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Acts of God
By James BeauSeigneur

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 Acts of God

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Acts of God
By James BeauSeigneur
ISBN: 0446613290
Genre: Fiction

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Chapter Excerpt from: Acts of God , by James BeauSeigneur

1


A God Who Thrives on Fear


FOR MOST PEOPLE, the future Christopher described in his address from the Temple in Jerusalem was still far too ethereal to grasp. It was clear that he had great power—the whole world had seen his resurrection, his effortless dispatch of John and Cohen, and the amazing growth of plant life that he caused all over the planet. But, while Christopher’s revelation of a coming period of dramatic world change and human evolution painted a much needed vision of hope, for most people just staying alive had become a full-time pursuit. It was difficult for them to imagine what tangible changes might actually result from what he said.

In the context of all that had happened—the asteroids, the locusts, Christopher’s resurrection, and Milner’s miracles—Christopher’s account of the Theatans was not so difficult to accept. Most people already believed in extraterrestrial beings. The disclosure that Yahweh and Jesus were native to Theata was more the answer to an ancient riddle than it was a startling revelation. They were further persuaded by the appearance of the lights as they danced and moved about, passing over and around and even through many of the people in the crowd. (Those who experienced a “pass through,” as the press called it, described it as exhilarating and energizing and perhaps even tickling a little.) And they had watched in amazement as Christopher suddenly leapt from the pinnacle of the Temple; but instead of falling to certain death, he had been “caught” and then suspended above the crowd by the strange lights, thus exhibiting the ability of the light creatures to take on a solid form and, more significantly, clearly demonstrating Christopher’s authority over the strange beings. Later, on the flight back to New York, Christopher explained to Decker that the lights were what in earlier days had been called angels. They were, he noted, capable of taking on any form, including human.

Still, for most people the idea that they themselves would be part of humanity’s evolution to some form of powerful spirit beings was more than they could readily accept. Evolution was an easy concept as long as it took place over tens of millions of years, but the idea that they would personally be witness to and a part of a great evolutionary leap, though enticing, was far more difficult to adjust to. Psychologists, discussing the subject on television, likened the anxiety and confusion people were experiencing to the emotions of people who had just found out they had won the lottery: They wanted to believe, but nothing this extraordinary had ever happened and they were not sure how to deal with it.

Additional confusion resulted from Christopher’s allusion to people living for a thousand years, and he did little to clear this up later in his address—saying only that the path to this extended life “would be revealed soon, but not until the time was right.” Decker, too, was unclear about this and later asked Christopher how he would give people thousand-year life-spans. Offering only slightly more clarification, Christopher answered that there would be a period of perhaps a year to allow people to adjust to the new realization of truth and the new paradigm of life, and then they would be given “the communion that gives eternal life.”

But while there remained much that the world did not comprehend, what everyone did understand was that John and Cohen were dead and that the earth was miraculously being restored. Although the amazing plant growth that Christopher initiated had slowed to near normal when he lowered his hand, the earth’s restoration was still obvious: Flowers bloomed, grass grew, leaves opened, and vines stretched forth. Even the most devastated areas of the earth were becoming green and lush again. After all the destruction and death the earth had experienced, most of those who survived were eager to believe in Christopher and all he had promised, even if they did not completely understand it. The world was alive, and once again there was hope.

Around the world great celebrations marked the death of Yahweh’s prophets and the restoration of the planet. People sent gifts to each other to mark the end of John and Cohen’s reign of terror. In Jerusalem—despite Christopher’s warning that the bodies still possessed great residual power and should not be touched for at least four days—a crew of city workers had been dispatched to dispose of the corpses shortly after the crowds left. The results were disastrous. The three workers burst into flames the moment they touched the bodies. The gruesome scene, captured live by cameramen and reporters, served to punctuate and confirm the earnestness of all that Christopher had said.

And so the bodies were left where they had fallen, with cameras poised nearby, should any other unexpected event occur. In a way, the bodies became a sort of grisly trophy, not just for Christopher, but for the people of the earth—for Humankind—who had steadfastly refused to bow to John and Cohen’s teachings. The result was a countdown until the remains of the two men could finally be removed and buried. Thus, ironically, for the next three days the celebration of joy and new life for the earth and hope for Humankind revolved around the vigil of the lifeless bodies of the two Jewish prophets that lay in the streets of Jerusalem.

At the United Nations in New York, Christopher Goodman officially took the office of secretary-general. While many, including most of the members of the Security Council, encouraged him to accept even greater control over world government, Christopher declined, explaining that his purpose was not to establish a benevolent planetary dictatorship but rather “to lead Humankind toward a place of complete individual self- governance.” Any other goal, he explained, would be anathema and contrary to the design of the New Age. “Humankind must ultimately look within itself for the answers, not to me or to any other savior,” he stated emphatically. “In the days to follow,” Christopher vowed, “I will work together with the Security Council and the rest of the United Nations to lay the foundation for world recovery and the universal advancement of the people of the earth toward the promise that lies ahead.”

Nevertheless, because of the annihilation of the populations of the Middle East and East Africa, Christopher accepted caretaker authority over those regions while continuing in his role as primary for Europe on the Security Council.

As he promised in his Jerusalem address, one of his first acts as secretary-general was to recommend changing the international calendar to reflect the dawn of the New Age. The recommendation received unanimous backing from the UN, and thus, though the months and days remained the same, the year was officially changed to the first year of the New Age, notated as 1 N.A.; and March 11, Christopher’s resurrection day, became New Year’s day.

Not everyone welcomed Christopher’s rise to power, however, and not all celebrated the death of the prophets. Certainly the members of the Koum Damah Patar and their followers did not, but neither did they mourn for their fallen leaders, nor did they retreat into seclusion. It seemed reasonable to assume that at least a few KDP would have accepted Christopher’s offer to join him. His offer of amnesty and acceptance, thrice stated in his Jerusalem address and restated in his inaugural address to the United Nations, was certainly as generous as anyone could have expected. Instead, without exception, the KDP went about their customary activities with a new vengeance, declaring in contrast to Christopher’s message of hope and peace, that the world was on the brink of even greater disaster. Of the 144,000 members of the Koum Damah Patar, approximately one-third were now in Israel, while the others continued their proselytizing throughout the rest of the world. In Israel the KDP ceased their usual preaching and accusing and instead began to tell the people of Israel to flee into the Jordanian wilderness east of Israel.

March 15, 1 N.A.
Jerusalem

It was the evening of the third day following the deaths of John and Cohen. A light rain had been falling since before dawn and continued until about four o’clock, leaving the formerly dry earth moist and alive. The air was filled with the fresh smell of spring. The Jewish Temple, though quiet since sunset, had been filled with activity each day since Christopher’s address from the Temple summit. Attorneys representing High Priest Chaim Levin had lodged formal protests against Christopher Goodman with the United Nations, and Levin spewed an unceasing fount of charges against both Christopher and Robert Milner. As intended, the desecration of the altar and sanctuary by Milner and Christopher had brought to a halt the daily animal sacrifices. Even more infuriating to the high priest was the destruction of the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. A massive effort by a team of priests and Levites was underway to piece the tablets back together, but there were so many pieces—some little more than dust—and it appeared that many of the recognizable pieces had been pocketed by onlookers. There was little hope of actually completing the task.

The KDP were active as well. In addition to telling the people to flee Israel, they were telling anyone who would listen that the name Christopher Goodman, written phonetically in Hebrew (), has a numeric value of 666—a number which, according to the book of Revelation in the New Testament of the Bible, is the value of the name of the Antichrist.7

Near the foot of the Temple steps lay the undisturbed remains of John and Cohen. The bodies, still charged with the strange power, lay unaffected by the passage of time, untouched by insects, and with no sign of decay. Though nothing had happened since the deaths of the city sanitation workers three days earlier, a few cameras, mounted on tripods, still remained trained on the two bodies. The cameramen, who had the misfortune of being assigned to what seemed to be the most boring assignment possible, were killing time playing cards while their cameras continued to record the motionless scene.

Unnoticed by the men, three teenage boys taunted a younger boy toward the corpses. Slowly moving closer, one of the elder miscreants produced a stick and dared the younger boy to use it to poke at the bodies. Quickly the other two boys joined in, urging the younger onward.

One of the cameramen, who was having a less than prosperous night of cards, looked up and saw the boys. “Hey, look at that,” he whispered to the other players.

One of the men started to get up to warn the boys to stay away, but he was stopped by two others. “Let them be,” said one of them as he moved slowly and quietly from his seat.

“Let them be,” echoed the second as he moved with equal stealth toward the tripod that held his camera.

The fourth player, whose back was toward the dead prophets, turned to see what was so important as to interrupt him from his three eights. Almost immediately he understood and looked dumbfounded at the cameraman whose warning had been silenced. The latter offered only a shrug as he, too, got up to attend to his camera. Within seconds the cameramen had notified their respective networks of the situation. The boys were not yet close enough for the networks to decide to interrupt normal programming, but that decision would have to be made soon. If they went to live coverage and the boys chose to break off their mischief, the networks would appear foolish and would risk angering their regular program viewers. In a way the networks, like the boys, were playing a game of chicken; for while no one wanted to be too quick to commit to live coverage, neither did they want to be beaten to the story by their competition.

Soon enough the decision was made for them. Ten yards from the bodies, the boys suddenly froze in their steps as one by one they saw what had thus far eluded the cameramen. Following the boys’ terrified stare, the cameramen quickly realized the reason for their distress. The bodies of the two men had begun to glow.

Immediately the networks went to live coverage and the boys ran in fear. The glow of the bodies continued to intensify, and soon the light was too bright for the cameramen to look at. One man reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve his sunglasses, but before he could, the light had grown too strong for them to be of any use. There was nothing to do but turn away.

As horrified millions watched on television, it became obvious they had seen this same drama played out just four days before at the United Nations. In mere seconds, the worst fears of the world were realized. There in the middle of the Jerusalem street stood the two prophets, John and Saul Cohen, restored to life.

In the stunned seconds that followed, the people of the world relived the personal suffering they had survived and the terror they had endured for the past three and a half years. When John and Cohen died, it had seemed that the worst was over. But now that they were back, no one dared imagine what savage horrors they and their god might bring with them.

Now unattended by the fleeing cameramen, the cameras, still on their tripods, continued to record the event as the two men dropped to their knees and appeared to be praying. It was an ominous sight. There could be no telling what curse the two were about to rain down upon the earth.

Then, with a voice that sounded like a mighty roll of thunder, and speaking in the same universal language used by Christopher when he addressed the world three days earlier, the sky itself seemed to speak. “Come up here,” was the entire message. No sooner had the echo disappeared than those who had heard it began to wonder if it had not been a clap of thunder after all. That doubt quickly evaporated as the two men rose to their feet, and then looking to the stars above them, physically ascended into the night sky. One of the cameramen—perhaps more daring, perhaps more foolhardy than the rest—ran back to turn his camera to follow the prophets’ ascent. The other cameramen quickly followed suit, pointing their cameras toward the steadily rising silhouettes.

Trembling from panic, it took a moment for the cameramen to realize that it was not just their nerves that shook. As the live picture began to shift they soon realized that the earth itself was shaking. The tremors grew more quickly than they could react, throwing the cameras, tripods, and men to the ground.

March 18, 1 n.a.
New York

The meeting was not scheduled to start for another ten minutes, so Decker was in no hurry as he arrived at the auditorium in the UN’s Secretariat building. His intent was to simply stroll in and find a place to sit where he wouldn’t be noticed. Christopher had asked him to attend and so he would, but despite his closeness to Christopher, Decker had never been entirely comfortable around these people. Apparently the feeling was not mutual, however, for as he entered the room he was greeted with loud and sustained applause. His various positions in life had brought him close to many great men and women, and his position at the United Nations, one might argue, conferred upon him some modest level of greatness. But while occasionally his words had been applauded, he himself had never been accorded that honor—and certainly never for simply walking into a room. Decker nodded politely to acknowledge and thank the assembly.

“Come with me,” a familiar voice said from behind him. It was Jackie Hansen, who, either by coincidence or design had been near the door where Decker entered. “Gaia wants you up front with her,” she said, referring to Gaia Love, the director of the Lucius Trust and sponsor of this gathering.

Attendance was high, and it took them several minutes to make their way to the front. Everyone they passed wanted to shake Decker’s hand or pat him on the back. One woman in her mid-thirties, an adherent of Wicca—a nature religion aligned with the New Age—was a bit more expressive in her admiration for the man who had raised Christopher from a child. Unnoticed by Decker or Jackie, the woman slipped loose the knot of a cord wrapped around her waist, and when they were a few feet away she dropped the cord and opened wide the long robe she wore, revealing her totally nude and very well-endowed body. In a flash, she ran and wrapped her arms around Decker, swallowing him into the warm silken cocoon of her robe. Things had changed a lot in the world since Decker was young: Most of the old taboos had disappeared, except among a few conservative religious groups. Public nudity, or partial nudity with a few skimpy accessories that hid nothing, was common in most of the world, and it was not unusual to find couples or even groups having sex on the beaches or in the parks. Still, Decker was old-fashioned enough to be a little stunned by the Wiccan woman’s attentions.

“Gaia is waiting for Mr. Hawthorne,” Jackie said as she tugged Decker loose from the woman. Whether out of respect for Gaia Love or for Jackie’s six-foot-two-inch stature, the woman grudgingly released her hold, allowing them to continue.

In this one room was nearly every major leader of the New Age movement. So many were there that it seemed to Decker that Christopher and Milner must have understated the extent to which the world had already been prepared for the arrival of the New Age. There were heads of state, members of the World Court, celebrities from television and movies, sports figures, labor leaders, the entire board of the World Council of Churches, several Roman Catholic and Orthodox bishops and cardinals, some high-profile Protestant ministers, and numerous other religious leaders.

Gaia Love’s invitations for the meeting had stated its purpose as “a time of fellowship and celebration for the arrival of the New Age.” But beyond the handshakes, greetings, and smiles, as Decker looked around him he saw the shadow of concern. Along his path he caught snippets of conversation about the events in Jerusalem, beginning with the resurrection of John and Cohen and the earthquake that followed. As he reached the front of the room, he even heard Gaia Love saying something about Israel, but he was unable to hear exactly what.

The quake had caused major damage throughout Jerusalem, with about 10 percent of the city utterly destroyed and a death toll of no less than seven thousand. Christopher spoke on television and radio immediately after the quake to assure the world that this was not the beginning of a new reign of terror. “John and Cohen will not return,” he stated without reservation. “Their resurrection was intended to incite panic by a god who thrives on fear, but I appeal to you to remain calm. John and Cohen are gone and they will never return! It is those who serve Yahweh who should fear, for they know they are no match for the will of a united Humankind.”

Insta-polls after the speech indicated that most believed Christopher. But in an ironic twist that defied logic, thousands of Israelis—many who had lost relatives in the quake—instead of seeing the death and destruction as proof of Yahweh’s malevolent nature, actually worshiped him all the more, saying that this was evidence of his power, as though his power itself made him worthy of their worship. Even more absurd, however, was that the Jewish high priest and his followers were actually rejoicing in John and Cohen’s resurrection. True, they had hated John and Cohen before their deaths; and true, they still hated John and Cohen’s followers, the KDP, but a few things had changed. First, following the example of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend,” the resurrection of John and Cohen was seen as a direct challenge to Christopher’s power. There was also the fact that John and Cohen, despite their strange ways and teachings, had, after all, been raised from the dead and apparently called by God into heaven. Additionally, throughout its history Israel had always looked more generously on its dead prophets than its live ones, and while John and Cohen were no longer dead, they were at least gone.

And there was one other factor: For while the proverb may be true that a prophet will not be honored in his own city, that same city will fight to defend even a local brigand if outsiders attack him. So it was that John and Cohen now enjoyed a significantly improved position in the hearts of those who had for years been their strongest opponents.

As Decker shared pleasantries with Gaia Love, the large auditorium fell silent, many previously noisy attendees stopping in mid-sentence. Secretary-General Christopher Goodman had entered the auditorium, followed by Robert Milner. To Decker, the mood in the room suddenly seemed far less like a meeting and much more like a spiritual conclave. It would take him a while to get used to the change in the way people responded to Christopher. The room remained silent as Christopher and Milner made their way to the dais, and then from somewhere in the huge auditorium a single clap was heard. When no one else joined in, the lone clapper quickly stopped, obviously embarrassed by the apparent faux pas. No one was quite sure, but it seemed somehow improper etiquette to applaud a god.

Sensing the tension in the room, Christopher quickly reached the microphone and in response to the lone clapper, dead-panned, “Thank you. It’s nice to know I’m among friend.” The humor had the desired effect as reflexive laughter broke the ice and resounding applause followed.

Christopher smiled and the large video screen behind him showed the look of appreciation on his face to everyone in the auditorium. “Friends, auspicious assembly, welcome,” he began when the room finally quieted again. One of the things Decker had learned in his days as a speechwriter is that the more important a speaker is, the less he has to say to get applause. Now that it had been established that it was appropriate to clap for Christopher, that axiom once again held true.

When the applause for his greeting subsided, Christopher continued. “I have just come from a meeting of the Security Council. The main focus of that meeting was the situation in Israel. As all of you know, since the earthquake, the UN has made several offers to provide Israel with medical assistance and support troops to help restore order and rebuild the city. Each of our offers has been met by curt refusals from the Eckstein government,” he said, referring to the Israeli prime minister. All things considered, this seemed to Decker a strange subject to lead off Christopher’s address.

“Three things have made these refusals particularly troublesome. The first is the magnitude of the suffering, as we have all seen daily on news reports. The second is that while the Eckstein government fails to deal with the present human crisis, another crisis is looming as members of the Koum Damah Patar recklessly lead thousands of their naïve followers into the barren Jordanian desert. Third, based on Prime Minister Eckstein’s own statements, there can be no doubt that his real objections to UN assistance are founded solely on his own stubborn religious prejudices and his loyalty to the ultra-orthodox religious groups within his party.

“Fortunately for the people of Israel, not all members of the Likud are as tied to the religious cords of Israel’s high priest as is Mr. Eckstein. We have just learned that a few hours ago the Social Democrat Party under the leadership of Golda Reiner has formed a coalition with six other minority parties, thus forcing an election.”

At this news, Gaia Love leaned over to Jackie Hansen and Decker and whispered excitedly, “Golda is a good friend. I’m sure we can count on her.”

“In the meantime,” Christopher continued, “because of the urgent nature of Israel’s situation, Ms. Reiner has taken emergency control of the government and has officially issued a request that the Security Council immediately authorize assistance to Israel. I am pleased to announce that the Security Council has unanimously agreed to provide such aid.”

With all the suffering that the world had experienced, it seemed strange to Decker that Christopher’s announcement concerning Israel should elicit much interest or excitement, but suddenly the auditorium exploded into cheers and celebration. Obviously the news was far more significant to those gathered than he realized. His only explanation was that by asking for assistance, Israel—the only nation in the world that was not a member of the United Nations8—was at last recognizing its dependence on the rest of the world. While this was not the same as rejoining the UN, Decker could only assume that those around him believed that it was the logical next step. Still, the news hardly seemed worthy of mention, much less of such enthusiasm.

Christopher’s speech continued for nearly an hour and a half, making it one of his longest ever. Leaving the subject of Israel, Christopher outlined his plans to repopulate the countries whose people had been wiped out by the madness. The UN would assist people who could trace their ancestry to the affected countries to move there and rebuild their society. Christopher acknowledged that it could take centuries to accomplish this goal, but he again pointed out that soon the human lifespan would no longer be limited to a scant few decades. To encourage migration to these countries, the Security Council had voted unanimously to offer land grants and substantial financial incentives to these immigrants.

“The Security Council has also voted,” Christopher revealed, “to support my recommendation to build a major new United Nations headquarters complex at a site in the affected area which, if the General Assembly agrees, will ultimately serve as a replacement to the aging complex here in New York.

“I am particularly excited about this project,” Christopher continued, “because of the location that has been selected. In a demonstration of the unyielding strength and defiance of the human spirit, the site for the new United Nations headquarters will be near the place where the madness began—in a place of tremendous historical significance to all Humankind—for it was near this site that the first Theatan ship landed over four billion years ago and life on earth began. It was near this spot, in what legend has called the Garden of Eden, that Humankind first established its independence from the rule of Yahweh and any other would-be god. Later, in this same general vicinity, Humankind first united to work together to build a great city and tower before being dispersed by the despotic Yahweh. And it is from this city that Nebuchadnezzar once ruled the world!” The auditorium filled with cheers, for it seemed that everyone there knew exactly what city Christopher was talking about, and they obviously approved: Babylon, already partially rebuilt by the Iraqi people over the last several decades. But again, the crowd’s excitement and approval seemed to Decker to be inexplicably high for what to him was just a matter of real estate.

March 21, 1 N.A.
Jerusalem

“Our mission,” said General Parks to the reporters assembled at 6:00 A.M. in the lobby of the King David Hotel, which served as temporary headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping force, “is strictly humanitarian in nature. Thanks to the support and cooperation of Prime Minister Golda Reiner, the arrival and deployment of UN troops have been entirely successful, and UN forces throughout Israel now number more than fifty thousand. Food and medical supplies, which arrived last night, will begin to be distributed within the hour. Only one loose end remains.

“Preying upon fear and hysteria, the KDP has incited many people in Israel, charging that the UN forces who are here to assist in this time of crisis are actually an invasion force. They have already led several hundred thousand Israeli citizens—some estimates range as high as one-sixth of the Israeli population—into the Jordanian wilderness as though in some modern-day exodus from Pharaoh. Their objective appears to be both to flee the supposed invading forces of the UN and to take advantage of the recent decimation of the Jordanian population to set up illegal settlements deep in that country’s territory.

“While I think we’d all like to see the KDP leave Israel, in order to prevent this incursion into Jordan by Israeli civilians, we have placed blockades at every road leaving the country. However, we failed to anticipate the level of hysteria. Faced with blocked roads, the KDP and their followers have set out on foot across the desert into Jordan. Because of the long drought, it was relatively easy for people to cross the shallow Jordan River undetected.”

General Parks nodded to an aide who then displayed a satellite photo of the region.

“Those fleeing Israel are organized into seven major contingents with numerous smaller groups scattered up and down the length of Israel’s border with Jordan.” Parks pointed to an area on the display. “On foot, and left to their own devices,” Parks continued, “we estimate that most of these people will not survive more than three to five days in the barren wilderness terrain.

“To prevent this tragedy, as we speak, six battalions of United Nations soldiers have moved to within three kilometers of a location west of the city of Ash-Shawbak, Jordan, where the largest contingent camped last night.” Again Parks pointed to the satellite photo. “We have named the campaign Operation Roundup,” he said with a self-amused grin. “Our objective is to encircle each of the camps, provide emergency food and water as needed, and then return the people to Israel. Members of the KDP who are captured will be held for questioning and possible criminal charges by the civilian authorities.”

General Parks tucked his laser pointer into his shirt pocket. “I have time for three or four questions,” he concluded. Several reporters shouted out their questions, but Parks ignored them and pointed to a reporter in the back.

“Do you anticipate resistance from the KDP and, if so, how will you respond?”

“Our reconnaissance indicates no organized defense, and we have found no evidence of weaponry. What we have here is a disorganized collection of frightened and confused civilians,” he said authoritatively. “However, should we encounter resistance, our orders are first to defend ourselves and then to use all appropriate force to accomplish our mission.”

“Is there any possibility that the KDP possess powers similar to those of John and Cohen?” asked the same reporter in follow-up to her first question.

“There is no record of any member of the KDP displaying any such ability. About the worst they’ve been able to do,” he said with a chuckle, “is embarrass people.”

“Did I understand you correctly, that as many as one-sixth of the Israeli population has followed the KDP into Jordan?” another reporter asked.

“Well, that’s the high end on the estimates. It’s probably closer to 10 or 12 percent,” the general answered.

“Still, how can there be so many? No previous estimates indicated that the KDP had anywhere near that many followers.”

“We believe that only about a third to a half are actually core supporters of the KDP, with the rest consisting primarily of ultra-conservative Jews who are upset about the decision to open the Temple to all races, religions, and nationalities. The remainder are just misguided civilians who believe the KDP’s claims that United Nations forces have come here as an invading army.”

“Is it true that former Prime Minister Eckstein and High Priest Chaim Levin are among those who have left Israel?” asked another reporter.

“I cannot answer any questions regarding specific individuals,” General Parks said, pointing to another reporter.

“Why have you seized the Jewish Temple?” demanded a member of the Jewish press, who was obviously seething.

Parks immediately regretted having selected this particular questioner, but he knew better than to let that show on his face. “The order to secure the Temple,” Parks said calmly, not responding to the tone of the questioner, “came directly from Secretary-General Goodman. With the complete cooperation of Prime Minister Reiner and in keeping with the promise he made when he was here nine days ago, the secretary-general has directed that the Temple be secured until order has been restored. Following the restoration of order, the Temple will be reopened to all people regardless of nationality or religion.”

Parks ignored the questioner’s bellowed follow-up about the unusual method by which Golda Reiner had seized control of the government and why no election had been held, and he quickly pointed to another reporter.

“Has Operation Roundup been approved by the secretary-general?” the next reporter asked.

“Operation Roundup is a tactical measure, not a strategic one. All tactical decisions are my call.”

West of Ash-Shawbak, Jordan

As UN forces advanced cautiously in armored personnel carriers (APCs) to within a quarter mile of the Israeli encampment, a swarm of helicopters flew overhead and began to drop leaflets on the camp. The leaflets identified the UN’s intent and instructed those in the camp to stay calm and surrender any weapons they might have. The leaflets promised that no one would be hurt as long as there was no resistance. Food and water would be provided for all, buses would be available for the elderly and handicapped, and an escort would lead the rest safely back to Israel.

The advancing APCs stopped, and the soldiers inside disembarked to go the remaining distance on foot. To avoid panic, they had been ordered to leave their rifles in the APCs and had been issued pistols, which they were told to keep holstered unless ordered otherwise.

As the soldiers moved closer, three men from the camp walked quickly toward them, apparently hoping to speak to those in charge. At once the commanding general, Harlan MacCoby, ordered the troops to halt in order to determine the intent of the three men. The soldiers obeyed and General MacCoby’s jeep drove through the line toward the Israeli delegation.

Through binoculars the general was quickly able to verify his suspicions about the three men. The markings on their foreheads revealed that they were members of the KDP. The general held out little hope that talking would accomplish anything, but it was incumbent upon him to try.

“Tell your forces to go back and allow us to continue on our journey,” one of the KDP stated firmly when the general’s jeep stopped in front of them.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the general responded.

“If even one of your men comes beyond where we now stand,” said another of the KDP, “the Lord God will punish the whole of your command.”

“We have no intention to harm anyone,” General MacCoby countered, “but you must agree to return to Israel.”

“Nor do we wish any harm to come to you or your army,” one of the KDP responded, “but you must allow us to continue.” With no further discussion the three KDP turned and headed back for their camp.

“Do not resist!” General MacCoby yelled after them in warning. He waited a moment for a response but when none came he gave the order for his troops to continue.

Within two minutes the first of the troops reached the point where the encounter with the KDP had occurred. For a moment the general held his breath, but as they crossed the imaginary line the KDP had drawn, nothing happened. Soon they were within a hundred yards of the camp. In front of them more than a hundred members of the KDP waited, forming a wall of flesh between the Israelis and the UN forces. Behind the KDP the entire camp waited anxiously, watching the advance. Then as if on cue—though no word was spoken and no sound made—every member of the KDP fell face down onto the ground and let out a wail to their god. With no more warning than that, as far as the eye could see, the ground beneath the soldiers’ feet quivered briefly and became like quicksand, which swallowed the struggling and screaming soldiers and all of their equipment. In just seconds it was over. The ground became solid again, burying alive 7,200 men and women from twenty-seven nations. Not one soldier or piece of military equipment remained.

*

For the second time in less than a week, Christopher was forced to go before the world to appeal for calm. Despite the fact that General Parks had ordered Operation Roundup without consulting him, Christopher accepted sole responsibility for what had occurred. General Parks had acted in good faith in what he considered to be a tactical decision over which he had full authority. While it could have been argued that the operation was strategic and not tactical in nature—and therefore General Parks should have consulted his superiors—making such an argument now would not bring the dead back to life. All that Christopher could do, though belatedly, was to issue a directive that no United Nations forces were to engage members of the KDP unless he himself ordered them to do so. He pledged, however, that the day would come when such an order would be given and on that day those who had died would be remembered and justice would be delivered.

Undeterred by what had occurred, in fact encouraged and jubilant, the first large contingent of those who followed the KDP soon reached their destination. As satellite photography revealed, their objective was the ancient Moabite and Nabataean city of Petra in southwestern Jordan.

Decker struggled most of the night to remember why that name sounded familiar. It had been twenty-three years since he had overheard Petra discussed late one night in the Rosens’ kitchen.

Excerpted from Acts of God , by James BeauSeigneur . Copyright (c) 1988, 1998, 2001, 2004 by James BeauSeigneur. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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