Chapter Thirty-Six

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Chapter Thirty-Six – Preparation

The shuttle flew south across the new Mediterranean Ocean to the western end of a large island that marked the former Atlas Mountains ,where I now write this tale. It turned east towards the rising sun along the former north African coastal regions inundated by the newly formed ocean, whose southern shore now lapped the Upper Volta region of East Africa and west towards Ethiopia.

Turning north above the source of the Blue Nile, Apis followed the line of mountains that formed Ethiopia’s highlands. The shuttle climbed above a vast sandy valley which had been the Red Sea, and over the sheer rocky ramparts marking the southern boundary of Gilgama. Crossing the former kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Apis flew north-east low across the endless desert land. Approaching the old city of Al-Kuwait, he turned north and landed beside the ruins of Ur, south west of An-Nasiriyah, close to where the Tigris and Euphrates joined to form the Shatt-al-Arab. Because of the upheaval, the river ended in a spectacular windswept waterfall plunging two thousand meters down to what used to be the Persian Gulf, but is now a broad fertile valley. The river continued through the valley, meandering its way through date palms and fields of rice, towards the area formerly known as the Strait of Hormuz, now transformed into a series of broad waterfalls, emptying into the Oman Sea, landlocked by the upheaval and cut off from the Indian Ocean.

The place was deserted. Dust devils spun grains of sand in biting clouds that bombarded the berserker brothers’ skin. Their approach and landing had been carefully watched. The sandy desert erupted around them as thousands of armed men and women rose up, pointing weapons at them. A powerful figure made his way towards them, dressed in flowing desert clothing. “Welcome Akhen. Welcome to you and your brothers.” Hor threw off his goat wool burnous and greeted the brothers. His tale of the merciless attack by Shu’s berserkers and his escape with Auset and a few others, echoed what they had found back in the valley.

~~~

According to my cousin’s reports, Shu was to the north of Gilgama destroying the former Georgian states. Word had been received that she was next heading for the Indian sub-continent and the far eastern lands still dominated by China. She would eventually come here. How soon Hor did not know. He had scraped together a few thousand well-armed troops, survivors of the Earth Defence Forces, and they formed the core of his army. Foraging patrols combed the battlefields across the planet, bringing back anything useful. Artisans set up small mud-brick workshops across the vast fertile land between the rivers, turning scrap into weapons. The whole Mesopotamian valley was one vast armed camp preparing for Armageddon. In the following six months, Akhen and his brothers began training the strongest members of Hor’s army in berserker tactics, forming small hit and run units, able to snap at Shu’s heels.

From time to time, Hor took the brothers on inspection tours of the heavily defended area, familiarising them with the defensive rings that surrounded Ur for thousands of kilometres to the north, south, east, and west. A ring of steel extended in a rough circle covering most of ancient Mesopotamia. Starting at Al-Kut in the north, a few kilometres south-east of Baghdad, east to Ahvaz, cut off from the rest of Iran during the upheaval, south to Al-Kuwait, the old capital city of Kuwait, west to As-Samawah on the semi-fertile western edge of the old Mesopotamian valley, completing the circle north west at the ancient ruins of Babylon.

The outermost ring consisted of a line of ancient missiles, armed with a mind-boggling array of payloads salvaged from their long forgotten bunkers in the surrounding lands. Nuclear, biological, and chemical warheads spearheaded the arsenal of explosive destruction, aimed outward from the ring towards the dunes beyond the low lying area of dry wadis. The second contained multiple rocket launchers aimed skyward to take out any threat from the air. Heavy and long-range artillery sat in readiness to lay deadly barrages of shells, fitted with low-yield battlefield tactical nuclear warheads, designed to destroy everything within a two-kilometre radius from the impact on the ground, within the third ring.

Inside the fourth ring, stretching for thousands of kilometres around the inner rings, fields of land mines and barbed wire lay in wait. The fifth was a no man’s land of hastily dug pits containing upturned sharp steel fence stakes used to support barbed wire, hidden beneath their flimsy date palm mat covers.

Lastly, in the immediate area surrounding Ur and the town of An-Nasiriyah, Akhen and his brothers placed a sixth ring of their own, constructed from the explosives and equipment they had brought from the abandoned Marine Corps colony on Mars. The brothers created a deadly ring consisting of laser mines, mobile particle cannon,  and rocket launchers containing plasma torpedoes, redesigned for use in the atmosphere, mobile disrupter cannon, shoulder launch fusion rockets, and disrupter rifles. And finally, Semac and molecular charges spread liberally throughout the area, marked only by tiny piles of stones, to prevent the unwary from detonating them and blowing themselves into a million pieces.

The trap was set. But would Shu take the bait? Tuluk saw to it that she did. Not for the sake of the survivors in the camp, but for our own selfish ends! While the brothers equipped themselves for the inevitable attack, preparations continued day and night. For the first time since Shu had transformed them years before in the ancient library beneath the tundra on Kallorn, the brothers were split up to lead different sections of the defence force under Hor, who because of his long experience over the centuries fighting to protect Earth against hostile off-world invaders, was general commanding.

Akhen took charge of the inner ring surrounding Ur, while Khan assumed control of the outer missile ring, rockets and artillery with Shansur and Manesh as his lieutenants. Akkad and Nusaan coordinated the communications and intelligence gathering networks across the region. Apis supervised the many weapons factories, while Besal, Max, and Seti toured the land by ancient twenty-first century truck, looking for fresh food for the hungry defenders. And lastly, general Hor sat in a Bedouin tent in the centre of Ur, surrounded by topographical maps and his junior officers, planning every move and counter move possible, in preparation for the inevitable battle.

A small squadron of Mordred fighters had been cloned from Hor’s own fighter and constructed by the ingenious artisans in Apis’ weapons factories. Age old skeletal remains of tanks and half-tracks from wars in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries were dug out of the sand and converted into armoured, open-topped crawlers, with adapted shoulder launch fusion rockets and twin disrupter rifles mounted on rings, giving them a three hundred and sixty degree arc of fire. Apis’ artisans were churning out hundreds of disrupter rifles and fusion pistols every day. C4 charges were equipped with laser detonators to add to the minefields. Claymore mines, favoured by the former Earth Defence Force contingent, were put to good use forming a deadly protective ring around each armed installation.

A makeshift field hospital under the direction of Auset was erected in Ash-Shatrah, beside the sparkling waters of the Shatt-al-Gharraf, which crossed the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates, south of ancient Adab. Convoys of trucks and camels journeyed back and forth, ferrying troops and ammunition around the heavily defended armed camp. By the end of winter no matter which way Hor turned, he could see the glow from countless camps of brave men and women who stood ready to fight off the berserker hoards and the ‘red eyed she-devil’.

~~~

Three weeks later, on the first day of spring when the early light of dawn appeared, a giant dust cloud was observed as it drew nearer from across the Saudi Arabian desert. Shu’s dark red eyes flashed with anger as she rode at the head of her army, mounted on a magnificent black Arabian stallion. Her formerly beautiful face was twisted into a hideous, alabaster coloured mask of pure evil, as she set her sights on the last objective in her ruthless annihilation of humanity.

~~~

One of Akkad’s forward observation teams lay in a shallow scrape on the sand dune’s ridge, three kilometres south of the outer ring. The ancient field telephone wires trailing back to Ur lay covered by the desert sand behind the two men. The younger of the two readjusted his battered binoculars. The impenetrable cloud that formed the desert sandstorm was slowly drawing nearer to their position from the south. The older man’s left hand held the receiver to his ear while he cranked the small black handle on the box. “The sandstorm will hit our position in an hour,” he reported. Fifteen kilometres west of their observation point another team sent in a similar report. Eight kilometres east, the same message was passed back to Akkad. The sandstorm moved steadily forward.

Hor studied the reports of the sandstorm. “Ibn Fazahd, have you ever seen a sandstorm cover the ground like this before?”

The old Bedouin sheik shook his weatherbeaten head. “Never. The sands of the desert to the south sometimes rise up as dust devils, but never a twenty-three kilometre wide solid wall. How high did your observers say it was?”

“At least half a kilometre in height; why?” Hor asked.

The old man stroked his grey beard as his eyes narrowed. “Then, the sandstorm is not of Allah’s making,” he said coldly, offering the sign of devotion to his god. “It is manmade, or in this case, by a woman.” The old sheik spat on the sandy floor of Hor’s tent as he uttered the word woman, showing the age-old contempt for all womankind, typical among men in this part of the world.

“Then, my old friend, it’s time,” Hor sighed, grasping the old Bedouin by the hand in thanks.

“Inshallah,” Ibn Fazahd replied, backing away from Hor’s presence, bowing and gesturing in the desert salute of respect, before leaving the tent. He picked up the rope tied to the rough bridle of his lead camel and walked slowly north from Ur, never looking back. If Allah willed it he will pass these ancient walls again to the camel market in Az-Zubayr in the coming spring, Inshallah, praise the name of Allah the almighty. The lead camel’s stomach grumbled as he spat a gob of half chewed grass onto the dusty ground, while quickening his pace. Like his master, he and the five camels behind him were anxious to be many kilometres from here.

Hor turned to the soldier close to him and nodded. The young parachute regiment officer stuffed his red beret into the epaulette of his camouflaged shirt and picked up a khaki field-telephone, issuing Hor’s order.

Khan watched the low lying wadis, five kilometres in front of his outer ring, darken, as millions of barrels of oil flowed across the desert from the ancient pipelines into the depressions, forming a seventh ring of death.

~~~

The young observer carefully trained his binoculars on the lower leading edge of the sandstorm. He put them down for a moment and pulled back the edges of the white cloth that covered his face and head, secured by a twisted band of the same cloth, which formed the traditional headgear of a desert dweller, cocking his head left and right. A low rhythmic rumble gradually increased in intensity. The older observer nervously cranked the handle and picked up the handset. “Can you hear this?” he said, holding the handset up, pointing the mouthpiece towards the sandstorm. The unmistakable sound of pounding feet, like a herd of stampeding bison, spilled out of the speaker suspended from the central tent pole. “Get out of there fast!” Hor ordered.

A scorpion ran across the handset in the empty shallow scrape in search of prey as the sand soaked up Hor’s words. The panicked observers were already running for their lives, back to the safety of the camp. Shu had arrived!

~~~

Next time – Chapter Thirty-Seven

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