Chapter 23 here … Chapter 25 here
Geneviève sat slumped against a damp wall stained black over the years, on the inside of the old garage she’d managed to run for. It wouldn’t even be a question of time now until they came for her – there was no government any more, there were no security forces.
There was only the mob.
A mob in her her own Barbizon and they’d slaughtered the men in uniforms wherever they’d found them. The remaining forces had stayed loyal for some time, being dragged from their vehicles and bludgeoned to death but then the mass of them had shed those uniforms and approached the mob unarmed, the mob had stopped and a cheer had gone up which could have been heard across the town.
A mob. This is what they had sailed through countless bodies for, near Trueville, until she had thrown up over the side. This is what they had finally made it back to her home town for, to see her home demolished, vandalized and all that she'd held dear now gone.
The cars and motorcycles pouring south from Paris had met the same procession of vehicles from other cities coming north, coming west, going nowhere, nowhere to go. The roads were clogged, the roads were potholed where the central government had first let them slide into ruin as policy and later the regional governments had devoted all resources to the Great Work of Ages, while irrelevances like sanitation, food and water had been completely forgotten.
Jean-Claude hadn't been seen as an enemy, he hadn’t been seen as a friend. He’d been eating bread, openly, in the street. The fool. The mob had surrounded him and hadn’t even attacked him. The sheer numbers had weighed against him, he’d stumbled, the motorcycle had been trying to find a way through and had seen a gap.
That was it.
She'd been a fool herself to come outside and see what was happening.
She’d seen him fall, she’d screamed. It had taken her an hour to drag him through the mass of people, a steady stream going one way but meeting the tide the other way. People had fallen over her and sworn at her in language she’d never had spoken to her in her entire life, not even from Pierre.
It had been the language of the gutter, it had been guttural, it had been unpleasant.
Here was Jean-Claude at her feet now. She was paralyzed, not knowing which way to turn, not knowing what to do, not knowing even where the bread had come from. She’d been so hungry, so hungry and he’d gone out to scavenge and she’d reached inside his jacket when she’d got him into the garage and she’d taken the petits-pain, one sat by the wall with her now, one she’d eaten, falling on it like an animal.
There was one petit-pain now. One petit-pain and Jean-Claude, her husband. She could not confront the guilt, she could not even start to confront it. She had to do something with her husband, her emotions were already drained and she’d already wept for two hours. She was a better person than this and now she had to lay Jean-Claude somewhere in the garage and let him rest, without the mob coming in and disturbing his rest.
She’d seen the spot for hours now but it hadn’t registered, a long coal box and now she saw a long bar and the lock came off quite easily. There was a layer of coal inside, halfway up and now the worst part came. He was still able to be moved and she had to place her arms under his and lift him. She kissed him one last time and spoke for some minutes, then heaved. He balanced on the edge of the box and then fell in of his own accord.
Checking to see that it was all as decent as possible, she balanced on the edge of the box herself, leant down and kissed him one last time, smiling through her bleary eyes. Two bags went over his upper half, she took one last look and closed the box quietly, making sure the lid did not go down hard.
So here she was again, slumped on the floor of the garage, back against the box and she felt his presence as if he were alive. Her clothes, always so neat, so clean, were a mess. Her hose was torn in places and her ageing calves were open to the world, her thigh in places too. Her skirt was still in good condition, apart from the oil staining it at the hem. Her flat shoes were all right. How her hair looked, she didn’t want to know. Possibly it would help her survive once she left.
It never occurred to her not to survive. It never occurred to her to take her own life and lie there with her husband. It was a wicked thing to take your own life, especially as life had been cheapened. If they’d died together, fine. If she’d died, then she would not want him to sacrifice himself this way – they’d already spoken of these things.
She looked across the garage, the hole in the roof telling her that there were still two hours of light to go. The petit-pain was on the floor over there and she was past caring.
Emma felt it about the same time as Hugh.
Both sat up bolt upright in bed and looked at one another. ‘Yes, I think so, Fayette. I think it very much might have been. And you know, I’d never thought it possible to feel that.’
‘Do we know who?’
He shook his head. ‘I’d put money on Gabriella appearing now.’
She didn't. She was quite busy at this time and the pair in the Faeroes were not yet near their time. There was no immediate danger - that would come later.
'Bad feeling, Bebe. I think it was Mademoiselle and Jean-Claude. It was two, wasn't it?'
'Yep, him followed by her a bit later. Did you feel the first a couple of days ago?'
She nodded and tears came to her eyes. 'It's awful.'
'It may have been a release. If I say a prayer for them, would you go along with that?'
'Of course. We always do.'
With Jan at the controls, they'd almost made it to Scotland when the trouble began. What they'd all failed to realize was that the government wasn't remotely interested in them or in anyone. The only citizens of any consequence to the government were the quislings working for the Jews, the Russians and the Chinese.
The game was the only thing left and it was being played, as Hitler did in the final days, by non-existent pawns on the board. The generals were still in place, in their finery, a little worn now, the big board was still up on the wall of the war room but of the soldiers - well, they were stuck in the holy land, in a diplomatic impasse, subject to disease, dysentery and swarms of mutated creatures who'd eat the flesh from their bones.
They were fine where they were on the chess board.
Jan and the ship though, they, together, were a moving piece in the game and as such, had to be brought down. The missile was sent, two of the five gas sacs burst as the missile went straight through, not encountering anything hard and the ship instantly fell a thousand feet, being missed by the second missile.
Jan still had steering but it was heavy and he could only exert gross motor control while Sam was up in the blimp checking the cables and seeing what repairs could be made; they were now in the valley Sophie had directed him towards but they were never going to make it to the old redoubt - too much altitude was being lost by the minute. By astute piloting, they might be able to make it to the water near the bank and then the troubles would begin.
They heard Sam running along the walkway near the sacs and then slip down the gangplank banisters. He got to the cockpit and said one of the other sacs had been breached and it was now widening - soon they'd be down but at least it would be relatively soft. He was told they were coming down onto water and he felt it would be near suicide to go to the landing floor - better to bash one of the windows out on this upper floor and escape that way.
They asked Jan what he wanted to take and he said his pack was ready, Mrs. Entmussen scurried off to collect hers and Sophie did the same with theirs. It was the work of minutes. Crazy thing but each went to the toilet, Sophie grabbed what she could from the kitchen and the other two helped her stuff food and water in the packs, Sam relieved Jan at the controls and he went to do what he had to, the front of the dirigible, which had been flying nose down now hit the water and the water forced it up, the whole edifice finally came to a stop, Sam left the controls and helped Jan force the window out, Sam had baby Emma in the front of him and went first and one after the other, they made it out and were soon in two metres of water, swimming or dog paddling towards the shore, Sam with Emma above his head and breaststroke kicking for all he was worth. Strangely, Emma must have liked the motion because she was as calm as anything.
They saw flares in the distance - maybe a mile and a half and already the nearest flares had started moving this way. Jan helped Mrs. Entmussen wade ashore, estimating that whoever it was would take about twenty minutes to reach them, minimum, in this terrain.
Mrs. Entmussen stumbled, not two metres from the edge of the water and in lifting her up again on this rocky section, Jan himself stumbled and she fell across him, causing him to cry out.
Now it was her job, in her panic, to get him to shore and he had to hop the remaining distance. Sam had made the shore, he lay little Emma down and sophie got there about then and scooped her up, he went to help Jan and Mrs. E and though they could use no light, for obvious reasons, there was sufficient from the night sky and from further down the shore, to see what he was doing. He touched the left leg and Jan cried with pain; Sam swore.
They got him onto the stony shore and he had a look.
'Broken, Jan, I suspect. Sorry but I'll have to try to set this now. Sophie, get some ...' but she'd already gone, to return in about a minute with two stout sticks. They helped Jan lie down and with the aid of Sophie, he did what he could with the leg - Jan crying with the pain, Mrs. Entmussen stroking his brow and then holding his hand.
'That's all I can do,' said Sam. 'Right, we're making for the redoubt.' He gave specific instructions on following the path up to an outcrop which would hide them, he and Sophie would get to the redoubt, leave the packs and Sam would make his way down to the outcrop to collect them. OK?
Jan indicated he understood. They organized a signal system now, everyone had food and water in their packs and that was all they could do - they parted.
Sam preceded Sophie up the cliff, keeping to rocks and not the path.
Gabriella eventually appeared to Emma and Hugh, confirming their looks of anxiety with a nod - yes it had been as they'd suspected. She assured them she'd been there for Genevieve, it had been peaceful and without pain. She'd been too late for Jean-Claude.
That did comfort Emma so she felt emboldened to ask, ‘Could you tell us what is happening … out there? Out in the world.’
Gabriella paused to collect her thoughts, to decide that which could be imparted and that which could not. ‘You will not see the worst of it but you will see some of it. You will not succeed in your mission and you will pass over in the middle time, before it becomes the very worst.
'However, at the point of victory over you, the enemy will suddenly realize that he has lost all but it will be too late for him to exact revenge on you. You have a small part to play but it is vital, as it fits in with the parts played by others. The enemy will see the whole puzzle at once and realize he has been wrong. It will not be a good time for him when he realizes that, many will rejoice but those still on earth will pay dearly.
You will depart tomorrow morning but beware of the 11th hour, Albus, all can still be lost and I shall not be there. Look into the eyes, as I've told you before and it will be enough.’
‘Why do you call us Albus and Belus?’ Emma wanted to know.
Gabriella allowed herself a half smile. ‘An affectation. It is a myth to persuade the enemy that you believe that that is who you are. It is a mythology of his own making.’
‘Then who are we really?’
Gabriella was puzzled. ‘You are you, by your own names. As you always were.’
‘What’s happening, in a political sense?’ asked Hugh.
‘There is war without direction, hordes without purpose, treaties still being signed and broken, pestilence, swarms of insects, rivers of blood, darkening skies, the pall of smoke, futility masquerading as purpose, doing the leader’s will and yet rushing headlong for the abyss, as lemmings are purported to do. You need not concern yourself with those things. Far more important is your own task and you have already shown the wisdom not to ask. Why not … Emma?’
Emma smiled. She was throwing in her lot with what appeared to be the victor in all this. Gabriella nodded. Emma asked, ‘Will we see you again?’
‘Naturally but for the most part, you will lean upon your own resources. You must be as hardened as the steel in the furnace for this task. I go now.’
Again, she was as good as her word.
Sam and Sophie made the redoubt or what was left of it. The fissure was now a gaping hole and yet possibly no one would suspect them of having made for there. At least, there appeared to be no humankind and no sustenance in the area.
There were rocks and rubble was strewn about but it had the effect of providing a cover, there was the old water source, Sam put a finger under the trickling water, touched his tongue with it and spat it out.
This was a bitter blow. The water might have sustained them for some time but now it was clear that this water could not be drunk. They had only what was in their waterbottles. Sophie looked over at him, holding little Emma, rocking her back and forth and understanding.
She was fatalistic. She'd had her run, all this had been a bonus but for little Emma and for Sam - she was so sorry. Anyway, perhaps they'd find another water source - they had the time.
Over Har Megiddon, the air was thick with acrid smoke, sparks, debris and a sickening smell, the smell of death that one can only imagine, never having previously experienced it. It had to have been the smell of Auschwitz and Belsen, of Beslan, of the crematorium, of that sickly sweetness exuding from all.
G-d’s creation was wracking itself to pieces and mankind, in its swaying multitudes in the valley, was being slaughtered.
A large number saw a terrible beauty in it, in lives expiring, hacked to pieces by metal under the offensive pall above them. With no hope still extant, they were like prize fighters at the end of fifteen rounds – striking out on autopilot.
Moving through the skies above were vast creatures with unrecognizable forms and yet recognizable in their origin and to them, it was all as it should have been, the triumph of the light.
Now appearing near them, beside them, slowly becoming visible in the permanight, were orbs, giant orbs the size of football stadia, moving into position along the via Maris and stretching all the way to Jerusalem. Across the earth such orbs were also appearing, always hovering over points of conflict but now also appearing over lakes, hills, mountains, oceans, wherever the remnant of humanity could be identified.
Ankle deep in putrifying blood, friend and foe alike paused and now trained their weapons on the orbs, the bombardment commenced, constant, never ending, having not the least effect, except maybe to cause them to strategically shift slightly, one way or the other, higher or lower and then to hold their position.
All that the men and women, bereft of reason, the children and old people who’d been press-ganged into replacing the fallen, all that they knew was that this was the greatest threat they’d faced, even possibly their very extinction. In every one of these phenomena there was menace and killing was the only instinctive reaction against the menace.
More orbs materialized and still more, over the nations of the earth, yes and even over the wildernesses.
Mrs. Entmussen and Jan had not appeared. Sam had gone out twice a day to the agreed point, he'd even gone further afield, keeping an eye out for marauders but there'd been none.
It was becoming increasingly apparent that those two weren't coming but what was worse for Sam was that there was no food source. They had divided the remaining food into portions and estimated that they had two weeks, if they were sparing in how they ate, with minimal body movement.
He'd taken to pre-dawn reconnaissance but it was such a godforsaken place up here that he understood implicitly why they were in no danger from marauders.
There had been birds - but not now. There had been small wildlife - but he saw none now.
One night, he ventured to their former host's hut or at least, to the vicinity but it had been razed, it was rubble.
There was neither food nor water. Sophie tried her hand at it too but also came back later empty-handed, conceding now that they either stayed for good or left immediately.
Emma was getting the sensation of things happening elsewhere even more than Hugh and now she had a sinking feeling that people out there were in the process of expiring.
Hugh concentrated and had to agree with her. Sarah had been showing more signs than ever of wishing to be near Jean-Baptiste and to be fair, Jean-Baptiste had not been averse although he was still a bit wary, perhaps picking up on Sarah's general demeanour of discomfort - Hugh was sure something was in the wind.
Jean-Baptiste was awake now and Emma began to sing to him:
J'ai perdu mon amie,
Sans l'avoir mérité
Pour un bouquet de roses,
Que je lui refusai
Je voudrais que la rose,
Fût encore au rosier
Et que ma douce amie
Fût encore à m'aimer
That upset Jean-Baptiste so Emma began:
Dans la forêt lointaine
On entend le coucou
Du haut de son grand chêne
Il répond au hibou :
On entend le coucou.
... something she was doing more frequently now, especially when she suddenly felt great unease. She wanted whatever was going to happen to happen and Hugh had his work cut out to offer her comfort, which actually helped him deal with his own fear, which was considerable.
In fact, it was as if everyone on board that craft had pins and needles. No one really looked at the others and they often ate in near silence, the silence punctuated by the occasional pointless remark or about the supplies which had not come for six days now.
They had the feeling they'd been abandoned and the failure of the food to appear disquietened all.
And so the hours became days and the days became weeks. There were no projects, there was nothing to really do, they had sufficient food for maybe another five weeks and then only Gabriella would be able to advise on what to do. Hugh considered going out with a little party to see what could be found but it was far too dangerous to contemplate.
Early July, 2013
Sophie was now so weak she couldn’t feed Emma. She looked over at Sam a metre away, his head back, his breathing raspy and his skin dry and cracking.
The rancid trickle of water, near where the old spring had been, continued to drip. They’d kept the lips moist and each other's skin and had even tried to imbibe it but little Emma had spat it out.
She was in Sophie’s arms, insofar as ‘in’ the arms went. She was lying skewed across her mother’s lap and had had the last milk five days ago. She was near expired and Sophie would know when that moment came. Baby Emma wouldn’t. This was the most terrible part because her father was not here and Sophie could never find help, get help, to stop all this happening.
Two weeks ago they should have taken their chance and if they’d encountered scavengers, they’d have died fed. This now was almost as bad as what they’d imagined might happen to the baby in the hands of marauders. Perhaps there were no marauders any more. Perhaps they might have lived off the grass but that was unlikely. The insects left them alone in the cave but swarms would come through at times, past the entrance to their hollow, they’d see them pass over and little grass would be left out there, especially in this barren part of the world.
And for what? To live some more days, maybe even some weeks?
They were not going to take their own lives, they’d made a pact to lie beside one another, their last kiss had been two days before this – she could still remember that. The mind was clouding over and then she became lucid once more.
At the entrance to the cavern, in the empty area which had been the cavern, someone now appeared and Sophie knew it was time. Gabriella spoke some words but it wasn’t so much words as something pouring into her and it would have been so for little Emma and for Sam as well – there was a message from Albus and Belus contained in there.
Sophie sent back a message through Gabriella who stepped across to Sam who smiled and then she closed his eyes. Sophie heard his last breath and was then aware of Gabriella over her.
Baby Emma was perfectly still and Gabriella touched her, assuring Sophie, without spoken words, that the baby was now safe and sound, passed over. Sophie nodded and was thankful that at least this was to be quick today. She smiled at Gabriella, felt her eyes closing and was then at peace.
They both felt it at the same time, Hugh's face grim, his arms around her. They really did seem to have been abandoned and of Gabriella, there was no sign. Yet Gabriella's last words to them had been that she would return and there was no reason to suppose that wouldn't be so. They only needed to have faith and confidence in themselves.
He reminded her of this and they felt marginally better.
They had a round table conference and it was clear they were going to die if they waited any longer for food. Some of them were willing to try their luck by leaving the ship, Hugh and Emma would remain, as would Sarah and Chloe.
The four who were leaving assembled downstairs on the landing floor, Hugh released the locks from the cockpit, turned off the gas and went down to open the bay door and drop the ladder. They said their farewells, the four climbed down and set out on their quest for sustenance and a safe haven, each with their fair portion of the food and water, although the water was hardly the issue with the stream below.
He watched them go, took up the ladder, closed the bay door and went back to their room.
Two hours later, it was time to reset the dirigible's coordinates, refill the sacs and take care of business in the cockpit. He went to great lengths to explain to Emma that under no circumstances was she to come out of the room or to leave Jean-Baptiste's side for any reason, not even for a seeming emergency, not even if he appeared and called for her to come quickly. And especially not through any temptation, someone from the past, anyone at all. Everything depended on that.
He warned her that things might get paranormal. If they were going to accept Gabriella as a reality, then they had to accept the other apparitions too which she had spoken of. He didn’t know specifically what they'd be but he did know there would be a last ditch attempt to kill the child. 'And they'll play on us, Emma, on our weaknesses.'
Emma accepted it now, she saw the scenario before her. They now created a series of coded failsafes that would have to be completed before either would come to the other ever again. These had to be done in the order they now agreed. The only exception was if either had sustained damage, especially mentally and so there was a final failsafe for that. The last resort would be, of course, Gabriella.
With that done, he kissed Jean-Baptiste, kissed his wife and went to the cockpit.
From the distance, far down the catacombs linking the Temple Mount and the room where the little man sat, came a hubbub of human voices but due to the nature of the corridors, the echoes reverberated and came back on one another. It did seem to be getting louder; the man wrung his hands and trembled.
Now the sound was immediate and then a dozen troops appeared, holding automats, scouring this chamber and many others leading off it, before taking position by the walls. A group of suited men now entered and behind them, women in black garb with head scarves and carrying orbs with geometric designs cut into them.
Now appeared, flanked either side by men in robes, the Prince himself, in striped suit and wearing a withered rose in his lapel.
He saw the alcove, saw the ark, ordered it taken down and placed in the middle of the floor. His accolytes bowed under the weight.
He ordered the lid removed.
Four men came forward with crowbars, a fifth with a cordless drill. After some considerable time, the Prince waved them away.
He bent his eyes to the lid and exerted all his power, all his might, all his majesty to the task. The lid of the ark did not budge. Quietly but with smouldering eyes, he looked about the room at those who’d witnessed his shame, a wave of energy radiated and all fell to the floor, stone dead.
He turned on his heel and stormed out of the chamber.
Chloe and Sarah arrived at the cockpit to find Hugh leaning over the co-pilot’s seat, adjusting the altimeter. He nodded and Sarah began scrutinizing the device which had been halted from going into its third phase.
‘Still holding, Hugh,’ she said. ‘Are you willing to take the risk?’
‘Have to. We have no choice but to get to our destination. Chloe, the sacs?’
‘N3 is leaking some. It’s slow by the look of it – take the risk on that?’
He nodded, turned and there was Chloe right by his seat, her thigh beckoning and truth was, he was more than susceptible to her, something he'd previously tried to suppress but now he found he couldn't - there was something in her which beckoned him, which reassured him as if she was some long-lost love who had returned.
He rose and looked her up and down - slender, golden-haired, approximating Julia in her feel but also Nikki - he was by now seriously weakened. Her lips were in front of him now, soft, inviting, those smooth cheeks, that nose - she needed kissing and kissing now.
Emma was in a dilemma. Here was Michel at the door and he was beckoning her to his arms and they were really his arms and she had Jean-Baptiste in hers.
She made to lay Jean-Baptiste on the bed and as she did, Michel whispered to her - kind things, loving things, reminding her of how he'd improved under her guidance, how stupid he'd been and she wanted more than anything now to be held by him, to be overpowered.
Michel was pouring sweet nothings into her now - suddenly she grabbed Jean-Baptiste, turned to him and said: 'You are not Michel.'
There was a most horrendous scream from 'Michel' and as he advanced into the room, she backed away, clutching her child to her, now she saw the empty eyes with no end to their depth, now she saw things changing and he was changing into Chloe but then Chloe just disappeared - utterly disappeared.
Emma dropped to her knees on the floor and wept uncontrollably, which started off Jean-Baptiste.
At the cockpit entrance, Hugh's hands started to run down Chloe's side and over her hips, one hand slipped between her thighs, their lips came together.
Suddenly he saw all and looked straight into her deep eyes, she recoiled towards the cockpit hatch, collapsed to the floor and began to disintegrate, he leapt over what remained of her and ran for their room.
Their door was wide open, Emma was on her knees with Jean-Baptiste, she shrieked for him to stop, not to come a step closer, not to enter the room. A gun was pointed straight at his heart.
He now made that most stupid of fish gestures with his mouth, the first of their failsafes and Jean-Baptiste gurgled at silly Papa.
Emma was still not convinced but he had all the time in the world now to ask his questions. One by one he went through their list and even added embellishments - very personal embellishments, which convinced her further, although it was clear she'd just suffered enormous trauma.
He also realized they had no failsafes in place to determine that she was who she claimed. He had no option but to provoke her with some past misdemeanours of his and watch her reaction.
Her sour look convinced him and convinced her as well because she lowered the gun.
‘Did Michel turn back into Chloe?’
'What did he want?'
'Me. All of me, to abandon Jean-Baptiste for a few minutes and rediscover our love.'
'And you were going to?'
'Yes, yes! I had no way to stop -'
'Shhh, quiet love,' he stepped into the room, she stood and came to his arms, which suited Jean-Baptiste down to the ground. 'It happened with me too. It was sheer chance which stopped me. What stopped you?'
'An error - it was too loving. He never was, Michel, he was always more blunt than that. Before I could do anything, he disappeared. And you?'
'Two errors. Firstly, it was an amalgam of Nikki, Julia, Ksenia, Anya and others - it was features of all of them - I have to confess to being taken with Chloe from the beginning, Fayette.'
'You think I didn't know? It hurt.'
'That's why it was though and it was that sudden realization of their overkill which pulled me out of it. If they'd kept it to Nikki and Genie, say, it might have worked. Then, at that same moment, I saw her eyes and they were deep, bottomless and that was the sign to me - I gave her the stare and Gabriella must have done the rest.'
'I know,' he kissed her forehead. 'Sarah is ready now for take-off so I’ll get back to the cockpit, OK? Same failsafes and when you ask your questions of me, make sure they're ones I can answer, OK?'
He returned to the cockpit, Chloe now just rubble on the floor, Sarah was already in place, he’d pilot first, she'd check systems.
‘Emma all right?’ she asked.
‘No. You don’t seem too put out by Chloe.’
‘Do you do that with all your lovers?’
He grinned and checked the controls one last time. ‘There's only one thing I’ve forgotten, I think, Sarah.’
'Oh,' she asked.
He was embarrassed. 'We might not make it out of here. I've already said my 'just in case' farewells to Emma and Jean-Baptiste. I'm sure we will survive but just in case ... well ... might I have one quick kiss with you before we take off?'
She shrugged and grinned, he leaned across and took a long slow kiss, her hand came up to his shoulder, he breathed, 'You always were so nice, Sarah,' he sighed, pulled back from her and stared deep into her eyes, at which point she froze.
‘I know you can hear me, Sarah. I want you to know I'm really deeply sorry. That kiss just now was not feigned, you could feel it - it was real. It was for the girl I once knew ... before you betrayed Marie.’
Terror entered her eyes and he realized she'd been through so much abuse that she hadn't been able to face it any more. 'It dislocated your mind more than you let on to us, didn't it? Perhaps more than you even realized yourself.
There were too many small anomalies, Sarah but I’ll be honest with you - I wouldn’t have picked up on them unless we’d had inside information. I know you’ve already set it to Phase 3 but it hardly matters any more, does it?’
He looked at her sadly. ‘Do you remember the Pyramid Cafe, where we had that coffee?’ He saw that she did.
He went on. ‘There was always that element with you, I don’t know what it was - the Russians call it ‘nye tak’. It's something not so, something not altogether right – I didn’t try to understand it. I want you to know, Sarah, I always liked the other 99% of you, seriously I did. Thank you for allowing that last kiss with you now.’
He climbed out of the seat, took one last look at her eyes, eyes crazed with the realization of what was about to happen. 'Just accept it, relax - we'll see you on the other side. I understand it's not as bad as we often think it is. It's quick. Bye-bye, love.'
There was only one point where Emma slipped up and as they'd agreed, it would require something unplanned from her, something which would convince.
She reached into her pack and pulled out a leather purse or rather, a sort of document holder. Opening it, she handed him a letter.
It was his, from when they'd fled north and he'd been concealed in the cellar.
He was stunned.
She took back the letter, folded it and put it away in its place, stepped forward and kissed his lips, which Jean-Baptiste approved of, she handed him Jean-Baptiste, put on their large rucksack and off they went.
In the main room they went to the central column and the narrow ladder carried them up into the hull itself. It was dark but her flashlight now shone, revealing the gas sacs, all five of them stretching the length of the dirigible but there was a second ladder between sacks 3 and 4, leading up to the fabric at the top.
A circular hatch within a wooden insert in the fabric was undone and as it opened, light poured in. Hovering a few metres above was the hull, if it could have been called that, of a craft, seemingly circular and judging by the second such craft about three miles off, in the shape of an orb.
They found themselves elevated and it was distinctly unnerving. He told her to have faith as she clung to him and he to her, they found themselves drawn straight through the fabric of the shell, into the orb and they’d passed into a science-fiction story.
There was a surface of some form but at the same time, it wasn't – nothing felt hard beneath their feet – the floor had been provided for them just to get their bearings. Two chairs appeared or maybe they’d been there all along, neither were sure but there they were – two grey leather armchairs, they took the packs off, Hugh handed her Jean-Baptiste and they sat.
‘C’est étrange, Bebe. What now?’
He shrugged. ‘No doubt we’ll be told.’
Gabriella appeared and that gave them some bearings. Jean-Baptiste was delighted and Emma asked, ‘Are you able to hold babies?’
‘I can make it seem so.’ Emma handed her Jean-Baptiste who promptly fell asleep in her arms.
Emma smiled. ‘So, here we are.’
‘How long till we get there?’ asked Hugh.
‘We’re there. We just have to wait for the right moment.’
‘Har Megiddon, of course.’
‘Are we,' asked Emma, 'in heaven?’
Gabriella smiled. ‘No, you’re in a service ship. One word to you again, Belus - for the sake of your child and for your husband, don’t fall away.’ Emma nodded. ‘There will be much illusion of pain and of horror but remember it is all but illusion. Then there will be real pain for a very brief time because it is necessary to suffer a little but it will not overwhelm you. You will be quickly through and all will be well. Do you feel fear?’
Emma was choked and he wasn’t far off. ‘Yes.’
‘That is lack of faith in both of you. When you stop fearing, then you are at one. There is no need to fear anything they can do, no matter how bad it seems. He cannot take your spirit by force and his power over your body is limited and for an instant only. The words will be given you. Always you can choose those words or you can choose your own and then you can follow your own path, away from our protection.’
‘We get the general idea,’ said Hugh.
‘Now you have a reasonable amount of time together, as long as is necessary for you to say everything you wish to say to each other, it is private and nobody will listen or observe. You may have hours or days, as you wish. You’ll need neither food nor drink. When you are ready, I shall know and shall lead you there.’
Finally alone as far as they could tell, he went to hold her but she put out a hand.
'I'd like to know something, Bebe.'
'What did you do to Sarah?'
'When I went back, she was already in the co-pilot's seat, I asked her if I could kiss her, for old times sake, I did, I looked into her eyes and she froze.'
'You killed her.'
'No, she was well aware of what I said to her - that we'd known because of certain errors.'
'She will starve to death in that seat.'
'She will come out of it, then try to fly the airship but of course, she set it to Stage 3 herself and that she'll have to deal with now. There's enough food and water onboard for a while. It's up to her now how she fares.'
'I see,' she said for the second time. 'Was this Chloe human?'
'Very much so.'
'You say you could not resist this 'amalgam', you called it, of your previous lovers. If you had succumbed, if you had made love to her, what would have happened?'
'Short answer - I don't know. She might have frozen me, killed me, taken me for torture, I don't know at what stage their thinking is now.'
'Jean-Baptiste and I?'
'You would have been at their mercy. Don't say it - I've already thought about it. I think there were failsafes - the one which did happen, perhaps Gabriella actually appearing, certainly remembering both of you when I saw those eyes.'
'Our lives were in your hands.'
'Yes but they've been so anyway in the past, along with Gabriella's protection.'
'I know. I'm sorry. I don't think it would have happened with me either. Obviously I wanted to feel his arms again but I'm sure I would have known. I stopped before he changed back, while he was still 'Michel' if you follow me.'
She chewed over it a bit more, then said, 'You may touch me.'
It might have been hours later when she asked, ‘Do you think we might have created the daughter the Oracle spoke of?’
‘It’s near the end, isn’t it?’
‘Seems to be.’
‘We’ll need to leave Jean-Baptiste with her?’
‘As he is now. Temporarily. For his safety.’
Different clothing appeared, robes; he dressed her and she dressed him.
Gabriella reappeared with Jean-Baptiste who awoke and Emma could immediately feel his sense of wellbeing.
‘You may have as much time as you need.’ They both shook their heads. ‘Remember, if you believe, then it will be well for you. He has sought the power between the moment of life and death so many times in so many lands and in so many ages. He has savaged the body but cannot touch the spirit, losing enormous face before his followers. Yet if they dare show their true feelings, he would tear them apart so they observe, wonder and fear that he cannot finally overcome.
If you feel you are ready, follow me. I would that you need not see this but I urge you both to gird yourselves for it.’
They followed her to an area near the skin of the orb which showed a panorama below and they were both rooted to the spot.
There was no sound inside the orb, no smell but they could see mayhem and wanton destruction below, as far as the eye could see, to the end of the Plain of Esdrael and then, on the bubbling sea, were flotillas.
Humanity grimly waited in ranks, expectant, terrified, held in place by the occasion and by the threat; over the other side of the valley was the same scene but of a different hue. Above, in the putrid sky and quite close to them in fact, were creatures clearly there to strike terror into hearts.
One of these creatures swooped, took a soldier in its talons and four metres above the ground, tore him in two, his uniform, insides and two halves, viscera spilling from them, tumbled to earth, splattering the silent soldiery, a constant reminder that even words and thoughts were known.
'You will have many questions, both of you.' They just stared at Gabriella, who added, ‘Come - you have both seen enough.’
She led them to a quiet area, most likely near the centre of the orb and bade them rest but how could they rest when they were nauseated? She nodded and said, 'All right, let's have all the questions now. Ask as you would wish.'
They looked hard at her and if it had not been for her history in which they had never once been let down, they would have been deeply fearful now.
'Ask,' she repeated.
‘Why do you allow this carnage?’ Hugh opened the questioning.
‘I have not the power to prevent it.’
‘Then why doesn’t He give you the power?’
‘To become just like the enemy?’
‘It’s all … horrible!’ cried out Emma but in her heart, she knew there was far more to come.
‘That man had the chance, the choice, it was offered to him and he might have been saved. He refused.’
‘You should have made him!’
Gabriella looked at her and she knew the answer already. ‘To make us no better than the other side, Emma? And there is another question. What of the martyrs? What of those who died or who have suffered for their belief? Are those below given the same future as those who have chosen to stand by their belief?’
‘Is there no vengeance?’
‘Oh yes, there is vengeance and it is at hand.’
Hugh was stunned. They’d driven in cars through that valley, towards that hill and apart from the Ege Company busloads, it had been largely peaceful – the view from leafy Har Karmel had been tranquility itself ... and now the sky was darkened, orbs hovered, glistening, above the smoke and carnage below, blood flowed along the contours of the land as those involved in the centre of the melee died, the blood flowed about the ankles of the soldiers who awaited their turn to die - it trickled down towards the sea.
Gabriella continued. ‘They curse us, curse you, curse their Maker. They are now beyond reason, in that survival state where every pestilence is blamed on good.’
Emma was sullen. ‘I understand why these people are there but it’s still wrong.’
‘Yes, it is wrong. Every one of those people you see had the chance to make the choice you have made. Every one of them made his choice, her choice, in the fullness of that knowledge. They hardened their hearts. It is wrong but as free choice is inbuilt, there was no alternative.’
‘So you punished them.’
‘No, I see you do not understand. They were not told, ‘Believe or you will be punished.’ It was explained, in good time, ‘Believe so that you can escape a terrible fate. They were told that we can only rescue those who believe they can be rescued. Now we take a short break and then I shall return and answer more fully - it's necessary that you finally understand.'
They were left with each other, just the three of them.
Chapter 23 here … Chapter 25 here