Lilith was the head of the Femina Caelestis Girl Guard, but her primary allegiance was to her homeland of Israel, and there under the name of the body she currently wore (her third) she was Karin Durr.
Karin was an officer with the rank of major in the formidable Israeli Defense Force, which when rendered in Hebrew and shortened to an acronym was known as ZAHAL.
The active forces of Israel were grouped into twenty-six battalions, Alfa through Zulu. Major Durr was known throughout the country as Bravo since she commanded the two thousand men and women of Bravo Battalion. In times of war in Israel, which were all too frequent, millions of reserves were called up and assigned to one of the twenty five other battalions, which rapidly became full divisions, but Bravo Battalion, the elite, remained made up solely of hand-picked army regulars.
It took a long time for the Israelis to accept that Karin Durr was really the famous Lilith Gervasi of their early history, who was instrumental in the Israeli victories over the Arabs across six separate major wars and innumerable lesser reprisal raids.
Lately, Lilith managed to retain a single body for a number of years, which allowed her to gain traction and begin to pile up rank again. But she looked more like a supermodel than a soldier these days, and that annoyed her to no end.
With her head sticking outside of the hatch on top of one of twenty segments of a towed barge, Bravo let the eternal winds of the Gulf of Suez and the moderate rolling of the barge kick saltwater spray over her. Her tan, mottled major's uniform was impeccable, sharply creased, heavily adorned with fabric service ribbons, and practically skin-tight.
Lilith was invincible in war, but her enemies knew she couldn't be in two places at once, and they also knew if both Femina Caelestis and Israel were attacked simultaneously, Lilith would automatically default to defending her homeland. So when the Evil Empire of Belial moved to assail the heart of Femina Caelestis at the lunar city of Fortuna, the Emperor ordered up another Arab-Israeli War just to keep Lilith out of the way and occupied.
Africa was almost completely surrounded by water. The place where it was joined to Asia had been crossed by a man-made ditch 200 km long for the last 200 years, permitting ships to travel between Europe and the Far East without detouring all the way around the Dark Continent. It was not even a particularly elaborate engineering feat. The land was so flush with sea level that the canal did not require locks.
Eventually, by the turn of the 21st Century 23% of all world trade was using the Suez Canal, but it was only wide enough to permit one lane of travel, alleviated only with turnout lanes here and there, requiring quite an elaborate traffic control setup.
For a long time there had been talk of widening the canal, but the proposals for dredging it wider always entailed shutting down traffic for up to four years and the predicted increase in traffic was not thought to be enough to justify the loss of government revenues from transit taxes, an enormously important source of income for Egypt ever since the country became a net importer of petroleum and local Islamist suicide-bombers completely sealed off the country's once lucrative tourist trade spigot.
In the 2020's a new idea was put into effect that didn't require the disruption of shipping at all. Sand berms were piled up all along the length of the the canal and two twin sets of locks were constructed at Port Said at the north end and Suez City in the south. The entire channel. along with the chain of three lakes that formed part of the passage, was raised 20 meters, and this widened the canal to 300 meters, permitting the safe transit of two lanes of even the largest supertankers. Then the Suez Canal captured fully 30% of world trade.
Throughout the early part of the 21st Century the Cold Peace between Israel and Egypt became progressively more like a Cold War, punctuated by hot flashes now and again. By 2036, the Camp David accords were completely forgotten, and Israel found itself in essentially the same position it was in 1973, with the entire Sinai Peninsula under occupation.
The eternal problem for Israel was that it could not predict exactly where the next attack was going to come, so it had to defend the entire 200 km length of the Suez Canal. That made it weak everywhere. But Egypt, as the guest army, could choose the place where to concentrate its artillery, thus punching a hole at one point in the much-vaunted Ben-Judah Line of fortifications.
The commander of the Egyptian 1st Army knew that the Sinai was like a bread with a hard crust that was soft in the interior. After breaching the crust in the short channel between marshy, salty Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake, the Egyptians started ferrying over tanks, troops, ammunition, and other war materiel on rafts as fast as they could, building up quite a bridgehead on the other side, like an infection of bacteria lodged in a wound.
Bravo did not wonder how she drew the worst beach, a narrow sandy artificial spit extending about a kilometer south of the locks on the Egypt side of the southern canal entrance. There were some who wanted her to fail, even if it was to the detriment of the security of greater Israel. But El Shaddai had never permitted her to fail.
The sand spit was no more than 15 meters wide. Bravo would never have picked it for her worst rival. It was suicide. Her battalion would be stretched along it like a string of pearls. One air wing in a few low pass- es with napalm could finish all her people off in mere minutes. Completely against orders, Bravo had filled each container in the barge with only 50 of her people, not 100, lest her entire Battalion be taken out in one short bloody fiasco.
Bravo did her best work sneaking around stupid orders from theater commanders. Hardships like this just made her stronger. She was the kind of junior officer Greater Israel once utterly relied on for their initiative and quick decision-making in the field, but the bureaucrats nowadays considered her an anachronism with a bad attitude, totally insubordinate. She had lost count of how many times she had been hauled in for the ordeal of court martial.
Lilith had, in fact, been drummed out of the IDF twice before, only to be reinstated with back pay after the hue of public outcry reached fever pitch. This only reinforced in Bravo's mind the existence of a divine will which lit the path she walked on. And the fact that El Shaddai spoke directly to her through the Plug didn't hurt.
A pair of IDF Archangel strike/intercept fighters punctured the air with an ear-shattering tearing sound as they flew overhead and on to the center of Port Tewfiq, whose outskirts were passing now to Bravo's left. Port Tewfiq was a sort of annex to Suez City at the end of a long causeway. Multiple booms were heard there as the police station, customs, and warehouses were leveled. Several kilometers to the west on the shore proper, a beached mil- lion-ton oil tanker was already burning.
Suez City had always taken the brunt of the last century of Arab-Israeli conflict, but the Egyptians were expecting their enemies to cross at the Al-Kubri tunnel, or even float their M255 Schwartzkopf tanks across the canal in rafts. An amphibious landing was totally unexpected. For one thing, Israel was not even thought to have landing craft in the Red Sea, nor were amphibious exercises ever observed.
And this amphibious assault was arriving under the guise of twenty deceptively painted, weathered-looking old barges slowly towed behind a jumbo tugboat toward the southern entrance of the canal. They were in two parallel trains of ten containers all linked together.
At Bravo's command they all broke free from each other and began moving under their own power toward the assigned beach.
Bravo ducked in and reentered her barge. All twenty of the special landing craft began to take sporadic 40mm mortar fire from somewhere in the city but this was mainly just an annoyance. Each landing craft was covered over with tank armor, constructed in the best shape for defense, a shape evolved through more than a century of constant warfare.
She made her way to the front of the barge, pushing through the men and women hanging on to straps from the ceiling of the barge. Greater Israel was unique among nations. Ever confronted with a chronic shortage of personnel, men and women were drafted equally, trained together, and sent into battle together. There was no discrimination at all.
Bravo faced her people from the front of the barge. She was a woman of faith, and attributed all her successes to God without the slightest doubt shadowing her mind whatsoever. She began to pray: God of our fathers, when you led us by the hand out of slavery in Egypt to be your chosen priestly people, you gave us this land forever, from the Sinai desert to Lebanon, from the river Euphrates in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and your word cannot be false. We rush now to push back the Egyptian invaders, and we know that without you O God, we will fail and be killed to the last man and woman. But you are our shield and our right arm, and we trust you utterly. Amen.
Then she raised her head and addressed her people, saying, I have never lied or concealed the truth from you. They gave us the most dangerous beach possible. We'll be practically single file. When you disembark immediately turn to the right and get off the sand spit as soon as possible. We're the first. Our mission is to seize the canal operations center and to secure a beachhead for the forces that will come later. God be with us.
The boat officer beached her assault craft right up onto the sand, the closest of the twenty to the structures of the locks and the buildings that supported them. The wall behind Bravo dropped down to become a ramp, revealing a beach being torn up by mortar fire. She knew the heavy shelling was soon to come. She yelled her motto, Follow Me! and led her people out onto the sand, the 1st Platoon of Gold Company.
Further down the spit were Blue Company, Orange, and White, each with five platoons, all of them storming the sand spit simultaneously.
The astonishing sight of an innocent barge breaking up into twenty motorized landing boats, turning with perfect coordination like a drill team on parade, beaching on the spit, and disgorging a thousand troops onto Egyptian soil was spotted by the alarmed men in the canal control tower, and they called it in to a gun battery somewhere in Suez City.
Splashes began to fly up in the sea around them as the gunners got their range. The splashes got closer to the beach, and some of them struck the now abandoned landing craft.
Gold Company 2nd Platoon, the people from the boat immediately next to Bravo's, was the first hit with an incoming 155mm shell. Artillery is the troop killer. Sixteen people lay dead, another twenty lay wounded or were knocked off their feet. Of the wounded, eight would later die. Only twelve people in that platoon were unharmed, but some of these would be picked off in ones and twos by the random mortar rounds coming in.
A pair of soldiers in Bravo's Platoon, a male and female, set up on the sand a compact air search radar and tried to pinpoint where the rounds were coming from by tracing their flight-paths back. Blue 5th Plt. took five dead and twelve injured before he got a fix. The female called out the resulting coordinates over a portable phone and requested an airstrike.
At first Bravo wasn't sure what happened next. She found herself waking up with her legs soaked by seawater. It slowly dawned on her that she was close to an incoming round and had been knocked by the concussion a little ways into the water. Bravo had no recollection of the last few seconds, minutes? She didn't know. Her only thought at that point was dying was so easy. As she always suspected. Bravo had never been obsessed with the issue of death or whether there was an afterworld and the conditions there. She would always shrug and say, Leave it to God.
Besides, she already had died twice before.
But Lilith was not to die that day. Her body armor had intercepted most of the blast shrapnel, and the overpressure had been enough to put her in mild shock but was not life-threatening. Still, she was a little dazed, and no longer led the assault, to be sure.
Captain Uri Gonen had taken command of the assault when she went down. It was all handled seamlessly. Bravo, in fact, no longer had a coherent Platoon to lead. Seven were immediately dead, twelve were wounded, and four of those would soon die from blood loss, missing limbs, or other serious in- juries. The rest merged with the other Platoons running north.
The Orange 3rd Plt. was the last to be hit, with six dead and ten wounded, three mortally. A single Archangel flew to the location called in from the ground and let loose a cluster bomb, which broke up into many bomb-lets and saturated the area of the offending gun battery with many small explosions, disabling the guns and killing all personnel.
Now Bravo's people were free to hurry off their vulnerable position on the beach, plagued only by mortar fire, which claimed thirty-one lives. Total killed in the landing phase was eight percent of her force, and another twelve percent injured. This was very bad, but not nearly as bad as the forty percent casualties Bravo had anticipated. She gave her thanks to God for this gift.
By the time she caught up to Gonen in the canal ops center the building was largely secure. Bravo's immediate objective had been achieved, and she ordered her people to fan out into Suez City to prepare to greet the rest of their people soon arriving, less clandestinely, in waves of lightly armored hovercraft. There were fights for the railroad station and the Al-Gaysh Causeway to Port Tewfiq, and a very hot struggle for the Governorate building on the waterfront.
With her successes of the opening hours, with Bravo's empty husks of a landing force abandoned on the bar swaying with the tide and not likely to be needed ever again, Colonel Motti Adan parked his ass safely in that Governorate building.
Eager to gain the credit for a regional victory, he separated Bravo's troops from her and reassigned them to the main thrust on the road north to Ismailia. Temporarily, there was the incredible situation of Greater Israel's best battalion commander twiddling her thumbs with nothing to do.
When Colonel Motti Adan learned that Bravo had deviated from the plan and attacked with only half her force he was absolutely furious. On the top floor of the occupied Governorate, which had contained the city's police station, she and Captain Uri Gonen stood before him at attention as he vented the worst of his wrath, which eventually got around to the question that was foremost in his mind: Where are your people now?
Bravo decided on telling a partial truth. I loaded the landing craft forty-six percent full, sir. I left the balance of my battalion in the bar- racks at Eilat.
Your battalion? Major, I can assure you that it is no longer, and never shall be again, your battalion.
Uri Gonen asked the Colonel pardon and explained that the assigned beach would have been too crowded with twenty-two hundred troops, and the resulting confusion would have led to much higher casualties, perhaps even a total rout. He was awarded another stream of shouted insults, focused more intensely directly upon him.
Captain Gonen is my chief staff officer, sir, Bravo said when there was a pause for breath in the colonel's stream of invective. He was following my orders. Therefore I accept the heat, sir. If there is to be any punishment I take it upon myself.
I should throw you both behind bars, Adan said, but I think it is far better that you should both sit out the rest of this war. Major Gervasi, you and Captain Gonen will do nothing. That is mandatory. I repeat: nothing! Do you understand me?
Yes sir! they both blurted in reply.
Now get out of my sight!
There was a very large black car parked right in front of the building. Bravo cast covetous eyes on it. Gonen saw the Colonel's eagle sticker on the window and shook his head. No, no, Major, that is Adan's limousine, you can't be thinking what I think you're thinking.
Bravo simply got in on the passenger side of the limo and expected Gonen to get in and drive. She had already found the keys in the front ashtray when he reluctantly took his place behind the wheel. What do you mean it won't be easy? she asked him, grinning.
He shook his head. Where to?
Your discretion, Uri. Anywhere. Away from here.
He chose to drive east, then turned southeast on the long causeway out to Port Tewfiq, a narrow land bridge that contained only the highway and a railroad. Halfway out to the peninsula Bravo had him pull over momentarily and she scraped the Colonel's sticker off the windshield of the car.
At the end of the causeway the land flared out, room for Suez' sister city. There were residences on the left and the newly-evacuated Red Sea Hotel on the right. Here Gonen turned left and followed an arterial to the beach on the canal side of the peninsula. An empty parking lot was found and Gonen stopped, hoping that it was what Bravo had in mind.
They got out of the car. To the south they could see Green Island and the approach to the canal entrance cluttered with commercial ships, which could not proceed because the Colonel had ordered the locks slammed tight until further notice. Bravo looked out there with her field glasses and noticed that a Greek-flagged freighter, the Galatea, had more-or-less elbowed its way to the head of the line of waiting ships, but no one was going anywhere.
Gonen could feel his own frustrations bubble to the surface now and he felt the need to blow steam. A little sword practice, perhaps?
Their friendship went back to the IDF's special training in occupied Damascus when their instructors matched Uri up with her to be a realistic opponent in hand-to-hand combat. But realistic for whom? Both were formidable with a blade.
He drew his sword wordlessly and saluted her with a sharp military slash vertically downward. Bravo whipped out her own sword and returned his salute. These were the classic decorative weapon carried by all commissioned officers but the swords were also quite real. Practice was sometimes painful and always dangerous.
Those fools! she hissed as they started in with the fairly standard stuff, just simple thrust and parry from safe distances. In a matter of days Egypt will be too strongly entrenched inside the Sinai and we'll be unable to resist a drive into the heart of Eretz Yisrael. We have to present a serious threat to their flank. Now!
With that word she literally pounced upon her challenger, Bravo's blade slicing down with bewildering speed. But Gonen had studied her well in their practice bouts and didn't fall for this.
She attacked again. At each of his parries Bravo felt she was striking stone. There was simply no give. She backed out of range and they began the usual circling of each other, testing with probing thrusts. She paused and a sudden oxygen debt forced her to draw breath in a sharp gasp. Gonen made his first attack then, a clumsy but forceful pounding of blade-on-blade that started to wear Bravo down.
The auxiliary noises of their fighting were the only sounds to be heard on the beach that morning. A resonant back-slide of steel-on-steel and CLASH! Nick, slide, and CLASH! She was moving him back now but Gonen's defenses proved more and more unyielding as she swept him closer to the edge of the surf.
For a simple practice she was attacking with frightening violence. He was a few moments gaining his original stance at the cost of a few more feet of sand. He said, Then we don't have a choice. We have to resort to the usual disobedience.
How? Bravo asked as she tried to prevent Gonen from circling around her and getting her back to the sea. I no longer have a battalion to be disobedient with.
I know better than that. I know you, Major. I know without a doubt that you have something planned.
This time Gonen pressed an attack. Bravo countered with a deft flip of her sword down along the back of her arm. It had become a shield allowing her arm to bear the brunt of his blows and he realized he was dangerously vulnerable to a bloody touch from Bravo in the form of an elbow jab with her blade's tip. She was well beneath his high two-handed thrusts. He saw this just in time and backed off.
Yield! he called as fatigue overtook both of them.
They rested where they stood, on hard-won new Israel territory, west of the Canal. It was a shapeless peninsula choking the mouth of the Suez Canal somewhat to the south of where they had made their amphibious assault, scoured by constant winds from the Gulf of Suez.
Bravo surveyed the continuing GI amphibious operations, the fresh supplies and troops coming directly from across the Gulf from a makeshift harbor in that part of the Sinai desert still held by the IDF.
Then Bravo stared south at the town of Port Tewfiq itself. The place was still smoking in many places from the brutal Israeli air strike but now it seemed merely to brood and lick it's wounds. Most of the population had been allowed to leave peacefully.
Gonen stood with Bravo on the sandy beach briefing her between gasps of breath on the IDF's achievements of the last two days. While he babbled on Bravo felt alienated, looking at him as if reexamining a habit, as if really noticing him for the first time. He was good-looking enough, except a set of eyes that bulged a microscopic amount, just slightly, enough to give him a deadly stare. From long association with him Bravo knew he was probably a needy type who covered it up with military spit and polish.
He said, There is a big land battle at Bar Gifgafa and we've broken out onto the highway to Kantra East. They'll be linking with another force that we pre-positioned in the mountains on the west side of Khatmia Pass, and that will give us the beginnings of a credible attempt at a pincer movement against the enemy lodgment.
What about Port Fuad?
No luck there. We're losing control of the city as I speak to the Egyptian Third Army.
She closed her eyes and sank to her knees on the sand of the beach. Lord I have done everything in my power to prepare a victory for your greater glory, but the obstacles I now face are insurmountable! Yet you are the God of Israel. Grant me watchfulness, that I may know when you make your move. Amen.
Her shoulders wanted to slump in despair but she resisted this, knowing that despair was the precise opposite of trusting God. She glanced around the town at the severely damaged cargo-handling facilities that resembled a child's toy city overturned, thrashed, and burned by a bully who had eventually tired of his destruction.
From a rat-hole of a tunnel half submerged at the water-line nearby a half- dozen black speedboats erupted. Swedish Boghammer II's they were. Fast, armored, each boat sported what looked to be a 56 millimeter cannon.
The enemy still a few has surprises for us, does he? Bravo mused. At first she thought this was God's reply to her prayer, but while she watched the speedboats swarmed around an Israeli helicopter carrier (the deck emptied of helos) and set it afire. After circling the waterborne inferno a few times, pumping shots into it and piling the flames on, they made a sharp turn and headed up the passage toward the locks and the Suez Canal Authority complex.
Already Bravo and Gonen were leaping off the beach and back up to the parking lot and their waiting car. Soon they were driving back northwest over the causeway, then northeast to the area where the southern end of the canal actually began.
Just north of the beach where Bravo Battalion had first attacked there were many buildings clustered around the gigantic locks, buildings captured at the cost of precious blood and the lives of people Bravo knew well. There upon those buildings the Boghammer speedboats opened up with 2 inch salvos.
The gray structures began belching flying pieces and sporting large holes while the boats swarmed in the waters below the big steel doors of the locks like so many sharks. Behind the massive doors the water was at the level of the rest of the Suez canal.
The rest of Bravo Battalion had of course been relieved and sent north, and specialists from other units had taken over. None of Bravo's people would have crouched in terror at a few 56mm bursts as these men were seen to do when Bravo appeared among them. There was an unreality about her as she stood unflinching in the thick smoke, gaping with astonishment that nothing had been done.
Who is in charge here? she bellowed.
A baby-faced butterbar, a second lieutenant, shuffled forward into view.
A combat engineer, no? Yes? Have you figured this place out?
Only the bare basics, ma'am, he said, twitching at the sound of another shell crashing into the building.
Do I have your undivided attention, Lieutenant?
He snapped his head forward. Yes ma'am!
Open the front door of the locks!
The second lieutenant shook his head. Ma'am, the doors are designed to latch together before you put a load on them. The weight of all that water might permanently damage the locks if you try to open them.
Do it! she snapped. I will cover your ass later. I'll take the responsibility. Astonishing...how about that? 'I'll take the responsibility.' How often do you hear those words?
So here was action at last! It had never been done before. They were huge, the double doors of the lower locks, but they had never been opened under the full weight of 20 meters of water. They seemed to groan as they slid slowly back into their slots but they held. The speedboats saw their doom and tried to flee, but there was no way to go fast enough to escape what was coming.
Over millions of tons of water burst out to fill the pool below the locks, flowing unstoppably toward the fleeing small craft. When the six boats were struck by the wall of water they popped up, overturned, and smashed to pieces before being submerged. Bravo thought it was one of the more memorable instances of overkill she had ever arranged.
Across two kilometers the wall of water spread out and moderated, lifting the Galatea roughly and bringing her down again, flipping over and sinking a smaller dry general cargo ship that had been turned sideways to the rushing water, and giving a large crude oil tanker an unwanted ride up and down that the enormous ship shrugged off as the wave rushed out to sea and dissipated. Other ships at anchor barely noticed.
Let's see if the locks still work or if the mechanism has been stripped, Bravo said. Let's do a live test. Get on VHF 16 and tell the Captain of the first vessel in line he may proceed into the northbound locks.
Gonen shook his head with at the artistry of this multiple death. He said, Colonel Adan will hear of this and say `Very good kill, but it could have messed up the locks and endangered our nation's future income from transit dues.' Then when they start searching for someone to blame the name on everyone's mind will be `Bravo.' I can hear it now. `This was Bravo's idea.' And then he will say, 'I told her to do nothing!' and he will lock us in the stockade.
Everyone is sitting around, she said, disgusted, as they went out of the building onto the streets of Suez City. Everyone is more afraid of the finger-pointing that follows action than in actually being hit with a round! It is time to get out here, Uri. To the front.
That won't be easy.