Chapter Forty One

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.”