(Fangs of the SS) CHAPTER 20: Death In The Skies


Track is Sacrificial War by Nazi UFO Commander

The sky is filled with death.

It drones overhead on metal wings.

Mirsky glances upward as he hustles to the hangar but he can’t see anything through the darkness. Fighters and bombers roar as they take off, one after the other, joining their brethren who are already in the air, flying from other airbases along the front, filling the night with noise. He admits it, it gives him a thrill to be a part of such a huge death dealing machine as the US Army when it’s rolling.

There’s a screaming in the sky.

Mirsky looks up, crouching a little bit in reflexive fear. This death flies by on … well, they really can’t be called anything other than broomsticks. Broomsticks with machineguns. The Night Witches give out another shriek in unison as they turn in the sky, gain altitude, and join the rest of the attack formation. Mirsky shudders, childhood memories of stories about Baba Yaga curling around his bones, he hopes that demon witch Baba Yaga is giving the Nazis hell on the Eastern Front. He shifts his pack and carries on into the hangar.

It’s the same hanger as yesterday afternoon but this time he’s loaded down with gear: ammo, grenades, det cord, tommy gun, pistol, long knife, even a couple of wooden stakes for good luck. He’s not certain if Geburah was joking when it handed those to him. That four armed golem has a really weird sense of humor.

Everyone’s on board the cargo plane except Malkuth. He yells at Mirsky over the sound of the two big propellor engines. A loud voice to be heard over the echoing, deafening sound of the engines in the enclosed hangar. “Move it! Haul your ass, you Russian limp dick! Get the fuck on or we leave without you!”

Mirsky picks up his pace and races to the plane, his gear bouncing and clattering. Malkuth grabs him and effortlessly heaves him into the plane, then follows him in. The engine noise abates slightly as the golem secures the door shut. The plane starts to taxi out to the runway immediately.

Mirsky looks around. All the golems and the Rabbi are there. There are a couple of large crates containing the extra weapons and gear, plus some books and scrolls and Kabbalist equipment that the Rabbi had packed earlier that day. The crates are towards the rear of the plane, by the cargo door, secured in their own parachute packs, ready for the drop. The golems are doing last minute weapons and parachute checks. The Rabbi is bent over a book towards the read of the plane. Mirsky heads back to him, takes the opportunity to glance out a small window. He doesn’t spot any other planes like theirs, no cargo planes, just bombers and their fighter escorts. He hopes that won’t make them too much of a target.

The plane lumbers down the runway. It seems to be a long time before it makes it into the air, a couple of tries end with the tires bouncing back down. From the yelling and cursing that’s coming from the cockpit, the pilot seems to be trying to force the plane into the air through the power of obscenity. Obscenity, and as the end of the runway approaches, prayer. Frantic prayer. Fervent obscenities. Finally, at the end of the runway, the plane lumbers into the air.

Since it seems that they won’t be crashing and burning in a hurtling ball of metal, at least of a while, Mirsky heads to the rear of the plane, towards the Rabbi. The book he’s reading is old, the pages aren’t printed, but hand copied, and in Hebrew. From what Mirsky can see, the pages have diagrams and pictures, old black and white drawings of people doing weird shit. Mirsky can’t read Hebrew, didn’t seem to be worth the trouble, back in Odessa, when he was a kid.

Maccabbee’s talking to himself, Mirsky can barely hear him over the sound of the engines. “Yes! I thought I remembered that. It could work.”

“What could work?” Maccabee looks up as Mirsky crouches down beside him.

“When the Army occupied Tangier, a couple of months ago, I took the opportunity to meet with some of the rabbis in the city. The Jewish community there is very old and there are libraries filled with ancient texts. I went looking for anything that might help me in the fight against the leeches. And the rabbis gave me this.”

Tangier, the library of the Temple Beth-El in the old Jewish Quarter of the city

Maccabbee feels a sense of awe, as he stands in the library. It’s so old. He was born in America, has never left America before joining the Army. The library at the yeshiva where he had studied in New York City had some old books and he was able to find more by asking other scholars in the city, but the yeshiva itself was less than a hundred years old. The difference is staggering and, not for the first time, he wonders just how far over his head he’s gotten.

And the book that he’s looking at isn’t even the oldest book in the library. It’s almost new, just a few centuries old, compared to most of the other books and scrolls on the shelves surrounding him. The two men standing beside him have laid the book open and positioned it so that it can best take advantage of the sunlight coming through the dusty window above them.

The two men are both Rabbis from the synagogue, Yousseff and Mizrahi. They’re both Middle Eastern Jews, darker skinned than Maccabbee. Mizrahi is the older of the two, late middle aged, but the laugh lines on his face and the humor in his eyes makes him seem younger. Yousseff is more serious, inhabits the dignity of his office more fully, but his seriousness makes him seem stiff and unsure. The two are the best Kabbalists in the city.

The three men lean and shift over the book on the lectern, trying to get a good view but at the same time trying to keep out of the light. Maccabbee has been given pride of place and the other two Kabbalists flank him. Youssef points a finger and traces the diagram, making sure to never come in contact with the parchment. “The rite is theoretically possible.” The diagram that Youssef is tracing shows the Tree of Life with a pathway illuminated running downwards to a figure of a man who’s standing at the bottom of the Tree. The artist has done their best to show that energy is travelling down the pathway and is entering the man. “This shows how a Kabbalist of the highest power can channel energy down from the Godhead, from Kether, down through all the Sephiroth, gaining more power from each Sephiroth, and infuse their own flesh with the direct power of God.”

Mizrahi manages to sound both encouraging and warning at the same time. “And then you probably explode. Or catch on fire. Or both. Or maybe it’s theoretically possible to survive it. We don’t know. But we do know that it’s dangerous. Basic common sense tells us that, as do all of the major commentaries on the basic proposition of a Kabbalist seeking direct contact with God.”

“Do you have any proof of that?” Maccabbee steps back to look at both the men. “Are there any accounts of any Kabbalist in the last centuries trying this rite? Here, or anywhere else?”

Youssef finishes tracing the diagram and gestures around the library. “I’ve found no records, not even a mention of anyone ever trying it. And I’ve looked, and put my best pupils onto the search as well, ever since you came to us and told us what you were planning.”

“Which should tell you something about how dangerous it is. Even for someone as powerful as you, you with your golems.” Mizrahi lays a warning hand on Maccabbee’s arm.

“I made the decision to use every weapon at my disposal, every weapon that I can find, when I created my first golem. Now that I’m here, actually fighting Nazis and their monsters, I’m not going to stop.” Maccabbee rubs his painstreaked face with a shaking hand, then smiles wearily at the two men. “And who knows? I may never need to use this specific ritual. The golems have been very effective against the leeches so far. But I can’t afford to ignore any potential weapon.”

The two Rabbis nod somberly at Maccabbee’s words. Youssef slowly and delicately closes the book, then lifts it and puts it into a nearby box. He hands the box to Maccabbee. “Then take it, with our blessings. And may the all Highest watch over you and protect you.”

“Thank you. Thank you for your help and your wisdom.“

Mizrahi lays a blessing hand onto Maccabbee’s head. There’s no trace of humor left in his face. “May you be the weapon that our people need in these darkest of days. May you go forth and smite the enemies of God and bring them lower than the dust.”

Maccabbee just nods, lifts the box with the book, and leaves the library. The two Kabbalists watch him go, both are sure that they’ll never see the young American again, both hoping with all their hearts that he’ll be successful in his war against the dark sweeping over the world.

Back in the plane

“Sounds like a last ditch kind of thing, Rabbi.”

Maccabbee looks down at the book in his lap, closes it, puts it back in his pack next to him. “It is. But I won’t hesitate to perform the ritual if I have to. Bathory has to be destroyed. I have to do my part to fight the Nazis.”

“Yeah, I hear that. But you wanna -”

Just then flaring light illuminates Geburah’s face as it looks out a window. And it sees everything turn to shit.

Diving straight down through the high clouds, German fighter planes break through the American air cover. The American fighters immediately break formation and swoop to follow them directly through the bomber flight. Blazing weapons light up the sky as everybody starts firing: German fighter planes, American fighters, the gunners on the bombers. A bomber loses a wing to a pounding hail of bullets, tilts on its side, and falls out of the sky. Geburah cranes its neck and looks down, but can’t see if there are any blossoming parachutes.

Geburah recoils from the window as a German plane rips past so closely that the golem gets a flashing glimpse of the pilot. Something weird catches its eyes and it crowds back close to the window. “What the fuck is that?”

All the shapes out there in the night sky, visible in the moonlight, lit by explosions are the usual cruciform shape of airplanes. But this, heading towards the battle isn’t. It’s round, like a pie tin, with no obvious engines, no obvious guns, no wings, and with a huge swastika painted on it. It flies, for lack of a better term, with a weird wobbling motion, but it’s quick. And when an American fighter takes a run at it, it shows that it’s carrying weapons, lots of guns along its rim. It darts and swoops, gets behind the fighter, and blows it out of the sky.

The witches take great exception to this piece of Nazi weird technology defiling their sky. Screaming in unison, the sound piercingly audible over the sounds of engines and wind and explosions, the women on their broomsticks swirl together in an attack formation and then descend on the round machine. Half of them strafe the weird machine and the other half stay high and start to circle in a counterclockwise direction.

Geburah only catches glimpses of what’s happening.

The attacking witches are too fast and mobile for even this strange piece of Nazi technology to manage to hit. Clouds gather around the circling witches and lightning starts to arc between them. The flashes of light start to become more frequent and stronger, brighter than the moon, brighter than the explosions. Then, quicker than an eye blink, one ragged strand of electricity reaches out and burns a long gash in the round craft.

Geburah whoops with glee.  

That clearly hurts. The round ship is thrown through the sky, wobbling even worse, throwing off sparks and fire from the gash that the lightning dug in its skin. The strafing witches increase their attacks, like cats attacking a wounded turtle. A turtle with claws as it turns out, maybe a crab rather than a turtle. It turns on edge in the sky, not falling but still turning, spinning. All the guns along its rim open up, spraying the sky the with burning bullets. The witches are caught by surprise and just dissolve into puffs of red and fall out of sight, down and behind as the battle continues at high speed.   

Hanging onto a strut, trying not to get thrown across the plane as it tries to avoid Luftwaffe fighter planes, Mirsky leans towards Maccabbee and yells. “Do we jump now?”

Maccabbee manages a look at his watch and shakes his head. “Not close enough! We need to get closer!”

Two of the golems, Malkuth and Hesod, moving with deliberate speed and each handhold they take leaves finger marks in the plane’s bones, make their way down the plane to Maccabbee. The plane wobbles and wallows as it tries to adjust to their heavy weight shifting. Mirsky tightens his grip and swallows hard, feeling helpless and more than a little terrified. Audible over the sound of the engines, the pilot screams at them to stop moving around. They ignore him and gather Maccabbee in their arms, completely sheltering him.

Mirsky just tries to make himself smaller. He knows better than to ask for help.

Then the inevitable happens.

Still glued to the window, avidly observing the aerial carnage, smiling like a gleeful maniac, Geburah sees the Luftwaffe fighter heading right towards them. The golem gets an instant’s impression of the plane’s guns sparking fire before it throws itself away from the window. “Incoming!”

The pilot’s yell of panic as the plane reacts to Geburah’s move turns into a scream of agony as he’s chopped apart by cannon fire. Not just the pilot but everyone else in the cockpit die screaming as well. Except the navigator. He has no time to scream as he’s decapitated by a piece of the fuselage.

The plane immediately begins to nose down and sideways. Mirsky grabs onto Malkuth who’s a lot more immobile than the plane, a statue rooted in the floor. He screams at the golem. “Everybody out! Forget the fuckin’ gear! Go go go!”

Malkuth nods at Hesod who disengages from Maccabbee and moves down the length of the plane to the rear. She hits the ramp controls and it becomes almost impossible to hear as wind starts to whip through the belly of the plane. The view is a panorama of aerial destruction.

The angle of the plane’s dive starts to steepen. Malkuth grabs Mirsky heads to the rear of the plane. The plane actually levels out a little bit as the golem reaches the ramp. Mirsky looks over Malkuth’s shoulder, down the length of the plane. Geburah has torn open one of the crates with two of its hands and is using the other two to drape packs of explosives over its body.

It looks like Maccabbee has ignored the danger. The Kabbalist is at one of the crates, trying to get it open, straining with a crowbar. Mirsky’s pretty sure that he’s screaming curses. Binah pulls him away, with only a corner pried open. He fights her for a minute and then slumps, turns away.

Malkuth’s the last to leave the doomed plane. Hesod, then Binah, then Tipareth, then Geburah, its form almost completely obscured by packs of explosives. The four armed golem shouts at Malkuth as it throws itself out of the plane. “See you on the ground!”

By this time, Mirsky’s is getting worried, he’s not ashamed to admit it. Each time a golem parachuted out, the plane wobbled. Now, with all the weight gone, it’s back into a steep dive. “So now we leave, right?”

Malkuth nods and clips Mirsky’s harness to his own. Mirsky is facing outwards, his back tight against the golem’s broad chest. He feels like he’s lying against a stone slab.

Without any sort of warning, Malkuth throws himself out of the plane. Mirsky has no control over himself and lets out a piercing scream that has the word “Fuuuuuuuck” in it. He’s barely able to keep from pissing himself.

There’s a jerk that slams Mirsky’s teeth together and he opens his eyes, afraid that they’ve hit the ground. They’re still in the air, the jerk was the parachute opening. Mirsky swallows hard, vomiting right now seems like a very bad idea. He looks up but can’t see anything but the wide dome of the parachute. He looks down and can see the parachutes of the rest of the team. He does a quick count and it doesn’t look like there’s anyone missing.

The bomber flight is moving quickly away from them, still plagued by Luftwaffe fighters. Then right below him, so close he reflexively pulls his feet up and so fast that he barely sees anything, just feels heat from the engines, a Nazi plane flashes past, pursued by an American fighter. The sounds are bone rattling. With brain melting percussion, the American fighter fires its guns and scores a hit on the Nazi plane. Its engine explodes and flaming pieces of metal start to fall.

Mirsky watches the pieces fall towards the white parachute blooms below. “Oh, fuck…” For an instant, he thinks that disaster has passed them by, the pieces look that they’re all going to miss. He’s about to relax, as much as he can relax, strapped to a golem and floating down through the sky, then he sees a small piece of fire hit one of the parachutes.

Hesod looks up at the sound. She’d been watching the ground get closer, trying to pick out a good landing spot amid the sand and boulders. Whatever has made the sound is heavy enough to shake the parachute’s guidelines in her fists. She twists her head from side to side and back, looking at as much of the parachute canopy as she can. Just debris from the battle above, she’s not especially worried, since it looks like it wasn’t large enough to punch a hole in the material. Then a flickering light catches her eye.

She feels incomprehension first. Part of her won’t let her understand what she’s seeing. Then fear. Fear grows as fast as the flame licking at the edge of her parachute. It’s a new feeling. In all the combat she’s seen in the last couple of months, she’s never really been afraid. She now knows with complete understanding, the difference between being worried and being afraid. And now she’s afraid.

She looks down. The ground is still too far away. She tells herself that there’s no way she can be feeling the heat from the fire so soon, that it’s her imagination. She thinks quickly, using that imagination that’s built into her core for a more useful purpose. It’s going to be a race, she decides. She has to drop fast enough to get close enough to the ground to survive the fall but the faster she drops, the faster the flame will grow. She has one advantage, no, maybe one and a half advantages. The parachute is larger than the regular soldier parachute, so more can burn before it becomes useless. And she’s heavy, so she’ll drop fast. Which also means that she’ll hit the ground harder. She spares the time for a very brief prayer and, with a yank on the guidelines, spills air from the parachute.

She hates to think it, but she drops like a stone. A large, heavy, living stone. After a few seconds, a couple of hundred feet, she yanks on the guidelines again and the parachute fills with a snap. Still not close enough to the ground. She forces herself to look up.

A small piece of burning canvas falls on her face. The fire is spreading fast, faster than her descent. Her heart hollows out with acceptance. She knows that the Rabbi meant well but she knows that she was a mistake. Unlike the others, she was not meant for war.  She’s sorry that she won’t be around to see what the golems will do after the war. She’s sorry that she won’t be around to see them grow into their full potential, far beyond their current task as these limited instruments of war.

Her sadness is tempered by a kind of joyful relief. She’s returning home. Returning to the limitless glory that is the Ein Soif. No more a slave.

The ground is coming up really fast now.

She raises her hand to her forehead and erases the first letter of the word written on her forehead. Two seconds later, a statue falls out of the sky and into the Tunisian desert. It shatters, draped in a burning parachute.

Maccabbee barely sees the ground coming up towards him, tears obscure his vision. His throat is raw from screaming out his disbelief. He hadn’t understood what he had been seeing, at first, one of the golems with their parachute on fire, maneuvering past him. Then he’d recognized Hesod and saw what she was about to do. That was when he started screaming. He hits the ground hard, barely misses a large boulder. His hands fumble at the release catches of his parachute, like mittens very far away. He’s vaguely aware of the other golems landing nearby, a scattered spread of them. He has to go to Hesod, that’s the only thing that he really knows.

Finally free of the encumbering parachute, he heads towards the flickering light of the burning parachute. He tears it away, heedless of the smoke and heat. He drops it when he sees Hesod’s head. It’s lying there, against a rock where it had rolled after the impact. The features, he remembers being so proud of those features, he’d really improved after Malkuth, her features are crazed with a network of fine cracks. It’s just the head of a statue now, no life or spirit or intelligence gleam from the eyes. He falls to his knees in front of the head, that’s what it is, a head, not her’s, not any more.

He wipes his eyes, sniffs back snot, and recovers. He realizes that as bad as he feels, he actually feels better. Now there is one less golem being animated by energy from Kether, one less stream of energy burns through him. He looks up when he feels a hand on his shoulder. It’s Mirsky. The older man’s face is sympathetic. Past Mirsky’s head, up in the sky, flashes of light show that the aerial battle is still continuing and moving away from them.

“At least it wasn’t four arms. If its chute had gone up, there’d be one fuck huge hole in the ground.” He pats Maccabbee’s shoulder. “These things happen, Rabbi. Could have been a fucking lot worse.”

Hate flashes through Maccabbee. He opens his mouth to scream his rage and sadness and pain at Mirsky. And then he closes it. The little gangster is right. There’s still the mission. They have to go on. This was going to happen, sooner or later. There’s no way that some of them aren’t going to fall, attacking Bathory. But the meaningless of Hesod’s death burns at him. He pats Hesod’s stone head and gets to his feet. This is war. And the demon is still alive.

One of the golems pulls away the rest of the burning parachute. And the rest start to gather Hesod’s pieces.

“Can you maybe -” Malkuth’s tone is hesitant as he looks at Tipareth. “- put her back together? Heal her like you did the Rabbi?”

Tipareth doesn’t look up from where he’s searching for pieces of Hesod, just shakes his head. “She’s too broken apart. I could try, but I’d probably fail and destroy myself at the same time.”   

In the flickering light of the burning parachute, the skill used in Binah’s creation is clear. Her face is that of an ancient goddess, sorrowful. “All her dreams, shattered. Why did it have to be her?”

If Tipareth could cry, it’s clear that tears would be streaming down into his beard. “I know that her spirit dwells again in the highest sphere, in the never ending light of God. Why am I not comforted by this? Of all of us, she was the one who most deserved to live through the war.”

“We all knew that something like this was going to happen to any of us.” Malkuth’s voice is understanding but sorrow has left it. “The war has taken the best of us. And now comes the hardest part. We have to carry on. We’ve been in battles before, we’ve seen the humans fall all around us, and the survivors mourn but don’t stop fighting.”

Geburah walks over and stands next to Malkuth. “Listen to Malkuth. You all know that Hesod and I never did see eye to eye. But I’m mourning just the same as all of you. But despite our grief, we have to continue on. We have our purpose, our mission, our targets. We cannot let her death be for nothing.”

“I hate to say it, but four arms is right.” At the sound of Mirsky’s voice, the golems leave off their mourning and stare hard at the smaller man. Geburah flips him off with all four hands. The hitman is impervious to all of it. His brash voice doesn’t waver. “Yeah, same to you. We need to know how much explosives you got from that crate before the plane went down. How about you and Tipareth give me an inventory of that? The rest of you, how’re we doin’ on ammo?”

Now the goddess is no longer sorrowful. Now she’s very pissed off. “Just WHO THE FUCK do you think you are, giving us orders? Rabbi, what the fuck is going on? Sure, you said that he’s some sort of observer that the brass wants to tag along. Which means he’s a spy. And spies don’t give me, any of us, orders! Not unless they want me to squeeze their head until everything goes squish!”

“Binah, take it easy.” Geburah looks back at Binah from where it’s going through the packs of explosives with Tipareth. “The little shit probably doesn’t want to be here, probably just got the shitty end of the stick.”

“Restraint? From you? What the fuck?” Binah looks like she’s going burst apart. There’s an ominous grating noise from her clenched fists and dust drifts from her curled fingers.

Mirsky waves to get their attention. “Hey, I’m right here, and I can stick up for myself. For the record, I do want to be here. And I ain’t no spy. Sure, the brass think I am, but the Rabbi knows different, don’t he?”

Maccabbee barely looks up from checking his ammo. “Sergeant Mirsky has his own reasons for being with us.”

Mirsky shrugs at the lukewarm endorsement. The guy’s going through a lot right, but it looks like he’s pulling his head out of his ass. “Call me Benny, if it makes you feel any better.”

“As a matter of fact, it doesn’t.” Binah’s voice is still unhappy, but her fingers unclench and she starts checking her weapons.

Maccabbee slams a clip into his machine gun and pulls back the action. Done with that, he looks up and addresses the golems directly. “And I believe him when he says that he’s not spying on us for the brass.”

Tipareth looks over from where he’s sorting timers and explosives. His tone is hesitant. “You’re sure about that, Rabbi?”

“Yes. He’s passed valuable information to me already, about what Army Command might have in mind for us. And I believe his reasons for allying with us.” Despite his self confident facade, Mirsky’s glad to hear Maccabbee’s positive tone.

Malkuth shrugs. “If you say so, Rabbi, then that’s the way it’ll be. Geburah, what’s the story on the explosives?”

“It’s a pretty good story. One that will end with a bang, I think.” The four armed golem walks back to the rest of them, carrying a couple of packs. Tipareth follows behind, also carrying two packs. “I’ve divided all of them up so we each get a pack. Each pack contains a couple of charges, timers, detcord, and triggers. Should be enough for any situation we get into.”

Binah digs in her pack and pulls out the aerial reconnaissance photos of Bathory’s castle. She lays them out on top of a boulder and everyone gathers around. “We can do a lot of damage with the explosives. If we destroy her nest, then that’s a big victory. She’ll have to move, probably towards the coast, away from ongoing operations. And we’ll have destroyed all her plans, even if she remains alive.”

Malkuth studies a map. “How far away are we from her castle?”

“If I’m right, and we’re somewhere around here.” Binah points at a spot on the map. “Then not far, couple of hours march.”

“Then it’s decided.” Maccabbee looks at each of them. “We wait until dawn and then move out. We’ll be ready to attack her in broad daylight.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *