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In the days that followed the headlines were void of any disturbance, any kind of assassinations that would normally be news the world over. All was quiet as the day approached.
That day was to be the first of November when a monumental summit of world religious leaders would take place in the region where it all began - between the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, near where the patriarch Abraham had been born in Ur in what was then Chaldea. It had long been planned, only the details remained in solidifying an historic document that would further cement the global village in a final plurality for the brotherhood of man.
Dateline: New Nasiriyah, Iraq - November 1, 3:15 a.m.
Inside makeshift supply tents that had been set up for this special event in the morn workers made final preparations. Little did the authorities know who these personnel were - ushers, guards, guides, regular spectators, vendors, security agents, even clerics had been compromised. Those now moving about all had one common purpose - an unholy vendetta that would render the world helpless. They had so cleverly infiltrated the area a scant five days ago. All was in readiness.
A Red Cross nurse in her 50's, Elena Grabe by name, moved quickly among the attendants. Her harsh, gargoyle-like facial features on a muscular frame belied her age. Brusquely she barked out orders, arranging belts on each person, patting them approvingly as a doting fraulein, remanding those who tarried. Crowbars ripped the top of an endless row of wooden crates as many hands reached in to retrieve ammo belts as if they were starving for a piece of bread. Adults fitted each other, also helping even children to adjust their belts, then rearranged their togas, their capes, their wraps to conceal the deadly cinches. From tent to tent she commandeered this array of followers, making sure all were dedicated to the cause, firing them up with a furor that was not of this earth.
From another crate in another tent a glass-encased etagere was lifted carefully out of its confines by four black-gloved hands. Inside an ornate Papal Tiara. Gingerly they hoisted the tiara out and handed it to another who jammed his hand deep into the deep calotte of the jeweled crown, packing the interior and molding the lining with an unfamiliar gel-like substance. Another crate was presented and from it an ornate tiara of Orthodox origin was retrieved. The same process was applied to this gem-filled miter as well.
A movement outside and the guard inside cocked his rifle. No fear. It was only Elena Grabe, an East German orphan, who had been an integral member of various jihads in the Mideast. Many claimed her infiltration of the Masad helped lay the foundation for Jerusalem's destruction. As she entered the tent she nodded approvingly, surveyed the progress with steeled pupils and then, just as quickly, was gone, moving on to another tent, continuing her appointed rounds, meticulously checking everything.
It was perhaps twenty minutes later that her wrath revealed why this Teutonic amazon was not one to trifle with. While the rest of her body remained rigid, the rage registered in her eyes when she discovered a lapel pin on the collar of one of the terrorists in one of the bivouacs. The small pin bore the symbol of a red lizard - the same seen on the mysterious combustible billiard ball used by the black-figure a week before. Ripping it from the stunned bearer, she shot him a glacial glare that could prompt hell to freeze over. She rubbed the pin between her gnarled fingers and before all the pin disintegrated to dust. Stoically she moved to each person, dressing them up and down with nostrils that flared hate, never saying a word. Her scowl said it all as she went down the line one by one. A few flanks over, one jittery hand removed a similar pin from his turban and dropped it on the dirt below, grinding it into the soil to avoid detection just as Grabe passed, his heel barely concealing the red lizard emblem as the sweat trickled down his neck.
After inspecting the whole, she strode to the forefront of the group. "You all know your assignments and are aware of the impeccable timing involved. Carry your duty out well and you will be honored." Extending two fingers downward, her gesture signaled all to follow suit with the official salute to their cause. "We pledge our loyalty to the master," she bellowed. "We pledge our lives to make his reign possible. We are the Legion."
In unison they intoned in staccato reverberation, "Long live the Basilisk."
She repeated this pact in each tent as the whir of helicopters signaled the first arrival of press corps, security and those emissaries who would make sure all areas were secure before giving the all clear for the entourage of dignitaries and attendees to be cleared through the gates. Though they suspected, little did they know.
In the bowels of a closet somewhere within the sacred confines of the Vatican, feeble fingernails scratched desperately and hopelessly at the baseboard paint beneath a paneled wall.
On the other side of the Tiber, several miles away in a dark Roman alley, a pair of hairy knuckles belonging to an old beggar were shaking as the fingers sought to adjust the syringe on his arm, pulling the elastic tighter on his boil-invested bicep to allow the liquid to stream faster into his veins. Simultaneously a sigh of relief could be seen on the countenance of this toothless transient as the elixir took its effect. A euphoria came over this unwashed varmint that would last, at best, until the morn. Such was the cost for providing information.
Dateline: New Nasiriyah, Iraq - November 1, 4:25 a.m.
The Osprey hovered for a minute, then with the Iraqi dust swirling up in a tornadic gust it set down on the outskirts of an empty circular amphitheater. Soon two more choppers bearing the GNN logo followed it.
Fifty yards away white canvas pyramids rose 30 feet into the early morning sky as the sun began to peek from behind the hills to the east. Thousands of chairs were being set up around the massive stage close to ten feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. Hundreds of set-up specialists had been working for close to 24 hours to make all in readiness. The crews inside the massive secure circle were totally separate in craft and intent from the workers Grabe had been inspecting throughout the supply tents in the compound outside the circle behind the pyramid tents.
As the cargo from the helicopters were being swiftly unloaded, 130 yards away one crew was pinning up the bunting along the edge of the circular stage where every 30 feet around the stage welders were working on the twelve special platforms. These were the special podiums where each religious dignitary would be seated and have, in essence, his own swivel desk. These world religious leaders would arrive at this point after traversing down the designated aisles leading from each of the respective twelve pyramid tents around the edges. Final preparations were being made on the tents at ten and eleven o'clock on the great wheel that had been fashioned for this occasion. The Lutheran standard was being raised on one pyramid tent, a New Age flag on the latter. The tents themselves were thirty-foot square. Crews were making final checks on all flag mounts, fastened to the edges of the round stage which would display the flags of 110 countries worldwide.
Rich ten-foot wide blue and yellow painted strips overlapped by a twenty-foot wide strip extended out on the surface of the freshly laid black-top from the stage outward in all directions toward the white canvas pyramids some 100 yards away. Painters were applying the final coat of red paint on the surface near the base of the stage that would form the crescent moon of Islam. Directly on the other side of the stage, a huge gold star stenciled into the blacktop between the stage and seating area was now dry as was a large black and white yin and yang symbol. Farther down another crew was putting the finishing touches on the blacktop between the stage and the seating section to a huge Hindu emblem in green. Others were setting up standards where red ropes were strung that would separate the various classes of dignitaries who would be filling the seats in a matter of hours.
Those who would be seated in the very front rows were all the religious leaders of the world. This incorporated 300 creeds, being broken down into twelve categories. The largest contingent would be the Roman Catholic Church with the Pope present within hours to represent a billion Catholics as well as the Chaldean Catholics whose own land was hosting this massive global event. The next largest assemblage would be the followers of Islam with the Grand Imam representing Muslims everywhere, including various sects such as the Shiites.
Not everyone would be seated. In fact there were chairs for only 200,000. The rest of the estimated 800,000 expected would be standing behind the chairs extending outward 300 yards with the twelve main procession aisles and various access areas cordoned off with cyclone fences 9 feet high. The choice seats behind the front row would be reserved for world leaders, important religious leaders and other dignitaries both political and religious. In addition entertainment personnel numbered over 4,000. They would be grouped in a section off the stage at 4 o'clock in the great circle where they would rotate as the their act came up. Those facilitating the changing of props and stage equipment were below in a trench eight feet wide by 30 feet long curving between the 4th and 5th stations. That also was the main entrance to beneath the stage where many workers were concealed and where the main control room for conducting all electronic functions for the stage was headquartered.
Lodging for so many personnel had been the major headache. In fact the entire preparations had been a headache for the region. Cooperation between Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even Iran had enabled many to be taxied to the site. There were still some disgruntled citizens and country leaders who felt they would be left with a white elephant after all had departed. They asked in what manner this large plot of land could be used after the world religious leaders signed the document being regarded by the world media as the modern Magna Carta? Few had answers for the usage of this site after November 1st. It was of little consequence to the world powers, so set in their agenda.
The area chosen had been a natural crater and after an international group representing the UN, the faltering European Commission, the World Council of Churches and the newly-formed "Iraq Lives for Freedom" commission had agreed on this site, they contracted with approved developers through NATO. Just a scant two and a half months ago earthmovers had been shipped in to sculpt out this massive bowl, making sure it was not too steep, grading the earth so that it would be evenly inclined all the way around where all could readily see.
The concept of the circular form had been promoted by the trend in the largest of Churches - the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the west where prelates a few decades after Vatican II, had transformed the sacral nature of churches. Architects and modernists, who had infiltrated chanceries, had cleverly manipulated liturgical plans to force as many churches as possible to move the altars from the front to the center, changing the nomenclature and meaning from altar to table - banquet table. It was a short step from there to eliminate the concept of sacrifice both at the Mass and in the minds of the Catholic citizenry who relished the changes as innovative and refreshing, quickly forgetting what had been taught for centuries about the integral nature of penance and sacrifice as their part in the greater communion of saints; Church Militant they were called, working in concert with the Church Triumphant in Heaven, and the Church Suffering in Purgatory. All members of the Mystical Body of Christ.
The latter had long been compromised by many in the Church of Rome in favor of complying with the more popular belief that there was no such place. This helped fuse Protestant thinking and Catholic thought, placing more emphasis on the Bible than on the equally other necessary ingredients of Faith such as the Sacraments and Tradition. Little by little progressivists had chipped away at the foundation for over half a century and slowly the substructure began to crumble. As the west goes, so goes the world.
Many perceived this new document, forged through a series of events spanning ten years or so, as a way of strengthening all ramparts. Yes, there would be attritions, there would be loss of time-honored traditions and the weakening of creeds, of convictions, but those were merely the prices paid for progress, for establishing world peace through a uniting of all into a "one world religion." A "global God" was the buzzword, as if confining Him to the perimeter of earth among the vast universe He created.
Security would be tight, more impermeable than ever before. Twelve outer security gates had been set up a half-mile out circumferencing this huge plot of land just outside New Nasiriyah. Twelve more secondary and much narrower security stations that could detect even coins had been constructed to funnel every person through. For four hours hundreds of thousands had streamed single-file through the sensitive turnstiles under the scrutinous eye of camera, x-ray, guard dogs and armed military. An entire battalion of UN troops and Iraqi soldiers had merged to handle the massive task. They had bivouacked three miles away in a camp, 10,000 soldiers to handle over 900,000 people.
On this day all roads did not lead to Rome but rather to New Nasiriyah, a manmade city 200 miles southeast of Baghdad and 30 miles southeast of the city of An Nasiriyah. In actuality the modern village of Ur was twenty miles to the west on the other side of the Euphrates. Yet historians were practically unanimous that this arid area where the crater had been transformed was the vicinity of where once the teeming pure waters of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers bordered the biblical Garden of Eden. For some this site was a perfect choice. For others of Judeo-Christian leanings, the significance took on an even greater meaning since this was believed to be the area where the Father of the Faithful Abraham had been born.
The site had been chosen some five months before following the coup in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein's regime had been toppled. Many had expected it years before, but he had tempted fate so many times. Always he had been able to escape assassination by his ruthless employment of many body doubles - victims who sacrificed themselves to save his hide. Such was the selfishness of despots. His demise only served to confirm what always, throughout the annals of time, happens to such men.
Electricians were lugging heavy wires into place as one of the crew from the second Osprey rushed over to the foreman of the crew, flashing his identification. Soon he was flagging others from his pack to set up where one of the supervisors had motioned. Within minutes electricians from GNN and news crews were working in harmony to connect the vast network of cables so they could easily convey through fiber optics every image of this phenomenal event to the western hemisphere, Oceania, much of Africa and many parts of English-speaking Europe.
Next issue: First Chapter - Episode Three
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!