Mac McCullum scanned the Petra
perimeter with high-powered field glasses. Rayford
should have reached him by now.
Mac’s watch showed 1300 hours—one in the afternoon, Carpathia Time. It had to be more than a hundred degrees
Fahrenheit. Sweat ran down his neck from the grayish red hair peeking out from
under his cap, soaking his shirt. Mac detected not even a wisp of wind and
wondered what his freckled, leathery face would look like in a few days.
Without taking his eyes from the lenses, Mac unholstered his phone and punched in the connection to
Chang Wong in the computer center. “Where’s Ray?”
“I was about to ask you,” Chang said. “He left here
forty-five minutes ago, and no one else has seen him either.”
“What do we hear from Buck?”
Mac noticed the hesitation. “Nothing
“Uh, Rayford heard from him late
Another beat. “Nothing to speak of.”
“What’re you sayin’, Chang?”
“I gathered. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing that won’t be cured in a little—”
“I don’t need double-talk, buddy.” Mac continued surveying
the rocky slopes, feeling his pulse quicken despite his years and experience.
“If you won’t tell me, I’ll call him myself.”
“Well, who else?”
“I’ve tried. My sensor shows his phone inoperable.”
“Unlikely, Mr. McCullum.”
“Well, I should guess so. Malfunctioning? Damaged?”
“I’m hoping the former, sir.”
“Global Positioning System active, at
* * *
had not slept, and after only two light meals of manna, he expected to feel the
fatigue. But no. The best he could calculate, this was
the day. He felt the swelling anticipation in both his head and his chest. It
was as if his mind raced as his heart ached for the greatest event in the
history of the cosmos.
The old man’s senior advisers, a half-dozen
elders, sat with him deep in the stone compound of Petra.EleazarTiberias, a broad
globe of a man, offered that the million-plus pilgrims under their charge “are
clearly as restless as we. Is there nothing we can tell them?”
“I have an activity in mind,” Chaim
said. “But what would you have me say?”
“I am newer to this than you, Rabbi, but—”
“Please,” Chaim said, raising a
hand. “Reserve such a title for Dr. Ben-Judah. I am merely a student, thrust
continued, “I sense the populace is as eager as I to know the exact moment of
Messiah’s return. I mean, if it is, as you and Dr. Ben-Judah have for so long
taught, seven years from the signing of the covenant between Antichrist and Israel,
does that mean it will be to the minute? I recall the signing being at around
four in the afternoon, Israel
time, seven years ago today.”
Chaim smiled. “I have no idea. I
do know this: God has His own economy of time. Do I believe Messiah will return
today? Yes. Will it trouble me if He does not appear until tomorrow? No. My
faith will not be shaken. But I expect Him soon.”
“And this activity you mentioned?”
“Yes, something to occupy the minds of
the people while we wait. I came across a videodisc of a dramatic sermon
from before the turn of the century by an African-American preacher, long since
in heaven, of course. I propose calling the people together and showing it.”
“The Lord may come while it is playing,” an elder said.
“So much the better.”
“There remain unbelievers among us,” Eleazar
Chaim shook his head. “I confess
that puzzles and disturbs me, but it also fulfills prophecy. There are those
who enjoy the safety of Petra, even
many who believe Jesus was the most influential person who ever lived, who have not yet put their faith in Him. They do not recognize
Him as the long-awaited Messiah, and they have not acknowledged Him as their
Savior. This sermon is also evangelistic. Perhaps many of the undecided will
take their stand before Messiah appears.”
“Better than waiting until the event itself,” someone
“Gather the people for a two-o’clock showing,” Chaim said, rising. “And let’s close in prayer.”
“Begging your pardon,” Eleazar
said, “but do you feel the absence of Dr. Ben-Judah as keenly as I do?”
“More than you know, Eleazar.
Let’s pray for him right now, and I will call him in a few minutes. I would
love to share his greeting with the people and hear what has been happening in Jerusalem.”
* * *
Mac’s magnified vision fell upon colorful, metallic pieces
glinting in the sun, perhaps a mile from his position. Oh no.
A red fuel tank and a tire looked very much like parts
from Rayford’s all-terrain vehicle. Mac tried to
steady his hands as he panned in a wide arc, looking for signs of his friend. It
appeared the ATV could have been hit by a heat-seeking missile or smashed to
bits by tumbling. Perhaps, he thought, no sign of Rayford
nearby was good news.
Mac raised Chang again. “Sorry to be a nuisance,” he said,
“but what does your sensor say about Ray’s phone?”
“I was afraid you’d ask. It’s inoperable too, but its GPS
is still pulsing. My screen shows it deep in a narrow crevasse a little over
forty-five hundred feet below you.”
“I’m heading down there.”
“Wait, Mr. McCullum.”
“I’ve got a lens pointed that way, and there’s no room in
the opening for a person.”
“You can see the phone?”
“No, but I know it’s there. It can be the only thing
there. The opening is too narrow for anything else.”
“So have you seen his ATV too?”
“Well, I have. If that phone is due south of me, look
about twenty degrees east.”
“Hang on . . . I see it.”
“But no sign of Ray, Chang. I’m
going to look.”
“Sir? Could you send someone
“Why? I’m twiddling my thumbs here. Big Dog One has the
troops under control.”
“Frankly, I’d rather you go to Jerusalem.”
“You gonna tell me what’s goin’ on?”
“Come see me, Mr. McCullum. I
was honoring the confidence of Captain Steele, but I think you—and Dr. Rosenzweig—should know.”
Mac arrived at the tech center, deep in the bowels of Petra,
a few minutes after one-thirty in the afternoon. Chaim
rose to meet him while Chang acknowledged him with a look but kept turning back
to his numerous screens. Finally Chang pulled away and the three sat, far from
the ears of others. Mac noticed, however, that many techies and others
frequently stole glances in their direction.
“There’s no delicate way to say this,” Chang began.
“Captain Steele told Naomi and me this morning that Mr. Williams had told him
that Dr. Ben-Judah was killed in the fighting at Jerusalem.”
Chaim buried his face in his
hands. “I hope he did not suffer terribly,” the old man said.
“With Captain Steele missing now and—”
“What? Him too?”Chaim said. “And I am unable to raise Cameron on the phone
. . . ”
“I felt you both should know. I mean, I know this may all
be moot by this time tomorrow.”
“Perhaps even by four this afternoon,” Chaim
said. “The question now is what to say, what to do.”
“Nothin’ we can do,” Mac
said. “I’ve got Abdullah Smith looking for Ray. Chang here thinks I ought to go
Chaim looked up in apparent
“I do,” Chang said. “From the looks of what’s left of his
vehicle and his phone, odds are all Mr. Smith is going to find are Captain
Steele’s remains. I’m sorry to be so blunt.”
“But a flight to Jerusalem now?”Chaim said. “Just to see whether Cameron—”
“It’s what I would want if it was me,” Mac said. “I know
he may be dead, and either way, Jesus is comin’, but
with Tsion gone, I’d just as soon get Buck outa there and back here with us.”
“Even for as little as an hour,” Chaimsaid, more a statement than a question.
“Like I say, that’s what I’d want.”
“And what do we tell the people?” Chaim
Minutes later, Mac was in Gus Zuckermandel’s
quarters. He filled in the young man on his plans. “And here’s the hard part,
Zeke. I want to leave in ten minutes.”
“Can you give me twenty?”
“What’ve you got, Z?” Mac said, as the forger yanked open
a file drawer, riffled through several folders, and slapped one open on his
“Your new identity,” Zeke said, moving to a closet, which
he opened with a flourish. There were two dozen black-on-black Global Community
Unity Army uniforms, from tinted eye-shield helmets to calf-length boots. “Find
one that fits while I’m working on your documents. Don’t forget the gloves.
Nobody’s checking for marks of loyalty anymore anyway, but just to be safe.”
“How do you do this, Z?” Mac said, approaching garments
that looked his size.
“With lots of help. Sebastian’s
boys have killed a few of ’em, and I got me a little
crew that runs out and gathers up their stuff—papers, clothes, and all.”
When Mac emerged with the uniform a perfect fit, he found
Zeke mixing some sort of a brew.
“You look good, Mac,” he said. “Problem is, you got to be black.”
“And you can manage that in a few minutes?”
“If you’re game.”
“Whatever it takes.”
Mac whipped off his helmet, jacket, shirt, and gloves.
Zeke used the mix to paint him dark brown from the shoulders to the hairline.
“Keep the helmet on, “’cause I haven’t got time to make the hair authentic.”
“And let’s do your hands, just in case.” Zeke dyed Mac’s
skin from mid-forearm to fingertips. “This should dry in two and a half
minutes. Then an instant photo, and you’re on your
way. Give my best to Buck and Tsion.”
Mac hesitated. “You betcha.
Zeke, you’re a genius.”
The younger man snorted. “Just here to serve.”
Mac was sprinting to a chopper when he reached Abdullah
Smith by phone.
“Nothing yet, Mac. I will let you
know as soon as I discover anything.”
As Mac lifted off, he saw multitudes streaming from all
corners of Petra and gathering at
the central meeting place.
* * *
Chaim was alarmed at the mood of the
throng. It was the biggest crowd he had ever drawn at Petra,
and it was noisy, clearly preoccupied, antsy. He heard
nervous laughter, saw lots of embracing. When one or two would look to the
skies, hundreds—sometimes thousands—would do likewise.
“My beloved brothers and sisters in Messiah,” he began,
“as well as the seekers and undecided among us. Please try to quiet yourselves
and settle for a moment. Please! I know we all expect the imminent return of
our Lord and Savior, and I can think of no greater privilege than to have Him
appear as we speak. But—”
He was interrupted by thunderous applause and cheering.
Chaim gestured that they should
be seated. “I share your enthusiasm! And while I know that there will be
nothing else on your minds until He comes, I thought there might be value in
focusing specifically on Him this afternoon. I know there remain among us many
who are withholding their decisions about Him until He appears. Consider this
my last effort to persuade you not to wait. We do not know what may befall us
at that moment, whether God will allow scoffers and mockers and rejecters to
change their minds. Pray He will not harden your heart due to your rebellion or
unbelief. Surely there has been more than enough evidence than anyone could
need to reveal the truth of God’s plan.
“While we watch and wait, consider the thoughts of a great
preacher from decades past. His name was Dr. Shadrach MeshachLockridge, and his message is entitled ‘My King Is .
. . ’”
Chaim signaled for the disc to
play, and it was projected off two white walls of smooth stone, each several stories
high, where all could see it. The sound system carried it to the ends of the
Lockridge proved to be animated
and thunderous, interrupting his own cadence of shouts and growls with whispers
and huge smiles. The disc caught him near the end of his sermon, and he was
picking up steam.
“The Bible says my king is a seven-way king. He’s the king
of the Jews; that’s a racial king. He’s the king of Israel;
that’s a national king. He’s the king of righteousness. He’s the king of the
ages. He’s the king of heaven. He’s the king of glory. He’s the king of kings.
Besides being a seven-way king, He’s the Lord of lords. That’s my king. Well, I
wonder, do you know Him?”
Hundreds of thousands applauded, and many stood, only to
sit again as Lockridge continued.
“David said, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and
the firmament showeth His handiwork.’ My king is a
sovereign king. No means of measure can define His limitless love. No
far-seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply. No barrier can hinder Him from pouring
out His blessings.
“He’s enduringly strong. He’s entirely sincere. He’s
eternally steadfast. He’s immortally graceful. He’s infinitely powerful. He’s
impartially merciful. Do you know Him?”
Many shouted their agreement.
“He’s the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the
horizon of this world. He’s God’s Son. He’s the sinner’s Savior. He’s the
centerpiece of civilization. He stands in the solitude of Himself. He’s honest
and He’s unique. He’s unparalleled. He’s unprecedented.
“He is the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest
personality in philosophy. He is the supreme problem in higher criticism. He’s
the fundamental doctrine of true theology. He’s the core, the necessity for
spiritual religion. He’s the miracle of the ages. Yes, He is. He’s the
superlative of everything good that you choose to call Him. He’s the only one
qualified to be our all-sufficiency. I wonder if you know Him today.”
As the preacher continued, more and more listeners stood,
some raising their hands, others shouting agreement, others nodding.
“He supplies strength for the weak. He’s available for the
tempted and tried. He sympathizes and He saves. He strengthens and sustains. He
guards and He guides. He heals the sick. He cleanses the leper. He forgives the
sinner. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captive. He defends the feeble.
He blesses the young. He serves the unfortunate. He regards the aged. He
rewards the diligent. And he beautifies the meek. I wonder if you know Him.
“Well, this is my king. He’s the key to knowledge. He’s
the wellspring of wisdom. He’s the doorway of deliverance. He’s the pathway of
peace. He’s the roadway of righteousness. He’s the highway of holiness. He’s
the gateway of glory. Do you know Him?
“Well, His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His
life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His
love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is
righteous. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I wish I could describe
Him to you.”
That elicited an ocean of laughter and more applause. The
same had happened with his original audience, and Lockridge
had paused, allowing it to fade before he continued.
“He’s indescribable. He’s incomprehensible. He’s
invincible. He’s irresistible. Well, you can’t get Him out of your mind. You
can’t get Him off of your hand. You can’t outlive Him and you can’t live
without Him. The Pharisees couldn’t stand Him, but they found they couldn’t
stop Him. Pilate couldn’t find any fault in Him. Herod couldn’t kill Him. Death
couldn’t handle Him, and the grave couldn’t hold Him. That’s my king!”
Everyone was standing now, hands raised, many applauding,
shouting, some dancing.
“And Thine is the kingdom and
the power and the glory forever and ever and ever and ever! How long is that?
And ever and ever! And when you get through with all the forevers,
then amen! Good God Almighty! Amen!”
* * *
By the time Mac found himself within
sight of the rocky Judean hills where Jerusalem
lay smoking in the early afternoon sun, he had begun to despair of finding
Buck. If he was all right, would he not have borrowed a phone to check in? The
latest intelligence from Chang was that Buck had reported Tsion’s
death to Rayford from inside the OldCity.
Though the colossal armies of the world—now amalgamated
into Carpathia’s Global Community Unity
Army—stretched by the multimillions from north of Jerusalem to Edom, it was
clear from the air that the current major offensive focused on the Old City.
Mac looked for a place to land. He had to look like a GC
officer on assignment and head on foot to the OldCity as if he knew what he was
doing. In fact, he didn’t have a clue. The OldCity was only a third of a mile
square. And if he found Buck alive, what was he to do? Arrest him and muscle
him to the chopper? Finding Buck dead or alive, Mac decided, would be like
discovering a patch of dry ground in the Louisiana
Mac’s phone chirped, and he saw
it was Chang. “Give me some good news.”
“Such as Buck’s dead phone all of a sudden started showin’ his position.”
“No such luck. But I do have something. Carpathia’s on the rampage about the destruction of New
Babylon, and he’s taking heat from all over the world.”
“Everybody who depended on New Babylon is crying over the
loss. I’m picking up televised reports from everywhere of leaders, diplomats,
businessmen—you name it—literally weeping, decrying what’s become of New
Babylon and their own interests. Some are committing suicide right on camera.”
“No way the GC isputtin’ that stuff on the air.”
“No, they aren’t, but yours truly still has his
“Attaboy, Chang, but how does
that help me find Buck?”
“You’re not going to find Buck, Mr. McCullum.”
“What? You know that for sure?”
“I’m just stating the obvious.”
“Ye of little faith.”
“Sorry. But I figured as long as you’re there and
undercover, you might want to know where Carpathia
“I don’t care where he is. I’m here to find Buck.”
“All right then.”
“But just for smiles, where is he? Last I heard he was on
a bullhorn outside Herod’s Gate. Moved there from his bunker
near the Sea of Galilee.Unless they were just broadcasting his
“No, it was him all right. He’s moved his entire command
post inside the OldCity.”
“Impossible. I’m lookin’ down on
it right now, and the place is crawling with—”
“I thought so too until I heard where. Underground.”
“You don’t mean—”
“How do I get in there?”
“Follow somebody. Carpathia’s
got an entire regiment there, and I got your new name on the list.”
“That might not have been prudent, Chang.”
“What if I choose not to go, am
discovered missing, and someone sees me elsewhere?”
“Well, there is that possibility, yes. Tell ’em you’re on your way.”
“What if I’m not? I mean, I’d love to be your eyes and
ears here, Chang, but my priority is Buck. And nothin’
we know about Carpathia now is going to amount to a
hill of beans anyway. What’sgonna
happen is gonna happen. Can you get me off that
“Not without looking suspicious. Sorry, Mr. McCullum. I thought I was doing the right—”
“Don’t worry about it. None of it will matter tomorrow,
Mac saw GC activity and other choppers putting down at the
Tombs of the Prophets, south of the Mount of Olives,
east of the OldCity.
Caravans of jeeps quickly loaded the disgorged personnel and raced them toward
the conflict. As soon as Mac stepped out of his copter at ,
an officer directing traffic pointed him to an armored personnel carrier. Mac
saluted and jogged that way. He joined a dozen other like-uniformed soldiers,
who merely nodded at each other, tight-lipped, and rode in stony silence.
The cavalcade headed north on Jericho
Road and turned west in front of the RockefellerMuseum onto Suleiman
“We headed to Herod’s Gate?” someone said.
“Is it open?” someone else said.
“Damascus Gate,” the driver announced.
As they passed Herod’s Gate Mac joined the others in
pressing against the windows on the south side of the vehicle. Somehow the
resistance continued to hold the gate.
“If you’re assigned to the potentate,” the driver said,
“follow me to the entrance to the stables. Everybody else head for the staging
area at the Church of the Flagellation. When we have enough personnel, we’ll
attack the insurgents from behind and blow ’em out
Mac felt himself swelling with pride over what Tsion and Buck had apparently accomplished before the rabbi
was killed. If they had been at Herod’s Gate, they were responsible for helping
hold that position against overwhelming odds. And neither of them battle
Mac assumed Buck would agree that Tsion
would not want his body removed from the OldCity. He only hoped Buck had found
an appropriate spot for the rabbi. Bodies fallen in an active battle had a way
of getting trampled beyond recognition. That wouldn’t matter tomorrow either,
but Mac knew he and Buck would be on the same page.
Mac found himself fighting anguish. No way Buck would let them worry and wonder for this long. Surely
he could have found a way to check in if he was alive.
When the vehicle stopped and the driver gave the order,
Mac and the soldiers got out and moved as directed. Mac dropped several paces
behind his group and phoned Chang, speaking quietly. “Anything?”
“I’m not going to succeed, am I?”
“What do you want to hear, sir?”
“I’m past pretending, Mr. McCullum.”
“I appreciate that. Maybe I should just proceed to my
“To the compound?”
“Yeah. I know I should have my
head examined, but I’d love to be with ol’ Nick when
Jesus gets here.”
* * *
Chang felt Naomi’s strong fingers on either side of his neck.
“You’re tense,” she said.
“Aren’t you?” he said.
“Relax, love. Messiah is coming.”
Chang couldn’t turn from the screens. “I’d like to lose no
one else before that. No matter how much I tell myself they’ll be dead only a
short while, it all seems so pointless now. I don’t want anyone hurt, let alone
suffering, then dying. Mr. McCullum’s going was my
“But he sure jumped on it, didn’t he?”
“I knew he would. I wish I could have gone.”
“You know this place can’t function without your—”
“Don’t start, Naomi.”
“You know it’s true.”
“Regardless. I sent him for my own vicarious thrill. No
way he’s going to find Buck, and if he does, Buck will
be dead. Then what’s Mac supposed to do? If he gets found out, he’s history. And for what? He could be here watching for the return with
Naomi pulled a chair next to Chang and sat. “What do you
hear from Mr. Smith?”
Chang sighed. “That’s turned out to be a waste of time and
manpower too. So far he hasn’t found a thing. Either Captain Steele was
obliterated by a missile or he was buried in the sand.”
“Could he have crawled to safety?”
“There’s no safety in that sun, Naomi.”
“That’s what I mean. Maybe he found shelter or built
himself some shield against the heat.”
Chang shrugged. “Best-case scenario, I guess. But wouldn’t
he think to leave some sign for us?”
“Maybe he was hurt too badly or simply had no resources.”
“He could arrange sticks or rocks, even a piece of
“If he was able,” Naomi said.
Chang’s phone made them both jump. “Yes, Mr. Smith?”
“I’m on his trail. He was on the move for a while, at
“What did you find?”
“Blood, I’m afraid.”