For the first time since takeoff, Rayford Steele
had second thoughts about his and Abdullah
Smith's passenger. "We shouldn't have brought
her, Smitty," he said. He stole a glance at Abdullah
behind the controls.
The Jordanian shook his head. "That's on you,
Captain, I am sorry to say. I tried to tell you how
important she was to Petra."
The darkness enveloping only New Babylon,
but visible from more than a hundred miles, was
unlike anything Rayford had ever seen. By the
time Abdullah initiated the descent of the Gulfstream
IX toward Iraq, the clock read 1200
hours, Palace Time.
Normally the magnificent structures of the new
world capital gleamed stunningly in the noonday
sun. Now a stark and isolated column of blackness
rose from New Babylon's expansive borders
into the cloudless heavens as high as the eye
Chang Wong was Rayford's mole inside the
palace. Trusting the young man's assurances that
they would be able to see where others could
not, Rayford traded glances with Abdullah as he
guided the craft into the dark from the whiteness
reflecting off the desert sand. Abdullah flipped
on his landing lights.
Rayford squinted. "Do we need an ILS
"Instrument landing system?" Abdullah said.
"Don't think so, Captain. I can see enough to
Rayford compared the freakish darkness to the
beautiful day they had left in Petra. He peeked
over his shoulder at the young woman, whom he
expected to look afraid. She didn't. "We can still
turn back," he said. "Your father looked reluctant
when we boarded."
"That was probably for your benefit," Naomi
Tiberias said. "He knows I'll be fine."
The teenage computer whiz's humor and self-confidence
were legendary. She seemed shy and
self-conscious around adults until she got to
know them; then she interacted like a peer. Rayford
knew she had brought Abdullah up to speed
in computer savvy, and she had been in nearly
constant touch with Chang since the lights went
out in New Babylon.
"Why is it dark only here?" Naomi said. "It's
"I don't know," Rayford said. "The prophecy
says it affects 'the throne of the beast, and his
kingdom became full of darkness.' That's all we
Rayford's every visit to Petra had found
Naomi growing in influence and responsibility
among the Remnant. She had emerged early
as a technological prodigy, and as she taught
others, Naomi had become the de facto head
of the vast computer center. Quickly rising from
go-to person to the one in charge, she'd finally
become the teacher who taught teachers.
The center that had been designed by Chang's
predecessor, the late David Hassid, was now
the hub that kept Petra in touch with more than
a billion souls every day. Thousands of computers
allowed that many mentors to keep up with
Tsion Ben-Judah's universal cyberaudience.
Naomi personally coordinated the contact
between Chang in New Babylon and the Tribulation
Force around the world.
Having her join the flight to rescue him from
New Babylon had been Chang's idea. Rayford
had initially rejected it. He had enough trouble
assigning himself the task of traveling more than
seventy-five hundred miles from San Diego to
Petra, then having Abdullah fly him the last five
hundred miles to New Babylon. Combat-trained
George Sebastian was better suited, but Rayford
thought the big man had been through enough
for a while. There was plenty for him to do in
San Diego, and anyway, Rayford wanted to save
George for what Dr. Ben-Judah called the "battle
of that great day of God Almighty," now less
than a year off.
Mac McCullum and Albie, stationed in Al
Basrah-little more than two hundred miles south
of New Babylon-stood ready. But Rayford had
other things in mind for them.
Rayford's son-in-law and daughter, Buck and
Chloe Williams, both wanted in on the extraction
of Chang from the enemy lair-no surprise-but
Rayford was convinced Buck would soon
be more valuable in Israel. As for Chloe, the International
Commodity Co-op always suffered when
she was away. And somebody had to be there for
"Store and grab all the equipment you need
while I'm en route, Chang," Rayford had said,
the phone tucked between his shoulder and ear
as he packed. "Smitty and I will come get you
in a couple of days."
Chang had explained that the job was too big
and that he and Naomi working together could
get him out of there that much faster. "I don't
want to miss a thing. She can help. I want to be
able to monitor this place from anywhere."
"Don't worry," Rayford said. "You'll get to
see her face-to-face soon enough."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Her father is one of the Petra elders, you
"Only the two of them are left in the family.
He's very protective."
"We both have too much work to do."
"I'm not kidding, Captain Steele. Please bring
her along. It's not like I haven't seen her on-screen
"So, what do you think?"
"I told you. We have a lot of work to do."
* * *
Rayford felt a tug on the back of his copilot's
chair as Naomi pulled herself forward. "Can
Mr. Smith see to land?"
"Not sure yet," Rayford said. "It's as if someone
painted our windows brown. See if you can
raise our boy."
Chang was to be sure the New Babylon runways
were clear, but he couldn't talk by phone
Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins 5
from there for fear someone would overhear.
Naomi pulled a small, thin computer from an
aluminum box and attacked the keys.
"Avoid runways 3 left and 3 right," she said.
"And he wants to know which you choose so
he can be there to meet us."
Rayford glanced at Abdullah. "He's serious,
"Tell him the tower is closed, and it's not like
we were going to announce our arrival anyway.
We can't see which runway is which from up
here, so he's going to have to give us coordinates
"Hold on," Naomi said, keyboarding again.
"He's attached everything you need." She
passed the machine to Rayford and pointed at
the attachment. "It is voice activated. Just tell
it what you want."
"It'll recognize my voice?" Rayford said,
studying the screen.
"Yes," the computer intoned.
"Attachment, please," Rayford said.
A detailed grid appeared with an aerial view
of the New Babylon airfield.
"I'll set the coordinates for you, Smitty,"
Rayford said, reaching to program the flight
"This thing will do everything but cook a
meal for you, Captain Steele," Naomi said.
"You have an infrared port?"
"I assume. Do we, Smitty?"
Abdullah pointed to a spot on the control
"Here," Naomi said. "Let me." She leaned
over Rayford's shoulder and pointed the back
of the computer at the port. "Ready to land,
Captain?" she said.
"Initiate landing sequence," she said and hit
"Runway choice?" the computer asked.
Naomi looked at Rayford, who looked to
Abdullah. "Does that thing recognize even my
accent?" the Jordanian said.
"Yes," the computer said. "Congestion on
runways 3 left and 3 right. Please select from
runways 11 or 16."
"Eleven," Abdullah said.
"Left or right?" the computer said.
"Left," Abdullah said. "Why not?"
Abdullah engaged the left autopilot and lifted
his hands from the controls. "Thank you," he
"You're welcome," the computer said.
Six minutes later the Gulfstream touched
* * *
At just after one o'clock in the morning in San
Diego, Buck bolted upright in bed.
Chloe stirred. "Go back to sleep, hon," she
said. "You stood watch three straight nights.
He held up a hand.
"You need your sleep, Buck."
"Thought I heard something."
The tiny walkie-talkie on the nightstand
chirped. Sebastian's telltale code. Buck grabbed
it. "Yeah, George."
"Motion detector," Sebastian whispered.
Now Chloe sat up too.
"I'll check the periscope," Buck said.
"Carefully," Sebastian said. "Don't raise or
"Roger. Anybody else aware?"
Chloe was already out of bed and had pulled
on a sweatshirt. She unlocked a cabinet, removed
two Uzis, and tossed one to Buck as he headed
for the periscope next to Kenny's tiny chamber.
He set the weapon on the floor, dropped the
walkie-talkie into his pajama pocket, and bent
to peer into the viewer. As his eyes adjusted to
the darkness he was aware of Chloe opening and
closing Kenny's door. Going on four years old,
Kenny slept longer but less soundly than he
"He out?" Buck said, eyes still glued to the
"Dead to the world," Chloe said, draping
a sweater around Buck's shoulders. "As you
"Wish I was," Buck said.
"I should think so." She rested her palms
on his shoulders. "What do you see?"
"Nothing. George doesn't think I ought
to rotate the scope. It's facing west at ground
level. I'd love to elevate it about six inches and
let it give me a three-sixty."
"He's right, babe," she said. "You know it's
got that whine when it moves. Anybody out
there could hear it."
"I don't think anybody is out there," Buck
said, pulling away and rubbing his eyes.
She sighed. "Want a chair?"
He nodded and returned to the periscope.
"Could have been an animal. Maybe the
Chloe pressed a chair behind his knees and
guided him into it. "That's why you should just
"Oh no," he said.
He put a finger to his lips and pulled out the
walkie-talkie. "George," he whispered. "Six,
seven, eight, nine. Nine uniformed, armed GC
directly above to the west."
"Not much. Kicking at the vents. They look
bored. Maybe something caught their eye on the
"I'd have to raise or rotate."
"Negative. Any more?"
"Can't tell from this angle. No more coming
past. Only three left in sight now."
"Listen for engines."
Buck sat silent a moment. Then, "Yeah, there's
one. And another."
"I hear 'em," George said. "Must be leaving.
Can I come over?"
"Tell him no," Chloe whispered.
* * *
What palace personnel Rayford could make
out in the eerie sepia-toned landscape through
the cockpit window appeared to be in agony.
Chang had told him that the people writhed and
moaned, but a jet screaming onto the runway
also clearly terrified them. They had to think
it was about to crash, as some had on runways
3 left and 3 right.
It was as if the people had given up trying to
see. Anyone near the Gulfstream IX had stumbled
in the darkness to get away from it, and
now they huddled here and there.
"That has to be Chang," Rayford said, pointing
to a slight Asian hurrying toward them and
gesturing wildly to open the door.
"Let me get that, Miss Naomi," Abdullah
said, unstrapping himself and climbing past her.
As he pushed the door open and lowered the
steps, Rayford saw Chang turn to a small group
of men and women in dark jumpsuits feeling
their way along behind him.
"Keep your distance!" he shouted. "Danger!
Hot engines! Leaking fuel!"
They turned and hurried away in all directions. "How did it land?" someone
"It's a miracle," another said.
"Did you all remember rubber-soled shoes?"
Chang said, reaching to help them off the plane.
"Nice to meet you too, Mr. Wong," Abdullah
Chang shushed him. "They're blind," he
whispered. "Not deaf."
"Chang," Rayford began, but the boy was
shyly greeting Naomi. "All right, you two, get
acquainted back at the ranch. Let's do what we
have to and get out of here."
* * *
"Should I change?" Buck said when he saw
Sebastian in fatigues.
"Nah. I always wear these on watch. Let me
have a look." He peered through the periscope.
"Nothing. Want to raise and rotate it, Buck?"
"Be my guest."
"Clear. False alarm."
Chloe snorted. "Don't be saying that to put me
at ease. At least nine GC were out there, and for all
we know there were more, and they'll be back."
"Hey," Sebastian said, "why not assume the
best and not the worst?"
"Maybe I am," she said. "Priscilla and Beth
Ann sleep through this?"
He nodded. "I might not even tell Priss, so I'd
"If I didn't either? Makes sense, George. Let
the little woman carry on, oblivious to the fact
that it's time to move," said Chloe.
"Move?" Buck said. "I can't even imagine it."
"Then we sit here and wait till they find us,
which they may already have?"
"Chloe, listen," Buck said. "I should have let
you take a look at those guys. They weren't even
suspicious. They were probably talking about
how this used to be a military base. They weren't
tense, weren't really looking. They just saw the
vents and checked them out, that's all."
Chloe shook her head and slumped in a chair.
"I hate living like this."
"Me too," Sebastian said. "But what're our
options? GC found an enclave of people without
the mark yesterday in what's left of LA. Executed
more'n two dozen."
Chloe gasped. "Believers?"
"Don't think so. Usually they'll say if it's
Judah-ites. I got the impression it was some
militia holdouts, something like that."
"Those are the people we're trying to reach,"
Chloe said. "And here we all sit, unable to show
our faces, raising babies who hardly ever see the
sun. Isn't there somewhere in the middle of
nowhere where the GC wouldn't even know we
"The next best thing is Petra," Buck said.
"They know who's there, but they can't do a
thing about it."
"That's starting to sound more attractive all
the time. Anyway, what are we going to do about
what just happened?"
Buck and Sebastian looked at each other.
"Come on, guys," Chloe said. "You think
Priscilla doesn't know you're gone and isn't going
to ask where you've been?"
"She knows I was on watch."
"But you don't come over here unless something's
"I'm hoping she slept through it."
Chloe stood and moved to Buck's lap. "Look,
I'm not trying to be cantankerous. Buck, tell
"Chloe Steele Williams is not trying to be cantankerous,"
"Good," Sebastian muttered. "Coulda fooled
Chloe shook her head. "George, please. You
know I think you're one of the best things that's
ever happened to the Trib Force. You bring gifts
nobody else has, and you've kept us from disaster
more than once. But everyone living here deserves
to know what you guys saw tonight. Not telling
people, pretending it didn't happen, isn't going to
change that we came this close to being found out."
"But we didn't, Chloe," Sebastian said.