Chapter II

"And on the pedestal these words appeared: 'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.' Nothing beside remains."

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias

Slogging through the mostly unpopulated Russian wastes was not an altogether enjoyable experience. Russia never could fight a global war without falling apart. One of the last truly independent nations, Russia had attempted to hold of the UN to the west and the Chinese to the southeast, and failed miserably. They buckled about five years into the war. Today there were still a few scattered farm collectives, but no central government to speak of.

Abdullah al-Arish wouldn't have it any other way. Thanks to Russia's nonexistence, the covert Muslim strike on Eastern Europe had been just that. As his tank rolled through the streets of Warsaw on his way to the troopship, Abdullah stood head and shoulders out of the cupola, lord of all he surveyed.

His platoon of tanks was the spearhead of an upcoming attack on the Papal Patrimony of St. Augustine, still known to his government as Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece. The infidels gave places such convoluted names.

Abdullah's platoon would be the first to use the energy lance. He felt like he assumed a kid would feel like on Christmas morning.

An energy lance is a curious thing. It certainly didn't look terribly impressive. The technicians had removed his great, long, loud, hideous wide-bore cannon and replaced it with a roughly meter-long tube of black plastic, topped off by an antenna. But within the tube lay an elaborate system of cables, circuits, focusing prisms and mirrors that translated what was in effect a laser pointer into what was in effect a lightning bolt.

Or so Abdullah had been told. He was slightly disturbed by the fact that he was going into combat with an untested weapon and no backup armament, but the authority of his superiors was beyond all questions.

The troopship left them ten miles outside the nearest population center, St. Sophia. He wasn't entirely sure if there actually was a St. Sophia or if they had just tacked on the title to make it sound more Catholic.

Abdullah turned and saw two divisions' worth of men and armor line up behind him. He grinned a predator's grin. This is what he lived for.

They roared into St. Sophia. Papist troops were spread thin on the ground, mostly because of the ill-advised attack on Istanbul. Abdullah didn't get a chance to try out his new toy until well into downtown.

There, an Archangel-class (heavy duty) Papist tank jerked out from its hiding place, briefly took aim with its cannon, and fired. Fortunately, the round glanced of Abdullah's tank's thick sloped frontal armor, as opposed to the thinner sides.

"Front!" Abdullah yelled to his gunner.

"Identified!" replied that worthy, and rotated the new miniature turret to bear on the target. "Er, sir, how do I fire this thing, exactly?"

Abdullah mused on that for a moment. "Well, I'm not of proper caste to provide tech support, but one would assume there's a big red button on a joystick of some type."

"Oh, right." The gunner fired. There was no satisfying BANG from the turret, nor did the acrid stench of smoke fill the tank. Indeed, the only evidence that the energy lance had even been fired was Abdullah's witness as he gazed out of the periscope.

The tank appeared as if Allah had struck it with a lightning bolt from heaven. The entire right side, where the lance had struck, was melted, impacted, and caved in. The rest was on fire. An absurdly cheery pop-pop noise rang out as the ammunition inside began to cook off. None of the crew appeared to have escaped or even realized what hit them.

"Son of a bitch!" hooted Abdullah. "Er, I mean, hit!"

"Tell the truth, sir," said the gunner, a picture of Islamic humility and submission. "It didn't take much on my part." He patted his firing button in awe. "This thing shoots in a straight line forever."

"Duly noted, Sergeant." For some reason, a song by an ancient American rock band by the name of Bachman-Turner Overdrive popped into his head.

B-b-b-baby, you just ain't seen n-n-nothin' yet.

Lieutenant Mao Tse-tung had a highly unfortunate name. With China's regression to imperialism, the old Communist regime had been largely demonized. His parents, staunch Reds, had named him before being executed for sedition shortly after he was born. Mao had been raised in a state orphanage and taught infallible faith in the Sun King Qin Shi Huang Do.

It hadn't worked. Mao Tse-tung was a Communist.

Nobody knew this, of course, but his name inevitably led to fights in elementary school. And high school. And basic training. And flight school. And in the officer's club last night.

Mao jerked himself out of his reverie and decided to start paying attention to the briefing.

"Men," said the solemn colonel giving the aforementioned briefing, "today's mission is simple. Search and destroy. The UN has launched several fleet carriers out of Pearl Harbor and has conducted damaging raids on the Philippines, the Korean peninsula, Japan, and even southern Manchuria. Hunt them down and gut them like the fish they are. Good luck, and may the Sun King shine on you."

Thus dismissed, Mao met with the rest of his flight in the hangar. "Who's ready to blow shit up!" yelled a fresh-faced private. Mao shook his head. War was not about action, honor, glory, or victory. It was, simply put, staying alive. Hopefully this first mission would be enough for the kid to realize that.

After the launch, the flight spent a dreary half-hour in grid-search pattern, hunting their prey. Then, out of the wild blue yonder-

"Ambush!" squawked one of his wingmates over the all-flight channel on Mao's radio. A full flight of fighter-bombers surged into the group's flank. The fight began immediately.

Something, however, was not quite right (aside from Mao's friends fighting and dying). These were fighter-bombers. Mao's group was full of specialized fighters. Between specialized and generalized, there was no contest. And yet the battle was a total stalemate.

The ensuing battle left Mao little room for conscious thought. He grappled intensely with a UN Excalibur fighter-bomber. Again, this should be no contest. But somehow, this bulky thing was able to turn inside Mao and-

A resounding BANG made his fighter buck and start to spiral. Most of his readouts went red. He had lost an engine! Cursing, he divested himself of his mask, opened the cockpit, and hurled himself out of his failing jet.

Mercifully missing the descending fuselage, Mao clung more to the decaying tatters of the Geneva Convention than to his parachute. Even the UN wouldn't shoot down an extravehicular pilot. Would they?

Fortunately, he made it below the fighting and got himself tangled in a tree on the Irish countryside. He looked up again and saw the enemy planes shoot away at an impossible speed. The sound and the shockwave reached Mao a moment later.

"Holy hell," Mao gasped in utter astonishment. "Those things are supersonic!"

"Stop! Hands up, Chinaman!" came a gruff call in accented Cantonese.

Mao took a moment to examine his current predicament. "I am already quite helpless, I think."

Four UN soldiers in matte black emerged from the brush.

Father Captain Hugo Stiglitz could hardly believe his eyes. His company and the greater regiment were really, truly, actually camped outside of Istanbul.

Mickey O'Doull and several other junior officers had resurrected an old song to celebrate the incredulity at the sheer absurdity and unlikelihood of the event. It echoed across the camp even now, a parody of the Holy Father's insistence on renaming the city.

"Istanbul was Constantinople,

Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople,

Been a long time gone, Constantinople,

A Turkish Delight on a moonlit night!

Every gal in Constantinople

Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople

So if you've a date in Constantinople,

She'll be waiting in Istanbul!"

Stiglitz thought it was a riot. He quickly learned the words.

It was unexpectedly quiet. The Muslims were fighting for this place tooth and nail, house by house, block by block. Why, then, were they so-

CHEEEEEEEEE-FRAPOW! A bomb from an upper-atmosphere bomber fell upon the camp. Mystery solved.

Fortunately, immediately upon setting up camp, Stiglitz had ordered his men to prepare dugouts for just this occasion.

The bombing continued for some time, most bombs falling off-target. A high-altitude bomber was a close cousin to playing darts blindfolded. When it finally let up, Stiglitz stood up in his foxhole and barked, "Casualties?"

A medical corpsman, with red crosses prominently displayed on smock and helmet, approached Stiglitz and performed the Papal Salute (the sign of the cross performed with a flat hand). "Father, fourteen wounded, one dead."

Stiglitz grunted. It was better than he could have hoped. He rose his voice again. "Men! These Muslims have given us a fight and, as Our Lord says, what you sow, so shall you reap!"

Another chorus broke out in response.

"So take me back to Constantinople!

No you can't go back to Constantinople!

Been a long time gone, Constantinople,

Why did Constantinople get the works?

That's nobody's business but the Tuuuuuurks!"

And so began the Fourth Battle of Istanbul…and/or Constantinople.

"Silvio!" yelled the Vicar of Christ on Earth. "Silvio!"

Archbishop Silvio Auditore was in a highly compromising position. He swore, zipped his fly, and left the absurdly luxurious papal bathroom.

He hurried into the pope's audience chamber. "You rang, Your Holiness?"

Pope Pius XVIII, to Auditore's great surprise, dispensed with the formalities. He frantically waved a sheet of paper in Auditore's face. "What is this?"

Auditore fruitlessly attempted to follow the flailing paper. Losing patience, he unceremoniously snatched it out of the pope's hand. "This, Your Holiness, would appear to be the latest report on the fighting in Istanbul."

"Constantinople!"

"In Constantinople!"

"Precisely! I did not order another offensive!"

"Your Holiness, it was not technically an offensive. Father Stiglitz was merely responding to-"

"HUGO STILGITZ! That eternal thorn in my side! That perverted proactive son of a Bohemian rhapsody! I want him decommissioned, defrocked, decommunicated, and deceased!"

"I believe you mean excommunicated."

"I was riffing, Silvio!"

Auditore had a sudden vivid image of the pontiff hanging by his neck by his vestments from his public address balcony. "Your Holiness, Father Captain Stiglitz is an exemplary soldier, a superb commander, well-beloved by his men. He-"

"Is a UN spy!"

"Your Holiness, with all the respect you and your office deserves, what the hemorrhaging fuck are you smoking? Did you even finish reading the report?"

"No. As a matter of fact I did not."

Auditore handed it back to him. "Read the last sentence."

The pontiff glared at the paper for a moment, then his eyes widened. "'The city of Istanbul is now in Papal hands. Signed, Father Captain Hugo Stiglitz, Order of St. Michael.' Oh."

"Yes."

Pius gave the sheet back. "Well, that's alright then. Give him the Purple Heart or something."

"Your Holiness, Father Stiglitz wasn't injured."

"What's that got to do with anything?"

"One can only earn the-never mind. Rest assured that he will receive a medal."

"Good. How is the St. Augustine situation?"

"Terrible. The Muslims have some sort of new energy weapon that is making mincemeat of our troops. We have no idea what it is, hence we can build no defense."

"I want it."

Of course he did. "Your Holiness, we have no idea what it is. How do you propose we go about developing it?"

"That's your purview, not mine! Just keep throwing money at it! I don't care how! I want it now."

Auditore chalked it up to coincidence. His Holiness would never intentionally quote a musical. "You are quite the effective leader, Your Holiness."

"Thank you, Silvio," replied Pius, as usual deaf to sarcasm. "That will be all."

Silvio left the audience chamber. On his way down the stairs, he had a revelation, one he was sure came from God.

Pope Pius XVIII had to die.

Sergeant Henry Gibbon could have done without his promotion. He could have done without the additional fifty credits in his pay. He could have done without being shot at. Most of all, he could have done without babysitting for a bunch of green privates.

Welcome to Starkesboro, Mass.! Proclaimed a sign. A Nice Place to Live!

Nobody could profess Starkesboro as a nice place to live anymore. A randomly chosen strongpoint against the Papal advance, Starkesboro barely had two stones stacked on top of each other. It was a miracle in itself that the sign that was now a liar was still legible to any degree.

It was in UN hands for the moment, and a lull in the fighting allowed Gibbon to enjoy a cigarette.

"Sir! Sir!" called a private so green that he didn't know you didn't refer to an NCO as "sir."

"Yes, what is it, Whatsyerface?" replied Gibbon wearily.

"Sir, one of the Papists just came over under flag of truce! He says he wants to discuss the terms of their surrender."

Gibbon laughed so hard the cigarette fell out of his mouth. "I find that hard to believe. Put a blindfold on him and we'll take him to see the colonel."

The aforementioned colonel, William Durst, was more a bureaucrat at heart and was clearly ill-at-ease at the front, as if he expected Qin Shi Huang Do to jump out from behind a bush and shank him. He looked at the arrival of the Papist captain as an act of great personal harm.

Durst sighed. "So you're surrendering, then?"

The Papist nodded curtly. "Indeed."

"But are you not, how they say, winning?"

"That is correct."

"Why, then, are you surrendering?"

"Colonel, you cannot possibly fathom how difficult it is to fight a war from across an ocean."

"And you, sir, cannot possibly fathom the fuck I do not give. Your point?"

The Papist fidgeted nervously. "My point is that when this operation went underway, it was assumed that we could capture enough supply dumps on Long Island and in Manhattan to keep us going. But you people-" he spat the phrase "-torched too many of them."

"So what are your conditions for your surrender?"

"One condition. Singular. We ask that you simply let us leave."

"Let you leave."

"Yes."

"You want us to let you leave?"

"That is correct."

Durst shrugged. "Okay."

"Really?"

"Sure. One condition. You are to leave all of your weapons and munitions behind. You are to take with you only the clothes on your backs and enough supplies to make the trip home. You may commence evac at 0900 hours tomorrow morning."

"I suppose I can accept that." The Papist stood and stuck out his hand.

Durst shook it. "Private, return the captain to his line."

The greenie saluted and left the tent with the Papist.

Durst turned to Gibbon. "Sergeant, I'll need you and a couple of other squads to supervise the evac."

Gibbon saluted. "Yessir."

"Oh, and one more thing."

"Sir?"

"Kill 'em all."

Judah Loew Belaziel couldn't believe his senses. He was actually in a concentration camp. Well, technically, it was a civilian detainee camp but all the prisoners, as far as he could see, were Jewish.

The Muslim invasion of Poland had been swift, silent, and a complete surprise. Although, Judah mused, even if the Polish army had been alerted, the defense probably wouldn't have amounted to much regardless.

The Muslims now dominated Eastern Europe, with nary a sniff of disapproval from the UN, even if most of it was technically under the protection of the Charter. Rumors were flying about a secret noninterference pact, but Judah didn't deal in rumors.

He had more pressing issue to attend to anyway. The guards weren't quite shutting them in gas chambers quite yet, but the food was damn near close enough. Being the only one in his cell block who spoke Farsi, Judah was thrust into the role of spokesperson.

"This is ridiculous," he complained to a guard. "This food is barely keeping us alive. The least you can do is feed us the same stuff you feed your soldiers."

"But that food is needed for the soldiers," replied the guard, grinning at what he thought was a bulletproof argument.

"Not the same food itself, you single-cell excuse for a constipated Cro-Magnon's bowel movement. Food of the same QUALITY. Does your mother know you're out this late?"

The guard leveled his submachine gun at Judah. "That's enough, you fucking heathen!"

Judah laughed a maniac's laughter. "Oh my God! He thinks I'm the heathen! That is adorable. Geh kek afen yam!" Judah exploded, slipping into Yiddish.

The guard stared at Judah uncomprehendingly for a few moments, then shrugged and left. Judah fumed and stormed back to his barracks. Some other prisoners who had overheard approached him. "What did you say to him?"

"In Yiddish, it roughly translates into 'go fuck a cow,'" replied Judah.

"And he didn't understand you?"

"Well, Yiddish is a somewhat esoteric language, but from what I can tell none of the guards speak anything but Farsi."

The prisoners looked at each other, grins growing slowly on their faces. "Do you realize what this means?"

"I believe so. You can say whatever you want to the guards as long as you've got a smile on your face. Gentlemen, I do believe we have a riot on our hands."

Luc Harcourt would have rather spent Christmas Eve in a bar, singing slurred and somewhat obscene renditions of Christmas carols and ringing in Our Lord's birthday with a cocktail waitress.

Instead, he was at work. True, he was a freelance assassin, not an accountant, but the bitterness was the same.

"Alright," he said gruffly. "Make it quick. They don't let ugly women be cocktail waitresses, you know. It's in the job description."

His usual UN contact was an agent who referred to himself only as "Mr. Smith." He said, "Fine, fine, fine. I have a family, you know."

"Oh, really? Mrs. Smith and a couple of little Smithys?"

"Quite enough of the cynical Frenchman routine, Luc. The point is that I don't want to be here any more than you do." Mr. Smith tossed a fat dossier onto the conference table. "Here is your mission."

Luc flipped it open and read the mission overview. "Interesting. Now tell me, Smithy boy, could you possibly be a teensy bit more vague?" He skimmed down the page and found his price. "One hundred thousand? Sounds like a general or head of state."

"Bravo, Luc. Gold star. It is, in fact, a head of state."

"Which one? You want me to go after your boss? Because that would be hilarious."

"No. Secretary-General Lincoln is performing satisfactorily for the moment."

"A foreigner then. The Muslims' caliph, Mahomet VI?"

"No."

"Qin Shi Huang Do, the Chinese guy?"

"No."

Luc scratched his head, highly bemused. "Uh, one of the Ninety-Nine Chiefs?"

Mr. Smith made a note on his PC. "Not a half-bad idea, but no."

Luc grew tired of this game. "Well, who the hell is it then?"

"Oh, come on, Luc. You're so very close. Process of elimination."

Luc's eyes widened in sudden realization. "No…"

"Ah, he's got it!"

"That's not possible. He's got more security than Lincoln, more money than God, more-"

Mr. Smith tut-tutted. "Luc, Luc, Luc! You underestimate yourself!" He tapped the dossier again. "As you know, he gives a State of the Empire address on the first Sunday of the New Year. He is protected by a bulletproof lectern. Well, most of him. He is tall enough that he stands head and shoulders above it. Surely, with your reputation for accuracy…"

Luc cut him off. "Say no more. However, I feel that this particular target just might be worth a tad bit more than a hundred grand."

"How much more?"

"Two hundred."

Mr. Smith snorted. "Please. Lincoln doesn't get two hundred." They dickered for a while. Eventually they settled on one hundred and seventy-five thousand credits. Mr. Smith stood and shook Luc's hand. "A very merry Christmas to you."

"And to you."