Moonwar

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Emperor Asmodeus set up a perimeter with some of John Glenn’s DECON troops stationed at the four points of the compass armed with shoulder-launched SAMs, in case any of the remaining sandwich fighters returned. Inside that perimeter the half-bubbles of many pressurized tents dotted the plain here and there, scattered too far apart for a single strike to take any two of them out.

The tents were psychologically important. They permitted the troops to get out of the vacuum suits they wore on the way down, or at least take their helmets off for an hour or two. No one could spend all their time inside a spacesuit, no matter how disciplined they were, not even the disciplined officers hardened by the constant violence of Barbelo.

Asmodeus’ command tent was identified by gold and black banners. When John Glenn and his two senior officers entered it and passed through the vestibule sealing the air inside, they found the Emperor in the middle of a meeting with his son Apollyon and the surviving nephilim officers.

“Good, Glenn, you made it,” Asmodeus said. “You’re the last one to come in. Give me your report.”

“Our transport took hits from fighters and from the city but we landed with no casualties.”

“Then we finally have a complete picture of what happened. Give him the latest figures, son.”

“Yes, Sire.”

Apollyon rifled through his papers, did some figuring, then he said, “Punisher and five troop ships are total losses. A sixth transport was attacked on the ground and we only saved nine human troops troops from that one. We have a total of forty-four human troops stuck in orbit aboard the Conqueror and Brutalizer who can’t land but six nephilim officers from those two ships are here now. All told we now have just forty-three nephilim troops and one hundred eight-five human troops ready for action.”

There was some shocked gasps and murmuring from Glenn and his two men at that. Casualties were at forty-three percent! Asmodeus cut them off harshly, and barked, “This mission has not failed. The carrier Trespasser remains out of danger, and stands ready to pull us out when we achieve our objective. As long as one soldier lives this mission goes forward. Is that clear?”

The nephilim and men blurted their assent. Then the forces split up.

John Glenn took command of the human forces, the bulk of their remaining strength, and departed to assemble them for the assault up the eastern face of the North Massif mountain.

Emperor Abizeel planned to assail Taurus with his nephilim from another direction along a small rille which crossed the mountain to the west. Leading his forty-two nephilim soldiers, Asmodeus started marching cross-country over what Buzz Aldrin once called the “magnificent desolation” of the Moon.

After the Emperor had forayed north into the Sculptured Hills for an hour the Yellow Rille (so named because of the many sulfur outcroppings found in it) became a steep canyon. Asmodeus veered right. They climbed to a small plateau called Yellowbanks on the B’nei Elohim moon map, and let the rille go it’s own way for the time being.

As the Moon went this was high and rugged terrain, a combination of a classic crater rim and the extensive volcanism in the wake of the large asteroid that created the Sea of Serenity over three billion years ago. The rille itself was a steep channel carved by a river of lava after the impact and undisturbed all that time except from micro-meteoroids which pitted the whole surface of the Moon.

They stayed on the high ground, walking on black gravel and sand and dust as fine as the ashes left over in a barbecue. Their backpacks and various portable weapons were enormous loads for each of them but the seventeen percent gravity helped. They made good time.

Presently the rille finished its wide bend and rejoined them from the west. Dull red and green minerals formed layers in the walls of the gorge, dotted by bright yellow sulfur deposits. There was a certain stark beauty to it all, Asmodeus thought. Io didn’t have a monopoly on this.

Twice during the march they buried themselves under gray camouflage at the sight of sandwich fighters. It wasn’t a concerted search. Asmodeus hadn’t made his dent in this country yet and the B’nei Elohim probably didn’t have a clue he was up here. Still, the fighters seemed to be either using the rille for a navigational guide or they were actively patrolling it. He decided to march overland away from the rille again, so they began peeling away from it.

Returning to the edge of the rille again some hours later, Asmodeus cast his gaze “upstream” and noted that the rille had shrunk to just a third of its normal depth yet was still coming out of the north and a little east of north. If they stayed on this side of it, it would continue to bend east and take then away from Taurus rather than toward it.

Consulting his map, he said to his troops over the radio, “The rille has forked. This is just a feeder gully. We cross here.”

There was a dirt road at the bottom of the gully, the main road to Taurus, but traffic was sparse.

The problem of fording a chasm without specialists, even a relatively small one such as this North Fork of the Yellow Rille, was going to have to be overcome with a little creativity. There was no question of hiking down one side and up the other, the pumice stones littering the whole area would make it like walking on marbles. Most of the officers paced around, at a total loss for ideas.

Asmodeus asked around if anyone had packed some cable. There was a flurry of searching and finally someone produced a coil with about four hundred yards of it. The cable wasn’t very thick or heavy, but it would be strong enough to support the weight of a nephil in the lunar gravity, Asmodeus decided.

The Emperor attached the long cable to a surface-to-air missile and took aim at the far side of the rille, aiming near the top where it began to flare out and become level with the land on the other side. He chose his target carefully, trying to get as high as possible but not too high, lest the missile skip off the soil instead of diving into it. Then he pressed the firing stud.

Success! The rocket dug itself deep into the lunar regolith before burning out, taking the cable with it. The tunnel it made collapsed behind it. Asmodeus tugged hard on the cable to make sure it was snugly anchored. He ordered his men to anchor this side of the cable around a boulder and snip the excess off.

The next part was easier. Asmodeus repeated his trick with the rest of the cable, but this time he aimed about four feet below where the first cable had buried itself, making doubly sure it was snug because this was the one that would bear the most weight. Soon he had two wires stretched tight across the gap, one wire for under the boots and another at chest level for balance.

Asmodeus hymself made the first crossing to prove it was safe. An hour later the entire group had made the crossing. The last nephil to come over cut the two cables and let them fall slack against the steep western wall of the tributary rille.

This was virgin land, inaccessible to all without taking extraordinary measures. They had placed themselves far beyond reach.

After another mile following the small tributary rille on its west bank Asmodeus authorized an hour of such rest as could be taken while wearing a pressure suit.

On the next march Asmodeus continued to follow the North Fork of the Yellow Rille again, ever higher toward its source. It curved needlessly, often back almost on itself, but it gradually and inexorably drew nearer to the high volcano in the north which they had begun to glimpse from the hill-tops.

These were the doldrums of B’nei Elohim territory. The combination of the terrain and the angle of the sun and Earth gave the land the appearance of being moody, as if the Moon itself were taking a nap. The heavy shade, almost totally black in parts, made it seem secretive, even gloomy.

The dull thumping of artillery could not be heard in the near-vacuum of the Moon, but it could be felt as bursts of vibration under their feet. The light-flashes of warfare never lagged far behind. It had to be Glenn who led the bulk of the surviving troops on a frontal assault along the main road to the city. Asmodeus was feeding Glenn’s forces through the shredder to keep the B’nei Elohim from checking their back door.

For the American invaders the net effect of wearing their heavy suits and the small lunar gravity was to be fighting under roughly the same gravity as Mercury, which was a major consideration when the Emperor planned this raid and chose Glenn to participate.

For protection their spacesuits were covered entirely with mirrored reflective surfaces, but some joints and parts of the life-support backpack, despite the best efforts of design engineers, were vulnerable to a laser hit.

Glenn personally led an assault with all of his men across the open while Ambe Omphal and a force of Fallen Angels with company strength hid behind rocks at the top of a gray slope and took leisurely potshots at them.

For the invaders the trick was to present a moving target, hustling to the left or right, jumping up, flipping through the air, tucking and sliding to the ground, never the same sequence of moves twice. Troops who fell into the error of patterned movement were awarded a laser hit and quick death.

Glenn’s troops dropped like flies as the scored hit after hit. Heedless of their losses, Glenn and his DECON forces just kept coming, each trooper dancing and ducking to avoid being hit. The random movement came as second nature to them. Presently some forty of them overran the Fallen Angel position, led by Glenn himself.

Ambe grappled with Glenn and placed her faceplate against his so he could hear. “You took our position but it was awful, just awful! You lost a third of your boys, easy! Godspeed John Glenn!”

Then with her knife Ambe ripped the fabric of Glenn’s spacesuit from crotch to sternum, letting him deflate like a tire.

While they remained hidden here in the highlands, Asmodeus could see the gully road about two hundred feet below was now busy with the traffic of war, mostly B’nei Elohim armored trucks all climbing slowly in single file.

Asmodeus scrambled up a small rise to get a clear view back the way they’d come. From there he could see all the way to the plain where they began this little hike. The entire area was intermittently lit with reflected laser flashes. Binoculars revealed B’nei Elohim vehicles exchanging colored lightning with unseen adversaries.

On the eastern side of the North Massif summit plateau B’nei Elohim defenders began popping up out of the woodwork to stall the DECON forces with a vast confusing hodgepodge of engagements. They fired their big towed five-inch guns, which had a range of an incredible 49 miles in the lunar gravity. Each gun, standing well off, could shoot three rounds per minute, and these shells began raining randomly down on Glenn people.

Artillery was called the “troop killer” for good reason. Within eighty feet of an exploding shell half of the DECON personnel were injured, on average, and one-third of these injuries were fatal. Even a little schrapnel that would only cause a minor injury on Earth was sufficient to puncture their pressure suits here. So it became a grinding war of attrition, with almost all of the losses on the American side.

If Glenn was detained for some time or even defeated that would suit the Emperor just fine. At that point he didn’t know Glenn was already dead. The Americans were just cover all along. Asmodeus’ objective was to seize or destroy the Ark of the Covenant, and if the raid became a huge suicide run, he would still consider it a success if the Ark was taken out of the picture.

Asmodeus had given the front door of the city to Glenn after pretending reluctance, but the Emperor knew it would be defended ferociously. So he and his nephilim plunged on, heading north, and gradually the road and Asmodeus’s party began to come together. The rille was getting more and more shallow as they approached its source. Asmodeus felt high, in elevation as well as in spirits.

Finally they had gone as far as they could possibly go while remaining out of view. This was the very source of the North Fork rille: a single unremarkable fumarole, nearly the same in appearance as every other crater on the moon, but different in that it lay sideways and hadn’t been created by impact. Now they were forced to take the road.

Far above them the road wound its way up a set of switchbacks to the broad summit plateau of North Massif. There were no straightaways longer than three hundred feet. Three light APCs ascending the mountain rounded a corner just then. It was too short a distance between the time they saw Asmodeus and the decision point where it would be surrender or ram.

Forty-three nephilim soldiers aiming lasers and rockets swayed them to pull over peacefully. The girls in the three trucks were stragglers of the big caravan Asmodeus had seen from the edge of the rille.

Asmodeus didn’t take any time to ask questions and he wasn’t interested killing them. The girls, still wearing their vacsuits, were simply bound with plastic tie-wraps and left on the side of the road. Then Asmodeus’s platoon found itself with transportation. They were all thinking how good it was to be moving while sitting on their ass and dangling their poor abused booted feet.

The APCs had a 1.5 inch main gun, a 30-caliber machine gun, and an anti- tank missile launcher, but the nephilim would encounter no more enemies on that road. Taurus lay just beyond a stony fault scarp looming above them.

The road made a final turn and Asmodeus was staring at a darkened tunnel drilled right through the final jagged wall. A trap? Asmodeus no longer cared. Whooping it up, without a second thought, Asmodeus led his company plunging through the tunnel. They were the first (indeed they would be the only ones) to crack Robyn’s final line of defense.

Asmodeus and his nephilim drove right out onto the roof of Taurus and parked. They quickly found a walkway hemmed by a guardrail, and this walkway led them to an airlock big enough to take all of Asmodeus’s men in two groups. It was all very easy. Perhaps it was too easy.

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