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PrologueKids

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.


THE YOUNG TRIBULATION FORCE

Original members -- Vicki Byrne Thompson, Judd Thompson, Lionel Washington

Other members -- Mark, Conrad, Darrion, Janie, Charlie, Shelly, Melinda

OTHER BELIEVERS

Shaojie Zhang -- Chinese teenager working in Petra

Tzadok Bin-Jusuf -- Jewish scholar who writes about prophecy

Colin and Becky Dial -- Wisconsin couple

Sam Goldberg -- Jewish teenager, Lionel's good friend

Mr. Mitchell Stein -- Jewish friend of the Young Trib Force

Nyobe Tiberias -- computer whiz living in Petra

Micah Rosenzweig -- famous Israeli scientist

Zeke Zuckermandel -- disguise specialist for the Tribulation Force

UNBELIEVERS

Nicolae Carpatescu -- leader of the Global Community

Leone Fortunati -- Carpatescu's right-hand man

"Boss" or "Foreman" -- CATS field commander

"Rhino", "Deejay", "Rapter", "Enigma" -- Last remaining CATS field operatives

"Central", "Telemetry", "Timeline", "Relief", "Comms", "Detection" -- Control room positions

What's Gone On Before

In what used to be an Israeli Defence Force logistics bunker, the remaining members of CATS are analyzing their options - Nicholae Carpatescu has stopped listening to their advice entirely as an outsider entity claiming to be Satan possessed and started consuming him; all attempts to derail prophecy have failed, the only success - destroying Carpatescu's body between his death and resurrection - having essentially undone itself as soon as nobody was looking.

Building wildlife survival pods had taken most of CATS' resources, and what little was left was used to maintain their cover as a part of the Unity Army's logistics effort. With time running out, there was one last thing to try - a solution that relied on nonlethal methods and, in order to influence the narrative that had taken a hold of the world, had to be seen by as many people as possible.

They would need trucks, radio masts, high voltage sources - all to change the story. And they would have to be louder than Jesus to pull it off. Six months ago, the fortuitous capture of the Angel Anis had given this team of engineers, scientists, and precious few soldiers new insight on how to fight back. Techniques to fight back whenever possible were developed. It had become obvious that the game could not be won, or tied, or abandoned... and so The Plan was hatched, to flip the game table and change the story.

JUDD and Vicki Thompson are living the adventure of a lifetime. After their wedding in Petra, the two hear of a crisis brewing in Wisconsin. Lionel Washington and Zhang Shaojie work together to alert their friends that the GC is nearby.

After a heated debate in Wisconsin, Mark Eisman separates from his friends and heads south. He immediately encounters GC Peacekeepers led by Commander Kruno Fulcire. After returning to help the others escape, Mark is captured by the GC, and an angel encourages him to speak to others about God. Mark must finally face the guillotine with men who now believe the truth.

Judd and the rest of the Young Tribulation Force are saddened by the news about Mark, but with only a few months before the Battle of Armageddon, there is much to do. He and Vicki make contact with believers in Jerusalem who are helping defend the Olc City.

Judd's friend Westin Jakes helps them travel to Jerusalem to aid rebels in the upcoming battle.

Prologue

Five trucks were ready, suitably disguised as mobile cell phone towers - the CATS group had renamed itself so in order to claim custodian arrangement of telephone systems, and this had allowed quite a lot of freedom of movement. The engineers and mechanics that constituted the bulk of CATS' manpower were now burning through their last reserves of energy and coffee to finish modifying at least one of the three M104 engineering vehicles that had been procured - by the look of it, only one would be fully ready. The big timer on the warehouse wall had hit zero a few days ago; there were hours left.

VICKI held tightly to Judd as the Global Community's Unity Army rumbled through the streets of Jerusalem. She hoped they were simply putting their tanks and soldiers into place, but Carpatescu's army could attack at any moment.

Vicki had felt a sense of adventure coming to the Old City. Jamal and Lina, Judd's friends from a previous trip to Israel, had taken them in. They had also met an old man named Shivte and his wife. These rebels were trying to hold off the GC army--something Vicki believed was part of biblical prophecy.

But the closer the GC army came and the more the walls of the underground tunnel shook, the less excited she became about being here. They could have stayed in Petra. Instead, they were in the crosshairs of the GC.

Vicki reminded herself that Jesus would soon be back to wipe out this army. And she and Judd had been overwhelmed when thousands had become believers earlier near the Temple Mount. Rabbi Tzadok Bin-jusuf had given the message of Jesus. Still, the thundering army sent a shiver through her.

Judd scurried to talk with one of their leaders and came back a few minutes later. "He thinks we won't see action until morning. He wants us to get some rest. Let's head back to Jamal's place."

They took a tunnel heading east, passing rebels armed with Uzis and hand grenades. Vicki had become as familiar with these tunnels over the past few months as she had with their hideout in Wisconsin. Secret passageways snaked underneath streets and buildings. Lights clanked on the stone walls as GC tanks and transport trucks rolled overhead.

A few believers spoke with rebels about Jesus when they passed, trying to convince them of the truth, but many fighters didn't want to hear about the gospel.

"We don't want your blasphemy" one rebel yelled at a believer. "Stay away from us" Judd peeked through the tunnel opening and motioned Vicki forward.

By the time they made it safely to Jamal's apartment, darkness had fallen. Neither Jamal nor Lina was home. While Judd checked the computer for the latest troop movement news, Vicki pulled the curtain back on the window. "You don't have to check the computer--look out the window," she said.

They were high enough to see outside the walls of the Old City. Tanks and large vehicles were in place. Streetlights cast eerie shadows on the monstrous army.

"Our people are going up against that?" Judd said.

"It's not just our people--God's fighting against the army," Vicki said.

"How many RPVs left?"

"Thirty-three, twenty with GPS. I'm surprised the Israelis figured these out before the Americans, but hey, good for us for once."

"Keep them in the air, I want at least one person keeping a look on the automated ones at all times. Timeline says we need to get our assets to the the Mount of Olives, so let's plot a course."

"The Global Community guys will let us through, but what about the Remnant and the other rebels?"

"We'll have to risk it. No weapons other than sidearms, we can't brure-force this through - let's look like a relief convoy, bring the medevacs. Factoring in time to actually provide relief..."

"Last second?"

"Last ten minutes, yeah. If there are no obstacles."

The convoy started moving, the one modified engineering vehicle between the other two, four trucks and a number of ambulance jeeps following with their red cross or red crescent prominently displayed.

"Don't suppose we'll get much shut-eye tonight, eh?" Enoch said, walking into the room.

"I've waited years for this," Conrad said. "No way I'm going to sleep through it."

Enoch nodded. "I know what you mean. But I don't think it'll happen until morning."

"Why is that? Doesn't the Bible say no one knows when Christ will return?"

"True. But eight in the morning our time will be the seven-year anniversary of the signing of the treaty between Carpatescu and Israel. To the minute."

Enoch's love of the Bible was contagious. Since coming to the group, Conrad found himself reading more, taking notes, and seeing the Bible come alive in new ways.

"You think it's going to happen at eight tomorrow morning?" Conrad said.

"Don't know for sure, but it's as good a guess as anyone's."

Enoch flipped on a small radio and tuned to the latest news. New Babylon, the gleaming jewel of Nicholae Carpatescu, had been wiped out in less than an hour. Though the GC had tried to put a positive spin on the worldwide chaos, Conrad knew from reading e-mails from Zhang Shaojie in Petra that there were more suicides now than ever before.

The news reporter quickly turned to the Middle East where Nicholae Carpatescu readied his troops. A vast army was nearing Jerusalem and had spread across the nearby desert to Petra. "An almost innumerable legion of tanks, artillery, and soldiers has assembled here to wage what should be a very quick end to a pesky enemy."

The reporter played a clip of Carpatescu giving orders. It was clear that Carpatescu wanted to level Petra and overrun Jerusalem.

"The only logical response to such an overwhelming military campaign is surrender," the reporter said, "but no one who has studied the history of the Judah-ites and Israelis over the last seven years believes that will happen."

"The one who should be surrendering is Carpatescu," Enoch said. "God's going to make that clear real soon."

"I can't wait," Conrad said. ^

Judd found sleep impossible and stayed up watching the GC troops. He heard Vicki's breathing from the other room and was grateful she was getting some rest.

Judd felt concerned for Jamal and Lina, wondering what had happened to them. The last he had seen them, they were trying to convince several Israelis about Jesus. At nearly 3 a.m. they crept inside, surprised to see Judd awake. "You won't believe who we saw at Shivte's home," Lina said, wide-eyed. "Tzadok Bin-Jusuf. He was there with an American --"

"Buck Williams?" Judd said. He had seen the two together earlier at the Temple Mount. "Yes! To see the teacher in person was such an honor," Lina said.

"And to see his commitment to the fight is even better," Jamal said. "He is not just here to give us moral support. He has a gun and is ready to use it."

Lina smiled and shook her fists like a child. "But we haven't told you the best news. Shivte and his sons were at the Wailing Wall this evening. They heard Dr. Bin-Jusuf and have believed in Messiah! All that praying we did for them, and now they are true believers."

The small convoy set in motion.

Jamal was gone a few moments when Lina returned with a sackful of supplies. She looked at Judd, then at the door, and burst into tears. "Tell me where he's gone! I've lost a son and a daughter to the GC! I will be with my husband at this critical hour." "She's right," Vicki said, walking into the room.

Judd nodded. "Let's get our things. We're going to the Damascus Gate."

JUDD ducked the first time he heard gunfire. It took only a few minutes to get used to the automatic weapons and the screams of those who had been hit. He and Vicki, along with their friend Lina, rushed to the end of a tunnel near the Damascus Gate and watched.

Rebels ran everywhere, shouting news of the battle. The Yad Vashem Historical Museum to the Holocaust victims had been destroyed. Hebrew University, the Jewish National Library, and Israel Museum were on fire. Unity Army troops were close, and many rebels were either dead or captured.

Are these rumors or facts? Judd thought.

Vicki clung to him tightly as they came upon open ammunition boxes. Judd pushed the empty boxes away and handed ammo to Vicki as a runner hurried by. Rebels poured into the underground.

"Have you seen my husband?" Lina said to the runner.

The man ignored her, yelling instructions to other rebels.

Jamal raced inside and saw his wife. He gave Judd an icy stare. Before Judd could explain, Jamal grabbed his arm. "We're holding here. But the Dung Gate is under attack. Go."

Judd knew the Dung Gate was to the south. What the Unity Army had planned, he couldn't guess. were they going for the Temple Mount? Would Carpatescu try to set up his headquarters in that holy place?

Another report came -- the Unity Army was trying to break through the Wailing Wall

Judd glanced at Vicki, who strained under the weight of the bullets and grenades she carried. "You ready for this?" he said.

Vicki bit her lip and nodded.

Lionel looked out at the desert in the predawn light. The sand had transformed into miles and miles of soldiers, horses, and weaponry. At least 200,000 troops on horseback were in position.

He found Zeke holding a strange-looking weapon and listening for radio contact from their leader.

"What's with the horses?" Lionel said. "All those tanks and advanced weapons and they put cavalry in front?"

"Doesn't make a lick of sense to me, but I'm glad they did it," Zeke said. "We're gonna try to spook some of the horses and riders with these babies--" he patted his weapon--"and see if we can't stir things up."

"What is that?"

"It's called a DEW, short for directed energy weapon. Sends out a beam of energy that burns like fire."

"Lots of shooting, but it's all small arms. Keep going."

"What's with the cavalry?"

"I think if there were doubts about Carpatescu having completely lost it, this clenches it. Keep pushing through, walking pace. Our rigs are mostly rifle-proof, just don't attract artillery fire."

"We'd like to lighten the load, it'll take a long time to get to target."

"Missile fire! Unguided."

"Stay behind the launchers, keep moving!"

Several rebels hooted and threw fists into the air as they passed on the street.

"Where are you going?" Judd yelled.

"Herod's Gate" one said, his eyes flashing with anger.

"Judd, those men don't have the mark of the believer," Vicki said. "If they're gunned down, that's the end for them."

"I know," Judd said, "but there's no way they'll stop to listen now."

"Some of the rebels are demanding that we divert to Herod's Gate, they want to use an engineering vehicle to breach!"

After a quick consultation with mission control, the answer comes in the Foreman's tired voice. "Give them Number Three. Rhino, stay behind me with Two. Three, play along, ditch if it gets dangerous, catch up if you can."

Hundreds of rebels moved toward Herod's Gate. Judd was out of breath when Vicki caught his arm. "I have an idea," she said, sprinting to the side as gunfire erupted.

What in the world is she thinking? Judd thought. ^ Lionel closed his eyes and said a quick prayer. Raymond Irons had made it through seven years of plagues and now this. Zeke whooped and Lionel opened his eyes. "What happened?"

"Missile went right through the chopper and came out the other side," Zeke yelled, laughing. "Looks like they might have hit some of their own troops. How do you like that? God's letting the GC take themselves out of this war."

An order came to open fire with the DEW'S, and Zeke aimed his weapon. Lionel picked up binoculars and watched the perfect line of horses fall apart. Horses galloped in all directions, some knocking each other to the ground.

"Yahoo" Zeke hollered. "Look at "em go"!

Vicki knelt by a wounded soldier who had been shot in the leg. Judd dropped his ammo and tied a tourniquet above the wound.

A few years earlier, God had caused a cross to form on believers" foreheads, a supernatural sign that they were true followers of Christ. This man had neither the mark of Carpatescu nor the mark of God. "Take my weapon," the man groaned. "They need more fighters."

"We want to help you," Vicki said. "The Global Community is going to be defeated by God's power--"

"Leave me alone" the man screamed, using his gun to help him stand. "I have to get back to my brothers"

Vicki and Judd tried to stop him, but the man limped off with the crowd. Her heart ached for him and the others fighting against the overwhelming army.

"The hell? Laser fire from Petra! 445 nanometers!"

"How did they get portable energy weapons to work?"

"... Narrative causality. It probably only works for them."

"Boss, if the laws of physics --"

"If the laws of physics are stacked against us, or not, at this point we're one trick away from total loss anyway. Now, lasers working a lot better than they should... maybe we can use that. EECOM?"

"It might make the atmosphere easier to ionize, if anything. I'll check my math."

One of the people in Mission Control, awed by the display, gave the agreed hand sign meaning "I surrender to Jesus" and left the room. Respecting the safe-passage clause of the contract, the two guards quickly let the former operator out.

The order came for another round of DEW'S, which Sam called ray guns. The Unity Army's front line fell back, and troops shifted and rippled like a human ocean. Lionel wondered if the GC would respond with an attack, but nothing came.

Judd sat by Vicki, listening to the battle above them and wondering if he had been wrong about not fighting with these brave men and women. After all, Jesus was coming back any minute -- or at least within the next day. He was as sure of that as the mark on his forehead.

Sitting in the tunnel near a stairwell, it was all he could do to resist grabbing a rifle and heading up. But his promise to Vicki meant that if he went to the fight, she would have to go as well, and Judd didn't want that.

Finally the noise died a little and Vicki spoke. "I think we should go up. Maybe there are people who need more ammo or need to hear the message." Judd nodded. "Okay, stay here and I'll check it out."

He flew up the stairs and carefully opened the door. The sight turned his stomach. Weapons and bodies of rebels littered the street. He inched out and closed the door to see if the Unity Army was near.

A kerthunk sounded some distance away, and Judd instinctively ducked. A shell struck the building behind him, sending debris flying. He stayed on the ground, coughing and waving a hand.

When the dust cleared, he saw a hole the size of a small car in the wall behind him.

The hole was right next to the stairwell. "Vicki" Judd screamed. ^

Lionel took a walk along the edge of the Petra defensive line, passing a man holding a DEW in one hand and a small television in the other. Lionel stopped and squinted at the screen.

"This is a GCNN report about the war," the man said. The screen showed an aerial view of the One World Unity Army shot before sundown. The reporter explained that one-third of Carpatescu's forces had surrounded Petra and that rebel leader Tzadok Bin-Jusuf was hiding there.

"They don't have a clue," Lionel muttered.

"The other two-thirds of the Unity Army is poised to overtake the city of Jerusalem," the reporter said. "Potentate Carpatescu himself reports that nearly half the city has been occupied and that it is just a matter of time before the Old City is overrun."

"Very rough simulation, but the laser thing might actually work in our favor."

The report switched to a press conference with Carpatescu recorded earlier. "We are confident that these are the last two rebel enclaves in the world," he said, "and that once they have been thoroughly defeated and our enemies scattered, we will realize what we have so long dreamed of: an entire world of peace and harmony. There is no place in a true global community for rebellion. If our government was anything but benevolent or did not have the attitude of "citizen first there might be cause for dissention. But all we have ever attempted to do was create a Utopia for society.

"It is most unfortunate that it comes to this, that we have to resort to bloodshed to achieve our goals. But we will do what we have to do."

A reporter asked about the huge army fighting against so few.

Carpatescu said no effort in the cause of world peace was wasted. Then he chuckled when another reporter asked if the GC was afraid of the rebels' God.

"Idiot."

"No, Bronze Age mindset. Charge and siege. He's forgotten about proper artillery deployment. Totally consumed by Satan, I guess. I kind of miss the actual Nicholae, honestly - he pulled the best 'made the trains run on time' in history, for that he was a bastard. Besides, if he wants to be our diversion, more power to him."

The convoy kept crawling through what was left of the Old City. The sensitive electronics carried by the trucks had been plinked a few times, each time a repair crew peeking out of the armored cabins to evaluate the damage and adding minutes to the timetable for repairs, the line on the graph inched towards yellow and red by a tick each time.

A bomb exploded. Gunfire erupted. Choppers filled the sky. The platoon hurried around the corner. Judd stood, picked Vicki up, and headed for Jamal's apartment. He cast a glance at the sky and said a simple prayer: "Come, Lord Jesus." ^

Lionel's heart was stirred by the video of the black preacher and the response of people in Petra. He wanted to stay until the end of the message, but he wanted to be at the battle line even more.

He quickly returned to his assigned position and looked for Zeke. Sam told him Zeke was meeting with a Trib Force member. In the past half hour, the ragtag Petra army had fired their DEW'S and some bigger guns at Carpatescu's vast army.

"Bet those guys are hot in those black uniforms," Lionel said.

"I wonder if those tanks are air-conditioned," Sam said, smiling.

"Heavy fire on this position, I'm bugging out!"

"Roger that, Bridgelayer Three. Get to safety, drop the bridge if the medevacs call for it. Timeline says we're in the end game. Find something earthquake-proof to turtle in."

"That was our last spare asset."

Lionel heard the gunshot as he closed his eyes and flinched. He expected to be lying on the ground with a bullet hole in his chest, but the shot whizzed past him -- or through him. He turned to see a penny-sized hole in the sand directly behind him, then glanced back at the shooter. If that bullet landed there, how did it miss me? Lionel thought.

"Lionel, Sam, get outta there," someone said behind them. It was Zeke, standing on the crest of a dune. The soldier fired again while Lionel and Sam turned and walked away.

"Their weapons won't do a thing here," Zeke said. "Just wastin' their ammo."

"We'll roll over you and smash you into this desert," the officer yelled.

"Yeah, I'm sure that's what you think," Zeke said, helping Lionel and Sam back to the line. "Your guy's a loser. Ours is the true Lord."

Lionel was shaking when he made it back to the line. He found a small hole in the front of his shirt and one the same size in the back.

"Confirmed, we have phasing. Very precise and finely directed."

"Boss, I don't think this is going to work. I mean, the GC can't even shoot the Remnant anymore, it just goes right through."

"That's the theory. Our weapon won't affect anyone directly, just the air."

"Foreman, surely an omniscient God will see this coming."

"A computer can know more than any human, but it won't make it have a single new idea. And I hope this one is new enough. Do you want to quit and convert?"

"... No. Omniscient doesn't mean good. I'd rather go to Hell with a clean conscience."

"Then I apologize for insulting you. Keep those RC airplanes circling, we need the telemetry."

CONRAD Graham awoke a little after 6 a.m. in Palos Hills, Illinois, wiped the sleep from his eyes, and hit the light button on his watch. He had wanted to stay up the whole night, but fatigue had set in a little after 2 a.m. He had been praying for his friends, praying against the Unity Army of Carpatescu, and praying for those who still hadn't believed in Jesus.

They'll believe soon, one way or the other, he thought.

Enoch Dumas slept on the musty mattress in the corner, and his heavy breathing filled the room. Conrad picked up the jacket he had draped over himself and quietly tiptoed upstairs. He had told Shelly he would meet her at six thirty.

As Conrad stepped into the morning chill and darkness, he thought about his brother, Taylor. Taylor had hated everything Carpatescu stood for and lost his life trying to work against the GC. However, Taylor had been killed without ever trusting God.

That fact had haunted Conrad the past few years. No matter how many people he helped understand the truth or how many people he prayed with, there was always a shadow of regret. He would never meet Taylor again, never hear his laugh or relive old times.

"We get signal!"

"Main screen turn on."

"It's Micah!"

"Tell the GC that we're working on jamming it, but don't bother. Timeline, record this, and do a crosscheck. Convoy Actual, where are you?"

"Underground parking lot. We got a bit of rest, got some fuel, patched up battle damage. Five medevac vehicles left, front and back for visibility. Bridgelayer One is good. Bridgelayer Two is good, but Rhino's antsy. The trucks are charged, a few hits on the chassis, plasma speakers are good. How are we doing on timeline?"

"Green, but close to yellow. Get moving again quickly."

Enoch said he believed today was the day, then was interrupted by a woman in the back holding a tiny TV. "Look like somebody done took over the GC'S airwaves again. That Micah guy runnin' things at Petra is gonna speak about what comes next."

Darrion and some others pulled out their little TV'S.

"Should we listen, Brother Enoch?" the woman said. "Will you be offended?"

"Hardly," Enoch said, taking out his own TV. "What could be better than this? Dr. Rosenzweig is a scholar's scholar. Let's have church." "Why don't we line up the TV'S on that bench and turn up the volume so everyone can hear?" Conrad said.

"Wonder what old Nicholae thinks of this broadcast," Darrion said.

Dr. Rosenzweig was just beginning when they turned up the volume. He sat at a table with a Bible open before him.

"I speak to you tonight probably for the last time before the Glorious Appearing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ the Messiah," Micah said. "He could very well come during this message, and nothing would give me greater pleasure. When he comes there will be no more need for us to fight Antichrist and his False Prophet. The work will have been done for us by the King of kings.

"But as he did not return seven years to the minute from the signing of the covenant between Antichrist and Israel, many are troubled and confused."

Micah continued, saying he believed Jesus would return before midnight, Israel Time. Then he spoke to those who had not accepted Jesus as Messiah.

"Revise timeline to yellow. Get moving! Rhino, your bridgelayer is unmodified, see if you can find a shortcut. Gnarly terrain ahead."

Listening to the soldiers, Judd picked up information that Nicholae Carpatescu was in Jerusalem but would soon be heading to Petra. Rebels currently held the Temple Mount, but the Unity Army was going after them. The GC now controlled most of the Old City. Something was brewing to the south and northeast, a revolt of some sort among Unity Army troops, but Judd couldn't figure out what that was about.

"Bridge recovered, but there's fighting ahead!"

"What's going on?"

"One of the other undercover group. Excom or Exalt or something. They're making their move."

"Artillery? Energy weapons?"

"None, and none. Small arms, if they have RPGs they're saving them."

"Go around them. We can't take chances with the speaker trucks."

Whether this was going to help at all, the Foreman smiled. There were other people not following the script. Being in charge of the only group of people who didn't want to side with either of the two supernatural monsters would've been disheartening. Would've been better to make contact with them, but at this point, there was one stratagem left to try anyway.

VICKI huddled close to Judd in the back of the truck as they entered a gate at the Old City. Bodies lay strewn about the road, and the truck shimmied as it rolled over dead rebels. The rebels' clothes lay torn and in some cases ripped apart, which made Vicki wonder if the GC hadn't gone through their clothing for valuables. She closed her eyes at the horrific scene.

"Vicki, you can't do this," Judd whispered. "I won't let you."

"Trust me," she said. "I won't give them anything."

"Then what are we doing?"

Vicki glanced up. The canvas canopy over the truck had been pulled back, and they could see the sky. Clouds parted, showing the full moon. "I'll think of something." The truck ground to a halt, its brakes squealing. Vicki's leg ached with a pain she had never experienced. Judd's leg was nearly useless. She doubted he could walk.

"Out" Commander Fulcire shouted.

A soldier on the ground helped Vicki down, but he pushed Judd off so he landed hard, crying out in pain.

"I swear if you hurt him any more, I'll tell you nothing" Vicki yelled.

Fulcire seized Judd by an arm and pulled him up. "He's okay. Just a couple of scratches, eh, young man? Now show us an entrance, and no warning your compatriots that we're coming."

Vicki walked slowly away from the truck, looking at buildings and street signs.

"Stop here," Fulcire said. He walked around Judd and faced Vicki. "We know there are tunnels--show us or we add you to the dead."

Judd nudged Vicki and pointed up. A light shot across the night sky in front of the moon. Vicki gasped and Fulcire looked up as well.

"Guards, take him" Fulcire said.

But as soon as they moved toward Judd, the moon went black. The streets disappeared under a dark blanket. Several soldiers screamed.

"It's just like in New Babylon," one said. "It's another plague! And you know what happened to that city"

"Shut up" Fulcire ordered. "Try the truck lights."

The screens in the control room shifted to high-contrast as the cameras on the remaining drones and cameras tried to compensate.

"Convoy lights up! Does any of the medevacs still have sonar from the last time? Timeline? What's going on?"

"Jesus is about to show up. Minutes away"

"We're kilometers away!"

"He's not going to get to your destination right away, first he has to..." EECOM quickly explained the string of atrocities that the loving God had in mind. "Foreman, our floodlights are working." "Keep the sonar on standby and be ready to fall behind-" "Sonar's caked. Can we afford to stop to clean it?"

"... No. Heh, I just realized, the disguises may not be enough. I should bring the convoy a little care package. Number four should do it. How are we doing on ATVs?"

"Thirteen left."

"Twelve. I'm going."

"Foreman-"

"Telemetry, take over here. We're all expendable at this point. I still have GC credentials, so I can get there faster than anyone else."

There was no chair for the Foreman to vacate. "How are the sequence calculations?"

"They're already done!"

"Send to the trucks."

"Come on," Vicki whispered to Judd. "Let's get out of here."

But before they could move, the lights on the truck blazed, lighting up the street. The soldiers sighed with relief.

Fulcire radioed someone and received a report from Teddy Kollek Stadium that their lights were all working and there was nothing to worry about. He turned to Judd and Vicki.

"Do you see that, Commander?" Vicki said, pointing at the sky. "That's part of the prophecy. God said the sun and moon will be dark on this day. He's going to punish the world for its evil. This is happening around the world, and you'd better get ready for the next thing he's going to do."

What was left of the global satellite network confirmed that the eclipse was global. In the control room and the convoy lead vehicle, a timer started counting down.

"Alert! Meteor swarm coming in! The Deep Space Network didn't see them come in, they sort of.... materialized!"

"Truck one here, roger that."

"Mark the appearance altitude. We'll have to run the gauntlet. Bridgelayer Two, to the head of the convoy!"

The few vehicles remaining barely slowed down as the bridgelaying tank moved ahead.

The next meteor slammed into a mass of tanks and transport vehicles, causing a huge explosion. Soldiers flew into the air. The front lines of the army withdrew -- how far Lionel couldn't tell.

Rocks nearby shook with the crashing of each meteor. While the Unity Army was struck again and again, Petra remained safe.

Someone turned on large searchlights near the camp and pointed them straight up. The light allowed Lionel to see the edges of the Unity Army and the clouds above that bubbled and churned like boiling macaroni. There was a flash in the distance. Then came a low rumble.

Something big was happening. Lionel felt chills. He wondered if Judd and Vicki were seeing the same thing. Or if Judd and Vicki were even alive.

"All this lightning is great for us. We were expecting to have to pre-ionize the air, but it may get done for us."

"Don't count on it - we don't know if it's physics, or molecular control."

"Narrative causality."

"Call it magic if you want, just - spectroscopy?"

"Good news, this is generating a lot of ground-level ozone. We may be able to make it with three truck if it comes to that."

"Where's the Foreman?"

"Still catching up. Too much noise for the ATV radio, too. Packet loss to the convoy is pretty high, we can't update their maps. So that's the bad news."

LIONEL sat with Sam on Petra's perimeter and watched God's light show. Lightning flashed through the deepening clouds, thick streaks of gold firing overhead. He remembered watching a tornado years before the Tribulation began, but that didn't compare with this.

Lightning increased, with hundreds and thousands of bolts crashing to the desert floor every second. It was like the end to a terrific fireworks display, only this one was a million times brighter and stronger. Thunder shook the ground, and Lionel tried to cover his ears.

Sam pulled out his tiny television and cupped a hand around the screen so they could see it. The Global Community News Network treated God's light show as a nonstory. Instead, their coverage focused on the war effort. Unity generals reported troops heading toward the Valley of Megiddo.

Nicholae Carpatescu was shown getting onto a huge horse. "I am pleased with the reports from the South and from the Northeast. And now we are about to embark on one of our most strategic initiatives. A third of our entire fighting force will advance upon the rebel stronghold cowering in Petra. Intelligence tells us that a paltry defensive unit has rung the city round about, but they are hopelessly outnumbered and have already offered to surrender."

"Did you know we were ready to surrender?" Sam said.

"... I'm surprised nobody's eaten the damn horses in all this."

"Besides, why a horse? This is camel country. The camel is-"

"Hassan, we know, we know!"

Lionel shook his head. "I'm glad we're on the side of the one causing this lightning and thunder."

Carpatescu answered questions, lying about his contact with leaders in Petra. "We made peaceful overtures to the leadership, offering amnesty for any who would voluntarily leave the stronghold and take the mark of loyalty. Our understanding is that many wished to make this move, only to be slaughtered by the leadership. Many will recall that it was this very leadership who assassinated me, serving only to give me the opportunity to prove my divinity by raising myself from the dead. "Well, this time around, there will be no negotiating. Loyalists to our New World Order have either been murdered or have escaped, so intelligence tells us Petra is now inhabited solely by rebels to our cause, murderers and blasphemers who have thumbed their noses at every attempt to reason with them."

Carpatescu waved a sword for the camera and continued. "I shall personally lead this effort, with the able assistance, of course, of my generals. We shall rally the troops as soon as we arrive, and the siege should take only a matter of minutes."

"Voice comms restored Timeline?"

"Smooth sailing for about an hour, how far along are you?"

"Twenty clicks as the crow flies. I've almost caught up with the convoy."

"Did you hear yourself? What is this, Viet Nam?"

"Telemetry, we've formally switched to metric, but fine, we're not warriors and all that..."

"Roger. Amend - twenty kilometers, line of sight. Happier?"

"...Just get there in one piece."

Lionel had tilted his head back and taken another drink from the canteen. Suddenly a light flashed in the sky and something buzzed, like the sound of a light saber in one of those old Star Wars movies. Sam pointed, mouth agape, and Lionel pulled the canteen from his mouth, water spilling.

A yellow streak of light -- like lightning, only it wasn't -- pulsed in the sky. It started near the horizon and went straight up miles into the sky. Two-thirds of the way up, another yellow streak intersected the first one, forming a huge cross.

Lionel was so overcome he dropped the canteen. He could only imagine what was going through the minds of the Unity Army soldiers. ^ Conrad shielded his eyes from the blazing cross and couldn't help smiling. A warm feeling surged through his body. He and Shelly stood and stared in awe.

"He's really coming back," Shelly whispered, full of emotion. "This is the sign of the Son of Man Dr. Bin-Jusuf wrote about."

"It's coming! I'm not going to make any big speeches, just know this: Today the last trumpet sounds! But what the prophecies don't know is we will be the ones playing it! Us! Humanity!"

"Fuck yeah!" the people left in the Control Room answered, minus two satellite techs who had decided to convert and leave at that spectacle. The conversion clause was simple - you can leave, and you won't be hurt, but you must not intervene. Those who had converted, even within CATS, had said -- if anything -- that intervention was futile anyway.

"You were limping on this, right?" "Yeah, but--"

Vicki's mouth dropped open. Her leg looked perfectly normal. No skin tears, no blood, no scars. Not even a scratch.

"We've both been healed" Judd said.

They jumped and giggled like schoolchildren. Judd felt ten pounds lighter.

"What do we do?" Vicki said, unable to stop smiling.

"Jesus is supposed to come back to the Mount of Olives, right?"

She nodded. "And he's going to split it in two."

The triage stations reported a bit of good news for once. It barely made a dent in the enormous toll of death and destruction that Jesus was to be held accountable for, of course, but it freed up unexpected resources.

"Right. Those of you who are mobile, pack up and redistribute around the final destination. You will be needed. As you go, call any roadblocks or other obstacles."

"To all medevacs, this is Convoy Actual. Get one to three vehicles that are out of supplies and try to rejoin us. So far the only one who's shot at ambulances is God, so we could use the psychological cover."

JUDD and Vicki ran through Jerusalem with the pulsing, flashing cross lighting their way. Judd knew the Unity Army controlled the city, but he didn't care. His Lord was coming, and Judd wanted to see him.

They rounded a corner and noticed several dead bodies. To Judd's amazement, one of them moved. He and Vicki rushed to the man.

When he saw the mark on Judd's and Vicki's foreheads, he smiled. "I was shot and fell here. I pretended I was dead--and nearly was. But just now I felt something strange." He pointed to his chest. "Look. The hole where the bullet went through isn't there."

"We were healed too," Vicki said. She explained where they were going.

"I'll go with you and show you a way around the Unity Army," the man said. "My name is Ehud."

The three raced into the night, wondering what they would find around the next corner. What would God do to top what he had already done? ^

Lionel was so excited about his arm that he didn't notice what was happening behind him.

Zeke rushed up and yelled, "You two fall back. They're coming"

"What?" Lionel said.

But it was too late. The cross in the sky had set something in motion with the Unity Army, and Lionel heard hoofbeats on the sand. He glanced back as horses galloped toward them.

"Big Dog One to all units," someone said over a radio Zeke had on his shoulder. "Hold your fire. Wait. On my command."

"What's he thinking?" Zeke said. Then he hollered at the rebels in front of him, "You heard him -- hold your fire"

The men grumbled, pointing at the oncoming army, a death machine rolling across the desert. The radio crackled with protests. "Hold, hold, hold" Big Dog One shouted.

"Permission to speak my mind, sir," someone said.

"Denied. Follow orders."

Lionel backed up while he and Sam watched the human tornado heading straight for them. The front line closed the gap in seconds. In the eerie, yellow light, horsemen pointed rifles. Others wielded swords that glinted yellow off their sharpened edges.

Suddenly, a shot. Then all riders opened fire. Bullets pinged off rocks. Lionel shouted for Zeke to get down, but the man stood tall. The army rushed through the line of rebels, and the lead rider raised his sharpened sword and plunged it down at Zeke.

Lionel put his head in his hands. When he had the courage to look, he saw Zeke still standing. How could the lead rider have missed?

Sam stood, smiling and waving, daring the army to hurt him. He jumped on a rock, both hands in the air, yelling at the top of his lungs.

A rider flicked his sword out and took a swipe at Sam as he passed. If Lionel hadn't seen it, he wouldn't have believed it. It was as if the blade went straight through his friend's body. Sam didn't crumble in pain and blood didn't spurt from his wound, because there was no wound.

Others stood against the gunfire, unhurt by bullets that simply passed through them.

"Come on up" Sam called to Lionel. "Either these guys are really bad shots, or God's up to something"

Lionel climbed onto the rock as another wave of riders approached. A man fired at Lionel at close range. When Lionel didn't move, he fired again. The soldier looked at his weapon and paused. Riders swept into him, knocking him from his horse.

Lionel reached down and helped the soldier up.

The man pulled out a pistol and fired again. "Blanks. They're all blanks."

"No," Lionel said, "it's just that your bullets don't work here."

"Wow. This is... insane."

"Worst case scenario, we planned for it. Convoy, assume all kinetic weapons will be ineffective. Fab Four, armor up."

"What are we going to do, punch God in the face?"

"YES. Oh, yes."

"Rhino, calm down. Put your armor on and then stay at the back of the convoy, rather get the bridgelayer shot at than the trucks."

"What is that place?" Vicki said.

Before Judd could answer, a woman behind them spoke. "That's where they torture us, trying to get information about rebels inside the Temple." The woman, who did not have the mark of the believer, told them about the battles she'd been in and how valiantly the rebels had fought, even against overwhelming odds.

Vicki looked at Judd, and he winked at her. They were thinking the same thing. God had brought them here to reach out to people before the return of Christ. ^

Lionel stared at the sky and noticed movement on a ledge above. Micah Rosenzweig and the elders stood where most of the remnant could see them.

"Brothers and sisters in the Messiah," Micah said. "We gather here in this historic place, this holy city of refuge provided by the Lord God himself. We stand on the precipice of all time with the shadow of history behind us and eternity itself before us, putting all our faith and trust in the rock-solid goodness and strength and majesty of our Savior.

"Another sermon?"

"This guy's batting twenty for twenty as far as predictions go, so I'm going to take all the intel I can get."

"But we've only got one plan left to try."

"And any data we have that lets us fine tune it will be used."

"Truck One in sight of our destination!"

"Begin deployment. If anyone asks, it's a cell phone mast. Rest of the convoy, let's keep going. With any luck things will get too chaotic for anyone to bother us."

One of the trucks detached from the convoy, stabbed the ground with outrigger jacks, and let out three CATS engineers who began to repair the small-arms damage. On the radio, Micah continued his sermon.

"The weapon our Lord and Messiah will use to win the battle and slay the enemy? The Word of God itself! And while the reference to it as a sword may be symbolic, I hold that the description of the result of it is literal. The Word of God is sharp and powerful enough to slay the enemy, literally tearing them asunder."

"Never thought I'd say this, old man, but I damn well hope you're right for once."

Then, with a loud scream, Carpatescu ordered his troops to attack. The army surged toward the hill below Lionel and the others. Jet engines roared overhead. Machine guns rattled, cannons fired, grenades and rockets launched, and the remnant in Petra simply stared.

Seconds after the attack came, the pulsing cross in the sky disappeared. Darkness covered the land. A strange clacking sound drifted up from the desert, and Lionel realized the GC'S weapons weren't firing. No light came from vehicles or flashlights.

Thousands around Lionel whispered prayers, pleading for Jesus to return. ^

When the lights went out, Vicki grabbed Judd's arm and stood. They felt their way to the edge of the barbed-wire fence and listened to the anxious voices of the Unity Army officers. The woman Vicki had talked with had prayed with her and asked God's forgiveness for not seeing Jesus as her Messiah. The woman immediately began talking with other prisoners.

"Is this some kind of--?" Judd began, but he stopped.

Light.

Intense white light from heaven covered everything.

It was so bright that GC officers cried out even more than from the darkness.

Vicki glanced up at the thick cloud cover and gasped as it scrolled back. This is it! she thought. This is what we've been waiting for! But nothing came from her mouth. She and Judd fell to their knees in awe.

As heaven opened, a white horse appeared. On it sat Jesus, the Messiah, Creator of the universe, Son of God.

"Cameras?"

"We lost a few, let me switch angles.... there."

"He's here!"

"As soon as that light abates a bit and we don't fry the instruments - telescopic, spectroscopy, IR, UV, I want a full sensor profile. Any way we can get a PKE reading?"

"Boss, those are movie props, remember?"

"Given that they've been working for the last three months, I'll take it."

"...White-out across all instruments. I'll have to figure out filters, and..."

"Thanks. Get on it. To all vehicles! Let's hurry up! Jesus has come, look busy!"

Vicki's eyes were riveted on her Savior-- right in front of her, his eyes flashing, his head held high. He wore a white robe that stretched to his feet. On the robe were the words: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Around his chest was a golden band. In his right hand were seven stars, and his face shone like the sun. People--a crowd so big it was impossible to count--followed him on white horses.

An angel stepped forward, held out its arms, and beckoned to the birds saying, "Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, captains, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great."

Then Jesus spoke with a voice that shook the earth. "I am the Alpha and the Omega-- the beginning and the end."

Is everyone else seeing this? Vicki wondered. Is everyone on earth hearing what we're hearing? ^ Lionel was thrilled at the voice of Jesus. So this was why Bruce Barnes, Tzadok Bin-Jusuf, and others called it the Glorious Appearing.

Lionel wanted to reach out and thank the Lord for restoring his arm, for hearing his prayers, for saving him from his sins, for his love and justice -- for everything

When Jesus spoke his first words, Lionel glanced at the Unity Army as thousands of soldiers fell like a sea of dominoes. At first, it looked like their bodies sank into the sand, but as Lionel looked closer he noticed bodies ripping open and blood pouring out.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your benevolent overlord!" one of the RPV operators commented. "We should really broadcast this on loop on the antennas we're still in control of."

"No. If we fail - I want as many people as possible to go to Heaven, as sick as it is. Damage control."

"Telemetry, countermand that. Anyone who's not bus with updating the math for the speaker trucks, do broadcast that. Intersperse with GCNN if you have to, they don't need the ad revenue anymore anyway."

Lionel scanned the battlefield and was amazed at the amount of blood. Some soldiers saw their fallen comrades and were so upset they turned their guns on themselves. Others dug into the blood-soaked sand, trying to find a place to hide from the white light of God.

The army--at least those still alive--ran away from Jesus. But where were they going? Where could anyone go from the gaze of almighty God?

Lionel remembered comforting words from the Psalms: "I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! " Now that verse took on new meaning. Where could any enemy go to get away from God's judgment?

As the rest of the living fled, Lionel scanned the perimeter of Petra. For miles he saw dead and dying soldiers, holes in the sand where trucks and tanks lay buried, dead horses, and a few skeleton-like people walking in a daze. Above this awful scene circled a huge flock of birds. They flew to the bodies and began eating.

"We have a sensor profile, such as it is. Fire missiles?"

"Let's try it."

A radio packet went out, and a number of relays in Global Community missile-launching vehicles clicked. Nothing happened.

"They're all on manual override! Guess the actual fight is Carpatescu's show."

"You mean Satan."

"Whichever it is - sword charges? Cavalry? He actually disabled the fail-deadly setup on the missile launchers! He's got to be in league with God, set us up to fail."

"Or maybe we're just looking at superpowered beings with Bronze Age minds hashing it out. We're better than that. Let's try to be clever about it, okay?"

People around Conrad wept.

"Did you hear that?" Enoch said. "He used my name."

"He used my name too," Conrad said, still unable to believe it.

"He called me by name," Josey Fogarty said.

Charlie rushed to Conrad and Shelly. "He talked to me too" ^

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

The XO sat down on at the operator's post as soon as it was vacated. and barked into the radio for the convoy to split up for final positions.

Lionel had done a research project in middle school about how fast humans could run. He had come up with a maximum speed of 27 miles per hour for sprinters, and an average speed of between 15 to 20 mph for those running distances of any kind.

But there was no way he was going 15 miles per hour now. Or even 30. Objects on the ground were a blur! And it wasn't only healthy young people going fast--it was all ages. Youngsters just out of diapers ran next to Lionel. And Mr. Stein was not far away, grinning and laughing. God was providing the speed. All Lionel had to do was work his legs.

"It's like riding a bike for two" Mr. Stein called. "The Lord is the one doing the pedaling. We just have to get on and follow"

The sensation of running three and maybe four times as fast as a human had ever run made Lionel laugh out loud. His feet moved faster, but his strides, instead of being a yard, took in ten feet with each step. The amazing thing was, Lionel didn't feel out of breath. His strength kept coming like the manna that fell every day.

Thirty minutes later, Lionel and his friends neared the town of Bozrah. The rest of the million inside Petra had arrived as well, drawn to the scene by Jesus himself.

The Unity Army troops stood before them, looking haggard and tired. Huge sweat stains fouled their uniforms while the people from Petra looked like they had just returned from lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant.

"What happens now?" Lionel said.

Mr. Stein motioned to the depleted army. "I think they're foolish enough to attack."

"Assets?"

"We lost Five. Slam wagon good. Spare bridgelayer good."

"Ionization level?"

"With four trucks? Lower than threshold. We need to wait for another light show."

"We may not be able to - what if Jesus just casts Disintegrate from now on?"

"Dammit! Anything we can do?"

"We're just below threshold. Checking the math again, but we should lock this firmware and hope, we can't risk losing a truck to a-"

"Do it, do it! I'm almost caught up with the convoy."

The remaining medevac vehicle fell out of line with the convoy and stopped to pick up the stricken truck's driver.

LIONEL couldn't believe it when the Unity Army moved forward and unleashed everything they had on the unarmed men, women, and children. Soldiers at the front aimed guns and fired, while troops behind launched missiles, rockets, and mortars. The noise was deafening and the flash of fire was blinding, but every time a missile or rocket hit, even in the midst of the people, no one was hurt.

"We got the care package, what is this stuff?"

"Just put it on."

"It's not going to fool anybody."

"It just has to obviously not be a weapon. Put the disguises on."

Now the army fell like red sticks. Lionel couldn't tell whether Christ's judgment was coming from the air or from the earth as men and women who had pledged their lives to Carpatescu were cut down.

An aircraft of some sort screamed in and landed at the other side of the slaughtered army. It was a jet helicopter, and someone mentioned it was for Nicholae.

The firing stopped. Except for the chopper everything was deathly still. The craft lifted off and headed north, leaving the remnant to stare out on the valley of blood.

Sam touched Lionel's shoulder. "Look! The Lord Jesus is coming down."

The King of kings landed and dismounted from his white horse. He walked through the battlefield, the hem of his robe turning red from the blood of the enemy.

The army of heaven that hovered above him began to speak in unison, "who is this comes from Edam' from the city of Bozrah, with his clothing stained red? Who is this in royal robes, marching in the greatness of his strength?"

Jesus answered, "It is I, the Lord, announcing your salvation! It is I, the Lord, who is mighty to save"

"Why are your clothes so red, as if you have been treading out grapes?" they asked.

"I have trodden the winepress alone; no one was there to help me," Jesus said. "In my anger I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. It is their blood that has stained my clothes. For the time has come for me to avenge my people, to ransom them from their oppressors.

"What the - can you believe the gall - "

"Rhino, calm down. They waste time posturing, we set up the awesome, remember?"

"Foreman? A bit of good news."

"Good!"

"The wave of.... uh, disemboweling... we just replayed it. It spreads out at Mach 1."

There was cheering both in the convoy cabins and the control room. The Word of the Lord was indeed His weapon.

Lionel couldn't get over the sight of old men and women running so fast. In Petra these people had walked slowly, hunched over, some using canes, others walking from rock to rock, careful of their footing. Now they were upright, running faster than Olympic athletes.

They continued north, following Jesus, listening to his words. A portion of Carpatescu's army fell dead as Jesus passed them.

"Lionel, take my yoke upon you," Jesus said. "Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light."

Rhino growled and roared, interrupting the feed.

"Get off the radio! We're mad too! And calm the" static "down! Drive tank now. Punch face later."

Judd watched the soldiers huddle together to stay warm through the icy blast. When things warmed, a number of citizens strolled through the thousands of soldiers. Rebels still held the Temple Mount as far as Judd could tell, but the Unity Army seemed content to let them have it for now. A radio crackled with news that the potentate was on his way, and soldiers snapped to attention. Soon loudspeakers boomed Nicholae's voice through the area. "As we approach what many have referred to as the Eternal City, 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."

Another speaker truck peeled off the convoy; the ice blizzard that, in accordance with prophecy, had turned half the valley of Megiddo into a blood slushie forced Three to set up fifty meters away from the optimal position. Engineers quickly raised the converted radio mast, repaired what damage the system had suffered through its overland trip, and started using the last of the truck's fuel to top the batteries.

In seconds the earth buckled and swayed. Carpatescu's soldiers were swallowed through great cracks in the earth. ^

Conrad held on to Shelly while they rode out the huge earthquake together. Somehow the Global Community News Network managed to stay on the air and showed satellite pictures of the earth bathed in a light that originated from Jesus. In North America, a huge dust cloud hovered over Arizona, and reports that the Grand Canyon had been filled in and was now level brought oohs and aahs from their friends. Even more incredible was the shot over Nepal showing that Mount Everest and the mountain ranges surrounding it had crumbled and were now as flat as every other place on earth. Islands disappeared into the sea. Everything had been leveled except for the city of Jerusalem. Someone gasped and pointed up. Conrad glanced skyward and saw Jesus, who spoke in a loud voice. "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and that her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her in full for all her sins.

"Fill the valleys and level the hills. Straighten out the curves and smooth off the rough spots. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!"

"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!"

"He flattened my home! He flattened our beautiful Alps! What kinda bull-"

"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."

While Vicki loosed the prisoners, Judd smashed the vending machine and handed out food. Vicki wanted to look for more prisoners, but Judd thought it wouldn't be safe with the Unity Army still around.

"How long before we see the Messiah return to the Mount of Olives?" a skinny prisoner said to the others.

When no one answered Vicki said, "It has to be soon. It looks like he's already taken care of most of Carpatescu's troops."

Ehud ran away with the other prisoners while Judd and Vicki moved through a gate and toward a hillside. Judd thought she looked as happy as he had seen her in months.

"Why is the Mount of Olives so important?" Judd said.

Vicki started to answer. Then her jaw dropped. "Look, the remnant is moving this way." ^

Lionel left Sam and the rest of the remnant and jogged toward Jerusalem. When he reached the wall of the city, he climbed on top and scanned the area. Bodies lay strewn about the streets. Dead rebels were scattered among the bones of Unity Army soldiers. Surviving soldiers regrouped for another attack on the Temple Mount.

"Any way we can get an asset count for the Unity Army? We know that Jesus will only throw Carpatescu in Hell after they're all gone."

"None that would be accurate in realtime, Timeline. Positions?"

"Three out of four trucks in position, engineering vehicles and containment team escorting. I'm worried about the ionization, though - the hailstorm cleaned the air a lot."

Jesus dismounted as Carpatescu shouted the command to attack. As soldiers fired and horses galloped forward, Jesus' voice sounded like a trumpet. "I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS."

Immediately the Mount of Olives split in two. The newly formed chasm left Carpatescu and his army on one side, Jesus and the remnant on the other. The firing and galloping stopped. Soldiers screamed in agony, and their bodies burst open.

"Are we through?"

"We made it through. There's a small chasm, but we shouldn't have to deploy the bridge on it, the tanks can make it and the third truck is in position."

"Rhino, rig the bridge to drop."

"It'll take forever to recover if I do that, what if we have to cross more than one chasm?"

"We won't have time to recover it anyway. Rig it to drop."

Judd looked around at people from different backgrounds who spoke different languages. He put his head in his hands and whispered, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you for letting us be here at this moment."

When he looked up, five heavenly beings stood behind Jesus. Vicki nudged Judd and said, "The second one from the left is the one we saw in Wisconsin."

People around them spoke the angels' names. Nahum, Christopher, and Caleb had been angels of mercy, delivering some from certain death. The two other angels near Jesus were Gabriel and Michael.

Judd looked into Jesus' eyes, and something stirred in his heart. Jesus said, "Come to me, my child." Judd's mouth dropped open, and he put a hand to his chest. "Me?"

Jesus nodded.

Judd looked at Vicki. She and Lionel moved forward with him. The whole throng moved toward Jesus as he spoke to a million people individually. Incredible!

"Come to me, Judd, and I will give you rest."

Judd kept moving, wanting to run into the arms of Jesus like a child, but he couldn't stop thinking about his sin. He had been so selfish and felt dirty, as if Jesus might reject him.

But the Lord reached out with his scarred hands. "Come," he said softly.

Judd looked into Jesus' eyes--burning like fire and so loving. He ran into the arms of Christ and was gathered in.

"Judd, Judd, how I have looked forward to and longed for this day. 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."

Judd tried to speak but couldn't.

The fourth and last speaker truck peeled off from the bridgelayer tanks, setting up alongside the chasm, away from possible obstacles, just in sight of the Risen King. The engineers quickly dismounted, deployed the stabilizers, and started the Tesla coils. The smell of ozone replaced that of diesel and blood in the strangely still air.

Jesus gently pushed Judd back and looked him full in the face. Judd was only inches away from the King of kings. "I was there when you were born. I was there the night at the youth group when you decided you would go your own way." "Forgive me . . . ," Judd choked.

Vicki stared into the eyes of love and wept. "Vicki, I was there when you cried yourself to sleep. When your uncle caused you so much pain. I was there when your mother and father chose me and you rejected me."

"I'm so sorry. ..."

"I was there when you were left behind. I was there when you first met Judd. And I was waiting when you heard the truth and finally came to me."

Vicki cocked her head, and a tear ran down her cheek. "Oh, Lord, how can I thank you?"

"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."

The drone operator relayed a similar conversation between herself and Jesus, then stood up and, as if sleepwalking, went off. Now it was the Boss' turn to get mad.

"This... is the last abusive relationship you drag anyone into."

"...Boss, Rhino just... ran in."

"I would have in a minute, too. Okay! Final run! As soon as there's lightning or anything suitable, rev up for full ionization!"

Gabriel also spoke finally, saying, "The Lord is faithful; he will make you strong and guard you from the evil one."

At the mention of the evil one, the archangel Michael brought forth Nicholae Carpatescu, Leone Fortunati, and the three Carpatescu look-alikes--Ashtaroth, Baal, and Cankerworm--Vicki had seen on video a few months earlier. These were demonic creatures bent on deceiving the nations.

Gabriel leaned down to the three and said, "As a fulfillment of age-old scriptural prophecy, you kneel this day before Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.

"Advance!"

Rhino had barreled in with the spare bridgelayer, and the Boss had decided it safest to move in with the modified one. Three figures in brown burlap hoods, covering the glint of a yellow metal over their bodies, moved forth through the assembled believers, carrying a bar of gold wrapped in cloth, a censer full of olibanum, and a simple burlap sack replete with myrrh.

Michael grabbed the elbow of a defiant Carpatescu and spun him around. "Kneel before your Lord"

Carpatescu sneered and wrenched away from Michael.

Jesus said, "Lucifer, leave this man"

With that, the air seemed to go out of Nicholae. His hands and fingers became bony. He looked like a helium-filled balloon a week after the party, all shriveled and shrunken. When Gabriel ordered him to kneel, the potentate got on all fours.

As Nicholae lowered his head, Jesus said, "You became a willing tool of the devil himself. 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.

"In other word, asshat, he did exactly as you needed him to."

When Gabriel moved, a hole a yard in diameter opened in the ground, and a stinky smell burst forth. Flames erupted from the hole, and the crowd backed away. Michael walked Nicholae and Leone forward. Leone cried like a baby and tried to get away, but Michael pushed him into the fire, his cries fading as he fell. Then Michael pushed Nicholae in, and the man's screams echoed throughout Jerusalem. The hole closed, and the Beast and the False Prophet were gone.

"Ionization from the fire and flames! We're above threshold!"

"Hit it! Full power!"

In four strategic points around the former Mount of Olives, the converted radio towers began emitting a high pitched whine, purple lightning crackling from their tips, barely visible in the supernatural daylight.

The crowd shouted "Amen" and the multitude began worshiping and singing as Gabriel shouted, "Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand." The crowd cheered.

"He seized the dragon--that old serpent, the Devil, Satan--and bound him in chains for a thousand years."

People screamed, their hands raised.

"The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished."

Now the people seemed to quiet, then gasped in fear as the archangel Michael came forward with an enormous lion. Gabriel quieted them by saying, "But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won your fight with these false prophets, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world."

"Why are they providing their own narration?"

"Fits the personality profile."

Dressed in a passable Three Kings cosplay, the strike team kept moving. Behind Jesus' throne, the two bridgelayer tanks kept moving in from the sides.

The lion's roar shook the buildings around them. Vicki dipped her head and clamped her hands over her ears. When she looked again, the lion had transformed into a giant snake and coiled himself around Michael's arms and legs. Michael wrestled it to the ground, but then it turned into a dragonlike monster. Michael pulled a heavy chain from thin air and subdued the flame-snorting creature.

Finally, the dragon calmed and became an angel brighter than any behind Jesus. The chain slid to the ground in a pile, and the being argued with Michael.

Jesus took control and said, "Kneel at my feet."

"I will do no such thing" Lucifer hissed.

"Kneel."

Lucifer hunched his shoulders but knelt.

"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."

It looked like Lucifer tried to stand and speak, but he could do neither.

Jesus continued, "For all your lies about having evolved, you are a created being."

"Are we shutting that guy up?"

"No, it's all Him."

"How?"

"Not our way. We're good."

"Looks like Jesus doesn't grok actual paleontology either. We may have to not toss all our textbooks after all."

"Full ionization achieved! We can begin at any time."

"Let's let this play through. Let them fight and we'll handle the survivor."

Satan clenched his fists and shook his head. Jesus looked left where another hole opened and black smoke billowed. Michael moved to Satan with the chain. Satan fought him as a dragon, then a snake, and finally a lion. Michael struggled to chain the animal, picked him up under one arm, and flew into the smoky hole.

The crowd cheered but quieted when Jesus raised a hand.

But nobody heard what Jesus had to say. Instead, music began to play. Over it, an androgynous and somewhat nasal voice seemed to come from everywhere, explaining that the Custodial Arrangement of Telecommunication Systems had used heterodyning plasma transducers to turn the local atmosphere into a speaker, and nobody else could speak through it.

"... in short, how are you gentlemen? All your bass are belong to us."

The agents dressed like the Three Kings shed their cloth to reveal banded titanium armor underneath, and ran towards the angels escorting Jesus, who charged or took off in response.

Then Michael flew out of the hole holding a key. Satan and the chain were gone.

That's when the second bridgelayer tank, which had hastily parked itself next to the hole, dropped its bridge right on Michael's head, making him fall back down and closing the hole. The angels wrestled with the armored figures, a fourth having joined the fray after getting out of the tank; none of the attackers could touch Jesus, busy as they were wrestling with the angels, but after being pushed off by Raphael one of them managed to trip Jesus' horse, making it fall against a second engineering vehicle, this one carrying a box.

esus, the Rider, tunic immaculate, stood up and pointed at the iron chariot to speak Words of condemnation; in response, the box was flipped and thrown on top of Jesus by a pneumatic ram. The earth shook with an unseen and unheard explosion, barely contained by the contraption, and in that moment, the supernatural brightness gave way to the grey twilight of a solar eclipse.

After that, with a fifth and sixth person joining the brawl from the barrel tank, angelic strength quickly lost against modern armor and basic judo techniques.

The voice came again. "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, Gabriel too got beaned with a gold bar from behind.

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!"

The crowds slowly scattered, many of them going back to their homes.

Vicki took Lionel's hand in one hand and Judd's in the other, and they walked through the streets, now filled with green plants and trees. It was a brand-new world.

The field agents, battered and bruised from the fight with the angels, were slapping each other's back, trying to decompress.

"We made it! I don't believe it!" "Start believing it then, heathen! Haha!"

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

"Good! Worked well enough to deflect blows... So, what happens now?"

"We'll have to readjust, that's for sure. No idea, past that. Looks like enough people wanted vegetation to reappear that it's happening. Psychohistory said there was a lot of narrative causality sort of flapping about."

"So what do we do now, Foreman?"

"Get on with life, I guess. Me? Never have to answer that question again of anyone, I hope. I never wanted to be anybody's boss."

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

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

JUDD and Vicki took Lionel to Jamal and Lina's apartment and were surprised to find them preparing a huge meal. The two had escaped the Unity Army and had hidden near the Siloam Pool. They had fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat from a nearby market.

The engineering teams left the trucks idling and converged towards the containment area, to make sure the airless box Jesus was trapped in would remain so. All around the world, the Earth's crust began slowly rearranging back towards its natural state.

The angels were quickly rounded up, hogtied, and kept unconscious by means of blunt instrument. There would be a proper trial at some point... after someone decided who was to be the judge in it.

Their talk over the meal centered on Jesus and how his presence had changed things. Wild animals seemed tame and walked through the streets without attacking other animals. And the fruits and vegetables were said to ripen on the vine right in front of those who picked it. Lina and Jamal said they couldn't wait to see their children who had died, but they understood it might be some time before that happened.

"Why's that?" Lionel said.

"You know how there was a gap between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation?" Vicki said, taking a bite of steak. "It's the same with the Glorious Appearing and the beginning of the Millennium."

"How do you figure that?" Judd said.

"It's in Daniel's prophecy," Vicki said. "Something like seventy-five days. I can show you after dinner."

Jamal and Lina seemed impressed with Vicki's knowledge and wanted to know more. Vicki explained what she knew of prophecies from Daniel 12 and Ezekiel 40.

"So you're saying this seventy-five days is preparation time for Jesus?" Jamal said.

The Young Tribulation Force discussed Bible prophecy throughout the meal, seemingly content with the notion that Jesus was on His throne -- albeit inside a metal box -- and the world was going to get better. The best thing to do for now would be to wait the preparation time out.

The shortwave band was full of emergency reports and attempts to coordinate relief efforts, but broadcast frequencies were mostly empty, with the exception of a CATS broadcast explaining the outcome of the fight. As natural light or darkness slowly returned to the world, people -- believers and not -- walked outside, dazed by the sun or the stars returning after the madness. There would be a lot of work to do.

The conversation turned to when they would see those who had died during the Tribulation, and Lionel raised a hand. "I've been studying this one. From what Tzadok wrote and what I read in the Scriptures, we'll be seeing people like your kids --" he nodded to Jamal and Lina -- "at the same time the Old Testament saints are resurrected. Old Testament people like Moses and David and Daniel will rule with Christ during the next one thousand years along with martyrs who died during the Tribulation. "

"What about Christians who died before the Rapture?" Lina said.

"They were resurrected at the time of the Rapture," Lionel said. "They were part of the heavenly army behind Jesus. "

Vicki looked away. "Which means my mom and dad were there. It all seems so unbelievable, and yet we saw it today. "

"But my son and daughter, Kasim and Nada, they will be resurrected when?" Jamal said.

"Soon," Lionel said.

A few of the Young Tribulation Force were looking into signing up with a volunteer work brigade; this caused some debate, since most volunteer groups were still using Global Community vehicles and sometimes uniforms. Eventually, they found a Christian group that had decided to take on rerouting water pipes so that they could tap into the new springs. Oddly, CATS had capitulated quite readily in giving them equipmen - their main concern now was building a geodesic dome around Jesus' throne, which they were doing with incredible alacrity, the basic structure going up before the end of the day. Lionel wondered if this would later become the One Temple.

While most Christians wanted to return to their homelands, some had decided to wait near the Lord, to be present when He would conclude His preparations. The people guarding Him maintained a secure perimeter, but had no issues with it.

Conrad was so curious about what had happened to Global Community workers that he drove to a GC police station a few miles from Enoch's house. What he saw amazed him. All employees of Carpatescu had died -- presumably at the time Jesus spoke. Enoch taught that all unbelievers still alive would die soon.

Conrad, Shelly, and other members of the Young Trib Force had decided they would head toward Mount Prospect rather than toward Chicago with Enoch, but that changed when Enoch stood before the young people. He had just returned from a drive through Chicago.

"I know you've heard Jesus' voice just like I have," Enoch began-. "I've been asking him what we should do, especially since prophecy seems to ignore America. I thought we might try to rebuild this as a Christian nation, but the Lord made it clear he wants us with him."

Mount Prospect had suffered relatively little damage from the earthquakes, both coming and going. Given how many people were in Israel and wanted to return to their homeland, it was relatively easy for the Young Trib Force members to find transport - while large storms rising all over the globe were beginning to make air travel unsafe, all Conrad and Shelly had to do to fly in was agree to help with organizing exodus - a term that the CATS clerk was chided by Conrad about using - and accept that they would be among the last in line to come back. Conrad and Shelly readily agreed, and were told to be at the airport to help load relief supplies in two days.

Conrad and Shelly had taken a walk with Phoenix and now sat on a stone bench in the courtyard of the nearby mall. They had talked about Jesus the whole day.

"Do you think this is the end?"

"No, it's just the end of the beginning. Think about it, Shelly, we have eternity ahead of us!"

Phoenix, their puppy, abruptly stopped playing with the red-haired hippie that was doing performance art outside. Power had been restored, but not enough to run the air conditioning inside the mall - the large structure stood mostly empty as vendors that were selling or bartering what they had scavenged or built chose to stay outside it. The noise and movement made the young Christian couple feel they had more privacy, if anything.

"Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind. Have you drunk your fill?"

Conrad declined the hippie's offer of whatever beverage she was drinking, and carefully hugged Shelly even as Phoenix tried to climb up her leg.

Shelly held Phoenix on her lap, scratching under his collar. The dog's eyes closed with contentment, and Shelly leaned over to Conrad. "He's asleep now. You can kiss me if you'd like."

A week later, at Ground Minus One, the new containment chamber had opened to the public, the original box remaining to the side and connected to the new environment -- resembling a very spartan dorm room -- via an airlock. Powerful pumps ensured a hard vacuum, and a triple window allowed visitors to see Jesus. Above, a small alcove housed a rotation of lip-readers and a computer running speech to text software, so that prople might communicate with Jesus via text.

Jesus seemed aware of His environment, but mostly stuck to reciting Bible verses with small variations; the organized Remnant, led by Micah, had successfully petitioned CATS for a transcript. In the containment area, a small raised platform brought Jesus eye to eye with the spectators; His utterances were reported on a scrolling marquee above the window.

Today, the visiting area was mostly taken with Christian Remnants who wanted to see the Savior before returning to their homes; outside of the containment chamber, a disparate collection of whiteboards and corkboards was being used by volunteers to help try to get families and friends together, and handle travel efficiently.

Jesus stood at the front edge of the platform and spread his arms. "I will declare the decree. The Lord has said to me, "You are my Son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like day pots."

While nobody could hear Jesus speak, a LED marquee scavenged from an electronics store was providing a transcript, courtesy of a lip-reader and a typist in a small booth overlooking the platform. Below, people - mostly believers - were frantically taking notes. Outside the complex, a computer had been set up so that people who brought their own floppy disks could get a copy.

"Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God's royal Son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of your pursuits -- for his anger can flare up in an instant. But what joy for all who find protection in him!"

"I welcome you, one and all, to the kingdom I have prepared for you. Lionel, welcome."

Lionel could almost hear the Lord's voice in his mind - the few divine words he had heard burned brightly in his memory. Did this mean that the church's new dispensation was to estabilish a new kingdom here? The armed guards made the prospect unlikely at least - he'd have to ask Micah or one of the elders.

"I praise you, Lord," Lionel said.

And then the noise of reunions began. People swarmed through the crowd looking for anyone to hug. Some grabbed strangers and embraced. Others who found friends or relatives leaped into the air, hugging each other tightly.

For a while all sort of rumors flew - that the ten kingdoms were going to be reorganized into just five, given how few people remained in the world; that some folk, Christian or not, had found themselves able to perform miracles; that the specters of all who had died in the Lord's Supper were haunting the plains; and all sort of tall tales. What was obvious is that, save for the Valley of Jehosaphat which had been fortified pretty thoroughly by CATS workers, nobody was really in charge.

The haphazard logistic of the Global Community's final days meant that whatever supplies were left just about anywhere had to be bartered or traded, and so convoys organized via shortwave and CB. All the people who had been whisked to Isreal had to figure out a way home, too...

Vicki and Judd were getting ready to return to America, a trip which would have to be made by sea due to great unpredictable storms having grounded most air travel; they visited the containment chamber one more time, to seek Jesus' blessing. A small refugee camp that had grown around Ground Minus One was being emptied quickly due to an encroaching sandstorm that showed no sign of abating; CATS workers did their best to speed people along to semi-permanent shelter that had been built closer to the coast.

As families headed toward homes and living quarters, Judd talked about their future. He mentioned Vicki's idea about taking in children with no families.

Vicki stopped, noticing several children standing alone. A light caught her eye and she glanced at Jesus.

An older woman wearing a volunteer's sash butted in, and said that it'd be absolutely fantastic if Vicki and Judd wanted to help. "Thank you for caring again, I guess the spell's over." She winked, to their mild disapproval, and helped them lead the children towards the new shelters. Vicki was the first to follow along.

"What happens now?" she asked the woman.

"Don't know. Damn happy about not knowing, too. Anything, if we're that lucky!"

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Page last modified on April 12, 2016, at 11:40 PM