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The Wailing Pool

David M. Payne

It was a dark and stormy night as I'uh'whoops. It was overcast and raining the night I flew into Ben Gurion in Tel Aviv. Coming in over the Gaza Strip, I could see the flash of tank muzzles and the exploding shells in the distance. For some reason The Clash's 'Rock the Casaba' started drifting through my mind.

It was the Thursday before Easter and the airport was jumping. I caught a taxi to Jerusalem, hoping we got there without getting shot or blown up. My driver, Kobi Cohen, was in a hurry to drop me at my hotel and get home for the same reason. No one could blame him; death was a way of life here. Of course, people had been getting killed in the Middle East for as long as there's been a recorded history; they're just more efficient these days. My managing editor, J. Still at the Secular Web Freethinkers-Gazette, had sent me on assignment to Old Jerusalem, or the Old City as some called it here. I was supposed to meet an Arab contact, Abdulrahman Ibn something or other, who had information on some Jewish extremists and their boss, a guy that went by the nickname of 'Devnet'. Apparently he wanted to talk to us about something this Devnet was planning, some sort of terrorist action to get even with the PLO, the ALF, and the rest of the Islamic fundies for the trouble they were causing in Israel. The question in my mind was, why us? We're an atheist/agnostic publication, not exactly the place to put out the ideas of some religious faction bent on destruction. I had a feeling that something more than this was up, the boss was really hot to get this story.

For once I was anxious to go on assignment to the Middle East, and Lynn Goldberg was the reason why. She was a girl I'd met in a chat room, and she lived and went to school in Jerusalem. She told me her mom had sent her to live with her dad after she'd become too much to handle. Lynn said as long as mom kept the charge cards open, she would finish school there, even though she hated it. She told me that in four years, when she was twenty five, she would get her inheritance from her grandmother's estate, then she could tell her parents to buzz off. Lynn told me her dad was a repressive control freak, and all the guys she knew there were scared of him. I just hoped the picture she sent me was really her, and her spicy chat was the real deal.

My boss put me up in the Baal-Astarte hotel in the Arab section in the Old City, just inside Herod's Gate. It was a small hotel, and I had a very limited expense account, typical J. Still operation. You'd think he was spending his money instead or the fat cats who owned the Sec-Web, the EvlAthCon-Corporation. They were the who's who of the godless old money set, real low key, never mentioned in the mainstream press. At least the Baal-Astarte wasn't a fleabag. It had clean rooms with a bathroom and a shower in my room, and a nice view of the Turk Sultan Suleyman's wall around the Old City.

I had been here once before; as an atheist, there wasn't much to interest me outside of the architecture anyway. Old Jerusalem was hopping, with pilgrims and tourists everywhere. All the warring factions pretty much stayed out of the Old City these days. Oh, there was the occasional shooting or stabbing, but nothing like in the rest of Israel with the people bombs and the car bombs, the helicopter payback attacks, and the rioting and snipers and gunfights. Of course, it helped that there were only seven gates into the Old City, and no cars allowed; it made it pretty easy for the Israelis to keep control of who came and went.

Anyway, I'd been in and out of the Middle East for years, so covering some Jewish extremist plot in Old City should be a piece of cake. The boss liked to send me on these dangerous assignments; I was single and had no kids. I got a note at the front desk from Abdulrahman that directed me to meet him at the north end by David's Tower at the Jaffa gate at ten the next morning. Getting up early I went over to a little restaurant in an alley just off the Vla Dolorosa and ordered a chicken Shawarma sandwich for breakfast, with a coke to wash it down. Omar Ismail was the owner, and I had gotten to know him on my last visit there.

At ten I was at the Jaffa gate waiting for my contact. I was told to look like a tourist, wear a straw hat, and carry my camera so he could recognize me. Right on time, this really big guy dressed in typical Arab robes and headwear walks up to me and asks if I'm Christian Williams from the Secular Web freethinkers-gazette.

'Yes, but I prefer you call me Chris, and your'?' I asked.

'Abdulrahman Ibn Moosa Ibn Sulaiman, at your service' he replied.

'Uh, you got a nickname, because I'm never going to remember all that.'

'My friends call me Baalthazaq, or Baal for short,' he replied.

'Baal, like in the name of my hotel?' I asked.

'Yes, I own that hotel by the way, hope you like your room.'

'It's real nice, so what's up with all the secrecy anyway, Baal? Why didn't we meet in your hotel? I feel like I'm in a spy novel here.'

'The guys I'm going to put you in contact with are real dangerous, believe me! I need to keep this business and my other business separate from each other, you'll understand why later. Right now we must go to the Western Wall, there's where we'll meet my man who has the information you're here for.'

On our way there, he was pointing out the sights to me. He had a large laser pointer about the size of a fat pen that doubled as a PDA; he called it his magic wand. He used it to point out the buildings and other architecture there. We went by King Hezekiah's pool, and some other local points of interest. We were in the Sug El Attarin, an open Bazaar, on the Bab El-Sllslleh, and things started to get weird.

The first sign that something was amiss was the static electricity that started standing everyone's hair on end in the Sug. Then Baal pointed up at the clouds with his pointer and I could see a funnel coming down at us.

The little cyclone came down out of the clouds, slammed into the ground at the far end of the Sug where some tourists were standing, and just sat there spinning. It was like a big vortex, sucking up every lose thing around it. After a few minutes it started to pull back up into the clouds. Baal and I were about twenty yards from the point of impact, so we went over there to see what happened. We got there and looked down into a big sinkhole in the ground. It was a gaping hole, and must have been over an old cavern or something. I stuck my camera over the lip and ran off a few frames, using the flash to light up the area. The hole was deep; I couldn't see the bottom or sides at all.

At that point some Israeli police showed up and pushed us all back from the hole. A few more cobblestones had started falling into the hole and they were worried that the sinkhole was going to grow. They quickly established a perimeter around the opening and took all our names and where we were staying for witness statements later on.

The lieutenant in charge, Hal Tal, according to his nametag, seemed very curious about us. He asked me for my passport and where I was staying. I gave him the info and he let us go.

As we left, Baal looked very bemused by these bizarre events.

'Well son, do you think this is a sign from God.'

'Uh, I think your talking to the wrong guy here Baal, I'm an intense agnostic remember? Also you're not my dad.'

'Sorry, I meant it as a compliment; you reminded me of my first son, may he rest in peace. Chris, surely you believe your own eyes, do you not? Too much happened here for it to be some natural phenomenon, don't you think?'

'Believe what, that static electricity during a wind storm causes peoples hair to stand on end? That whirlwinds come out of the sky? That a bunch of fat tourists standing on top of a sinkhole causes it to give way? Nothing supernatural about that Baal, all random coincidence, nothing more.'

'Trust me Chris, this is a sign from God of things to come,' he replied with a wry smile.

We went over to the spot where we were supposed to meet our contact, but the police started clearing the whole area out; some Islamic fundies were throwing rocks from the top of the temple mount down at the Jews praying at the bottom of the Wailing Wall.

Baal and I went back to his hotel and he told me to stay there until he got in contact with our man and arranged for another meeting. As soon as he left, so did I; I had a date with Lynn. She'd left a message at the desk for me.

We were to meet at Rick's Internet caf' at 6pm. Rick's had originally started out in Casablanca, Morocco. Now they had over thirty franchises in the Middle East and North Africa. No piano in this one, though.

I got there and logged onto the Sec-Web, and filed my first report home. After hooking up the camera to the USB port, I downloaded the pictures. Maybe our resident computer genius, Bill, could find something on them with all his photo software; all I could see was black on the little screen on the camera.

I ran into Shaun, one of the Irish Brothers who owned the caf'. He pulled up a chair and asked me how my visit was going.

'I don't know yet, Shaun, I missed one of my connection's today, we'll see if the other one comes through.'

'So, tell me Chris, have you seen the light yet, or you still an atheist?'

'Right to the point as usual. Nah, I'm still an agnostic Shaun, but thanks for asking. How about you, have you come to your senses yet, and dropped you superstitious belief in a just, omnipotent god? You know no god would allow this war here for example, if he was a just god, right?'

'God is real, and visiting this holy city should bring you to him. If you allow him into your heart, he will save your soul.'

'You know that there's no hard evidence for the existence of god, he's a myth to me and anyone with a logical, open mind. You have the logic, but I think the door to your open consciousness is closed.'

'It's you who has closed your mind to the possibility of being one with God, open your heart, and your head will follow. Do you really think millions of people who believe in God are wrong?'

'Yeah, I still do, the religion biz is very big business, and they have the money, motivation and power to keep it going, don't they? We'll just have to continue to disagree on this one. So what's new on the menu?'

' Well, we added a Jibn sandwich, which is a hot cheese sandwich popular in Lebanon.'

'I'll give that a try. Coke too, OK?'

'Sure thing, I'll have Ruth, the new waitress, bring you your order when it comes up. You'll get a kick out of her; you think I'm a Holy Roller, wait till you get a load of her!' He said, as he went to place my order.

I returned my attention to the computer and noticed the instant messenger icon pop up. I opened the message up and it said, 'look up, dude.'

I glanced up from the screen, and saw a young Muslim woman sitting at another table, looking at me. She was wearing a traditional dress called a Dara'a with a Thobe, a light robe, over it. She also had a turban, called a Gahfiyya, on top. A Shaileh covered her face. I could see her pale blue eyes peeking over her sunglasses, and then she pushed them back up and looked down at her screen. She was obviously from a very wealthy family as evidenced by all the fine silk and gold jewelry she was wearing.

Another message popped up on my screen, 'they are watching you, follow my directions and we can get together later, Lynn.'

'Hum, more cloak and dagger, OK, I like a little adventure, who is following me?' I replied.

'My dad is having you followed; he's got a lot of power here; he found out you were E-mailing me, and were coming to the Old City to visit.'

'So what's he going to do, shoot me?'

'My dad can cause you a lot of trouble dude, don't underestimate him. That's why I'm dressed this way; he would never think to look for me dressed in traditional Muslim clothing; it isn't in his paradigm. I'll get in touch with you at your hotel later, we'll have some fun. You have no idea how boring this place can be for a big city girl!'

At that moment, Ruth the waitress walked up to my table, and put my plate and coke down.

'Shaun tells me you are an atheist. You look like a nice man, why would you be doing Lucifer's work?' She smiled.

I always enjoyed a good religious argument, but this didn't look too promising.

'Well Ruth I think evil is, like good, intrinsic to man's makeup. When we make the right choices, we do good, but there will always be those that choose evil. No god or devil is needed in this equation, it's just in our nature.'

'I'll pray for you, I know you will find God here,' she condescendingly replied.

Another religious zombie I thought to myself as she walked away.

I finished my meal and went back to the hotel to meet Lynn.

Upon arriving at the hotel, I found Lt. Hal Tal waiting for me in the lobby.

'Mr. Williams, have you seen this girl today?' As he held up a picture of Lynn Goldberg.

'Cute, who is she?' I asked.

'A missing student from the Hebrew University, Givat Ram campus. Her dad is looking for her. If you see her, it would be in your best interest to contact me right away, do you understand? Right away, Mr. Williams. By the way, did you take pictures of that sinkhole in the Bazaar today?'

'Yes I did, but they all came up blank. It's a pretty deep pothole you have there, Lieutenant Tal.'

'Can I see your camera, Mr. Williams?'

'Sure,' I replied, as I handed it to him.

'This is one of those new digital models with all the mega pixels isn't it?' He asked.

'Sure is, but the pictures of the hole came up blank, let me show you.'

I showed him how to use the viewer to look at the pictures.

'See, that's a deep pothole Lieutenant. You can't see the bottom.'

' This camera uses a memory stick doesn't it?' He asked.

'Yeah, it goes in here,' I pulled it out to show him how it worked.

He took the memory stick from me and said, 'I'll return this to you tomorrow, OK?"

'Hey, that's not very polite,' I replied.

'Mr. Williams, you're a stranger in a strange land. It's best to be polite to the police or your stay will become most uncomfortable for you, do you understand?'

'I get the message Lt. Tal. Can I go now?'

'Yes, but we will be in touch with you. Don't leave town without letting us know where you are going, and that isn't a request Mr. Williams, do you understand?'

'Sure thing Lieutenant, have a nice night.'

With that, I went up the stairs to my room on the second floor. After opening up my laptop and logging on, I put some music on, opened a beer, and sat at the small table, pondering the events of the day. There was a light knock at the door. When I opened it, Lynn, still dressed in her Arab outfit, brushed by me and slipped into my room.

'Don't just stand there, close the door,' she said.

'Lynn, your dad has a lot of juice here. He had the police hassling me in the lobby.'

'I know, but Baal's a friend of mine we'll be ok now, dude. Say, you're even cuter than your picture. Are you really a party animal?' She asked.

'I like to think so Lynn, what do you have in mind?'

'Nothing you won't like, lets party! Check this out dude, Lebanese blond, the best! I got it from a Druzes contact in the city,' she replied. We sampled the blond and my beer. The blond had more punch. I could see her mellowing out; she started flirting with me a little.

'Mind if I take off some of this stuff, it's hot in here,' she said as she pulled off her headdress, her shiny brown hair cascading down to the middle of her back, as she shook it out for a moment. Then she took off the Thobe that was over the Dara'a, and then the dress as well. This was getting very interesting. All she had on underneath that was a sports bra and the baggy pants called a Sirwal that was part of any proper Muslim woman's wardrobe. Of course Lynn's behavior wasn't proper at this point, it was more on the blasphemous side; obviously there was a lot to like about this girl.

She straddled my lap, gave me a big passionate kiss, and asked me if I wanted to fool around.

'Right to the point. You kind of take what you want, don't you?' I said.

' That's one of the bad habits of a being a rich, spoiled, Jewish princess,' she replied. 'Besides I don't hear you complaining, do I?'

'Uh no, I'm not complaining, but I do need to clean up first, before we go any further, ok Lynn?'

'Cool Chris, that's what I like about you older guys. You know how to take your time. No need to hurry, we have all night. Nice laptop you have here. Mind if I pick out a song?' she said.

'Be my guest,' I replied.

She put 'Love Shack' by the B52's on. A little mood music never hurts.

I went into the bathroom, got undressed and turned on the shower. It had one of those big heads and it felt really good at that moment. Man, I couldn't believe this, how many sins was I committing in the Old City right now. I'd lost count and the night was still young. As I lathered up my head and face with shampoo, I heard the shower curtain open up and felt a little breeze sweep across my back. Then Lynn picked up the soap sponge and started to wash my back.

'OK, your turn,' Lynn said as I turned around. She had her back to me, and was putting up her hair. I took a moment to admire the view. Then I went to work scrubbing her back, her perfect little butt and thighs. Youch! What a body! She turned around and I looked in her eyes, and I could see the same hunger in them that I felt. My gaze went down to her pert little breasts, and I thought to myself' the rest of this night is none of your business, you voyeurs. Hey, I can't keep giving all my best stuff away for free, can I? Besides, this is an 'R' rated site at best, and the rest of this night is definitely 'X' rated.

Later, as we lay there making small talk, she asked me what else had brought me to Old Jerusalem, besides her.

'Well, the reason my boss sent me here was to get some info on some guy named Devnet and a terrorist plot he's involved in.'

Lynn sat straight up in bed and said, 'Did you say Devnet?'

'Uh, Yeah. Is there a problem?'

'I don't know yet Chris, but I had better get going soon. Daddy is going to have a fit if I don't get home before midnight. But we have enough time to fool around some more first.'

I woke up the next morning and found a JDF Colonel sitting there at my table. I put on my glasses and looked him over. One of the first things I noticed was his nametag, Colonel Goldberg.

'May I do something for you Colonel?'

'My, my, you are a cool customer aren't you Mr. Christian D. Williams. Christian, that's a funny name for an atheist,' He replied. 'I see that you ignored the message that Lt. Tal gave you. I would advise you to stay away from my daughter. Though she thinks she is worldly, Lynn is just a spoiled young vulnerable girl. Do you get my meaning? Don't think she really loves you, she just likes older men, and she likes to rub her mother's and my nose in her behavior.'

'Technically, I'm an intense agnostic, on the first point. As for the second point, I wish I knew what you were talking about,' I replied.

'You can be very irritating Mr. Williams, and I know how to deal with irritation. Jerusalem can be a very dangerous place, you need to be very careful here.'

'I'll do my best Colonel. If I see your daughter, I'll tell her to get in touch with you ok?'

'You do that, and keep your nose out of other peoples business, too. I see you were in the bazaar when that hole caved in. Do you know anything about that?'

'No, just happened to be there at the time.'

'We think it was no accident that the site caved in; it's looking like an act of terrorism. I hope for your sake you had no involvement in it. I'd hate to see anything bad happen to you.' With that he got up and left the room.

I took a shower and got ready for the day. As I got dressed, there was a knock at the door. I opened it and one of the bellmen was there with a message from Baal. He told me to meet him at the front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as soon as possible. I went over to Omar's and grabbed a Filafil sandwich and a coke. Then I went to the church to meet Baal. I got there and noticed that there were a lot of JDF (Jewish Defense Forces) troops in the area.

'So Baal, are we going to meet this contact with the info on Devnet?' I asked.

'I think Devnet has his hands full right now,' Baal replied. 'Besides I found out what he was up to. He was going to blow up the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, but his plans are about to change.'

'That sounds like a really big story to me, what caused him to change his plans?'

'You'll see,' He replied.

Baal took me over to the other end of the Bab El-Sllslleh. We couldn't get to the area where the hole had appeared yesterday. The whole Bazaar was closed off. In fact, several square blocks around the sinkhole were closed off.

'Lets go up to the top of this tower here, I want to show you something interesting,' he said.

We went up to the top of the tower and looked down on the Bazaar. There were a lot of Israeli troops there. They had put up a framework over the hole and some Special Forces were getting ready to rappel down into the chasm.

'Look, this should be interesting,' Baal said, as he pulled out his wand and pointed it towards the hole.

The troops started to drop into the hole. After a few moments we could hear some gunfire and a few grenades going off in the abyss. Then the soldiers started to pour out of the hole, and they were dripping wet. As I watched, water started to come up to the rim. Then the hole started to grow, as the paving stones around it began to fall in. Within a couple of minutes it had doubled its size. The hole was now lapping up against some of the buildings on each side of the Sug and the JDF soldiers were frantically getting the people out of them.

Baal said, 'We better go now, I think it's going to get a little crazy around here.'

We left the tower and went out onto the street, and were immediately caught up in the evacuation of the area surrounding the Bazaar. It was a bizarre scene, the JDF troops with bullhorns telling everybody to get out of the area.

'What's the big deal about a sinkhole Baal? They happen all over the world.'

'Do you know how old the Old City of Jerusalem is Chris?'

'Old, how old I don't know,' I replied.

'It's as old as human history itself.'

'What does that have to do with the sinkhole?' I asked.

'The Old City was built on a mountain top, as was the manner of many ancient cities of its day. The idea was that it was easier to defend, if your enemies had to fight uphill to get to you.'

'OK, but what does that have to do with a sinkhole?'

'It was built on a solid mountain, there were no caverns under it. This sinkhole should never have happened. The hole filled up with water, a very scarce resource around here. Surely this must be an act of God,' He replied.

'I don't know Baal, there are caves all over the world. There could have been one here that wasn't known about until the roof fell in. As for the water, could be a broken water main, who knows for sure. I think there is a rational explanation for all we saw yesterday and today. From the sound of it, they found something human to shoot at. The twister was kind of spooky though.'

'Ever the skeptic, well perhaps forthcoming events will sway your view of Gods existence. Lets get back to the hotel and clean up.'

We went down some back alleys that Baal knew. Upon entering one alley we got to mid-point and suddenly some armed men blocked the entrance. Our back was blocked by the sudden appearance of another group, dressed like ALF (Arab Liberation Faction) terrorists.

Baal, said 'oh, oh' and pushed us into a small side alley. He turned around and there was a squad of JDF forces standing there, and all hell broke lose. There was about a 30 second firefight, followed by silence. We went down a few more little alleys and made it to the back entrance of the hotel. I slipped into my room and got into the shower as darkness descended on the Old City.

When I got out I could hear Lynn talking to someone in my room. As I dried my hair, I stepped out into the room, to be greeted by Lt. Tal, holding a tape recorder with Lynn's voice on it, and then my lights went out.

I woke up in the semi-darkness, with some goon sitting on my chest holding a popper under my nose, and a silenced mini-Uzi hovering around my left eyeball. My head felt like it had a big spike driven through it, and I could barely breath with Lt. Tal's thug on my chest.

'Well Mr. Williams, I told you I would get your memory stick back to you, here it is.' He placed it on my table.

'I didn't need this special of a delivery, LT. Tal,' I replied.

'Very funny Mr. Williams. Listen, let's not be so formal, I'll call you Chris and you can call me Hal, ok? So Chris, want to play my favorite game, Questions and Answers? I ask the questions, you answer them. If I like your answers, my associate here doesn't pull the trigger. Ready to begin?'

'Eager Hal, shoot.'

'Don't joke about this. Do you know where Miss Goldberg is?'

'Not right now, but I swear to God I'll call you the minute she shows up, ok?'

'Swear to God? Amusing, coming from an atheist. Moshe, blow his brains all over the floor.'

'Whoa, whoa, I don't know where she is, honest. I give you my word on that, and my word is good.'

'OK, next question. Do you know anything about that cave-in in the Sug yesterday?'

'No more then you do. In fact I'm sure you know a good deal more about it than I do. I mean with all the troops you sent into the hole, I mean area, you'd have to know more than me, right?'

'How do you know we sent troops into the hole? Think carefully before you give me another smart ass reply; I'd just as soon have Moshe here re-decorate this room with the contents of your head, then put up with anymore of your, how do you say it, bull shit?'

'Uh, my guide took me up to a tower that was overlooking the hole. I saw the Special Forces go in, heard some gunfire and a few grenades go off, and then your guys came back out all wet.'

Hal's other associate leaned over and whispered in his ear.

'So you were with the Arab known as Baalthazaq? Do you know anything about a gunfight a few blocks from here? Some of the members of the Arab Liberation Faction shot each other up at opposite ends of an alley. It looked like they were in a gunfight with someone who was invisible, according to an eyewitness, but whoever it was escaped with out a scratch, as far as we can tell.'

'That was weird, Hal. Yeah, I was there. I thought we were dead, and then I saw some JDF troops pop up in the middle of it all. Baal pulled me out of there and we came here.'

'No JDF troops were there, we know that for sure. Did Baal do anything up there on the tower with you?'

'Let's see, we went up the tower, he pointed out the hole with his laser pointer and then your guys dropped into the hole etc, etc. Other than that, you know more than I do about it.'

'He used his little magic wand, as he calls it, to signal into the hole?'

'I didn't see him signal anyone really; he just shined the laser into the hole.'

'I told the Colonel that Baal was involved in this. We've had our eye on him for some time now. We should have pulled him in long ago. Do you know where this Baal is now, Chris?'

'No, but you seem to know more about him than I do.'

'Not really. He didn't exist until he came here and bought this hotel. And when one's history can be non-existent to our intelligence resources, well, we really have to look into that, don't we? Last question Chris, where is Baal, and no bull shit answer, ok?'

As I formulated my final response, the hall door came flying in, literally. Moshe turned and it hit him flush on the upper torso, knocking him right out the window. Then this big golden guy came in, moving like Neo in the Matrix, only faster, and kicked Hal and his buddies' asses. He pulled me up off the floor and gave me the visual once over.

'You ok, son?'

'Who are you?' I asked.

'Who do you think I am?' He replied.

'A really big golden guy, who just kicked the crap out of some official Israeli thugs in my hotel room.'

'You are a hard sell, aren't you? Get dressed and go to the back of the hotel; wait for Baal. Hurry, these guys have friends.' With that he went into the hallway. I put on my pants and chased after him, but the hall was empty when I got there.

Great, so far I had the ALF and the Israelis trying to kill me; who was next, the Pope? I got my stuff on and got out of there. Baal was already there when I got to the back entrance. We went out the door and down a couple of alleys towards the Church of the Flagellation, just off the Via Dolorosa. He had another house there that no one knew about. About halfway there, we ran into a small group of tourists arguing in the middle of the road. We were about to go around them, when they spread out, put up their right hands and pulled out big knives, and said, 'die nonbelievers.' Baal pulled me backwards and sprayed them with a silenced mini-Uzi. They flew backwards into the wall and slumped to the ground.

'How did you know who they were, and where did you get the Uzi?' I asked.

'I've got my intelligence sources. These guys are from the Real-Illuminati, which is a secret Christian terrorist group with ties to the Church. See the tattoo of the pyramid with the eye on top and the words 'novus ordo seclorum' under it on the palm of their right hand? It's the symbol of what they worship and the power and influence it brings them. That's also their secret sign when they greet each other and it's also how they identify themselves. They also show that sign to their victims, before they kill them. As for the Uzi, I found it in the alley behind the hotel; the owner didn't need it anymore, and I thought it might come in handy. Looks like I was right.'

We got to the house and slipped into the rear entrance.

'Chris, your alive! I thought my dad would get your ass for sure! He's such a jerk! Listen, he had a Trojan horse program in your computer, and he knew everything you had on your hard drive, including those E-mails you sent me. Dad never should have sent me to study computer science; I hacked into his computer and dumped the contents into my laptop. His security program is a joke. He was reading my E-mail, too, that's how he found out about you.' Lynn went into the kitchen. 'I made you your favorite dinner, smoked pork ribs and beans. Do you know hard it is to get pork here? I hope you appreciate this. I know your leaving tomorrow, so this will be our last supper together for now.'

'Chris, Lynn, come in here and check this out,' Baal called out.

Baal and his girlfriend, Laila, were sitting in the living room with a hookah and some bottles of beer getting pretty loose.

'Tell me, what do you two think of this special blend of mine?' He asked.

It was kick ass; I was surprised that he indulged in such a pastime, and I asked him about it.

'Life's too short here, so you have to get it while you can Chris. Lets party,' was his reply.

'Lynn, where did you meet Baal?' I asked.

"I first got to know Baal when some of my buds and I used to rent a suite in his hotel to have party's on the weekend. My dad found out and put an end to it, but we kept in touch, and he put me in contact with you.'

'So, where do we go from here you guys?' I asked.

'Why don't you two go upstairs, clean up and get some rest? I'll keep guard down here.' Baal said. He took me aside and said, 'Laila is hot to trot, know what I mean?'

We went up to the bedroom, and Lynn said, 'I'll race you to the shower.' I turned around and closed the door. Sorry, this is private, you understand. Maybe it'll be in the paperback edition.

Baal was pounding on our door the next morning. 'Get up! Get up! We've got to get out of here!' We tossed on our clothes and looked out the window, there were people streaming by the house, all headed for the gates. We went to the door and joined the throng rushing out of the Old City. It all happened so fast; as we got to Herod's gate we could hear the rumble of buildings collapsing behind us. The river of people slowly turned to a trickle and then stopped. We all stood there transfixed as the Old City of Jerusalem slid into the sinkhole, block by block. When it got to the Temple Mount; there was no hesitation, it gobbled it up along with everything inside the walls of the city. That was the really strange part of this; when the sinkhole got to the walls, it stopped. All that was left of the Holy City of Old Jerusalem were the walls, and a big pool of deep blue water.

We were standing at Herod's gate behind the barricades the JDF had erected. All the gates were barricaded at this point, except the golden gate, which was still walled off. There were a lot of people standing there stunned at the loss of the Old City. Baal put his arm around my shoulder, and told Lynn to go home and take care of herself. I looked up at him, and he turned into the big golden man, with a yellow glow around him.

'Lets go for a walk, I need to explain some things to you,' he said as he led me through the gate and up to the water.

'Watch this son,' and he stepped onto the water, with me warmly clutched in his immoveable embrace. We start walking across the water towards the golden gate.

'So, do you believe in me now son, the all powerful, omnipotent god?'

' Whatever you say, Baal,' I replied rather nervously.

'The truth son, do you believe in the biblical all-powerful God now?'

'I believe you are a being with a lot of power. As to whether you are God, I still can't say. You could be a space alien for all I know.'

'Excellent! I knew you were the man for the job,' he said with a big grin.

'The God in the bible is a myth, perpetuated by religious zealots to hold onto their power. I'm what you would call an alien, from Pollux, one of the stars in the Gemini system. As we're only thirty three light years away, earth is in our neighborhood, astronomically speaking.'

'Baal, the consensus among almost all knowledgeable physicists is that travel to the stars is impossible.'

'Yeah, and your world is flat, only birds will ever fly, and man will never get to the moon, right? No species has ever accomplished that which it knew to be impossible. Know this, almost nothing you can imagine is impossible, and that knowledge make all things possible.'

'OK Baal, I can buy the myth part, and I get your other points, but how are we doing this walking on the water bit. It feels like hard jello.'

' In a sense that's what it is, a state between ice and water, which is maintained by my little magic wand here. It's also a molecular disrupter, stabilizer, and reorganizer that can destroy, stabilize or restructure any molecule. It's a handy little gadget; even does holographic projection, as the ALF and the Israelis Special Forces found out. With it I can look like anyone; I never leave home without it. It's also blocking any video recording of us walking across the water. These people can see you, but not me. Slick huh? I used robots armed with the disrupters to carve the big cavern under the Old City. It took several decades to engineer the project and get it set up so I could have it cave in, in an organized manner. The little tornado that sucked out all the dust from the cavern was done with my interstellar cruiser. Setting up the springs to fill it with water was the hard part. Listen, I have to go soon son, so lets get down to business. I'm going to leave you with an interesting job opportunity.'

'Let me get this straight, you did all this destruction to offer me a job?'

'Not exactly, it was more to generate publicity for your new job. You have to deliver a message for me.'

'You destroy Old Jerusalem, just to deliver a message! There has got to be a more direct way to get your communication out,' I said.

'It was pretty heavy handed urban planning, I must admit, but it's time to shake things up. Your species is very stubborn; sometimes I have to do something dramatic to get you focused. Besides, I'm tired of all the religious tribes fighting over this little piece of real estate. Last time I did something this drastic, it was opening up the Bosporus straights and flooding the Black Sea valley. That's when humanity started taking my first message seriously about religion and the need to become more civilized, but it didn't stick. Early on, religion was a progressive force, now it is repressive and regressive as developments here continually show. Did you know that there are over 33,000 Christian denominations, sects and cults alone? They all have varying degrees of intolerance and hostility for each other and the other religions out there. Religion has outgrown its usefulness. I'm doing what I can to help get humanity out of this conflict stage and into the next phase of your development. I can't do it for you; I'm not omnipotent like the bible makes me out to be; there are limits to what I can do. Our species is just several billion years older and more technologically advanced than yours is.'

'How long have you been visiting our planet?'

'Off and on for the last couple hundred million years, give or take a few million. We learned how to travel in space and stop the ageing process over a billion years ago. Now we just kind of fool around in the universe, with little science and biology projects, like earth here. For me, you're more than a passing interest: I've invested my genotype within humanity a long time ago, so you're very similar to my species now. But there are a lot more projects I need to check on; my times just about up here.'

'You alter our genotype, study us like bugs, drop in and out of our life whenever the mood suits you, and now you leave us like this. How can you justify this Baal?'

'Look, your species is just one of many thousands of experiments in intelligence we are conducting in this universe. You people use similar methods yourself to study lesser species like chimps and gorillas right here, so don't give me a bunch of grief on it, ok? If you want justice in the way your world works, you have to make your own. You know what is right and wrong, the challenge is getting it right, and my money's on you're species kid. You have the economic and political tools, but religion stands in your way.'

'Why are you here at all, if we're just another biological experiment in the thousands of worlds populated with intelligent life? What's your real reason for being so interested in us Baal?'

'I know this is going to sound bad, but I have a little side bet with my associate, Lucifer, that you can survive and outgrow your tribal tendencies and make it on your own out into the stars. If you can make it to a star system and not be a threat to the rest of the civilized universe, then we can establish open contact with your species. I know your kind is a long shot given your collective behavior, but I think you can do it. My associate Lucifer doesn't think so, and he doesn't like humanity either. However, he's reptilian, and a little prejudiced; it doesn't help his attitude that we were the ones that dropped the asteroid on this planet and wiped out all the dinosaurs. He thinks you're wasting a good planet. He took my idea on religion and turned it around on me. I started the god/religion bit to get man out of the tribal warfare biz. Lucifer uses the major and minor religions to help perpetuate human conflict. He uses the major flaw in religious belief, that absent an actual god on this planet, any nut can start a cult and commit horrible acts of racism, terrorism etc under the guise of gods blessing. Given your species ethnic, and racial divisions, creating protracted conflicts with each other is easly accomplished. He's one slick lizard, I've got to admit, and he has all the toys I have at his disposal. It also looks like he's been a more frequent visitor here than I have the last few thousand years.'

'I think you have the wrong guy here Baal. I grew up in foster homes, with no father, and a mother who dropped in and out of my life when it was convenient for her to visit me. My first nineteen years were full of emotional and physical abuse and neglect. I didn't end up as the most well adjusted person I know. I don't think I'm cut out for this job. I'm a social misfit, not some kind of power player.'

'I'm sorry about your childhood, and wish I could have done more to be there for you, but I was busy with this little project here. You sell yourself short though; I think you can handle it, son. This job is part of your destiny; you're not here to fit in, you're here to shake things up.

'Look at Old Jerusalem; mankind has been fighting over it, off and on, for all of recorded history. You have three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, all fighting each other over who is the 'true' religion and the rightful steward of the old city. Amusingly, these religions all started with my intervention, and the folk tales of antiquity, most notably the epic of Gilgamesh. Religion perpetuates the tribal divisions and warfare on a much larger scale today than any 'tribe' ever has in all of humanity's ancient history. In addition, these religions say they are for ending poverty, but their birth control policies serve to enable endless poverty. Women are still subjugated by the major religions, they preach tolerance and practice intolerance. The list goes on and on. On top of that, in the Bible they cast me as a flunkey of my associate, Lucifer. That really pissed me off!'

'You're not too far away from real space travel, and you will soon discover the keys to prolonging life, as we have. My species lives for over a million years on average, before we are unable to regenerate again. So if your race is going to survive, you need to get it together. That's where you come in son; you're the next messenger.'

'I need to know more Baal, before I take this job. This is a big task. What kind of help do you plan to give me, financial, technological, what? I'll obviously need all the help I can get. How about one of those magic wands of yours, or a small space ship to prove that you exist and validate your message?'

'Can't give you any of our technology it's against the rules. Here's a technology tip you can't go wrong with though; use solar, geothermal, wind, hemp and hydrogen for power. Oil is too valuable to waste as a fuel. As for financial help, all my cash was tied up in the hotel, down in the bottom of the pool here. So son, you get the same thing your brother got.'

'Uh'I don't have a brother, Baal.'

'Well, he's no longer with us, but you had a half brother a long time ago. You do know that you've got a different blood type, A-B, than your mom or dad has, right? That's my blood type son.'

'OK, no one knows about the blood thing. Hum, lets say you're on the level, and you're my biological father, how can you just dump this on me and split?' I replied.

'I know its not fair, but life isn't fair son, deal with it. I'm sure it's hard to accept as true, but that's why you're here. This is your job, you're the messenger, and I know you'll do a good job. I wish I could give you more help, but as I said, the rules forbid any transfer of technology. Besides, look at the job your brother did with the same help I'm giving you.'

'Well uh 'Dad', who was my brother?'

'Jesus was your half brother, son. I gave him good genes, a good mind and helped him walk on water, just like you are right now.'

'Dad, Jesus ended up getting crucified, so he came up a little short didn't he?'

'Yeah that was too bad. Nice kid, but he let his notoriety go to his head and look what happened to him. You could learn a lesson from that. Don't worry though, I understand they don't crucify people anymore. That Lynn, she's a cutie isn't she? I knew she'd be the final link that would get you here for your big adventure. She really likes you, and you two have another bond. According to my med-scan, she's carrying your child. So take this task to heart, you have a stake in the future you lacked before.'

'Yeah Baal, crucifixion, just isn't what it used to be, with all the advances in modern weaponry. So Lynn is pregnant and was involved in your plan to get me here for my 'Big Adventure'? My task is to piss off all the major and minor religions of this world, and judging by the three attacks on me, it looks like I've already done that. Tell them there is no god, just an advanced race of beings that visit us from time to time to check on us, their science and biology experiment. As if that isn't enough, I'm supposed to help sweep religious power and influence into the dustbin of history with the help of your 'message'? The cherry on this piece of cake is the destruction of the Old City; the city with the most concentrated numbers of holy places in the world, with me as the fall guy for its obliteration, right?'

'Don't be so pessimistic; with great gain comes great risk. You know, no pain, no gain. This stroll on the water is a great publicity stunt. It'll be the perfect setup for you to deliver my message, just give it your best shot. Well, here we are. Listen, I've got to get going, lots of other planets to check up on. I'll try and get back in a few years to see how you, Lynn and my grandchild are doing. One last thing to do to give you that grand entrance, if you handle this right son, it'll be one big party.'

'Really?'

With that he raised his little magic wand and dissolved the stones that had walled up the golden gate. As the dust blew out over the crowd gathered there, we walked out the gate and Baal whispered in my ear; 'All the best son, you the man.' Then he slapped me on the ass, turned and walked back into the pool disappearing below the surface, leaving me alone. I looked around the multitude and heard them begin wailing, as Ongo Bongo's 'Dead Man's Party' started echoing through my head.

Published:
  2001-05-28

Categories:
  Evolution

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