The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Thirty-nine: The Angel of This Place

Dark, cold, still,
The secret depths disgorged their multitudes,
Rising slowly to the air and dawning light
Where sailors waited unaware,
Their thoughts and eyes cast elsewhere
In anxious foreboding.

Great Kraken arose in spoils of ink,
Ensnaring vessels with flailing coils
That, as in legend, o'ertopped
The tall ships' lofty mainmasts
And bent them into the sea,
Sweeping decks of screaming morsels.

Leviathan, unleashed,
Wrought havoc and destruction
Pressing mightily among the helpless fleets,
Dashing hulls and hopes alike
In the wake of its tumultuous passage
Marked by sinking hulks.

Giant Cyclopes, Poseidon's ill-begotten sons,
Hurled boulders like the terrible artillery
Of erupting Ætna's infernal broadsides,
Crushing sturdy ironclads
And swamping lesser vessels
With the frothing tumult of their falls.

From rocky shores the Sirens called
Their age-old songs of unendurable longing,
Luring the hapless into Magan's ungentle clutches.
Far from the fray, where lonely pickets sailed,
Neriads beckoned, mermaids frolicked
And the minds of men slipped into madness.

        Sara streaked to the scene. It was bad, but men were reorganizing and turning to meet the seaborne challenges. Determined crews fought off the Krakens' grasping tentacles with pikes and cutlasses, chopping them into sushi as Captain Nemo's men had done.  Destroyers raced to intercept Leviathan, sowing depth charges in its path until it spouted red, rolled over and plunged back into the abyss. The Cyclopes were ranged by concentrated barrages until they had been picked off one by one. Marines drowned out the seductive plaints of the Sirens with blood-curdling screams, gunfire and diesel-engined Higgins boats in sudden amphibious assaults on their perches. Elsewhere, various and sundry monsters, sea serpents, dragons and bare-breasted enchantresses were dealt with methodically.
        With efficient coordination between wide-ranging naval elements mediated by Sara's simultaneous radio translations, the tide turned swiftly. Most of the damage was to the older ships, from galleys to galleons and frigates to pre-dreadnaught steamers. The powerful gun platforms of the great battleships — drawn close to shore to provide devastating artillery support throughout the valley — had been unmolested.
        It all proved to be merely a diversion.
        Outside each of the four straight walls of the city, gigantic columns of the Heavenly Host had been ascending like enormous flocks of great soaring birds being carried aloft by thermals. The edge of one wide circle of wingéd soldiery crossed the mouth of the valley past the ship-choked anchorage of the broad bay. Several legions had toiled laboriously to a ridiculously high altitude that had probably taken them all night to attain. When their orbit took them to within barely a mile of the water's edge, they suddenly turned ninety degrees, tucked their wings against their bodies and angled directly for the capital ships at terminal velocity like thousands and thousands of skydivers. They weren't carrying tubas.
        Sara began her warning too late. The concentrated blasts of the twelve onrushing Valkyries slammed into her simultaneously, the lightning-like discharges from their blazing eyes creating an electromagnetic pulse like that of a nuclear explosion, surrounding her with coruscating waves of superheated plasma that disrupted her kreening and all radio transmissions in the valley. She was suddenly and unexpectedly rendered blind, mute and temporarily disoriented. The brilliant fireball distracted the eyes of the fleet from the plummeting horde.
        The descending warriors unfurled their wings at the last minute and swarmed onto the decks of the major combatants and — with sword and spear — overwhelmed many of the surprised and unprepared crews, battling from wheelhouse to bilge in overwhelming numbers. Few of the sailors had sidearms, and most of the Marines were ashore manning barricades or chasing Sirens.
        On some ships, a few quick-thinking chief petty officers barricaded themselves and their men in vital areas, securing watertight doors against the invaders. The feathery legionnaires turned out not to be technically backward and soon deployed commandeered welding torches and explosives to break through. Even worse, they proved able to operate the big guns and other vital machinery. They must have had some interesting choir practices. Turrets began to traverse ominously.

        Sara's internal navigation at least let her know which way was up, and she streaked away from the scene like a wrong-way meteor. The Valkyries did not shake off so easily — it seemed that they were as fast and agile in the sky as she was — and they kept up the pressure, covering her with energy no matter how much she twisted and turned.
        In desperation, she looped back to the ground, crashing into the desert at a point she figured was at least a hundred miles away from the valley. She hoped they would not be able to pursue her through solid rock. At any rate, they didn't try — they didn't need to. Sara was as effectively cut off below ground as she had been under their attack.
        Now what? she wondered. I can't sit here forever.
        Cautiously, she made her way slowly back to the surface, trying to probe ahead of her, looking for a gap in their coverage. She came up close to Skuld, who spotted her immediately. Sara was shocked at what she saw.
        The proud goddess was shrunken and shriveled, positively anorexic in her appearance. She made no move to renew her attack.
        "You are strong, Sara Corel," Skuld told her. Her voice was weak.
        "Good grief!" Sara exclaimed. "You OK? What happened?"
        "We poured out the utmost measure of our energies upon you," she replied. "We have been diminished — as it appears you have not. Your fall was but a ruse, as I suspected. The others seek replenishment. My turn will come soon."
        As if in response, a monstrously huge and prolonged bolt of golden lightning crashed into the warrioress, melting the rock around her as she endured its fury.
        "By Jove," Skuld exulted as the smoke wreathed around her from the charred remnants of her clothing. She was nearly her old self, sparkling with renewed vitality, muscles rippling as she stretched, bosoms swelling with power and pride, arcing wildly. "Another such blessing and I shall be ready to begin again, dear cousin."
        Sara didn't need a second hint. She was off at once as another bolt struck from Olympus. It wouldn't take long for all of the sisters to be rejuvenated and take up the chase.

        Back at the sea battle, the surviving commanders were frantic. With Sara online again, a counterattack was organized in the brief moments before the Valkyries returned. Destroyers and cruisers began to clear the decks of the battlewagons with small caliber suppressing fire while hastily armed crews and Marines swarming from the beaches on anything that could float (including a number of swift triremes) clambered aboard as best they could. Daring ship-of-the-line captains rammed the larger ships and sent boarding parties over via masts and spars, establishing beachheads that could be expanded and exploited as more armed men came alongside.
        The Heavenly Host fought back, the great naval rifles under their control wreaking terrible damage at such close quarters, though — for a while, at least — their rate of fire was very slow and their aim left something to be desired. On-the-job experience caught up with their apparently excellent training quickly.
        A few of the captured ships started to move ponderously from the anchorage, threatening to put them out of reach of rescue. On others, well-armed sailors and Marines made quick work of the sword-wielding fliers and retook the ships. Some vessels were locked in stalemate, Heavenly Hosters commanding the guns while the crews held the engine rooms. The besieged crew of the Musashi managed to purposely run it aground where shore parties could board it. The Kirishima suddenly blew up as the fierce battle to retake it surged back and forth through her narrow passageways.
        Eventually, the superbattleship Yamato, the battleships Prince of Wales, Tirpitz, Haruna, Fuso and Szent Istvan, and the battle cruisers Indefatigable, Invincible, Scharnhorst and Lutzow steamed away toward the carriers just over the horizon. The human commanders realized what that meant, but with Sara out of commission again — and the blazing plasma surrounding her making radio communications impossible — there was no way to warn them, since the Heavenly warriors had made sure to cripple all the seaplanes. To top it off, Triton or Oceanus or some such god whipped up a nice, thick fog bank for them to disappear into.
        There was no choice but to go after them with everything they could scrape together. It was obvious that the intent was to neutralize the naval artillery of the humans, but the threat to the carriers was one that couldn't be ignored. They and their destroyer escorts were being held back as a reserve, hoarding irreplaceable fuel until the situation became clearer, so there would only be a few CAPs in the air and certainly not torpedo and AP-bomb equipped planes ready to engage a surface fleet.
        It took a while to regain control of the remaining capital ships, giving the Heavenly Navy time to put some distance under their keels, and in the process, the battleship Hiei and battlecruiser Queen Mary were sunk. As the cruisers and destroyers set out in pursuit, the feather-boy's battleships broke back out of the fog in a very respectable line-abreast, executed a reasonably well-managed ninety-degree turn, and let loose several devastating broadsides before turning another ninety degrees to disappear back into the convenient fog bank.
        Chaos reigned in the human navies as ships maneuvered desperately. There was little actual shot damage, but there were crippling collisions. The commanders realized that the gods and their minions were damned clever opponents, closely coordinated and highly prepared. The primitively armed Heavenly Host had unflinchingly suffered appalling casualties to accomplish their missions and knew how to make the best of what they had captured. They now outnumbered the humans in capital ships — and they had the Yamato, an armored island with the biggest guns to ever grace a seagoing vessel. And it had been noticed that the four captured fast battlecruisers had not been seen. They would come within gunnery range of the carriers in about two hours, likely appearing as friendly forces out of the mist.
        Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto assumed command of the remnants of the human fleet, trying to establish order in half-a-dozen languages with signal lights, flags and sign language. The enemy had an hour's head start before the battleships Arizona, Bismark, Yamashiro, Roma, Barham, and battlecruisers Repulse and Hood finally charged out of the bay behind a screen of cruisers and destroyers.
        Damn! Where was Sara…?

Aloft, the Legions of the Heavenly Host
Wheeled in shimmering glory,
Higher and higher in singing multitudes
Of thousand and thousands
And thousands of thousands —
Every eye beheld them.

Until, with a shout like one great voice,
They fell toward their waiting foes,
Plunging more rapidly than nervous aim
Could track the darting figures
Weaving through the air
Above the human lines.

While far behind the distracted ranks
The mouths of Hell opened up,
Disgorging swift minions of
The damnéd regions below,
Easy riders on black-chromed Harleys
Falling unlooked-for upon the unprotected rear.

The powerful wings of man were set ablaze,
Bombs exploding amidst the pyres,
Spreading confusion and despair.
Attention wavered from the threat above
To gauge this new calamity —
And then the plummeting armies struck.

        They had assumed from Sara's reported experience with them that the flying warriors of the Heavenly Host would be lightly armed pushovers, but as it turned out, they were highly skilled in the use of their swords and spears and had no problems at all converting captured weapons to their own use. They had evidently had a very long time to prepare for this conflict, and were utterly fearless. They were secure in their essential immortality — whatever happened to their perishable present bodies — and in their rapture refused to acknowledge the pain of injuries. When incapacitated or captured, they simply died — joyously. There were so damned many of them, and their sudden dives put them quickly into hand-to-hand situations where modern weapons were not as effective — even downright dangerous to comrades in close quarters.
        Most of the humans' preparations had been focused inward, toward the obvious threat from the valley. The reserves behind the front lines were almost entirely primitive armies — Amerindians, subcontinental Indians, African tribals, Tatars, Assyrians, Huns, hoplites, Romans, Medieval foot and cavalry, Samurai, Chinese, Muslims — with precious few firearms.  Nearly all radio traffic was being jammed by the Valkyrie's attacks on Sara, and field telephones weren't much good under the circumstances, since — in many cases — it was impossible for the higher-level commanders to communicate with them even face-to-face.
        The gruesome-looking bikers were in among the planes and artillery too quickly for the front-line troops to do anything about it, and they were up to their asses in feathers anyway. It would have to be left to the spear-chuckers to save the human army's most modern assets. To their credit, they moved out quickly under their own initiative to engage the highly mobile raiders.
        They turned out to be pretty effective. Some Hottentot jammed his assegai through the spokes of a hog, sending its rider flying, and word spread quickly in spite of the language barriers. Sioux, Arab and Mongol light cavalry cut off and channeled large groups away from some of the surviving makeshift airstrips, and Hellene phalanxes and elephant troops hemmed them in.
        One trapped corps of Infernal commandos was ridden down by the gleamingly armored massed chivalry of five centuries of European knighthood in a thundering charge. Sturdy yeomen loosed deadly clothyard shafts, and crossbow bolts and arrows passed like clouds across the face of the sun. Elsewhere, the disciplined lines of Roman legions relentlessly ground the cyclists beneath their shields. In another place, thousands of chariots rolled like lawnmowers through the tangled ranks of choppers, led by the sons of Pharaohs and ringlet-bearded Persian princes. Tribes of howling savages mopped up stragglers and isolated pockets of resistance.
        In the front, the lines held, and in the rear areas, the menace was destroyed. Though short, it had been one hell of a fight, simultaneously involving every single human unit in one way or another. Though the attackers had been wiped out, human casualties were horrifyingly high, a Pyrrhic victory of staggering proportions. More than half of the aircraft had been damaged beyond use, and most of the larger artillery pieces. Even some of the armored vehicles had been knocked out with salvaged grenades and commandeered bazookas and anti-tank weapons.
        Worst of all, nearly every oasis had been intentionally fouled by some poor devil whose sulphurous black blood had rendered the water poisonous. Canteens and goatskins had been half-drained before this was discovered by unfortunate soldiers seeking to slake their thirst. There were scant reserves. The only alternative was within the city, alive with sparkling fountains — and whose gates opened to pour forth fresh multitudes of Heavenly troops.
        These were the avatars of earthly heroes from Valhalla and other warrior Paradises, led by Thor, Heracles, Samson and Gilgamesh. It was time for the humans to face themselves in battle.
        Hastily, runways were cleared and engines warmed up, ammo was salvaged wherever possible, motors turned over, and units made as ready as they could be. The isolated commanders tried to assess their situations. Too much had been lost, communications were a complete shambles, the desperation of thirst stared them in the face, the navy with all its vital firepower was inexplicably abandoning them, and there was no way to contact the carriers or coordinate what air support they still had.
        Damn! Where was Sara…?

        Sara had her own problems. The Valkyries had discovered that their combined firepower was insufficient to knock Sara out, but it didn't take all of them at the same time to accomplish their secondary purpose of disrupting radio traffic and her kreening. They alternated in and out so that some of them could be recharged by Zeus' thunderbolts while the others kept up the barrage.
        Sara had been counting on them to run out of steam so that she would be able to take advantage of the lulls to catch up on her communications duties, so she just tried to wait them out for a while. When that didn't happen, she began to analyze their patterns, discovering that the unique energy signatures of each Valkyrie switched off for short periods. There was a predictable rotation. Not that it did her any good to know that — they were using enough juice to keep her cut off.
        Why did each one have to break off for so long? she wondered. Experimentally, she gained some altitude and — sure enough — the intervals grew longer. Ha! They had to be grounded in order for the rejuvenating blasts of Zeus/Jove to work.
        She gradually worked her way higher and higher and further out to sea. Maybe if she got far enough away she could at least enable humans to establish some kind of radio contact with each other. The Valkyries caught on, though, and they all moved in together to drag her back. It got to be interesting then.
        They were incredibly powerful. Steel ran like water in their hands, mountains trembled at their touch. Their sinews were not of earthly stuff, but possessed the incalculable power of the limit of man's imagination. Now their heavenly physiques swelled mightily to accomplish the will of the gods themselves, straining beyond mortal comprehension, past human belief, calling on resources that drained Chaos itself. The concentration of vast forces made the space around them twist and tremble, and time and reality became less certain as wave states collapsed toward a naked singularity of impossibility.
        The Valkyries' propulsion was of a different order altogether from hers. Sara's finely tuned gravitational forces were unbalanced and disrupted by their efforts, making her grip on the mass of the planet less stable. Even her inertial guidance system was affected and she found herself becoming disoriented, unable to control her path with accustomed confidence. The sisters acted like a dozen churning tugboats surrounding and guiding an ocean liner, forcing her inexorably to a position over the city.
        Confused, she gave up struggling and the shieldmaidens quickly resumed their rotation to receive invigorating blasts. To the onlookers below, it seemed as if a second sun lurched drunkenly through the sky, from which blazing goddesses descended and ascended while thunderbolts flashed and pealed.
        Too late, Sara realized that she didn't dare simply streak off to break their grip. For one thing, she couldn't be sure if she would plow into the human forces like a meteor, or if she would be flung into empty space with no hope of a swift return. For another thing, she still was determined not to fight them, and breaking free would inevitably injure them. If she could break free…
        She had to do something. Time she could no longer accurately measure was slipping away. She knew that the Valkyries' fanatical commitment to restraining and blinding her meant that they considered her participation in the battle to be invaluable, so the humans must have great need of her by now. She couldn't let them down.
        Alright, she thought, this is my dream, dammit. It had to be that somewhere deep inside of her, some part of her was controlling all of this. She plunged inward, seeking a clue, a hidden file, a doorway through which she could escape this hell. Every lead, every possibility, every stray thought or memory was examined and queried. It was hopeless. There was nothing to find.
        She finally realized that she could only go forward to the end of this game, whatever it took to do so. She had to remain true to her beliefs, but it was obvious that she was being forced to make a decision. Reluctantly, she accepted the inevitable. She must fight the Valkyries.

        The commanders of the carrier forces knew that something had gone horribly wrong. They heard the frantic radio chatter about sea monsters, but it had seemed that the navies had gained the upper hand — when the radios suddenly filled with static. A little later, there was a short respite from the interference, and the radios blared even more frantic orders about boarding parties and retaking ships. Before any sense could be made of it, the static was back — this time seemingly for good. So much for their alien helper, they thought.
        Scout planes had been out since even before dawn, but whatever they saw was still unreported. More scouts were dispatched, with orders to return and report via signal lights. An extensive patch of fog had risen from the water, something heretofore unseen on this cloudless world. It made them apprehensive.
        They were at battle stations and strike aircraft were standing by, ready to launch at a moment's notice. But no calls came for air support, and launching prematurely and aimlessly could be useless or even dangerous.
        There were plenty of aircraft — way too many, in fact, even though the roster of carriers was impressive. The US was represented by the Lexington, Yorktown, Hornet and Wasp, along with a number of jeep and escort carriers. The Imperial Japanese Navy had contributed the Shokaku, Taiho, Shoho, Soryu, Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu, Ryujo and Shinano, all so crowded with airplanes that many had to be shoved overboard so that planes could be launched. The Brits had the Hermes, Eagle, Glorious and Ark Royal — though that ship illustrated a problem peculiar to their situation.
        In some cases, ships had gone down with nearly all hands, like the Hood, who left only three survivors when Bismark blew her out of the water. There were also plenty of sailors killed in action whose ships hadn't sunk, and there were a few ships that had been sunk in combat without losing many men. The Ark Royal had been torpedoed, but the only reason it sank was because of really, really bad damage control. The whole crew had been rescued and taken to Gibraltar, only twenty-five miles away.
        Whatever entity or agency was running things, they'd done the best they could. So Hood was fully crewed by her own men (determined not to let that happen again), while Ark Royal was filled with casualties from dozens of other ships. Except for the Swordfish pilots, nobody aboard really knew what to do. It was a miracle they hadn't accidentally blown the boilers or scuttled her. There were varying numbers of newbies on nearly every ship, so the battle efficiency of most of the navy was not exactly optimal.
        At least the language difficulties among the carriers was manageable, since half of them were Yanks or Brits and there were a fair number of UCLA graduates among the Japs.
        A scout finally appeared. There was no way it could land on the crowded decks until a first strike had been launched. Then the hangars could be emptied for a second strike, and afterwards planes could be recovered to be rearmed and refueled.
        The scout signaled, "No ships in harbor. One BB beached. Many wrecks, debris. Fleet not sighted this bearing."
        This was not good. Now what…? Launch a strike? Against what? Run away? Where? They turned into the wind, dispatched more scouts and got the pilots into their birds.
        Finally, four battlecruisers broke through the fog at flank speed, on a course that would take them past the carriers. One of them signaled, "Enemy fleet sighted, surface action expected," and gave coordinates, speed and heading that would put them far to the east of their present position, going away from the anchorage, presumably with the human navy in hot pursuit.
        Another signal read, "Intelligence indicates second enemy task force bearing this position. We are steaming to intercept. More elements following." They gave more coordinates, in the opposite direction from the valley and far out to sea.
        Well, crap. The planes were armed for ground support missions, not a naval battle. But they understood that time was of the essence and decided to launch everything they could get in the air, sending the Japanese east and the Americans and British seaward to meet the threat to the carriers. Meanwhile, they would rearm the rest of the planes with the proper ordinance for a second strike before bringing them up from the hangars, and hope that the battlecruisers could protect them. Large numbers of subs and U-boats, running on the surface, began to make their way to the area, hoping that they could find targets in the coming meleé.
        Another scout plane appeared and essentially confirmed the cruisers' messages, giving a slightly better fix on the developing battle to the east. It didn't take long for the two groups of planes to disappear over the horizon, seeking enemies that would not be there…
        The scout plane's robed signalman tapped the pilot on his right wing and gave a thumbs-up. They banked away toward the city. When the plane ran out of fuel, they just climbed out of the cockpit and flapped the rest of the way back to Heaven.

"Send forth your mighty to do us battle!"
The heroes of legend bellowed.
Great warriors and conquerors
Renowned in name and deed
Strode resolutely forward
To greet their kinsmen with iron and blood.

Vikings beheld their own hallowed dead
Selected for Valhalla by their valor,
The brave facing the bravest
Who sometimes faced themselves —
The soul of a man
Pitted against his honor.

And so it was in every corner
Where glorious death had sent
The essence of a man's fighting spirit
To Heaven as its just reward,
While his soul lay buried
Against this fateful day.

The clanking behemoths of the Russian motherland
Had no such illusions,
Charging straightaway into the fray.
Heracles made believers of some
By tossing them aside
Like little things.

Samson had no fragile jawbone
This time to dispatch Philistines,
But with a sturdier cudgel —
Gleaned from an ass
With a diesel engine —
Laid about him with deadly gusto.

Mjolnir flew from Thor's steel glove,
Hammering the Panzers
Like so many tin cans
On a barnyard fence,
The targets of a boy's slingshot
With hapless men inside.

Gilgamesh laughed,
Striding among the contending armies,
Bringing cheer to his comrades,
Leaving death in his wake.
Hidden by his cleverness,
No missiles found him.

        Admiral Yamamoto was a poker player. He was accustomed to gambling — it was part of his style. He had a good instinct for when he was being bluffed, and that's what he was feeling now. The enemy had disappeared into the fog in the general direction of the carriers. Even if they could catch up to them, it wouldn't be in time to do much good. Besides, the four fast battlecruisers would be able to do enough damage to the carriers to disrupt flight operations, whereas the slower battleships would not be able to pursue them effectively. If the carriers ran away from the battlecruisers, then delaying Yamamoto's fleet would be irrelevant, other than as a good excuse for a battle.
        No, there was something else planned for the big guns of the stolen battleships — other than denying their use to the humans, and tying up the pursuing fleet.
        If I were him, thought the admiral, I'd let the battlecruisers deal with the carriers — who are in for a nasty surprise — and use the fog to double back to the beach. So the only naval shore bombardment would be mine. It made chilling sense.
        He drew diagrams as best he could for the German and Italian captains, wrote dispatches to the American and British captains in precise English, and had them delivered to the torpedo boats alongside to try to find their intended recipients in the fog. He hoped to take the battleships with him and let the rest of the fleet try to catch up to the battlecruisers.
        With luck, some of them would rendezvous in the clear, west of the headlands. Maybe they would surprise the enemy this time. If nothing else, at least they would be able to lend some fire support to the armies.

        The army commanders, cut off from each other, independently came to basically the same conclusion — the situation was completely fubar. There was no effective fire control for the artillery they had, rendering it as dangerous to their own men as it might be to the enemy. Nobody knew where anybody was anymore. The armored blitzkreig had ground to a halt in the unfavorable terrain, with the crushed lead vehicles blocking any usable paths. Infantry had no clear objectives and were either milling around or completely immobilized. The few planes that were in the air had no guidance from the ground at all and were having great difficulty distinguishing friend from foe. The bombers might have been able to blow the hell out of Olympus and maybe stir something up, but couldn't get near it because of the radiant furball hovering overhead. Nobody knew what had happened to the navy…
        "The ships!" a lookout cried. Others around the rim of the valley took up the cry and commanders with binoculars trained their glasses on the sea.
        Thank goodness, they sighed to themselves. Maybe there's hope yet.
        The line of battleships moved majestically, parallel to the shore, big guns swinging inland, seeking targets.
        At this distance, they couldn't tell that the crews had wings.

        Above the valley, Sara wrestled the Valkyries. Sensing her determination to finally fight back, they held on with all the monumental power they could muster. Two sisters were clamped to each of Sara's legs and another pair were fastened to each arm. Two more seized her waist, one fastened herself to her back and the last one locked her thighs around her neck, wrapping her arms behind her head.
        Slowly, deliberately, Sara broke their supernatural grips, intending to make them wear themselves out in contesting her. One by one, she turned the tables, until at last, she was clasping each of them, binding their wrists together with a grip that could not be broken in Heaven or on Earth.
        With ever-increasing fury, they struggled futilely, pushing and pulling, tossing and turning. They could not break free, even though they called up reserves of energy that made the entire valley tremble. The fabric of space-time nearby began to tear, and blackness could be seen through the rips. There were terrible voices in the air as gods rushed to their assistance, but Sara would not relent under their added onslaught.
        Gradually, the struggles waned, the awful energies faded, the desperate contest ended as the sisters, unable to reach the ground to receive the lightnings of Zeus, shrivelled and were consumed, even as they refused to yield or cease, expending their final dregs in unswerving duty.
        Brunhilde, their chief, was last to go. With a tiredness that carried the burden of her entire immortality, she smiled at Sara and bade her farewell, "For we shall meet again in a better place, my love. And there I and my sisters shall do unto you the honors that you have earned." She flashed with glory one more instant, providing a fitting pyre for the empty husks that Sara still held. Their ashes drifted through her fingers.

        Above an empty ocean, pilots suddenly changed course. Within the blanketing fog bank, ships altered their headings and rang up battle speed. Submarines and destroyers who had been silently escorting the carriers began plotting firing solutions for a surface engagement with the four battlecruisers. A disorganized collection of battlewagons came together into a classic formation and emerged from the mist, crossing 'the T' with calligraphic precision. Artillery pointed confidently at new map grids and lanyards tightened. Armored vehicles acquired targets. Infantry formations began to move purposefully. Planes banked into screaming dives.
        Sara was back. The airwaves hummed. The tide turned.

        The carriers took bloody hell from the battlecruisers for a time. Explosions tore through the hangars of the Hornet, Hermes, Shinano and Shokaku, where crowded planes laden with fuel were being rearmed. The escorting destroyers charged suicidally, throwing torpedos at the cruisers with abandon. Evasive maneuvers took the battlecruisers into the jaws of hungry submarines. Smoke and confusion blanketed the area while the carriers sped off, flinging planes into the sky as fast as they could be brought on deck.
        Out of the fog raced the remaining destroyers of the fleet, followed closely by the cruisers. Shells flew back and forth in deadly arcs, but within mere minutes, the threat had been sent to the bottom.
        The carrier aircraft finally had meaningful destinations, flying the close air support missions that had originally been planned. They began a steady rotation with the other carrier-based planes from the surviving flat-tops. Their presence proved to be devastating.
        The land-based planes were used sparingly but tellingly. Slowly drifting Zeppelins gave the commanders perfect intelligence of the carnage below, directing Stukas to deliver pinpoint strikes so close to their own lines that the soldiers could read the serial numbers of the dropping bombs.
        A rocket salvo from a P-51 dispatched Heracles, and a helicopter gunship took care of Samson. Gilgamesh was eventually run over by a Tiger tank from behind while being distracted by the Ninth Kentucky, who — with a battalion of Johnny Rebs — was whoopin' and hollerin' fit t' raise th' dead. Thor got caught with his pants down, a consequence of his contest with Sara a couple of nights earlier. He managed to get away for a while, but without his hammer. He was finally overwhelmed by a Red Chinese human wave attack.
        Yamamoto made the best of his opportunity. All of his ships fired off every one of their guns before the ships of the Heavenly Host had a chance to bring what guns they could bring to bear around. The enormous Yamato was at the head of the column and was hit by just about every one of Yamamoto's ships. Unfortunately, it managed to keep firing with its two forward turrets until it ripped Repulse apart with its 18-inch projectiles.
        The Szent Istvan took several hits from the Roma and exploded. The smoke from her wreckage obscured Tirpitz for a few critical moments, which was probably a good thing for the humans. Arizona and  Bismark traded several salvos with Prince of Wales until the American ship lost the use of two of its turrets and caught fire. It drifted away and began to list. The Bismark's excellent fire control and high rate of fire finally shredded Prince of Wales, which slowly turned turtle and sank. Yamashiro fought a losing battle with Fuso and Haruna. A magazine explosion literally ripped her in two and she went down rapidly. Roma and Barham ganged up on Fuso, silencing her guns, then turned their attention to Haruna. They did a great deal of damage until Yamato put an end to Barham. Bismark finished off Haruna and then concentrated desperately on Yamato. Roma joined him, but neither ship was able to silence the superbattleship.
        The Hood, meanwhile, ignored everything else and went after Tirpitz, Bismark's twin. She had something to prove and launched everything she had at Tirpitz, who returned the favor with gusto. Though their guns were pretty well matched, the battlecruiser's thinner armor was proving to be a real problem — again. Tirpitz had superior fire control and a higher firing rate, but Hood had a more well-trained and experienced crew. Using speed and ship handling prowess — and taking advantage of the smoke and drifting wrecks — Hood managed to run astern of Tirpitz. Though riddled with holes from stem to stern, she held her advantage long enough to gain the upper hand. Tirpitz went dead in the water and lost power to the aft turret. Though she was slowly sinking, Hood kept up a relentless fire until Tirpitz was an almost unrecognizable pile of junk. Still, she remained afloat longer than Hood, but was no longer a menace.
        Yamato tore most of the superstructure completely off Roma. Two of her turrets continued to fire until a pair of 18-inch shells ripped the bow off. Roma fired a final round from one of her aft guns as she slipped below the surface, with no effect. That left the Bismark alone against the behemoth.
        Almost alone. The beached Musashi had been given up for dead. She lay half over on her side with the muzzles of her two forward turrets buried in the sand. The aft turret was at a bad angle, but when the tide of battle brought the enemy into a firing solution, the enormous rifles — the twins of her sister ship Yamato — belched flames. All three gigantic projectiles found their marks, and the mighty Yamato was fatally crippled.
        Belatedly, a squadron of torpedo bombers showed up to finish the job. The Bismark reported ready for shore bombardment and was soon joined by the returning cruisers and destroyers, along with a patched-up Arizona. The naval artillery finally went to work.

With newfound confidence
The armies of man cast down
The hosts of Heaven and
Stormed the gates of the city.
The walls were breached in a hundred places
And men marched into Paradise.

Fighting did not cease on the golden streets —
More multitudes poured from the citadel.
From house to house
The invaders made their way
Until resistance was crushed and
One last bastion remained.

Within the glittering palaces
The gods held final court
While the last remnants of humanity
Ascended the sacred ways
Devoid of ceremony,
Seeking no audiences.

With dreadful accuracy
Men called their own potent fire
Down upon the hopeless defenders —
Though Zeus lashed out with terrible effect
Until Vulcan's forge was toppled.
Other thunders were overthrown.

At last the uttermost sanctum was violated
By muddy-booted conquerors
Staining once-perfect marble floors
With their own blood and their gods',
Who bestowed a final benediction
Upon mankind — and perished.

        Sara surveyed the horrific aftermath in the darkness of that final night. Fires blazed from a thousand sources, reflecting dully from the bottom of the choking reek that covered everything. The valley was paved with the dead from both sides. Craters and mangled equipment were strewn across the shattered landscape. The beautiful city had been carpet bombed into oblivion. The central mount was ruined and not one monument remained unbroken. Even the Great Pyramid had crumbled.
        The few men who had survived were completely spent, falling wherever they were in utter exhaustion. They would sleep through the next day — if there was a next day.
        Her slow flight at last brought her to a pile of rubble that had once been Olympus. A rock face had been newly exposed to the air — or maybe she just hadn't noticed it before. As she came around to its front, she gasped at what she saw in the red flickering of the sullen flames.
        A titanic figure was fastened to the stone, arms spread wide, feet pinned together, great iron spikes driven through wrists and ankles. She descended quickly and yanked at the nails to free him. They did not budge.
        Sara blinked with surprise and pulled harder. They still did not move. She didn't understand and tried again, very deliberately. The spikes refused to yield to her.
        The figure opened his eyes and looked down at her. There was blood on his brow from a thorny bush that grew out of the rock above his head. He croaked painfully, "Who…?"
        Sara looked up at him, slightly exasperated at her inability to set him free. "Hi. I'm Sara Corel. I'm trying to get you loose, but something seems to be wrong."
        He smiled at her. "Ah, Sara. Tell me if it is done."
        "Done? What…? You mean the battle? I guess so. All the gods are dead, as far as I know."
        "All but one," he said. "It is time."
        Another figure pulled himself painfully to her side, covered with his own blood and that of his comrades, clutching a battered musket with fixed bayonet.
        Sara almost didn't recognize him. His entire demeanor had changed, becoming hardened and grim, determination coupled with a strength that carried him past exhaustion.
        He nodded numbly and croaked, "Ma'am."
        "You OK? Where's the rest of the Ninth Kentucky?"
        "I'm th' last. I did m' duty, ma'am. None of 'em suffered."
        "Oh, Nate. I'm so sorry…"
        "This here's th' last of 'em, ain't he."
        She looked up at the Titan. "Prometheus…?
        "I am," he acknowledged.
        She said, "He is the angel of this place. The one in charge. I think he arranged for all of this somehow."
        Nate nodded. He sounded bitter. "I said that if'n I was the last t' fall of all my comrades, there'd be Hell t' pay."
        "I remember," she said.
        He raised his musket, blood glistening blackly on his bayonet.
        "No!" she shouted, springing between the two. "He's the key. We have to get to the next level — or something. You can't…"
        "It's not your place to come between us, Sara," Prometheus told her.
        "You must stand aside, ma'am," Nate told her, gauging the distance. "I have had a great deal of experience lately in endin' others' misery. I aim to end his — and mine. He's the last, and — of all my company — so am I. I will finish it."
        He gently but firmly pushed her aside, in spite of her protests.
        "It is time," Prometheus sighed again.
        Nate lunged with the final particle of his strength, driving the bayonet deep into the Titan's side. His momentum carried him over the edge of the cliff, dragging his musket with him. He fell noiselessly.
        Sara tried to leap after him, but somehow lost her footing and fell to the ground, shouting out in frustration.
        Prometheus gasped, "It is done."
        She sprawled at his feet, looking up at him helplessly, not knowing what to think or what to do. The enormous weight of the days' events bore down palpably, confusing her and making her unaccountably weary — an unfamiliar physical sensation that disturbed her, even frightened her.
        She didn't understand — didn't want to understand. It was too much. "What… What's happening…?"
        "A miracle," he replied, and closed his eyes.

Chapter Forty: The Flesh and the Spirit

Table of Contents

© Patrick Hill, 2000