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THE RAPTUREIN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE COUNTDOWN TO THE EARTH'S LAST DAYS
By Tim LaHaye Jerry B. Jenkins
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBuck Williams realized he would be no more dead outside under the erupting Haifa night skies than he would be inside the command center. This was not bravado; it was the unique, insatiable curiosity of the journalist. He would be the lone casualty at this post who would see and know what killed him. On rubbery legs, he made his way to a door. No one seemed to notice or care to caution him. It was as if they had all been sentenced to death.
He forced open the door against a furnace blast and shielded his eyes from the whiteness of the blaze. The sky was afire. Jets screamed over the din of the inferno, and exploding missiles sent more showers of flame into the air. He stood in stark terror, amazed as the great machines of war plummeted all over the city, crashing and bouncing and rolling and burning. But these all seemed to fall between buildings and in deserted streets and fields.
Buck's face blistered and his body poured sweat. What in the world was happening?
* * *
Nicolae Carpathia was a light sleeper, thus the quiet buzz programmed into a tiny device in his headboard woke him immediately at just after one-thirty in the morning.
Hesat up, vigorously rubbed his eyes and face, and pressed the intercom button. "Gabriella?"
"Yes, sir. My apologies, but Mr. Fortunato is here and assures me you would want to be awakened."
So it had happened. It was done.
Less than a minute later, Nicolae had dragged a wet comb through his hair and pulled on a luxurious robe. He padded to the elevator, which opened into his parlor and brought him face-to-face with his most trusted adviser.
Carpathia fought to suppress a smile. "Leon, what is it?"
"Israel is being obliterated as we speak."
Nicolae clapped. "The Russians?" he said, as if guessing.
Fortunato nodded, smiling. "There's evidence Libya and Ethiopia are cooperating."
"Perfect. Dr. Rosenzweig knew exactly what I wanted and would not budge. Wonder what he is thinking now. Or whether he will ever think again. Hoarding his formula was a waste. No one could maximize the benefits as I can."
"What?" Nicolae said. He pointed to a divan. "Sit, my friend."
Leon settled heavily onto the couch. "Don't assume the Kremlin will bring you in on this, Nicolae. My sources tell me this offensive is as costly a single assault as they have ever attempted. The cadre I introduced you to will likely want to license you only a portion of the rights to market in certain areas."
Nicolae sat across from Leon on a large ottoman. "And you have some illusion that this would be enough for me? Surely you are sporting."
"I know how you feel, Nicolae; it simply may not be as easy as we'd like. Forgive me, chief, but why do you continue to grin like the Cheshire cat?"
A chuckle escaped Carpathia. "The deal has already been made, Leon."
"You did not hear me or did not understand?"
"The latter, sir."
"Between Jonathan Stonagal and me, we financed this operation and settled on terms before the first plane left the ground. Russia will have unlimited use of the formula for their entire expanse, as will Ethiopia and Libya, but the marketing of it throughout the rest of the world is under my purview, and they get an appropriate royalty. Seven percent."
Leon shook his head and leaned back, squinting at Nicolae. "You can't be serious."
"Of course I am. I would not make light of billions of dollars. Would you like the privilege of informing Mr. Stonagal? It is just before seven in New York, and the old man will be on his treadmill."
Leon sighed. "He's the one who informed me."
"But he did not tell you of the arrangement?"
Leon stood, jamming his hands into his pockets. "Neither of you did. My role has been clarified."
"Oh, make no mistake about that, Leon. You know more than anyone in my orbit, but you do not need to know all-neither shall you ever. You will know what you need to know and when I feel you should know it. Understood?"
"As I said, my role has been clarified."
* * *
Chunks of ice and hailstones as big as golf balls forced Buck to cover his head with his jacket as the earth shook and resounded, throwing him to the ground. Facedown in the freezing shards, he felt rain wash over him. Suddenly the only sound was the fire in the sky, and it began to fade as it drifted lower. After ten minutes of thunderous roaring, the fire dissipated, and scattered balls of flame flickered on the ground. The firelight disappeared as quickly as it had come. Stillness settled over the land.
As clouds of smoke wafted away on a gentle breeze, the night sky reappeared in its blue-blackness and stars shone peacefully as if nothing had gone awry.
Buck turned back to the building, his muddy leather jacket in his fist. The doorknob was still hot, and inside, military leaders wept and shuddered. The radio was alive with reports from Israeli pilots. They had not been able to get airborne in time to do anything but watch as the entire Russian air offensive seemed to destroy itself.
Miraculously, not one casualty was reported in all of Israel. Otherwise Buck might have believed some mysterious malfunction had caused missile and plane to destroy each other. But as he interviewed the shaken men and women who had monitored the thing on computer screens, they told another story.
A young female Israeli soldier, in heavily accented but precise English, told him, "It was a firestorm, along with rain and hail and an earthquake. That is what saved us from destruction."
It was the story of a lifetime, and Buck quickly appropriated a jeep and raced throughout the country, interviewing leaders, civilians, soldiers. Dotting the landscape for as far as he drove were hundreds and thousands of chunks of burning, twisted, molten steel that had smashed to the ground in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Jericho, even Bethlehem-leveling ancient walls but not so much as scratching one living creature.
That was beyond Buck's comprehension; he simply could not make it compute.
As dawn broke several hours later, special task forces competed with buzzards and vultures for the flesh of the enemy dead, scrambling to bury them before their bones were picked clean and disease threatened the nation.
Buck was greatly relieved to find that Dr. Rosenzweig had escaped unscathed. "Had I not been here and seen it myself, I would not have believed it," he told the scientist. "It will take more than I have in me to make my readers buy it either."
Rosenzweig seemed strangely quiet.
"What is it, Doctor?" Buck said.
"Well, it is just that I feel strange broaching this subject, as an agnostic at best, but would you allow me to introduce you to some scholars who might have an interesting take on this?"
Rosenzweig introduced Buck to university professors who pointed out passages from the Bible that talked about God destroying Israel's enemies with a firestorm, an earthquake, hail, and rain. Buck was stunned to read Ezekiel 38 and 39 about a great enemy from the north invading Israel with the help of Persia, Libya, and Ethiopia. More stark was that the Scriptures foretold of weapons of war used as fire fuel and enemy soldiers eaten by birds or buried in a common grave.
Buck wasn't prepared to become religious, he told himself, but he certainly became a different person and a different journalist. Nothing would ever again be beyond his belief.
And if there was one person he wanted to talk to about all this, it was his Chicago colleague Lucinda Washington.
Excerpted from THE RAPTURE by Tim LaHaye Jerry B. Jenkins Copyright ©2006 by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Excerpted by permission.
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