the decrypting system and spewed out as words printed on a white tape. The message was clear and formed into two parts. One was an urgent message to Tekuma to re-establish contact with operations center immediately. The other was a flash message that said an Australian air strike had forced the Scarlet Beast to break off its attack and retreat to Heaven. That emergency at least was over.

Lieutenant Midyan Yitzchak read the latter and sighed to himself. The time had come, all the planning that had gone into this operation would be rewarded. It had taken years to get this operation set up, people had had to be moved into the right places, and they had had to move others into the places they were needed. But, with Divine inspiration, provided by the peerless Archangel who had appeared to them all in their visions, it had been done. They had been promised no reward. They were doing the Lord's will and that was enough. He took the message that had arrived and carefully destroyed it, feeding it through the shredder that was specifically designed to reduce paper to an irrevocable mass of tiny shards. Then he took another message out of his pocket, one that was carefully packed so that it looked freshly arrived. Its contents were not those that had just been delivered.

Yitzchak's next stop was the weapons control room. There was a terminal there, one that connected to the five Popeye missiles stored in the torpedo tubes forward. They had been loaded into the tubes earlier, all they needed was their target coordinates. The weapons control officer took the orders and typed the numbers given there into the missile control panel. There, they would be fed through an algorithm that converted them into the actual targets. The Weapons Control officer had no idea where those targets were and that was the plan. He was better off not knowing.

"The targets are entered into the system." The voice was solemn as befitted the occasion. Nobody on the submarine had ever really believed this moment would come. In fact, it still might not for there was an outside chance the submarine's Captain would refuse to fire. But that was a remote chance indeed. Yitzchak saluted and left the compartment, heading for the command center.

Captain Alex Ben-Shoshan was waiting there. An alert had sounded when the message had come in and in his heart he guessed what it was. Yitzchak silently handed the message to him. Ben-Shoshan read it and his eyes saddened. "The situation is worse?"

"Worse by far Sir. The beast has finished its destruction of Jerusalem and has moved into the corridor. Soon, it will be approaching Tel Aviv itself and then it will be too late. We have a brief opportunity, when the Beast is in the corridor, that is all."

The Captain nodded. At the bottom of the message was a line of characters. He took a small box and typed those characters in. Then he handed the message to his Executive Officer who had a similar box. Once again the characters were typed in and the box translated them into a different string of numbers.

"I have 693987909 Sir." The Executive Officer typed the numbers manually into the launch console.

Ben-Shoshan nodded. His machine had given him a different number and he added that to the console input. The computer would add the two numbers and if they came to the right total, they authenticated the input and released the locks on the firing system. There was no sign that the doomsday decision had been taken. No lights, no flashing messages. The fire control system was quiet. "It is time." Ben-Shoshan said.

He took the key from its chain around his neck and went to a box at one end of the control room. His executive officer did the same so the men were separated by the length of the room. Then, they inserted their keys in two small, unobtrusive locks. "On the count of three. One. . . . two . . . . three."

The keys turned and the computer made a series of clicks. A t this point, if the calculations done by the computer had not come to the correct answer, the whole system would lock down. There was an eerie silence in the control room then the submarine shuddered gently. The first Popeye missile was on its way. The next followed ten seconds later with the third following ten seconds after that. In less than a minute, all five missiles were on their way to their targets.

Israeli General Command Headquarters, Tel Aviv, Israel

The cheering and applause in the headquarters building was stilled by five words.

"We have a missile launch."

The Navy Duty Officer's simple statement changed the celebration over driving off the Scarlet Beast into a tense atmosphere that was thick with fear. On the displays that dominated one wall, the tracks of missiles were clearly evident. Only one at first but others joined it and were fanning out across the sea towards the land. There was nothing indicated on the display to suggest where the missiles had been launched from but there was only one real option and everybody knew what it was. Tekuma

Five missiles, heading east in a fan. There was no doubt what they were either. Nuclear-tipped Popeye missiles. ""Nobody authorized that launch." It was a stupid remark and the man who uttered it flushed deep red with embarrassment.

"Where are they going?" Marosy's throat was dry. This was what everybody in the nuclear business had feared for so long.

"No way to tell yet. The missiles will use an evasive course for the first few minutes to complicate any hope of interception. Then they will go to their targets."

"Interceptors are up. Four Akef fighters out of Tel Nov." The Air Force Duty Officer read the data out. The fighters would be heading out in an effort to shoot the missiles down before they reached their targets.

"Only four?" Marosy couldn’t tear his eyes off the screen. The missiles were heading east in a snaking S-shaped pattern that made target prediction impossible. Blue lines appeared on the map, the F-15Cs heading out to intercept the Popeyes.

"All we have. It will be ten minutes before the rest of the aircraft are available and that will be too late."

Second ticked by. The missile tracks stopped snaking and accelerated along straight courses to their targets. The fighters changed course slightly, spreading out to make their intercepts.

"We have targets Sir. Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Cairo and Tel Aviv." The last words were spoken in stunned disbelief. "Sir, the way they're spread, we can't get them all. The first three, we can get, one Akef each. The last pair, its one or the other."

"Order the fighter to take the one heading for Cairo." The Prime Minister's voice cut across the room. "If Israeli nuclear missiles destroy an Arab capital, the human alliance will be torn apart. Human will fight human with every weapon we have. The only winner will be Yahweh and his crew. So we sacrifice Tel Aviv, not Cairo. Anyway, our missile batteries may stop the Popeye."

That was a faint chance and everybody knew it. The anti-missile system was designed to shoot down ballistic missiles that came in on a straight, predictable ballistic arc. An ABM system didn’t even need guidance to hit a target like that, the Indians had made intercepts by mathematical prediction without guidance. The Arrow stressed range and speed, not the agility needed to hit a maneuvering target. But the Popeye was skimming in at very high speed, a few feet above the ground. A much harder target. By ordering the one fighter within reach of the last pair of missiles, the Prime Minister had condemned Tel Aviv to death.

"Mister Prime Minister." Muamur al Zahari spoke from the corner of the room, his eyes glistening with tears. "Please authorize me to use your radio system. I must get word out telling the world of the decision you have just made. The world needs to know of the sacrifice that is being made here today."

The Prime Minister nodded and al Zahari sat at a communications console, dialing frequencies and transmitting messages, advising his command structure that Tel Aviv was about to die so that the Human Alliance could survive. Behind him, Marosy stared at the city outside. He was still staring at it when it was engulfed by a brilliant flash of light.

Michael's Palace, Aukumea, Heaven

"What do you want." Michael-Lan's voice was uncharacteristically angry. He had enough to worry about without routine messages to distract him. The Scarlet Beast was screaming with pain, threshing around and dumping excrement all over his prized flowers. Deumah had been pulled off his back and rushed into the private operating theater in a grim effort to save her life. Both had been hideously wounded by the bomb blasts and Michael really didn’t know whether either would survive. The Scarlet Beast? Perhaps. Deumah, if she was very lucky and his medical team were working at the top of their form.

"O Lordly One, I have news from below. The Fourth Bowl of Wrath has been poured on another human city. The capital of the Israelites is no more."

That stopped Michael in his tracks. "The Fourth Bowl of Wrath poured on Jerusalem? And only one city?"

"Only one, Greatest of Generals."

Oh shut up with the ass-licking. Michael thought. I'm not Yahweh and my name is Michael, not some sycophantic chant. Stop wasting my time with that mindless nonsense..

"Tel Aviv has been destroyed and all who reside within. A masterly strategy, Greatest of Generals, tricking the humans into using their own weapons." The messenger bowed and left.

A masterly strategy indeed. Use human weapons because Uriel's death showed that even the deadliest we have is no great threat to them. Michael tried to calm Fluffy down. I wonder who thought of it.
 

PsihoKekec

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With Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in ruins and good portion of their population dead, Israel is in seriously dire straits.

And I thought nuclear strike was Michael's idea, was it First Conspiracy instead?
 
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