John Ringo
Hell’s Faire

Dedication

For the Barflies.

Here.

It’s done.

Now lemme alone!

J

Prologue

Monsignor Nathan O’Reilly, S.J., had to admit that there were good and bad aspects to being a consultant to the President of the United States. One excellent aspect was that his access to what limited intelligence the President possessed about humanity’s “benefactors” had been tremendously increased. Much of it had already been available to the Bane Sidhe, presumably through penetration of human computer networks. But it was useful to the Société to be able to both support their ancient “allies” and, admittedly, ensure that they were not being given the run around.

The negative aspect, of course, was that semi-professional paranoiacs and conspiracy True Believers assumed that a Jesuit as a counselor to the President meant some deeply laid conspiracy involving pyramids, Atlantis, aliens and lore of the ancients. The professional paranoiacs and security officers of the FBI, CIA, NSA, and other agencies knew that there were no ancient conspiracies. Any who insisted that Monsignor Nathan O’Reilly, Ph.D., Counselor to the President for Galactic Anthropology and Protocol, S.J., was involved in a millenia-old conspiracy would find him or her self in a rubber room quicker than you can say “Quick, get the tinfoil beanie!”

A fortunate attitude, since in this case the wackoes were right.

But his position also gave him a cachet in dealing with certain categories of people. Such as his current visitor.

Before his desertion from United States Special Operations Command, Lieutenant Commander Peter Left had been a medium-height man with the build and charisma of a blond, blue-eyed demigod. O’Reilly’s visitor was almost invisible: Brown hair, brown eyes, apparently lightly built, and his face had none of the commander’s movie-star good looks. The standard indentification scans for entry to Cheyenne Mountain had even revealed different palm prints, facial IR patterns, voice print, retinal scans and genetics. Nonetheless, Monsignor O’Reilly had no doubt that he was talking to the third in command of the Cyberpunks.

So far the talk wasn’t going well. Regardless of any convergence of interests between them and the Société, the Cybers existed to defend the U.S. Constitution against the Darhel and the politicians allied with them. Both the alliance and the orders it had spawned were entirely without basis in that document — without treaty, without article, without amendment; based solely on findings, declarations and standing orders — and so, totally counter to it in law and in spirit. As Left had just explained in quietly angry detail.

“When we presented our superiors with proof of the Darhel’s intentions, it was clear that they had been compromised. So we had to go outside sanction; there was no one left to obey. If we now start taking orders from some nebulous, Galactic-controlled conspiracy, we will be worse than those we oppose. Your proposal is, frankly, insulting.”

“The Société is not ‘Galactic controlled,’ ” O’Reilly said with a smile. “We’re independent of the Bane Sidhe. But each group has complementary strengths. The Bane Sidhe provide us with intelligence and access to Galactic technologies…”

“…And you provide the Bane Sidhe with assassins,” Left practically spat. “The Darhel at least don’t cloak their recruiting in high-minded phrases. Just because the Galactics can’t do their killing for themselves, doesn’t mean we have to be their lapdogs.”

O’Reilly fixed the Cyberpunk with a glare. “Okay, you arrogant jackass. Is that the way you want to play it? You and your precious Constitution that is as dead as a doornail if we don’t get the elves off our backs? You are fumbling in the dark for answers that we had when Gilgamesh was in diapers! I can show you the personal diary of Marcus Antonius, senior Centurion of the Fourteenth Roman Legion, one of the most cold-blooded killers you’d ever hate to meet, who decried in his personal writings the fact that humans were so often at odds when they should be combining their forces against the Darhel, the Old Ones as he knew them.

“You act to save ‘America’ and its precious Constitution, a constitution written in part by Société members. The Société has one mission and one mission only: Permit the human race to thrive and grow free of the Darhel! And right now, the Darhel are the biggest threat to your Constitution. So are you going to work with us or are we going to run around in the shadows at odds with each other? Those are the choices. Binary solution set. Get over it.”

The commander considered him calmly for a moment then nodded. “What do you want and what are you willing to trade for it?”

“You’re right that the major needs are for direct action personnel,” O’Reilly said with a nod. “This war has sucked down the available pool of personnel and we have a need for teams, on-call teams…”

Left shook his head. “We cannot act directly against the Darhel. It would violate the Compact. While it may not be in direct support of the Constitution, we feel that the Compact is in everyone’s long-term interest.”

“The Compact, and your actions to bring it about, is what impressed me about you,” O’Reilly said. “Although I think you pulled up short. Five Darhel for General Taylor is a poor trade. Fifteen. Twenty. A hundred if possible.”

“I tend to agree,” Commander Left said with a thin smile. “However, five was the best we could do without… excessive sloppiness. We considered being sloppy as payback for framing us for the Tenth Corps hacking, but it wasn’t necessary. If, when, we have to repeat the lesson, five will be about the most we can guarantee. And since they would be willing to kill the occasional important soldier in exchange for five senior Darhel, we stated plainly that if the person is specifically protected it becomes an all-out war. But the point is, we cannot move against the Darhel. So what would you need teams for?”

“There are other actions that need the ‘human’ touch. Subtly guarding selected individuals for example. We actually get very good intelligence on Darhel intentions and can often intercept assassinations. But we need counter-assassins to do so. We also occasionally need pickups where angels fear to tread.”

“Did you know about the termination of General Taylor in advance?” Left asked quietly.

O’Reilly nodded. “Certain cells were informed in advance along with the warning that using the information could reveal a source. On the balance, protecting General Taylor and possibly losing the source was not a good strategic decision. So we allowed it to happen.”

Left’s mouth tightened. “Like Churchill and Coventry. I understand the logic, but the Cybers reject that degree of realpolitik. Frankly, you may want to reconsider allying with us. If we do join up, we will expect a higher degree of… moral consideration, Jesuit. Call us paladins, but if you play realpolitik and dump one of our teams, or let one of our operatives die, we will hunt you to the ground or die trying. So, do you still want to do this?”

“Yes, we do,” O’Reilly said with a sigh. “That, the Cyber Creed as we call it, was much discussed. One view was that we can work around it. Some sources will be more vulnerable, but if need be, we’ll have them disconnect and we’ll recover them. We lose the ongoing info, but not the source.”

“Unfortunate, but you can’t use people as pawns,” Left said coldly. “Politicians doing that have brought us to this.”

“Another view,” O’Reilly continued, “was that we shouldn’t ally with you because of that loss. That was mostly from certain Bane Sidhe factions, the Tongs and the Franklins. You want underhanded and realpolitik, the Franklins make the Darhel look warm and fuzzy. The third view, from different Bane Sidhe factions, the Société and other groups within the Mother Church, was that it is a refreshingly moral approach, and the long-term benefits outweigh any short-term consequences.”

“Jesus,” Left said with a laugh, “how many groups of you are there?”

“Quite a few, apparently,” the monsignor said thinly. “If there is a civilization of any size, you will find the Bane Sidhe somewhere in its cracks.”

“Okay, you need assassins and counter-assassins. What do we get?”

“Oh, we’ll ask for other things than that,” O’Reilly admitted. “That a guy with a ‘wanted: dead’ poster can walk into High Command proves just how capable the Cybers are.” In support of that capability, O’Reilly offered clean AIDs for the Cybers to study. Access through Indowy contacts to Fleet’s entire records database, and profile generators to better the Cybers’ ability to identify good candidates for recruitment. Access to the Société’s safehouse network, in every surviving major city, and even off-planet. “Weapons, money, documents, you name it, we can provide it.”

“And, wow, all we have to do is kill perfect strangers,” Left said, shaking his head. “I’ll take it back to Cyber command. But I don’t like it that so many of your cells are known to the Indowy. We will not permit executive connection to them: I meet an Indowy and we’ll consider the bridge burned. Understood?”

“Understood,” the monsignor said with a nod. After a moment he smiled. “One question: Do you still have females in your organization?”

“A few,” Left admitted. “Cyber training is very physical, but it has as much to do with the mind as the body. Why?”

“Oh, just a thought,” O’Reilly chuckled. “The Société looks at the long haul and we were discussing recruiting. It so happens we have a mission that has an immediate priority. I did mention where angels fear to tread, yes?”

CHAPTER ONE
Near Asheville, NC, United States of America, Sol III
0215 EDT Monday September 28, 2009 AD

Go tell the Spartans, passerby
That here the Three Hundred lie
Obedient to their commands.
— Simonides of Ceos
Inscription at Thermopylae

Major Michael O’Neal checked the holographic schematic he had thrown up and nodded as the Banshee banked to the right and dropped; now the fun started.

The shuttle he was riding in looked like a black scimitar scything across the cloudy Appalachian sky. The combination of human, Indowy and Himmit technology had created something that was neither the best nor the worst of the three worlds, a ship that was somewhat stealthy, somewhat armored, somewhat maneuverable and somewhat fast.

Of course, compared to anything from pure human technology, the Banshee III was a marvel beyond words.

The stealth shuttles had had an uneventful voyage until reaching the area of the southern Shenandoah. There the Posleen invaders, who held virtually all of the Atlantic and Pacific seaboard, had made an incursion in the area of Staunton. And that required the scimitar-shaped ships to drop to below the level of horizon and begin evasive maneuvers.

Over the past five years the Posleen had landed in waves throughout the world, overrunning virtually every defense. The few survivors of Western Europe were now huddled in the Alps, eking out a retched existence among those upland valleys. The Middle East, Africa, most of South America, were either in Posleen hands or in such a state of anarchy not even radio communications were coming out. The only survivors in Australia were in the far western territories and roaming the desert interior in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. China had been lost only after loosing nearly a thousand nuclear weapons in the long retreat up the Yangtze Valley. Others survived in the highlands of the world, holding passes against the enemy. But few of those scattered groups were a coherent defense. Everywhere, one by one, the civilizations of the world had fallen to the remorseless invaders. With one small exception.

In the United States a combination of geographic luck — the Posleen tended to land in coastal plains and the U.S. had defendable terrain features inward of all the coastal plains — and, frankly, logistic and political preparation had permitted the U.S. government to retain control, to retain a condition of “domestic harmony” in a few areas. Of these, the most vital were the Cumberland and Ohio basins due to their industrial might and breadth of agricultural resources. The vast plains of Central Canada were still safe, and would remain so as long as the Posleen were resisted at all, for the Posleen were almost incapable of fighting in snow. But those plains, and the various western areas in human control ranging from the Sierra Madre to the Canadian Rockies, could produce only a small number of crops, mostly grains. Furthermore there was little or no industrial infrastructure in comparison to the might found in the Cumberland and Ohio.

The Cumberland, the Ohio and the Great Lakes regions were the heart and soul of the defense of the United States. Losing the Cumberland, furthermore, would open all of that up to conquest.

And with one thrust the Posleen had placed all of that in jeopardy. For years the major blow had been expected at Chattanooga, where little would stand in the way of a break-out. This battalion, and others, had defended the cities that were scattered down the range of the Appalachians, each of them, at one time or another, assaulted in force by the enemy. Only a few weeks before the battalion had been in a hair-raising battle on the Ontario Plain. But this time the Posleen had surprised everyone, striking an unnoticed and lightly defended sector, and throwing the defense of the entire Eastern U.S. into flux.

O’Neal and his forces had passed over southern Pennsylvania and through West Virginia without incident. But now, approaching the jumbled mess of western Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, it was time to get down and busy.

From this point forward the Posleen were pressing hard or already over the Appalachian Wall. The battalion would actually be forced to fly between two Posleen thrusts; besides the attack through the Gap the Posleen were pressing in on two flanks of Asheville. If the Posleen were able to reach the embattled city from the rear, the end would be assured. On that flank, the mountains above Waynesville would be the key, but they were a problem for others; the only thing the First Battalion Five-Fifty-Fifth infantry had to worry about was surviving as a plug.

O’Neal nodded again as another turn was faintly sensed. The shuttles used just a touch of inertial compensation to reduce the impact of their course corrections. Too much and they stood out like light bulbs to the Posleen. Too little and they smashed their passengers into jelly. Mike switched to an external view and by the light of the waxing moon he could see the mountains flashing by overhead; the ships were down in a valley, following its wandering path and only the occasional shudder passed through to the humans.