Satan's Shrine: by Daniel F. Galouye

I rather liked this 1954 story by Daniel F. Galouye, originally published in Galaxy and reprinted in Poul Anderson's 1986 anthology Terrorists of Tomorrow. The plot seems ahead of its time, fusing elements of a military-industrial complex into a computer which runs a global conspiracy, and which finally acquires for its identity the ultimate super-villain, Satan. This solid-state Satan acquires half the globe as a server for total war, and the free world, such as it is, comes to resemble London under the assault of Hitler's V-weapons during World War Two, or Orwell's Oceania.

On a mission to destroy Satan, a group of highly-trained specialists and soldiers are assassinated by techniques which game their compassion and common humanity, turning these into battlefield weakness and tactical hurt. The party is splendidly inserted into the Shrine through the barrel of a gigantic canon, wherein a maze of tunnels are booby-trapped by as many inventions of death as the mind of a conductive Satan can imagine. It is only by the discovery of the remains of previous missions that the soldiers gain any clue of the ingenuity of their imminent deaths - the assimilation of this knowledge is akin to pulling a trigger or tripping a wire. Also striking is how Satan is able to play on the national characteristics of the party - made up of an Englishman, a German, a Frenchman, a Russian, etc - and to auto-translate these national differences into suspicions and then errors of judgement which cost lives. Eventually, as the survivors find comradeship in the fact of just being alive, this too is used to whittle their number down to one.

The last survivor reaches Satan's control room to find not a devil but a technocrat, whose administrative function is to ensure continuity of what is revealed to be a very human conspiracy - everything is a hoax, a charade, a painted set; everything, that is, but the blood and anguish and death. Suffice to say that Satan's Shrine has many rooms, each one equipped with a device of torture which has been reverse engineered from the bones of its victims.

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