Chapter Seventy Eight

Heaven-17 Forward Airfield. Heaven

Humans had changed Heaven already, were recasting it in their own image and rebuilding it to their own needs. What had once been a bucolic pastoral scene with winding earthen roads separating lush green fields tended by happy peasants was gone forever. The roads were being converted to blacktop, straightened out and painted with strange hieroglyphic markings. Yet those changes were nothing compared with the human work he was standing on. A great blacktop strip, 4,000 yards long and 50 wide, with arrays of lights at both ends and smaller service strips all around it. Raphael-Lan would have been even less happy about the change if he had known that all the blacktop he was seeing was asphalt brought in from Hell.

Around him, engineers were still hard at work building the airfield. Several teams were erecting strange buildings to house the human’s fighter aircraft that were already operating from here. Inside those shelters, the aircraft would be safe from weather and sonic attacks. Raphael looked at the buildings with interest, noting that they were built on shock-absorbent mountings. The four F-15s that had brought him to this base were parked on the hardtop a few dozen yards away. Raphael noted that nobody really seemed interested in him. He didn’t let that impression delude him, these were humans and he was very sure that something incredibly lethal was trained on him. He was, of course, entirely correct in that assumption.

The sound of Heaven had changed as well. The wind sighing in the trees, the rustle of grass, the far-off sound of the happy humans singing hymns as they worked in the fields had all disappeared. They had been drowned out by the growl of diesel engines, the roar of earth being scooped up and moved and the crash as anything that got in the way was ruthlessly chopped down. Even those sounds were drowned out now and then as the sky-ripping howl of jet engines briefly dominated the scene. Raphael reflected there were a lot of human aircraft around. The vicious little fighters, the great pot-bellied transports, the ominous shadows of the bombers, the humans surely did love their aircraft and they had some tailored to every need they could think of. Perhaps it was because they had no wings themselves and needed their machines to fly?

There was a new sound, a curious pulsing noise. Another human aircraft was approaching, this one a helicopter. A large helicopter with a single rotor over its fuselage. It swung in to land a few dozen yards away from him. As soon as it was down, the tail ramp dropped and a group of humans walked out. Raphael reflected that was another change in Heaven. Before, the humans who lived here had been friendly and grateful for the kindness shown to them. These humans were not grateful for anything and certainly not friendly.

Human Delegation, Heaven-17 Forward Airfield. Heaven

“Mike is upset he isn’t here for this.” Asanee spoke with a certain degree of relish.

“One of us had to remain at base in case this is some sort of trap.” Petraeus stood up and groaned. Unobtrusively he reached into a pocket and took a pair of Motrin tablets. “No disrespect meant Asanee, but I need a General who is also a politician here. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes Norm Schwartzkopf made at the end of ODS.”

“No offense taken David. Mixing the two roles is a familiar thing in our Army. Three roles in fact, we also run businesses. Are you sure you do not wish to carry a gun to this meeting?” Asanee’s right hip was weighed down by a Desert Eagle pistol, one that she had owned for years before the demands of the Salvation War had made its heavy-caliber bullets vital.

Petraeus shook his head. “Not necessary. It’s a subtle message to this messenger that I can have him killed without worrying about doing it myself.” He paused for a second. “Have you ever actually fired that thing?”

“At people? Twice. They both died. But it was mostly to impress others, to make them remember me. I’d put it away before all this started.” Asanee saw they were approaching the angel patiently waiting on the taxiway and dropped back so she was following a respectful distance behind Petraeus.

“You bring a flag of truce?” Petraeus’s voice was clipped and certain. “And you are?”

“I am Raphael-Lan-Yah… Lan-Michael. I come here under a flag of truce to bring you a message from Michael himself. He has seized power in The Eternal City. With the aid of his fellow-insurgents, he has killed Yahweh. He did this for one purpose and for one purpose only and that is to bring this war to and end. I am charged with negotiating an end to hostilities between us. As a first step we are declaring The Eternal City an open city. It will not be defended and it’s gates will be thrown open to you.”

Petraeus glanced quickly over his shoulder and saw Asanee shake her head slightly. He agreed, what he had just heard was a skillful mixture of bullshit and truth. The trouble with such mixtures was that even a small amount of bullshit made the whole mix stink. “You expect me to believe that Michael overthrew Yahweh just to end this war?”

Raphael smiled at the human standing below him. “Of course not. Yahweh had gone completely mad. What was once a peaceful and happy community here in Heaven was being torn apart. Yahweh had already betrayed you humans by slamming the doors of Heaven in your face. He betrayed us by ruling with fear, arresting and tormenting all those who displeased him. You have found the concentration camp he founded for those who dared disagree with him? There may be more, I do not know. If there are, I beg you, in Michael’s name, to find them and rescue those within. Ending this war is a part of remedying the harm Yahweh’s madness caused.” Raphael looked sadly at the blacktop roads and airfield, heard the roar and hammering of machinery and his next words were truer than anything else he had said. “Michael understands that things have changed forever and we can never go back to the past.”

“So what are your terms?” Petraeus was slightly impatient. Apart from anything else, his back was killing him and he urgently wanted to sit down.

“The simplest possible. Michael-Lan-Michael, Commander of the Angelic Host, ruler of the Eternal City and all that surrounds it, wishes to surrender unconditionally to you. He has ordered all resistance to you to cease with immediate effect. He asks you to understand that communications are slow and uncertain here in Heaven. We do not have much in the way of radio equipment.”

Petraeus heard the tiny cough from behind him. “You have some radio equipment?”

“We do, we have the ability to make limited broadcasts from our headquarters to a few trusted allies. That was essential for our coup to succeed. But, for the rest, we rely on couriers and message relays. So, spreading the word of surrender will take some time. Also, there may be Yahweh loyalists and other hold-outs who may continue to resist. If so, their fate will be in their own hands. And yours of course.”

“So you expect us to kill off any resistance to your coup? Not going to happen. If they attack us, they die. That’s all.”

“Heaven is a well-ordered place and we do not expect resistance. All we say is that if any misguided angels do resist, it will not be our doing. If we can, we will throw the gates of the Eternal City open to you.”

“If you can?”

“Those gates are vast and have not been opened since they were built. We are not even sure they can still be opened. If they cannot, we must ask you to blow them open.”

Petraeus nodded. “Very well. On behalf of the Yamantau Council and subject to their approval, I will accept your unconditional surrender. General Asanee, call General Sir Michael Jackson and advise him that the Angelic Host has surrendered. He is to spread the word to our Army commanders. Raphael-Lan, return to Michael and tell him we have accepted his unconditional surrender and will be moving to occupy the Eternal City.” His voice hardened noticeably. “And make sure he understands that if there is any treachery, there won’t be an Eternal City left to occupy.”

Headquarters, Human Expeditionary Army, Heaven.

General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of Staff of the HEA and Commander British Forces, Heaven, sighed. It was over. Today, July 20th, would forever be Salvation Day. He knew this wasn’t the end of the fighting, Hell still wasn’t pacified completely two years after the collapse of Satan’s rule. Then there was the problem of the rest of Heaven and Hell. The areas occupied by the daemons and angels were only a small proportion of the total land area of the worlds. Who knew what else was out there? Hell had already thrown one nasty surprise at them. There would be more.

“Sir, your 11 o’clock is waiting.” Captain Rye was standing at the door, her clipboard in hand.

“Harriet, get through to all our sub-commanders ASAP. Tell them, Michael-Lan in Heaven has just surrendered unconditionally. Then arrange a portal for General Petraeus to go to Yamantau so he can brief them on what has happened.”

“It’s really over, Sir?”

“If Michael’s authority holds, yes.” Jackson sighed again. Back to routine. “Now trot that person in.”

It was one of the penalties of being Chief of Staff. If he didn’t have enough to do in effectively running much of the HEA and all British military forces in the Heaven Theatre of Operations he also had to meet with dozens of visitors who arrived every day. Many were essentially official sightseers who had come up with some excuse to come and see Heaven, but others were a mix of boffins and crackpots who were convinced that they held the key to the ultimate victory and wanted Jackson’s backing before their proposals were sent to General Petraeus. It was his responsibility to search through the garbage and come up with the odd nugget of gold that was sometimes hidden within.

At least he was no longer directly responsible for the command and administration of the 1st Commonwealth Army; General Sir David Richards, who had been pencilled in as the next Chief of the General Staff before the war had extended Sir Richard Dannatt’s tenure, had taken over that command. The army was still expanding, two new British divisions and a third Canadian division had recently arrived in Heaven, but it was probably now very close to its natural maximum size.

His attention snapped back to his visitor. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to have missed anything significant.

“…And because one of my ancestors was deeply involved with the guns and howitzers I’ve always had a deep interest in them as weapons. Of course when I decided to join the army the Royal Artillery seemed to be the natural choice, even though modern artillery never seemed to quite have the attraction of the really big weapons from the world wars…”

“So you never got your Jacket then?” Jackson asked the ageing Royal Artillery Colonel for no other reason than to stop his rather meandering explanation of why he was here.

The Colonel was a retired officer brought back into service, what in World War One would have been called a ‘dug-out’. His job was to run a training depot for National Servicemen assigned to the Royal Artillery.

“Ah, no, Sir. I’ve never had the pleasure of serving in the Royal Arse Hortillery.” Colonel Jonathon Cleeve replied, laughing at his own joke.

General Jackson’s stony face, indicating that he did not share the joke brought him up short. He cleared his throat a couple of times, rather nervously.

“Very funny I’m sure.” Jackson said, his tone of voice indicating very clearly that he thought otherwise. “What exactly was it you came to see me about, Colonel Cleeve, I trust it wasn’t to give me a history of British Army railway artillery in both world wars?”

“No, Sir, not at all.” Cleeve replied. “I just thought you would want some background. I’m here because I heard you had a potential problem in breaching the walls of the Eternal City and I thought I could offer you a non-nuclear option.

“One of the 18inch howitzers we built just after the end of the First World War has survived as a proof-firing weapon and is currently at Larkhill.”

Jackson nodded, he had seen the howitzer a few times, both when it had been at Woolwich and later after it had been moved to Larkhill when Woolwich had closed.

“Well in 1943 a concrete penetrating shell was developed and test fired; it was planned to use it against German fortifications in France and Italy, but in the event it was not chosen to deploy the howitzer. It was a mistake in my opinion, but…”

“Get to the point, Colonel.” Jackson interrupted irritably.

“Well, Sir it struck me that the combination of the 18inch howitzer and the concrete penetrating shell would be a perfect way of blasting a breach in the walls. We’d need a week, or two to knock up a proper mounting because I don’t think the current proof-firing sled would be really suitable. Once the howitzer and ammunition were ready we could open a portal in front of it and fire at the target from this side, so we wouldn’t even have to move it very far. It would cut down a great deal on logistical problems that way.”

General Jackson hated to burst the bubble of someone so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject. He took no pleasure in it.

“I am sorry to have to tell you, Colonel, that within the last few minutes, Heaven has surrendered unconditionally. There is, apparently, no longer a need to breach the walls of the Eternal City.”

Colonel Cleeve looked both downcast and like a man who had just seen the bottom of his world fall out. It looked like it was back to the training depot for him.

“No, I, ah…hadn’t heard that, Sir.” He said quietly.

“Cheer up, Colonel.” Jackson said. “I’ll need to speak to Major General Maxwell, but I am sure we can find a place for the howitzer once it is on a proper mounting. We may have to open the Gates on the City ourselves. The Angels are not certain they can throw open the gates themselves. Also, we may well have won the war against Hell and Heaven, but there is a lot of occupation duty in front of us. There is also the matter of what other nasties might lurk out there.”

Cleeve brightened up considerably at this.

“Of course we will also need a knowledgeable officer to oversee this particular project. I am sure we can spare you from the training depot to take this on.”

“Thank you very much, Sir. You will mention this to General Petraeus?”

“I’ll make sure he hears about it, Colonel.” Jackson told him. “I’m sure he will find this very interesting. I believe the Americans still have some railway guns in preservation, so they may follow your lead if you can pull this off.”

Underground Command Facility, Yamantau, Russia, July 20, 2010

“And so, contingent upon Michael-Lan-Michael’s surrender being effective, resistance ceasing as per his promise and on this council’s agreement with our acceptance of his unconditional surrender, all major combat operations will cease. The occupation of The Eternal City will take place as soon as we can get troops into position. That should be within a few hours.” General of the Armies David Petraeus swallowed two more Motrin tablets and sat down.

All fifteen members of the Yamantau Council were present in person, an achievement that would have been impossible before the spread of portal transportation. Now, Yamantau had its own portal room and its own staff of sensitives. The applause from the assembled Council Members was deafening.

Chairman of the Yamantau Council Vladimir Putin waited until the noise quieted of its own accord. Then he spoke softly, relying on the sound system to ensure his voice carried to every corner of the room. “I formally propose the motion that the declaration of unconditional surrender proposed by Michael-Lan-Michael be accepted.”

“Seconded!” President Sarkozy of France emphatically agreed. The roar of acclamation was convincing.

“I would like to make a another proposal.” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil spoke as soon as the applause wound down. “That we declare this day to be Salvation Day, a worldwide holiday forever to be celebrated as an affirmation of humanity winning its freedom and liberty from an age-old curse. And let us not forget that in doing so, we have freed the daemons and angels from those who would oppress them also. Today is indeed Salvation Day for us all.”