I I,


K I P P U R,






Chapter One

Over on Earth I, the Rapture has taken place just as the evangelicals believed and said it would, but Heloise Turnbull, one of the most successful televangelists, has been left, unaccountably, since she had built her whole message around the doctrine of the Rapture. It takes her a while to adjust and realize the cause for why she was left behind is herself--and meanwhile, she has to flee the U.S. to Israel, where she hopes she can sit out the collapse of her empire and all the legal wranglings over her ministry's immense assets. When the Anti-Christ attacks Israel, which has identified him as an imposter and not Messiah and pulled away from his dictatorial control, Heloise is forced to flee Jerusalem with a Jewish family where she has served as a caregiver, maid, and whipping post for a tormented old harridan who could not forget the nightmarish abuse she had suffered as a young girl in the Nazi death camps--and had to take it out on somebody, even her own family, if there was nobody else available.

Heloise, of course, being a foreign goy, was ideal for the abusive old woman to take out her inner pain on. And she wasted no opportunity to make life an absolute hell for Heloise--as if the Anti-Christ Dictator wasn't making life hellish enough for the inhabitants (and particularly the underground Christian believers) of earth.

It was the last straw, however, for the Jews when their World Union "Premier" invaded their new temple and declared himself Messiah and God in one person, and even set up a golden holographic image of himself for people to worship when he wasn't on the premises sitting on his throne.

As one man, the Israelis forgot all their differences, sectarianism, and secularism, and politics, and revolted, staging mass demonstrations outside the defiled temple, seizing the image which they called "the abomination of desolation" and destroying it, pulling to pieces the World Union guards who had already opened fire on them.

The World Union could not let this revolt go unchecked. It was a most sensitive, faith-based issue--which could quickly boil over Israel's borders into the neighboring Moslem Arab states which were keenly observing it. They too had a deity, Allah, and would the World Leader do the same to them as he had just done to the Jews at their own temple. Was he going to march in to the Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa Mosque or even the Shrine of the Rock in Mecca and declare himself both Allah and Mohammed returned to earth? What would stop him from such sacrilege, after what he had already done to defile Israel's temple?

This fear was already running rampant in the Arab bloc of nations, and adding to the tension everyone felt in Israel the moment they cast the detestable holographic image out into the street and ran a tank over and over it until it was ground to dust.

Watching this happen from his headquarters in Rome, the world's ruler decided finally to act in order to keep the Arabs from joining the revolt in defense of their own god and prophet. The world dictator finally turned on his once trusting but not outraged ally, Israel, with the same fury he had used on Christians--giving the Jews a rerun of the Holocaust. His armies fell upon Israel, disarmed of its nuclear defenses according to the treaty they had signed with him in exchange for a World Union-guaranteed peace with the Arab bloc, and quickly overran the tiny country--carving it up and letting the Arab nations in his empire devour the Jews to their hearts' content. The rapes, the executions, the beheadings of rabbis, the destruction of synagogues, the leveling of whole areas of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the sheer joy of destroying anything Jewish--it was barbarism that had not been seen since the days of Titus and Genghis Khan and the Spanish Inquisition. And what had the Jews done to warrant such ferocity and extermination? Nothing except settle on and develop a small strip of land nobody wanted--not until the Jews had sweated and slaved and used their ingenuity to turn it into some of the most productive land on earth. That was just too much an effront to the Arab neighbors of Israel. They had possessed it for centuries, and the land was virtually worthless, unable to support only a low population with subsistent lives--so to witness these few Jews transform the barren wilderness of Palestine into a cornucopia, into a lush, blooming oasis full of plenty--that was more than Israel's Arab neighbors could take. Moslems were superior, as they were taught since earliest childhood, and yet these inferior Jews--not any better than swine in their opinion--had surpassed them in a mere generation, and on the same tracts of rocky, arrid land where they had scratched a bare existence for centuries--since their Prophet had ascended on horseback to heaven. How did the wretched Jews do it? It had to be Satan's trickery--the Jews could not possibly have performed such a miracle. Everyone knew they were too stupd, lazy, and

And so the Arabs, in taking part in the dismemberment of Israel and the genocide, were wiping the slate clean, they thought, when they joined the world leader at his invitation in the conquest of Israel. There would be no more Israel, and no more shame either--everyone would soon forget what Israel had been like-- and people would soon adjust to the howling wilderness and the lack of food and the hardscrabble existence they had always known in this area before the upstart Jews had invaded to upset everything by improving the entire area under their control.

Heloise had been one witness of the second Shoah, or Holocaust, and she would never forget the sight of Jerusalem bombed and burning. Then the armies roaring in--sacking, raping, burning, blowing up this building and that building, bulldozing whole neighborhoods, attacking and defiling churches and synagogues--doing all the things barbarian hordes do. She really could not tell any difference between the Anti-Christ's soldiers and his Arab allies--they acted exactly the same and possessed the same venom against the Jews and all things Jewish.

Yet she knew it wasn't really inhumanity she was witnessing--it was something far more sinister--it was the Evil One himself, wreaking vengeance for all he had suffered at empty tomb of Christ, when it dawned on him that he had won a battle, killed Christ, but lost the war.

Heloise could easily imagine how he thought about the events of the Cross and the Resurrection. The Cross had been a defeat of God, in Satan's book. His victory, and Christ's death. But the Resurrection reversed it entirely, he soon found out. The Resurrection defeated him, the mighty Satan, and make Yeshua the lowly carpenter, the Son of God and Messiah, the victor! That victory had stolen everything he had thought he would possess forever--the keys to death and hell--the prisons above and below the earth where he held the whole of humanity in shackles of fear and guilt and condemnation. Forced to give them up to the risen Christ, he was shorn of all his power. Now all he could do was bluff and intimidate and deceive and distract--for he was, essentially, powerless, now that humanity had been given a way to escape his kingdom and enter Yeshua's--by choice. That was the only weak chink in Yeshua's new armor--choice! Humans still had to choose--and so he realized early on, if he could deceive them enough to think the choice wasn't worth making, or would cost them too much, or was meaningless, or could be put off to a more convenient time--he had them suckered! He could still populate hell with all his conquered human souls--and hurt God in the only way he could still hurt him.

It was a harrowing experience being a witness of Israel's destruction. The Moslem Arabs, Turks, and various Central Asian cohorts had shown their true colors--their irrational, pathological hate for Israel had turned them into utter beasts and they were no longer human beings--they only looked human. As for the Anti-Christ, he was acting true to form, no longer keeping up any pretension or claim to human compassion or civilized humanity. Of course, with her looks she was relatively safe--as the good-looking Jewish women were the most sought after. But as the days passed, the armies turned to raping even the elderly and the mentally retarded and children. Nothing was beneath them! Men and boys were raped as well--those who were still alive, that is, after the first massacres when all the male population was herded together and shot. The Anti-Christ's concentration camps were packed with survivors, but these were convenient places for the soldiers of the Antichrist and the Arab allies to come on their nightly rampages, as they looked for more men, boys, women, and girls to rape and torture.

One night, however, there was a terrific shock for everyone in her compound, when IDF, dressed as world government troops, burst in, killing their drunken guards and herding them out to waiting jeeps and trucks. Thehy were given a wild trip into the Judaean wilderness, and they all wondered if they would not all die there as soon as their captors realized what had happened and came in hot pursuit.

Yet, unknown to them, the IDF's breakaway units had done their prep work well--they had sent mortars and missiles into the communication centers of the Antichrist and his allies--and created enouch confusion that their raid on the Hillel compound was not reported for hours--giving them the critical window of time to get scot away.

Ahead of the jeeps and trucks, the Gideon Task Force (the secret name for the remaining units of the IDF) had secured the area where they would be picked up and flown to the secret base outside Israel's territory. Nobody has any idea where it is, except Heloise, who knew from her own Bible prophecy teaching that it was probably Petra--and she would be proven correct.

Weeping with relief, exhausted from the bone-numbing ride in vehicles with little or no shocks, the refugees fell into the arms of the waiting Gideon Task Force and were loaded onto the helicopters.

At the time she flees via an Israeli army chopper belonging to the breakaway units of the Israeli Army, she is ripe for reconciliation with her family and the husband who divorced her for her loveless treatment of him and her two daughters and son--sacrificing them all for the sake of building her ministry up to Forbes 500 status.

Aloes, her son, is the most angry with her, but he lands at the secret base of the lost city of Petra, set deep in the south Jordanian desert rocks and canyons, to join the hidden base of Israelis who are trying to escape extermination, a Second Shoah in Jerusalem, inflicted by the occupying armies of the World Dictator and his allies.

Heloise goes to meet Aloes as he lands.

It goes better than she has hoped, after she admits to him everything she had done that had separated them. He forgives her. The painful, festering breach between them is healed. She becomes his mother again, even though he is now a grown man.

The days following Aloe's arrival were chiefly ones of getting to know one another, in the whole family, for everyone had changed dramatically, not least of all, Heloise.

Aloes was very restless, however. Despite his "confession," he fully intended to enlist to join the Israeli Army, if they would accept him after he told them about it.

Heloise did not like the sound of his enlisting, but respected his decision enough not to argue with him. She did not think the Israelis would take him, as he was not Israeli in nationality, and there were other counts against him too--his lack of any military training and the course he should have taken in high school to prepare him for it. The Israelis, she knew, were very exacting in their requirements--and they didn't budge on them either. She hoped Aloes was not setting himself up for a big disappointment so early in his life--one which he did not need at this point, she felt. But what was she to do? She had to let him become a man--for this is what this move of his signified, she instinctively, as a mother, knew was happening with him.

Aloes seemed a brand-new person, the old sullen expressions utterly gone, and his face and movements full of purpose and anticipation, after announcing his decision to his family. He wasn't asking their approval, but they all knew he badly wanted it. It was a hard thing--to appear to support him in something they realized couldn't possibly result in a change for the better.

He had to wait, however, before General "M," commander of the army of resistance, the Gideon Task Force, as it was called, arrived. There was no set time for his arrival--as there probably were informers among the refugees--and they weren't going to risk an assassination of the only general of Free Israel's GTF that they had left.

Aloes could hardly sleep at night, Heloise noticed, for he was living for the moment on the one thought that he could run and enlist as a mercenary--as he assumed that was the best way for a non-national to be accepted in a unit strapped for bodies.

In the daylight hours he was studying some obsolete but still helpful war and basic training manuals he had scavenged from a firebombed library and brought along--hoping to glean some kind of knowledge of guns and maneuvers that would help a little.

He offered to clean the rifles the army men had--but was refused, of course. He could only examine them visually, and try to imagine how they worked.

Doing anything he could to make himself useful around the Israeli army camps, he did learn some things, and also was able to practice on his budding Hebrew with some of the more patient soldiers who thought he was almost too friendly an American but appreciated his helpful ways, always on hand to volunteer for the dirty, sweaty, time-consuming jobs of housekeeping and off-loading trucks and--hardest task of all-- digging trenches for various defenses which they didn't have enough men to do as quickly as they needed.

The trenches were unspeakably gruelling--the temperatures well over 100 degrees--and without a breeze blowing on him it felt like an electric frying pan turned on high. He endured it, but wondered sometimes after hours sweating and slaving away, how much longer he could hold out before he collapsed right there in the trenches.

To cool off at nights, he took his thin army-issue sleeping bag and slept outside the tomb entrance, hoping to be the first to spot the general's chopper. He searched among the glittering stars--which were more like jewels than stars--they were so brilliant and faceted. Would the general ever come? Had he been assassinated somewhere back in the secret installation outside Jerusalem where the Anti-Christ's forces were pounding away with all their firepower, using air strikes and field artillery and bunker-busting missiles to finish his mop-up of the last crack units of the Israeli army? Would they have to wait weeks more, only to hear the crushing news that the general nicknamed "Mac the Knife" because he preferred a Swiss knife on his belt to a gun wasn't coming after all? What would they do then? They might as well surrender! But he knew he wouldn't even as he considered the thought.

The Anti-Christ would behead them all before an arena packed with his cheering slaves, after torturing them to get all the information he wanted. That was what he always did to anyone who dared to resist him.

No, there would be no surrender, general or no general.

Aloes continued thinking about it. After they heard the general had been taken and executed, would Free Israel have to move again? And where? This was the safest place in the world--an almost inpenetrable maze of thousand-foot-deep crevices and boulder-strewn wadis. The Siq that led to Petra wouldn't permit anything but a single jeep at a time--and so they were safe--no big armor could ever reach them. Only by air was the site militarily accessible, yet it was hidden--the tombs and buildings of Petra overhung by the high cliffs--which all looked the same by air. Anyone firing at them had to fire blind--for they would see nothing from the air. Nothing!

And the Israelis had make it even more difficult to spot their missiles and motor pools, depots and supply camps. They were covered with thorn bushes and netting, so thick they were perfectly blended with the terrain and invisible from the air. Trenches and detection lines set with sensors made it impossible for anyone to approach them on foot either without alarms being set off--and then there were the land mines further out, both anti-personnel and armor-piercing--a double barrier, if you didn't count the highly trained, ever watchful commandoes of Free Israel, who were constantly on guard, and at night too with heat-sensing scanners and night vision goggles.

Petra was as good as impregnable--or at least, in the area Free Israel's last units of the IDF had dug into, made so costly for any attacker that he would probably lose 80-90% of his forces and their equipment in a full assault. It was also an official UN World Heritage Site, which was supposed to keep it neutral and off-limits for bombing, at least on paper.

Aloes was amazed at the thoroughness--the Israelis had the best techniques and gear in the world--and the training needed to make it work superbly, in second-by-second precision timing. To belong to such a fighting force--small as it now was--was the highest calling he could think of. It was called the Gideon Task Force, he knew, but though Gideon was a brave Israelite commander who fought the invading armies of camel-ridng Midianites raiding Israel in the time of the tribes, David seemed a better way to picture them, to Aloes's mind.

Just the thought of the shepherd boy David hoisting his slingshot and taking on the swaggering, blasphemous, nine-foot-tall, heavily armored Goliath was the perfect way to describe the tiny Gideon Task Force taking on the seemingly invincible massed armies of the Anti-Christ and World Dictator with all the armed might of the world at his disposal--surely, that was defying the worst odds imaginable! Was it more than the lottery's 8 million to one?

Yet the thought of the astronomical odds arrayed against them was enough to thrill him to the core and make him want to do anything to get in on the action--even if it resulted in another Masada.

If he had to shine all the shoes and boots of the entire brigade and dig latrines and trenches and the dugouts for the missile launchers to hide in, just to get their good opinion of him, he would gladly do it! Never had he met such a dedicated bunch of men (and women too!)--all fiercely individual as only Israeli-born Sabras could be, but bonded to each other to the death--and each would give his life for the other if that was called for, rather than live and see a teammate get hit. But they weren't fighting for themselves and each other as much as for freedom. Never would they accept being boot-licking slaves to the World Dictator and bow down to him and his government officials. They would fight him and the whole world's armed forces to the death--and count it a pleasure! He even called himself God when he started to stamp on Israel, to cow them into submission with all the rest of the nations. But he had not known what he was dealing with when he touched Israel--Israel was different--Israel would not accept tyranny for any reason and by any man, however wonderful he seemed or how hopeless it may have looked to defy him. Israel--Aloes thought about it for a few moments, trying to get his impressions together in a single thought, a single unified conception--and he couldn't--for he was still on the outside, looking in. Would they open the door to him? He felt he would fling himself off a cliff above Petra if they refused him. His family would take it hard, he knew, but he wanted in that badly.

Hanging around the Israeli camps as he did, Aloes was the first in his family, or even among the refugees, to hear the news. Asher, an Israeli lieutenant who had taken Aloes under his wing, winked and took him aside. "No, don't put down your shovel, yankee, just listen!" said Asher. "Turn your face and don't look at me, and then I'll tell you."

Aloes obeyed.

"The big man has turned east, to stop the Asian armies!"

The moment he said that, Asher walked off.

Aloes, glancing at Asher's back just once before turning back to his work, felt cold in the burning sun. It was easy to figure out what Asher meant with his code words, needed even among the Israelis of Free Israel, since the Dictator had his informants everywhere. Who else could be the "big man" but MJ, who despite his effeminacy was proving to be the world's most tyrannical and ruthless leader ever known. By eliminating all possible rivals, he had made sure he was the only "Big Man" left in the world (at least the Western half of it, and including the Middle East)--the Antichrist, the son of the giant, heathen, uncircumcised, blaspheming Goliath who defied the armies of Israel. But if he turned east, had he forgotten little David in his rear? Or was he more concerned with the threat from the East and didn't have time to deal with David at Petra?

Aloes's thoughts whirled at the possibilities of this action. The whole course of the war was turning--Israel's way, for the first time since the opening attacks of the Anti-Christ on Israel. China, Myammar, Laos, Combodia, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Afghanistan and Iran--their combined armies of tens of millions, even hundreds of millions, were heading west on the Chinese-made road to lock horns with the Anti-Christ! This was exactly what his mother had preached and warned about in the days of her television ministry, wasn't it? She had quoted Revelation, which told of an army of the "kings of the East" who would lead a force of 200 million men against the Anti-Christ in the last days--and now it was actually happening! They would see it happen!

Now there was a chance--a tiny glimmer of a chance--this tiny remnant of Israel would survive to regather the scattered pieces of the shattered nation that the Big Man had crushed underfoot. There had to be thousands, hundreds of thousands, interned somewhere in his prison camps awaiting execution with his state-of-the-art laser-guillotine. The women raped, the men beaten and tortured, the children starved while Amnesty International, Humanity-Watch, and other human rights organizations looked the other way--they would be in terrible pain--surely, the Israelis would make their first offensive move, since retreat, to help them! Surely!

Aloes knew he was right about this, having spent enough time with Israelis to know how they thought and felt about their own. Now Free Israel's only mobile, offensive force could do something about them--if the right combination of surprise and brilliant strategy could pull off a rescue attempt. It would be the same as the Israelis had done back in the 20th century, when they freed a plane full of Israelis kidnapped by a particularly brutal Ugandan dictator called Idi Amin--a man who had already slaughtered two hundred thousand of his own mainly evangelical Christian people without a tear in order to rule over the country with his army of rapists and murderers and thieves. That rescue had been written into all the army manuals--it was so daring, so brilliant, and so impossible--yet only one poor elderly lady had died--the one so sick Idi Amin had taken her from the airport to the hospital and later executed when he heard her countrymen had all slipped from his net.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's brother, heading the rescue operation, had also died, catching a stray bullet at the airport--he too had been sacrified just when he was about to gain a very high position somewhere in the army or in the government, but the whole thing was glorious even with these deaths--and the world--at least the freedom-loving part--had never forgotten the utter courage and self-sacrifice of the rescuers who put all their lives on the line for those of the captives.

Aloes knew this had to be his main chance--and Israel's too, just when the world dictator was being distracted by the approach of the Asians. It was his time to apply for some part in the rescue. He knew Israeli practice in rescue operations. They would take only volunteers for such a suicide mission--and maybe--just maybe--they would accept a friendly foreigner like him, and take him along to do a particularly daring job not even an Israeli would do. Would he be coming back? Probably not! Probably not! But how else was he going to get in? He had to take this one main opening--short-handed, they might just take a volunteer. He had to see--or never know what could have happened if he stuck his neck out.

Aloes finished the trench, then threw it, and sat down. He was sweating gallons, the salt getting in his eyes, but he didn't care. He had to figure out how he was going to volunteer for a mission he shouldn't have known about. Asher had tipped him off, but he couldn't compromised his friend. They would be sure to suspect anyone who had shown the least bit attention to him. No, he had to think of something to divert them first.

Then he knew! His task done, he ran back all the way to the tomb. He was gasping and covered with grime, his hair hanging down over his eyes, when he staggered into the tomb and surprised his family gathered round a small table (an army cot laid with piece of armor for a smooth surface). Everyone dropped what they were eating--Israeli army k-rations Heloise and Esther tried to make as palatable as possible by removing all the wrappers for everyone--to stare at him.

"What is it?" Heloise cried, springing up. She rushed to him.

He dropped down, trying to get his breath.

"I've got some really important news, but you have got to let the other refugees know before you tell any Israeli solder--let it come from someone else, rather than any of us--what I am going to tell you. It's the strategy I had to think up--so that they won't think we have spies in their camps. You wouldn't want them to think bad of us, would you?"

Aloes hated to think he was deceiving his own family--but he knew he couldn't tell them everything--not just now anyway.

Getting their cooperation, he continued. "Don't ask me how I learned this, just listen to me. We're safe here! The Anti-Christ isn't going to bother with us after all--not for a while anyway. That'll give us a time window to do some more diggin' in."

Aloes's parents both gazed at him thunderstruck. "How do you know this?" Heloise said in a quiet, strained voice.

"Like I said--take my word for it, I know! He's not coming down here after all--he's got more important business to attend to than attack us and lose most of whatever he sends to root us out!"

"He's not coming?" his sisters chorused. "He's not going to attack us?" They looked round at their parents and also Esther and her family, who we re just as shocked, since they had heard about this "Anti-Christ" before from the evangelical Christian Turnbulls in their midst and were now more than inclined to believe he really was the monster of blasphemy that the word "Anti-Christ" signified.

The whole group began to celebrate when the reality finally sank in--they were saved! saved! The terrible dread of weeks had suddenly been lifted off them all--they were going to live and not die!

Aloes's sisters began to weep, their arms around each other, and even Esther's mother's eyes were shedding big tears of relief and thankfulness--she who had never wept for anyone, not since her tears had dried up after the first time she had been gang-raped as a little girl at the Nazi concentration camp.

Heloise went and pulled Aloes outside the tomb entrance. She could not have been more grim. "Aloes, do you know what you are doing? This could be the cruelest thing a man could do to us--give us all hope when it isn't true. Are you sure? Are you really sure about this?"

Aloes was held her gaze, and nodded. She reached and swept the hair away from his eyes and forehead and she looked deep into his eyes. Then she stepped back, and began weeping quietly. "I believe you," she said. "I can see you are convinced, and that is enough for me. You're not playing with us!"

She turned away and began laughing. Then stopped abruptly. She turned to him. "I thought I was going to go mad, waiting with the others for the attack, knowing it could come any minute, and this was the last place on earth we could run. Now...can you tell me anything more?

Aloes' father came out, and looking at them, paused and stood looking at them.

Aloes looked off toward the Israeli positions. "I can only add, that the Anti-Christ has gone to stop the Asians, the armies that are coming at him from the East. I guess his peace treaty with them fell through after all--they need the oil bad, and have had enough of his power grabs and aren't going to let him have the Middle East for his private fiefdom after all. That's all I know."

Before his mother could ask anything more, not trusting himself to keep back his intention for telling them this much, he turned to leave. As he took a couple steps away from the entrance toward the path leading down, his mother noticed and winced as if he was leaving them for good.

Aloes glanced at her, wondering if he had already been betrayed by a mother's intuition. Had she sensed what he could not tell her? He was still going to go through with his plan, whether she had guessed it or not.

Her face full of anguish, she still didn't call him back. "Do you want us to tell the others?" she said weakly. "Isn't that what you wanted us to do?"

"Oh, yeah!" he said, as casually as he could. "I don't want them suspecting my source, you know, and so if everyone knows, that will cover my tracks a bit. Just mention it to someone you know you can trust to spill the beans to the others--and it will soon get around. You women know what I am talking about, don't you?" He smiled, and that broke the tension, for his mother laughed.

"Yes, I think we gossipy old women with wagging tongues can manage it for you!"

She paused, then was serious again. "And thanks, Aloes! It's been a great relief to hear. You lifted a big heavy cloud off of all us! Thanks for telling us first before the others--thanks!"

She turned to his father. "Dad, do you have something?"

"No, he's grown--he can make his own decisions--but I'll be praying with your Mom, Al! Prayin' hard too!"

"Okay, I'll accept that as your vote of confidence!" he laughed. He gave them both a salute and then made it back down the goat track as fast as he could--his heart in his hand now he was on his way to seeing his dream come true. "Wow!" he thought. "I'll soon be pulling on an Israeli commando's uniform if I can pull it off the right way!"

The thought was so thrilling he was not looking very carefully at what was ahead. He never did see the rock that he stumbled over on the almost vertical slope, and found himself flying without anything under his feet, and the next thing he knew someone was bending over him, dampening his head with a wet towel.

Where was he? he wondered. It took him some time to figure it out. He was lying down on a cot, and overhead there were no stars, just a dark tent sunk halfway into the ground and some criss-cross netting showing where the entrance was, letting in some light from ground level.

Then he recognized the face--Asher! "You're got to take this," Asher said, holding a canteen to Aloes's mouth. "I laced it with some strong aspirin--you know, the high proof kind you can drink--for your head. Then rest. You got a bad knock, but I think you'll be all right--your skull is pretty thick. When you're better, the medic said he'd come and give you another checking out--but he didn't seemed too concerned."

Aloes drank almost the whole canteen, then sank back on the cot. It was so hot in the tented dugout, but he was used to the heat of Petra by now.

He was vaguely aware that Asher was spreading his bedroll and kicking off his boots and peeling his clothes down to his underwear to be more comfortable. Was Asher his nurse? That was quite a step down for a lieutenant, wasn't it? How come nobody else but Asher? Were they that short-handed? What was going on?

He turned around and lay on his stomach so he could face Asher.

"Thanks for looking after me," Aloes said, his head beginning to hurt for thinking so much. "Guess I fell back there on the trail, huh?"

"Shut up, big mouth Yankee!" said Asher, his eyes smiling but his face deadpan. "We can talk later. There's something big coming. But you may not want to hear it!"

Aloes drifted off, wondering what Asher was alluding to--could it be General Mac was coming at last to take command of Petra's forces? But if it wasn't good news, did that mean he wasn't coming, and something worse was headed their way? He had already told them what Asher had told him in confidence--so was the Anti-Christ coming after all to pounce on them with all the hardware he had massed together? It was a nightmare to think of--but sleep mercifully stopped the questions rattling around in his head.

When he awoke with a cracked throat and dry lips and felt like he had to drink something or dry up on the spot, Asher was waiting, evidently, holding a water bottle out.

After gulping all he could, Aloes sank back on the army cot with its ridiculous excuse for a matress.

He turned around again to face Asher, who liked to squat on the dugout floor because it was a couple degrees cooler than his cot.

"Hey, Asher, tell me a couple things, won't you?"

Asher said nothing, so Aloes continued.

"What is the news you got? Is MJ coming after all, or is it General Mac?

Asher didn't even blink. "Nothing I already said has changed. We still gotta wait for the general. He doesn't need to be here to give us the orders we need. Why should he expose himself to this stinking dump if he doesn't need to? He has more than this place to see to anyway--a lot more!"

Aloes's eyes felt like huge iron plates and began to close, but he struggled to keep them open. "Okay, okay. Glad to hear it. But you said there was big news--or something like that. What did you mean?"

The sabra--for he had been born in Israel--turned his eyes to the ceiling and then blew out his breath. "I don't know why I am telling you this. But maybe you need a big brother--and who else but me would fill in? I know you want to join us--and it is impossible. You're not Jewish, and we don't take mercenaries. That leaves you out for good. Yes, we're short of bodies--we are purely defensive in our condition. But there's a mission General Mac wants to do, as soon as possible too. Don't bother asking. I'll tell you a little about it right now."

Aloes was suddenly, completely, alert. He saw that the sabra's whole manner had changed. Asher was rigid all over his body--not a muscle wasn't twitching with the anger that was coursing through him.

"It's a rescue mission. The dictator is slaughtering our people, all those who are left, torturing them first in those hellhole camps he had set up outside Jerusalem. He isn't bothering to go to the expense and trouble of "re-educating" them as he promised the UN and the human rights organizations, now that he has got them to keep their mouths shut about his genocide. He really intends to wipe us out to the last man. He had destroyed our country, now he is going to kill every Jew on earth! We are waiting now for word on who is to go--and when--but first, they're calling for volunteers. If that's sufficient, they'll not order anyone to go."

What could Aloes say to that? His heart leaped at the word about volunteers. Here was his main chance, just as he had hoped! As for the genocide in Jerusalem, his ears burned with the report, though he wasn't entirely surprised. After all, his mother had taught the Bible for years and years, and the Book of Revelation had warned of things like this, hadn't she made that plain? But Asher--being a secular Jew--probably was facing it for the first time, and hadn't been warned. Like most Jews and Israelis, he was completely in the dark about why all these things were happening to his country and his people.

"I'm very sorry to hear what he's doing to your people, Asher. My mother taught the Bible's Book of Revelation, how there would come a world dictator who would try this very thing you are describing--to wipe you all out after he had defiled the Temple with his image. She said--"

That was as far as he got. Asher cut him off as he was just about to describe Armegeddon, the last great world war by the nations, when all these anti-God forces would be defeated and a Reign of Christ would begin.

"Don't you spout your Christianity on me! This is just politics, and has nothing to do with your beliefs and your Bible! Nothing!"

"Okay, Asher, have it your way!" Aloes replied, gently as he could, trying to soothe the sabra. Just the same, he had to risk offending him for the sake of truth, so he added, "You're the authority on this whole world--you don't need what the Bible or the Prophets--which are Jewish, by the way!--have to say to us on these events!"

That, Aloes knew, was the equivalent of looking a lion in the mouth!

Yet the dread moment passed, and then another, and still Asher didn't spring up and grab him as Aloes expected and throw him bodily out of the dugout, head first. Instead, Asher was sitting, thinking something through! Aloes dared to look over at him--the man was obviously struck by something he had said--and running it over in his mind.

Should he say anything more? Aloes wondered, his chest heaving with relief. Or just let Asher sift it through first?

Hee decided to wait and see what Asher made of it.

Asher shifted closer to Aloes's cot. "All right, all right, you made a point with me, Yankee! And so I will listen to you after all on the Bible and the Prophets--which are Jewish, I admit! But don't you lecture me on politics--that's my area of expertise--and my training was in solid facts, not visions and prophecies and mumbo jumbo like that! I'm not about to argue about the real facts I know! I'm nobody's fool.

Neither was Aloes going to argue religion with anyone! He knew his head wouldn't take it. But he had a sudden idea.

"Hey, Asher, you tell me your "facts," and I'll see if anything I learned from the Bible has something that can shed some light on them, for more understanding. Would you be adverse to that kind of approach? That's not a lecture. This way, we can express ourselves in a way we've comfortable with--agreed?

Asher nodded. "That sounds all right to me--so, anyway, where should I begin?"? Aloes thought for a moment, then had another thought. "Why not tell me how we got into this current mess and turmoil the world is in? How did Israel come to such a terrible state where you don't even have a country anymore and the dictator is about to kill off the whole Jewish race? Why is the whole world going head-to-head against Israel? What is the great crime Israel has committed to deserve that? Is Zionism such a terrible, unforgivable crime as they make it out to be?"

At his mention of these events and the questions they raised, Aloes sensed the mood in the dugout grew very strained, sober, and somber, all at the same time. And Asher--never one to move quickly except for defense or offense--took his time considering.

The sabra finally must have decided, for he fixed Aloes in his gaze, and began. "Okay, here are the facts. There is one main cause for allthis. It was the whole idea of land for peace that got us to this point of total destruction if Israel and the Jewish race--the land for peace idea was totally unworkable and mistaken from the beginning--but once we were committed to it--we never were able to stop it--and even when we wanted out--the world ganged up and kept forcing us. They must have passed a hundred UN resolutions condeming us, when all we were doing was trying to protect ourselves after being attacked by all our Arab neighbors, again and again! Even your country's presidents forced us to give up more and more land--though our enemies kept fighting us, even after we gave them everything they asked. Then each time after they attacked and we fought back in self-defense, we were blamed. It was impossible for us--four or five million against 100 to 200 million--until finally there came a world leader who promised to end this hopeless, deadend process of being eaten, piece by piece--and we bit, and it was turned out to be a poison apple!"

The sabra fell silent. Aloes wondered if he should explain to Asher that the land for peace idea was wrong because of one thing: it was land God gave to Israel in an everlasting covenant, and giving it away for any reason was breaking that holy covenant, something God could never overlook or sanction. Not only that, breaking the Covenant brought some terrible consequences too. Should he explain this? Asher needed to know the spiritual reason for the utter failure of land for epace--sooner or later. But Aloes sensed the Israeli had not said everything, so he waited.

Sure enough, Asher continued, slowly, each word forced out, as if he hated to say anything more on the subject.

"It wouldn't have gone so bad for us if our leaders hadn't lost their testicles. Oh, they looked like good, fighting men on the surface--Begin, Sharon--but the people, despite our victories, eventually were getting tired of fighting, tired of having to go to war so many times, and then came a change in our leaders, Prime Mininster Omert, who reflected what people were asking in their secret hearts--a man who wouldn't be a man. We all know what he did. He was too careful, way too afraid of world public opinion and wouldn't let us go and win our battles like real fighting men who love freedom, in the way we had been allowed in the past by better, stronger leaders who still had testicles. Our enemies then saw we had lost them--and along with them our will to fight--and pressed us all the harder. And so Omert and the others after him caved in all the more! Finally, all we had left on the table was our last card, our arsenal of nuclear weapons--for we weren't allowed to use our conventional military forces anymore by these crazy leaders of ours, who would sell our very land from out under us for a peace that nobody would guarantee! And, no surprise, they demanded we give them up too--for peace--peace at any price! Surrounded by Arab states that had nuclear weapons, we refused to be completely disarmed and then gobbled up, of course! But MJ came along, and he solved the crisis--and we then made our very biggest mistake--we believed him and his guarantees were real. Of course, now the proof is in--we were completely duped--and so now all we've got left of our country is this arse on the backside of the Jordanian desert!"

After this speech, Aloes could tell how bitter Asher was. He felt it--the whole dugout was full of Asher's bitterness over the mistakes of Israel's leaders in trading land for peace with enemies who would never hold true to the treaties they made with Israel. And there was a tinge of dispair--for what real hope was there, if all there was left was Petra? They were dug in to a place full of tombs--the tombs were testimonies that this was a place of death, not life. The rich, sophisticated, and proud city that once flourished in Petra had been left lying abandoned and silent, a dead city for many centuries, with desert sand blowing through its ruined markets and down its empty streets and across the foundations of once grand temples and mansions. It was a ruin that only Western tourists wanted to poke into--it was the last place where anyone would want to live or call home. And so Aloes could understand Asher's attitude and feelings toward the place. It was for him only good as a temporary haven for desperate Jews trying to elude the world dictator's tentacles, but as a home, it could never be that--and all Asher wanted, evidently, was to shake off the goatshead burrs and red dust of Petra from his feet, as soon as possible--only there was no place else for a Jew, or Israeli, to go. They were trapped! Cornered! With no way out!

What kind of hope could he possibly give to this Israeli soldier who had befriended him, who was struggling with an immense despair that he could not possibly handle?

It waa a tall order for him, Aloes realized. Could he help Asher? Yet, when he needed it most, memories of his mother's Bible prophecy teachings flooded back into his consciousness. He had been forced by her to listen in to some of her teaching sessions, and had resented it greatly at the time--and had half-listened or tried to concentrate on a book he took along (since she had ripped his headphones and music away from him).

It all hinged on the Messiah and his coming kingdom and restoration and reconstruction of the earth, he knew. That was the whole point of the prophecies of the End-Times, according to his mother, he remembered. The Messiah would come and conquer all opposition and make the world over as it was intended to be--for the people and their dishonest, self-serving, power-corrupted leaders had all failed the task miserably. Let do whatever they pleased, and they eventually destroyed the world fighting each other and treating each other worse than savage animals. But war, violence, sectarian strife, murder, rape, abuse, drugs, and immorality aside, the last world leader, the Anti-Chrirst, was the straw that broke the camel's back. He was destroying the entire planet with his insane policies and wars against Christians and believers in God, beheading every one he could identify. He wanted everyone to obey him and give up every last shred of freedom at the same time. Most people (except evangelical Christians and some of the Jews) were willing to do that--just to keep from starving to death. But that didn't save them, even after they took his chip implant and became his slaves for a food ticket. He was really the Devil incarnate--once he had total control, he had to make everyone worship him as God. How was the world to survive with such a madman at the helm? Obviously, it could not. And so now the world was about to erupt in a total war between East and West, thanks to the megalomania of a man who aimed to be God and rule with absolute power while lacking all justice and mercy to make his reign support and enhance human life!

Aloes knew all this, but he wondered how he could get it across to the likes of Asher. How could Asher accept the idea of a Messiah who was the only way the process could be stopped and the earth turned around, back to the right direction? If earth did not turn back to the right road, everyone on Earth was going to perish. Earth (at least the human portion of it) was finished! The Anti-Christ had led them all to a dead-end. But how would Asher see events according to this view? He wasn't religious in the least way. He had no training in Judaism, or any knowledge of the Jewish torah. All he knew was the socialism of the kibbutz and practical Israeli politics. For him the troubles Israel were experiencing didn't signify a titantic, age-old struggle of good and evil in the world. It was just politics--and good or bad decisions of the leaders and the various political parties.

That, Aloes knew, was a totally mistaken view. Man wasn't just a political animal. Every person on earth had a unique, divine role to play and a destiny, created by the Creator God. And God had left a divine Blueprint, a divine Roadmap leading to that destiny--His Word, the Bible. The Bible's sixty-six books, written over a course of thousands of years, told the whole, painful truth about the world--while offering the only real solution--whether the world accepted it or not. This was the absolute truth about the world, not just little Israel and the Jews. But how was he to get Asher to bite on that--a wholly religious view of the world--especially after he had already bitten MJ's poison apple and was bitter about it?

"Funny," Aloes thought, getting a self-realization, "how I am seeing and believing all this really for the first time! Up to now I was arguing with my mother's views--but now, in response to Asher, I am taking up all her positions, and seeing she was absolutely right on!"

A sudden, chilling thought came. How much exactly of the poison apple had his Israeli friend bitten off? Had Asher--?

Aloes had to know before he said anything more. It made all the difference. He had come to see Asher as more than a friendly Israeli who had taken an interest in him and his welfare. This man was a man after his own heart--somehow he sensed it, that he was knit to this man in a way only time would reveal. But the man's pain was real--and Aloes couldn't avoid it any more. What was the root cause? It really was hopeless for Asher--if he had already taken the Beast's "mark" in either his forehead or his hand. Somehow that mark, as the Bible said and his mother taught, was fatal--it doomed a man to hell. You literally sold your soul for it--and the access to the world economic system that it gave you in exchange.



"I need to ask you something personal. Okay?"


"Did you get the chip implant the government was demanding everyone get a while back?"

Asher didn't answer right away. Aloes thought he was going to die, waiting. Finally, Asher got it out.

"Naw, we had a choice, unofficially at least, in the army--and the records were cooked by Personnel for those who didn't want it--so I opted against taking it--even though they said I wouldn't ever be promoted beyond lieutenant if I didn't go along. When they said that, I told them to stick it. Nobody tells me stuff like that and I smile for the camera!"

Aloes felt pouring sweat on his forehead, and wiped it away with his bed sheet. He was so relieved, he couldn't think straight for a few moments. "Boy, am I glad--Asher, you did the right thing that time! I almost thought for a moment that you had buckled under!"

"Oh, really?" Asher laughed. "It ruined my chances to get promoted though. That was pretty stupid, wasn't it? I just didn't want anyone forcing me to take it--that was the only reason I had for rejecting it at the time. My parents took it without a moment's hesitation! I like to eat just as much as anybody else. But being in the army, I wouldn't starve--long as I stayed in, of course. So why was it so right for me to do, as you put it?"

Aloes then saw his first real opening with this battle-hardened Israeli sabra. He still saw things only in terms of power, politics, and whatever a man could handle and accomplish. That had been enough in the past--but it wasn't enough now--not nearly enough to get him any further in life, not with the world dictator breathing down every Jewish neck! Even Asher, big and strong and experienced as he was, was at his wits end--and knew it, even if he wouldn't admit it to an American Yankee. As for Aloes, he knew he had an opportunity to open this man's closed mind and open his eyes for the first time. Asher needed to know there was another world, another dimension, that he had not dreamt of. It was his window of escape--if he would take it.

Aloes stared at Asher, who was still looking at him, waiting for his reply. Would he bungle it? Aloes wondered. He prayed to God he wouldn't!

A couple days later Aloes was feeling much better. He couldn't stand the cot anymore, and was walking around. He wasn't yet planning a visit to his family, but they came and paid visits instead. Myrrha, Casia, his mom and dad, even Esther who could leave Anna for short periods, had to come to see how he was doing. They hadn't heard about his fall right away--so he was left in peace until now.

Aloes assured them he was feeling his old self, and they believed him, since he looked it, even if he was a bit pale even in the glaring sun outside the dugout.

After they had gone, Aloes's volunteer big brother returned from a meeting.

Aloes followed him inside the dugout, and watched as he went to his cot and pulled off his boots, his shirt, etc., and made himself comfortable. He checked the water jug, noticed it was getting low, and glanced up at Aloes.

"You could at least go fill this! Do I have to do everything, wait on you head and foot? Whadda ya think I am? Your humble servant?"

Aloes heard the gruff tone used, but didn't believe it went very deep, as he could see the same old "Irish twinkle" in the sabra's eyes.

Aloes went and got the 5-gallon jug and headed out. He paused. "Sorry, I didn't notice it was so low. Guess I didn't notice a lot of things lately. The general coming in, for instance. That was what the meeting was for, wasn't it?"

There was a significant silence in the dugout.

"I said," Aloes began repeating in a louder voice, "the meeting was for--"

Aloes hadn't expected to hear that order to pack up quite so soon from his friend. He didn't know what to do. He dropped the plastic jug, and it rolled away down the slope. He went back into the dugout and confronted his big brother.

"What do you mean, return to my home?"

Asher, stretching out on his cot, didn't look at Aloes, and settled down, looking toward the netting instead. "Just like I said. Fill the jug, then beat it. These quarters are for soldiers, not civilians--and half-baked foreigners at that!"

Aloes didn't like this at all, and it was hurting him now.

He sank down on the edge of his cot. "But I can't go now, Asher. You know what I am looking to do, and I don't have any other plan for my life. This is important to me, so how can you treat me like this?"

Asher rolled over, put his feet down on the dugout floor, then fixed Aloes with his steely eyes, no twinkle in them this time.

"You don't belong--you are not qualified! We don't take civilian volunteers in our army. So get out of here, kid, before I throw you out."

Aloes's ears burned, but he could tell Asher fully meant to carry out his threat.

He could not believe Asher could turn into a complete stranger, yet there was no mistaking what Asher had said--fill the jug and then beat it.

Aloes, left with no alternative, left the dugout and went and retrieved the jug and headed down to the water depot--a hidden site where the water supplies were kept. If there was another, no one had told Aloes. It was disguised with netting, and looked like just a bump in the terrain until Aloes got right up on it--but he knew how to find it because of various rocks and column fragments that lay along the route.

Water is life, and the depot was under guard day and night. Aloes went and presented himself at the entrance, which looked like a hole in the ground, and he called down. If he had just dropped into the hole, there was no telling what would have happened to himp--but he knew better than to surprise an Israeli on guard duty.

There was a burst of Hebrew that sounded to Aloes like cussing, and then a face appeared--followed by a hand beckoning him to come closer. The guard then leaped out, his rifle on Aloes.

"I'm the American with Asher--I mean, Lieutenant Cohen--and he wants more water."

Aloes held out the jug.

The guard nodded, then indicated he could go and fill his jug, and while Aloes was doing this, the guard stayed at the entrance the whole time.

His jug filled at the big tank, Aloes climbed back out and thanked the guard. Unsmiling, his eyes still suspicious, the guard indicated with a flick of his rifle to get moving.

Aloes paused, however. "Maybe you don't recognize me. I'm the drudge who digs your ditches for you, can't you tell? I dug this place out too."

Without waiting for the guard's response, Aloes hoisted the jug to his shoulder and walked away. He was mad, for he felt all the Israelis were against him. He had never been treated so unfriendly. What had he done to them?

He arrived at Asher's dugout and thought of throwing the jug down the entrance, but decided that wouldn't help him any, so he went down in and set it in its place, then turned to Asher.

"Your water, sir!"

Asher didn't even indicate he had heard him. He was sitting, reading his copy of a Gunter Grass novel--for he knew German from his grandparents, once teachers at Nuremberg's university, who had fled Germany and didn't want to let Hitler destroy the language and culture of Germany because of what he had done to their people.

Aloes hesitated. He just couldn't let his last opportunity go without one more attempt.

"Asher, please speak to me! I gotta hear from you how the meeting went. I know the general is here--even if you won't admit it. I didn't hear a chopper come in--but he must have come some other way. If you see him again, can you speak for me? That is all I am asking--just say there's a volunteer for the rescue mission you told me about."

Asher's lips turned downwards, which was all the expression Aloes could detect.

"I'm not leaving until you tell me whether you will say a word for me or not to the general."

The moments passed, each more awkward than the first one, as Aloes stood there waiting, and Asher kept reading.

How many minutes passed like that, Aloes had no idea. He noticed Asher had stopped turning the pages, however, and his eyes were fixed on one point of the page he had been reading. Slowly, the Gunter Grass novel lowered to Asher's belly, and then Aloes's eyes caught a slight movement as something was flying at him--the book!

The hefty, thousand page book hit the netting roof and kept going, breaking right through without any loss of speed.

Ducking just in time, Aloes crouched down. "I told you I'm not leaving!" he shouted. "All you have to do is say you will speak for me, and I'll go, if that's what you want. I wanna go on that mission! I intend to be on that team!"

Asher grinned. "You're a dead man then! Nobody who signs on is expected back here, do you know that? Or are you one stupid Yankee who thinks he will live forever? We Jews know better. We're used to being at the receiving end. Still wanna go?"

Aloes gulped, but found his voice. "Tell me, will you speak for me or not? Or should I find someone else who will?"

Asher shook his head, as if he couldn't believe it. "Well, at least I tried. I thought I could discourage you--but I guess not." He blew out his breath, and then sat up on the edge of the cot, which immediately cracked as if the frame would break under him. "The general signed you on, after I spoke for you, and wants to meet you tomorrow at 0400 hours sharp. If that goes well, you'll be flying out at 0430 hours. Do you feel up to it? I wasn't quite sure you would be--and maybe you better sit this trip out and go on the next, if there is a next one."

Aloes was staring at Asher by this time--wondering if he heard right. He shook his head slowly. "No, I'll go now. I'm not waiting."

Feeling almost overwhelmed, he went and sat on his cot, and Asher didn't object but left him to sort things out in his head.

"How about some k-rats, Yankee?" Asher said, throwing a package at Aloes.

Aloes at his, saying nothing while Asher drank about a half gallon from the jug. Asher lay back down his cot, and then glanced over at Aloes, who was still sitting amazed as ever at the thought of his being accepted on the special rescue operation.

"What'll I wear? I got no uniform or boots or any gear."

"You'll be issued whatever you need at the general's quarters. Well, aren't you going to go say goodbye to your family? It'll probably be the last time they see you."

The grim sound of that, the finality, wasn't very pretty to Aloes's ears--but he couldn't deny Asher was telling the truth--the plain, unvarnished truth--for that was Asher--a realist, a man of facts, a man of action--who despised philosophy and religion, even if he did like intellectual and philosophic German novels.

"No, they were here while you were gone. I don't have anything left to say anyway. It's best this way, if they don't have to worry about me. Best not tell them."

"As you like," said Asher.

The two men fell silent, and it was time to get some rest for the next day, only there a question running through Aloes's mind. It was not more than a hunch.

"Asher, are you going too?"

"I have to! They got my parents and my sisters and two aunts and an uncle in those death camps! I'm not going to sit and rot here, while they are starved, tortured and beheaded, and their bodies made into soap for Five Star hotels in Rome!"

Aloes could see Asher's mighty fists clench, even in the gloom of the dugout, even if he couldn't see his face. He couldn't think of anything else to say or ask, so he settled down for the brief night and the next day's momentous events. What was he going to do for the Israelis? He wasn't trained--he didn't even know how to handle a rifle or use a mortar or do anything but use a pick and shovel. But he knew they had already thought of something. Maybe he was going to serve as the decoy--the first commando running in to test the waters and throw the enemy off with a distraction.

Aloes, lying back on his cot, could easily imagine what it might be like. Would he be sent in with a backpack of explosives strapped to his back? No, that wasn't the Israelis' way of making war. They always had a neat plan, if there was time for it. He was certain there had to be a master plan--probably created by the general himself, who knew the death camps best, having stayed in Jerusalem and its vicinity posing as an Arab (and his father was Arab, it was said, so that made it easy to carry off his disguise) after sending out his troops with as many of the refuges they could transport from Hillel.

The somber Jordanian desert had a brooding, haunting quality of its own, made all the more intense by the dead city's still living presence of its people. It was like ghosts of the past inhabitants of Petra all came out of the hundreds and thousands of tombs and ruins. Jackals began to yip as the moon climbed high, and now and then Aloes could hear a lone wolf join in. Asher was silent, and Aloes was just about to drift off when he was brought back to consciousness with a jerk. Asher was speaking, full voice to him!

"I can't sleep! How can you? We might as well talk."

Asher wanted to talk? Aloes was astonished.

"Sure, what about?" he muttered, hoping that Asher would soon forget the idea and let him rest.

Asher got up and went to the entrance and stuck his head out. Then he turned, paced back and forth, and then sat on his bed, drumming his fingers on his knees. The sabra really wasn't able to sleep, Aloes realized. What could be bothering him? he wondered.

"What kind of a God do you Christians have?" Asher asked out of the blue, startling Aloes.

"What do you mean? He's--ah--Triune, Three Persons in One--is that what you want to know? God is Love, and His Son is Jesus Christ--the one called Yeshua in Hebrew, and--"

"I don't want your dusty, old theology," interrupted the sabra from the secular, atheistic kibbutz. "Tell me, little brother, what you really know. What kind of God do you Christians have?"

"He really wants to know!" thought Aloes. Right away he began to describe Yeshua, who came to show men the Father in heaven by all he said and did, just as he had told his disciples repeatedly. Yeshua and the Heavenly Father were one, as He said, so he tried beginning with this point.

"God is the One we call the Father, and God is Christ, the Messiah, whom we call His Son. But we Chrisians did not make this up. This is not religion. This is what Yeshua himself revealed to people, to Jews, who wrote down his words not long after he was crucified and ascended to heaven."

Asher sucked in and then blew out a gust of air that swept Aloes's hair. "Baloney! You really believe all that? What about his so-called virgin birth? And how could he rise from the dead? These are just stories cooked up about him after he was crucified."

Aloes didn't know until this moment how deeply Asher's skepticism ran--but why was he asking him about God, if he had it all figured out? He wasn't sure, so he was at a loss how to answer or go on.

"Look, Asher, I don't have all the answers. I just have what the Bible tells us happened. If you disagree with that--I have nothing more. I believe it--maybe not understanding it all--but it makes more than enough sense to me. Man sinned against God. God is a God of justice, and so he has to hold the law-breakers responsible and punish them for what they did. The good news for us is that, though we are all guilty before God, Yeshua, the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God, took the full penalty of our sin and rebellion on himself and paid for it all with his crucifixion, suffering and death--so now we have peace--"

Asher wasn't about to listen to a sermon, and he broke in, "You don't need to preach at me! I wasn't being completely open with you. I guess if there is a God who created this Universe, he could manage a virgin birth for his Messiah, or Christ as you call him, and also raise him from the grave after he was crucified."

Aloes was astonished, hearing Asher answer so beautifully for him, just as he would have liked to do.

But Asher, though admitting this much, had another question to hang on Aloes. "I heard you say he brought us peace--right? But he didn't bring peace to this world, did he? What kind of peace did he bring anyway?"

For once, Aloes could think of a good answer. "Your rabbis didn't accept him, did they, Asher? They rejected him, the One who is the Prince of Peace. So then how could He bring peace? By force? That isn't peace--as we know from experience with the World Government and MJ, right? Seems to me, Asher, this objection isn't a very good one. And anyway, Yeshua came not to bring peace so much as to suffer and die. Universal peace would come after that, at the time of His Second Coming, when He sets his foot down on the Mt. of Olives."

The next minutes went fast, as Asher, once begun, couldn't stop until he had vented all his remaining objections to Yeshua as Messiah of the Jews. It was all Aloes could fire off an answer gathered from his years of forced Bible teaching under his mother's ministry before Asher fired off another objection.

"Christians hate Jews!" Asher protested. "Don't skip over the Christian Crusaders. On their way to the Holy Land they slaughtered more Jews than Moslems in many cities, and burned a whole synagogue full of Jews in Jerusalem when they captured the city, don't you ever forget! What kind of Messiah could have followers like them? They were scumbags, they were filthy barbarians, all wearing crosses like they were supposed to be saints. And the Nazis--they wore swastikas with crosses set right in the middle. My grandparents showed me ones in pictures taken at the camps. Nazis were Christians too, and they gassed and cremated six million of us!"

This objection was a tall order for Aloes. But now he was so thankful for having been made to sit through endless sessions of his mother's Bible teaching. It was all coming back to him, just when he desperately needed it!

"But Asher, just because they take Yeshua's name and wear a cross on their uniforms or set in their Nazi insignia, that doesn't make Yeshua guilty or responsible for their crimes against the Jews and millions of other people. Yeshua rebuked Peter his disciple for drawing his sword to fight for him when the temple guards and the Romans came to arrest him. "Those who take up the sword will die by the sword!" he warned his disciples. That should have stopped the Crusaders in their tracks. His name was misused, but he cannot be blamed. Can you really blame him for what those criminals did with his name?"

"No, I guess not! I also see that I can't reject what He had to say either, just because his followers weren't all good men."

"Wow!" thought Aloes. Impressed by Asher's candor, transparency, and self-criticism, he waited.

"I happen to know that some rabbis I knew when I was growing up were not all good men," Asher went on. "That doesn't mean I should reject everything in Judaism, just because they weren't worthy, and cheated on their wives, and beat their kids, and stole. Even if I lived on a secular kibbutz, we were surrounded by many religious Jews, so I know. Actually, I know that there were just a few that did wrong, or I would have been told. We all knew everybody else's business. That is the way we are in this country, Arab or Jew--we know each other's business!"

"The New Testament," Aloes replied, "teaches love, not hate and persecution. "Love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you," is the teaching. All the Apostles were Jews, Yeshua is a Jew, and the New Testament was written by Jews--so those who persecute Jews have nothing to stand on in the scriptures, though claiming that they have scriptures to justify their persecution of Jews!"

By this time, Aloes thought Asher was so open, he could easily pull this fish in to the net, but Asher was full of surprises tonight, and he fired off yet another broadside of an objection.

As if to give his objection a little more thrust, Asher struck his fist into his palm. "But Judaism rejects Yeshua as the Messiah, for the rabbis reject any man who claims to be God."

Aloes thought furiously. Here were two charges in one. He decided to take one at a time. "Ah, you're saying two things here, right? First, the Old Testament, the Torah, did teach that God would have a Son, who is the Messiah as well. Second, Judaism and the rabbis are right--no man can become God. But Yeshua is not a man. He is a God-Man, both natures bound together in one person. Thus, the New Testament teaches that God became a Man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Biblical Judaism taught that God is all-powerful and can do anything. So what is the problem with God becoming a Man, making a God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth? Biblical Judaism would have no problem with a God-Man. Man cannot claim divinity, as the rabbis rightly teach. But a God-Man can be divine and human at the same time, in the same person. This is what Judaism does not want to deal with, even though it is totally Biblical and even foretold in over three hundred prophecies about Yeshua."

The silence on the other end of the line was so thick that Aloes could have cut it with a knife. Then Asher spoke, his voice raised as if he were going to throw something more than a book at Aloes. "But the rabbis don't believe He was the Messiah, even if you say he wasn't a mere man, but this 'God-Man'! How can Yeshua be accepted by any reasonable Jew if Judaism doesn't accept him? Answer that, little brother! Got you there! You can't possibly shoot this one down!"

Aloes could have cried at this point. He had the answer right in his mouth, before he even thought it. It simply rolled off his tongue. "But the Jews and their leaders had their royal opportunity, day-to-day, personal access to him and his life you can't find equalled in any book, not even the Bible! They saw him hourly and daily going about in their midst, and observed all he said and did, including the mighty miracles, including raising people from the dead, and thus they had every opportunity and should have believed, though they refused at the time. The majority rejected him, we know, but many did accept him--his mother and his family, his disciples and about five hundred others. Just because the majority did not accept Jesus as the Messiah doesn't disqualify him. After all, all through the Bible, it is just a minority who choose to follow God and obey His commandments, right? Was God disqualified as God because Israel chose to worship idols? The majority is almost always wrong. Israel fell many, many, times away from God, and became idolatrous. Elijah--"

But Asher wasn't interested in the fiery Prophet Elijah's fight with the false prophets of Baal when he forced the Israelites with a stupendous contest atop Mt. Carmel to decide between the God of Abraham and the heathen fertility god, Baal, whose obscene image was commonly one big uncircumcised phallus carved in stone and stuck into the earth. Aloes could hear Asher moving his feet from side to side restlessly on the dusty floor. "But it's just not Jewish to believe in Yeshua," Asher muttered. "How can we do such a thing as to deny our own Jewish identity and race and heritage?"

Aloes could think of many Messianic Jews he had met and known--and so he told Asher about them. He gave him names and where they lived, too, and some details of their coming to believe in Yeshua as their Messiah. "They believe in Yeshua as Messiah and Son of God, but they haven't stopped being Jews! Believing in Yeshua just makes you more a Jew than you were before, since you find your life, your forgiveness, your whole reason for living godly, in knowing Yeshua as your Lord and Savior--not because you are a good Jew or a good soldier or anything like that. Knowing him makes all the difference, don't you see? You don't turn Gentile when you accept Yeshua, you remain Jew, only you are now a completed Jew!"

Asher's last objection was so lame, that he didn't try to defend it. "Yeah, yeah, I see. I tell you what! We'll continue this talk later--when we get a little sleep first. On our way out of his hole, there'll be a few minutes! I still need to iron out a few things with you--before I accept this wonderful God-Man, Yeshua, of yours!"

Asher was mistaken. Issued World Government army uniforms and laser-sighted rifles, they were given a briefing that lasted, shockingly, fifteen minutes, and that was it. General Mac (still a mystery man, who wore reflective mirror sun shades and was dressed like a Bedouin with a big Swiss knife in his belt) couldn't give them more time. He had purposely revealed his plan at the last moment like this to make doubly sure nobody, no embedded mole from the World Government secret services, leaked information to the enemy that would compromise and stop the mission.

Still pulling on parts of their uniforms and grabbing their weapons as they were issued, it was time for the rescue task force to hightail it to the fifteen choppers and forty seven volunteers to their target.

As Aloes ran double time beside Asher to the loading site, his heart beating almost uncontrollably with the excitement of it all, he thought about the incredible talk he and the sabra had the night before--but there was no time now, they had their various assigned duties in the rescue plan to think about, and could rehearse them in their minds as the choppers took off and flew eastward before cutting across certain virtually uninhabited areas where the eyes and ears of the World Government weren't so prevalent. If they made it all the way, they would come up over the Mount of Olives on Jerusalem's east flank from the Mountains of Moab at about 0445 hours.

That gave them five minutes to land and disembark and run, geared up, to storm the first camp at the predesignated strike points. It was a masterful, simple plan of attack, which depended, of course, on the GTF's new, experimental GPS jammers that scrambled the satellites' transmissions back to the enemy on where the GTF was operating. But the timing of each phase and component was also critical. If they succeeded in taking out the guards and breaking into the camp, the rest would probably dovetail. They had fifteen minutes then to load the refugees onto the next wave of choppers, which were to fly in from an opposite direction, from the north, where they had flown from another hidden base in the mountains of Cyprus.

Once the choppers were loaded, the GTF was to escort them out and as they split into three groups, follow them to their chosen rendevous point, where they would then fly as one group the last leg of the journey home to Petra.

The mission proved a phenomenal success. The stolen jammers from the research labs had worked perfectly. Nobody knew they were converging on the target site, having simply disappeared from the tracking monitor screens in the World Dictator's command center. But that was just a prior pre-condition for the operation's success. Mac the Knife had been absolutely right about the timing and the situation that confronted them. He had counted on the major distraction of the approaching Asian juggernaut to draw away most of the world tyrant's forces as well as turn his attention away from Jerusalem and the flight of the breakaway elements of the IDF. The Gideon Task Force found the camps defended by only a skeleton staff, with most of the guards gone, and the few that remained were easily overcome since they had not been alerted to any possible intrusion.

No one even made an attempt to follow them as they sped away with the survivors of the Jerusalem holocaust. Without any need to split up and re-converge, they had headed directly for Petra and had arrived back earlier than scheduled. This gave the medics more time and better facilities to attend to the serious health needs of the people. A medical camp had been set up especially to receive them where they disembarked.

Asher left his parents and relatives, all rescued, with the medics, and decided to go himself and find Aloes's family.

Though he hadn't been there, he knew the general location, and happened to take the right trail up which led to the tomb entrance with the two pillars and the arched doorway that Aloes had once described to him.

At the entrance, he paused, wondering what to say. He had never had such a message to deliver, and there was so much about it he still didn't understand. Fighting was nothing to this duty he had taken upon himself--which he felt he must do, rather than let the family receive it from others who didn't know Aloes well.

He called out, and his voice echoed in the high pillared tomb. He heard movements of someone coming toward him, and he stepped inside the open portal. There he found a woman with questioning eyes, her mouth hanging open, and a smile on her face as if she was going to greet a family member.

"Al--is that--" she began, then her voice and smile died as she saw Asher.

His eyes and expression must have told her something, for she stepped back, and put her hand to her stomach. "Yes?" she said.

"Are you Mrs. Turnbull? I am Asher, Aloes's friend."

Her eyes, growing alarmed, searched his face. "Yes, I am. But where is he? We think he left with the others to go rescue the refugees--but where is he? What has happened to him? Is he all right?"

Asher, before he could answer, heard a shuffling sound of slippers on the sandy floor, and saw a large-bodied, old woman coming out from the shadows where the family had set up its domestic arrangements with curtains and beds and makeshift table and stools.

"What is it, Helly? Who is this?" the old woman demanded, carrying her thatch broom like she was going to hit him with it if he proved an intruder.

Heloise turned, shaking her head. "Anna, he has news of Aloes! Please go and leave us alone!"

She turned back to Asher, with an anxious face. "Where is he? How is he?"

"Where is your family?" Asher said. "Perhaps they should hear this too."

Even in the tomb's dimness, Asher could see all color drain from the face of Aloes's mother, while the old woman dropped her broom and moved to Heloise's side.

"I would rather tell the whole family, but I can't keep it from you," Asher began. "He isn't coming back. We could only take the living. I was with him when he was hit--and he died instantly and didn't suffer."

Before he had finished this, Heloise's eyes shut and she tottered and then sank backwards, caught by the old woman.

For several moments the old woman comforted Heloise as Asher stood, wondering what else he could say that might be of comfort.

Just as he was thinking this, the father and his two daughters, followed by a family friend, returned from the day outing, a picnic in one of the side canyons, and they seemed to understand from Heloise and Anna's conditions that the worst had happened.

Silently, they stood while Heloise recovered enough to open her eyes.

"Can you tell me anything more?" she whispered.

Aloes now had a very hard time gathering his words. He could not understand it himself. "We had just broken into the compound and had dispatched the two guards on duty and had their keys to the rest of the facility when a third guard came running out of another room shooting and Aloes went down. I got the guard, then found Aloes was beyond any medical help--he got hit in the heart--I could tell he was gone. I had to leave him at that moment, to see about my family and the other Jews. When we had liberated them, and they were being taken as quickly as possible to the choppers that had landed in the courtyard, I returned for Aloes. I couldn't leave his body among the carcasses of those filthy barbarians--"

A long wail broke out of Heloise that echoed in the tomb horribly, and her arms thrashed about in Anna's grasp, but she quickly subsided, and Asher, nudged by Harry Turnbull, continued.

"It was the strangest thing, sir! I smelled something like perfume--a fragrance like some kind of rare flower--and the whole room was full of it. And there were two medics in white uniform, and they were carrying him with a gold colored sheet over him."

'Lieutenant, we will take charge of him,' one said to me. He had a major's rank, so I couldn't argue with him."

He looked at the Turnbulls and the old woman with his eyes full of the many questions he still had.

"I didn't know we had any medics like this along, but how could I know if the General hadn't sent them in for taking care of any casualties? So I just stepped aside as they took him out the entrance. I followed them out, covering their backs in case some other guard in hiding attacked our rear.

"As I stepped outside, there was no sign of them and Aloes--just the refugees and our own men! I tried to get someone to answer me, but they were so busy, as they were frantically loading everyone on.

"Finally, just as I jumped on board with my parents and relatives, someone answered my question. 'No, they hadn't seen any white-uniform medics. There were no medics!'

"I couldn't argue with them then though I wanted to slap them around. I knew what I had seen! White-uniformed medics carried Aloes away, sir! I can't imagine who they were--but this is what happened exactly as I observed it. I hope you believe me, sir! I have no reason to give you a story!"

Asher turned round to each of Aloes's family and their two women friends, and they stared at him even as the tears ran down their faces. Finally, Harry gave him a nod. "We believe you, son. We think we know what happened. But anyway, thank you for coming to tell us this yourself. It must have been difficult for you. We will let you go now to your family. They are no doubt anxious to see you again and rejoice with you over their deliverance. Thank you."

Harry Turnbull went to show Asher out. But Asher paused. "I just want to say one thing more. Aloes was a little brother to me--my parents were old when they had me, so I never had a brother, and I tried to help him like he was my own blood. He was brave--and was not sorry to give his life for us, so that we Jews could be free. We owe him a lot, for he is a true friend of Israel! I am sorry you--we--have lost him, and--"

Asher, biting his lip, ducked out of the tomb entrance, then turned and ran back down the path, almost losing his footing as he scrambled down the cliff.

Later, after he had done all he could for his parents and relatives to make them comfortable in their new quarters, Asher went out to get some air and to think.

He was ashamed that he had not told the Turnbulls everything. But how could he? He knew he would have lost control if he had gone further than he did. How would they have taken hearing how Aloes had jumped in front of him, taking the shots he would have gotten?

As Asher walked past the guard doing duty at the entrance to the dugout of the refugee camp, he let the sentry know that he was going for a walk and would be back at that particular spot in about twenty minutes. He was wearing only his civie shorts, not his uniform, and had to make sure the fellow would not mistake him for someone hostile trying to sneak up to the camp to throw a grenade or something.

Further up the slope, still in sight of the guard, he stopped and sat down on a big rock. He had to get something straight. Why did Aloes do what he did? It made him so angry, to think that Aloes had shown without question that his religion was greater than his liberal, extremely watered-down Judaism. All his family observed was a Gentile-tailored Hannakah, so that they could enjoy a Christmas tree and exchange of presents and listen to Christmas music--the whole bit, which was hardly Jewish.

Now what was he to do? He had to make some kind of decision.

Asher hated the idea that Aloes had, by his sacrifice of himself, forced him to come to grips with his Christian God, and with Yeshua in particular--if not for that, he could have gone on with his life as before. He had been comfortable enough with being a sabra and Israeli without any real commitment to Judaism, since he had been raised on a secular kibbutz out of reach of any serious-minded rabbis.

Thanks to Aloes, that was now over, a thing of the past. Where was he going from here? Where?

Asher swore, smacking his fists to together. He wanted more than anything to forget the whole thing--but he could not. Aloes had challenged him to the utmost--and there was no going back--he had to decide one way or the other. Was Yeshua for real as the Messiah, or was he not? Aloes had believed in him, and his life had proven that out beyond any question. What did he, Asher, believe to that extent? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! He could not equal Aloes in any significant way.

Asher's head dropped into his own hands. Never had he felt so wretched. Why must he give up his Jewishness? But no, Aloes had shown that he didn't have to do that. But what would his friends, and his commander, think if he became a Christian? But that shouldn't matter to him--since to follow the truth was the best thing a man could do--and what people thought was not the determining factor. He knew he could never respect himself if he lived his life according to people's opinions and not according to his own knowledge of the truth. But what was the truth? Was Yeshua really what Aloes had said he was? Or was the Christian faith a fiction, mere nonsense, and a hoax?

He was just about to leave when suddenly he felt strangely lucid. The murky tangle of thoughts, feelings, doubts, and misgivings were gone. It all came clear in his mind and something like scales fell from his eyes. He saw himself a guilty and condemned sinner, appearing before a great Judge robed all in blinding white seated on a high white platform, and the big white gavil was descending on his already declared conviction--but someone, a Jewis rabbi in a talith, stepped up and took the penalty for him--and the Judge gave the death sentence to him instead! As the man was led away to death row and his execution, Asher realized who the man had to be--Yeshua! Just as Aloes had said!

Trembling, feeling exhilarated, Asher was unable to stop what his whole being cried out: "Yeshua! Yeshua! I got your message! I can see you now and myself too! Forgive me all my sin! I will serve you. You are my commander-in-chief! I will follow you from this day on! But--I still have to work on the Messiah and Son of God part a bit more. Can you help me?"

This was his first exchange with Yeshua--and there would be many such to come in the following days as Asher, Supreme Commander Yeshua's lieutenant now, continued sorting things out while seeking Yeshua's guidance and light on the various issues.

Unknown to Asher as he hurried off, the Turnbulls, and Anna and Esther, were visited by a strange kind of miracle. The tomb filled with scent, and only Heloise knew exactly what it was, since she had gone to the trouble to research it before she gave names to her son and two daughters. It was aloes!

Amazed, Heloise told the family and her two Jewish friends, and they all sat in a kind of stunned awe and wonder. How could this be? No one had any explanation--but sometimes none is needed. Minutes later, the unmistakable fragrance was gone, but they would never forget it--and Heloise, particularly, was comforted. It was almost as if Aloes himself had paid a brief visit, it occured to her. When she mentioned this thought later to Harry, he smiled. "I was thinking the same thing!" he replied. "Could it be he did?"

Heloise dropped her eyes, then spoke slowly. "If he did, I think he did it this way, to tell us that it was all right with him--and he meant us to be happy again. Do you think we can be happy again, Harry? Her husband put his arm out, and she melted into it, and they sat for a long time, thinking how they had never been closer than this moment--here in Petra of all places, one of the strangest places you could ever find yourself marooned in, with no prospects but a sudden attack of an armada of World Union gunships, smart bombs and cruise missiles!

Heloise got up after a while and went to see how their daughters were doing. She spent some time with them, then returned to Harry's arms. Together they waited for the dawn.

Please go to Chapter 2 of Yom Kippur

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