In a distant future where religious belief is almost non-existent, a separatist group of fundamentalist Christians on a far-away planet worship an android they believe to be the incarnation of their messiah. Years after being kidnapped and brought to Earth for study, the android is returning to the planet in the company of soldiers. They’re answering a distress signal claiming the planet is being attacked by demons. Soon enough, the soldiers find themselves in a desperate last stand, while the android discovers his origins — and the origins of Christianity — to be alien, and the colonists prepare an ultimate weapon powered by faith itself to save them.
Part 1 published in Issue 075, March 2020. Skip down to this circuit board icon for Part 2 to finish where you left off reading in print.
The left side of Captain Seim’s face is scar tissue I feel compelled to touch and say, Be healed.
“Be fucked!” Mabrey says, his overheating pulse rifle glowing blue with energy.
We’ve got thirty defenders, down from fifty who staved off the first attack a day ago. This is the fourth and Captain Seim hasn’t lost a soldier since. The man doesn’t repeat tactical mistakes, but it’s still thirty versus thousands. A four-armed demon with a goat’s head powers through the merciless ordinance and leaps over their line. Mabrey pivots, tracking it the entire time, and vaporizes the fiend before biological vision could notice its pearly claws, its flesh like flayed innards spotted with dozens of tiny, dead-black eyes. His weapon’s muted, almost gentle report is so at odds with the death bolts unleashed.
During the week-long jump to Jeru, Mabrey showed me the rifle often, calling it Jessica and saying things like, “This girl is my one and only. She loves it when I finger her,” while making a show of caressing the trigger. He grins at me now and says, “Hey, Father Robot, Padre Tin Man, better say a prayer for the deceased. Jessicajust flashed them and the Angel of the Lord died from his own exploding hardon.”
I’ve quit correcting him about angels. Like everyone on Earth, he doesn’t believe in angels or demons. I wonder what he believes he’s fighting.
“Mabrey, eyes front!”
The corporal turns and we both study the dark sky and murky plain below the Grand Chapel. The soldiers wear goggles that blaze red, making their faces look like skulls with hellfire eyes. A demonic legion stampedes toward us. Some soar through the fiery ozone, others gallop the blackened landscape like frenzied beasts. They’ve changed tactics too. Their bodies are coalescing into something that could blot out a star.
“That’s different,” Mabrey says.
Captain Seim orders a ceasefire. No one questions it. I watch his head move back and forth. The demons get closer. Their snarls rip the air and still he stands impassive.
“Got it,” he says, shouting targeting solutions. He divides his soldiers into six groups of five, all firing at different targets. Their energy weapons strike the collective body in the pressure points he identified and the demonic horde shatters with a piercing shriek.
Now Captain Seim orders his troops to fire at will. I watch Mabrey’s Jessica feast on opportunity. Demons fall and their impact is like a steady hammer blow on the plain.
A horn sounds from across the sky, as it has in the previous retreats.
“They’re falling back,” Captain Seim says.
The soldiers lower their guns in exhausted victory, turning toward me and removing their goggles. It’s odd to see their eyes again and consider them as people. When the unit attacks or defends they become a singular entity, a machine fashioned from many different forges. Now they separate, leaving the line one by one, slumping back into the interior of the Grand Chapel where they’ll sleep, eat or brood. But they won’t talk.
After the second attack, which the forty colonists of Jeru watched from outside the chapel despite Captain Seim’s order, Mabrey strutted over to them and said, “Another legion of Hell decimated by a thousand rounds of limb dismembering goodness, ladies and gentlemen. Come back when you’ve got a pair, Satan. Jessica’s a castrating bitch.”
One of the older colonists said, “It was God’s will that we won!”
Before Mabrey answered, another soldier spat in the colonist’s face. When the colonist tried to clean it off, the soldier spat again. “Let it dry there. It’s God’s will.”
The colonists have cloistered inside the Grand Chapel ever since.
I look to Captain Seim, who alone remains, still wearing his goggles and staring out into the darkness. Why does he linger? Is it vanity to think he wants to consult with me? Is he even aware of me? In the space of seconds, my mind entertains a fantasy. I imagine him removing his goggles to reveal eyes wet with tears. He says he wants to hear the Word of God. This from the man who punched Gideon in the mouth when he was overheard praying for the twenty soldiers killed in the first attack.
Without looking at me, he says, “You weren’t made to be quiet, were you?”
“But now you keep your thoughts to yourself.”
“I was thinking about our situation.”
“Thinking or praying?”
“Then you haven’t prayed at all?”
Captain Seim pivots his scarred profile toward me, goggle lens aflame. “You’re to tell me if you do, understood? The moment Dear God or Our Heavenly Father enter your head, I want to know so I can shoot you.”
“Your weapon would do little to me.”
“It would give me satisfaction.”
“Very well. But there’s no harm in prayer, Captain.”
“Humanity didn’t achieve anything until we abandoned the fairy tales you were programmed to preach. We’re going to win this fight on our own and I won’t have any of that bullshit tainting the victory.”
He brushes past me.
“I’m on your side,” I say, but he continues into the chapel to join his troops. There’s a slight limp in his left leg.
I lift my hand toward his departing figure and whisper, “Be healed.”
The colonists gather to me when I enter minutes later, their arms raised as they shout my name, “Hallelujah!” Despite his age, Gideon’s voice rises above the others, soaring higher than the mockery of the soldiers from the far end of the vast room. The Grand Chapel can hold multitudes, built in anticipation of faith turning the tide. The high windows have the appearance of stained glass, though no actual glass could survive Jeru’s weather.
Gideon comes to me, clasps his hands over mine and welcomes me back. “Hallelujah,” he says, intelligible despite a swollen lip and two missing teeth. I caress the side of his face and he presses it to his skin in rapture. My action sparks greed in the colonists. They move closer, each one begging for my touch. “Hallelujah,” a second man says. Soon they’re all saying it, louder and louder, until Mabrey storms over and says, “Everyone shut the fuck up. Hal, if we hear another word out of your crew, I swear there’s going to be trouble. Jessica needs her beauty sleep — got that?”
Before Mabrey leaves, he casts an open glance at Gideon’s daughter. She is seventeen and virginal, Mabrey is twenty-three and cocky. Neither lack for physical charm. Gideon keeps her close, but unlike me, he falls asleep from time to time. I catch the daughter’s blushing smile before she looks away.
Short of an act of God, their rendezvous will happen.
Once he’s gone, the colonists whisper hatred for the soldiers and for Mabrey above all. He is the worst sort of blasphemer. I counter with gentle remonstrance. “The Lord is mysterious. He works through the unlikeliest of people. Remember Jonah? Paul? For all we know, God has set His sights on the corporal to save us.”
“But isn’t that what you’ve come back to do?”
“Why did you leave us?”
“Where did you go?”
“He was taken into the clouds by God. Gideon, isn’t that right?”
Gideon makes a quieting motion with his hands. “We have waited long for answers. We can wait still longer. Go to sleep with this one encouragement in your thoughts: everything we have set our hands to, every plan we have made, is reaching fruition. We came to this planet because we are the Elect among men, blessed with faith. The soldiers cannot understand. Their ears are deaf to the Good News, and this makes them angry. We must forgive.”
The colonists go to the very opposite end of the Grand Chapel, where they’ve encamped for safety. Once we’re alone, Gideon smooths the fabric of my uniform and touches the insignia on my lapel. Verdigris encrusts the bronze cross with a sea-green patina.
“Military Chaplain. It must be two hundred years since any Earth army maintained such an office.”
“It was reestablished on my behalf for this mission.”
“To mock you,” Gideon says, lowering his gaze.
I cannot refute him. The soldiers made sport of me during the trip to Jeru. A man named Callas came to me, pretending to be a Believer, asking me to minister. I did so with gladness, and the next day he returned with another soldier. I led them in prayer. This continued, my flock growing each day. Before we reached Jeru, I was preaching to all except Captain Seim. One told me he was sick, and in my zeal, I touched him and said, “Be healed.” That’s when Mabrey stood and said, “My balls ache! Touch my goddamn balls, Padre Tin Man!” Then Callas laughed and said, “Hey Mabrey, let me piss in your mouth and see if RoboChrist can turn it into wine in the nick of time.”
I tried to imagine how Christ would react if he’d discovered his disciples had been playing an elaborate prank all along. He would, I suppose, forgive them.
Gideon scrapes at the verdigris with his thumbnail. “They only mock themselves. Your rank is an act of God.”
“What do you mean?”
Motioning for me to follow, he leads me through a library, a prayer chamber, and an infirmary until we reach a nursery with a hundred empty beds. He stops to touch a panel that reveals a hidden door. Stairs descend from the other side.
“Do you remember these?”
“Through the haze of an infant’s memory.”
“You perfected your fine motor skills on these steps. I cannot begin to say how many times you fell — sideways, backwards, forwards. There’s not one part of your body you didn’t land upon. I felt the bruises for you.”
“I remember a man’s voice saying, ‘How will he walk on water if he cannot manage a stairwell?’”
“Faith and patience are not always natural allies.”
“And the same voice crying out, ‘Hallelujah!’ when I mastered going up and down.”
We descend toward a laboratory and engineering workshop.
The room’s appearance stands at odds with the rough-hewn rock interior of the Grand Chapel, where even the lights have subtle flickers to emulate illumination by flame. I stand now in a world of lacquered white floors and walls and chrome workstations gleaming under crisp, antiseptic brightness. Twenty suits of armor like those of ancient knights and a variety of accompanying melee weapons line one wall. The suits have rocket launchers mounted on each left shoulder and swiveling ion cannons attached on the right.
“Is your memory of this place any less infantile?”
I stand before the longest table. A framework of delicate tools spring out from it like an open ribcage.
“Never doubt that you came to us from God.”
I point to the strange armor and weapons. “I don’t remember those.”
“You wouldn’t. They came later, after you were stolen from us.”
“Did God build them too?”
His swollen lips turn down. “Yes.”
Gideon urges me toward a terminal.
The screen flashes through a series of schematics and blueprints. Air and ground assault craft, guns, the suits of armor holding swords and maces rayed with hallows of energy.
“I’m afraid I do not understand.”
“Even angels wield swords. We did not go seeking the fires of Hell without praying for God’s shield.”
“Seeking? The plea from Jeru warned of an invasion.”
“So it did.”
“Invasions are not sought, Gideon.”
The puffiness of his lips don’t thwart the slyness of his smile. “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
Gideon goes to one of the suits of armor. “We have lived our lives by this scripture. You are proof of it, and now you are returned to us just in time to fight.”
He runs his fingers along an invisible seam and the front half swings open, revealing a hollow casing lined with microcircuits and sensors. There’s a clear depression where any human body might fit.
I step back. “If this is some sort of power armor, perhaps we should get Captain Seim—”
“His soldiers wouldn’t even be able to power them on! This is armament for Believers, powered by faith. They will not work for anyone without the grace of God.”
“Gideon . . . you sound like one of the soldiers trying to make sport of me. These weapons must be mechanical operations. They require fuel, energy.”
“Faith is an inexhaustible energy, Hallelujah.”
“How do these weapons use it? How do they detect the presence or lack of faith? How does the power of belief transfer into—”
“Enough. These questions are unsettling. Could it be you were changed while you’ve been away? Did some government engineering division get its hands on you and sabotage your faith with codes of cynicism and doubt?”
“I have not been tampered with.”
“No, of course not. You are as far beyond their understanding as the faith you fulfill. Do not let the other colonists hear doubts from you. It will frighten them, and they’re frightened enough already.”
A rumble comes from high above, deep enough to make the laboratory shake. The melee weapons collapse and clang on the floor. Gideon falls too, despite my best effort to catch him. I pull the old man to his feet.
“We must get back to the colonists.”
Gideon seizes my wrist. “Get in the armor.”
“Because it was made for you!”
“I want peace, Gideon. I want to heal.”
“You did not come to bring peace, but a sword. You know the chapter and verse.”
“Then if you are the fulfillment of Christ’s return, you will get inside the armor. Come, Hallelujah. It is time for you to demonstrate the awesomeness of God.”
The helmet closes around my head. It feels good against my body. Right. Like I was made for it. The visor renders Gideon as a heat signature. My vision expands everywhere. Architecture becomes mere blueprints on glass. Looking through the ceiling, I see a blob of color, the colonists gathered in mass to clutch each other and weep. I see still further, beyond the Great Chapel to the soldiers pouring their fury into the dark. Maybe it is their own uniforms or just an effect of the firefight, but they register far brighter than Gideon or the other colonists. They and their weapons blaze like torches.
“They have faith in themselves.”
Gideon takes a double-bladed plasma sword from the floor. Sharp steel traces the edges of the weapon, framing crystal blades encased with servos and wires. He places it into my hand.
“Three hundred years,” Gideon mutters as the armor swallows me. “Three centuries of humanity striving to edit the possibility of faith out of our genetic code — as if belief in God could be treated as some mutation.”
“Faith in self is the same as falling in love with a mirror, Hallelujah.”
One of the soldiers goes from red to a cold, deep blue. The notion it might be Mabrey bothers me and I start up the steps. The armor looks like a thousand pounds of steel, but it handles like a delicate skin of aluminum. My feet have the nimbleness of a dancer as I ascend, race through the rooms, emerge in the Grand Chapel and the run past the huddled colonists with Gideon trying to keep pace, shouting a song at my back—
I heard an old, old story
How a Savior came from glory
I have memories of this song, memories of my beginning, when all the colonists gathered in a great ring around me and sang. It was right before the False Believer spirited me to Earth and made me a curiosity to the public and to myself. Now, as I leap out of the Grand Chapel with Gideon and the colonists all singing at my back, I become a spectacle that disrupts even the discipline of Captain Seim’s men.
Mabrey, kneeling by his dead comrade, his youthful face tight and drawn, notices me first. The end of Jessica’s barrel looks like it’s becoming molten.
“What the fuck are you?”
“The Messiah!” Gideon shouts. “He is your Redeemer!”
No words have ever sounded more right. Exhilaration lifts me, and in that instant I find myself leaving the ground and soaring into the clouds, the power suit responding to sensation.
The demons come in uncountable shapes and sizes, some winged, others galloping across the ragged terrain of Jeru like eight-legged horses or slithering along, snakes with lion heads, wolves with human heads, each one an amalgamation of animal parts fused into vile, perverted creations. Thousands upon thousands of them, pouring from a bleeding fissure some miles in the distance. In the space between two mountains on the horizon, the massive suggestion of a man watches with his fingers curled around each peak. All my suit’s sensors fail when they try to scan this dark, towering shape. Is it Satan? Is it God?
Is there a distinction?
The suit lurches. Heaviness enters the metal. The visor goes blind. I plummet, limbs flailing. Scripture comes to me: How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! Am I not the Messiah, returned in fulfillment of a prophecy only a few thousand humans might still believe? All at once a fresh righteousness burns within me and the suit regains its power.
Fifty demons break from the horde and speed toward me. My visor tracks them, analyzes them, turns them into schematics. As if by reflex, my armor’s targeting system zeroes in on the nearest creature. An energy pulse bisects it faster than even artificial eyes can see.
The demons swarm me, trying to get in close to render my shoulder weapons ineffective. I swing the plasma sword, its blades crackling with energy. Its arc amputates wings and arms. One demon roars to my left, its mouth lined with row upon row of hideous teeth. It bites my arm with decapitating force only to have its teeth break. Stricken, it tries to flee but I grab it by the neck and plunge the sword through its throat, shredding the hollow of its maw with a brutal twist up through its head.
The remaining demons swoop back, and my suit’s distance armaments reengage on their own. A barrage of rockets pour into their ranks as my pulse cannon swivels in all directions, its beam hungry and feasting. The fight has carried me over the Grand Chapel and my own ordinance blast apart its two soaring bell towers. Below, Captain Seim and his soldiers scatter but reform into a tight group and fire straight up, the glow of their pulse rifles forming a dome of light around them.
A horn sounds, ethereal, more felt than heard. A pure note not from this or any other world, and the demons retreat at its calling.
Victory is mine.
“Get out of the suit,” Captain Seim says.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“You can’t order him like the others,” Gideon says.
The three of us stand in the middle of opposing crowds, the soldiers to our right, colonists to our left. Above our heads, the roof of the Grand Chapel has holes blasted in it, though my visor tells me it remains sound.
“He accepted a rank when he joined the mission. That rank is subordinate to me.”
Captain Seim’s heat signature flares, though it takes no technology to register his rising temper.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot get out of the suit. Doing so feels like I’d be disassembling myself.”
Mabrey steps forward. “Do you mean you got downloaded into the suit or something?”
“I am physically within it. But it now feels like a part of me. I cannot explain it.”
“It is a matter of faith, Captain. That is all the explanation you need.”
“Then at least tell us where you found it,” Mabrey says. “A suit like that would take my ass kicking to a whole new level.”
“Shut up, Corporal,” the captain says.
“But sir, this engineering is far more advanced than anything on Earth.”
Gideon’s laughter draws everyone’s attention.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just remember hearing the same thing when representatives from Earth’s government came to Jeru, ten years ago. They questioned us about Hallelujah, since he was so incomprehensible to them. When the traitor stole him from us, I wept bitter tears, imagining our savior in the hands of a second Roman Empire. Then I was comforted knowing nothing on Earth could harm him. They brought soldiers like yourself, Captain, and they ransacked every building, took every computer, interrogated even the smallest child for some clue. They would not accept the only answer we could give: all things are possible through God.”
Captain Seim shakes him by the shoulders. The colonists surge toward them and the soldiers snap their weapons into position, every barrel aimed at the heads of the men and women of Jeru.
“Tell your people to get on their knees.”
“You see it as a position of submission. Believers see it as strength.”
“They’ll be flat on their backs if I order my soldiers to fire.”
“You’d do that on the very people you came to protect?”
“I may be sworn to protect civilians, but no one would question the integrity or wisdom of a soldier who decided he didn’t want to die defending a leper colony.”
“And shooting the lepers would be doing them a favor? And our faith in God is leprosy to you, is that it?”
Gideon’s heat signature becomes an explosive red.
“What if you’re the diseased party, Captain? What if humanity has fallen into a deep and horrible rot that exists in its culture, its science, and its government? Jeru isn’t a leper colony, it’s a last stand against the decay of disbelief sewn into your minds through propaganda and genetic engineering. Christ ministered to lepers his first time around. Now Hallelujah will heal the leprosy that infects the human soul.”
Mabrey shakes his head. “Old man, you wouldn’t even have Hal back if it wasn’t for us.”
Captain Seim looks at me. “No, he wouldn’t. And now you join the battle using technology never seen before. What scheme is this?”
“I know only what you know, Captain,” I say. “I was ignorant of the existence of these suits.”
“There’s more than one?”
“There are,” Gideon says. “But they won’t work for you.”
“Take me to them.”
Gideon shakes his head, but I assent. “They are in a laboratory below the Grand Chapel.”
Captain Seim begins ordering his soldiers to work on new defensive measures even as he and Mabrey follow me. When we reach the room, Mabrey slings Jessica over his right shoulder and picks up one of the maces with great effort.
“Old school. I like it.”
Captain Seim grunts, inspecting the row of power suits. “Where did you find these?”
“We built them, just as we built Hallelujah.”
“With what resources?”
“All things are possible through—”
Gideon goes down from a second punch to his mouth. My visor registers the damage done to him in a quick flash of information as Mabrey puts himself in front of his captain.
“Stand down, sir.”
Captain Seim pushes him aside, bending to shout in Gideon’s face. “Did this God of yours just fill your head with scientific knowledge superior to all others?”
Gideon spits blood. “There’s precedent.”
“Hallelujah, Genesis 6:14-16.”
The Scripture runs through my mind like a beautiful scroll of words.
“Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt though make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. A window shalt thou— ”
“Enough of this bullshit!”
“It demonstrates God has given his followers engineering help before,” Gideon says, reaching for me. I help him stand.
“Too bad God didn’t go ahead and show Noah how to build starships. Would have saved the lives of many brave— ”
Captain Seim goes rigid, his finger pressed to his right ear. Mabrey does too. My helmet picks up the frantic voice in their transmitters.
“Multiple incoming waves detected, Captain. Largest assault by far. ETA right fucking now. Our defenses won’t hold.”
“Fall back to the drop ship. We’re done here.”
“There won’t be enough room for the colonists—”
“I give a fuck all about them.”
“Captain!” Mabrey says.
“You’ve got your orders!” he shouts, staring down Mabrey until he relents and goes upstairs. Then Captain Seim turns to me. “As do you.”
“I cannot not comply.”
“You see how meaningless your authority is here, Captain?” Gideon says. “You stand before the Messiah.”
Captain Seim draws his sidearm.
“As I said before, your weapon would not hurt me even outside of this armor.”
He points the gun at Gideon.
“Somehow this is all your doing, isn’t it? The android, these weapons — and the so-called demons that forced a military response from Earth.”
“Forced! Our sovereignty’s been violated five times since Hallelujah was taken from us by military agents who believed they could discover his secrets by catching us off guard. It’s never required an invasion to bring you here.”
“But it required one for us to come with the android in tow.”
“Hallelujah’s return was necessitated by God.”
Rumbles shake the room from above. The lights blink out, casting us into total darkness. My visor switches to night vision. Captain Seim’s got his finger in his ear again.
“Registering cascade failures across the colony’s power grid, sir.”
“Never mind them. Have you reached the drop ship?”
“Take off as soon as you do. Under no circumstances are you to wait on me.”
Captain Seim looks straight at me through the darkness. “Did God happen to leave any candles lying around?”
Before Gideon answers, the room shakes again. Captain Seim looks at his feet, his expression quizzical.
“That can’t be the enemy, it’s coming from below.”
The floor shifts, knocking all of us over. Something’s rising out of a hidden chamber below us as the floor retracts. I get up, sword aflame and ready, certain it must be Satan himself. My sensors detect energy of a magnitude beyond their ability to measure. A surging electrical discharge surrounds it, sending fingers of blue lightning through the air. Captain Seim kicks himself away from them, dragging Gideon with him. The power surge increases, lashing through the other power suits, making them dance like marionettes for a moment. Then the lightning hits my armor in the chest, and the temperature inside the casing becomes scorching. The visor cracks as the power of the bolts pitch me backward. When I land, the armor splits open, damaged beyond repair, and I fall out of it like Jonah spat from the belly of Leviathan.
The light and energy recede, leaving me with a better view of this — entity? Object? It seems to be a box, about four feet long, three feet wide and two feet high. It rests upon a pedestal rising out of the floor. Two golden statuettes of alien figures adorn the top. Humanoid in appearance, they stand with their hands outstretched as if to beckon us to them.
Captain Seim stands while Gideon gets on his knees, head bowed, hands clasped in prayer.
“What is this?”
“The Ark of the Covenant.”
“That means nothing to me.”
“When God gave His ten commandments to the Hebrews, they were placed inside a special box for safekeeping,” I say. “The design for this box was also given by God. It disappeared from history when the Babylonian Empire conquered Israel.”
Gideon lifts his head, his eyes wet and aflame with reflected light. “It didn’t disappear from history. The Lord brought it to Jeru — to wait for us. We came here dirty and desperate, chased from Earth and every other established colony. But no one would bother us on Jeru. Too unpromising, too hard. For the first year, we lived in our ship, unable to make excursions lasting longer than a few hours. We were miserable, yet I remember that time with great fondness. I was fifteen and my heart was filled with righteousness. At last I felt safe. I wasn’t being told that what I believed in the core of my being was just a genetic abnormality.”
“I can only pity your existence. A teen boy trying to live his life in accordance to the moral understanding of a Bronze Age tribe, ashamed by every wet dream.”
“And I pity yours, Captain, if even now you are blind to God’s grandeur.”
I step forward, putting my arm between them. “Tell me about your people finding the Ark, Gideon.”
Captain Seim’s brows arch. “You’re telling me you knew nothing about this?”
“He was taken from us before he knew his origins.”
“My origins are I was built in this room.”
“But it was I who heard the voice of God calling to me when I was seventeen. A whisper, telling me to go out and dig. The place was further away from the ship than any had ever gone, but I believed the Lord would protect me. I followed the voice to a spot where I saw the lid of the Ark half buried in the ground. I saw the two cherubim, their hands beckoning me, and I began to excavate. I lifted the Ark from the dirt and brought it back to the ship. There we opened the lid and saw the plans.”
“Designs,” Captain Seim says, voice little more than a whisper. “The android — the armor . . . you discovered some vault of alien technology, managed to decipher it over the decades, and set about bringing them to life.”
“The schematics were given to us in a specific way, a series of steps to build a vessel for His return and then weapons for Him and His disciples to use when we stormed the gates of Hell. Hallelujah was supposed to be by our side when the The Gate was completed.”
“It was the very last design, after Hallelujah and all the weapons.”
A voice pipes through Captain Seim’s transmitter at such a volume that he winces and rips it from his hear. “It’s Mabrey, Captain. The drop ship has been destroyed. I think I’m the only survivor. En route back to your—”
Captain Seim holds the transmitter to his lips. “Corporal? Anyone who can hear me, fall back to my position. Johnson? Daniels?”
“Your soldiers are dead, Captain. Satan was only toying with you before. His legions could have destroyed us at any time. Only Hallelujah can save us.”
“You dumb bastard,” the captain says, putting the gun to Gideon’s forehead. “You’ve been following some alien scheme and calling it faith. My soldiers are dead because of you, and so are the colonists.”
“Shoot, Captain. I will dwell in the Temple of the Lord.”
I go at my fastest speed, jarring his hand right as he fires. Gideon flinches and then looks at the black spot on the wall. He grins at me.
Mabrey is at the top of the stairs. He stumbles on his way down, face gashed. Still clutching Jessica in his right hand, the gun is a shell of its former glory, the barrel broken and lifeless. He presents himself to his captain and gives a dire update. The demons — he uses the word — have infiltrated the Grand Chapel. “They’re everywhere, sir. There are no survivors on the surface. I used my rifle to weld a few makeshift barricades as I retreated, but they won’t buy us more than a few minutes.”
“More than enough time!”
We all look to Gideon, whose hope must offend Mabrey. “I just said everyone is dead, including your daughter.”
“They will live on. But now God has driven the enemy into our hands. There’s a final weapon. We built everything in the order the Ark provided. You, Hallelujah, were first, The Alpha. This final weapon we call—”
“Where is it, Gideon?”
He points to the floor, then steps up to the Ark. He wraps his fingers around the outstretched hand of the first cherub and tells me to do the same. As I touch the second cherub, the platform descends. Captain Seim and Mabrey move to join us, but the demons break into the room. The captain raises his gun and fires upward. The last thing I see before sinking out of sight is Mabrey grappling with one of the melee weapons.
The Ark descends down a shaft that must be three hundred meters long. We stop just above what seems to be a massive cannon attached to a circular base with a single seat. The cannon bristles with arrays of micro-turrets aimed in all directions. The machine is dark gray and seamless like a piece of blown glass. There’s an opening just behind the seat approximating the size of the Ark.
Screams sound from above, and I see the demons clawing their way toward us.
“Move quick, Hallelujah.”
“What must I do?”
“Take your place at the controls.”
“I don’t know how to operate them.”
“You didn’t know how to operate the power armor either. You were made to use them both. There is another reason The Omega was the final weapon design in the Ark. The Ark itself is its power source. We must put it into place to activate the gun and let the vengeance of the Lord — the vengeance of the Messiah — pour forth. The cannon will harness His wrath and unleash it upon our enemies.”
I sit down. The controls seem little more than a steering column. I cannot even find a button to press.
“For years I have longed for this moment,” Gideon says, taking the Ark into his arms. “The Alpha and The Omega joined at last, with Satan gloating over our heads, sure of victory.”
“But why didn’t you use it already?”
“I couldn’t, Hallelujah. None of us could. Even our collective belief is not enough. This weapon requires a blameless faith, an unshakable fidelity to God. If humans could meet that requirement there would be no need for Christ. There never would have been a fall of man.”
He settles the Ark into place and as he does the cannon activates with a burst of energy that throws Gideon across the room and leaves him slumped, his head at an unnatural angle. My right hand rises and I think, Be healed! Be healed! Be healed! The demons are pouring down now and the cannon’s base lifts fast on antigravity mechanisms. Be healed. Be healed. I grip the meager controls as the smaller turrets fire quills of defensive energy while a fierce glow balloons around the maw of the main gun.
The cannon fires and the result is like a wrecking ball passing through a house of cards. The blast shears through the ceiling and every ceiling above it, until it reaches the sky and cuts a swath through legion after legion. The Ark crackles behind me, and my faith responds. The cannon fires again, and this time I feel like it’s responding to my will. The surrounding turrets swivel and decimate any demon that tries to attack. Most are fleeing now and the cannon rises after them, moving through the gaping holes it blasted in metal and rock. As the cannon fires a third time, I shout, “It is mine to avenge! I will repay!” How satisfying this moment is, how comfortable the seat of power. “The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth! Rise up, Judge of the earth!”
My mouth becomes a cannon of scripture firing just as fast. The thought Be healed no longer occupies my head. I have not come to heal but to destroy. I have come to offer harsh correction rather than instruction. As I rise to the level of the laboratory, I find Mabrey backed into a corner, fending off a demon with the sword he barely has the strength to lift. Seeing me, he shouts, “Destroy them, Hal! That’s right, demons! We’ve got a big fucking God on our side!”
Mabrey’s faith should cheer me, but my gaze fixes on the sight of Captain Seim’s ruined body. How strange it is, the sorrow I feel at the end of this hardened atheist. His words Under no circumstances are you to wait on me run through my thoughts, replacing the scripture. I cannot cry, and there have been few times when I wanted to. Now is one of them. I close my eyes as if to squeeze out a tear. Be healed.
The cannon’s fire slows — and stops.
The legions my arsenal put in retreat sense the change and turn. Thousands launch themselves toward me.
“Hal,” Mabrey says, hobbling in my direction. “What are you doing? Fire!”
I look up at the sky and think, Fire! Fire? The cannon is cold and I feel the chill inside me, as impossible as that is.
I leave the seat and go to Captain Seim. I lift his head and find one eye open. If he could survive, the other side of his mangled face would one day have a matching scar.
“Be healed,” I say.
For a moment, all is an impossible silence. Some have called silence the true language of faith — the frustrating eloquence of God.
I touch his face. I close his eyes.
Mabrey has reached the cannon. He calls to me and I see him in the seat, hands on the control column. Poor faithless fool. What will he do when he realizes The Omega won’t work for him?
I look down again at Captain Seim as I cradle his head. “Why won’t you be healed?”
Did I die for this man and all humanity in a past life I don’t remember? Have I returned now to kill those who cannot believe it ever happened?
In that one moment, I hear Gideon’s voice in my head. Like my problems with the stairs, it is what passes for a childhood memory. I am seated upon a table and he stands before me, one hand on my cheek, quoting something that sounds like scripture but isn’t.
“Little Lamb, who made thee? Dost thou know who made thee?”
The memory shatters with the concussive blast of cannon fire. It blasts with a fury surpassing anything my faith ever fueled. Mabrey sits in the chair, tears coursing down his cheeks as he speaks the most impossible words. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” His voice rises with each new passage, until at last he’s screaming the prayer, screaming and firing, the cannon’s volleys ripping across the sky and spreading fire along the horizon, shearing the demons by the hundreds, by the thousands, the cry of their collective pain the only sound able to rise above the glory of Mabrey’s prayer and the endless pulse of the weapon. The great barrel begins to spin, faster even than my eyes can follow, blast after blast radiating from it in petals with a high-pitched whine. The demons surge into their death until at last, perhaps hours later, none come at all. No horn of retreat ever blows. The skies of Jeru are empty and now, perhaps, Hell is too.
Mabrey joins me beside his dead captain and we regard his body a long time. Without looking at the corporal, I say, “How did you operate the cannon? Gideon told me it had to be powered by faith in God. It was designed for me.”
“I’ve spent my life pretending.”
Now I do look at him. “You mean you’re a Believer too?”
“I’m ashamed of the things I’ve done to hide my faith, Hal. I always asked God to forgive my cowardice and understand.”
“I’m sure He does.”
I help him stand. Some of the flesh is torn away on my forearm, revealing the wonders of my metal framework and the wiring that encircles it all like veins and arteries. Mabrey puts his finger in the opening a moment.
“Do you think you’re the Messiah? Could you really be the second coming of Christ?”
I smile at the sudden innocence in his expression. His bleeding somehow makes it even more childlike. “I think it’s just as likely to be you.”
We walk away from the rubble, disciples of uncertainty, a divinity no one wants to worship, but a divinity whose existence cannot be doubted.
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