The Battle by Robert Sheckley
Supreme General Fetterer barked “At ease!” as he hurried into the command room. Obediently, his three generals stood at ease.
“We haven’t much time,” Fetterer said, glancing at his watch. “We’ll go over the plan of battle again.”
He walked to the wall and unrolled a gigantic map of the Sahara Desert.
“According to our best theological information, Satan is going to present his forces at these co-ordinates.” He indicated the place with a blunt forefinger. “In the front rank there will be the devils, demons, succubi, incubi, and the rest of the ratings. Bael will command the right flank, Buer the left. His Satanic Majesty will hold the centre.”
“Rather medieval,” General Dell murmured.
General Fetterer’s aide came in, his face shining and happy with the thought of the Coming.
“Sir,” he said, “the priest is outside again.”
“Stand to attention, soldier,” Fetterer said sternly. “There’s still a battle to be fought and won.”
“Yes sir,” the aide said, and stood rigidly, some of the joy fading from his face.
“The priest, eh?” Supreme General Fetterer rubbed his fingers together thoughtfully. Ever since the Coming, since the knowledge of the imminent Last Battle, the religious workers of the world had made a complete nuisance of themselves. They had stopped their bickering, which was commendable. But now they were trying to run military business.
“Send him away,” Fetterer said. “He know we’re planning Armageddon.”
“Yes sir,” the aide said. He saluted sharply, wheeled, and marched out.
“To go on,” Supreme General Fetterer said. “Behind Satan’s first line of defence will be the resurrected sinners, and various elemental forces of evil. The
fallen angels will act as his bomber corps. Dell’s robot interceptors will meet them.”
General Dell smiled grimly.
“Upon contact, MacFee’s automatic tank corps will proceed towards the centre of the line. MacFee’s automatic tank corps will proceed towards the centre,” Fetterer went on, “supported by General Ongin’s robot infantry. Dell will command the H bombing of the rear, which should be tightly massed. I will thrust with the mechanised cavalry, here and here.”
The aide came back, and stood rigidly at attention. “Sir,” he said, “the priest refuses to go. He says he must speak with you.”
Supreme General Fetterer hesitated before saying no. He remembered that this was the Last Battle, and that the religious workers were connected with it. He decided to give the man five minutes.
“Show him in,” he said.
The priest wore a plain business suit, to show that he represented no particular religion. His face was tired but determined.
“General,” he said, “I am a representative of all the religious workers of the world, the priests, rabbis, ministers, mullahs, and all the rest. We beg of you, General, to let us fight in the Lord’s battle.”
Supreme General Fetterer drummed his fingers nervously against his side. He wanted to stay on friendly terms with these men. Even he, the Supreme Commander, might need a good word, when all was said and done…
“You can understand my position,” Fetterer said unhappily. “I’m a general. I have a battle to fight.”
“But it’s the Last Battle,” the priest said. “It should be the people’s battle.”
“It is,” Fetterer said. “It’s being fought by their representatives, the military.”
The priest didn’t look at all convinced.