Marcus woke early the next day, watching as Lawrence's company transferred the civilians to Vernal who had taken refuge at Deseret Base. Lawrence had decided to stick with EEB until the issue with Salt Lake City had been resolved, an issue which he insisted he could not properly explain without showing them the city.
This miniature exodus was merely a sideshow compared to what Judah, the daemon officers and sergeants were doing outside the base in the Providence camp. Judah led a t'ai chi ch'uan session which was drawing to a close, slow considered movements carried out in perfect unison.
Another seemingly contradictory facet of the daemons, everyone he spoke to appeared to view the world in a surprisingly spiritual way.
Every morning, without fail, the daemon sergeants and officers would spend half an hour running through 108 postures of the Wu family t'ai chi ch'uan hand form, the previous half hour had been spent in group mediation. They had done 105 so far, Marcus wondered how these men and women could be so serene. He knew what they were capable of, he had seen first-hand how merciless the peaceful, meditative daemons down in that camp could be. Yet there they were, every morning, behaving like Buddhist monks – nothing made any sense to Marcus. He had had a horrible night's sleep, restlessly turning in the night. All he had done was save the lives of children, why did he feel monstrous? Yes, that'd be it, he had slaughtered their parents and then set light to the bodies – some guardian angel he turned out to be.
“They're where they need to be,” Marcus nearly jumped out of his skin, so absorbed was he in his self-pity that Lawrence's approach had been rendered silent.
“I know, I know...doesn't stop me feeling-” Marcus was cut off.
“Don't say anything else, your friends over there can hear a fly fart from this distance,” Lawrence sternly reminded Marcus of their situation's reality, he slowly nodded his understanding. Sometimes he forgot that privacy was an illusion, a delusion he convinced himself of at times when none was to be had.
A silvery cylinder was positioned at the centre of Judah's command tent, a lens was installed in the top of it that projected a wide ray rather like a flash-light, in fact it could be mistaken for a huge, novelty flash-light. Judah held his right wrist over the light, and dragged the window open on his SuperCom from over the small holo-projector and the window floated in the light. He tilted the window until it lay flat and resized it.
“This area,” Judah singled out a sizeable walled area, “Is Salt Lake County; the entire county has been absorbed into Salt Lake City. Our spy drones revealed what appear to be conspicuously powerful defences along these walls. I want Adjutant Commandant Sewell to investigate the meaning of this, and would Captain Lawrence be kind enough to accompany the adjutant?” Lawrence made a sound of approval, “Wonderful, we have a few Pegasus already prepared.”
Pegasus light attack helicopters were designed for dropping eight man teams into hot landing zones, and then to provide aerial cover: they have a rotary cannon which the pilot controls, two dual cannons controlled by the co-pilot and pair of mounted machine guns fixed in place where the passengers ride that are utilised by either the team or two additional crewmen
These aircraft were not usually the symbol of diplomacy; Judah had three of these to transport Lawrence, Marcus and Captain Corey (one of his Providence officers) from Deseret Base to the skies above Salt Lake City. The message of superiority Judah wanted to impose upon these people was infuriatingly obvious.
“Take us down!” shouted Marcus to the pilot of his Pegasus, he saw the other Pegasus begin to descend soon afterwards. He glanced down, about twenty men waited not too far from the place the three Pegasus were about land. The helicopters' blades stopped spinning and the waiting group advanced upon them, headed by a man whose amicable expression was at odds with the automatic shotgun he carried. “State your name and business,” an order, not a request.
“Adjutant Commandant Marcus Sewell, we've come here to re-establish contact with Salt Lake City – we work of the US government,” Marcus tried his very best to not offend these people. He and the 34 daemons with him could definitely take on the challenge but he could not afford to make enemies.
“Sewell, I'm afraid we will have to ground your vehicles and detain your men in a ward station until the First Presidency deems you friendly,” replied the lead man.
“Can you explain what's going on first?” Marcus needed answers, “Let’s start simply, maybe with your name?”
“I am Elder Samson, a soldier in the Latter-day Army,” answered Samson.
“What the hell is that?” Marcus could see Samson flinch slightly at the mild profanity.
“After The Flash, Mormon community leaders annexed Salt Lake City. We fortified the entire urban area against ferals and necrophids; this led to the formation of a city militia – the Latter-day Army. We defend over a million Mormons from the evils of the wider world,” Samson gestured to himself and those around him.
“Would you allow me to send a message to my commanding officer?” Marcus needed to let Judah know of his predicament.
“Of course,” Samson smiled beatifically at Marcus, making the gun in his hands even more paradoxical than it was before.
“Thanks again,” Marcus opened up his SuperCom and set the transparency to maximum so that Samson would not be able to read the message. He typed at a blistering speed, proficiency with computers being a universal trait of anyone living in the 22nd century. The dispatch was without embellishment: ' TO: Comm. Judah Nimåfänger, Stormwatch – Mormons control Salt Lake City. Taken our troops and helicopters until we prove we aren't hostile. Course of action?'
The response was faster than Marcus thought possible: 'Play along, enter city and learn all you can about current Mormon military capability. Deliver figures to me, then await further orders. – Comm. Judah Nimåfänger, Stormwatch'
Marcus closed his interface and caught Samson's attention, “You can ground the aircraft and take them in...if you agree to guide myself and the two captains around the city. This is a diplomatic mission after all.”
Samson nodded, the Mormon militiamen led Marcus and his troops inside of the city, some of the militiamen stayed with the helicopters. The guided tour consisted of Samson showing the adjutant and officers many statues and monuments promoting unity and a sinister obedience to the Field Marshal. The man's kind, grandfatherly face was simply everywhere. Posters here and icons there, he was a Moses figure to these people. Marcus could see that Lawrence and Corey were just as bored of the pleasant houses, tall buildings, pretty churches and endless propaganda as he was.
The important part of the tour had been assessing the military quarter and listening to Samson rhapsodise about the power of the militia. Rhapsodising which fortunately included figures that Samson must have learnt off by heart: though unfortunately the figures made the militia worthy of its name – Latter-day Army. There was no way that Judah could hope to overcome this militia with the EEB.
Marcus finished off his report and forwarded it to Judah; he was sat inside the cabin of the Pegasus he had ridden in. Samson had arrived to check in with the militiamen stationed at the helicopters. He caught sight of Marcus and walked over to him, a wholesome, friendly grin on his face – Marcus hoped no one here had to die. Certainly the people of the city had been indoctrinated by the First Presidency to have an unhealthy respect for the Field Marshal, but none deserved the fate Judah could deliver to them. “So, do you mind telling me what part of the United States government sends attack helicopters on diplomatic missions?” Samson sounded half-mocking, though in a manner so cordial it fostered no animosity.
“None of them...I work for an organisation called The Providence, a foreign supranational union promising amazing scientific and societal advancement. President Coleridge climbed up so fast inside The Providence's ass you'd have had to blink to miss it. So now we're here, doing Washington's job for it, trying to reunite America,” Marcus wanted to be plain with Samson.
“Whoa, we really haven't been paying attention...you're certain this mission is purely diplomatic? No wooden gift horses that reign down Athenian death when our backs are turned?” Samson thought he was making a joke, Marcus knew he was suggesting something Judah might well have considered, Marcus did his best to make his false laughter ring true.
“Trust me, it's all above board,” Marcus' own capacity for duplicity grew every day he spent in the company of the commandant.
“Thanks, Sewell, you've really put my mind at ease. People in the city, my wife included, have been anxious about the outside presence even after the First Presidency okayed it,” Samson patted Marcus on the shoulder and strolled away, a weight foolishly lifted from his shoulders. Marcus' SuperCom vibrated, he opened the interface, Judah waited on the other end – he answered after taking a few deep breaths. “I just got out of a conference call with Coleridge and Colonel Cork. How likely are the people of Salt Lake County to react positively to the suggestion of Utah incorporating back into the Union?” Judah gave nothing away, his face perfectly neutral.
“Honestly, they idolise the Field Marshal, incorporation is impossible. If he died, then his memory would be enough for the Latter-day Army to seize total control,” Marcus felt his stomach knot; a funny dread began to take hold.
“Good, then our only objective is to eliminate the Latter-day Army – in one fell swoop,” the commandant drove on, Marcus' dread made sense; he somehow knew that this was all inevitable. He surreptitiously began recording the conversation.
“What? They're transhumans, they're normal human beings...how will killing them solve our problems!” Marcus fought in vain against the will of Judah.
“Resistance to unity and alliance lends itself to destruction,” Judah's tone brooked no opposition. Marcus cast down his gaze and nodded subserviently, battling down rising bile. The adjutant listened attentively as his commandant detailed the intricacies of their plot.
Judah's entire battalion had set out from Deseret Base the moment he could no longer see Marcus' helicopter. A convoy of trucks and lorries roared into the empty suburbs of Salt Lake County, shattering the early morning quiet. Judah's M8 Buffalo pulled up close to Marcus' helicopter, the Mormon militiamen were amazed. They had not seen these many non-Mormons in one place for eleven years.
The commandant swung open the passenger door and marched over to Marcus; following behind Judah were Captains Dunbar, Metheringham, Jessop and Quinton – who emerged from separate trucks, their sergeants with them. Captain Jessop turned to face a militiaman, his refined RP accent intimidated the simple, unassuming soldier, “You! Yes, you! We are here on the behalf of the United States President, and demand an audience with the Field Marshal of the Latter-day Army. Don't dawdle, hurry now, go, run!” Jessop smiled in a manner so self-assured that Marcus very much wanted to punch him in the mouth. Several militiamen ran as fast their legs could carry them inside the city.
“Quite the entrance, any reason for the rudeness?” Marcus shot a look at Jessop, who merrily ignored him.
“To show these backwoods military types that there is a threat to their safety, one that is both better armed and trained than them. They don't need to know that we'd lose, we just need to scare those militiamen into forcing an audience with the Field Marshal,” Judah had a charming bluntness, Marcus found such a trait hard to put across properly when explaining the idea to people. The best he could do was say if Judah stated you were an idiot, he was so utterly disarming you would be in perfect agreement.
“And what makes you so sure you'll even get to see the ubiquitous Field Marshal in the flesh?” Marcus hopped out of his helicopter and walked towards the open gates of Salt Lake City.
Judah matched Marcus, step for step, “Simply rumour and hysteria. Our 1600 troops will have ballooned to 160,000 once the Field Marshal hears about it. Jessop's shortness with that Mormon will have magically transformed into a brutal physical assault. The Field Marshal must see us to quash the rising panic, his own fault for isolating the city-dwellers.” The pair had entered the main avenue directly in front of the gates, and were then detained by a gaggle of sycophantic priests; one was jostled forward by his brethren. He invited Judah Nimåfänger and the other officers sent by the President to an early breakfast with the Field Marshal. Judah graciously accepted the invitation, then he turned to Marcus and flashed a vial of grey plasma to his adjutant before he and the other officers were guided to the Field Marshal's residence.
Marcus regarded eight barrels brimming with greyish goo, Lawrence and Captain Corey also stared down in the unpleasant solutions. “That's nanotechnology?” Lawrence's mixed fascination and revulsion was apparent.
“Nanobots held in stasis. You see those little screens on the side of the barrels?” Corey thought himself something of an expert in nanomachinery, “They tell you how many platforms are actually in a barrel and can be used to assign a task to all of the platforms contained within a stasis unit.
“Right now the assignment has been locked in by Commandant Nimåfänger; our job is to take these units to a place where they can release their nanobots from stasis, allowing the platforms to execute their task. Captain Lawrence, I need you to not be here when this happens, as the US government cannot be held responsible. Go up in a Pegasus and have it take you to Vernal.” Lawrence shared a worried look with Marcus, knowing that whatever The Providence was about to do could not end well of the Mormons. Though he boarded a Pegasus without any open protest and watched Salt Lake County shrink into the distance.
Lawrence decided he should go to Dutch John and smuggle those posthuman ferals away, he realised that Marcus had been right about the daemons, the children would be marked for death the very instant Judah found out they had continued to live.
Judah checked his watch, Marcus and Corey's task force should be well on their way to completing that assignment. The commandant had excused himself from the breakfast table, he said he needed to use the facilities. Upon crossing the bathroom's threshold, he pulled out the vial filled with grey plasma and held it over the screen of his SuperCom. He activated the interface to bring the nanobots in the vial out of stasis. He placed the vial back inside of the tunic of his dress uniform and left the bathroom.
As he entered the understated dining room, he unstopped the vial and a multitude of nanomachines diffused throughout the room – invisible to the naked eye. He and his officers were rendered immune thanks to a kill signal their permanent internal nanobots transmitted which disabled any unwanted nanobots added to their system. A few hours from now, the entire affair would be at an end.
Marcus and Corey witnessed the greyish goo inside of the last stasis barrel dissipate into the air outside of the military quarter. Two man teams had been given a stasis barrel and made to position themselves along the border of the military quarter. The last of the goo in the barrel he was responsible for had gone live, and now swarmed in the military quarter. Infiltrating the bodies of sleeping militiamen, passing right into their bloodstream through their skin. Corey sealed the empty barrel and threw it into the back of an M8 Buffalo, he slid behind the wheel of the truck and Marcus sat next to him. Eight khaki coloured trucks drove away from Salt Lake City's military quarter, collecting the officers returning from a meal with the illustrious Field Marshal.
The entire EEB was prepared. Donned armour and checked weapons, made sure vehicles were in working order. The sun flexed its fingers on the horizon, darkness faded steadily away. Both Pegasus helicopters had accessed the pitifully simple closed circuit radio utilised by the First Presidency. Judah did a time check, and like clockwork the Field Marshal's voice came out over the powerful speakers of the battalion's light attack aircraft. “Many of you may have heard rumours of an aggressive effort by the United States government to force Utah to reintegrate. Believe me, this is entirely false, an ambassadorial delegation had been sent by Washington to reaffirm our independence,” the Field Marshal was good, his tone coaxing and persuasive in an effortless way, Judah was a little saddened by the necessity of his actions. He opened up his SuperCom interface and found a temporary central command console for the platforms deployed earlier that morning.
The commandant could feel his adjutant's eyes peering over his shoulder. “Marcus, observe the solution to our current dilemma,” Judah entered a series of codes to access a progression of menus and sub-menus that ultimately arrived at a command-line interpreter. Judah entered a command line which ended in '/terminate_prisoner_population'. Marcus swallowed a lump that had sprang up in his throat, aware of what would happen in the next few seconds. “I have been given many reas–...” the Field Marshal's calm speech degenerated swiftly into a cacophony of hysterical screams. Marcus listened as hundreds of thousands of people screamed, bodies caught in the vice of agonising death. Five seconds where he thought he might be driven mad by the sound.
Then silence, a sacred, reverent stillness.
“Move into the city! Encircle the civilian population and place the county under martial law!” Judah's order prompted hundreds of daemons to spring into action. Trucks, APCs, IFVs, tanks and infantry entered the open gates of Salt Lake City, a great phalanx that spread unstoppably across the city.
“They're dead, aren't they?” Marcus was numb.
Judah glanced at the temporary command console on his SuperCom, “10 billion platforms dispatched to 650,000 hosts. Central command confirms the sudden, violent destruction of 10 billion platforms, resulting in total organ failure for the host population.”
“Don't read what the screen says, say it yourself,” Marcus stood in front of Judah.
“Yes, they're dead and I have made certain they shall be vilified in death. Sent a kind of computer virus out into the city system – false emails and documents have been placed on the terminals of officials, and backdated to look genuine. When America asks why the Latter-day Army had to die, Washington can say that religious extremists had designs on national domination,” Judah finished typing a quick message to Colonel Cork, praising Marcus' role in securing Utah, “And you've helped me every step of the way.”