Episode Four: Bewitched and Betrayed; the Fruits of Ecumenism
It was William Shakespeare who first quoted the phrase "All the world's a stage," but he would not be the last. This evening across the western continents reporters were relying many of the bard's sayings and many other clichéd excerpts to explain the historic event now just minutes away.
Dateline: New Nasiyirah, Iraq, November 1, 9:40 a.m.
"Testing, testing - one-two. There's a buzz, Grant." The earpiece entwined under Briana Bryce's golden coiffure was registering static and she was visibly not happy. "Damn, somebody fix this. I've got less than 20 seconds to hook up with Trevor." Annoyed, she rustled the papers at the portable podium to her side. "Where's the damm teleprompter?"
"Computer glitz, Bri, they're working on it" came a quick, reassuring response from the news director Grant Larson as he moved levers and felt for the right decibel. "Camera one on Briana, camera two on sector one, three on sector two, three pan to other sectors and we'll jockey you in position for close-ups. Eye in the sky you've got to focus clearer. Bri, give me another test."
"Ah, perfect. Trevor, can you hear me?" Grant snapped, seeking affirmation on the other end of the uplink.
"You're coming in loud and clear. We're ten seconds out of commercial. Is Briana ready?" Trevor bleated as directors hooked up between New York and Iraq.
"All systems go." Grant coaxed his temperamental anchor, "You're on babe. Look beautiful."
"I always do, even in this wretched place," Briana Bryce shot back as the countdown echoed in her ear and she heard 'A-B roll, logo, intro and dissolve, 15 seconds and counting.' She readjusted her navy blue suit jacket and fluffed a flowing ridge of cream chiffon on the plunging neckline to better conceal her small microphone as the countdown continued. The hard creases of her mouth turned instantly upward into a saccharine smile as the red light signaled she was on the air.
In balancing the sensitivity of egos that all television anchor persons possess, Grant took a chance and crossed his fingers. He had opted to have Trevor pass it to her as soon as he had rehashed the situation for late tuners. One-upsmanship is a fine art in the world of communications.
"Standing by in New Nasiriyah for Global News Network in our correspondent Briana Bryce. Briana, looks like the sun is shining bright."
"Thank you, Trevor. Yes, it's a beautiful day. In the low 80's and we are less than minutes from the festivities." Turning slightly the camera panned over her shoulder to capture the enormity of the occasion.
"Estimates range from 900,000 to one million, Trevor. And there are many more outside the gates. You can see it is standing room only around the entire arena."
"That's big enough for over 25 football games at one time," Trevor quipped.
The banality was not lost on Briana, who zapped him back in a fiercely competitive tone, "It'd never work. No beer vendors. Seriously though, the GNN eye in the sky can give us all a better scope."
In the truck, Grant swiftly commanded, "Camera four, set aaaand...take."
The aerial shot of the entire area was impressive as the throngs below, circling the center stage, stretched out like an army of ants with the aisles giving the impression of spokes in a bicycle wheel. As the helicopter's camera zoomed in toward the stage the viewer could see the layout much more clearly. The saucer shaped arena diameter measured 550 yards. At the hub of the circular portion was a massive white marble round table serving as the center stage. Around it was the huge crescent moon of Islam bordering the left side of the table in deep red with the accompanying gold star on the other side of the stage. On the table stage, roughly 30 yards in diameter, an expanding glow of a white orb with gold rays fused out to the edges. Circumventing the stage was a huge white cross to represent all of Christendom. It spanned the entire complex north, east, south and west. The Tao symbol and the Hindu script were brilliant in the mid-morning sunlight.
The camera pulled out further and one could see the entire area covered with people shoulder to shoulder who resembled slowly moving pixels on a great circular monitor. Despite the density of flesh, the viewer could still make out - on the blacktopped outdoor arena floor below - the symbol of the Star of David. It had been painted in rich, royal blue that extended out from the center table, superimposed by the huge white cross, to six points where pyramid-like tents rested at the edge. Overlapping these two gigantic symbols was the outline of a Buddhist wheel in yellow stretching out to equal points of the Jewish symbol where six more white pyramid-like tents stood. Around each tent a contingent of VIP's and security personnel stood waiting. From the air the panoramic scene below looked like a giant clock as the eye-in-the-sky chopper banked away from the sun to get a clearer shot for the viewers.
The director had cut to camera one focusing on a white tent with the Vatican flag flying above and Trevor took the cue from the truck. "The Pope is inside tent one. Ever since releasing the encyclical Ut unum sint the Holy See has been moving toward this historic occasion."
"The key to this," Briana edged in, "was the Russian Patriarch's invitation earlier last year when the new Pope Clement XV and Patriarch finally met in Moscow, Trevor." Camera two locked in on tent two with the Russian flag waving above.
"They had to, Briana. Those were tense times. John Paul II had passed on. Then the guts had been ripped out of Jerusalem. Everything was in ruins. Earthquakes and tsunamis had devastated the west coasts of the Americas, hurricanes on the east coast of the U.S. and the Caribbean. World heads had no where to turn but to the religious leaders for help."
"You're right, Trevor, and the subsequent overthrow of the Iraqi regime in May by the Shiite Sons of Allah gave this land back to the Chaldeans." The director had now switched to the eye in the sky which displayed a panorama of the scene catching both the Euphrates in the foreground and the Tigris on the horizon in the distance, filtered by the sun rays.
"That paved the way for this historic meeting here today between the greatest religious leaders of the world at the birthplace of the Father of the Faithful Abraham here in Nasiriyah. It was known as Ur back then, Briana."
Suppressing an urge to fire back a retort such as "Urhh," for his patronizing way, she reined in the emotion and interspersed, "This was the only place that John Paul II didn't visit during his grueling, year-and-a-half historic pilgrimage through Salvation History back at the turn of the millennium."
"Oh to see the Holy Land as it was when he was hailed by Christian, Jew and Arab, Briana."
"I'm afraid we never will again, Trevor. But, I dare say, this turnout and staging is, to say the least, impressive."
Trevor stepped on her next line, "Kind of reminds me of the massive crowd for the pope's funeral after Easter in 2005."
"Except," Briana shot back curtly, "that was sorrowful. This should be joyous."
"It's got to give you goosebumps, Briana."
"I'm above that, Trevor, but it is an emotional moment. We're just minutes away. The band is getting ready to strike the opening tympany." Camera two was now focused on the Jewish tent. "Inside this tent waits the chief Rabbi of Israel."
"Few would have thought this would ever occur," Bryce continued. "But after the fall of Jerusalem, the Israelis and Arabs had no where else to turn. They had to come to an accord to exist."
"It proves, Trevor, that necessity is the mother of invention," as camera one zeroed in on the Islamic tent.
"Yes, Briana, and Rome's previous ecumenical talks with Greek, Anglican and Lutheran Church leaders have made this day possible. I must admit I'm surprised the Hindus and Buddhists have agreed to the pact." On cue the tent containing the representatives of the Lutheran, Hindu and Buddhist creeds were captured by camera two.
Camera one panned the remaining tents as Briana took the cue. "This is the Protestant contingent. Here all sects excluding Lutheran, Anglican and Baptists can be found. This is where the Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists, Evangelicals, Unitarians, and all the other churches are grouped."
"That includes the New Agers, correct Briana?"
"Yes, Trevor, there's even a Wiccan representative if you can believe that."
"How about voodoo?"
As Grant focused camera two on the Greek Orthodox Church Briana was directed to keep up, "No word on that, Trevor, but now we see the Greek Patriarch's tent with his entourage. You can see them mingling near the entrance."
"They're getting antsy, Briana. We all are."
Following her director's cue she followed the camera shots, "In the next tent is the Grand Imam from Mecca, and next to him the Baptist Synod representative."
Trevor had to pipe in, "I understand that took some arm-twisting to get all the Baptist factions to agree on one Synod leader."
"It's the spirit of cooperation, Trevor," Briana confidently asserted, "it's like a fever that has caught on with all faiths. They all want peace and brotherhood...sisterhood, too. Now, in the last pyramid the..."
Trevor sensed he was being shortchanged by this vixen, whom he intensely disliked. Colleague or not, ego egged him to cut over her lines again. It was a bad habit that she would address with Grant once off the air. For now Trevor had the mike. "In just minutes each will exit his respective tent with his entourage and begin processing toward the center round table where they will all sign the documents presently at each place on the table. The flags of every nation will be dipped at that moment each religious leader has finished signing."
Briana broke in again, "This document you refer to, Trevor, is, of course, the great document 'One Eucharist.' It is being called the Magna Carta of the new millennium."
"Under the agreement that has taken years to form, all the religious leaders here will be on equal footing. I must admit I'm a bit surprised the Pope would give up so much, Briana."
"Really he hasn't, Trevor."
The last bit prompted Ben to blurt, "Like hell he hasn't!" as the few inhabitants left at the Spigot were now enthralled by the event in progress. As the co-anchors continued to bring their audience up to date on the details of the ceremony that would soon take place, Corrie and Ben and a few others in the bar were now focused on the small screen, mesmerized by the scope of the occasion. Pat was noticeably restless.
"Come on, Corrie. Let's get the hell out of here and go to my place. It's still Halloween by my watch."
"Shh, Pat," Corrie motioned with a slender finger to her full lips. "I want to watch this. This is really an historic moment, and we're getting a front row view by being here with Benj."
"Okay, a few more minutes, then we're outta here. We're history, and so is this place. Sorry, Benj, didn't mean to hurt your feelins'. Must be the goblins messin' with my head tonight."
O'Fallon's blue eyes met Pat's - eyes that spoke of wisdom and prudence, and which, with that one stare, Pat's bravado shrunk as he meekly agreed to stay a little longer. He tried to focus his attention back to the screen. It wasn't easy. Possibly the envy bug had bitten him. He might have been among the journalists there this morning were it not for his editor. Sconced any idea of sending Pat. Eh, the heck with 'em all, Pat groused in his thoughts. Sour grapes has a way of staining the psyche.
Briana had responded to Trevor's puzzled look on-air. "He has made it known he is willing to lessen his powers in return for their recognition of the Primacy of Peter. So in effect he's really pulled off a miracle by getting all to bury the hatchet."
"But will it last?" Trevor cornered her with that superior furrow to his brow.
"Time will tell. The reason it is called 'One Eucharist,' Trevor, is because the Greek word for Thanksgiving is eucharistia. And this document 'One Eucharist' will allow for Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and New Ager alike to equally acknowledge their God Who alone deserves all Thanksgiving and Praise."
"Isn't that what John Paul II's successor initially proposed for Jerusalem before the eruption?"
Briana looked somewhat perplexed. Static had reoccurred and she hadn't heard Trevor's last comment. The director was frantically leveling the controls trying to rescue her audio. Trying to save face, Briana bravely tried to cover up. "It leaves us with the question: will we ever learn? I hope we finally have."
A puzzled frown curled Ander's lower lip. He assumed she was ignoring him. But he wasn't going to panic. He trouped on, "What makes this so enticing is that this universal recognition still allows each faith to preserve their traditions and rituals and share them with others." A blank stare from Briana prompted Trevor to continue, "What we are getting, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, is the best of both worlds. People the world over are thrilled by this. They will all be among the People of God, the brotherhood of man."
Briana had regained full audio as well as instructions from the truck. "East and West have been in schism for nearly a full millennium. And nearly a half millennium since Martin Luther and Henry VIII formed their own churches. Today they all return in peace. Tolerance and diversity have been achieved."
Ben shook his head in disgust, but couldn't take his eyes off the screen as the camera continued to pan. Though he felt something wasn't right, little could he detect the countless inhabitants from the supply tents taking up their strategic places in all areas of the giant compound including all areas encircling the center stage. Military personnel had been so careful to scan every citizen for weapons, artillery. Little did they know what would go undetected.
"Briana, pardon me for being skeptical, but there have been so many overtures toward peace however that it seems everyone's walking on eggshells. Hundreds of thousands of people from major faiths have made their pilgrimage to this sacred site from all over the world. Everyone is praying and keeping their fingers crossed."
Briana broke in, "Excuse me, Trevor, but we can see the individual processions beginning from their respective pyramids. Don't know if you can hear me over the trumpets. The music is loud so we'll just let the audience soak in the ceremonial procession."
In a mansion just across town from The Crooked Spigot an interested viewer sliced at a Valencia orange as the red juice dribbled onto the plate as if it were blood in anticipation of a greater slaughter.
The bells from the great cathedral Basilica of St.Louis IX rang full, signaling the midnight hour as a red-robed figure continued to write at his desk. Beyond, near a window that revealed a small glimpse of the great gateway arch several miles to the east on the banks of the Mississippi, the televised images of the event flickered in the dimly lit room.
Half way across the world in Qasr as Sabiyah the wiry man who had been serving at Mass earlier was now gathered with a group of natives, all looking on intently as the group huddled in what could best be described as a hovel. They were all straining their eyes to watch the small TV elevated on a chair resting precariously on a rickety table. All were focused on the event.
In Tel Aviv an attractive Jewish woman curled up on her couch watching the events in her bathrobe, sipping on a cup of tea as the morning rays filled the small veranda.
In a villa above Rome two figures dined on wine and cheese as an on-air Italian correspondent spoke rapidly. The invading rising sun that played havoc on the face of the TV screen hindered the crispness of the picture being transmitted. The glowing golden orb seemed to relish this peek-a-boo game as it peered northwestward between swaying cypress trees on the grove to the east. Its success could be measured by the audible cursing of the two Italians who scurried to secure a makeshift blanket to block out the rays.
In another part of Rome a young lady had just hung up the phone in her hotel room, watching intently the TV screen, a look of frustration on her lovely, youthful face. Her fingers drummed the arm of the lounge chair as she closed her eyes in prayerful plea, her lips mouthing an Ave Maria.
A few miles away in the squalor of old Rome an old wino stumbled in and out of the morning shadows, looking for anything that would give him relief from the increasing pain and hopelessness that had returned all too quickly after a few short hours of numbness. Shopkeepers, preparing for a new day, shooed him away and the rats scurried out from under parked cars and motor scooters as the street sweepers made their rounds. On a third floor balcony facing the alley an elderly matron, hanging out her morning laundry, tossed the beggar a half loaf of stale bread. Painful though it was, he bent down, grasped the bread and craned his neck up to acknowledge his thanks. His toothless smile was not returned.
Some 75 miles south of New Nasiriyah on an estate overlooking the Persian Gulf, the TV images of the event and the vestiges of a full-bearded face reflected in the clear glass of a lush terrarium as this masculine gentleman relaxed in his study; drawing on a fine cigar; the exhaled plume of grayish-white smoke hung in suspension above the room.
The trumpets alerted all it that it had begun. The music was in full orchestra now as the processions had begun. The cameras zoomed closer. One by one, the entourage of clerics and guards in plain clothes, armed soldiers at their flanks, escorted each contingent out of the twelve pyramid tents. The regiments of religious were tightly packed, moving at a snail's pace as each moved slowly down a special aisle to their respective platforms at the foot of the main round table. The zenith of the moment was ever nearer. All was in readiness now for the Ecumenical Treaty of the ages. Who would be the victor, what would be the spoils?
The mid-day sun reflected fully on the crowd, causing the cameras to strobe while trying to give equal time to all twelve processions. The scene shifted to a moderate close-up of the Pope, now half way down the ramp leading to the stage.
"Sure takes guts for the new Pope to do that," Pat thought outloud.
"Or faith," Corrie replied as she kept her eyes glued to the screen.
Pat's eyebrow curled up, the wrinkles in his forehead increased as he uttered, "That's strange?"
"That he wouldn't have faith?" Corrie queried.
"No, cara mia, the tiara," Pat pointed out, now standing as if to see better.
Ben was quick to back Pat up as he also took notice. "He's right, Corrie. No Pope be a wearing it since Pius XII, bless his soul."
"You sure, Benj? Pat quizzed.
Ben squinted, "Can't tell. Damn camera won't stay still. But something not be right, me dear friends. By Jesus, Mary and Joseph there be something afoot, I fear. Feel it in my gut, I do."
The camera pulled back to show all parties converging now at the center, only the Greek Orthodox group seemed to be a step behind. The music was subsiding and at each podium one by one over the loudspeaker the respective creeds were announced. The arrival of each religious leader was given its full due in grand pomp and circumstance.
Meanwhile, Trevor Anders and Briana Bryce continued to convey the significance of this event and how it would evolve. As each leader was led to the table, they explained how they would be seated on a swivel, well-cushioned armchair that would allow each leader to sign the document and then turn in all directions to acknowledge the crowd and his fellow leaders. In addition, at each station a special audio screen was equipped to translate all into their language. Each leader would give a brief address and then all would sign thirteen like documents. As they were signing, envoys would carry the signed document to the next station as they rotated the massive circle. Each leader would have to sign 156 times, which would not only take time but also resemble more of an autograph session. During this time a liturgical performance by chorales or groups from each creed would take their place on the massive circular stage, beginning with the Taoist leader, followed by the Anglican Archbishop, then the Pope, Grand Imam, Chief Rabbi, Lutheran President and so on until finishing up with those under the umbrella of all other Protestants and followers of New Age ideologies. Once all were signed, all twelve leaders would rise and the table would elevate upward where over 2000 doves were to be released.
On a hill a mile away a jeep pulled to a stop. Elena Grabe, now dressed as an Iraqi lieutenant exited the right side and focused her binoculars on the pageantry, holding her eyes over the rim to block out the eastern sun as best she could. She looked down at her watch, then back to the massive gathering. Returning to the jeep, she retracted a metal box two times larger than a shoebox. Carefully opening it, she set it on the hood of the jeep and lifted the top. Inside she pulled out a special keyboard attached to a compact terminal.
Picking up the binoculars she again counted out as she focused on the center stage, "ein, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben...ah, zwolf." Her inhuman frame leaned over the fender of the olive-drab jeep as the driver, a rugged Iranian with curled mustache, sat motionless, his eyes focused in the rear-view mirror at the massive gathering below.
Returning to the keyboard, she inserted a CD of the hymn recorded yesterday during a final rehearsal in Kuwait City. She had typed in codes for the triggers that would coincide with the decibel of the Anglican chorus when they hit the high note of their chorus of "Amazing Grace." Now she was meshing the CD with the codes.
According to her sources, this hymn was scheduled to be the finale, just before the huge tympany orchestra would signal the release of the doves. She hit two more buttons, then a deep sigh as she retrieved the binoculars, adjusting the lens toward her target.
"Ja vol, right on time."
Placing the binoculars on the front seat, she returned to the keyboard and set the coordinates to coincide with the words and notes of the first verse of the fifth stanza. The trigger would come on the notes of "...And mortal life shall cease."
How ironic she chuckled, as she locked in the code. Then she quickly clicked on an icon of a red lizard and hit the send button. With that she snapped the box shut, slipped it carefully into a compartment behind the front seat and slipped into the front seat, slammed the side door shut and ordered the driver, "Ausgehen!"
She knew the Taoist performers were just taking their bows as they lithely exited the center stage. Next up would be the twirling earth girls with their banners to represent non-mainline Protestants and New Agers. Crystals had been passed out with the promo participation packets to many in the vast audience. A giant prism would rise out of the circular stage and those who believed were to hold them up to catch the rays of a higher power bouncing off the prism to their own hand-held crystals. Each major faith represented had a souvenir of importance included in the promotional packets. PR people cover everything.
Elena Grabe had given attention to every detail. She had geared everything to detonate after the twelfth religious leader - the Archbishop of Canterbury had signed the final documents and given his address. All would be in a festive mood, unsuspecting. A full set of the documents would be in the hands of the Legion, whisked out before the Anglican chorus hit the fated notes.
Surely that would give all Legion members time, throughout the eleven to come, to deftly extract their belts and, through choreography of timing with the event on stage, step by step remove the thin translucent plastic explosive strip from the belt. Then at another moment when all were distracted, the infiltrators would drop their hand to one side below their waste holding the tip of the practically invisible strip down. At the moment the fireworks were to begin all would be distracted. It would come in the fourth set after the Grand Imam had spoken and the Muslim extravaganza had begun. They had planned it perfectly. Within a 30-second span as the sky filled with multi-color bursts, they would craftily and stealthily slap the thin strip to the back lower legs of unsuspecting spectators.
The strips were thin and practically weightless. It seemed like child's play getting past the impenetrable security forces. With the fire crackers exploding, the diversion of a bump would be insignificant to the one being nudged. After all, it was crowded. It was expected among a packed contingent like this. The perpetrator would dismiss the nudge with an oops and a smile of pardon. None would be the wiser. It was all so perfect. Strips had already been placed in strategic places on and around the stage. Translucent is so hard to detect. If one were to look closely, they would think only that the paint had been poured on a little thicker in a spot. One had to look with a microscopic eye to locate the small microchip on the edge of each strip. That microchip would trigger the explosives and the main computer in Grabe's jeep governed that. She had set the coordinates to coincide with the exact notes as she had heard and recorded in numerous practices days before in Kuwait City where the Anglican chorale was lodged prior to being bussed to the site early that morning.
Little did Grabe realize, as the jeep rumbled southwest down the rutted road away from the Field of Abraham, that time was not on her side. She had counted on everything except how to count. She had assumed the assembly would go counter-clockwise. The initial program had indicated thusly. She had not calculated that the media had forced the change in the order of presentation to accommodate viewers in the west, grab them and keep them tuned. A high official not involved with the Legion had approved this and made the changes with those needing to know. The print programs had been changed as well, but the shipment never made it. The cargo plane carrying them from Athens had had engine trouble on the tarmac. This forced plan B to quickly be put into effect at the last minute. It was a plan Grabe, for all her meticulous preparation, had not foreseen.
The dust behind the jeep prevented her from seeing the gray and red-robed choristers from St. Andrews take their place on the stage. There were seventy-six of them, thirty-three men, forty-three women and from their full-throated larynxes "Amazing Grace" would fill the mid-morning air. The Archbishop of Canterbury had just finished his address. The masses were applauding heartily, all caught up in the moment. Trevor, Briana, and hundreds of other communicators for various international networks were gushing their approval and describing the events. As the acclaim calmed to a hush in anticipation, the portable organ struck the first chord and the choral had their cue.
It would be their swan song.
Next: PART I: The Unleashing FIRST CHAPTER, Episode Five: Armageddon Arives
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