It was Thursday morning before Rayford reached Jerusalem. He had taken that long to hitch-hike through Europe and the Middle East. Having heard on the way about Chaim's capture, Rayford headed straight for the palace when he arrived in the holy city.

 

On his journey through Europe, only two people had recognised him, and they had not presented a problem. But Rayford wasn't in Jerusalem half an hour before people started to point at him and whisper. As he walked, a crowd followed, to see what would happen. Someone phoned the media, and word was relayed to the palace, which seemed to be where Rayford was heading.

 

Strangely, no one dared touch, speak to, or even come close to Rayford as he walked. There was something about his gait that made those in his way immediately stand back to give him room.

 

When he arrived at the wide steps leading up to the palace entrance, he was faced with a huge media and military welcome. Cameras clicked and whirred as Dangchao appeared at the top of the steps, flanked by more than a dozen armed guards. Other U.N. snipers were perched at every available vantage point.

 

"Welcome! Welcome!" shouted Dangchao magnanimously, for the benefit of the public.

 

"I have come for Chaim Rosenberg!" shouted Rayford. "Bring him out here!"

 

"He's inside. Please come in!" Dangchao said as he walked down the steps to get closer to Rayford.

 

Rayford sat down on the pavement at the bottom of the steps. As his seat touched the ground a rumble suddenly shook the whole area. Everyone who was standing in the vicinity fell over, with the exception of Dangchao, who barely managed to regain his balance. Snipers fell from perches around the palace entrance, some of them seriously injured. Others picked up their weapons and scrambled quickly back to their feet.

 

"Bring Chaim here," Rayford said again, pointing to the ground beside where he sat. "Now!"

 

And another tremor sent those who had resumed standing back to the ground. This time Dangchao fell too. Some cameras being held by reporters who were wise enough to have stayed on the ground, caught pictures of the General Secretary falling spread-eagled in front of the Witness for the West. Rayford sat regally, with his legs folded in front of him.

 

"All right! All right!" said Dangchao, as he struggled to a more dignified lotus position, facing Rayford.

 

"Bring the prisoner!" he said to one of his guards, and the man hurried up the steps.

 

"Don't worry. You'll get your chance," Rayford said. "Very soon. But for now, you are only going to bring more trouble on yourself if you don't turn Chaim over to me."

 

"Shoot him!" Dangchao shouted, as loudly as he could. But at the same instant, Rayford merely breathed out and a supersonic jet of flame shot straight toward Dangchao. The Antichrist ducked at lightning speed, and missed the flame, but it split just as quickly into several different directions. Then, moving more quickly than any human could react, the various tongues of flame each sought out one of the soldiers who had a gun aimed at Rayford. They were all engulfed in flames before they had a chance to pull a trigger.

 

"You really shouldn't make me do that," Rayford said calmly to Dangchao.

 

"What are your plans?" Dangchao asked, obviously shaken. "If you will promise not to leave the city, I'll let your friend go with you."

 

"You'll let my friend come with me regardless," Rayford answered quietly. "But if it'll make you feel any better… we don't have plans to leave the city for the next ten days."

 

Just then, Chaim appeared with the guard at the top of the steps.

 

Dangchao had no choice but to submit to the demands of the Two Witnesses; but later that day, his spin doctors made it sound like the two men were just free on bail pending a trial. There was outrage from some that a dangerous hijacker and suspected killer should be allowed to roam free; but Dangchao insisted that everything was under control. Of course it was… except that he wasn't the one holding the controls.

 

For the next six days Chaim and Rayford spent most of their time in the area around the Temple Mount, where they were able to address large crowds of people. It was early December, and the weather was cold; but the Two Witnesses stayed out on the streets, sleeping in shifts. They had accumulated a few rags, bits of firewood, and other materials to insulate themselves against the cold. They kept a little campfire going overnight, on the pavement where they slept. Whichever one was not sleeping would stay awake to mind the fire; and to address the crowds.

 

Throughout the night people gathered to gawk at them and to listen, out of curiosity, to their pronouncements against the Dangchao government and against those who had put their faith in it. Twice someone had tried to attack them, and twice the attacker had been destroyed by fire. Word spread quickly through the media, and even more quickly amongst the spectators; so that the crowds barely dared to ask questions of the two prophets after that... until late on the following Wednesday night.

 

Rayford and Chaim had not been in email contact with the rest of the Saints since they had left for Jerusalem ten days earlier. They ate little and prayed constantly over those final days. The Christians all knew that the time for Chaim and Rayford's demise was near. There had been more deaths and defections amongst their own members over the past ten days too.

 

Irene and Elaine had both been taken by the authorities and executed a week after Rayford had left London. A few saints in Jerusalem had been able to sneak messages to the two men during that final week. News of Irene's death had added to the strain upon Rayford; but he did not stop preaching.

 

Matthew had been left more or less in charge of the Twelve Tribes and the Tribulation Force after Irene and Elaine disappeared; but the general feeling was that everything was falling apart. There were still four days to go before the longawaited return of Jesus... if their calculations were correct, and some were wondering if they would last even that long without their beloved leaders.

 

Then, on Wednesday evening of that final week, one of two U.N. guards who were part of a round-the-clock watch over the Two Witnesses, drew a bead on Rayford with his rifle, just for fun. He was in a position where he could not be seen by Rayford himself, and Chaim was sleeping beside the fire. Just then, his companion bumped him, and the gun went off, shooting Rayford through the head. Rayford fell to the ground with a quiet thud.

 

"You've killed him!" whispered the other guard. "Look, you've killed him!" And then he saw Chaim begin to stir. "Quick! Get the other one before he gets up and burns you!"

 

"It's him or me, isn't it?" the soldier said as he pulled the trigger a second time. And Chaim too slumped over next to Rayford. He had also been shot in the head.

 

Rayford had just finished giving a speech to a small crowd before the shooting occurred, and the audience had been moving away at the precise moment when the shot rang out. Those few people who were still present to see Rayford, and then Chaim, fall could not believe their eyes. After three and a half years of fruitless tracking by the authorities, and after equally fruitless attempts to destroy these two men, one foolhardy soldier had eliminated them both, half by accident, in a matter of seconds with just two bullets!

 

The two soldiers rushed to establish that they really had killed the Two Witnesses, and then they notified their superiors. A military ambulance arrived and took the bodies and the two soldiers away, and a report went out to the media that the world had been saved; "The Two Aliens" (as Pius liked to call them) were dead.

 

Dangchao was up all night, addressing the media and making other arrangements. Early the next morning he unveiled a hastily constructed cyclone fence which surrounded the bodies of the Two Witnesses. They had been returned to where they had died. The embers of a campfire were still there; and the paraphernalia that the men had collected to keep themselves warm were scattered around inside the enclosure. The public was invited to view the scene for themselves. Soldiers who had been rostered to watch the two men were now being used to control the crowd flow.

 

Dangchao had decided to display the bodies because he feared that the Christians would try to start another resurrection story, as they had done with their Jesus. He also wanted people to know that it really was the Two Witnesses who had been killed, and that they really were dead.

 

But he went one step further. Christmas was only a few weeks away, and although it had been renamed "Winterfest" years earlier, he felt that this was a good time to change the date for the celebrations. He announced that the next day, Friday, would henceforth become the new date for celebrating Winterfest. Stores would remain open all day on this particular Friday, for last minute shopping; but all non-essential businesses would be closed for both Thursday and Friday. This gave people two days in which to buy their gifts, food, and drinks, to celebrate the holiday. Everyone loved it. The stores experienced the greatest two-day shopping spree the world had ever known.

 

People were convinced that the human race had turned the corner. Peace and prosperity were going to return! And so they shopped with reckless abandon as they celebrated mankind's final victory over the "Aliens".

 

Festivities began that same day, and they grew more wild over the next two days. By Saturday afternoon, when the shops had all closed and even store staff were free to join in the celebrations, the whole world was in one big drunken, drug-crazed orgy.

 

But on Sunday morning, something startling happened in the Middle East. Over a stretch of fifteen hundred miles in all directions (reaching as far as Baghdad, Cairo, and Ankara), when people looked up, all they could see was what looked like a glass ceiling miles above the earth, stretching from horizon to horizon. Some light filtered through the glass, making it possible to see that there were structures and some movement on the other side.

 

Aeroplanes flying at altitudes above 25,000 feet had been forced to descend steeply, or to turn back when they neared the Middle East.

 

Dangchao had a hurried meeting with his best military advisers, who were convinced the structure was an alien star ship the size of a small planet. The big question was whether or not the aliens manning it were friendly. Dangchao sensed what was up straightaway, and he encouraged the military to prepare for the worst.

 

Then, shortly after noon, there was a new development at the Temple Mount. Someone reported seeing movement in the hand of one of the Two Witnesses. Dangchao was alerted and he hurried to the site, along with an entourage of advisers and Press representatives.

 

Everyone gathered around and watched for a full five minutes without any sign of movement. They were about to chalk the report up to someone's overactive imagination when a barely perceptible tremor shook Chaim's body.

 

"Did you see that?" someone shouted. Indeed, Dangchao had seen it, and he was worried.

 

"Shoot him!" he shouted, pointing at Chaim.

 

"But he's already dead!" his guard argued. He, too, was scared. He had heard what happened to others who had tried to kill the Two Witnesses.

 

"I don't care if he's dead or not. Shoot him!" Dangchao shouted again. He grabbed the gun out of the guard's hand, in an effort to do the job himself. He pointed it straight at Chaim's head and squeezed the trigger. But just as he did, the earth dropped out from under him, sending the bullet off in another direction. He threw his hands (and the gun) into the air to catch his balance. The ground began to shake, and the two bodies on the ground shook with it.

 

An earthquake! thought Dangchao. That's all it was. The bodies had not moved! It was only the earth shaking them.

 

But a moment later both Chaim's and Rayford's arms and legs started to move simultaneously. Their bodies straightened out, and their arms moved in unison to lift themselves up... up onto their knees. They were still kneeling, but otherwise erect as they opened their eyes and looked straight into the face of the Antichrist.

 

The single bullet-wound to each of their heads disappeared before Dangchao's eyes. Their hair became thicker, as grey streaks disappeared. Wrinkles vanished, and they both appeared to be no more than thirty years old. The ragged clothes they were wearing fell away to reveal a shimmering white robe.

 

The men rose to their full stature, as a voice boomed out of nowhere and everywhere at the same time: "Come up here!" Everyone instinctively looked up, and from the bottom of the glass ceiling, directly over the Temple Mount a big round opening appeared. It looked like a jet of white smoke shooting down from the opening toward the ground. But as the "smoke" got closer, it separated into millions of tiny beings, all dressed in white. In the middle of them was One whose appearance was almost blinding, as light radiated from Him. The other beings circled around him as he dropped lower and lower.

 

Chaim and Rayford began to rise up to meet the beings in the air. As they rose, they could see others like themselves ascending from the earth and then converging toward the Being of Light.

 

Most of the others were dressed in the shimmering white of the resurrected. But there were a few who were distinguishable by their everyday dress. These were the living saints. They, too, had undergone a transformation as they returned to the strength and beauty of their youth. Deformities and blemishes disappeared. Everyone taking part in this amazing gathering in the air experienced an overwhelming sensation of health and fitness. And, the best news for many, was that there were no missing limbs.

 

Down on the ground, the earth was continuing to shake, much more violently now. The entire city of Jerusalem was trembling like the toy that it was in comparison to a city that was infinitely more powerful floating in the air above it. Buildings began to collapse. From above, where the saints were, it looked like a tenth of the city was falling in slow motion. But down on the ground there was a deadly shower of glass, concrete, bricks and steel girders from the city's crumbling structures, raining down on the local population. People still recovering from the celebrations of the weekend were trapped or crushed in buildings all over Jerusalem.

 

The saints were too far above the earth to survive without external warmth and oxygen masks now. But there was no sensation that even approached freezing, nor were they struggling for breath.

 

All of the supernatural bodies were converging toward the Being of Light. Rayford, Chaim and the multitudes gathering around them, all knew who it was. It was their Saviour. It was their Jesus!

 

Someone started to sing, and others joined in. Each person was singing in their own language, but they sensed that they were all singing the same words. It was the words and music from the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah. "King of kings! Lord of lords! He shall reign forever and ever!" They repeated it over and over; and each time they did, the volume increased, until it seemed the whole earth could hear them. This was it! This was the moment that all of history had been waiting for. This was the culmination of the great Creator's plan for his creation.

 

He had, indeed, returned… to judge the earth!