Infantry Basic Training School, Fort Benning, Georgia, January 2009
It was all grossly unfair, not the least of it being that Private Martin Chestnut was still a Private. All the other sensitives in military service had been made into officers and had their own staff. Chestnut hadn’t even been allowed to eat in the Officer’s mess, his attempt to do so had resulted in him getting a not-so-quiet word from his NCO and copious kitchen patrol. He’d demanded to be made an officer and had even written to General Petraeus insisting that he be promoted to a Major at least. He’d got a polite letter back from an aide, advising him that his existence now figured on General Petraeus’s radar. Somehow that hadn’t sounded too comforting and his assignments had become dirtier, more tedious and more exhausting by the hour. Eventually he had given up and done the minimum necessary to keep the authorities off his back.
Now, to cap it all, he had gone down with some kind of sickness. It had started a few days earlier, he had woken aching all over and with a sore throat that even the coffee from the enlisted men’s mess hall couldn’t cure. He had reported to sickbay where his illness had been diagnosed as the common cold and he’d been given a couple of aspirin tablets and told to get back to duty. The next day he had been running a fever and felt too exhausted to move. Again, he’d reported sick. Although he didn’t know it, his immediate NCO was a kindly man who felt badly over seeing a young man ruining his life by his own stupidity and had tried to give him some well-meant advice. “Look kid, spend your life doing work that’s worth what you’re paid and you’ll never be paid what you’re worth.”
Chestnut, wrapped up in his grievances and self-righteous indignation, hadn’t listened and he’d carried on doing as little as he could while descending deeper into his malaise. His fever levels were slowly increasing as well and his muscle aches were getting so bad that he was finding it difficult to walk. When reveille blew, he tried to get up but the effort exhausted him. He lay on his bunk, gasping for breath.
“Get your lily-livered ass off that bed Chestnut, you’ve got…” The Sergeant’s voice tailed off. Chestnut’s face was dead white, his eyes deeply sunk and heavily shadowed, his finger nails, lips and ears blue-tinged. For the first time, it was apparent that he was seriously, indeed dangerously ill. “What’s up kid?”
“Headache, so bad can’t think straight. Keep coughing. Can’t swallow, threw up. Please…”
Something clicked in the Sergeant’s mind. “Kid, I want to see your arms now.”
Chestnut flailed at his bedding, managing to extract one arm. Half way between wrist and elbow was an ulcer, one with an ugly black necrotic center. He looked at it, stunned. “That was just a bump last night.”
The Sergeant took one look at it and stepped back, almost in a panic. “Johnson, get the medics here double-fast. Tell them to bring Cipro. And get through to Fort Detrick, tell them we have a red alert here.”
DIMO(N) Headquarters, The Pentagon, Arlington, VA, January 2009
Dr Kuroneko stared at the chalkboard, frowning. There was something strange going on here… The green board was covered with colorful diagrams and scribblings in the arcane language of tensor mechanics and diagrams; the front half of the room was covered in chalk dust from the layers of revision he had added to his thoughts over the last two hours. Absentmindedly, he rolled a fresh stick of chalk between his fingers as he pursed his lips, wrinkling his forehead. Turning, he looked back at the worn textbook, bending close to the dog-eared page to read a note scribbled in the margin.
His face broke into a smile, and he gave a little cry as he jumped toward the chalkboard, erasing an equals-sign with the heel of his hand and replacing it with a carat. Then he moved to the other side of the board and made some modification to a long expansion of Christoffel symbols, muttering to himself as he did. “No, the mass-energy is different. Take into account the… ” – scribbles – “… energy of the system’s curvature…” – more scribbles – “… embedded into a seven-dimensional space-“
He nearly lost his train of thought at a polite cough behind him, but he held onto the end of it and threw up one finger behind him to forestall any comments as he finished frantically writing. Then he turned, blinking owlishly through dusty glasses at the intruders.
There were two men standing there. One, dressed in a working military uniform with two stars, looked impatient and uncomfortable in the messy office. The other, dressed in rumpled business casual with a tie awkwardly sitting at his throat, had a sheaf of folders by his side, by was craning his neck to follow the argument Dr Kuroneko had laid out. Before the military officer could speak, his companion said, “Is that Crane’s argument?”
Dr Kuroneko smiled. “Not quite, Surlethe. I’ve modified it a little so it applies to our situation.”
Dr Surlethe set down his folders and moved up to the chalkboard. “You’ve modified the metric tensor?”
“Not quite – the chief changes are in the mass-energy tensor. Basically, we have to -“
“I’m sorry to interrupt, gentlemen, but we really need to get to business,” said Dr Surlethe’s companion, General Schatten. “We have a change of plans for the DIMO(N) science team. Shall we have a seat in the conference room and discuss it?”
They filed out of the Dr Kuroneko’s office, as Dr Surlethe cast a longing glance back at the chalkboard, and down the stairs to the conference room next to the general’s office. He took a seat at the head of the table; the two doctors sat beside him. Dr Surlethe started. “We have a new direction for the physics team to take. The work you’ve done so far on portals and modeling the storm influence is excellent, but we need more actionable material on the weather.”
Dr Kuroneko nodded his understanding.
“I’ve come here straight from a meeting with the President and President-Elect. General Schatten has agreed that he would have pursued it anyway even if the politicians hadn’t decided for us, but at this point the portal research needs to take a back seat to figuring out just what Yahweh is doing to our weather and how exactly he’s doing it.”
“What sort of data are we working with?”
“We have access to all of the data that NASA, the NOAA, and the NWS have collected,” said General Schatten, “as well as anything that university meteorological departments have gathered on their own. There are also several governments eager to share data and work with us – Japan, India, and Indonesia in particular, since they’re worried about the potential for geological assaults – and we’ll put their physics teams in contact with you. If you want to share any models, though, it will need to pass by my desk. The portal modeling in particular does not leave DIMO(N).
“Do you have any questions?”
Kuroneko said, “No. By the way, speaking of portals, I think a young man on our team – a Princeton undergraduate, actually – has reached a breakthrough just yesterday.”
Surlethe leaned forward. “Do tell.” General Schatten tapped his foot slightly.
“Well, I won’t bore you with the mathematical details” – he glanced over at General Schatten with a slight twinkle in his eye – “but basically, we’ve had to rework cosmology. General relativity is still true – as far as we know – but it is a specific case of a more general theory. It looks now like the universe is something like a styrofoam ball. We live on the outside of granules, while Hell and Heaven exist on the inside of bubbles. We’re sort of in the same space but not quite. The implications are fascinating, there could be millions of Hells and Heavens out there.”
“That’s great,” said Schatten, “but how can we use this?”
“That’s what I’m getting to. The really nice thing about this model is that it makes a particular set of predictions we can test just by monitoring the opening or closing of a portal. And if it does work, it doesn’t require any stellar energy densities or subatomic length scales to apply: we should be able to start engineering immediately.” Dr Kuroneko smiled. “Gentlemen, we should be able to open portals straight to Heaven within two years. All we have to do is to find it.”
“Great,” said Surlethe. “But please do bear in mind that the weather is more important than an abstract model of portal transitions.”
“We’ll do that,” replied Kuroneko.
“Okay, gentlemen,” said General Schatten, “I have business to attend to. I’ll leave you to discuss the particulars of the weather modelling.” He stood and shook hands before leaving.
“All right,” said Surlethe when he’d gone, “we’ve already talked about the rough mechanism – body of hot air injected beneath the base of the storm. By mid-January, we need to have a pretty good idea of just how Yahweh’s doing this, injecting hot air or warming it up…”
As he left the room, General Schatten shook his head at the scientists. They were always so… loopy. That was a good word.
As he entered the next room, he said, “I’m sorry, I was slightly detained.”
James Randi, sitting in front of Schatten’s desk, inclined his bald head to accept the apology. “No apology necessary.”
“You wanted to see me?” asked Schatten, leaning over his desk.
Randi nodded. “Yes. I have come to tender my resignation.”
“The war against Hell is won,” said Randi. “There can’t be any more need of experts in paranormal fraud; my organization has already started to shrink as people have been reassigned to other parts of the occupation effort. My work here has been done for some months, you have all the methodologies you need to find and utilize the sensitives who can punch the portals through as and where needed.”
Schatten smiled. He’d been expecting something like this. “On the contrary, Mr Randi, you may not resign.”
Randi had been expecting many answers, but this was not one of them. “I may not?”
“No, sir, for three reasons. First, the war is not over. You haven’t been privy to all of the reports, but the war against Heaven is just starting, and we’ll need all the expertise that your branch of DIMO(N) has accumulated over the last year in order to pursue it successfully. Second, there’s speculation around – I’m sure you’ve heard it – that Heaven and Hell aren’t the only hostiles out there, which means that we’re not going to let you go even after we’ve crushed Yahweh. Third, even if the war ends and everything is just fine, we still need you to filter through populations and help us find people who can make portals.
“They’re a vital national asset, you know that. Portalling is a vital national security issue, as I’m sure you understand, and we need to keep tabs on everybody who’s like kitten just to make sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands.”
Randi looked slightly taken aback at this, and blinked at Schatten. Schatten smiled back. “No, Mr Randi, you aren’t going anywhere. Other than back to your office in the Pentagon of course, it’s there, still waiting for you.”
SecDef’s Office, Pentagon, U.S. Jamuary 2009
“So it was a concerted attack by angels?”
“That appears so, Secretary Warner. So far we have reports of twenty angels being detected and shot down over Europe, Russia and the United States. All over populated areas. Six came at us, four each at Russia and Europe, two each at China and India, one at Japan and one at Singapore. We lost eleven aircraft in the air battles.”
“Eleven?” Warner was astonished. Humans owned the air, mastered it completely. Hostile daemons who flew in the skies were shot down, swatted as if they were helpless infants. Which, in military terms they were. Losing eleven aircraft in a single day to hostile action was unprecedented.
“Eleven Sir. Several more have varying degrees of damage. We got away pretty lightly, all we have is a brace of F-22s with some structural damage but they’re fixable. The Russians two Su-35s but their MiG-31s got in and out without loss. We think it’s because they, and our F-22s, super-cruised in and were on their targets before the angels could react. The Europeans, lost three aircraft, two Typhoons and a Rafale. Chinese and Indians put up MiG-21s, the Chinese lost two aircraft, the Indians three although one of them may just have fallen out of the sky, the Indians don’t have much luck with their ‘21s. Finally the Singaporeans lost an F-16. Good news is that all the pilots got out. That’s really strange.”
“How?” That one word had a wealth of importance. The angel attack had caused the humans more combat losses that they’d suffered in the whole of the Hell Campaign.
“Good question Sir, we’re trying to find out. Pilot’s debriefing speak of the aircraft feeling as if they flew into a wall. The crash investigation people are collecting the wreckage already and they hope to have an answer for us. It seems as if the aircraft broke up in mid-air, there’s no trace of fire or explosion damage prior to the wreckage hitting the ground. Other than that, we’re going through flight recorder tapes and the other pilot’s statements but that all takes time.”
“Then see it takes less of it. We can’t afford loss rates like that. We’re flying hundreds of jet fighters against an enemy that have tens of millions of angels. We need that ten thousand-to-one kill ratio we got over Hell or we’ll go down.”
The room was silent, most civilians were out there rejoicing at the quick and easy victory over Hell, or at least the victory that had seemed quick and easy. Some were even calling it the Curb-Stomp War. The experts in this room knew better. Like every task performed by true experts, the war had just seemed easy but in reality it had been a desperately close thing. The count-down clock to when the human army would run out of ammunition and fuel had been getting perilously near to zero-hour when the surrender had come in and it wasn’t that much better now. Warner knew that the people who had made the difference in those last hours hadn’t been American, Russian or British but Chinese. If Norinco hadn’t kept flooding out supplies of both Russian- and NATO-standard munitions, the war might still have gone the other way.
“Can we get the Chinese some decent fighters?” Warner’s question was prompted by that last thought. “If this is going to be a standard means of attack, they’ll need something better than MiG-21s.”
“They have the J-10, J-11 and J-12. Just not enough of them. I suppose we could divert someF-15s to help out. We don’t need them here yet. Problem is, most of them are in dock being refurbished.”
“Work on it, get an answer. For the Indians too. If we can’t help out, then perhaps we can lean on the French or Brits to provide some Rafales or Typhoons.”
“That brings us to another question Sir, the F-35.”
“Not a question. It’s history. We can’t afford to waste time developing an entirely new aircraft. We’ll concentrate on pouring out as many F-22s as we can.”
“That’s going to cause problems, a lot of people were depending in that bird. The Brits wanted the VSTOL version for their carriers. Can’t operate without them unless they redesign the ships.”
“Another non-problem. Got a message from MoD in London this morning. Both carriers have been cancelled. Take too long to build they say and absorb too many resources. Like everybody else, they want kit that can be turned out quickly and Navies are in third place on the priority list. Anyway, that’s all for another time. Back to those angels. Any news on what they were trying to do?”
“Not yet Sir. One thing that might be significant. There was an emergency call from Benning to Detrick this morning, an anomalous infection has turned up. One of the sensitives, a Private Chestnut.”
“Private?” Warner looked up, the active sensitives were all high-ranking and had privileges the rest of the population could only dream of. To find one as a private suggested that something odd was going on.
“Bit of a sad sack Sir. Just coasts along doing the bare minimum to stay out of trouble, always complaining. Can’t see he brings down all the crap on his own head. He literally can’t be trusted with anything more than a private’s rank. Frankly, there’s been talk of retiring him, he’s more trouble than he’s worth. He’s the one who wanted a million a year back in the early days.”
“So how did Detrick get involved?”
“Sir, Sergeant who spotted the case in a recalled Operation Desert Storm veteran. He thinks the disease might be inhalation anthrax. And that’s 90 plus percent lethal.”
Warner looked up sharply. “This is not good.”