"I'd do it. No fear! I'd do it for God."

 

Neville was sharing his thoughts on an email which had arrived the day before from Mike, in Ankara. Mike said that the team in Jerusalem had passed within a hundred metres of Dangchao on a couple of occasions while doing business in the city. He said that security for the U.N. Secretary General was not what they had expected.

 

"He has guards with him," Mike wrote. "But if someone was prepared to rush him wearing a suicide bomb, I don't think they could stop him."

 

Mike's comments had sparked a debate at the Guildford headquarters about whether it would be morally right, knowing what they knew about Dangchao, to consider assassinating him.

 

"It's not like he's human," Neville explained. "If he's really the Devil, then what would be so wrong with killing him?"

 

Rayford was not there, but Irene was the first to question his logic. "What if he is human?" she asked. "And more than that, what if he is the very good person that most of the world thinks he is?" All of the others looked at Irene in shock. Had she been deceived? Could she seriously be speaking in defence of the Antichrist?

 

"I'm not saying he won't eventually become the devil incarnate," she said. "But look at what he's done so far. He's brought the people together in the greatest show of solidarity that the world has ever known. He's helped the Third World in a way that no one else has ever been able to do. He has promoted a degree of religious tolerance which has even benefitted us." The raised eyebrows were starting up once again, so Irene raced to make her point.

 

"What I'm saying is that he could be doing all these apparently good things for evil motives..." and then she paused. "…or he could be genuinely trying to do the right thing even at this very moment, only to be possessed by the devil at some later time. Is our war with Xu Dangchao the man, or is it with the devil who we believe will use Dangchao's body at some time in the future?"

 

Matthew, as official judge for the Tribe of Joseph, was the first to support Irene's theory.

 

"We don't really know that Dangchao isn't just as human, or as good as you or me at the moment," he noted. "But even if he is evil, we're pacifists!" The comment was significant, coming, as it was, from a former Baptist, who had always believed armies could be used to enforce the will of God. But that was before he had met the Jesans.

 

"Christians don't kill their enemies," Matthew reminded the others. "And that includes even our worst possible enemy… the Antichrist himself. Vengeance is God's business, and not ours. If we've understood the Bible correctly, Dangchao will get a deadly wound eventually. Maybe that's when the devil comes into him. And maybe he's as innocent as you and me at the moment."

 

"Maybe we could be the ones to give him the deadly wound," suggested Neville. "We're supposed to fight for God at Armageddon. So if we can kill people for God then, why not now?"

 

"If you can kill Dangchao just by speaking a word, then go ahead," Matthew taunted. "But remember, Neville, that our weapon even at Armageddon is supposed to come out of our mouths. Our weapon is the truth... nothing more and nothing less. Do you understand?"

 

Mary, and Elaine listened intently, but said nothing. They were from the old school, where women listened submissively, in silence.

 

"Where do you suppose all the wars come from?" asked Matthew, pursuing his point a bit further.

 

"From greedy governments, fighting over oil and other wealth," Neville answered wisely. He had studied Rayford's teachings on the subject.

 

"Okay. True." That wasn't the answer Matthew had been looking for, so he offered it himself. "But they always get the soldiers to fight by demonising the opposition," he said. "If you can believe your opponent is sub-human, then you can feel justified in doing almost anything to him. But God doesn't work like that, Neville. He has his own ways of dealing with opponents."

 

The discussion ended abruptly when Rayford walked in with a newspaper in his hand.

 

"Heard the news?" he asked.

 

Of course they hadn't, since it was Rayford's job to check headlines on a free paper at a local fast food restaurant each morning, and then report back to them if there was anything worth studying. But they sometimes tuned in to the BBC on the radio, and he was just checking on that before he spoke.

 

He tossed the paper down on the coffee table, where they could all see the eight-column headline:

"Dangchao Killed"

 

The report described how Dangchao had been shot by a spectator, while inspecting progress on a huge statue of Mary, the Queen of Heaven, that was being constructed in front of the Cathedral of the Divine Creation in Jerusalem. A bullet had pierced his heart, and another had entered his head.

 

"He was dead on arrival at Hadassah University Hospital," a spokesperson for the hospital had declared.

 

The news report discussed the identity and background of the assassin, who was killed by security men moments after the attack. It also speculated about who would take Dangchao's place. Tributes were rolling in from world leaders, who hailed Dangchao as one of the greatest leaders, if not the greatest leader, the world had ever known.

 

"Does that answer your question?" Matthew asked Neville, when they had recovered from the initial shock of the news. "If God wants someone bumped off, he can do it himself, without interference from you or me."

 

"So now what happens?" asked Neville. "Is he going to come back to life?"

 

"He will if he's the Antichrist," said Rayford. "We just have to wait. In the meantime, we need to pray about what we're supposed to be doing. Today marks 1,260 days since the agreement was signed."

 

The group spent all that morning in prayer and in serious discussion about where things were heading. They did not get any clear leading, and nothing seemed to be particularly different about the world around them. Had Rayford miscalculated?

 

They collected email from the other bases, and there was nothing significant happening there either.

 

Irene had business to tend to in London, so she had caught the train into the city around lunch time. Late in the afternoon, she returned to the flat with a look of bewilderment on her face.

 

"Did you pick up email this morning?" she asked Rayford excitedly.

 

"Yeah. Why?" he responded.

 

"Have you picked it up since then?" she went on. "About an hour ago, I sent some stuff to Chaim and did a pick-up then," he answered. "Why?"

 

Rayford's concern was not with Irene's question. It was with the sense of urgency in how she asked it.

 

"And did you have any problems?" she continued.

 

"What's this all about?" Rayford asked. "Is something wrong?"

 

Irene explained. "I stopped by Web Wonders, to make a payment on our account. There were police everywhere, but no Web Wonders."

 

"What do you mean, no Web Wonders?" Rayford asked.

 

"Nothing," said Irene. "No staff, no office, no building. Just a burnt out, empty block, with a lot of ashes and melted bricks." "That's impossible. Are you sure you had the right place?" Rayford asked, as he moved toward the computer to try his email account once again.

 

"Sure I'm sure," said Irene. "I go there every month."

 

Neville had selected the tiny service provider because it was one of the few servers in the London area that still accepted cash. Irene could update their account by adding to their credit balance at the start of each month.

 

Rayford hit the right button to collect his email. "It's dialling up," he said, as they gathered around the computer, and listened to the familiar pattern of beeps.

 

"It's answering," Irene whispered in amazement. They listened as the screeks and squawks indicated that their computer was actually talking to Web Wonders' mainframe.

 

"Do they have another office somewhere?" Rayford asked.

 

"Not that I know of," Irene replied. "Mike's the owner, and he works there in the Clapham Junction office. I've never heard mention of any other office."

 

Just then, Neville drew their attention to the computer, which was now picking up their mail from the non-existent service provider!

 

"Look here!" he said, tapping the screen.

 

The program indicated that Rayford had more than 200 letters coming into his in-box.

 

"I just checked my box an hour ago!" Rayford exclaimed. "We've never had anywhere near that many, not even during the first six months." He was referring to the revival that they had experienced just after the Temple agreement had been signed.

 

"They're real too!" Neville explained. He caught glimpses of individual addresses flashing on the screen as each letter dropped into Rayford's in-box. "But where are they coming from?" Rayford asked. "And what happened to Web Wonders? Do you think the authorities are on to us?"

 

The questions were rhetorical of course. No one in that room had any answers.

 

It took nearly half an hour to collect all of the mail, and while that was happening, Neville was considering how they could handle such large amounts of mail in future, if it continued to come in at that rate.

 

Rayford, on the other hand, was wondering whether they should run. According to all of their calculations, the Great Tribulation had begun. It was time for them to flee into the "wilderness". Whatever it was that had happened at Web Wonders, it was more than likely an indication that the authorities were on to them.

 

But where should they go? Where were the magic wings that would enable them to fly away from trouble? Or could it be that they were about to be captured? Had his ministry come to an end?

 

If it was going to end so soon, Rayford was determined to go down fighting, not with guns, but with the truth. There was much that had been shared only amongst tribal members over the past three and a half years. But now it was time to broadcast it to the rest of the world... if he could still be heard.

 

Late that night, he sat in front of the computer, typing. He let loose with a broadside that left no doubt about what he believed about Levi Xu Dangchao and his world government. Rayford explained about the number value of Dangchao's name, and he predicted that the charismatic leader would be resurrected shortly, but that what people would see would not be a human being. It would be a zombie… a dead body inhabited by the Devil himself.

 

He predicted that the sacrifices would cease, and that Dangchao would take control of the Temple, declaring himself to be immortal. The Pope would call on the people of the world to worship Dangchao as the Universal Messiah.

 

They were extreme claims, but Rayford felt that he had very little time left, and he wanted to be as clear as possible before his arrest. It could be his last message to the world, and even if he was wrong in some of the finer details, he had to get the important point across to those whom he could influence: i.e. that Dangchao, if resurrected, would be the prophesied Antichrist. No doubt about it. He would be evil personified. Anyone who served him would be nothing short of a satanist, whether they wanted to face that fact or not.

 

Rayford's one concession was to send a copy of his article to Chaim for approval before uploading it onto the site. He asked Chaim to place it on his own site, so that it would still be available, in the event that he himself was captured or met the same fate as the Web Wonders staff. Chaim suggested a few changes, which Rayford made, and then the article was uploaded.

 

Neville, in the meantime, was looking at the long run. If there was another office for Web Wonders, and if mail was going to keep coming in at the rate that it was coming in at the moment, they would need some kind of an automated system of response. He started by composing a letter telling people that there was no need for them to have personal responses, that they could find all the information they needed just by checking out the website. The site would be updated daily for as long as it remained on the internet.

 

If people still wanted to contact the leaders of the Twelve Tribes, they would need to ask God to show them how to get their letters delivered. This, too, was a bit of a gamble, and Neville prayed that God would help him by letting the right people crack the code. Neville set it up so that mail to their address at Web Wonders would only get through if people typed a 7 as the first digit in the text of the letter, followed by a letter, which would direct them to one of the Twelve Tribes... providing it was one of the correct twelve letters. Actually there were only eleven correct letters. Two of the Tribes started with a J: Mike and Martin's (the tribe of Judah), and Matthew and Rayford's (the tribe of Joseph). Genuine enquirers needed to type a Ju for Mike and Martin and a Jo for Rayford and Matthew. Neville's form letter gave no clues as to what people needed to do to get through. If they did not know the pattern that he had programmed Rayford's email in-box to follow, their letters would simply not be delivered. It remained to be seen whether God would tell the right people what to type in. Neville's form letter directed people to that material on their website which specifically taught them how to hear from God.

 

Of course, no one knew whether mail would continue to come in at such a rate, or whether they would still be around to collect it if it did.

 

Because of the late night, Rayford and Neville slept in the next morning, while Matthew and Irene took charge. Irene turned on the radio to hear the news. Sure enough, the lead story was that Dangchao had miraculously "revived". Press releases from the U.N. hinted that earlier reports had been exaggerated, and stated that Dangchao had responded to treatment on arrival at Hadassah Hospital, and that he was almost totally recovered. A photo showed him being released from the hospital with just a patch over one eye to show for the ordeal.

 

At the same time, Dangchao announced the breach in security allowing an assassin to get so close to him had indicated a need for further changes in the structure and emphasis of the United Nations. He declared Jerusalem to be under the official control of the U.N., and said that he would need to use the Temple as "temporary" headquarters for the world body, because it was the most secure place in the city. The world media supported the move, probably because of the shock that the "assassination" had caused everywhere. But no one thought to ask why the switch to Jerusalem was being made in the first place.

 

The Pope went on record as supporting the decision, stating that the world was moving closer to one faith, and it was right and proper for that faith to become a part of the one world government that the U.N. represented. Dangchao's presence in the Temple complex symbolised that unity, he said.

 

There were objections from some Jewish religious leaders; but, surprisingly, there were voices supporting the move as well. Dangchao, some were saying, was the long-awaited Messiah. He was, at least technically, Jewish; and he had already shown that he was capable of ushering in world peace. So it was only right that the "city of peace" should accommodate him. These same leaders expressed disappointment, however, that Dangchao was not prepared to recognise the role of their official high priest, in connection with his duties at the Temple.

 

For the Twelve Tribes, the focus was in a different direction. By lunchtime on Wednesday, they and their leaders were on full alert. The Great Tribulation had, indeed, begun; tribal security may well have been breached; and they still did not know where they were to go to hide.