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By Randall Ingermanson
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Randall Ingermanson
All right reserved.
Rivka woke from a light sleep, her heart thudding. Had she heard a child scream? She listened, her whole body taut, absorbing the sounds of the sleeping city. Jerusalem, city of white stone. City of God. City of fear.
She must have imagined it. Rivka snuggled herself into the warm hollow of Ari's body, willing herself to relax. So much had changed since she'd left Berkeley last summer. Now with Hanukkah coming -
A thin, reedy voice screamed outside in the street. "Imma! Where are you, Imma?"
A rush of adrenaline shot through Rivka. Good grief, some little kid was out there in the cold, shrieking for Mama.
Rivka waited, listening. She and Ari were camped out in a small house with their hosts, Baruch and Hana. It was horribly unprivate. Back in America, her friends would just freak to hear she'd gone off and gotten married and was sleeping on the floor in the same room with another couple. But this was Jerusalem, another world. She couldn't go back. She had chosen to live here and -
"Imma! I'm cold, Imma!"
This was getting ridiculous. She would just have to go see what was wrong. Rivka reached for her heavy cloak and pulled it inside under the covers. The air in the unheated room chilled her arm.
"Rivka! Did you hear something?" Hana's voice, a sleepy whisper.
"I'm going downstairs to see what's wrong." Rivka wriggled away from Ari, pushed her covers off, and yanked her cloak around her, shivering. It must be freezing outside, and if that little kid was lost -
"I will come also." Hana rolled out of her bed and stood. A thin shaft of moonlight lit up her belly bulging inside her thin wool sleeping tunic. Hana was a regular Barbie doll - six months pregnant and she still looked fabulous.
"No, Hana, stay here. I'll call if I need help." Rivka slipped on her sandals and tiptoed to the door. From a shelf on the wall, she grabbed a ceramic oil lamp, spiced with cinnamon. They'd lit it earlier that evening, before Shabbat began. She sniffed deeply. It smelled delicious. She stepped onto the stairway. Behind her, she heard Baruch's muffled voice. Great, she'd woken him too.
"Imma! Help me, please, Imma!" The child outside sounded desperate.
Rivka scurried down the stone stairs to the first floor. She opened the wooden shutters and peered out of the high, narrow window slits.
A ragged girl in thin clothing stood in the moonlight, her face awash in terror. "Imma!"
Anger kicked Rivka hard in the gut. Some ... jerk had gone and abandoned their kid in the middle of the night! It happened all the time and Rivka hated it.
She rushed to the barricaded door, lifted the heavy wooden bar, unlatched the crude iron lock, and pulled open the door.
Upstairs, Baruch shouted, "Sister Rivka, wait!"
She stepped into the street. "Come here, little girl. I'll help you."
Fear twisted the girl's face. She backed away. "Imma!"
Rivka followed her. "I won't hurt you! I'll help you find your Imma."
The child backed up further, stepping into the shadows of the narrow street.
Rivka hurried forward. "I won't hurt -"
A shadow lunged toward her.
Rivka screamed, spun, stumbled. Her oil lamp flew against the wall, broke into a thousand shards.
The shadow fused into a grubby, bearded man with a very dirty face. Strong hands pinned her arms to her sides.
"Get away from me!" Rivka kicked furiously. "Ari! Help! Baruch!" She twisted her head, trying to butt the man. Several men emerged from the shadows and surrounded her.
Strong hands grabbed her hair and yanked back, stretching her neck painfully. A cold metal blade pressed against her throat.
"Sister Rivka!" Baruch staggered out of the house, rubbing his eyes, squinting into the dark.
Upstairs, Hana screamed.
"You will give us money, sir, or the woman will die," said the man holding Rivka. Three other men stepped in front of her, brandishing crude handmade blades. They blocked the way between Rivka and Baruch.
Rivka felt like an idiot. She ought to have smelled a trap. Ought to have been suspicious of a child abandoned in the middle of the night. Ought to have -
Ari's muffled shout filtered out through the window slits above them. Feet thumped down the stairs. Baruch spun to look. "No, Brother Ari!" He disappeared into the house. Then a shout and a terrific collision.
Ari and Baruch tumbled out into the street, sprawling in the dust. Ari rolled to his feet, his eyes black with rage. He stood to his full height, six foot three, glaring at the dagger-men. They were short men, but they had weapons and he had none. Ari pointed at them. "You will give me back my woman."
Rivka saw from Ari's probing eyes and tightening muscles that he was going to jump the men, fight them. Please, God, no!
Baruch put a hand on Ari's shoulder. "They will kill Sister Rivka if you make a fight, Brother Ari."
Ari's face tightened and he peered past the men. "Rivkaleh! Are you hurt?"
"I'm f-fine." Rivka had never felt so scared. "They're bandits. They want money." She switched to English. "Ari, it's okay. Just ... give them some money and they'll let me go." I think. The dagger-men were both revolutionaries and bandits, killing the rich and robbing the poor.
Ari turned and whispered to Baruch. Baruch pointed upstairs and spoke in a low voice.
"Be quick, tall one," said the man holding Rivka. "Give us money and we will not hurt your woman."
Ari raced into the house. Baruch stood in the street, arms at his sides, a statue of calm.
"I do not trust the tall one," muttered the man holding Rivka. "He will make some trick on us." The dagger-men backed down the street away from the house. Baruch moved to follow.
"Stay!" shouted one of the men. "You will tell the tall man to remain in the house. When he brings the money, you will throw it to us and we will return the woman!"
Baruch nodded and stepped into the doorway. Ari thumped down the stairs.
Rivka waited, fear clogging her throat. Would the dagger-men keep their word? Would Ari ... go berserk?
Baruch backed outside, his eyes boring a hole into the house. "Brother Ari, please, you will obey me. You will stay inside. I will give the men the money, and they will release her." Baruch had a way of talking quietly that made people trust him. Ari stayed in the house.
Baruch turned to the dagger-men, holding a long piece of cloth bound in a knot. "This holds all our money." He studied them, his face untroubled. "Now you will release the woman."
"Throw us the money," said one of the dagger-men.
Baruch underhanded the bundle to the one in the middle.
The man peered inside and let out a low chuckle. "It is good." He stuffed the bundle under his arm. Together, he and his companions backed up past Rivka. "Release the woman."
A hand shoved Rivka hard in the center of her back.
She staggered forward, tripped, caught herself, and ran.
Ari raced out of the door and smothered her in his strong arms. "Rivkaleh."
Rivka hugged him, letting her fear drain out in a long sob. "Ari! You were so brave." She pressed her face into his chest.
Ari rocked her gently, stroking her hair. "Rivkaleh."
After many beats of her heart, Rivka heard Baruch's voice. "Brother Ari, it is cold in the street and the night is yet dangerous."
"Of course, Brother Baruch." Ari guided Rivka into the house.
Baruch followed them in, shut the door, lowered the bar. "You are frightened, Sister Rivka. Come, we will pray to HaShem and the fear will leave you and then you will sleep. We have lost only money, and you are restored to us. Blessed be HaShem!"
After Baruch prayed for her, Rivka did indeed feel better. The deep quivering in her belly stilled to peacefulness.
In the darkness of their communal room, Rivka lay awake, listening. Soon Hana's steady, even breathing and Baruch's light snores told her they were asleep.
Ari held her in his arms, tickling her neck with his beard, his breath warming her ear. "Are you well, Rivkaleh?" he said in English, their private language.
Rivka tensed. "I ... think so." She waited for him to tell her how foolish she had been. And he would be right. She should not have gone out, child or no child. After dark, the streets were a jungle. She could have been killed.
"HaShem took care of you." Ari squeezed her tightly. "And Baruch kept me from being a foolish hero. Sleep, Rivkaleh."
Rivka gave a deep sigh. "Ari, I ... I want to go home."
"We are home."
"I mean home home. I want America. Are you sure there's no way to go back? They can't rescue us somehow?"
"No." Ari's gentle voice cut through her like steel. "I am sorry, Rivkaleh."
Rivka wanted so desperately for Ari to be wrong. He had made mistakes in the past. Like the one that brought them here last summer. Then, she had been sweet little Rivka Meyers from Berkeley, grad student, archaeologist, linguist, Messianic Jew on the run from God and Ari Kazan. He had been a physics professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, a hard-nosed Israeli, an agnostic with a crazy crush on her. They had met at the dawn of the twenty-first century and somehow - thanks to a physics experiment gone awry - they had ended up on the wrong side of a busted wormhole.
In the year A.D. 57.
And stuck here permanently.
Rivka bit her lip, wishing it were all a movie, but it was just ... too crazy, even for Hollyweird. Even the dumbest screenwriter knew better than to leave the good guys stranded, with no way back to the future.
Ari's muscles slowly relaxed. Rivka decided he must be asleep. Dear, sweet, opinionated, gentle, infuriating Ari. He was the one good thing that had happened to her in this whole awful adventure. At first, she'd thought him cold, distant, judgmental. And he was all that, but as she'd gotten to know him, she realized that he was like the desert cactus, prickly on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.
And he had come so far. He believed in God now - she wouldn't have married him otherwise. Someday, he would get it that Yeshua really was the messiah. Mashiach. She wanted that. Wanted it even more than she wanted to go home. In the last six months, Rivka had given Ari as much truth as he could handle. Every time she did, it ended in a fight, and she had finally realized that she was making things worse. She had done her part. God would have to do the rest. Ari was stubborn but he was honest. He would come to Yeshua in his own time, not hers. Maybe that was why God had brought them here - so Ari could learn the truth.
Rivka shivered. Yes, God had brought her here. How could she deny it? Last summer, she had saved the life of a man who would change the world. The man they called Renegade Saul. Paul of Tarsus. Rivka had nearly gotten herself killed, and she had made the terrifying decision not to go back before the wormhole was destroyed, just to make double sure that she saved Paul.
According to Ari, she hadn't really changed anything. He said it was impossible to change the past. Instead, she had simply intervened in the past in just such a way as to create the future they had known all along must happen. It was all self-consistent. Something about single-valued trajectories through phase space.
Whatever. It sounded like fatalistic mumbo jumbo, and Rivka wasn't buying it. Without her, Paul would have been cosmic roadkill. She had fixed things once, and she would fix them again.
A slow tear burned down Rivka's cheek. She knew what was coming. Had read the history books. Memorized them, in fact. She had an eidetic memory, never forgot anything she read. The horrors to come made her heart ache.
In just a few years, the Jewish revolt would begin - with easy victories over the Roman legions. Nero's suicide would kindle hopes in Jewish hearts for a final triumph over the great dragon, Rome. But then the dragon's resolve would stiffen, while Rivka's people wasted their strength fighting each other. The city of God would fall, the Temple would burn, the Jews would be decimated, enslaved, deported. The last holdouts at Masada would commit suicide rather than submit. If she survived the years ahead, Rivka would see this whole terrible history.
And that had to be why God had brought her to this forsaken city. To make things right. According to Ari, there was a theory of quantum mechanics that there were infinitely many parallel universes. In some universes, things happened one way. In others, a different way. Ari didn't believe this theory.
But Rivka did.
God had given her free will and intelligence and a knowledge of what had happened in one particular universe. That was a warning - like a prophecy bundled up in a great big if.
If you do this, then that will happen.
But if you knew the future - one possible future - you could change it. Had a responsibility to change it. Must change it.
Rivka was not going to accept some stupid fate, just because a history book somewhere said so.
Phase space be hanged.
The next morning, a Shabbat, Ari woke before dawn. Rivka lay sleeping, her mouth slightly open, her silky black hair hanging over her face. She was all that a man could want.
And yet he wanted more, something no woman could give him. Ari awkwardly dressed himself in bed, pulling off his sleeping tunic, wriggling into his four-cornered tunic. He touched the blue-and-white threaded tzitzit - ritual fringes exactly like the ones he had so despised growing up as a boy. His stepfather, a harsh and rigid man, a Hasid of the Lubavitcher sect, had made life miserable for Ari. The kosher laws, the rules for Shabbat, the endless prayers - all of it was meshugah. Crazy.
by the age of thirteen, when he took his bar mitzvah, Ari had already read Darwin. Einstein. Russell. The universe was not 5,700 years old; it was fourteen billion. Man had not been molded from the dust of the earth; he was the random endpoint of a long sequence of chemical reactions. And if there was a God, he was not a personal God; he was a First Cause, a Ground of Being, infinitely remote. Or so Ari had believed until he came here.
Ari heard Baruch pulling on his own clothes under his covers. "Brother Ari, it is time."
Ari slipped out of bed and plunged his feet into his sandals, throwing his thick goat-hair cloak around him to ward off the chill. Baruch followed him out of the room. They tiptoed down the stairs to the doorway. Ari wrapped a long, very broad cloth belt around his waist several times.
Excerpted from Premonition by Randall Ingermanson Copyright © 2003 by Randall Ingermanson . Excerpted by permission.
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