Rayford Steele worried about Mac McCullum's silence in the cockpit ofGlobal Community One during the short flight from New Babylon to Tel
Aviv. "Do we need to talk later?" Rayford said quietly. Mac put a finger to
his lips and nodded.
Rayford finished communicating with New Babylon ground and air
traffic control, then reached beneath his seat for the hidden reverse
intercom button. It would allow him to listen in on conversations in the
Condor 216's cabin between Global Community Potentate Nicolae Carpathia,
Supreme Commander Leon Fortunato, and Pontifex Maximus Peter Mathews, head
of Enigma Babylon One World Faith. But just before Rayford depressed the
button, he felt Mac's hand on his arm. Mac shook his head.
Rayford shuddered. "They know?" he mouthed.
Mac whispered, "Don't risk it until we talk."
Rayford received the treatment he had come to expect on initial
descent into Tel Aviv. The tower at David Ben Gurion cleared other planes
from the area, even those that had begun landing sequences. Rayford heard
anger in the voices of other pilots as they were directed into holding
patterns miles from the Condor. Per protocol, no other aircraft were to be
in proximity to the Condor, despite the extraordinary air traffic expected
in Israel for the Meeting of the Witnesses.
"Take the landing, Mac," Rayford said. Mac gave a puzzled glance
but complied. Rayford was impressed at how the Holy Land had been spared
damage from the wrath of the Lamb earthquake. Other calamities had befallen
the land and the people, but to Rayford, Israel was the one place that
looked normal from the air since the earthquake and the subsequent
Ben Gurion Airport was alive with traffic. The big planes had to
land there, while smaller craft could put down near Jerusalem. Worried
about Mac's misgivings, still Rayford couldn't suppress a smile. Carpathia
had been forced not only to allow this meeting of believers, but also to
pledge his personal protection of them. Of course, he was the opposite of a
man of his word, but having gone public with his assurances, he was stuck.
He would have to protect even Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah, spiritual head of the
Not long before, Dr. Ben-Judah had been forced to flee his homeland
under cover of night, a universal bounty on his head. Now he was back as
Carpathia's avowed enemy, leader of the 144,000 witnesses and their
converts. Carpathia had used the results of the most recent Trumpet
Judgments to twice postpone the Israel conference, but there was no
stopping it again.
Just before touchdown, when everyone aboard should have been
tightly strapped in, Rayford was surprised by a knock at the cockpit door.
"Leon," he said, turning. "We're about to land."
"Protocol, Captain!" Fortunato barked.
"What do you want?"
"Besides that you refer to me as Supreme Commander, His Excellency
asks that you remain in the cockpit after landing for orders."
"We're not going to Jerusalem?" Rayford said. Mac stared straight
"Precisely," Fortunato said. "Much as we all know you want to be
Rayford had been certain Carpathia's people would try to follow him
to the rest of the Tribulation Force.
Fortunato left and shut the door, and Rayford said, "I'll take it,
Mac shifted control of the craft, and Rayford immediately
exaggerated the angle of descent while depressing the reverse intercom
button. He heard Carpathia and Mathews asking after Fortunato, who had
clearly taken a tumble. Once the plane was parked, Fortunato burst into the
"What was that, Officer McCullum?"
"My apologies, Commander," Mac said. "It was out of my hands. All
due respect, sir, but you should not have been out of your seat during
"Listen up, gentlemen," Fortunato said, kneeling between them. "His
Excellency asks that you remain in Tel Aviv, as we are not certain when he
might need return to New Babylon. We have rented you rooms near the
airport. GC personnel will transport you."
* * *
Buck Williams sat in the bowels of Teddy Kollek Stadium in Jerusalem with
his pregnant wife,Chloe. He knew she was in no way healed enough from
injuries she suffered in the great earthquake to have justified the flight
from the States, but she would not be dissuaded. Now she appeared weary.
Her bruises and scars were fading, but Chloe still had a severe limp, and
her beauty had been turned into a strange cuteness by the unique reshaping
of her cheekbone and eye socket.
"You need to help the others, Buck," she said. "Now go on. I'll be
"I wish you'd go back to the compound," he said.
"I'm fine," she insisted. "I just need to sit a while. I'm worried
about Hattie. I said I wouldn't leave her unless she improved or became a
believer, and she has done neither." Pregnant, Hattie Durham had been left
home fighting for her life against poison in her system. Dr. Floyd Charles
attended her while the rest of the Tribulation Force--including new member
Ken Ritz, another pilot--had made the pilgrimage to Israel.
"Floyd will take good care of her."
"I know. Now leave me alone a while."
* * *
Rayford and Mac were instructed to wait on the plane as Carpathia,
Fortunato, and Mathews were received with enthusiasm on the tarmac.
Fortunato stood dutifully in the background as Mathews declined to make a
public statement but introduced Carpathia.
"I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to be back in Israel,"
Carpathia said with a broad smile. "I am eager to welcome the devotees of
Dr. Ben-Judah and to display the openness of the Global Community to
diverse opinion and belief. I am pleased to reaffirm my guarantee of safety
to the rabbi and the thousands of visitors from all over the world. I will
withhold further comment, assuming I will be welcome to address the honored
assemblage within the next few days."
The dignitaries were ushered to a helicopter for the hop to
Jerusalem, while their respective entourages boarded an opulent motor coach.
When Rayford and Mac finished postflight checks and finally
disembarked, a Global Community Jeep delivered them to their hotel. Mac
signaled Rayford not to say anything in the car or either of their rooms.
In the coffee shop, Rayford finally demanded to know what was going on.
* * *
Buck wished Chloe had been able to sleep on the flight from the States. Ken
Ritz had procured a Gulfstream jet, so it was the most comfortable
international flight Buck had ever enjoyed. But the four of them--Ken,
Buck, Chloe, and Tsion--had been too excited to rest. Tsion spent half the
time on his laptop, which Ken transmitted to a satellite, keeping the rabbi
in touch with his worldwide flock of millions.
A vast network of house churches had sprung up--seemingly
spontaneously--with converted Jews, clearly part of the 144,000 witnesses,
taking leadership positions. They taught their charges daily based on the
cyberspace sermons and lessons from the prolific Ben-Judah. Tens of
thousands of such clandestine local house churches, their very existence
flying in the face of the all-inclusive Enigma Babylon One World Faith, saw
courageous converts added to the church everyday.
Tsion had been urging the local congregations to send their leaders
to the great Meeting of the Witnesses, despite warnings from the Global
Community. Nicolae Carpathia had again tried to cancel the gathering at the
last minute, citing thousands of deaths from contaminated water over a
third of the world. Thrilling the faithful by calling Carpathia's bluff,
Tsion responded publicly on the Internet.
"Mr. Carpathia," he had written, "we will be in Jerusalem as
scheduled, with or without your approval, permission, or promised
protection. The glory of the Lord will be our rear guard."
Buck would need the protection almost as much as Tsion. By choosing
to show up and appear in public with Ben-Judah, Buck's position as
Carpathia's publishing chief would be over, and so would be his exorbitant
salary. Showing his face in proximity to the rabbi's would confirm
Carpathia's contention that Buck had become an active enemy of the Global
Rabbi Ben-Judah himself had come up with the strategy of simply
trusting God. "Stand right beside me when we get off the plane," he said.
"No disguises, no misdirection, no hiding. If God can protect me, he can
protect you. Let us stop playing Carpathia's games."
Buck had long been anonymously broadcasting his own cyberspace
magazine, The Truth, which would now be his sole writing outlet.
Ironically, it enjoyed multiples of the largest reading audience he had
ever had. He worried for his safety, of course, but more for Chloe's.
Tsion seemed supernaturally protected. But after this conference,
the entire Tribulation Force, not to mention the 144,000 witnesses and
their millions of converts, would become open archenemies of the
Antichrist. Their lives would consist of half ministry, half survival. For
all they had been through, it was as if the seven-year tribulation had just
begun. They still had nearly five years until the glorious appearing of
Christ to set up his thousand-year reign on earth.
What Tsion's Internet missives and Buck's underground electronic
magazine had wrought in Israel was stunning. The whole of Israel crawled
with tens of thousands of converted Jewish witnesses from the twelve tribes
all over the world.
Rather than asking Ken Ritz to find an out-of-the-way airstrip
where the Tribulation Force could slip into the country unnoticed, Tsion
informed his audience--and also, of course, Carpathia & Co. --of their
Ken had landed at the tiny Jerusalem Airport north of the city, and
well-wishers immediately besieged the plane. A small cadre of Global
Community armed guards, apparently Carpathia's idea of protection for
Tsion, would have had to open fire to get near him. The international
witnesses cheered and sang and reached out to touch Tsion as the
Tribulation Force made its way to a van. The Israeli driver carefully
picked his way through the crowd and south down the main drag toward the
holy city and the King David Hotel.
There they discovered that the Supreme Commander Leon Fortunato had
summarily bounced their reservations and several others' by supremely
commandeering the top floor for Nicolae Carpathia and his people. "I assume
you have made provisions for our alternative," Tsion told the desk clerk
after half an hour in line.
"I apologize," the young man said, slipping Tsion an envelope. The
rabbi glanced at Buck and pulled him away from the crowd, where they opened
the note. Buck looked back at Ken, who nodded to assure him he had the
fragile Chloe in tow.
The note was in Hebrew. "It is from Chaim," Tsion said. "He writes,
`Forgive my trusted friend Nicolae for this shameful insensitivity. I have
room for you and your colleagues and insist you stay with me. Page Jacov,
and you will be taken care of.'"
Jacov was Chaim Rosenzweig's driver and valet. He loaded their
stuff into a Mercedes van and soon had the Tribulation Force installed in
guestrooms at Chaim's walled and gated estate within walking distance of
the Old City. Buck tried to get Chloe to stay and rest while he and Ken and
Tsion went the stadium.
"I didn't come here to be on the sidelines," she said. "I know
you're concerned about me, but let me decide what I'm up to."
At Kollek Stadium, he was as stunned as the others at what had been
arranged. Tsion was right. It had to have been God who used the rabbi's
cyber pleas to pull together Israeli witnesses to handle the logistics of
this most unlikely conference.
In spite of and in the midst of global chaos, ad hoc committees had
arranged transportation, lodging, food, sound, interpretation, and
programming. Buck could tell Tsion was nearly overcome with the streamlined
efficiency and no-frills program. "All you need worry about, Dr.
Ben-Judah," he was told, "is being prepared to inspire and inform us when
you are due at the microphone."
Tsion smiled sadly. "That and praying that we all remain under the
care of our heavenly Father."
* * *
"They're onto you, Rayford," Mac said over pita bread and sauce.
Rayford shook his head. "I haven't been a mystery to Carpathia for
months. What are you talking about?"
"You've been assigned to me."
"I don't rate direct contact with the big man anymore. But last
night I was called to a meeting with Leon. The good news is they're not
"That is good. But they know about the device on the plane?"
"He didn't say, but he couldn't have been clearer that you're
history. If the device still works--"
"--then I'll use it and keep you posted."
"Where will I be?"
"Anywhere but here, Ray. I'm convinced the driver was listening,
the car may have been bugged, the cockpit, no question about our rooms."
"They hope I'll lead them to the others, but they'll be in plain
sight in Jerusalem."
"They want to keep you from the others, Ray. Why do you think
we've been assigned to Tel Aviv?"
"And if I leave?"
"I'm to let them know immediately. It'll be the end of you, Ray."
"But I've got to see my family, the rest of the Force."
"Not here. Carpathia's pledge is to protect Tsion and the others.
"They really think I won't go to Jerusalem?"
"They hope you will. You must not."
Rayford sat back and pursed his lips. He would not miss the job,
close as it had brought him to what was going on in the camp of the enemy.
He had long wondered how the end would come to this bizarre season of his
life. "You're taking over?"
Mac nodded. "So they tell me. There's more good news. They like and
"He's been put in charge of purchasing. Beyond all the computer
stuff he's been doing, he contracts for all major purchases. Even in
Rayford squinted. Mac pulled a yellow sheet from his jacket and
slid it across the table. "Don't tell me he's bought me a plane," Rayford
Mac snorted. "Should have thought of that. You know those little
handheld electronic organizers? David ordered a half dozen specially built.
He doesn't even know yet that he won't be seeing you around anymore."
"I can't steal these, not even from Carpathia."
"You don't have to steal them, Ray. Those are just the specs and
where to get 'em. They're not cheap, but wait till you see what these
babies can do. No more laptops for you guys. Well, maybe the rabbi still
needs a keyboard, but these things are solar powered, satellite connected,
and contain geographic positioning chips. You can access the Internet, send
and receive, use them as phones, you name it."
Rayford shook his head. "I suppose he thought of tracer blocks."
Rayford stuffed the sheet into a pocket. "What am I going to do, Mac?"
"You're going to get your tail out of this hemisphere, what else?"
"But I have to know about Amanda. Buck will tell me only
face-to-face, and he's in Jerusalem."
Mac looked down. "You know how that's going to go, Ray. I'd be the
last one to try to tell a man about his own wife, but you know as well as I
do that everything points to what you don't want to hear."
"I haven't accepted it yet, but I have to know."
"Buck found out for sure?"
"Sounds like it."
"How can he be sure?"
"I told you about Hattie."
"So ask her yourself, Ray. Go home."
"Like I wouldn't be noticed trying to slip out of here tomorrow
"The GC can't keep track of everything. Use your people's pilot,
Ritz is it? What's he got to do the next few days?"
Rayford looked at Mac with admiration. "You're not as dumb as you
look, old timer."
Mac pulled a phone from his pocket. "Know his number?"
"Your phone scrambled? If I get detected talking to Ken Ritz on
either of our phones--"
"You are dumber than you look if you think I'd risk
that. I know the purchasing guy, remember?" Mac showed Rayford the phone, a
generic model that had been doctored by David Hassid.
Rayford dialed Chloe's phone. "Daddy!" she exulted. "Are you here?"
* * *
Buck considered it a privilege to pray with the Israeli committee before he
and Ken and Tsion headed back to find Chloe. He threw his arm around Tsion.
"Are you as tired as I am?"
"Exhausted. I only hope the Lord will allow me to sleep tonight. I
am ready to share his message with these dear members of the family, and
all that is left before that is to talk with Eli and Moishe. You will go
with me, will you not?"
"I wouldn't miss it."
"Me either," Ken said.
But the news from Chloe changed Ken's plans. "Daddy called," she
whispered. "He needs a ride home tomorrow."
After she explained Rayford's situation, Ken decided to get the
Gulfstream out of the Jerusalem Airport and into Ben Gurion that night.
Buck was nearly despondent, wanting to talk to Rayford personally. "At
least he can hear the truth about Amanda from the horse's mouth," he said.
An hour later Jacov drove as they delivered Ken to the airport. "We
will see you back here Friday," Tsion said, embracing him.
Chloe fell asleep on Buck's shoulder during the after-dark ride to
the Temple Mount. The spectacular new temple gleamed on the horizon. "I do
not even want to see the new structure," Tsion said. "It is an abomination."
"I can't wait to meet the witnesses," Chloe said.
"You may not actually meet them," Tsion cautioned. "These are
heavenly beings with their own agenda. They may communicate with us; they
may not. We approach them with great caution."
Buck felt the usual tingle to the soles of his feet. "You know the
Chloe nodded. "I'm not saying I'm not scared."
The three slowed as they approached the typical crowd that gathered
thirty feet from the wrought iron fence, behind which the witnesses stood,
sat, or spoke. Usually they spoke. No one had seen them sleep, and none
dared get closer. Threats on the lives of the two witnesses had ended in
the ugly deaths of would-be assassins.
Buck's excitement masked his fatigue. He worried about Chloe but
would not deny her this privilege. At the edge of the crowd of about forty,
Buck was able to see past the fence to where Eli sat Indian style, his back
to the stone wall of a small building beyond the fence. His long hair and
beard wafted softly in the breeze, but he was unmoving, unblinking, his
leathery skin and burlap-like garb appearing to meld.
Moishe stood two feet from the fence, silent, unmoving, staring at
the crowd. Occasionally someone shouted. "Speak! Say something!" But that
made others back away, obviously fearing the violent reactions they had
heard of. Moishe's feet were spread, his arms loose at his sides. Earlier
in the day Buck had monitored on his computer a long monologue from Moishe.
Sometimes the two traded off speaking, but this day must have been all
"Watch them carefully," Buck whispered to Chloe. "Sometimes they
communicate without opening their mouths. I love how everyone understands
them in his own language."
Commotion near the front caused several people to back away,
opening a gap in the crowd. Someone said, "Carpathia! It's the potentate!"
Tsion held up a hand. "Let us stay right here," he whispered.
Buck was riveted as Leon Fortunato smoothly supervised GC guards
who kept gawkers from Carpathia. The potentate appeared bemused, boldly
moving to within ten feet of the fence. "Hail, Potentate!" someone shouted.
Carpathia half turned, holding a finger to his lips, and Fortunato nodded
to a guard, who stepped toward the crowd. They backed away further.
"Stay here," Buck said, slipping away.
"Honey, wait!" Chloe called, but Buck moved around behind the crowd
and into the shadows.
He knew he would appear to the guards as simply someone leaving.
But when he was far enough away to be ignored, he doubled back through
shrubbery to where he could see Carpathia's face as he stared at Moishe.
Carpathia appeared startled when Moishe suddenly spoke in a loud
voice. "Woe unto the enemy of the Most High God!"
Nicolae seemed to quickly collect himself. He smiled and spoke
softly. "I am hardly the enemy of God," he said softly. "Many say Iam the Most High God."
Moishe moved for the first time, crossing his arms over his chest.
Carpathia cocked his head and studied Moishe, his chin in his hand. The
ancient witness spoke softly, and Buck knew only he and Carpathia could
"A sword shall pierce your head," Moishe said in a haunting
monotone. "And you shall surely die."
Buck shivered, but it was clear Carpathia was unmoved. "Let me tell
you and your companion something," he said through clenched teeth. "You
have persecuted Israel long enough with the drought and the water turned to
blood. You will lift your hocus-pocus or live to regret it."
Eli rose and traded places with Moishe, beckoning Carpathia closer.
The potentate hesitated and looked back to his guards, who tentatively
raised their weapons. Eli spoke with such volume that the crowd dispersed
and ran, and even Tsion and Chloe recoiled.
"Until the due time, you have no authority over the lampstands of
The guards lowered their weapons, and Fortunato seemed to hide
behind them. Carpathia's smirk remained, but Buck was convinced he was
seething. "We shall see," he said, "who will win in the end."
Eli seemed to look through Carpathia. "Who will win in the end was
determined before the beginning of time. Lo, the poison you inflict on the
earth shall rot you from within for eternity."
Carpathia stepped back, still grinning. "I warn you to stay away
from the charade of the so-called saints. I have guaranteed their safety,
Eli and Moishe spoke in unison. "He and she who have ears, let them
hear. We are bound neither by time nor space, and those who shall benefit
by our presence and testimony stand within the sound of our proclamation."
Buck thrilled at the message and looked beyond the square to where
Tsion stood with Chloe. The rabbi thrust his fists in the air as if he had
gotten the message, and he walked Chloe back toward the car. Buck ducked
out of the shrubs and headed around the other way, arriving in the parking
lot seconds later.
"Did you hear that?" Tsion said.
Buck nodded. "Incredible!"
"I didn't get it," Chloe said. "What were they saying?"
"Did it sound like Hebrew to you?" Tsion said. "They spoke in Hebrew."
"I heard it in English," she said.
"Me too," Buck said. "They said that he or she who had ears
"I heard," Chloe said. "I just don't understand."
"That is the first time I ever heard them add `or she,'" Tsion
said. "That was for you, Chloe. They knew we were here. We did not have to
approach them, did not have to identify ourselves, did not have to face
Carpathia before we were ready. We did not even have to discuss with Eli
and Moishe plans for their appearance at the stadium. They said that those
who would benefit by their presence and testimony stood within the sound of
"They're coming?" Chloe said.
"That is what I gather," Tsion said.
"At just the right time."