Breathing fast and shallow, John viewed the laptop screen with seven other officers, as the general gave an impassioned pre-operation briefing.

“Men and women, I’m here to prepare you for the next stage of Operation Armageddon”.

Behind the laptop and about fifty feet away was a far larger projection of the general’s image, in front of which stood perhaps four hundred soldiers. As he spoke the men and women apprehensively eyed the eerie scene all around them. Lowering clouds of war defied the night, flashing red and orange as they billowed and broiled. Fighters screamed across the crimson horizon.

“The first stage of our operation has met some stiff resistance, as expected, but we are making progress. Advance forces are already in the city. We have the enemy on the run. We’re confident that within twenty-four hours Jerusalem will be subdued and in our hands.”

John looked down at his own hands in the pale red light. He had washed them over and over again, but in his mind’s eye they were still covered in blood – the blood of those who had lined up across the road, attempting to block his convoy’s progress. Those crazy radicals! Why didn’t they understand?

From the east rockets tore across flashing sky, pounding and shaking the earth somewhere behind them. To John’s left, just across the road, yet another soldier was clutching his chest and gasping for breath. Medics crowded around him, laying him to the ground.

“Most of you are now aware of the secondary threat to our operation. Central Command was called together for a meeting with the Emperor yesterday, to discuss our strategy for dealing with what is now clearly understood to be an imminent invasion originating from beyond our own solar system. Without going into the details here, the Emperor has made it clear to Central Command that we will very shortly face a critical battle against an as yet unknown enemy capability. We are indeed fortunate that the best equipped, and the most highly trained military forces of the world are already assembled in this arena, and we believe we are adequately prepared for whatever lies ahead”.

As the general continued, John’s obsession with the blood on his hands abated just long enough for him to notice how much they were shaking: he was shaking all over. His heart thumped against his chest. The observation faded as quickly as it gripped him, being pushed out of his mind in a determined effort to steel himself for the battle. He chose to smell victory, just as surely as he could smell blood.

Blood! Those radicals! What did they hope to achieve? They were opposing the inexorable march of history – the very evolution of mankind! And what a strange coincidence that this threat of an alien invasion had occurred at the same time as Operation Armageddon! The radicals actually had the gall to claim that it was their god coming, and that to bring judgment!

The one satisfaction in all of this, as the general had already relayed in thrilling terms, was that at long last the quest, the dream of all peoples and civilizations of all the ages past was within sight. The world was just a short step away – a violent step perhaps, but a short step – from peace and unity. At long last the nations would be united: as one. There would be no more destructive and divisive religion or nationalism to blight the earth or to separate its peoples – from henceforth all would live together in harmony and freedom. The only object of worship, and the only deserving object, would be the Emperor.

The nations were already expressing that unity. They were acting as one here, now, in this hateful part of the world which had given birth to so much trouble for mankind, through the contrived superstitions and constructs of dangerous men. Yes, at last religion, and that one hateful one in particular, with its mother religion, was about to pass into the refuse heap of history.  There was just that one short step needed – that one more push to defeat the forces of darkness and division. Victory was assured, the Emperor had triumphantly proclaimed: John was convinced that it was. This dark, bloody night was heralding the dawn of the glorious brotherhood of man. John would give his own blood, his life if necessary, to help the cause

Blood! The blood was still there!

John’s thought was suddenly broken by a brighter light and a gasp from the soldiers around him. There, directly above them was a ghostly glow. It was not a rocket. It was not a fighter: fighters don’t remain still – they don’t glow like that…they aren’t shaped like that! It was in the shape of a cross. He’d seen the shape recently somewhere – but where? Were not the radicals wearing something with that very symbol on? Didn’t it represent their founder somehow? 

Whatever it was, he could sense fear gripping all those around him. On the screens the general’s recorded message talked on, but no-one was listening now, because the cross was getting larger and brighter, and could only be perceived as an imminent threat. Was this the invasion? Gasps turned to shouts and profanities, to unclear orders… to a simmering panic. John wanted to shield his eyes from the now piercing light, but was unable: it had locked his attention to its future. In its midst another apparition appeared…it was a man… a man on a white horse!

The light intensified, brighter, brighter, until it was burning, burning not just his eyes, but his very soul. He was now only just aware enough to know…that it was time to die… 

© August 2012 by Nick Fisher

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