by Kaol

I stood for a moment and leafed through my worn paperback of Roger Crymes' One Thousand Edible Plants and tried to match up the bush I was standing by with one displayed in the book. I was no expert, but I couldn't find a match. Glancing at the bright red berries that dangled seductively from the branches, I shook my head. Though admittedly hungry, I wasn't that hungry. If I got poisoned now, there would be no one to help. I moved on.

It hadn't taken me long to learn how to scavenge food for myself. Once the supermarkets had been picked clean, I'd had to learn to find food in the wild. Necessity is the mother of invention, and food is one hell of a necessity.

I stopped by the next bush and plucked a few of the tiny fruit into my mouth. I'd eaten this kind before. My diet had become largely vegetarian once I discovered that plants don't run away as fast as animals. My hands worked swiftly, robbing the bush of its fruit and stuffing them into my open pockets and mouth. When the plant was picked clean, I resumed my hike while continually popping the tiny fruit into my mouth.

As I walked, I pondered over what to do next. This forest which I'd entered seemed to go on forever. Therefore, I'd likely have no trouble finding food. The ground was soft and wet, which suggested to me that water was doubtless nearby as well. I began to question if this might not be a good place for me to settle for awhile. I was tiring of constantly wandering. I needed to rest. But no. I had to keep going. I needed to find a settlement. My body was still fit, but if I didn't find other people soon I feared my mind would not be. The constant quiet was getting to me.

I jumped as a sudden scream burst through my tranquillity. Damn! People! Or one anyway. A real, live human! And in trouble from the sound of it. I dropped a handful of berries and raced off in the direction from which the scream had come. My heart beat rapidly with joy, fear, and fatigue. The scream came again. It was a definite cry of panic. I crouched over further, my arms wildly beating away at the strong branches and vines that fought to halt my progress. I seemed to be running forever, though I knew it was likely less than a minute. I burst through the tangled foliage into a marshy clearing. Directly ahead of me, not thirty feet away, was the source of the screams. It was a girl. She was facing me, but was oblivious of my presence. She had her gaze locked on the earth that was impolitely hugging her waist. Evidently, she had stumbled into quicksand.


I spun around and stepped back into the woods, searching for a long tree branch. Frantically my hands tore through the undergrowth, looking for a limb not soft with decay. Finding one, I grabbed it up and ran towards the girl.

When I was within six feet of her, the ground would no longer support my weight. The oozy mud was now up to her heaving chest, and was hungrily sucking her down with each passing moment. I screamed at her, "Hey! Hey! Here! Stop moving around so much! Grab this!"

She stopped screaming then and turned in frightened amazement towards me. "Oh, thank you, God! Oh Lord, thank you! Praise you!" she cried, and extended her arms shakily out for the branch which I extended.

It was too short.

"Oh no!" she cried. "Quick! Help me! Don't let Satan do this to me!" The quicksand had greedily moved up around her shoulders, and the mud around her quivered and shimmied as she shuddered.

I whirled about in a panic myself. I could hardly think. There was no time to find another pole; she was sinking too fast. I snapped my head back and forth, looking for another way to free her.

"Oh God, please help me!"

I felt my heart descend into my stomach as I realized what I'd have to do. Standing at the edge of the bog, I lifted the pole above my head and rammed it into the soft soil. I then leaned my weight on it, driving it in deeper.

I turned back to the girl. "I'm coming in after you. Get your arms free and grab onto me so I can pull us out."

She was silent now, the mud licking at her chin like an unwanted lover. I watched her filth encrusted arms slowly rise from the mire, and then, taking a deep breath, I threw my body in after her. My one hand around the stick squeezed it tightly as I felt the clammy muck swallow up my legs. I grimaced and fought off my own panic. As an afterthought, I noticed my eyes had closed. Forcing them open, I stretched out my hand towards the girl. Her head was tilted back to keep her mouth clear of the mud, but she had only moments left. Her hands were blindly lashing out, clenching and unclenching, flailing for mine. I reached out and wrapped my fingers around her wrist and gave it a small tug upwards. This helped raise her from the mire ever so slightly, but pushed me in deeper. I tested my grip on the stick. If it came out we would really be in deep, well, what we were in.

Slowly, much more slowly than I desired, I began coaxing her body through the muck towards me. It was tedious work, for the quagmire was quite thick. But at long last I was able to slip my arms about her shoulders and pulled her next to me. We were now both up to our chins in the mud and far from free.

I said, "I'm going to try to get us out now. You'll have to hold on to me. If you let go, I can't help you. Understand?"

She nodded in reply.

I swung my body around and curled the other hand around the stick. I pushed down on it while at the same time pulling us out. If I pulled too hard, the stick might snap, so once again I had to force myself to be patient as I worked at extracting our bodies.

The quicksand did not seem to want to let us go. It felt as though it was thickening, congealing about our flesh. It had worked hard for this meal, and did not wish to give us up so easily. Gradually though, my patience was rewarded, and with a wet, slobbery sound, our bodies began to move up and out of the mire.

When I was waist high, I grabbed the shore and pulled the rest of my and the girl's body free. I collapsed, exhausted, with the girl still leeched onto my back. I lay there for a few minutes, trying to regain my breath, and felt my breakfast fight to come up.

My breakfast won, and I rolled away from the mess and pulled the unconscious girl over to a tree. From what I could tell, she was quite pretty, but it was difficult to say with any degree of certainty, as she was caked with a layer of mud and clay. Actually though, it looked good on her, in a way. It caused her clothing to cling to her in a way I appreciated.

I shook my head. Then it dawned on me to check her pulse. I bent over to do so, but my heart was beating so fast that I couldn't tell if hers was beating at all. I stared at her. It looked like she was breathing. I considered giving her mouth-to-mouth, which I felt might prove beneficial -- at least to me.

After a couple minutes her eyes flickered open and she rolled her head over towards me and smiled.

I smiled back. Good, a friendly type, I thought. Maybe a little mouth to mouth might still be in today's schedule.

"You saved my life," she said in admiration.

Oh god, I thought. She's gonna be putty in my hands. I decided to play it humble. "Yeah, I guess so. How do you feel now?"

"Okay, I guess. But tired." She seemed to remember something then, and a shadow passed over her face. "What were you doing in these woods anyway?"

I shook my head and gave a fraction of a grin. "Don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm no gang member or nothing. I'm a solo, trying to stay alive. I was just eating my brekkie when I heard you screaming, s'all."

She'd obviously run into trouble before, because she continued to eye me suspiciously. "How come you risked your life to save me then? You don't even know me."

"Look, perhaps you haven't noticed, but there ain't exactly a surplus of people around here. And to be honest, unattached women are even more a rarity. I wasn't going to let the first person I've seen in three weeks disappear without first stopping to say hello. Shoot, I don't even know your name. What do you go by?"


"Well, Angie, I'm James. Pleased to meet you. So anyway, what are you doing here?"

She glanced away from me at that. It seemed there were some things she wasn't in the mood to reveal.

"Ah, I see," I said. "You can have secrets, but I can't." It was my turn to become suspicious. "What's going on here?" I demanded.

"I'm just on my way someplace."

"Someplace where?"

She looked at me haughtily. "If you don't know, then perhaps I'd best not tell you."

I was beginning to get a little pissed. So much for the grateful puppy dog I had hoped for. "Now come on here. Like you said, I risked my life for you. You can at least tell me what you're doing around here."

"Okay, you want an explanation? How's this? Paul gave me a computer chip that I have to deliver to the Commander so that we can destroy the world. But Satan doesn't want that, so he tried to drown me in that quicksand. Satisfied?"

"Jesus christ!" I exclaimed. "I said I wanted an explanation, not a creative writing exercise. If you don't want to tell me the truth, fine, I don't care that much anyway."

She sighed. "Okay. I was just out like you, looking for some breakfast. I saw a bush across the way, and when I ran across towards it, I took a wrong step and ended up in that soup."

"Finally!" I mumbled. "Why did you have to make such an issue out of it?" I paused then. "Do you know this area very well? Did you pass a river anywhere? I'd like to clean this stuff off before it hardens even more."

She stiffly stood up. "I passed a river a little ways back. Come on this way." She began limping through the woods.

I decided to try to reestablish a little of the rapport we shared when I first saved her life. "So, Angie, could you tell me exactly where we are?"

She called over her shoulder. "Kentucky. Or what used to be Kentucky, anyway. I don't suppose it really matters anymore. It will all be gone soon."

"Aw, don't be such a pessimist. Things don't look too hot right now, but it'll all work out. Look at us...we're alive. And we're not the only ones. It may take the world awhile to get on its feet again, but it will."

I saw the back of her head shake. "I'm afraid not. We had our chance, but it's over. It was over three months ago. It just takes awhile for old Mother Earth to realize she's dead." She glanced back at me and smiled. "See, the brain is dead, but its just takes awhile for the body to know it. Although," she added. "That quicksand seemed to be alive and kicking."

"Look," I grunted. "Don't think that way. I hate it when people think that way. You want to roll over and die? You sure seemed interested enough in life a few minutes ago."

She twisted her head back again. "I said the Earth was dead. I didn't say I was." She looked forward. "We're here."

We stepped from the forest onto a sandy shore. Ahead of us lay a bright, tumbling river.

"This is the Dannell River," she said, and strolled to the edge. "Let's get cleaned off."

For a brief moment I had a fleeting hope that she was going to take her clothes off and jump in. No such luck. She walked in with her clothes on and let the current wash away the dirt. I stepped in, following her example. The cool water felt wonderful as it massaged my muscles and lifted the dirt from my clothes. I lay there awhile, and then climbed out onto a large rock to dry off. Angie came over and lay down beside me. I bit my lip. She really was an attractive girl. It really was lucky for her that she had run across me, as a lot of the guys still around would have actually done to her what I was only thinking about.



"Where are you from?"


"Oh...I heard it fell back into the sea."

"It did. But I was gone already."

"Oh." She rolled onto her side and stared at me intently, as if trying to figure out a puzzle. She spoke again, "James, do you believe in Jesus Christ?"

Oh god! I groaned inwardly. Not one of those! My eyes darted to where the telltale pendant would be, and sure enough, there it was dangling on her neck. I was blind not to have noticed it before. She wore the oval with a cross inside. The sign of the Revelationists. I moaned, "You're a Rev, aren't you?"

This was clearly not the answer she had hoped for. She looked disappointed. "Yes, I am."

"And do you really believe all that crap about all this stuff happening to us because Jesus has come again to judge the world?"

Quietly. "It's true."

That did not sit well with me. I don't know why, but religious types have always put a bug up my butt. "Look, Angie, it ain't true! It was a natural disaster. A turn of an unfriendly card. God had zip to do with this. Is that why you're giving up? Damn! That's a helluva God you have there. He zaps half the world and expects the rest to roll over and play dead?" I jammed my finger out at her. "You play dead if you like, but they ain't taking me without a fight!"

Angie stared patiently at her feet during my tirade. It looked like I'd hurt her feelings. Religious freak or not, she was the only company for miles around, and I'd artfully managed to alienate her. Oh, I was a professional all right.

"Look," I continued. "Maybe I was too strong in what I said. Don't take it personally. It just makes me mad to see someone like you give up on life. If I didn't like you I wouldn't have gotten mad, see?" This wasn't the whole truth, but I wanted to make up with her. "I apologize. You're free to believe what you want, but just don't give up. And remember, it wasn't Jesus who saved your neck back there."

I received a weak smile. "I haven't given up."

I sat up and slapped my hands together with forced enthusiasm. "So, what now? Where to? You want to explore another part of the country or what?"

"Actually, I was heading towards Patmos. I heard there was a friendly settlement there, and I've got some information for them."

"Fine. That's cool." I hesitated then, my old insecurities ambushing me. "You don't mind if I tag along, do you? I won't bug you about your religion anymore, promise."

To my surprise, she threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug. "Of course you can come. You have to!"

She was a weird one, obviously, seeming to change her moods quicker than the wind, but beggars aren't choosers. I didn't really care where she wanted to go. I just didn't want to be alone anymore. Besides, I'd already begun to fall in lust with her, and was hoping that with time it would become mutual. She really was sort of cute, in a weird way.

* * *

For the next two days we traveled farther south. I had no idea where we were headed, but she seemed to know exactly what she was doing. We made excellent progress, and on the third day she informed me that we were nearly there.

"Thank goodness," I huffed, plopping myself down on a convenient stump. I shook my head. "I don't know where you get the energy. You're stronger than I guessed."

"I'm in a hurry," she answered. "It's important that we get there soon. Besides," she glanced down the path from which we'd come. "I'm afraid we're being followed."

I followed her glance down the path, and rewarded her with my classic disgusted/bemused look. "There's no one following us. You're paranoid. You need to chill out a bit, that's all. Why would anyone follow us anyway?"

She resumed walking. "Come on. Let's hurry. We must get to Patmos."

I reluctantly hopped up and trotted closer behind her. "How come you're so sure there're people at this place? Before you said you only thought so. Now you seem pretty damn sure. Are you holding out on me?" I knew she was, but not why.

"I don't know that anyone is still there," she frowned. "But there should be, if we're not too..."

We both stopped dead. Out of the trees ahead of us dropped a band of men, easily a dozen or more, and dressed in black and crimson cowls and robes. Angie backed into me, and I grabbed her arm and twisted about to run, only to see another standing directly behind us. His face was shadowed by his hood, but slowly his hand reached up and slid it away, revealing a handsome, smiling face.

Angie choked out a gasp, "Jules!"

He let out a warm and gentle laugh. "Yes, yes. It's me, my darling Angie. The Honorable Julian Samson Pilitt, late of the great Commander's ranks. I'm sure you're surprised to see me again so soon, and so close to your base? Hmmm?" He shifted his glance to me. Despite the friendly tone of voice the man employed, Angie's tension suggested there was more to this man than what was on the surface.

I spoke. "Hello, Mr. Pilitt. My name's James."

He rubbed his hands together as if taking the chill off a cool night by a fire. "Ah yes, James, James. A fine name for a fine young man. Fine, fine. You should really call me Jules. All my friends do. Indeed yes." He glanced back at Angie, who was trembling as if it were indeed a cool night, and not a humid day as it was. "Hmmm," Jules continued. "You have an excellent eye for traveling companions, James. Indeed you do. Yes, indeed. A warm body and a personality to match, eh?" He winked conspiratorially at me, and I grimaced, not wishing to be a buddy of this man, but for no reason I could clearly pinpoint. His style was simply too greasy.

He turned back to Angie and I felt her grip tighten on my arm. She was obviously terrified of this guy. What did he know? Who was he? "Now Angie," he purred like a septic cat. "You know why I'm here. Give me what I desire and I shall be on my way, leaving you youngsters to go about your business." He held his hand out. "Come, come now. Let's have no fuss. We're all civilized here. Surely you see you have no choice in this matter, hmmmm?"

Voice choking, quietly, she began, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed..."

Jules smiled vanished and I saw immediately why she feared him so. In a second he transformed from a gentleman into a maniac. He looked as though he was ready to kill us both. In fact, he was.

"Enough of that!" he bellowed. Instantly I felt my arms twisted about behind me as his men came up from behind and tore Angie and I apart. Jules pushed his snarling face close to Angie's and screamed, spittle flying from his lips, "You had your chance, and you fucked it up! Now your ass is mine, bitch! You are gonna die, slow and horribly! Then I'll take that chip you're carrying. After that, a little necrophilia will be in order! Can you picture your dead body being raped again and again by me and my men? Good, I see you can."

To my surprise, Angie quickly recovered her composure, clearly determined not to give Jules the pleasure of watching her cringe in terror. Infuriated at not being able to tear a reaction out of her, he whirled madly over towards me. "And you! You! Oh yes, you will pay too! Thought maybe you'd get a little action from old sweet buns there, eh? Yes! But not this kind! Haven't you heard that lust is a sin, boy! We punish sinners here! Take this fuckhead away!" he hollered.

I didn't quite possess Angie's control, and I was screaming my head off, yelling for help, though I had no notion regarding whom I expected to respond to my request. They dragged me away and slammed me down hard on the ground. My head made a brief acquaintance of a large rock, and I was out.


When I awoke I found it difficult to breathe. My arms were stretched out painfully up and to my sides. I blinked my eyes and realized what was happening. I was literally being crucified. My wrists were bound to the horizontal crossbar and my feet were tied together below. The agony was enough to nearly drive me back to unconsciousness, but I fought it off. With each breath I felt a red hot poker twist into my lungs.

I clamped my mouth shut and looked down below me. A pit had been dug almost at my feet, and Angie was kneeling in it, praying. Around the edge, Jules' men were gathered, gazing down at her. Occasionally one would peer up at me, point and laugh, but the main show appeared to be below.

Two men emerged from a tent, dragging a large crate between them. Directly behind them walked Jules S. Pilitt, our executioner. He was again the serene individual I had first encountered. The trio stopped at the edge of the pit. Jules looked up at me and graced me with a smile. "Ah, James, my lad. Fine, fine. I'm pleased to see you're still with us. I trust you aren't comfy? Good, good. In an hour or so your pain should be gone. Yes, all done. But first, a show? Yes? How about it, James, are you up for a show? Get it? Up for a show?" I failed to see the humor, but Jules laughed enough for both of us. "Splendid, splendid, splendid. Nothing like a captive audience." He walked over and slapped my leg. "Get it, James? Captive audience? Goodness, where is your sense of humor? Ah well, perhaps the star of our show, that charming debutante Angie, will be more amusing."

At this Angie glanced up and ceased her praying. She stood up, her eyes passing over me, and then looked down again. It hurt me that she didn't even bother to look me in the eye. I was up here dying because of her, and she wouldn't even acknowledge me. I tried to understand her position, but I had a hard time with empathy at the moment.

She looked back up and smiled at Jules. "You may as well release him. I'll give you what you want. You can't win now, anyway."

Jules eyebrows arched up like two battling spiders. "Release him? I should think not, no no. We passed that stage some time ago. There will be no further discussion. No, no. You children must learn to be responsible for your actions. Yes, my dear, yes indeed you must. You must be punished. Yes, indeed. And now, for you, a present from the Dark One Himself. He thought you'd be thrilled by it, you see. Sort of symbolic, don't you know?" The men pushed the giant crate to the edge of the pit.

Jules warned the others. "Stand back, stand back. Give the men room!" He grinned at Angie. "My sweet girl, I would not trade places with you at this moment for all the riches in hell. Indeed, I wouldn't. Are you ready, my pet? Any last words? No? I thought not. All right men, she has the apple, let loose the serpent."

The two men pried off the lid and tilted the crate forward. Out slid the most gigantic reptile I'd ever seen in my life. It was huge! Slowly, it eased out of its holding, and melted down towards Angie. She remained silent, backing away, but I could see her composure starting to crack. The snake's head hovered above her for a second and then darted to the right, looping about her shoulders. She let out a quick shriek then and began to struggle, but it was an uneven fight. The anaconda darted in and out, encircling and entwining about her body, until she was wrapped from shin to shoulder in shiny, gliding muscle.

"James!" she squealed, gasping. "Help me! It's... squeezing me! I...can't...breathe!"

The snake was moving more slowly now, gracefully and elegantly crushing the last breaths from her. I felt myself starting to fade as well. And then I noticed with some confusion, a foot long shaft of wood abruptly emerge from the chest of one of the black garbed men. He screamed and fell, pawing at this intruder. From the woods charged a small band of men, yelling and wailing away at Jules' men with sword and arrows. Quickly, the evil ones scattered into the forest. A crowd of our rescuers ran over to me, and I felt the cross being tilted backwards towards the ground.

A concerned face appeared above me. He brushed his unruly, blonde hair out of his eyes and spoke. "Can you hear me? I'm Kennen. Everything's going to be okay now. You're safe."

I tilted my head in the direction of the pit. Several men had recently leaped into it.

"Don't worry, she'll be fine, I'm sure. Now let's get you of this and out of here. Jules will regroup and return soon. We won't be able to hold them off when they return." He yelled at bodies rushing past. "Greg, Al, help him out of here! Hurry!"

I honestly don't recall much regarding the rest of our trip to Patmos. My next memory is of waking in the softest bed I could ever recall having slept in. I had no idea as to how long I'd been asleep. Kennen was sitting in a corner, reading. I noted with some amusement it was not a Bible but a cheap fantasy/adventure novel. I cleared my throat and spoke, "Is Angie okay?"

He looked up and smiled. "Oh, you're awake. Good. Yes, Angie is just fine. She's resting in the room across the hall. She's a bit sore, but that's all. Our medical facilities are still pretty good here. Y'know, you two were lucky we got there when we did. We pulled it pretty close, but then the Commander has always had a flair for the dramatic."

"Where are we, and who is this 'Commander' guy? Don't tell me you are one of his Lost Planet Airmen?"

He ignored my feeble attempt at humor. "Oh, you're in Patmos, in a shelter about a mile underground. You'll be safe here for the time being, though we plan to be leaving soon. Jules won't get you down here. You know, that guy used to be pretty big in this operation. I used to think he was a pretty decent sort, but he got a bit big for his britches, y'know? I wouldn't mess with him now, though. He's got a chip on his shoulder, and that's a fact. Anyway, you'll get to meet the Commander soon. He says he knew you were coming and is glad you're here." He rose to leave.

I sat up, painfully. "Wait! How did you know where we were?"

"The Commander is pretty smart. He'll tell you later, maybe." He stepped out.

I swung my feet shakily onto the floor and stood up. I wasn't as weak as I thought I'd be, though I wouldn't want to run any marathon either. I looked around the room and found some clothes in the nightstand and dressed. I wanted to see Angie to see how she was and find out more about this place. It was obvious now that she had known all about this before.

I knocked softly on the door across the hall and pushed it open. She was sitting on her bed reading a Bible. It figured.

"Hey, Angie. How are you?"

Her eyes lit up when she saw me. "Oh, James! I'm glad you came! I'm sorry for all the trouble I've caused you. But I absolutely had to get here."

"Hey, no trouble at all." What a lie. Of course it was trouble.

"So, what do you think?"

"I don't know what to think yet. I'm a bit confused. You obviously knew there were people here. I didn't realize there were so many left. They're all Revelationists, I assume?"


I nodded. "I thought so. So what next? What was so important about this chip Jules wanted?"

"It's a computer chip that was needed here. It's very important if..."

The sound of the door opening interrupted her, and in walked a man with long, brown hair and beard. He was dressed in a denim work shirt rolled up to the elbows, and wore faded jeans and sandals. When he smiled there was no denying the sincerity behind it. His smile was as natural as Jules' had been contrived. Even before he smiled I knew this was the commander Kennen and the others spoke of. As I stared at him, I tried to decide where I knew him from. I was sure I'd seen him before. He said, "Angie and James. It's so good to see both of you safe and sound. How are you feeling?"

"I'm a bit sore, but okay," Angie replied.

He came forward and shook my hand. "And you James? Have you recovered from your nasty adventure with Jules?"

"Yes sir, thank you." As I shook his hand I felt the rough texture on the palm as well as the back of his hand, as though it had been scarred somehow and not healed properly. As I considered this, I felt myself gradually grow pale. I quickly sat down on the edge of Angie's bed.

He continued addressing me. "I hear you have some questions. I hope I'll be able to answer them to your satisfaction. Perhaps if you would come with me I may be able to clear a few items up." He bent over and gently kissed Angie's cheek. "I won't keep him long," he assured her.

I glanced over my shoulder at Angie's beaming face as I exited behind this man whom I knew could not be Jesus. But I was just as sure he would insist otherwise.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Who do you say I am?"

"No. Uh unh. I asked you first. Who are you?"

"My name is Jesus."

I groaned, "Oh, god."

"Yes," he smiled warmly. "I've been called that as well. Now I hear you were asking about how you were so miraculously saved. Well, James, if you've read anything about me, you should know I am pretty good at miracles and saving folks. But this wasn't really all that extraordinary. The chip Angie was carrying had a microphone attached. When she was praying in the pit she was actually calling us here for help." He stopped in front of a door with an 'Authorized Personnel Only' sign on it and entered. "Come on in."

I followed him in. "Look," I said. "I don't know who you really are, but you're not the Jesus, though you certainly have the part down well. It's physically impossible for you to be alive even if you are."

"Hey, I'm God, remember?" he grinned. "Yes, James, I'm the Jesus, whether you wish to accept me or not. Now, I'll admit things aren't exactly like most people thought, but they got the basic concepts right."

This man was beginning to frighten me. Whoever he was, he was suffering from some serious delusion and might be dangerous. He obviously had conned everyone in Patmos. I sat by an empty console in the control room. I stared down at the blank screen. "Who the hell are you?" I muttered.

He looked at me calmly. "I am the Son of God here to save mankind." He turned and walked slowly over to a window. I got up and walked over to stand beside him. We gazed into a gigantic warehouse. In the middle of the room was the largest rocket shuttle I'd ever seen. People were scurrying around it like mice around cheese. "That is what will save mankind. I and my followers built it here when we saw what was coming. It will take the remaining faithful to a planet much like this one. We will be safe there. And with the chip Angie delivered I'll be able to program the weapon that will totally destroy the rest of the planet."

My mouth gaped open. "What? Why? Can't you simply let us recover here? Why do you have to destroy the world? That's a bit petty, isn't it?"

This man who called himself Jesus faltered then and sat down heavily at another console. I sat down next to him and then he turn and looked sadly at me. "James, what would you say if I told you that I didn't want to do it, but that I had to do it?"

"Go on."

"James, I'm not God. You want to know what I am? I'm Atlantean. I'm the last survivor of the Atlantis debacle. Do you understand? My mother was Mary, a holy woman, but my father, Joseph, was from Atlantis. God told him to go to Mary and father a son. That was me. He died a few years later from a long standing illness. He was the last of our race, and now I am."

This was even crazier than before. It was like trading one room in an asylum for another. "Who knows?" I asked.

He shook his head wearily. "Not many. I'm generally a good judge of character. With the exceptions of Judas and Jules I've not been disappointed. You won't tell anyone. These people here need something to believe in. If they think I was born of a virgin, if that gives them strength, why shatter that illusion? I am the son of God, but not in the way they're used to thinking."

"Uh huh. Then tell me how you pulled off all those miracles that people said you did?"

He smiled. "We Atlanteans were a superhuman race. We had many talents that modern man never has come close to. But don't get me wrong. The Lord gave me this gift and directed me in its use. I'm only his servant."

I stood up. This was too much. I was beginning to wonder exactly how much I believed. The words were crazy, but the way that he spoke them gave them a certain authenticity. He clearly believed in what he was saying. Could it possible be true? "The cross," I asked. "You were supposed to die on it."

He frowned slightly. "Yes, I did. It was necessary that my blood be shed. But as an Atlantean my regenerative powers were such that I was able to restore myself in three days, as I was still quite young at the time. I couldn't do that now. But I reappeared briefly before my Father told me to remain hidden until I was needed again. And so I have lived these many centuries in different lands under various identities. James, I love this planet. I don't want to destroy it, but I must obey the Father."

I leaned against a wall to steady myself and closed my eyes. The things he was saying were impossible, yet they were believable if one accepted his basic premise. I spoke slowly, "I don't know what to think about all this. All that you say is impossible, but my heart tells me that you're not lying to me. It's just, well, can't you talk some sense into God? Maybe get Him to change His mind?"

He laughed. "It doesn't work that way." He stood up and pointed at the console. "See that button? When pushed that spaceship will begin its journey to the new world. But it will simultaneously trigger a network of bombs that will devastate the rest of the planet. It will take six days to complete the destruction. It seems appropriate, doesn't it? Well, it is for me to push that button."

"When?" I asked. "When does it happen?"

"Today. Or tonight. We've already begun boarding."

I felt an uncomfortable mixture of pity, love, and hate for this strange character. Was he really the son of God, or an incredibly brilliant man suffering from mental illness? I followed him out of the control room, and walked back to where Angie remained.

"Oh James, what did he say?" she asked as soon as I entered her room.

I shook my head. "Angie, I don't know what to say. Do you know what he's planning?"

She nodded. "I know. We're leaving soon. Don't judge Him, James. It's not for us to question the Lord's actions."

"Angie, if it's not for us, I'd like to know who it is for! He plans to destroy the entire planet needlessly. That doesn't seem too intelligent to me, no matter how you look at it. If his name was Fred and not Jesus, I think maybe you'd question it."

"Yes, that's true. But his name isn't Fred. He is our Lord."

I gave up. She believed too strongly for me to shake her belief. I didn't seem to have much choice in the matter.

We lay there together for about an hour. I stared at the ceiling and considered all that I had done on this crazy planet. How did they even know that the rocket would get off the ground? Was he God or man? I didn't know. There were no obvious answers.

Angie looked at her watch and sat up. "Let's go. It's almost time for us to board. Come on." She leaned over and gave me a quick hug and kiss. "I know you're confused. But you'll see it's all right. You'll see. Let's go." She pulled me up and we stepped out into the hall and joined the many others there walking down the corridor. All these people obviously believed. Why didn't I?

I bent over and whispered in Angie's ear, "Follow me." I led her into the control room. It was wall to wall action now. Jesus was in the middle of it all, directing the different people and giving orders into the intercom in front of him. Angie and I stood back and observed. He was clearly a leader. A voice crackled over the intercom, "Ninety-five percent of our people have boarded. We're ready when you are, Commander."

Jesus spoke into the intercom, "We'll initiate ignition in five minutes."

He turned and faced the crowd in the room. "You have been an incredible help to me, and I thank you all. My original disciples could not have been any more loyal that you have been. I died once to save mankind, and now I live to do so again. If you will leave the room to board now, I will begin the process." He looked over at me and gave a relaxed smile.

As the crowd began to filter out of the room, I recognized a familiar face at one of the control booths. It was the man who had opened the crate with the snakes above Angie. He was grinning foolishly and reaching inside his jacket.

"Jules!" I screamed. "Watch out! It's one of Jules' men!" I broke free of Angie and leaped forward.

All around me people began screaming, rushing for the door, or falling to the floor. The man heaved out a pistol and fired a shot at me. It missed. I then dove for Jesus, but the man turned and fired first. The bullet struck Jesus heavily in the chest, slamming him backwards and showering me with blood. The man fired again, this time striking him in the shoulder and sending him spinning to the floor. By this time some of the other technicians had recovered from their initial shock and wrestled the assassin to the floor. They beat the man senseless and dragged his limp body from the room.

I rolled the Son of God over. His front was a red, gory mess. His eyes were unfocused, but he was still alive. My body trembled. I bent over him to speak. I swallowed several times, my mouth dry. Finally a sound croaked out, "What now?"

His hand grabbed mine with surprising strength. "James, I'm sorry. It's up to you now. The Father has taken this cup from my lips and placed it before yours." He coughed and red saliva dribbled from his lips. "You have to push the button. It's up to you. But if you push it, you have only ten minutes to board before lift off."

I shook my head back and forth, refusing to accept this. Tears sprang to my eyes. "No. No. Not me. It's your job." I slid my arm under his shoulders to try to lift him to the console. He cried out in pain, so I gently laid him back down.

He spoke again, his voice growing fainter. "The choice is yours. The Lord always gives you that. Will you do your will or your Father's?"

I cried out in anguish, "Oh God, not me! There are others here!"

His eyes closed. "No. He chose you. I go now to join Him at last. Leave my body here. I won't be needing it again. Remember me, James."

I squeezed his hand hard. There was nothing to say.

And so without another word the Son joined his Father.

Everyone in the room was staring at me. It was obvious they were waiting for me to do something. Angie was kneeling beside me, crying. I hadn't even noticed that she was here. I felt sick. This situation was not something I was equipped to deal with, but something had to be done. I wiped my own tears aside. There was no time for them now. "This is twice He has died for us," I said. "Everyone get on board. Now. Let's go. But leave Him here with me." I turned to Angie. "You too, okay?"

She looked at me. "Are you okay?"

I swallowed hard. "I've never been worse. Now get going. I'll need you later."

She got up. "I'll be there."

Everyone left the room until only I and the dead body were left. I chewed slowly on my lip. Why me? I didn't even believe! I stared at the corpse. He had it easy now. I walked up to the panel with the glowing blue button. My breath came in short gulps, and I recognized I was beginning to hyperventilate. I forced myself to slow down. He said the choice was mine. I didn't have to destroy the world. It was up to me. I glanced down at the still body again.

I pushed the button and ran for the ship.


Kaol-- 1982

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