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The RemnantOn the brink of Armageddon
By Tim F. LaHaye Jerry B. Jenkins
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRayford Steele had endured enough brushes with death to know that the cliché was more than true: Not only did your life flash before your mind's eye, but your senses were also on high alert. As he knelt awkwardly on the unforgiving red rock of the city of Petra in ancient Edom, he was aware of everything, remembered everything, thought of everything and everybody.
Despite the screaming Global Community fighter-bombers-larger than any he had ever seen or even read about-he heard his own concussing heart and wheezing lungs. New to the robe and sandals of an Egyptian, he tottered on sore knees and toes. Rayford could not bow his head, could not tear his eyes from the sky and the pair of warheads that seemed to grow larger as they fell.
Beside him his dear compatriot, Abdullah Smith, prostrated himself, burying his head in his hands. To Rayford, Smitty represented everyone he was responsible for-the entire Tribulation Force around the world. Some were in Chicago, some in Greece, some with him in Petra. One was in New Babylon. And as the Jordanian groaned and leaned into him, Rayford felt Abdullah shuddering.
Rayford was scared too. He wouldn't have denied it. Where was the faith that should have come from seeing God, so many times, deliver him from death? It wasn't that he doubted God. But something deep within-his survival instinct, he assumed-told him he was about to die.
For most people, doubt was long gone by now ... there were few skeptics anymore. If someone were not a Christ follower by now, probably he had chosen to oppose God.
Rayford had no fear of death itself or of the afterlife. Providing heaven for his people was a small feat for the God who now manifested himself miraculously every day. It was the dying part Rayford dreaded. For while his God had protected him up to now and promised eternal life when death came, he had not spared Rayford injury and pain. What would it be like to fall victim to the warheads?
Quick, that was sure. Rayford knew enough about Nicolae Carpathia to know the man would not cut corners now. While one bomb could easily destroy the million people who-all but Rayford, it seemed-tucked their heads as close to between their legs as they were able, two bombs would vaporize them. Would the flashes blind him? Would he hear the explosions? feel the heat? be aware of his body disintegrating into bits?
Whatever happened, Carpathia would turn it into political capital. He might not televise the million unarmed souls, showing their backsides to the Global Community as the bombs hurtled in. But he would show the impact, the blasts, the fire, the smoke, the desolation. He would illustrate the futility of opposing the new world order.
Rayford's mind argued against his instincts. Dr. Ben-Judah believed they were safe, that this was a city of refuge, the place God had promised. And yet Rayford had lost a man here just days before. On the other hand, the ground attack by the GC had been miraculously thwarted at the last instant. Why couldn't Rayford rest in that, trust, believe, have confidence?
Because he knew warheads. And as these dropped, parachutes puffed from each, slowing them and allowing them to drop simultaneously straight down toward the assembled masses. Rayford's heart sank when he saw the black pole attached to the nose of each bomb. The GC had left nothing to chance. Just over four feet long, as soon as those standoff probes touched the ground they would trip the fuses, causing the bombs to explode above the surface.
Chloe Steele Williams was impressed with Hannah's driving. Unfamiliar vehicle, unfamiliar country-yet the Native American, who had been uncannily morphed into a New Delhi Indian, handled the appropriated GC Jeep as if it were her own. She was smoother and more self-confident than Mac McCullum had been, but of course he had spent the entire drive across the Greek countryside talking.
"I know this is all new to you gals," he had said, causing Chloe to catch Hannah's eye and wink. If anybody could get away with unconscious chauvinism, it was the weathered pilot and former military man, who referred to all the women in the Trib Force as "little ladies" but did not seem consciously condescending.
"I got to get to the airport," he told them, "which is thataway, and y'all have got to get into Ptolemaïs and find the Co-op." He pulled over and hopped out. "Whicha you two is drivin' again?"
Hannah climbed behind the wheel from the backseat, her starched white GC officer's uniform still crisp.
Mac shook his head. "You two look like a coupla Wacs, but 'course they don't call 'em that anymore." He looked up and down the road, and Chloe felt compelled to do the same. It was noon, the sun high and hot and directly overhead, no clouds. She saw no other vehicles and heard none. "Don't worry about me," Mac added. "Somebody'll be along and I'll catch a ride." He lifted a canvas bag out of the back and slung it over his shoulder. Mac also carried a briefcase. Gustaf Zuckermandel Jr., whom they all knew as Zeke or Z, had thought of everything. The lumbering young man in Chicago had made himself into the best forger and disguiser in the world, and Chloe decided that the three of them alone were the epitomes of his handiwork. It was so strange to see Mac with no freckles or red hair. His face was dark now, his hair brown, and he wore glasses he didn't need. She only hoped Z's work with her dad and the others at Petra proved as effective. Mac set down his bags and rested his forearms atop the driver's side door, bringing his face to within inches of Hannah's. "You kids got everything memorized and all?" Hannah looked at Chloe, fighting a smile. How many times had he asked that on the flight from the States and during the drive? They both nodded. "Lemme see your name tags again." Hannah's was right in front of him. "Indira Jinnah from New Delhi," Mac read. Chloe leaned forward to where he could see hers. "And Chloe Irene from Montreal." He covered his own name tag. "And you're on the staff of who?"
"Senior Commander Howie Johnson of Winston-Salem," Chloe said. They'd been over it so many times. "You're now the ranking GC officer in Greece, and if anybody doubts it, they can check with the palace."
"Awright then," Mac said. "Got your side arms? This Kronos character, at least a relative of his, has some more firepower."
Chloe knew they needed more firepower, especially not knowing what they would encounter. But learning the Luger and the Uzi-which they knew the Greek underground could supply-had been more than enough to tax her before they left Chicago.
"I still say the Co-op people are going to clam up when they see our uniforms," Hannah said.
"Show 'em your mark, sweetie," Mac said.
The radio under the dashboard crackled. "Attention GC Peacekeeping forces. Be advised, Security and Intelligence has launched an aerial attack on several million armed subversives of the Global Community in a mountain enclave discovered by ground forces about fifty miles southeast of Mizpe Ramon in the Negev Desert. The insurgents murdered countless GC ground troops and commandeered unknown numbers of tanks and armored carriers.
"Global Community Security and Intelligence Director Suhail Akbar has announced that two warheads have been dropped simultaneously, to be followed by a missile launched from Resurrection Airport in Amman, and that the expected result will be annihilation of the rebel headquarters and its entire personnel force. While there remain pockets of resistance around the world, Director Akbar believes this will effectively destroy 90 percent of the adherents of the traitorous Judah-ites, including Tsion Ben-Judah himself and his entire cabinet."
Chloe's hand flew to her mouth, and Hannah grabbed her other hand. "Just pray, girls," Mac said. "We all but knew this was comin'. Either we have faith or we don't."
"That's easy to say from here," Chloe said. "We could lose four people, not to mention all the Israelis we promised to protect."
"I'm not takin' it lightly, Chloe. But we got a job to do here too, and this is no safer than a mountain under a bomb attack. You keep your wits about you, hear? Listen to me-we won't know what happened at Petra till we see it with our own eyes or hear it from our people. You heard the lies already, from the GC to their own forces! We know for sure there's only a million people in Petra and-"
"Well, yeah, compared to several million like they said. And armed? No way! And did we kill GC forces-murder 'em, I mean? And what about commandeering those-"
"I know, Mac," Chloe said. "It's just-"
"You'd better practice callin' me by my GC name, Ms. Irene. And remember everything we went over in Chicago. You may have to fight, defend yourselves, even kill somebody."
"I'm ready," Hannah said, making Mac cock his head. Chloe was surprised too. She knew Hannah had warmed to this assignment, but she couldn't imagine Hannah wanted to kill anyone any more than she did. "The gloves are off," Hannah said, looking to Chloe and then back to Mac. "We've gone way past diplomacy. If it's kill or be killed, I'm killing somebody."
Chloe could only shake her head.
"I'm just saying," Hannah said, "this is war. You think they won't kill Sebastian? They very well already could have. And I'm not counting on finding this Stavros girl alive."
"Then why are we here?" Chloe said.
"Just in case," Hannah said, using the Indian lilt Abdullah had taught her in Chicago.
"Just in case is right," Mac said, hefting his bags again. "Our phones are secure. Keep the solar receptors exposed during the daytime-"
"C'mon, Mac," Chloe said. "Give us a little credit."
"Oh, I do," Mac said. "I give you more than a lot of credit. I'm impressed, tell you the truth. Comin' over here for somebody you've never met, well, at least you, Chloe. And Hannah, er, Indira, I don't guess you got to know George well enough to give a-to, uh, care that much about him personally."
Hannah shook her head.
"But here we are, aren't we?" Mac said. "Somebody was here workin' for us, and best we can figure out, he's in trouble. I don't know about you, but I'm not leavin' here without him."
Mac spun and stared at the horizon, causing Chloe and Hannah to do the same. A black dot grew as it moved their way. "Y'all run along now," Mac said. "And keep in touch."
Rayford's first inkling was that he was in hell. Had he been wrong? Had it all been for naught? Had he been killed and missed heaven in spite of it all?
He was unaware of separate explosions. The bombs had caused such a blinding flash that even with his eyes involuntarily pressed shut as tightly as his facial muscles would allow, the sheer brilliant whiteness seemed to fill Rayford's entire skull. It was as if the glare filled him and then shone from him, and he grimaced against the sound and heat that had to follow. Surely he would be blown into the others and finally obliterated.
The resounding boom sent a shock wave of its own, but Rayford did not topple, and he heard no rocks falling, no mountainous formations crashing. He instinctively thrust out his hands to steady himself, but that proved unnecessary. He heard ten thousand wails and moans and shrieks, but his own throat was constricted. Even with his eyes closed, he saw the whiteness replaced by orange and red and black, and now, oh, the stench of fire and metal and oil and rock! Rayford forced himself to open his eyes, and as the thunderous roar echoed throughout Petra he realized he was ablaze. He lifted his robed arms before his face, at least temporarily unaware of the searing heat. He knew his robe, then flesh, then bone would be consumed within seconds.
Rayford could not see far in the raging firestorm, but every huddled pilgrim around him was also ablaze. Abdullah rolled to one side and lay in a fetal position, his face and head still cocooned in his arms. White, yellow, orange, black roaring flames engulfed him as if he were a human wick for a demonic holocaust.
One by one the people around Rayford stood and raised their arms. Their hoods, their hair, their beards, faces, arms, hands, robes, clothes all roared with the conflagration as if the fire were fueled from beneath them. Rayford looked above their heads but could not see the cloudless sky. Even the sun was blotted out by the massive sea of raging flames and a pair of roiling mushroom clouds. The mountain, the city, the whole area was afire, and the fumes and plumes and licking flames rose thousands of feet into the air.
What must this look like to the world, Rayford wondered, and it struck him that the mass of Israelis were as dumbfounded as he. They staggered, eyeing each other, arms aloft, now embracing, smiling! Was this some bizarre nightmare? How could they be engulfed by the slaughtering force of the latest in mass-destruction technology yet still stand, squinting, with puzzled looks, still able to hear?
Rayford opened and closed his right fist, inches from his face, wondering at the hissing flarelike tongues of fire that leaped from each digit. Abdullah struggled to his feet and turned in a circle as if drunk, mimicking the others by raising his arms and looking skyward.
He turned to Rayford and they embraced, the fire from their bodies melding and contributing to the whole. Abdullah pulled back to look Rayford in the face. "We are in the fiery furnace!" the Jordanian exulted.
"Amen!" Rayford shouted. "We are a million Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos!"
Chang Wong joined the other techies in his department as their boss, Aurelio Figueroa, led them to a huge television monitor. It showed the live feed from the cockpit of one of the fighter-bombers as it circled high above Petra, broadcast around the world via the Global Community News Network. Later Chang would check his recording of the bug in Carpathia's office to monitor the reactions of Nicolae, his new secretary Krystall, Leon, Suhail, and Viv Ivins.
"Mission accomplished," the pilot reported, scanning the target and showing square miles raging in flames. "Suggest subsequent missile sequence abort. Unnecessary."
Chang clenched his teeth so tight his jaw ached. How could anyone survive that? The flames were thick, and the black smoke belched so high that the pilot had to avoid it to keep the picture clear.
"Negative," came the reply from GC Command. "Initiate launch sequence, Amman."
"That's overkill," the pilot muttered, "but it's your money. Returning to base."
"Repeat?" The voice sounded like Akbar himself.
"Roger that. Returning to base." "That's another negative.
Excerpted from The Remnant by Tim F. LaHaye Jerry B. Jenkins Copyright ©2002 by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Excerpted by permission.
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