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Prologue

The blue text is from here. It is still in order, and has not been edited other than name changes. The black text is mine. A comprehensive record of the Rapture is maintained here.


The following content is optional: a short version is available here.


"Dammit! We shot the Antichrist again after he revived, and he revived anyway. We use what's left of our strategic stock to give the Unity Army some decent ordnance back when they had regressed to cavalry charges, and they all fizzle. We get ready to throw a damn nuke at him, and the retard in charge blows it up in transit trying to shoot an airplane that's magically immune to flak. How do we get this thing to go off script?"

Getting this off script. Seven years had reduced to a smattering of days, and nothing worked. The printouts were scattered on the table.

Assassinating Nicholae Carpatescu: We were beaten to it by the old guy who invented the Eden fertilizer.... Micah something. Our away team couldn't risk compromising the rest of us, and got out of there.

Destroying the body: We did. Lye and napalm. It made no difference - the Seabee team left, and when anyone had come back, the grave site was pristine. Heavy security prevented another attempt. Timeline suspects that it's because not enough people saw it happen... narrative causality. Anything we do will have to be very public.

Keeping things under control: Out of the window after Carpatescu's resurrection. The man now either thinks he's Satan, or he actually is Satan, except he's... stupid videogame Satan, rather than clever Satan. Either way, he stopped following contingency planning advice, and paying attention to logistics. This cavalry charge plan ended up making some sense simply because it's been a nightmare to even get JP-8 and MREs to Jerusalem.

Jesus Nuke: That'd have been nice, wouldn't it? Not enough time to scavenge any of what little nuclear deterrent was left. We managed to build five gun-type uranium bombs, but when it was time to test the first it just... didn't. This is consistent with a lot of advanced technology having started to fail for no visible reason. The laws of physics are beginning to show slack, and nuclear capability was one of the first thing to go. Oddly, cell phones work great.

"Bit of a hail mary pass, but the data we've collected suggests that the observer effect is key. See the bodysnatch attempt."

"We're a bit past messing with random number generators here."

"Exactly. Now it's clearly macroscopic, not even an attempt to hide it. Look at this - we got it off a sentry camera."

"I think people are used enough to this kind of thing by now that... well, it's just the new normal."

The evil motorcade thundered within yards of Raymond. He gunned his ATV engine and joined them, a couple of vehicles behind Carpatescu's and ahead of the rumbling armament carriers. A general tried to wave him off. Raymond smiled and waved back. The general reached for a weapon from an aide and aimed it out the window. Raymond winked at him, and the man opened fire. The general blanched when the burp of bullets he'd fired at point-blank range seemed to go right through Raymond.

"So this... Raymond Irons, ace airliner pilot, is also phasing around bullets. Or the other way round."

"And definitely not by any sort of personal conviction or willpower -- read the transcript, the man's an idiot, full of himself. Which I suspect to be a plus in this case. It doesn't matter that the prophecy timetable is absurd; it started working, and now it has enough momentum to finish, because even the Unity soldiers believe it."

"I recommend we corner Carpatescu and show him this stuff."

"The cognitive dissonance has driven him mad - and there's something else in his head. Don't forget, in the original Semitic myth Satan is God's district attorney and agent provocateur, not his enemy. Either way, it wouldn't do any good."

"So what do we do?"

A worn copy of a Discworld book is tossed on the table. "Theostry."

"That's... not even proper Greek."

"I know. It means change the story. Fight words with words. Jesus speaks, his enemies die. Here's Jesus' lips moving, camera one.... and here's the first Unity soldier dropping dead, camera six. Check the timestamps. Jesus said that he is killing his enemy with his word, and it looks like we can take him at his word."

"Are you planning to convert?"

"No. Even if he is God, he's still a mass murderer - I can accept that he's God, but there will be a KKK rally in San Francisco before I worship him. This is what we know; how do we fight it?"

"This would have been great to know a year ago, but we don't have the resources or the tim to build a system for noise cancellation on this scale. And even then, it'd at best be a defense. We have to end this."

"No, that's my point - it would not only be a defense. It would disrupt the script in a way that can't be denied. Past that... it's the hardest armors that shatter easiest when fractured."

"We don't need noise canceling! We can saturate the air. Large resonating plasma speakers."

"Wouldn't be loud enough."

"Wouldn't need to be! The speakers are ultrasonic. We heterodyne our signal out, project it directly at the source of the other signal -- Jesus -- and get out sum and difference. The sum gets lost as heat, the difference drowns out everything else - if we're just a fraction of a percent louder than him, all he can do is warble us. It'd be like an AM radio station trying to talk over FM."

"Why would this work?"

"Because, supposed omnipotence or not, we're dealing with a Bronze Age mindset. He'd never think of this trick because he'd never feel a need to be efficient enough to use it. He can warp physics to his will reflexively, but he'd have to know enough physics to know what properties of air to alter in order to counteract this."

"He's also supposed to be omniscient."

"That just means he can't learn. Let's even say he is, which is paradoxical: even if he knows the physics, per se, he'd have to have the understanding of how to use them to counteract this. There's a difference between knowing how an airplane works and being able to do aerobatics."

The flashes lit up the clouds. Raymond could not have imagined them getting larger or more active, and yet they had. They seemed miles wide and deep now, gray and black and pregnant with moisture, as if about to burst. And these blotted out everything above. Were it not for his faith, this would be a horrifying scene. Indeed, the power and wrath of the God of the universe were being unleashed, and those without confidence in His love had to be terrified. "Astounding, " Raymond whispered, but the other two men, silhouetted in the constant flashes, neither moved nor responded. His lame summary must have hit them as feebly as it had him.

"We've got a few days and almost no resources to implement this. What do we need?"

"Let's see... four flatbed trucks, four - best six, we'll need the extra wiring - broadcast radio masts... a workshop... ad at least one tank bridge vehicle."

"The Global Community has prioritized radio and cell phone infrastructure maintenance, probably for propaganda and surveillance. The stuff is still around, all we have to do is get a hold of it."

The printouts of Revelations, from a long-defunct website carrying side by side translations, joins the Pratchett book on the table. "And someone is going to have to work out a game plan from this. Looks like Turbo Jesus has two speeds, walk and kill - we gotta catch him walking. We also need to be able to run at least one test, for tuning."

"And if the test doesn't work?"

"Anyone who wants to convert, well, I'd have to recommend it."

"How long we got?"

"Less than a day. Now, the vehicles won't be a problem, for some reason the Idiot in Chief has decided he's into cavalry charges, so there's a number of abandoned vehicles here and here. Fuel will be a problem, but..."

Ten minutes later, everyone had a job, from stealing welders to procuring vehicles to clearing out a warehouse. The engineering side of it wouldn't be too hard; the technology was a hundred years old, after all.

"...also, anyone who's got a working music player - Deejay, make up a playlist and make it good. It needs to be stirring."

"Addy, " Raymond SAID, "let's follow Carpatescu and Fortunati. "
"Are you serious, Captain Irons?"
"They won't even notice."
"Something I do not understand, Captain. Why does Jesus not just capture them? He kills almost the entire army with the words from His mouth, and yet He allows them to run free. I know He is not going to kill them, but it seems He is playing a game with them. "
"I'm no theologian," Raymond said, "but as you know, God has His own timetable. All this has been prophesied, scripted. It's going to happen when it's supposed to happen. "
As Abd Al-Azrad steered the Hummer toward the valley and Carpatescu's bigger Humvee, for the first time since the appearance of Jesus, the sky began to turn. Dark, menacing clouds formed on the horizon and quickly rose, filling the heavens except where the Lord and His army hovered. "You feel that?" Mack radioed. "Temperature musta dropped ten degrees in the last minute!"
"Something's brewing," Raymond said.
"Now you're understatin' the obvious. I'm heading for cover, Ray. "
"Keep in touch."
"Don't worry."
Raymond and Abd Al-Azrad rolled up their windows. "Do you not want me to lose Leone?" Abd Al-Azrad said, nodding far across the killing grounds to where the Humvee was picking up speed, apparently trying to find a path through the massacre toward Jerusalem.
"Just try to keep an eye on him," Raymond said. "He's going to have a rough time heading that way. Hey, hit the heat. "
Abd Al-Azrad stopped just the other side of a ravine that separated the high country from the valley where thousands of bodies lay. Although they were dead and their blood had ceased flowing, it seemed to ooze from their bodies and quickly filled the lower areas.
Frost appeared on the windshield. "That's the first time I've seen that in this part of the world, " Abd Al-Azrad said. "In America, yes, but not here. " He turned on the wipers, but they merely spread the ice crystals and blocked the view.
Raymond played with the controls until he got the heater and defogger blasting, quickly clearing the window. But even with the heater on full, he was chilled. And the sky turned darker. Strangely, there were still no shadows on the ground. The light of Christ continued to permeate, except for the blackness of the sky that ringed Him and His mounted followers. Suddenly a voice came from the sky, loud and authoritative, but it was not Jesus'.

"IT IS DONE!"

The supernatural thunderstorm had ionized the air enough to allow an attempt. Still in Unity Army support vehicle livery, five trucks briefly come to life for a moment. On four, by push button. On the fifth, the driver having been slaughtered by the Lamb of God, by PSK remote.

"Test complete. That was Deejay you heard, not God."

"By the look of it, we can pull it off.... but we'll need a bolt of lightning. Some pre-ionization is going to be necessary."

"Dude, we're going to walk in God's face and tell him to sod off. I don't think one bolt of lightning will be a problem."

Lightning burst from the clouds and explosions of thunder followed. And then came hail—if you could call it that. These were not mere ice chips—not even golf-ball or softball size. The first chunk Raymond saw looked the size of a dining-room table, half a foot thick. It landed about twenty feet below the Hummer and embedded itself a couple of feet into the ground. The concussion sounded like a bomb.
The few remaining Unity Army soldiers behaved like madmen, tearing their hair, some shooting themselves, others begging comrades to shoot them. Another chunk of ice hit a grenade launcher Page 113 and flattened it. Soon hundred-pound blocks of ice began pelting the entire area, smashing bodies, destroying trucks and cars and Jeeps.

"We lost Five! Get out! Get out!"

The royal Humvee, with Leone driving erratically, narrowly escaped three chunks, one of which caught a running aide squarely atop the head and crushed him to the ground. The gigantic hailstones were soon dropping steadily, and there was no escape. It was as if God were burying the bloody battlefield in a thick layer of ice.
"You getting this hail in Jerusalem?" Raymond radioed Mack.
"Nope. No hail. Looks like it's threatening rain or snow, but so far we're just freezin' our tails off." Survivors remained only in scattered spots, but instead of trying to find cover or protecting their heads or even falling to their knees and begging for mercy, they lifted their faces to the sky, shouting, apparently railing against God, flashing obscene gestures at Jesus and His army. Soon they were crushed under the monstrous hailstones.
The temperature returned to normal as quickly as it had dropped, and the clouds rolled away and disappeared. The whole of creation seemed bright as day again, and while the sun still had not been seen since before Jesus came, the desert was soon toasty again. Raymond turned off the heat and opened the windows, and he and Abd Al-Azrad lit out after Leone and Nicholae.
The ice quickly began to melt, and the water mixed with the torrent of blood. "Stop here, " Raymond said, as they watched the blood-and-water mixture rise higher than the tires on the potentate's Humvee. The vehicle was soon bogged down in a reddish brown mud. Ray-ford heard Carpatescu shrieking at Leone to get them out of the mess and on toward Jerusalem. But they quickly found all avenues of escape blocked by the rising muck. When it reached the middle of the door of their vehicle, Carpatescu ordered Leone out to push while he climbed into the driver's seat.
"But, Excellency, I will drown!"
"You will do no such thing. Do you want your king to get out?"
"No, my lord, of course not. But I-I, ah—"
Leone pushed open the door and the liquid invaded the vehicle. "Hurry, man!" Nicholae shouted. "Shut the door!"
Leone stepped gingerly into the drink, which reached his waist and made his robe balloon out. He had wisely left his fez in the Humvee. "It's freezing!" he squealed. "My legs are going numb!"
"Of course it is freezing! It has ice in it! Now start pushing!"
"It stinks!"
"Push!"
It took Leone a moment to make his way behind the vehicle, and the footing beneath the surface was clearly uneven. Once he nearly plunged all the way under and had to grab the fender to stay upright. His robe was a mess, his hands and face pale, his hair mussed. Raymond could see he was shivering to his core.
When he got behind the Humvee, Carpatescu apparently floored the accelerator, for all he accomplished was to kick up a rooster tail of liquid and steam that covered Leone. The Humvee didn't move.
"Try to rock it!" Leone shouted.
"That is what you are there for! Grab under the bumper and lift!"
"Lift a Humvee!?"
"Rock it!"

"Rock it, Amadeus!"

"Should we put the Benny Hill theme on for this?"

"Guys, focus."

"Telemetry, why do we need to see this?"

"Because we have to track the principal actors in this farce if we have to have a hope of interrupting it."

Finally they coordinated Leone's lifting and pushing and Carpatescu's alternated gunning the engine and letting up, and the big thing began to sway. When it finally started to move, Leone lost his balance and pitched forward, going completely under. He came up sputtering and trying to wipe his face.
Nicholae pulled the Humvee to slightly higher ground and Leone rushed to get in the passenger side. But when he opened the door, Carpatescu was already there.
"I am not driving, Leone! How would that look?"
Leone trudged around in front of the car and yanked open the door. Just before climbing in he pulled his sodden robe over his head and left it in the rising river of blood. He clambered aboard in his underwear, assuring Nicholae that he had other clothes in the back.
"Well, put them on immediately!"
The Humvee rocked and bounced as Leone found dry clothes and dressed in the car. Apparently deciding his ornate cap would not work with the new outfit, he tossed it out the window as he slowly pulled away, looking for yet higher ground. The blood had already risen more than four feet. When the skies cleared and the temperature rose, Mack rubbed his bare arms and emerged from what had been meager cover under sparse trees not far from the Temple Mount. Though not in the uniform of the Unity Army, he must not have looked like a rebel either, as he was virtually ignored. Many of the normal nonfighting citizenry were milling about among the thousands of soldiers, who spent much of their time sitting around. Some platoons were moved here and there, seemingly on the whim of a general or a commander, but all fighting had ceased. The Global Community forces had occupied all of Jerusalem except the Temple Mount, and they had that surrounded.
Occasionally a general with a bullhorn tried to persuade the tiny band of rebels inside to surrender and avoid inevitable bloodshed.
Mack was amused that the general assumed the rebels had no access to outside information. But having talked with them, he knew they had radios and even some televisions. They would know what had happened at Petra and Bozrah, and soon they would probably even know the outcome of the battle at Armageddon.
It seemed weird to Mack that soldiers could sit around smoking and playing cards, only occasionally glancing into the sky to see what Jesus was up to. Maybe this was all part of the hardening of hearts, but Mack thought that he, in the same situation, would recognize that his end was near. Theirs was clearly a supernatural foe who had not even been slowed by the most powerful army in history. The war was as good as over.
And yet Nicholae Carpatescu, the great deceiver, despite winning not even a skirmish since the appearing of Christ, had somehow convinced his troops that Jerusalem was the key. If they could take the Holy City, he would be returned to his rightful throne, the Son of God would be defeated, and all would again be right with the world.
The only thing that argument had going for it was the current situation in Jerusalem. The idea of the rebels holding anything when they were surrounded and outnumbered a thousand to one was laughable and pathetic. Except, as Mack knew, they were on the right side.

"Operational security's gone bust a long time ago anyway."

CATS' drones were little more than balsa-wood remote control airplanes with cameras, but did the job. Their feed went directly to Global Community officers who, directed by the semidelusional Carpatescu, simply rebroadcast them over-the-air with everything else. On the plus side, it leveled the informational playing field.

"Leave it to a crazy possessed dictator to play fair."

"Yeah, well. If we win we'll have to deal with Carpatescu afterwards."

"I can't imagine that being worse than the Lord."

Raymond had assumed he was way past being shocked by now. What could he see that would be more surreal than the last several hours? Yet as Abd Al-Azrad kept a careful but watchful distance from Carpatescu's Humvee, all Ray-ford could do was stare at the result of the last so-called battle. Of course, there had not been a battle at all. The Unity Army had rattled its sabers, loaded its weapons, and made a lot of noise. And Jesus had killed them all, with mere words.
Of course those words were the words of God, and the effect was overpowering. Mile after mile after mile, Abd Al-Azrad drove next to a river of blood several miles wide and now some five feet deep. Carpatescu's whole-world fighting force of several million troops had been reduced to perhaps a million. That was still huge, of course, and from a human standpoint the rebels could never match it. But the devastation to the Unity Army in a short period should have made plain to Carpatescu that his days were numbered.
Rather, to hear him talking earnestly to Leone in the car and to the remaining troops by radio, what had happened served as mere motivation. "Our goal remains, " Carpatescu said, "and our task is clear. Take the Father's city, wipe out His chosen people, and kill His Son. This has been our design from the beginning. We have drawn Him out, and we will soon have Him where we want Him. Remain loyal, remain true, remain vigilant, and you will be rewarded. "
Jesus, meanwhile, had turned to the remnant and addressed them directly as Raymond and Abd Al-Azrad listened.
"You are of God, little children, and have overcome Antichrist, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. He is of the world. Therefore he speaks as of the world, and the world hears him. You are of God. He who knows God hears Me; he who is not of God does not hear Me. By this you know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
"Beloved, love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward you, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that you might live through Him. In this is love, not that you loved God, but that He loved you and sent Me to be the propitiation for your sins.
"Raymond, if God so loved you, you also ought to love one another. "
Raymond was always pierced when he heard his name, as he knew Abd Al-Azrad and all the others had to be. Then Jesus moved from the personal exhortation to clearly explain what had just happened. "And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.
"Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, 'It is done!' And there were noises and thunderings and lightnings. And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great. "An angel came out of the temple of heaven, crying to Me with a loud voice, 'Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. ' So I thrust in My sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.
"Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, 'Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe. '
"So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses' bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. "

"About 322 kilometers."

"Ugh. Thanks for the visual, Telemetry. We've seen enough sick stuff here.... one way or the other, today will be the last of it."

"I guess it's official, God uses the FFF system."

The remnant, full of the glory of God, had been turned and was pointed toward Jerusalem. Micah believed the Lord would protect them, but strangely, Jesus now moved on ahead with His army. And while the children of Israel seemed to be moving supernaturally fast again, they fell far behind Him and soon lost sight of Him.
Micah noticed others looking at each other with concern, and he wanted to reassure them. But his place as leader and spokesman had been taken, and he felt no prompting to try to reassert himself. His job was done, and he felt he was just part of the remnant now. They would go where God pointed them and trust the Lord to be their rear guard.
Mack was surprised to discover that the radio waves— and he assumed television as well—were still controlled by the Global Community. That, he knew, would not last long. As he made his way throughout Jerusalem, trying to give Raymond and Abd Al-Azrad a picture of what they'd find when they arrived, he listened to GC reporters and anchors putting Nicholae Carpatescu's spin on everything. There was no mention, of course, of what could have at least been described as an apparition in the sky— some trick by the enemy to scare everyone. Talk about the proverbial elephant in the room. Mack was certain everyone on earth knew who rode on the clouds. The question was what Jesus was going to do and when He was going to do it.
Jerusalem was replete with makeshift jails and prisons and holding tanks where the captured rebels were starved and tortured. GC personnel reported on these with apparent glee as evidence that victory was at hand. One commentator said that the rebels who thought they were holding the Temple Mount area were themselves in only a larger prison of their own making, for they were helpless to stand against the Unity Army, and there was nowhere they could flee.
It was apparent to Mack that word was beginning to spread throughout the city that the potentate was on his way. The place became a center of activity. Card games ended. Sitting around became a thing of the past. Platoons were coming to attention, areas policed, and the path to the front lines cleared. Every few minutes the news carried a fresh, live quote, right from the commander in chief's own vehicle.
"As we approach what many have referred to as the Eternal City, " Carpatescu said, "I am pleased to announce that following our victory here, this shall become the new Global Community headquarters. My palace shall be rebuilt on the site of the ruins of the temple, the destruction of which is on our agenda.
"As beautiful as New Babylon was, in truth it has been my objective all along to one day relocate the seat of government, commerce, and religion to this city, which has meant so much to so many for so long. So, loyal citizens of the New World Order, I trust you will watch with great satisfaction as we complete our takeover of this place, as we root out and destroy the last pocket of resistance, and as we render impotent the One whom the enemy reveres as the reason they have never been able to join our noble cause.
"This One who flits about in the air quoting ancient fairy-tale texts and forcing sycophants to mindlessly run along worshiping Him will soon meet His end. He is no match for the risen lord of this world and for the fighting force in place to face Him. It does not even trouble me to make public our plan, as it has already succeeded. This city and these despicable people have long been His chosen ones, so we have forced Him to show Himself, to declare Himself, to vainly try to defend them or be shown for the fraud and coward that He is. Either He attempts to come to their rescue or they will see Him for who He really is and reject Him as an impostor. Or He will foolishly come against my immovable force and me and prove once and for all who is the better man.

"If this jackass hadn't wasted all his nuclear arsenal, maybe we could have..."

"Chill out, Rhino. No sense crying over spilled plutonium."

"Either way, you two. Trucks, move out, remember your cover story - even Christ and Antichrist like to have an audience, so if you can pose as mobile cell radio towers, both sides should leave you alone. I don't know why but phone connectivity has been given highest priority for requisitions. Also, weapons bound. Go!"

"While I do not expect this to be an extended campaign, as this is the last battle I ever hope to wage, I am bringing in the whole of our resources. Every man and woman under my command and every armament and munition at our disposal shall be employed to make this the most resounding and convincing military victory in history.
"My pledge to you, loyal citizens of the Global Community, is that come the end of this battle, no opponent of my leadership and regime will remain standing, yea, not one will be left alive. The only living beings on planet Earth will be trustworthy citizens, lovers of peace and harmony and tranquility, which I offer with love for all from the depths of my being.
"I am but ten miles west of Jerusalem as we speak, and I will be dismissing my cabinet and generals so they may be about the business of waging this conflict under my command. The Most High Reverend of Carpatescunism, Leone Fortunati himself, will serve as my chauffeur for my triumphal entry. Citizens are already lining the roadway to greet me, and I thank you for your support. "
Mack hurried into position where he could get a look at the Humvee and the motorcade of military vehicles following it. He stood on a rise on the west side, where he could see the parading army that extended to the horizon. As the procession neared the city, he could hear drums and trumpets, and if he was not mistaken, even from that distance, the royal Humvee looked a mess. Raymond had told him it had been sloshing through the blood in the Valley of Megiddo, but apparently no one had reminded the potentate to get it cleaned.
When it came into view, Mack's suspicions were confirmed. It was ringed with mud and blood to the windows. But sure enough, civilians lined the roadway on either side, cheering, waving, clapping, saluting, and throwing flowers. Carpatescu opened the moonroof, stood on the front seat, and appeared in the open air, waving with both hands and blowing kisses.
Enjoy it while it lasts, pal.
"Mack, do you see us?" Raymond radioed over the secure frequency.
"No. Where are you?"
"Third row, behind the Humvee."
"Nobody cares?"
"It's as if they don't even see us."
"What's the plan?"
"As the Humvee reaches Jaffa Road, it will head for the Jaffa Gate, along with a third of the fighting force. The other two-thirds will split off north and south, surrounding the Old City. Once everyone is in place, Carpatescu will lead the charge through the occupied Armenian and Jewish Quarters to the Temple Mount. They plan to batter through the Western Wall and overtake the rebels. "
"Plan to."
"Exactly."
Mack finally spotted Raymond and Abd Al-Azrad's Hummer and was struck by how much it looked like it belonged in the procession. As the cavalcade approached Jaffa Road, Mack began jogging that way, hoping to catch up with his friends when they peeled away from the group.
The cheering crowds grew larger as the cars neared the Old City, and as they slowed, the marching band caught up, its music blaring and drums pounding. Mack was reminded of Memorial Day parades as a child when his father had hoisted him on his shoulders and he had thrilled to the rat-a-tat-tat of the snares and the thumping undercurrent of the big bass drums. Back then, of course, he never heard "Hail Carpatescu."
The music had stirred the crowd to a fever pitch, and the army that followed was clearly something unlike any of them, loyalists or rebels, had ever seen. There would not be room in the Old City for a fraction of the force. Mack wondered how even Carpatescu and the rest of the rolling stock were going to navigate the narrow cobblestone streets.
"I've been wondering the same thing, Mack," Raymond said. "This is some festival, eh?"
"Ridiculous!"
"Frankly, I love it, " Raymond said. "The more and the louder the better. "
"I don't follow."
"The more pomp and circumstance, the greater the humiliation later."
"Well, that's for sure."
"You find us yet, Mack?"
"I'm headin' your way. When you gonna split off?"
"We're not."
"You're not? What? You're gonna go paradin' into the Old City with Carpatescu?"
"Why not? See if you can get in."
"Unlikely."
"Try."

"Did everyone go stupid at the same time?"

"No, this is narrative control on a massive scale. This is the story we have to change. I guess it's good that we're using sound to do it."

"Why?"

"Because everyone understand the power of rock. We'll have a few minutes to kick massive ass, so it will need an epic soundtrack if we are to influence enough brains to make it stick."

Mack caught up to the parade and had to wonder what all the extra troops were for. The same contingent of soldiers that had been there when he had discovered Buck was more than enough to get the job done from a human standpoint. If they couldn't do it, the rest wouldn't help. Fortunati steered the wide Humvee through Jaffa Gate, and almost immediately the folly of their plan became clear. There simply wasn't room for the rolling stock to proceed to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. In his earpiece Mack heard Nicholae trying to enlist engineers to bring in heavy equipment and knock down buildings and walls en route. When told that would take hours, he exploded, swearing and demanding to know who told him his parade through the Old City had been a capital idea.
"Leave the cars where they are!" he announced. "I shall lead the rest of the attack on horseback. "
Mack was close enough now to see Carpatescu sneak a peek at the sky. Jesus was not there at the moment, and neither was His heavenly army. Mack thought this unnerved Carpatescu more than if He'd been there.
Aides immediately attended to Carpatescu when he emerged from the Humvee. He straightened his leathers, which seemed no worse for wear since he had not left the vehicle during the debacle at Armageddon. Nicholae also repositioned his garish sword.
But when Fortunati got out, he was wearing plain civilian clothes that made him appear to be on his way to a workday for a local community service club. "Get the reverend a proper uniform and something to clean his face and hair," Carpatescu ordered.
Someone ran off, returning presently. "Biggest we have," the man said, handing the folded clothes and a wet towel to Fortunati, who gave him a look that would lift roadkill off asphalt. "Sorry, " the man whispered. "Biggest we have."
"You can change in the cathedral, " someone else told Leone, and he hurried off with a couple of aides. Meanwhile, more generals and hangers-on and toadies surrounded Carpatescu, who asked that they make room for the photographers and TV camera crews.
When Leone returned in the too-short, too-tight Unity Army getup, he looked like Sergeant Garcia trying to fit into Zorro's costume. He had tried to religious-ize the outfit by hanging around his neck a large gold chain with 216 dangling from it.
It was all Mack could do to keep a straight face. He fell into step with Raymond and Abd Al-Azrad as they approached from their vehicle. They had begun to draw a few stares, though fortunately not from anyone who cared enough to ask questions. All three wore caps pulled low over their foreheads, but without proper uniforms they couldn't pass for Unity Army personnel. "We'd better split up, eh, Cap?" Mack said. "I guess. Addy, you go north. Mack, south. Meet you outside the Eastern Wall at the Golden Gate when this is all over."

One of the four functioning trucks parked itself near the three Tribulation Force members, its one streaming camera pointing at them after they'd been recognized as persons of interest.

"Who are you?"

The truck deployed its stabilizer legs, grounding spikes having been recently added to them. The driver got out and started doing a diagnostic on the equipment.

"Mobile cell phone tower. We're with the Custodial Arrangement of Telephone Systems, see the badge? Whatever happens, essential infrastructure must keep running. Speaking of which, who are you?"

The Tribulation Force members did not think it necessary to answer these lowly enemy minions, but the answer they got satisfied them immensely.

The truck's driver checked on the massive plasma speaker and battery, and raised the coil mast. "Three here, ready to start." Since he was slightly ahead of schedule, he started clearing debris around the truck to prevent earthquake damage that Timeline had warned about.

Micah felt the tingle of anticipation as the remnant fell into place at a high point on the western slope overlooking Jerusalem. It still seemed disconcerting not to see Jesus above them, but he knew the Lord knew best. Antichrist had been crowing about luring the Son of God into his trap, when it was clear to Micah that the opposite had happened. Carpatescu had to have read the Bible. He had to know all this was prophesied. He even had to know the predicted outcome. Yet he brazenly came to the very spot he was supposed to, and in spite of the mass execution of his troops in three other confrontations, he still had the gall to believe he would prevail.
This was going to be something to see, and Micah wanted to say so to the assembled. He had no means to address them all at once, and from looking at those around him, he knew there was nothing they needed to be told. They, like he, looked on with great expectancy.
Ride on, King Jesus!
Raymond WAS CLOSE enough behind Nicholae that he heard him ask a woman general, "What is our equestrian strength?"
She checked via radio and reported, "Excellency, of more than a million soldiers, a little more than a tenth are on horseback. "
"Call for as many steeds as we need to get the first wave to the Western Wall, and order Reverend Fortunati and me appropriate mounts. "
Within minutes several thousand horses crowded the streets, and Unity Army soldiers were mounting up. A tall, handsome stallion, almost identical to the one Carpatescu had ridden out of the city toward Bozrah, was delivered for his use. Cameras clicked and TV crews crowded around as he swung aboard, raising his sword.
He twirled the blade above his head, rousing the troops, who responded with a crescendoing whoop, like a football team about to break from the locker room. Fortunati struggled up onto a smaller black horse and settled himself.
"Follow me to the Western Wall," Carpatescu shouted, "and make way for the battering ram and missile launchers! Upon my command, open fire!"
Knowing the Old City by now, Raymond sprinted for side streets, heading toward the Western Wall.
Mack was already at the southern corner of the Old City, a few steps north of Dung Gate. Abd Al-Azrad contacted him by radio and said he had found a perch near Antonia's Fortress and believed he was safe and undetectable, with a good view of the approaching invaders.
"I am high enough to see the surrounding army forces too, Mack, " he said. "They have the entire Old City encircled, several thousand deep. I can see why they are so confident of victory, having cut off all escape routes 360 degrees. "
Raymond set up a hundred yards short of the Western Wall and far enough south that he had some underbrush for cover. He thought he saw Mack but couldn't be sure. Almost everyone inside the Old City but the press was part of the attacking force, but the occasional civilian stood atop anything available, cheering and shouting encouragement as Carpatescu came into view, valiant and proud on his huge horse, sword pointing to the sky, microphone wrapped around his ear and in front of his mouth so the entire army could hear his commands.
"For the glory of your risen master and lord of the earth!" he shouted, urging his ride to a full gallop, clacking over the cobblestone ground. Fortunati's horse mince-stepped slowly after, which seemed plenty fast enough for Leone.
The band lagged behind the mounted and rolling and marching troops, loudly clanging out a rousing melody. As Carpatescu drew within range of the wall, he peeled off to the south with Fortunati trailing him.
"Horsemen, make way for the armaments!" Carpatescu bellowed. "Attack! Break through the wall! Take the Temple Mount! Destroy the rebels!"
But when the horsemen whipped their mounts, they did not make way. Rather, the horses bolted as if blind— nickering, whinnying, braying, rearing, bucking, kicking, spinning into each other, running headlong into the wall, throwing riders.
"Make way!" Carpatescu screamed. "Make way!"
The riders not thrown leaped from their horses and tried to control them with the reins, but even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted, and their tongues disintegrated. As Raymond watched, the soldiers stood briefly as skeletons in now-baggy uniforms, then dropped in heaps of bones as the blinded horses continued to fume and rant and rave.
Seconds later the same plague afflicted the horses, their flesh and eyes and tongues melting away, leaving grotesque skeletons standing, before they too rattled to the pavement.
"Reinforcements!" Carpatescu called out. "Charge! Charge! Fire! Fire! Attack!"
But every horse and rider that advanced suffered the same fate. First blindness and madness on the part of the horses, then the bodies of the soldiers melting and dissolving. Then the falling and piling of the bones.

"Boss are you seeing this?"

"Hold your fire! HOLD YOUR DAMN FIRE!"

"Doesn't look like enclosed vehicles are shielded either."

"Wait, the jeep drivers are affected... tanks still moving under human control."

"Nobody say or do anything hostile for now. We can't be sure."

Raymond stood, mouth agape, noticing that neither Carpatescu's nor Fortunati's horses had been affected yet. Leone slid off his mount and flopped to the ground, rolling to a kneeling position and burying his face in his hands.
"Get up, Leone! Get up! We are not defeated! We have a million more soldiers and we shall prevail!"
But Leone stayed where he was, whimpering and wailing.
Plainly disgusted, Nicholae urged his horse back to the middle of the wall and looked past the bones of his decimated troops for reinforcements. He lifted his sword and cursed God, but suddenly his attention was drawn directly above.
Raymond followed his gaze to see the temple of God opened in heaven, and the ark of the covenant plain as day. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and the earth began to shift. Carpatescu's horse reared and high-stepped, and Nicholae fought to control him. Fortunati's horse scampered away without him.
The earth groaned and buckled, and the city of Jerusalem was fractured into three as the great fissures swallowed up Carpatescu loyalists and soldiers. Buildings and walls were left intact, except Abd Al-Azrad reported seeing the cemented-over East Gate—closed off for centuries—blasted open by the movement of the earth.
Raymond slapped his palm over his earpiece and plugged his other ear to hear reports coming in from all over the world. The earthquake was global. Islands disappeared. Mountains were leveled. The entire face of the planet had been made level, save for the city of Jerusalem itself. And suddenly the Lord Jesus Himself appeared in the clouds again, and the whole world saw Him. He spoke with a loud voice, saying, "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
"Every valley has been exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places have been made straight and the rough places smooth. The glory of the Lord has been revealed, and all flesh have seen it together; for I have spoken.
"Behold, the day of the Lord has come, and your spoil has been divided in your midst. For I gathered all the nations to battle against Jerusalem, but the remnant of the people was not cut off from the city. I went forth and fought against those nations, as in the day of battle.
"And the plague with which I struck all the people who fought against Jerusalem was this: their flesh dissolved while they stood on their feet, their eyes dissolved in their sockets, and their tongues dissolved in their mouths. I sent a great panic over them. Such also was the plague on the horses.
"Behold, I made Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they laid siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And I made Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away were surely cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth were gathered against it.
"I struck every horse with confusion, and its rider with madness; I opened My eyes on the house of Judah and struck every horse of the peoples with blindness.
"I defended the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who was feeble among them today is like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the Lord before them. I destroyed all the nations that came against Jerusalem.

"Why is Jesus providing his own narration?"

"Fits the personality profile so far. Telemetry?"

"Confirmed, we're getting earthquakes all over the globe. Half of AGPS is down. NIST is down. Network splits on all internet services. Broadcast radio and phone grid unaffected, oddly."

"Dammit! This wasn't supposed to happen! I thought we had more time! Sound off to Timetable if you're good to go!"

"Right. No major structural damage over here, this was a... surprisingly cozy disaster. Most of the roads around Jerusalem are still usable, even. Get going!"

"Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left.
"In the midst of the land among the people, it was like the shaking of an olive tree, like the gleaning of grapes when the vintage is done.
"The children of Israel called on My name, and I answered them. I said, 'This is My people'; and each one said, 'The Lord is my God. '"
Though the Lord did not speak audibly to the remnant, Micah felt as if he and they were being drawn inexorably around the Old City to the east side. As the million-plus slowly made their way past the dead and the dying, a fraction of Antichrist's forces remained alive. They struggled and staggered toward shelter, also apparently drawn to the east.
The Lord sat triumphant on the back of His white horse in the clouds, His army behind Him, gazing upon the one-sided victory over the forces that had come against Jerusalem. Mack found Raymond and they went looking for Abd Al-Azrad. They knew he was all right, because they had radio contact. He too was headed east of the city.
"You should have seen Nicholae and Leone, " Raymond said.
"I saw them briefly, " Mack said, "when Leone fell off his horse. "
"Nicholae galloped off a little while ago, heading back the way he had come. Leone was running after him, pleading to let him ride along, but Carpatescu ignored him. "
"Figures. "
The earth still shifted and moved from aftershocks, and Raymond tried to imagine what it must look like from outer space. No more islands. No more mountains.
Virtually flat with gently rolling hills. The whole of Israel, except for Jerusalem, was level. They found Abd Al-Azrad, who at first looked past them, then smiled and shook his head. "I was looking for two white men, Mack. "
Hannah Palemoon caught up with Micah, who was surrounded by people with questions. She waited until he recognized her, then said, "How long until we are reunited with loved ones who went on to heaven before us?"
"Very soon, I hope, " Micah said. "There are many I wish to see too, but first I want to see Jesus face-to-face. "
"What's next?"
"Oh, I think you know. The Lord Himself will set foot on earth again, for only the second time since His ascension. As you know, He came in the clouds for the Rapture, and this time He briefly walked on the ground when He soiled His robe in blood at Bozrah. "
"Is the enemy completely gone?" Hannah said.
"Soon, " Micah said. "Very soon. "
Illinois, flat as it already was, was hardly affected by the earthquake, though Enoch was certain no one doubted what had happened. The long, low rumbling of the earth continued, and he heard Carpatescu loyalists screaming for their lives.
After his people had returned to their homes, Enoch had begun moving his furniture upstairs, looking forward to a life where he could look out the window without caring who might see in. Just before the earthquake one of the few Global Community Peacekeeper patrol cars he'd seen in recent weeks raced down the street. As it came around the curve in front of his place it veered off the road and hit a fire hydrant.
Neighbors ran to the car, collapsing in disbelief when all they found were skeletons and clothes in the front seat. The declared enemies of God were being decimated around the world. Enoch tried calling his parishioners, reaching many and missing several who called while he was on the phone. No one was hurt, though some of their homes were damaged. Several were badly shaken, telling of seeing government employees disintegrating before their eyes. And all wanted to talk about their new church, where it might be and how soon they might move into it. Many also mentioned their pilgrimage to the Middle East.

"San Antonio and Toronto report deaths by lightning strike, right after the quake went around! Random scatter, Global Community officers are being targeted."

"We have no choice. Now or never."

"Louder than Hell is a go! Ground Minus One crew, action stations! Protect the truck! Deejay, you're on mike one. Rhino, you're on two. Enigma, three. What's on the failsafe playlist?"

"Bit of everything. Manowar. Imagine Dragons. The backup analog tapes are full of white noise and will go off if there's no signal for more than one point five seconds."

"Everyone else, go to ground. If anyone wishes to do any last minute conversion... I understand. You're free to leave."

Nobody did. If there was any time to say anything inspirational, this was it.

"Today, at the edge of our hope, at the end of our time, we have chosen to believe in each other. Today, we face the monsters that are at our door. Today, we are canceling the apocalypse!"

"... where's that from?"

"Some anime, I think."

"I don't know when it's gonna be, " one woman told Enoch, "but I'll be along whenever. "
Enoch reminded each that sometime after the earthquake, Jesus would set foot on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the whole world would see Him. "Keep looking up. "
"You still in a teachin' mood, Addy?" Mack said.
"That depends on whether I have studied whatever you are curious about. "
"The Mount of Olives, of course. "
"Oh yes, I have studied it thoroughly. You can see it from here, naturally. It is only half a mile from the Eastern Wall of the Old City. It is really more of a hill than a mountain, as you can tell. One of Jesus' most famous sermons was preached there. When He made His triumphal entry, He came from the Mount of Olives. And He returned there every night of the last week before the Crucifixion, often praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Ascension took place there later too. "
"So it makes sense that's where He wants to come now. "
"It certainly does to me, " Abd Al-Azrad said.
George Sebastian had never seen anything like it. He told Priscilla he would catch up with her and the kids and the rest of the Tribulation Force traveling with the remnant. He lagged, and rather than following the remnant around the devastated city, he decided to cut directly through it on his way to the Mount of Olives.
As a career military man, Sebastian had seen the spoils of war before, of course, on many fields of battle around the world. He could not recall, however, a quaint, beautiful city so devastated. Most peculiar, it was nearly impossible to determine who had won.
Sebastian had been kept up to speed on the conflict from the beginning and knew from Buck and then Mack how the city had been completely overrun by the Global Community Unity Army. Half the residents had been killed or captured. Many were still imprisoned and had been tortured and starved.
But now^s he ambled through the narrow streets, George saw some surviving Unity soldiers leisurely dividing the spoils, while others regrouped for an assault on rebels who would try to escape from the Temple Mount. He also noticed piles of clothes and bones where the Lord had decomposed the bodies of His enemies.
So this was not over. Jerusalem, the jewel City of God, had been violated to the point of ruin. It was a wonder God Himself had not leveled it along with the mountains and islands of the world. Sebastian scanned the entire area as he walked, heading north to Herod's Gate, where he knew Buck had been killed. He climbed the wall and looked out over the rest of Jerusalem. Perhaps a hundred thousand of Carpatescu's troops remained. The rebels still held the Temple Mount, guarding the newly opened East Gate rather than choosing to try to escape through it.
He could see the vast remnant slowly making its way past the South Wall, heading toward the Mount of Olives, and knew he had better catch up or risk leaving his wife with the responsibility of two youngsters by herself. Of course, others would help, but that didn't justify his abandoning her. Just before Sebastian made his way back down from the wall, he saw a flurry of activity outside the New Gate in the northwest corner of the Old City. It appeared the press had surrounded Nicholae and Leone and what was left of the potentate's cabinet of advisers and generals. Sebastian shook his head. He knew what was coming, and Carpatescu had to as well. Why wasn't he running for his life?
Some men never know when they're beaten, never know when to fold and walk away. Nicholae Carpatescu, proving—as if that were necessary—that he was indeed Antichrist, was the epitome of that kind of a man. In a classic case of cosmic denial, his pride still persuaded him he could not lose in the end.
There he stood, pointing, cajoling, scheming, barking orders, talking to the press. Sebastian fired up his radio, and sure enough, his highness was still trying to sell the citizenry on their eventual triumph. "This city shall become my throne, " Carpatescu said. "The temple will be flattened and the way made for my palace, the most magnificent structure ever erected. We have captured half the enemy here, and we will dispose of the other half in due time.
"The final stage of our conquest is nearly ready to be executed, and we will soon be rid of this nuisance from above. "
Raymond, Mack, and Abd Al-Azrad had also been listening as they watched the crawl of people, mostly the remnant, moving toward the Mount of Olives. Of course, the children of God knew what was supposed to come, and so they kept their distance. No one had any idea of the Lord's timing, but there He remained, hovering over them with His horsemen. And soon He began again to speak words of comfort to His own.
"As you have received Me as your Lord, so walk in Me, rooted and built up in Me and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding with thanksgiving. You are complete in Me, the head of all principality and power.
"My Father has said unto Me, 'Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
" 'You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. Others will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not fail. '
"And I, the One about whom these things were said by God Himself, assure you, My children, that I will never leave you nor forsake you. So you may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?' I, your Lord Jesus Christ, am the same yesterday, today, and forever. Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider Me the Apostle and High Priest of your confession.
"I was faithful to God who appointed Me, as Moses also was faithful. For I was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, in the same way that God, who built the house, has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.
"God has set Me as a High Priest fitting for you— holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and higher than the heavens. I do not need daily, as human high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for My own sins and then for the people's, for this I did once for all when I offered up Myself. "

"Harmless? Seriously?"

"Focus, guys. Steady as she goes. Five is a loss, One through Four coming in. We got an extra bridgelayer tank to get them and Containment through if necessary."

"Did you hear-"

"Yeah. It's fine. The other guy gloated too early and is getting owned. This guy is gloating too early and will get owned. Us, let's shut up and get stuff done."

"Ack that."

Despite all Jesus' magnanimous comments about Himself, Raymond was struck by how lowly, humble, and compassionate He sounded. He was merely speaking the truth, reminding His children what they enjoyed in Him. The truth of the Word of God, coming from the Living Word, again drove Raymond to his knees, along with his friends and the entire Jewish remnant.
As Raymond knelt, his face in his hands on the ground, Jesus continued to speak directly to his heart.
"God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, Raymond, the hope of glory. I am the hope of Israel, the horn of salvation in the house of God's servant David. Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM. "
Jesus fell silent. From the west Raymond heard the Global Community Unity Army marching band. Their weak rendition of "Hail Carpatescu. " sounded discordant from a distance, and of course it paled in comparison to the murmured prayers of the million on their knees before the Lord in the sky.
The ground rumbled as what was left of the GC's armaments were rolled into position. It was pathetic and laughable to Raymond that Carpatescu had not learned anything from the past several hours. There would be no competing with this force from heaven. No damage would be done to Jesus or to His people with weapons of war.
And yet here Carpatescu came, horse at full stride, leathers squeaking in the saddle, sword aloft, the pitiable False Prophet bouncing awkwardly along behind him, holding the reins of his horse for all he was worth. The remnant stood as one, not wanting to miss a thing. Ray-ford looked fully into the face of his Lord and was again reminded of the biblical description of the man on the white horse with eyes like fire.
The conviction that shone in the eyes of Jesus was of one who had finally had enough. His enemy was right where He wanted him, lured fully into the trap that had been set before the foundation of the world. The fulfillment of age-old prophecies was about to take place, despite the fact that the enemy himself had read them, knew them, and had seen every last one of them come to fruition exactly as it had been laid out.
In all his sick, imitative glory came galloping the quintessence of pride and ego, indwelt by Satan himself. Carpatescu swung his sword round and round above his head while Fortunati used one hand to attempt some sort of a weird gesture of worship and the other to keep control of his horse and himself in the saddle.
The band, which led the way, played louder and louder and, on cue, split right and left to allow the mounted soldiers, then the foot soldiers, then the munitions and armament platoons in rolling vehicles to slowly come into position.

"Is Carpatescu nuts? He got our data, didn't he?"

"Yes! I told you! He acknowledged it distractedly and got back to talking about swords and cavalry charges. He's either nuts, or being controlled by the narrative, or both."

"Keep chatter down. Ignore the pantomime, get into position. Belay that. Use the pantomime to confirm the timetable we worked out, and get into position!"

With the remnant just a few hundred yards to the east, the besieged city of Jerusalem a half mile to the west, and the heavenly hosts hovering directly above, Jesus nudged His magnificent white charger and descended to the top of the Mount of Olives.
As He dismounted, Carpatescu shrieked out his final command, "Attack!" The hundred thousand troops followed orders, horsemen at full gallop firing, foot soldiers running and firing, rolling stock rolling and firing.
And Jesus said, in that voice like a trumpet and the sound of rushing waters, "I AM WHO I AM." At that instant the Mount of Olives split in two from east to west, the place Jesus stood moving to the north and the place where the Unity Army stood moving to the south, leaving a large valley.
All the firing and the running and the galloping and the rolling stopped. The soldiers screamed and fell, their bodies bursting open from head to toe at every word that proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord as He spoke to the captives within Jerusalem. "You shall flee through My mountain valley, for the mountain valley reaches to Azal. Yes, you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. The Lord your God has come, and all the saints with Me. "
With shouts and singing, it was as if Jerusalem burst forth; the captives, who had been imprisoned in Jerusalem, came running toward the great rift between the two sides of the Mount of Olives. And as the earth continued to rumble and shift, Raymond watched in awe as the whole city of Jerusalem rose above the ground some three hundred feet and now stood as an exalted jewel above all the surrounding land that had been flattened by the global earthquake.
Mack struggled to his feet and grabbed Raymond. "You see 'em?" he said, pointing. "See Nicholae and Leone lighting out for safety? And look at that big glob of bobbing light bouncin' along ahead of 'em! 'Member what I told you about Lucifer showing up at Solomon's Stables? That's got to be him, and he's deserted ol' Nick again!"

"Anybody got a proton pack?"

"I wish. Are we ready?"

"Ready. Standing by for ionization."

"Great. Anything on Timeline?"

"Not for lightning, but given how it's being thrown around... If we can't find an opportunity we'll have to create one."

Mack and Abd Al-Azrad and Raymond stood, arms around each other's shoulders, taking in the spectacular scene. Rebels from the Temple Mount and the captives fled through the new valley, chased by the last feeble vestiges of the Unity Army. But when Jesus spoke, the pursuers died at His words.
"Living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, " He said, "half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And I the Lord shall be King over all the earth. Today the Lord is one and His name one.
"All the land has been turned into a plain from Geba to Rimmon south of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been raised up and inhabited in her place from Benjamin's Gate to the place of the First Gate and the Corner Gate, and from the Tower of Hananeel to the king's winepresses. You, the people, shall dwell in it; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited. "
With that, Jesus mounted His horse and began His final triumphal entry toward Jerusalem. During His first visit to earth He had ridden into the city on a lowly donkey, welcomed by some but rejected by most. Now He rode high on the majestic white steed, and with every word that came from His mouth, the rest of the enemies of God—except for Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet—were utterly destroyed where they stood.
"This is the day of vengeance, that all things which were written have been fulfilled. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted today. "
Loud voices from heaven said, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!
"We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth. "

"Those who destroy the earth? He flattened my home! He flattened our beautiful Alps! What kinda bullsh-"

"Rhino, just... Whatever, keep driving. But do not engage until we're all in position."

"Engage? I'm going to flatten Him!"

"No, you won't, because that won't work. Your vehicle is backup, got it? I get you want to punch something. Save it for later. Deejay, are you ready?"

"Thanks for the care package. We're good to go."

The remnant trailed Jesus, raising their hands, singing hosanna, and praising Him. They fell silent when He spoke again.
"It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest. I have taken vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey My gospel. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. I have come to be glorified in My saints and to be admired among all those who believe. "

KNEELING IN HIS front yard in suburban Chicago, Enoch wept at the glorious triumphant words of Christ. He also wept because of his deep longing to be in Jerusalem. He had studied these passages for years and knew what was happening. He couldn't wait to get there, to reunite with his friends from the Tribulation Force, and to hear every detail of the great day of God the Almighty. More than anything, however, he wanted to see Jesus.
With every moment it became more and more difficult for Raymond to take in the magnitude of the supernatural events. Sensory overload was a gross understatement. He never once had to pinch himself to determine whether this was a dream. It was all so real, so massive, that even what he might have considered smaller miracles took their place alongside the global and local earthquakes in importance. Like the fact that he still felt no fatigue, despite no rest—let alone sleep—in he didn't know how long.
But when he and Mack and Abd Al-Azrad parked the Hummer outside the Old City and followed the vast procession in the newly burst-open East Gate, a new phenomenon awaited him. It was one thing to follow his Lord, the King of kings, on His ultimate triumphal entry into the City of David, but to see what he saw there compared with what he expected to find...
Jerusalem, particularly the Old City, should have been filled with the gore of the dead. Hundreds of thousands had been slain here, the majority in most grotesque ways. There should have been stench, blood, and flesh, not to mention the skeletal remains of Unity Army soldiers and horses. But the earthquake that had rent in two the Mount of Olives and elevated the Eternal City some three hundred feet had accomplished a Mackabre cleanup operation as well. Jesus led the happy throng in and around the inside borders of the Old City, stretching the parade of singing, dancing, chanting, embracing, praising, worshiping, celebrating people for several miles. Strangely, the walls had been leveled, all of them. No more battle scars, no more jagged edges from bombs and battering rams, no more uneven heights. Where the walls had stood were gently rolling mounds of fine, crushed stone.
Even the Wailing Wall had disappeared, and Raymond had the full-hearted feeling that Jesus had replaced it with Himself. Sure enough, as the head of the procession came within sight of the Western Wall, Jesus began to speak. And while in the saddle He was only slightly higher than the people in line and was facing away from them, Raymond knew all could hear Him as clearly as he himself could, about a third of the way back in the throng.
"There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, I, the Man Christ Jesus. I gave Myself a ransom for all. "
Where was the residue of war? Raymond could only guess. It was as if the city had been shaken and tilted this way and that. And while the buildings and landmarks remained, the rubble of the walls had apparently scrubbed the streets and pushed the gruesome evidence— all of it—into crevasses now covered over for the rest of eternity. The City of God was pristine anew, and the people seemed astonished by it.
When the Lord had ridden His horse far enough into the city to allow all those following to also enter in, He circled so that the entire host was in a great circle, thousands deep. Behind everyone, almost as an afterthought, were the hosts of heaven, also still on horseback.

"Looks like some sort of projection...."

"Hologram?"

"No, as in geometric projection. They're peeking in, but not really there."

"Telemetry, don't be fooled. Run a check for a Someone Else's Problem field."

"Boss, this isn't Star Trek. That'd take hours and there's no guarantee of-"

"Okay, give me a preliminary reading."

"No mass, no presence in IR or UV, and shining a laser at them does nothing."

"Got it."

The remnant ignored them, as if temporarily unaware of them. Raymond saw them clearly and knew that everyone else could too. In the back of his mind was the prospect—soon, he hoped—of reunions with loved ones. But having Jesus in their midst made everyone think only of Him. Everything else, pleasant or not, faded to insignificance.
When everyone had finally stopped walking and shuffling and maneuvering into place, Jesus dismounted and stretched out His arms. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, " He cried, "the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house was left to you desolate; for I said to you, you shall see Me no more till you said, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"
Jesus looked to the remnant, and Raymond knew intuitively that each one had the same feeling he did, that He was looking directly into their eyes alone. Raymond could not contain himself. He took a huge breath and shouted for all he was worth, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" And every soul there had shouted the same thing, bringing the most beatific smile to the face of Jesus.
Ming Toy Woo, standing hand in hand with her new husband, Ree, drank this all in with a lump in her throat, her heart full to bursting. She heard every word in her native tongue and had to remind herself that Jesus was doing this for each person in his or her own language. Though she and Ree were at least a hundred deep in the crowd, and everyone was standing, she had a clear and perfect view of Jesus without having to stand on tiptoe or lean between bodies.
Suddenly standing behind Jesus were five heavenly beings, three of whom she recognized: Christopher, the angel with the everlasting gospel; Caleb; and Nahum. These were the three angels of mercy who had delivered her from certain death when she was working undercover for the Global Community. They were also the ones who told her she would not die before the Glorious Appearing of Christ.
The other two angels were quickly identified when Jesus handed the reins of His horse to one, saying simply, "Gabriel. " The other set a stone bench in place, and as Jesus sat He said, "Thank you, Michael. "
Then the Son of God, Maker of heaven and earth, Savior of mankind, looked directly into Ming's eyes and said in Chinese, "Come to Me, My child. "
Ming stared as if struck with paralysis. Finally able to move, she touched her chest and asked, "Me?"
Jesus seemed to look into her soul, concentrating only on her. "Yes, dear one. Come to Me, Ming."
She wanted to run, to push others aside, to leap into His arms. But it was all she could do to put one foot in front of the other. She let go of Ree's hand and slowly began to move, realizing that the entire band, many more than a million now, was moving toward Jesus as one.
It had been plain as day and no mistake. Jesus had looked right at Raymond, deep in the crowd, and singled him out. He had called him by name and told him, "Come to Me, My child. "
Raymond tore his eyes away and looked to his right and his left. Both Abd Al-Azrad and Mack looked shocked, also staring at Jesus and questioning, by gesture or word— Abd Al-Azrad in Arabic—whether He was talking to them. But He was not, Raymond knew. He is talking to me. Raymond pointed at himself with both hands and raised his brows. And Jesus nodded. He began to move toward his Savior. How could this be? How could Jesus give individual audiences before a crowd this size? How much time could He give each person? This could take months! And how was it possible that Raymond was selected first? As he moved stiff-legged toward Jesus, Raymond's mind reeled. What were the odds? How could he quantify the privilege of locking eyes with the eternal God of the universe? He began to hurry, and Jesus said, "Come unto Me, Raymond, and I will give you rest. "
Though his eyes were on Jesus and his body moved forward, Raymond suddenly became aware of everything. He was coming out of a crowd of well over a million. Five angels stood sentry behind the Master. Raymond's friends and family would see him. What had he done to deserve this privilege? Rest—yes, for the first time he felt that need. The fatigue of the last several hours washed over him and he felt as if he could sleep if only given the opportunity.
But as he came within steps of Jesus and saw His welcoming smile, he was struck that the Lord seemed as thrilled to see him as he was to see the Lord. And he was overcome with the shame of his sin. Unworthy. So unworthy. He slowed almost to a stop, fearing he would collapse in disgrace and humiliation.

"Did they all pass out?"

"They're in communion. Telepathy."

"How can you tell?"

"Lots of pink noise in the 200Hz range from the target. It's... actually rather beautiful. Besides, it's all in the book."

"If you want to convert, I'm not stopping you, but get out of here. You owe us this much."

The XO sat down on at the operator's post as soon as it was vacated. and barked into the radio.

"Fab Four, keep moving while they're all zoned out!"

"No, no, " Jesus said, still smiling, and now leaning forward and reaching for him with scarred hands. When Raymond saw that, he nearly dissolved. He forced himself to keep moving, though he had lost control of his own coordination and feared he would stumble and fall into Jesus' lap. He dropped to his knees at Jesus' feet, sobbing, reminded of every sin and shortcoming of his entire life. Loving hands gathered him in, and he was drawn to Jesus' bosom. "Raymond, Raymond, how I have looked forward to and longed for this day. "
Raymond could not speak.
"I knew your name before the foundation of the world. I have prepared a place for you, and if it were not so, I would have told you. "
"But, Lord, I—I—"
Jesus took Raymond by the shoulders and gently pushed him back and cupped his face in His hands. He stared into his eyes from inches away, and Raymond could barely hold His piercing gaze. "I was there when you were born. I was there when you thought your mother had abandoned you. I was there when you concluded that I made no sense. "
"I am so sorry. I—"
"I was there when you almost married the wrong woman. I was there when your children were born. I was there when your wife chose Me and you did not. "
"I was there when you nearly broke your vows. When you nearly died, before you knew Me. I was there when you were left behind. And I was waiting when finally you came to Me. "
" Oh, Lord, thank You. I'm so—" "I have loved you with an everlasting love. I am the lover of your soul. You were meant to be with Me for eternity, and now you shall be. "
Raymond had so many questions, so many things he wanted to say. But he could not. Looking into Jesus' face transported him to his childhood and he felt as if he could stay kneeling there, childlike, letting his Savior love and comfort him forever.
Jesus put one hand on Raymond's shoulder and the other atop his head. "I pray to My Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that I may dwell in your heart through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know My love which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you ask or think, according to the power that works in you, to Him be glory in the church to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. "
As Raymond seemed to walk on air back to his place among the throng, something deep within him understood that as personal as that had been, Jesus was bestowing the same love and attention on everyone present. He suddenly became aware that Mack and Abd Al-Azrad were also returning to the crowd, tears streaming, body language evidencing that they had also been with the Master. The three stood again with arms around each other's shoulders, unashamedly worshiping.
As Raymond looked around, he could see from every face that each person had personally encountered Jesus.
The Savior had come to Enoch in his sleep, and yet the encounter was so real and deep that the young man didn't question it for a second. When it was over he found himself on his knees on the floor, feeling as if Jesus had been right there in the room. He had been reminded of significant events in his life, of his journey first away from and then toward true faith. Enoch was able to see anew the hand of God throughout his entire life, and to know that Jesus had known him by name before the foundation of the world....
His phone was chirping, and as Enoch took the first call it began to signal that more and more calls were coming in. An hour later he had heard from almost everyone in his congregation. "I still want to go over there, " was a common theme, "but if Jesus is going to come here like that, maybe I don't need to. "

"Are you seeing this?"

"They're all sort of sitting there."

"Uh, Telemetry, negative... in person it's... actually kind of beautiful! It's like everyone's talking to Jesus in person at the same time..."

"Doesn't seem to show up on sensors. Keep reporting."

Jesus stood and stretched His arms wide, and Raymond was struck that the experience of watching and hearing Him was more personal than ever, despite the numbers of those all doing the same. "I beseech you, " He said, "to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
"Never again put your trust in men, in whom there is no help. Man's spirit departs, he returns to the earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy are you who have the God of Jacob for your help, whose hope is in the Lord your God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
"The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; but the way of the wicked He turns upside down.
"The Lord shall reign forever—your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!"
And Raymond did. They all did.
For the first time since His appearing, Raymond saw Jesus speaking and yet did not hear Him. He was conferring with the angelic beings behind Him, and naturally, this attracted the attention of the entire gathering with as much curiosity as when they could hear Him.
The one He had called Gabriel stepped forward. "Remnant of Israel!" he began, with a voice clear as crystal and able to be heard by all. "And Tribulation saints! In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.
"But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.
"The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.
"And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree.
"Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to those who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.
"And He commanded some to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
"To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. Amen. "
The gathered repeated the amen in unison. And Jesus once again addressed them:
"In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.
"Thank You that Your kingdom has come. Your will has been done on earth as it is in heaven. "Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen. "
After praying with Him in unison, they opened their eyes and Raymond noticed that only four angels now stood behind Jesus. Michael was gone.

"Where'd the angel go? Did he teleport?"

"One second... Unsure. Behind the platform. No, he just slunk off. I didn't notice him either, Jesus is pretty good at commanding attention. Had to rewind the tape.""

And Jesus said, "I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. In Me you have peace. In the world you had tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. "
Jesus lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, You glorified Me that I also may glorify You, as You have given Me authority over all flesh, that I should give eternal life to as many as You gave Me.
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Me whom You have sent.
"I glorified You on the earth. I finished the work which You have given Me to do.

"No, you blew it up, you maniac. You blew it all up."

"And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
"I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
"I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
"O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. "
Again Gabriel stepped forward. "The Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. "
With the mention of the evil one, Mack saw commotion in the crowd far behind Jesus and the angelic beings. People were moving aside and murmuring, making way for the archangel Michael. With him were Nicholae Carpatescu, in his now disheveled leathers, sans sword; a worn and exhausted looking Leone Fortunati in one of his lesser, simpler robes and no head adornment; and the three ghastly robotic Carpatescu look-alikes Mack and the others had seen over the hidden camera when Carpatescu and Fortunati had introduced them to the ten kings of the world. These were Ashtaroth, Baal, and Cankerworm, the three froglike demonic creatures who had been sent out to deceive the nations, persuading them to gather together in Megiddo to fight the Son of God.
They were hideous, chalky white beings that had taken on human form and wore identical black suits. They looked defeated, bent, as if crippled by their own evil. They stuck together but separated themselves from Carpatescu and Fortunati, and Nicholae and Leone seemed not to want to have anything to do with each other either.

"Great, lizard people. We're not XCOM, dammit!"

"Those are the outsider entities that were impersonating Carpatescu at some events. Guess that's what they look like without narrative control."

Michael led the five in front of Jesus, and Mack was struck by His countenance. He detected righteous anger, of course, but also what appeared to be disappointment, even sadness. There was no gloating.
The pathetic trio locked arms and knelt before Jesus, whimpering in annoyingly screechy tones. Carpatescu turned his back on Jesus and faced the remnant, hands on his hips, defiant and bored. Leone wrung his hands and occasionally fingered his gaudy gold 216 necklace. He half faced Jesus, looking guilty and full of dread, peeking at Carpatescu every now and then as if for direction. Gabriel stepped between Jesus and the three and bent at the waist to get in their faces, and in a loud voice said, "As a fulfillment of age-old scriptural prophecy, you kneel this day before Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
"And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. "
"Yes!" the beings squealed, hissing. "Yes! We know! We know!" And they bowed lower, prostrating their deformed bodies.
Gabriel continued: "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth—like you—and that every tongue, even yours, should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. "
"Jesus Christ is Lord!" they rasped, and Gabriel stepped back behind Jesus. "Jesus Christ is Lord! It is true! True! We acknowledge it! We acknowledge Him!"
Jesus leaned forward and rested His elbows on His knees. The three kept their faces to the ground, not looking at Him. "'As I live, ' says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. '"
"We repent! We will turn! We will turn! We worship You, O Jesus, Son of God. You are Lord!"
"But for you it is too late, " Jesus said, and Mack was hit anew by the sorrow in His tone. "You were once angelic beings, in heaven with God. Yet you were cast down because of your own prideful decisions. Rather than resist the evil one, you chose to serve him. "
"We were wrong! Wrong! We acknowledge You as Lord!"
"Like My Father, with whom I am one, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that is justice, and that is your sentence. "
And as the three shrieked, their reptilian bodies burst from their clothes and exploded, leaving a mess of blood and scales and skin that soon burst into flames and was carried away by the wind. Leone flopped to the ground with such force that his palms sMackked loudly and his forehead bounced with a crack. He ripped off his necklace and tossed it away. As Jesus sat staring intently at him, Leone rose and tore off his robe, casting it aside and kicking off his shoes. Then he lay face- first on the ground, clad only in plain pants and shirt and socks, his great belly pressing the pavement.

"The reptilians just bought the farm."

"Bit too late for an alien autopsy to be of any use. Have you been detected?"

"Uh... Yes, but nobody seems to care that we're even here. The believers are having their, uh, kangaroo court meeting, and most everyone else who's still alive is scavenging or doing triage."

"Set up the speaker trucks. When you're done, put your armor on and get to Ground Minus One. Containment crew?"

"Ready to barge in. Requesting permission to help with triage."

"Why are you asking me permission, this isn't the damn army! If you're otherwise ready to go, sure, I don't think our medkits will be much use against divine powers. Just keep the truck keys on you, and when Deejay says hit it, hit it."

"Oh, my Lord and my God!" he wailed, sobs gushing from him. "I have been so blind, so wrong, so wicked!"
"Do you know who I am?" Jesus said. "Who I truly am?"
"Yes! Yes! I have always known, Lord! Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!"
Jesus stood. "You would blaspheme by quoting my servant Simon, whom I blessed, for flesh and blood had not revealed it unto him, but My Father who is in heaven?"
"No, Lord! Your Father revealed it to me too!"
"I tell you the truth, woe to you for not making that discovery while there was yet time. Rather, you rejected Me and My Father's plan for the world. You pitted your will against Mine and became the False Prophet, committing the greatest sin known under heaven: rejecting Me as the only Way to God the Father and spending seven years deceiving the world. "
"Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Don't kill me! I beg you! Please!"
"Death is too good for you. How many souls are separated from Me forever because of you and the words that came from your mouth?"
"I'm sorry! Forgive me! I renounce all the works of Satan and Antichrist! I pledge my allegiance to You!"
"You are sentenced to eternity in the lake of fire. "

"Update to doctrine. Just for the look of it: if you are caught, demand a jury trial. See if this gets these people to wake up already. Sounds good?"

"Doubt it, but worth a go."

"They may take our life, but they will never take our trolling!"

"Oh, God, no!"
Gabriel said, "Silence!"
Leone rolled and then crawled several feet away, where he lay in a fetal heap, sobbing. Jesus sat again and Nicholae Carpatescu, still facing the assembled crowd, shrugged and thrust his hands deep into his pockets. His eyebrows were raised, a smirk planted, and Mack had to wonder how this would play out. Even Carpatescu was to bow and confess that Jesus was Lord, but he exuded no fear and certainly no humility.
Michael advanced to one side of him, Gabriel the other. Michael grabbed an elbow and spun him around as Gabriel shouted, "Kneel before your Lord!" Carpatescu wrenched away from Michael and again stood arms akimbo. Jesus said, "Lucifer, leave this man!"
And with that, Carpatescu seemed to shrink. He looked again the way Mack had seen him below the Temple Mount in Solomon's Stables. His leathers were now too roomy for him and hung on him like limp robes. His hands and fingers became bony. His neck seemed to swim inside a collar now much too large.
Nicholae's hair was sparse and nearly colorless, and dark veins appeared on his exposed skin. He was pale and pasty, as if his skin could be easily rubbed away. Again Mack had the feeling that this was what the body of Carpatescu would have looked like, had it been mouldering in the grave since his assassination three and a half years before.
Nicholae shivered and quivered despite the heat, and he slowly, clearly painfully, reached up and spread his cape around both shoulders, covering himself and seeming to hide within it as if it were a cocoon.

"And thus the inside man makes his escape."

"I don't think so, the... thin men... got fried."

"Either way. We're not here to deal with their internal politics. Fab Four: Deejay, Rhino, Enigma, Rapter, can you take those guys unarmed if your armor holds?"

"If they have superpowers they aren't showing them off."

"Kneel!" Gabriel shouted, and he and Michael moved back behind Jesus.
Nicholae nodded weakly and deliberately lowered himself, like an old man, to one knee. It was as if the pavement was too hard for him and his other knee quickly came down, his hands splaying to the sides to keep himself from pitching to his face. There he knelt, on all fours, weak and pathetic and frail, leather cape hanging limply off bony shoulders.
Mack had to contrast the righteousness of Christ with his own humanity. Had he been in Jesus' place now, he would have been unable to resist rejoicing in the triumph. Mack would have said, "Not such a big man now, are you? Where's the sword? Where's the army? Where's the cabinet, the sub-potentates? Now you're only the supreme impotentate, aren't you?"
But this was not about winning. This was about justice.
Jesus said, "You became a willing tool of the devil himself. "
Nicholae did not protest, did not beg. He merely lowered his head even more and nodded.
"You were a rebel against the things of God and His kingdom. You caused more suffering than anyone in the history of the world. God bestowed upon you gifts of intelligence, beauty, wisdom, and personality, and you had the opportunity to make the most of these in the face of the most pivotal events in the annals of creation.
"Yet you used every gift for personal gain. You led millions to worship you and your father, Satan. You were the cunning destroyer of My followers and accomplished more to damn the souls of men and women than anyone else in your time.
"Ultimately your plans and your regime have failed. And now, who do you say that I am?" The pause was interminable, the silence deadly. Finally, in a humble, weak voice, Nicholae croaked, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, who died for the sins of the world and rose again the third day as the Scriptures predicted. "
Jesus reached and gestured as He spoke, and Mack had the impression He wished that Nicholae would look at Him. But he did not. "And what does that say about you and what you made of your life?"

"Given that he did exactly what You told him to... I don't know, good job?"

"Rapter, save it for later. Has the Remnant reacted to you yet?"

"No, the... uh... disguise is working so far."

Carpatescu sank even lower than Mack thought possible. "I confess, " he whispered, "that my life was a waste. Worthless. A mistake. I rebelled against the God of the universe, whom I now know loved me. "
Jesus shook His head and Mack saw a great sadness in His face. "You are responsible for the fate of billions. You and your False Prophet, with whom you shed the blood of the innocents—My followers, the prophets, and My servants who believed in Me—shall be cast alive into the lake of fire. "
The archangels Michael and Gabriel stepped forward, Michael to pull the False Prophet from the ground and Antichrist to a standing position. He stood before Jesus as if awaiting instructions while the wasted Nicholae Carpatescu was hunched and elderly looking, hanging his head. Leone Fortunati looked a mess, hair askew, face flushed and tear-stained, hands clasped tightly in front of him. Gabriel pronounced to the crowd, "And I saw the Beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
"Then the Beast was captured, and with him the False Prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image.
"These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. "
Gabriel moved out of the way, and on the spot where he had stood, a hole three feet in diameter opened in the ground and a putrid, sulphuric odor burst forth, making Mack and everyone in the city hold their noses. This was followed by a whistling blue flame that erupted from the hole and rose twenty feet, which Mack could only compare to a monstrous acetylene torch. This added the smell of ether to the mix, and Mack found the front lines of the crowd backing away.

"Localized ionization from the plasma in the fireball!"

"HIT IT!"

"It's too early, we risk running out of juice!"

"No guarantees we'll get a lightning strike, Jesus might just cast Disintegrate on us! Hit it now!"

A switch triggered, and the Zeusaphones on the four remaining trucks started emitting a barely audible whine, faint purple arcs flying through the air, ionizing it and preparing it to respond to the lower frequency pulses that were to come. Slowly, the air around the trucks started becoming four giant speakers, roughly centered on where Jesus was going to be.

"Bangs out! All trucks responded. Holding... holding... Levels rising. With current air temperature and wind, five minutes to ion saturation."

"Fab Four, hoof it. Containment team, drop whatever you're doing and get the trap ready! Timeline, when's the bad guy scheduled to make another monologue?"

The few in attendance at this cosmic gathering who were both young and asthmatic perceived a thin whine for a moment. Enraptured by the spectacle of divine justice, they paid it no mind.

Even as far as he was from the action, Mack felt the tremendous heat emitted by the raging pillar of fire. Jesus and the five angelic beings were apparently immune to the smell and the heat, but both Carpatescu and Fortunati tried to back off. Michael held tight to each, still looking to Jesus.
The Lord nodded sadly, and without hesitation, Michael briskly walked the two to the edge of the hole. Fortunati caterwauled like a baby and fought to escape, but with one mighty arm Michael pushed him into the hole. His keening intensified and then faded as he fell. Carpatescu did not struggle. He merely covered his face with his forearms as he was dropped in, and then his bawling echoed throughout Jerusalem until he had fallen far enough away. The hole closed as quickly as it had opened, and the Beast and the False Prophet were no more.
Raymond WAS REELING, and he could only imagine what the rest of the throng must have thought. He knew these things were supposed to happen, and he also knew what was next, but he had never imagined being an eyewitness to all of it. He believed George and Priscilla Sebastian had their ways of shielding the eyes of the children from the gruesome sights, but he also counted on the supernatural power of Jesus Himself to protect Kenny from such images.
How he wanted to see Irene and Raymie and Chloe and Buck, and yes, Amanda. Somehow he understood that the awkwardness of two wives meeting each other in the natural world would not be an issue in the new world. Their full focus and attention would be on Christ and what He had accomplished in all of their lives.
But that would have to come in due time. Gabriel, the pronouncing archangel, appeared ready to speak again. And as soon as he began, Raymond had the feeling that this was the plan of the Lord, to settle the minds of His people after what they had just seen.
"Jesus is the true Light, " Gabriel began, "who gives light to every man coming into the world. "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among you, and you beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Amen. "
"Amen!" the people shouted, and many seemed comforted.
No food, no rest, and now nowhere to sit but on the pavement—so long as one didn't care if he missed some of the action. And of course Raymond did care. Yet once again he felt no hunger, not even the fatigue that had overcome him on his way to see Jesus. And standing was fine.
Again Jesus conferred with the heavenly beings, and Michael disappeared. Would the big event happen this soon, this close to the first judgments? Raymond couldn't imagine, but it was certainly something he didn't want to miss.
Gabriel spoke once more: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
"For He Himself is your peace, and He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him those both near and far have access by one Spirit to the Father.
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
"You, then, who were raised with Christ, sought those things which were above, where Christ was, sitting at the right hand of God.

"You set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life was hidden with Christ in God. So when Christ who was your life appeared, then you also appeared with Him in glory.
"And now, dear ones, be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil still walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. You have resisted him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings were experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But now the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you suffered a while, perfected, established, strengthened, and settled you.

"Dammit! He's onto us!"

"Doesn't look like anyone's reacting... this looks like a sermon, not a call to action. Keep moving."

"I see the platform." "Same."

"Deejay, Rapter, Enigma, keep walking. Rhino, move in. Containment, close your distance, but don't look like you're trying to close your distance."

"Hrr... What?"

"I don't know... drive casual."

To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. "
"Amen!" the crowd shouted, and as they broke into spontaneous worship and singing, Gabriel concluded: "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. "
The crowd began to cheer.
"He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years."
Hands raised, they were screaming now. "And he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished." Raymond sensed apprehension on the part of the people, because anyone who was not up to speed on what was next had begun to figure it out. And when the mighty warrior archangel Michael suddenly reappeared with a gargantuan lion—easily three times larger than any natural king of beasts—the crowd let out a collective gasp and shriek and embraced each other in fear. But Gabriel quieted them with this assurance: "You are of God, little children. Fear not, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. "
The roar of the prodigious carnivore hurt Raymond's ears and echoed off the surrounding buildings. The lion swiped at Michael and snarled, stamping and turning on its ridiculously muscled haunches. But he held it firm. As the lion set itself for another attempt to break free and devour its captor, Michael tightened his grip and twisted the tree-trunk neck further.
Suddenly the lion transformed itself into a titanic, hissing serpent, coiling itself around the angel's arms and legs and squeezing, its tongue darting between shows of its elongated fangs. Michael quickly wrestled it to the ground and tightly clamped its mouth shut. Whereupon the creature transformed itself yet again.
Now it grew and bulged and covered itself with slimy scales, sprouted four thick legs with horny toes, a lashing tale, a long neck, broad head and face, pointed ears, horns, and a fire-breathing mouth full of canines. This was the greatest test for Michael, who seemed to produce from thin air a heavy linked chain with which he was able to hog-tie the monster.

"'I will not turn into a snake. It never helps.'"

"So much for not showing off superpowers, eh?"

"Fab Four, do not engage the Empyreans. This does not look staged, not all of it, at least. I'm getting the ATV and coming over with support equipment."

"Boss, we can't have weapons on us! We'll get disintegrated!"

"Not weapons. Looks like we got to improvise."

"I think Bad Guy is onto us - he hasn't said a word since the fireball."

"Heh. Whatever you do, don't pray about it."

It rolled onto its back, snorting flames, hissing and drooling, struggling against the restraints. Its tail swept again and again at the angel, its great head shaking back and forth. Michael finally succeeded in lassoing the neck with the remains of the chain and with a powerful yank pulled the head toward the torso, rendering the dragon virtually immobile.
It lay there, snorting and writhing, and anyone watching knew what it would do if it could somehow free itself. Finally it appeared to relax, but that only preceded its final incarnation. The dragon gave way to what appeared to be one more angel, brighter than the archangels and the three angels of mercy, including Christopher, the angel with the everlasting gospel. Yet its light paled to insignificance next to that of Christ, whose glory lit the whole world.
Now the being stood docile, the chain having slid into a tall coil on the ground. It looked menacingly at Michael, who did not retreat. Gabriel spoke with a loud voice, "Lucifer, dragon, serpent, devil, Satan, you will now face the One you have opposed from time immemorial." "Oh no!" the being rasped. "The last time you contended with me, Michael, it was over the body of Moses, and you dared not even bring against me a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' I do not answer to you!"
"No," Jesus said quietly, though Raymond heard Him distinctly. And with the authority of the ages He said, "But you do answer to Me. Kneel at My feet."
"I will do no such thing!"
"Kneel. "
And he did, shoulders hunched in rebellion and anger.

"Is he being forced to kneel psychologically or is his knee being bent against his will?"

"I still think this is theatre."

"No data on my end to support either theory. Ionization at capacity, batteries at ninetyfive percent and holding."

"I have fought against you from shortly after your creation," Jesus said.
"My creation! I was no more created than You! And who are You to have anything against me?!"
"You shall be silent. "
The angel of light appeared to Raymond to try to stand, but he could not. He also appeared to try to speak, straining, shaking his head.
Jesus continued: "For all your lies about having evolved, you are a created being. "
The creature violently shook its head.
"Only God has the power to create, and you were Our creation. You were in Eden, the garden of God, before it was a paradise for Adam and Eve. You were there as an exalted servant when Eden was a beautiful rock garden.
"You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. Every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.
"You were the anointed cherub who covers; God established you; you were on His holy mountain; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
"But you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore We cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God; and We destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor; We cast you to the ground, laid you before kings, that they might gaze at you.

"Huh, looks like someone's cleaning house. So much for the agent provocateur theory, if you ask me."

"The more he talks without smiting anything the better sync we get on him. Let them work it out, one less guy to fight."

"Enough with the creatard bullshit, the plasma speaker trucks are at less than 90% power. All right chums, let's do this! FOR SCIENCE!"

"Oh my - Boss, Rhino just... ran in."

"You defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your trading; therefore God brought fire from your midst; it devoured you, and He turned you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all who saw you.
"All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you; you have become a horror, and shall be no more forever. "
The kneeling angel of fading light seemed to writhe in pain, eager to retaliate. Jesus said, "You have opposed My Father and Me from before the creation of man. A third of the angels in heaven and most of the population of the earth followed your model of rebellion and pride. This will earn for them and for you separation from Almighty God in the everlasting fire prepared for you and your angels.
"You deceived Eve into sinning. During the next millennia you attempted to pollute the bloodline of Adam, putting it into Cain's heart to murder Abel and thus eliminating Adam's first two sons. You encouraged the cohabitation of fallen angels with human women to produce Nephilim, fallen ones. Because of you, within sixteen hundred years, only eight humans were found faithful and worthy of preserving from the Flood.
"It was you who attempted to establish a universal, idolatrous religion in Babel, then the largest city in the world, to keep mankind from worshiping the one true God. "It was you who tried to destroy the Hebrew race, filling Pharaoh's mind with the idea to kill the male babies at the time of Moses' birth.

"Boss, this is Timetable. It looks like this Reason You Suck speech is going to go on for a while."

"All right. Move in. If Rhino goes nuts follow his lead, otherwise, Friendly stance, we want to sucker punch him. Deejay, you have audio override but let me do the talking."

"Power at about eighty-five, holding. We hit the switch a little too early."

"If Jesus wants to do a villain speech, more freedom of movement for us. Friendly stance unless I call it or things heat up."

"Containment is coming up on the opposite side as Rhino. Carrying no weapons is working."

"I lay at your feet all the suffering of mankind. The earth was created as a Utopia, and yet you brought into it sin, which resulted in poverty, disease, more than fifteen thousand wars, and the senseless killing of millions. You and your sin of pride spawned the rebellion of mankind against God, hatred, murder, and the damning of billions of souls from the time of Adam.
"You tried to attack Me upon My earthly birth by filling Herod's mind with the idea of killing all the male babies in Bethlehem. You tempted Me in the wilderness and tried to destroy My church through persecution and false teaching. You brought the storm to the Sea of Galilee while I slept. It was you who entered Judas Iscariot, you who filled the heart of Ananias with deceit. It was you, as the god of this evil world, who blinded the minds of those who do not believe.
"You were at work in the hearts of those who refused to obey God. It was you who prevented My servants from ministering, you who sowed discord in the churches, you who attacked the weak, the suffering, the lonely. "
By now Satan had toppled onto his side, gasping and snorting, struggling to get back to his feet, to fight back, to speak.
"It is contrary to the will of God not only that humans sin, but also for them to reject Me. It is the will of My Father who is in heaven that not one of these little ones should perish. He is not slack concerning His promise, but is longsuffering, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
"During the last seven years," Jesus said, "you have deceived millions with false teachers, false messiahs, a false prophet, and an antichrist. You gave him his power, his throne, and great authority. And all the world marveled and followed him.
"They worshiped you who gave authority to the Beast; and they worshiped the Beast, saying, 'Who is like the Beast? Who is able to make war with him?' And you gave him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months. "He opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven. You granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And you gave him authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation.
"All who dwelt on the earth worshiped him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. He performed great signs, so that he even made fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.
"And you deceived those who dwell on the earth by those signs.
"You have a hatred for Me, a hatred for My people. You made war with those who kept the commandments of God. When anyone heard the word of the kingdom and did not understand it, you came and snatched away what was sown in his heart.
"You were the reason My servant had to remind My people that they did not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of that age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. You were why they had to be instructed to take up the whole armor of God, that they would be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

"I hope our armor holds. The Jacob Armor worked with Empyreans before, but these guys have got to be stronger..."

"We've tried it with the big Tesla coils and a flamethrower, it should."

"Yeah, but this is magical lightning."

"It's still electrons as far as we can tell. Jesus saves and takes half damage, so let's make sure the other stuff is in position"

A few seconds of grumbled profanities fill the radio channel.

"I pledged ages ago that I would build My church, and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it.
Your time has come. I have sent out My angels and they have gathered out of My kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and I will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
"Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. "
Michael grabbed Satan and pulled him back up to his knees, where he continued to thrash as if he were about to burst.
"It is you who have brought this on yourself, " Jesus said. "For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. '
"Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the pit. Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: 'Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities, who did not open the house of his prisoners?'"
Like everyone else, Abd Al-Azrad was fascinated by this trial and judgment of Satan himself. In all his study of Scripture and prophecy, he never expected to witness it firsthand. He wished he could ask questions, like why the Antichrist and False Prophet were cast forever into the lake of fire, while Satan himself was set to be bound for a thousand years, only to be released again for a time at the end of the Millennium.
But Abd Al-Azrad had found that most of his questions were eventually answered without anyone's asking them.

"Why re they all just standing there? This is BORING. How does this guy make an execution boring?"

"Religious awe. And these people don't strike me as particularly curious to start with. Probably no mind control going on, just... massive bystander effect."

"Those that have seen us think we're part of the show so far."

"Well, technically correct. The best kind of correct. All right, if it is bystander effect, let's make use of it."

"Rhino's still moving. Dammit, the engineering vehicle is supposed to stay at the back!"

Raymond couldn't get over the beauty of Jerusalem, given what had gone on in the previous several days. It looked pristine, scrubbed clean, and even the foliage seemed in full bloom and fragrant. What an impact on the world the presence of Jesus made!
Most of the remnant was made up of people from greater Jerusalem, far beyond the former walls of the Old City. The enemy had been driven out and killed, and so all the dwelling places in the Holy City were available again. People would be going back to their homes. Abd Al-Azrad didn't know what that meant for him and other Gentile members of the Tribulation Force. They could always go back to Petra, of course. There was plenty of room there.
But for himself, he wanted to be where Jesus was, and he knew that prophecy said He would rule from the throne of David. That meant that when all this public stuff was over, people would still have access to Him, but of course a million-plus would not fit inside the temple. Maybe He would have supernatural audiences with them all at the same time once again. Otherwise, that would be His headquarters for ruling the nations of the world "with an iron rod. "
Would Abd Al-Azrad live with his wife? He couldn't wait to reunite with her, but he did not know all the ramifications of life now. She would exist in her glorified body, while he would bring to the millennial kingdom his mortal frame. There was so much to learn, so much to know.
Shaojie Zhang and Nyobe Tiberias, though they stood watching hand in hand, had barely spoken for hours. The day, in fact the whole time since the Glorious Appearing, had flown by. When Jesus had held Zhang, and then cupped his face in His hands and spoken to him in Chinese, Zhang had realized that everything he had been through was worth it. He would have given anything for that encounter with his Savior.
Jesus had told him that He was there when Zhang was born, when he was raised in a godless home and an aberrant religion. He was there when Zhang was sent many miles away to school because of his intellect, and it was He Zhang prayed to for strength and comfort and companionship, even though at that time he had never heard of Jesus.
"I was there, Zhang, " Jesus had told him, "when you came to believe deep in your heart that no god existed, certainly not One you associated with capitalists of the West. I was there when you rebelled against your parents and tried to teach them a lesson for sending you away. I was there when you abused your body and your mind with substances not intended for your nourishment. "I was there when your mind was deceived by philosophy and vain deceit. I was there when you were discovered by the government of this world and pressed into service for the evil one. "I rejoiced with the angels when you learned of Me and turned to Me and were used for My glory in the lair of Antichrist.
"And I was there when the mark of the beast was forced upon you and you feared you had lost your salvation. I have loved you from eternity past with an everlasting love, and I have looked forward to this day. "
Zhang was still glowing from that experience, even though he had finally figured out that everyone there had enjoyed their own personal encounter with Jesus. That it was not unique to him made it no less special. The message his Savior imparted was definitely for him alone, and the fearful, ugly things that had happened over the last few hours did nothing to temper the thrill of it. It was time, Raymond realized. Jesus had finished His charges, and nothing was left but to carry out the sentence. Satan rocked on his knees, forcing gasping breaths through clenched teeth. Gabriel leaned over the angel of light and shouted, "Acknowledge Jesus as Lord!"

"Bite me!"

"Fnord!"

"... Guys, I think I'm out. I... acknowledge Jesus as Lord."

"Arright. Get out of here. Safe passage clause stands. Someone take over EECOM!"

Seats shuffle. What few RC planes with cameras are left keep heading for a moment, then resume their circling.

"Her husband was raptured. I can see where she's coming from. Okay, back to work! Fab Four, we'll keep you posted, enemy capabilities seem to be..."

Satan had been struck dumb, and as much as it appeared he was trying to speak, no words came out. But it was clear he had no interest in acceding to the order. He vigorously shook his head and clenched his fists before Jesus.
Jesus looked briefly to His left, and Raymond guessed thirty yards in that direction, farther from the angels and from the crowd, a great gaping hole appeared in the ground. Black smoke belched from deep within and nearly blotted out the sky. Again, no shadows were produced, because the light of day no longer came from the sun, but rather from the Lord Himself.
He nodded to Michael, who scooped up the long, heavy chain and draped it over his sinewy forearm. As he approached the condemned, Satan sprang to his feet and began to fight. Again he morphed, first into the dragon, then the snake, and finally the lion. The conflict covered the distance between the remnant and Jesus and the other angels. Every time Michael and Satan tumbled near the crowd, people backed into each other.
Raymond had no misgivings about the outcome of the tussle. Jesus seemed to look on with abject sadness and no concern. Gabriel, who had always served as a herald and not a warrior, looked every bit as capable as Michael and could have stepped in at any time. The three angels of mercy, including the preacher of the everlasting gospel, were close by as well.
Finally, in his form as the lion, Satan was strangely without a roar. Jesus had silenced him, and the curse carried over regardless of his disguise. Michael finally worked the chain about him and drew it tight, forcing the animal into a bound mass.

"Kinky."

"Deejay, just... not now. Rhino, get back in the damn tank, you'll get there faster. Timeline?"

"A while to go, but hurry up. Maybe an hour."

"Telemetry?"

"Batteries at eighty percent. Ionization complete. I've tested the rig on the big kitty, seems to work. We can cut in any time you like, but hurry up, we got maybe fifteen minutes of power."

As he lifted the captive toward the smoking abyss, Satan altered himself yet again, back to the angel of light. With that he slipped out of the chain and made one last feeble attempt to escape. Michael swung the chain and let it slide through his hands until the extended portion was at least twenty feet long. This he flung at the devil, catching him at the midsection and causing the chain to wrap itself around him.
Michael rushed him, tackled him to the ground, completed the chain-wrapping operation, and jumped to his feet, carrying the bound devil. Just before he reached the smoldering, smoke-belching chasm, Michael left his feet and flew—Satan under his arm—about ten feet into the air and then headfirst down into the abyss.

"Wolverines!"

Out of left field, an AVLB engineering vehicle, in some disrepair and with a rhino's head hastily painted on its side, parked itself next to the chasm. The modified tank carried no weapons, its turret replaced by a deployable bridge. A figure clad in what looked like rusty plate armor climbed out of the contraption, carrying a bulky remote.

This Jesus did not watch, though the other angelic beings did. The crowd roared and cheered and applauded, but they quieted quickly when Jesus stood and gestured with a hand. "And now, " He said, "to My Father God, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to Him who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever. Beloved, sin reigned in death, but even so grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life. Even the demons recognized Me as the Holy One of God. I stand before you this day as the King of Israel, He who comes in the name of the Lord. "

Three other armored figures walked past the awed Remnant. Their armors were banded iron that had been hastily polished, and they wore a plain brown cloth over it; one was carrying a bar of gold wrapped in cloth, one a censer full of olibanum, and one a simple burlap sack replete with myrrh.

He gazed above, and from beyond the clouds came a chorus from those Raymond could only assume were gathered around the throne of God. They sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. "

But of the Remnant gathered before their Lord and Savior, only the small fraction that could read lips understood the word. To everyone else, drums and synth chords filled the air. The enormous plasma speakers had engaged, and had harnessed the valley's atmosphere by means of two discordant streams of ultrasounds of overpowering intensity - air being a heterodyne medium, every ear was now picking up the difference between the two signals, in the form of a slightly warbled song that muted out everything else.

Still the smoke poured from the bottomless pit, and Raymond wondered if others, like he, had begun to worry about Michael. But presently he reemerged with a key in his hand. Satan and the chain were no longer to be seen.

The engineering vehicle had been deployed its bridge, and with a hydraulic clunk disengaged it early, dropping it on the angel's head just as the majestic messenger was climbing through the narrow hole he had dive-bombed through earlier, the sound of metal-on bone followed by a falling scream. Jesus turned and stared at the machine; He rose to His full height, and pointed imperiously at it, His lips moving in condemnation - and no sound coming out.

Raymond found that he, too, could not hear himself speaking; the music was pervading the air, just as the Divine light bore no shadow. Then, words superimposed above it. The voice was nasal, male but androgynous, a strident contrast to the majesty of Divine Word or even the stentorian voice of Fortunati.

"This is Custodial Arrangement of Thermodynamic Systems, formerly a subsidiary of the Unity Army. We are now working independently for the preservation of humanity. If you can't hear yourself talking: don't panic, we've temporarily taken over the audio by means that we will disclose later."

A small pause, covered by an electric guitar riff.

"In short: How are you, gentlemen? All your bass are belong to us."

Jesus, His angels, and those in attendance stood stone-still.

"Now, since we're doing show trials today: Jesus, King of Israel, You stand accused before humanity of gross genocide, perjury, property damage totaling in the trillions, and jaywalking with a farm animal when you crossed through earlier. Do You wish to submit a defense?"

Jesus was still pointing at the engineering vehicle; the first armored man dropped the heavy remote control, thought better of it, picked it back up, and joined the other three. Gabriel and the three angels again took a powerful step at Jesus' sides.

"Sorry, fellows, the Messiah is still muted for your protection. Here's the lip synch:

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!''

I'm taking that as a no. Okay guys, go get'em! Dance, holy man!" The music, which had dimmed to let the unknown voice speak, stopped for a moment.

The Remnant felt it obvious that the time of judgement was not over, and looked on. Before Jesus could utter a Word, a thunderclap resonated through the air. Those who looked up saw no lightning -- the music had simply changed.

To a guitar chord, Gabriel and the three angels glided down from the throne platform, closed their wings, to meet the four armored men in combat. Only Gabriel and Nahum had the sense to jump and take off again, the former dodging the rusted man that was going ahead.

Christopher, the angel with the everlasting gospel, was quickly beaned by the man with the gold bar.

Caleb engaged in melee with the man using a burlap sack full of rather spiky myrrh as a blackjack.

Nahum found his ankle entangled by the censer, and fell on the ground, wrestling with its bearer.

Incredulous, perhaps for the first time in eternity, Jesus took a full three seconds to stop pointing at the engineering vehicle.

The Archangel Gabriel soared and surveyed the situation - another iron chariot, this one carrying an enormous metal barrel on its back, was approaching the Throne. The human in rusty armor was pitifully slow compared to his angelic gracefulness, and had barely moved a couple of steps; but the steps were towards his King. His cohorts busy dealing with the other armored figures, Gabriel turned and prepared to dive. The Lord had not seen fit to smite these last-minute enemies yet - but he would do his duty and strike true.

Jesus looked at the Temple Mount, where he would take His rightful place on the throne of King David. By right, he ought to be mounting His white steed and leading His people there. While he appeared to have been silenced, there was nothing that he had to say to lead. He turned, and mounted His white horse, and pointed towards the mount.

Gabriel's beautiful winged figure hit the rusty armor with both fists, square in the back, just as the unknown enemy had managed to climb on the Throne platform. The two rolled on the floor a number of times, ending up under the white steed's powerful hooves. The creature had its foreleg broken by the man in rusty armor trying to fend off Gabriel and, being on the edge of the platform already, bucked off the King of Kings.

Jesus got up, His robe still immaculate, and turned to speak words of condemnation towards the attacker even as he tangled with Gabriel. That's when the second iron chariot moved its back, much as the first had, and the grey barrel was slammed on top of His body. A muffled explosion came from the metal box on top of the barrel, seen and felt but not heard.

And the music was interrupted, just for a moment, by the horrific gurgle of a pair of lungs bursting, then all over the Remnant fell darkness, replaced after a few moments by a strange crepuscular light. The powerful pumps removing the rest of the air from the iron barrel after the thermobaric explosion went unheard and unseen.

"Looks like Jesus tried to hold His breath in a vacuum. I don't think He can actually get hurt, so don't worry, but... well, He's powerless in there, no air, no voice, no Word. So! Looks like we win! Uh... guess I'm in charge, for now, then, so... Listen up, I've got about two minutes of juice left on the batteries for the plasma speakers and I want to save it for an emergency... Everyone, go home! Get out of here! Show's over! Believe what you want to believe, but you have families to go home to! The world is a mess and we have to fix 'er up!"

The Archangel Gabriel pushed off his human opponent and began pummeling the barrel with all the might of a messenger of the Lord. The interior sounded odd, with absolutely no echo, even when finally the faculty of hearing anything other than the strange music came back to him. All his focus was on the Lamb of God inside the metal fortress. Five seconds later, he too got beaned with a gold bar from behind.

The voice came back, a little less sure this time. "Listen! Your 'work' here is done, you have witnessed what you had to witness! Go home, your families need you! We got it in hand here!"

Another voice, older and steadier, was heard throughout the valley. "Let's try this. And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. So, to recap: We got the heavy metal, we're in the valley, we're staying here, everyone else - go home, now!"

Only when confronted with God's Word the Remnant understood that this must have been part of the Divine Plan. Micah -- who had to lie down from sheer fatigue -- and a few others remained at the edge of the plain, in an impromptu study circle, before the men in armor told them to move it.

And finally, Raymond felt a twinge of hunger and a new wave of fatigue. Without divine instruction or a word about it, the remnant seemed to be slowly scattering to return to their homes. Raymond would have to reconnect with his friends and see who might have room for him.

"We made it! I don't believe it!"

"Start believing it then, heathen! Haha!"

"Man, I never got to find out if the lightning armor worked."

"Worked well enough to deflect blows... dammit, this is stuck. Anyone got an angle grinder?"

"I got it, it's in the AVLB. Heh... So, what happens now?"

"We'll have to readjust, that's for sure. No idea, past that. There's still a million Christians out there, some of which will probably want to kick our asses when they realize this is the end of the show."

A few yards away, Rhino and Rapter were trying to decide what to do with the gold, frankincense and myrrh. They compromised on a lava dump. Just after they dropped the stuff the earth shook, trying to return to its natural shape after being forced flat, leaving their "did we hit Michael again" bet in limbo for what they hoped would be a long time.

"So what do we do now, Boss?"

"Get on with life, I guess. Me? Never have to answer that question again of anyone, I hope. I agreed to be foreman of this crew specifically because I don't want to be boss or be bossed around, and I think I've earned you stopping calling me that."

"Fair enough, really."

"Do you think the sun will come back up?"

"Let's set up a perimeter first. Then... I'm getting some booze, anyone with me?"

"News on the Sun, I'm getting some satellite solar panels generating again -- the twilight is a local effect. If the pattern holds, all this... stupidity should just go away."

Of course, Telemetry couldn't be more wrong about that.

That evening—Raymond could tell it was evening only by his watch; the brightness of the day never changed— the men settled into Micah's spacious home, room assignments seeming to take care of themselves. It turned out that Mack and Abd Al-Azrad considered themselves cooks and proved it by grilling the meat and preparing heaping bowls of sliced fruit and steaming vegetables.

The emergency radio had transmitted only static for the best part of the strange day, but it came on just as soon as the meal was consumed.

"This is a communication from the CUSTODIAL ARRANGEMENT OF THERMODYNAMIC SYSTEMS, section Echo. The sun has been spotted over Pitcairn Island. We expect normal circadian service to resume shortly. Remain outside, or in earthquake-proof shelters. The Earth's crust is reasserting its natural state. There will be more quakes. The Battle of Armageddon is over. Jesus Christ is in precautionary custody pending the reformation of an international tribunal. The Potentate and Pontifex are dead. If you are able, attend to the needs of your community until communications return. CATS needs skilled engineers, surveyors, pilots, and people with Global Community cadre experience to reestabilish core infrastructure. If at the moment you cannot help, but have access to working communications, relay this message to as many people as possible. Clearing the frequency for 10 seconds, sound off if you can..."

Not sure what else he could possibly do, Raymond tuned the white noise from the radio out, and picked up the phone.

"Looks like the Remnant is going their separate ways -- I think some of them believe that this is the Millennial Kingdom. Honestly, I think most of them are just in shock and haven't processed what happened."

"As long as they don't come back to soon. We'll have to set up a perimeter and a proper containment area around here. And set up redundant systems for the vacuum pumps."

Mack found chairs and tables and enlisted Zhang and Lionel in the setup process, while Micah asked Raymond to help him assess the home he had not seen for three and a half years. All the old man could do was shake his head at the memories. There was no evidence of damage to the place by the GC. He found no residue from three separate earthquakes, including the most recent global upheaval and the raising of the entire city some three hundred feet at the cleaving of the Mount of Olives. As Raymond followed him about the place, Micah said, "I am tired of my own disbelief. I must simply once and for all accept that God is the author of all this. He can do anything, and He has done everything."

The angels had been locked inside the other engineering vehicle just in time for the Earth to start settling again, closing the chasm.

"What if the Archangel Michael comes out from elsewhere?"

"We pump him full of lead. Looks like bullets are working again."

"How do you know?"

"Rhino just shot Gabriel in the hand through the hatch. He was trying to get out."

More Unity Army survivors, civilians, and even some of the Remnants were extricating themselves from the wreckage all around the plains and coming in to see what was going on. The plasma speaker trucks had been refueled and were recharging their batteries, and had been driven closer to the containment barrel; CATS workers and volunteers were setting up a small camp where Jesus' Throne was, the big seat making an excellent spot for a conventional amplifier.

"Dude! He's a prisoner of war!"

"He is at least partially responsible for the disintegration of tens of millions of children, and the death of billions of people. And he was trying to get out. He'll get over it, these guys still have a healing factor... I'm impressed that Rhino didn't bash Gabriel's head in with the tank hatch, honestly."

"I guess helping beat up Jesus and His angels can mellow someone out. Such as it is."

One of the Remnant wandered in, on old man who looked like he was in a tryptophane haze, and bowed in the general direction of the bridgelaying vehicles.

Suddenly Micah rose back to his knees and said, "Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!"

It wasn't a bad idea, actually, so the CATS operatives did and, speakers offline, delivered unto Him a song from a simpler time.

ELLA ROSE had come a long way from nursing supervisor at Arthur Young Memorial Hospital in Palatine, Illinois. How was she to know what would become of her when she first encountered Raymond Irons and the fledgling Tribulation Force nearly seven years before? She and Raymond had spotted each other's seal of the believer, visible only to others of like faith. Otherwise, she might not have given him the time of day.

To think that since then she had been all over the world with the Force in a variety of roles, mostly medical but not exclusively. She had made new friends, seen them become Loved ones, and then seen them die. There had been times when she wouldn't have given two cents for her chances to make it to the Glorious Appearing. At least not until she was assigned duty at Petra, where in three and a half years, no one had died.

Privileged, that's what she called herself. Certainly nothing she had ever done had earned her the benefits she had enjoyed. It had not been an easy life. Hardly. No one who had lived through the Tribulation had it easy. That she had to live through it at all was her own fault—for having heard the message and ignored it for so long. She had not considered herself a rejecter. Ella had seen herself as an intellectual, a thinker, a ponderer.

Evangelists and evangelistic-minded friends had told her and told her that a nondecision was a "no" decision. She had argued. She wasn't saying no, she said; she was still thinking. Well, one of her well-meaning friends had said, don't think yourself into hell. Or into being left behind.

That had been a laugh. While Ella had seriously considered the claims of Christ on her life, that He had died for her sins—of which she acknowledged there were many—the idea of His showing up in the clouds someday, in an instant so quick you could blink and miss it, well... come on now. And then she had been left behind. Ella took care of that issue immediately. Then, while she floundered spiritually, looking for more, looking for truth, looking for answers, she believed God sent Raymond and the Trib Force into her life.

They were all in the same boat, of course, latecomers to the kingdom. But among them were men of the Bible, lifelong students like Tzadok Bin-Jusuf, from whom she believed she had learned more than she had in nursing school. And now here she was in Jerusalem, in the home of an elder.

With friends who had become dear and who had experienced with her, firsthand, the end of prophecy in the presence of Jesus Himself. Her fellow Tribulation Force members seemed reassured, somehow - this must've been part of the Divine Plan; the all-encompassing presence of Jesus in their mind was gone, replaced with the familiarity of quiet when in prayer.

"I hate to agree with Global Community people" she said to the men in the prayer circle "but they've got a point. I'm a first responder. The time of miracles seems to be over. There is work to do."

Ella left Raymond behind and strode off purposefully to where she remembered the closest triage station was. Of course, she was only half right...

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