Aphelion Issue 239, Volume 23
May 2019
 
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Revelations Man

by S. H. Hughes



I

Replicant 02 landed on the stem of an Iris in the flowerbed left of Melissa Keats. It scanned a honeybee as it went about collecting nectar. Concealed by sunlight, the scanner's thin blue beam moved over the insect. The bee fell dead off the flower as the replicant's sleek silver body morphed into a perfect doppelganger and lifted off.

Melissa stood up, stretched her aching back, her baby bump jutting out before her. The fake bee landed on her bare arm and jabbed its sting into the unprotected flesh. Cargo released, it rode on the current of blood through Melissa's body until it found its ultimate destination: her unborn child.

Replicant 02 took off, systems already dying. It disintegrated before it hit the ground, dusty remains blowing away with Oregon's faint breeze.

ETA -- 403:227:387 hours.

II

An explosion rocketed out of the stubborn ground. Its power mushroomed into the sky above the dead city as falling debris clanked and bounced across the landscape.

Jacob exited the inner shaft first, knew the sky was up there ... a sky he'd never seen. At only twenty he was the youngest. Agile and immensely strong, he'd been made from those who relied on instincts as much as orders. He scrambled further away from the hole. "Look how vast it is, Isaac!"

"It is truly alive," his brother said.

Hypnotic reflection therapy had ensured that nothing aboveground would be alien to Isaac, yet, he had never seen the real matriarch that kept their solar system and Patmos alive. Isaac closed his brown eyes, enjoying the strange heat of the star so far away as it caressed the parts of his face not covered by thick beard. It felt so different to the artificial heat created by the geothermal turbines in the Ark, his home for thirty-three years.

Isaac moved his fingers in the new light. It lit the tattoo on the inside of his left wrist, a white bow without an arrow. He'd been the first experiment to succeed. Created from the last power brokers, the few who had escaped the Liar's clutches, Isaac's embryonic brain had been forever altered to accommodate a different type of intelligence that hoped to conquer without the spillage of blood. The rest of his body remained hidden in a MELS suit. Unsure of what awaited them, the last Elders had insisted they wear their Metamorphic Eco Life Sustainers until a full analysis of aboveground was completed.

Magdalena took in a deep breath, held it, her unique body analysing the planet's new atmosphere. "Fifty percent nitrogen, only three percent oxygen," she said. At twenty-five Magdalena was the second youngest, a beauty with reams of long red hair, created from those who had pledged to heal the sick. "Methane now makes up forty percent of the atmosphere. These levels are too low for successful lung function."

"As expected," said Abraham as he joined his family. "Most of Patmos's cities have been destroyed and left to decompose for half a century." He surveyed the landscape's destruction. Where once there had been fertile land only ash remained. Charred and mangled buildings stood in places but for most the end had been forced demolition. Skeletal remains lay scattered across the rubble, bodies who had not been fooled by a disguised infection.

"Filtration units will be needed if those from the Ark venture aboveground," Magdalena said.

Jacob surveyed a mound of bones and assimilated their information: sixteen-year-old female ended by a Vectomic plasma bolt. Weapon of the Executioners.

Abraham raked his bare hand through the earth beside the remains. The cuff of his MELS suit slid up and exposed his inner wrist, tattooed across the flesh a pair of scales, the ink deep black. He rubbed the earth between his finger and thumb, his very pores deciphering the information from within the brittle grains. "The soil is badly damaged but it is still capable of supporting some biotic life. In ten, perhaps twenty years, a supportive ecosystem could be created."

"The Ark is failing now, Abraham," Isaac said. "In ten years there will be no one left alive to plant anything aboveground."

"Look," Magdalena pointed down at three shoots of green, "the land renews itself."

"I must take one of these for study." Abraham waited for Isaac's nod of approval, picked one of the feeble shoots and placed it inside his MELS suit. "This will help the bionomics team to discover what will grow in this wasteland."

"One ship did all this, Isaac?" Jacob asked, still staring at the sixteen-year-old's bones.

"Yes. The Apollyon."

####

Twenty kilometres below the ruined surface of Patmos the Ark rested. Designed to work independent of any starship and sustain life on other worlds, the Ark had kept all alive inside its impregnable metal womb for fifty years since the Voss invasion.

It had but two years left of life.

Isaac stood in the medic bay, the familiar hum of the Ark's turbines as they turned the planet's core heat into energy could not disguise the Elder's struggling breath as he slept.

Omar Sorn opened his eyes. The drained blue orbs fixed on Isaac's face. "What news of the surface do you bring?" he whispered.

"What came before is gone." Omar nodded. "But the land renews itself."

"You found living plant life above ..." his breath failed and the respirator aided him, "aboveground?" Isaac nodded and Omar relaxed back against his pillows. "And the air, is it breathable?"

"Not without filtration units."

"The Voss?"

"Gone ... though Jacob believes they will return."

"Your brother's caution is just. The prophecy does not tell us if the Voss will return."

"What are we to do?" Isaac asked.

"You must find the Prophet John."

"He could be light years from here -- "

"You must find him. Only he knows the truth."

Isaac grasped the old man's hand, the returned grip weak. "You are so sure your faith should rest with him?"

"He prophesied the dark times brought about by the Liar and the Beguiler. He predicted our civilisation's demise, tried to forewarn us. We did not believe in him. You beheld today what our ignorance repaid us with. You must find the Prophet John. His dictation on our demise is unfinished. Only he knows if we are truly safe to share the sunlight once more."

III

The shuttles emerged from the mouth of the wormhole, four cloaked metal horses with determined riders at their reins.

"The prophet's shuttle halted in this sector." Abraham's voice echoed out of the intercom in the cockpit of Isaac's shuttle.

"I detect dionic radiation," broke in Jacob.

It was news Isaac had not expected or wanted. The readings were only six astronomical units from their present position. "Is it a Voss scout ship, Jacob?"

"Delvin-class, deep exploration issue."

His shuttle's data showed him worse news. The Voss scout ship had been in dionic cloaked orbit around a small moon for 403 227.387 hours, forty-six Patmoseon years. Perhaps this was a helpful glimpse into the method the Voss had used to destroy Patmos from within? "Jacob, move closer to it. Begin scans, we may gather information our predecessors were denied."

The scout ship exploded.

"It activated a self-destruct," Jacob said. "Debris field analysis is ten thousand kilometres."

"All of you, scuttle your tractor beams on a zeta frequency pattern to create a seizure snare. I will fly into the debris field, use my repressor beam to redirect as much towards you as possible."

"Fly into the debris field? Isaac, these shuttles are -- "

"This is not the time for contemplation, Abraham."

Isaac guided his shuttle in the direction of the scout ship's debris. Smaller pieces left his flight path, drawn to the snare his siblings' ships had now created. He blasted the bigger starboard engine from its stubborn trajectory with the repressor beam. It was snatched aside by the outer rim of the seizure snare, scraping off a navigational antenna as it skimmed his shuttle's hull.

"We've lost the fuselage!" Magdalena said.

"Track it, Jacob." Isaac saw the metallic escapee plunge into the planet's gaseous layers. "Abraham, Magdalena, drag what has been collected into lower orbit of this planet." The duo followed their brother's orders and cut the brilliant white of the seizure snare; metal parts began their speedy descent to a fiery death.

"Isaac, the fuselage will come down in the northern hemisphere of the planet," Jacob told him.

The region was heavily populated by life-forms similar to those on Patmos.

"We must help any casualties, Isaac," Magdalena said.

"You and I will beam down to this planet's surface. Let us see what the Voss were so keen to view here."

####

Tyrone Williams walked out of the front door of the community centre, looked across at the closed drugstore opposite. He made it two weeks since a fresh supply of medication had been delivered. Not that Keats's government cared. The shopping centre had been levelled and a new hospital built on the site but even its food rations arrived fortnightly.

The traffic lights changed to green but no cars passed by. Transport was limited and gasoline in short supply. The highways were blocked, the Blue Line closed. Downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach had been out of bounds for three years. Since 2059 army blockades had ensured nobody ventured outside Quarantine Sector Seventy-nine.

He took the book from the back pocket of his jeans and looked down at the creased cover of the New Testament. To even be found with this book would mean a charge of “propagation of hate”.

A crack of thunder echoed. Troops in the blockade looked up. Tyrone saw it too, fire raining down. Engines roared into us then as three trucks departed the blockade.

Tyrone skimmed through the yellowed pages and read the passage: “The first angel blew his trumpet and, with that, hail and fire, mixed with blood, were dropped on the earth ...”

*

####

ETA: 7:06:32

Crowds, eager for a glimpse of gore, ogled the rescue attempt from behind a police cordon. Emergency crews continued to try to free the passengers of vehicles trapped inside the new crater that now stretched down Hollywood Boulevard. Isaac watched two paramedics lift another trolley into the ambulance beside him. They had not seen him. Wearing duplexes seemed a good judgement. The life-forms here were susceptible to X-ion radiation in the optic nerve region, making Magdalena and himself invisible visitors.

Jacob's voice burst out from the communicator in his ear. "Isaac, I'm detecting motom particles."

He glanced at the scout ship's fuselage embedded in the road in an inferno of flames. Buildings choked behind its smoky black blanket. "Could it be leakage from the Voss's engine?" Motom, a tri-plaxic alloy, was a creation of the Voss.

"No. There are seventeen million separate readings across the planet."

"Brother," began Magdalena, "these life-forms are infected with the Rapture."

####

President John F Keats yawned and slid his feet off the Resolute Desk. He found the Oval Office claustrophobic, despite its new décor. The irritation of small spaces was an unneeded human inheritance.

The door opened and Vice President Robert Perrimont entered. "Mr President, ISS have confirmed the earlier sightings by the Armstrong Luna probe and the Jupiter orbiter."

"So it was a ship?"

"Yes," Defence Secretary Jackson Sawyer said as he marched into the office. "Reports suggest some landed on Hollywood Boulevard." He opened the armoire doors, switched on the TV behind. Sirens, smoke and flashing emergency lights were the only real view the reporters had.

"I want it leaked to the press that it was a malfunctioning satellite, Jackson."

"Yes, Mr President. But I have to inform you that NASA has already had Japan and Canada on the phone about this, the ESA won't be far behind."

"Russia must know too," Perrimont added. Joseph F Keats had sway with many world leaders. The Russian President Vladimir Tarasov was not one of them.

"Russia has soured too many international relationships to be any trouble. It was a malfunctioning satellite that broke up during re-entry, and some parts happened to land in our backyard -- that's the story I want out there, Rob. Jackson, take what you find to a secure location and destroy it."

"Wouldn't it be worth investigating where it came from?" Perrimont asked.

"No." Keats reached into the cigar box.

"I'll have it destroyed by sixteen-hundred hours, sir." Sawyer headed for the door.

"Jackson?" He turned back to the vice president. "Are there any casualties on the boulevard?"

"It's too early to tell."

"Well, don't you think we should send some help to the emergency services in Hollywood, Jackson?"

Keats pointed to the TV with the burning cigar. "They have it under control over there, Rob. Jackson has other work to do." He nodded at the defence secretary and Sawyer left them. "Rob, on your way out, ask Mary to get me Ali Hussein on the phone, would you?"

Hussein the great peacemaker, who made people believe in better things; whether he brought them depended on your point of view. Hollywood had to shift for itself then? "Of course, Mr President." Perrimont closed the door to the Oval Office.

A decade was an age in politics.

Iraq and Afghanistan had never healed, the terror wars displacing hundreds of thousands of people into foreign countries. In 2043, Canada, bursting at the seams with non-citizens, requested help from the USA's Republican president; his decision to allow refugees into the states had been the catalyst to a nightmare. Marches had turned to riots, riots into state against state. By 2054 rebellion had swelled against the then Democratic government, chaos ruled, the union itself under threat. From Oregon to New York, Montana to Texas, Maine to California, people rallied behind a new JFK.

Senator Joseph F Keats won the 2056 election with a landslide for his new Constitution Party. Oregon senator to President of the United States of America in a decade.

Vast power for a man of only forty.

Perrimont let go of the door handle. Had Professor Cynthia Miller been right?

####

Ryan Paul saw the boot again and looked away. They couldn't be real. Only he had climbed into the back of this thing.

The ambulance drew up outside the quarantine hospital. Only a few years old, its wards had seen enough death to age them considerably. The vehicle's doors opened. Ryan stared at the woman below dressed in purple scrubs.

"Hi," the woman said. "I'm Nurse Christy Becker. What's your name?"

"Ryan." He looked at the two figures opposite but they didn't answer her.

"Come on out then, Ryan." Nurse Becker held out her hand and helped Ryan from the ambulance. He looked back inside for his unknown companions.

"Did I miss someone?" the nurse asked, looking around the interior. "Nope." She slammed the ambulance's doors shut revealing Isaac and Magdalena standing beside them. Ryan released her hand and stepped back. "Ryan -- "

"I want my dad."

"A big guy like you?" Bailey Summers came around the corner of the hospital. At eighteen she was the last survivor of her class from the local high school.

"Bailey." Nurse Becker tapped the pack of cigarettes nestled in the front pocket of Bailey's denim dungarees, ugly next to the black cut-off tights and red baseball boots beneath.

She brushed her dyed violet fringe from her blue eyes; the hair barely touched her shoulders. "Christy, a little smoke in my two airbags won't make much difference now."

"What does the female refer to, sister?" Ryan looked over to Isaac.

"She is in stage four of the Rapture. They have begun to alter her bronchi."

"Bailey, can you take Ryan to see Professor Hanlon, swing by the cafeteria and get him a soda -- "

"Christy!" Another nurse rushed out of the hospital, scrubs dirtied by bloody patches. "We need you in ward fifteen. We've got another bleed out."

Isaac and Magdalena followed the group inside the hospital.

A floor below, Professor Sara Hanlon swallowed the Solgen, tensed from its rancid aftertaste. A descendant of medication used by haemophiliacs, the pills were the only drug that controlled the excessive bleeding that those in the final stages of A-poc had to live with.

"Doc?"

She recognised the voice. "Come in, Bailey." The teenager walked inside the office, accompanied by Ryan and his can of soda. "New arrival?"

"This is Ryan. He was sightseeing some chunk of space crap that came down in Hollywood Boulevard and the army guys fixed on him."

"This is a medic unit, Isaac," Magdalena said. "All those here are infected by the Rapture." She stared at Bailey, saw the chronic fight going on within her body. "With our knowledge, we could help here."

"Ryan," Sara began, "you've been brought here because you have an illness."

"I know. They sent my mom and sister here."

And they had died here, she knew; everybody died in quarantine. "What I need to do, Ryan, is to check how well you are."

"I don't like hospitals."

"You might not have to stay here," Bailey told him. "You might be able to live in town with the other kids. The complex is pretty neat. It has its own pool."

"This is a medical scanner, Ryan." Sara held up the small unit. "I'm going to scan you, see if you can join the other kids in that pool, okay?" He nodded and she completed a double pass with the scanner. "Guess what? You get to go swimming."

He smiled. "Will you tell my dad where I am when he comes for me?"

Sara nodded, knowing he would not come. "Bailey, take Ryan down to floor six. Let them know he's okay to go to Tyrone at the community centre."

"Can I go with him?" Sara raised an eyebrow. "You know I go stir crazy in here." Sara nodded. They left and she picked up the phone. "Tyrone, it's Sara. I've sent another little boy down to you. Kids complex, yes. Stage two. Makes fifty new arrivals this month. I wish I had your faith. I hope that book you preach is true, Tyrone. I hope A-poc is enough to “exhaust the anger of God”. Yes. See you soon." Sara put down the phone.

Isaac stared at it. "Those words," he turned to Magdalena, "are those of the Prophet John."

IV

ETA: 2:55:11

With even power under rationing laws, blackouts were common. At night the pitch-dark streets of Quarantine Sector Seventy-nine were Whittaker Debruce's playground. He watched the ambulance drive away, headlights spotting two figures on the avenue. "We have visitors." Bate Cruz, Alex Garcia and Emilio Valdez glanced at the duo, eyes moving back to the makeshift campfire burning in the ex-oil drum as Debruce slid a steak knife from his pocket.

Isaac and Magdalena carried on down the avenue. Their remarkable eyes noted obstructions in the inky darkness that standard human orbs would never see.

"You are certain this is the way they took the young male, Magdalena?" Isaac asked.

"Yes. I have his DNA shadow locked in my cerebral cortex. Brother, with the duplexes powered down we can be seen here."

"That is not a concern. I wish only to speak with the one called Tyrone -- "

Debruce blocked their path. "You're either very brave or very stupid."

They glanced at each other, not understanding a word.

"We seek the community centre," Isaac said.

Debruce scratched at an itch on his cheek with the tip of the blade. "Faith man know you two?"

"Faith man?" Isaac questioned.

"You playing with me?" Debruce held the knife to Isaac's throat.

"We are here to help you. To save you," Magdalena said.

"Hear that, boys? Mother Mary is here to save us."

"Why do you brandish a weapon at me -- " Debruce slashed the blade across Isaac's throat. The laceration, serious enough to produce severe bleeding, didn't. Isaac hit him in the chest with the palm of his hand and sent Debruce through the air. He landed on the road ten yards away, careening wildly until he thumped against the kerb, his companions' footsteps fleeing in the opposite direction.

####

The community centre's office was a cramped world of dated computers, untidy filing cabinets and endless paper, most the handwritten forms of those not yet ill enough for hospital care. Tyrone stared at Isaac. The guy was built like a bison, wore an odd concoction of wetsuit bred with body armour. Of course he was crazy. From a different planet? How many times had he heard that line? A-poc ruined even the most civilised of minds. Still, he'd play along, if only to keep the equilibrium of the centre intact.

He picked up his mug of coffee, watching Isaac who was engrossed in the back pages of the New Testament, reading the end game: the Book of Revelation. "So, you believe what's happening here on our world happened on this Patmos?" At least their history was good. Patmos was a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, claimed to be the place of exile for Saint John while he wrote the Apocalypse.

"Yes," Magdalena said. "Your species -- "

"Humans," he said.

"Humans are like those who occupied Patmos before the Voss invaded."

"It was meant to end here," Isaac said. "Sister, our war with the Voss was never to end on Patmos. That is why the Prophet John did not finish his dictation on our demise." He held up the New Testament. "His lack of ending ensured that we would pursue him. Here is where the story ends. Patmos is saved."

"Then we must return."

"We cannot abandon these humans to their fate. The Prophet knew this. For we are the Four he speaks of: Conqueror, Famine, War and Death."

Tyrone glanced at Magdalena. "You mean the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?"

"I am Death?" Magdalena shook her head. "No. I am life. Created to preserve life."

"Okay, people, just calm down -- " the door smashed open, handle denting plaster as Whittaker Debruce limped inside the office, a gun in his hand.

"Think you can humiliate me like that!" he yelled at Isaac.

"Put the gun down," Tyrone said.

"This son of a whore made a fool of me in front of my crew." He fired.

The bullet smashed into Isaac's forehead and fell to the floor like a battered dime. Debruce began firing wildly at the aliens. Each bullet suffered the same fate as the first. Afraid, he started to backtrack towards the filing cabinets. "Faith man!"

Tyrone stood rigid, his eyes staring at the flattened silver bullets on the floor.

Isaac stopped, studied Debruce, who continued to pull the gun's trigger. It made only quiet clicks. "This weapon will not damage the Voss." He took the handgun and crushed it like paper. "We will make certain that your race is not overcome, nor that it starves or is lost to war."

"Preserve your lives," Magdalena added. "Tyrone, who is the female who spoke with you on that device," she pointed to the phone.

"Sara?"

"She tries to heal the sick of the Rapture, the disease that infests your human kind?" Magdalena asked. He nodded. "Bring her to me. I must know it from the beginning -- "

"A-poc began after Stromboli went," he said.

"What is this Stromboli?"

"It's a volcano," Debruce told her. He limped over to a chair. "It blew up back in 2056. People got sick after."

Tyrone snatched up the New Testament, turned through the pages and found the passage: "“The second angel blew his trumpet, and it was as though a great mountain, all on fire, had been dropped into the sea ...” It's the end of the world."

"Where is this volcano?" Isaac asked Debruce.

"It's on an island ..."

"North coast of Sicily." Bailey said from the doorway. She moved inside the office.

"Learnt that in geography."

"Bailey, these are -- "

"Aliens. Ghosts. Angels. Ryan wasn't real sure, Tyrone. He told me all about them. Said he saw them when we couldn't. I didn't believe him, not until I saw ..." She touched Isaac's forehead. "You're not even hurt."

"Bailey, don't be afraid -- "

"Afraid? I'm dying, nothing else to be afraid of."

"You are not dying," Magdalena said.

Tyrone put down the book. "What?"

"Young female, where is this island you speak of?" cut in Isaac.

*

####

ETA: 1:16:32

"Call it," Sara Hanlon said. The monotonous drone of the heart monitor played on. "And somebody turn that damn machine off!" She ripped the bloodied gloves from her hands, binned them and left the operating theatre. Sara rushed outside, took a deep breath of the cold night air.

Nurse Christy Becker exited the staff entrance. "Need a cigarette?" Sara took one and the nurse fired the end.

"That girl's only been here a month. Only sixteen." Smoke descended into Sara's altered lungs. "The A-poc virus is a talented bitch. You think you've got it and then it changes. Like it knows your close. Like it has real intelligence."

"You'll beat it, Sara."

Sara lifted the lapel of her smock, showed Christy another's bloody fingerprints. "She hoped I'd beat it sooner."

Christy's bleeper sang out. She checked the screen. "More newcomers."

"Is Bailey back yet?"

"Ambulance is back but she isn't. Probably spun Tyrone a line again."

"I'll bring her back with me. Tyrone called, said he had news."

Christy's bleeper went again. "Got to go."

Sara nodded, flicked away the cigarette and crossed the car park, empty but for an old school bus and her pickup truck. She opened the driver's door, threw her bloodied smock on the passenger seat then spotted the black van in the shadows --

"Hello, Sara."

"Jesus!" She glared at the vice president standing behind her. "Why are you here?"

"I need your help," Perrimont said.

She glanced at the van. "Brought your friends along in case I bite and spit?"

"Please, Sara, listen to me."

"Why?" She turned back towards the truck. "I don't have time to vote -- "

He grabbed her arm. "Would you listen to me?"

"Five minutes."

He let go of her. "That's all I get from my sister?" Sara didn't reply. He handed over the cigar stub, secure inside a plastic evidence bag now. "It's his, smoked it this afternoon. Do your tests, get me answers."

"You think Cynthia was right about him, Rob?"

Perrimont watched the two morgue attendants carrying a body bag down the steps to the crematorium. It shimmered beneath the halogens like a splintered soul. "Maybe."

####

Abraham continued to descend into Stromboli. He glanced at the shuttle's temperature readouts that currently stated: 1300°C. Motom readings had increased exponentially, dictating that they were not mere particles but radiated from a mass concealed within the volcano. He slowed the shuttle as the scanners found the culprit. "Isaac, I had found a Terex beacon."

"Is it active?"

"Yes, and transmitting this planet's coordinates via a rotating emissary signal to the

Voss."

"So, they come."

"Isaac, the beacon is counting down to self-destruct. Such an explosion would destabilise this planet's lower mantle and set off a chain reaction of minor volcanic eruptions around this world. It could be a Voss plan to confuse upon their arrival."

"Remove the beacon, Abraham. Have Jacob analyse it. It may have other secrets yet to reveal."

*

####

Sara Hanlon eased the evidence bag deep into the pocket of her cardigan and walked inside the community centre. The interior of the communal lounge was quiet, only a few people were at the tables and a group of children huddled around the TV set. The news channel upon it carried on its report about Hollywood Boulevard's orbital visitor as pictures of a downed satellite flashed continuously over the screen.

"Bailey?" Sara went over to the teenager. People smiled and nodded as she went by. Everybody knew Professor Sara Hanlon in quarantine sector seventy-nine; she was the station that all stopped at before they joined the isolated community. "Where's Tyrone?"

"In his office. He has some visitors."

"Visitors? Where from?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Bailey lead the professor into the back office, somewhat cramped by guests. "Sara, you made it." Tyrone came over to greet her. Her attention remained on the two strangers clothed in odd suits as she sat down. Names came and went but faces she remembered and these two had not passed via her entry system; that was illegal.

"Sara, this is Isaac and Magdalena. They're the reason I called you."

"This female human is in the fifth stage of the Rapture," Magdalena said. Sara looked to her, checked for medical equipment but found none.

Tyrone sat down beside her. "Sara, these guys can cure us of A-poc."

"The female human has an artifact in her clothing which contains pure Voss, Isaac."

This grabbed the professor's attention. "Tyrone, who are these people?"

"They're not people."

V

ETA: 00:39.38 ...

It moved with such absolute certainty. A colossal metal world that contained millions of races; fallen comrades in a war they had never truly realised they were fighting.

Unlike the warmongers of old, the battling hordes and armies of history, or the fictional accounts of such conquering civilisations, the Voss used neither weapons or might. Their unique tactics had evolved over millions of years and made their size the most lethal force in the universe.

Ten thousand of them fit on the head of a pin.

####

Sara gulped a mouthful of black coffee down, grimaced at the Styrofoam cup. "Cynthia had a smart mind, except when it came to men. She almost single-handedly made active stem cell therapy a reality, was doing some fantastic work with paraplegic patients before she ..."

"Primal cell research was completed on Patmos many decades ago," Magdalena said. "It was most helpful to the Patmoseons also. Carbon-based life-forms are intricate yet fragile."

"And easily conquered," added Isaac.

"Cynthia's fame brought her to the attention of the president himself: John F Keats; the guy has some magnetism. Cynthia was sleeping with him within a week of their first meeting."

"Seriously?" Tyrone questioned.

Sara nodded, looked into her coffee mug, saw a dark abyss staring back. "About six months into the affair they spent the night together, some hotel in LA. Cynthia said Keats got up during the night to take a leak, she thought. She saw him in the bathroom light ... saw him cut his wrists ... said it wasn't blood that came out but florescent liquid."

"Like this?" Isaac picked a pair of scissors from the desk and sliced open the top of his hand. Thick green goo gushed onto the papers there. Sara stared at it, eyes widening as the deep slash began to close. "Your friend, this human female, did she say what became of this president's life fluid?"

"It probably went down the drain," added Bailey.

"What is a drain?" Magdalena asked.

"It's were our wastewater goes," added Tyrone.

"Water?" She debated the consequences. "Your human bodily matrix is almost ninety-five percent liquid. This water is an essential attribute to your wellbeing?"

"We can't survive without water," Sara said.

"Like the Patmoseons. This president, does he rule your planet?"

"He rules our country, Isaac," said Tyrone. "But he has sway over the leaders of other countries -- "

"He has been to other parts of this world?"

"Of course," Tyrone said.

"That is how the Rapture spread," Magdalena said. "Movement of the Alpha Carrier and intentional pollution of a world's needed water supply." She looked at Isaac. "It was the oceans that drew them to Patmos and to this planet."

"A-poc isn't spread via our oceans," Sara said. "The virus can't live outside the human body for more than a few hours."

"It is not a virus," Magdalena told her. "It is the Voss. A species."

"It's a disease -- "

"It is the Voss. Do not underestimate them. They can live outside a host indefinitely, but their objective is to inhabit grander vessels, to conquer worlds. It would seem that your president is the Alpha Carrier. His mission is to infect, minds and bodies. This he has accomplished via deliberate movements within your world and the pollution of its oceans."

"The eruption of the volcano Stromboli was not the catalyst of the disease here," said Isaac. "It is yet to reveal its true purpose. The motom particles Abraham found are the structure of the answer."

"What became of your friend, Sara, this Cynthia?"

"They killed her, Magdalena. It was my fault. Keats abandoned her soon after the hotel incident. Her belief about him didn't alter. It began to affect her work, her life. I thought if I could put her mind at rest about him she would stop. She wanted his DNA. I went to the one person who could get it: my brother, Robert Perrimont -- "

"Your brother is the vice president?" Bailey blurted.

"Unfortunately. I called him and told him what Cynthia believed. He went to see her in Kansas. The day after, Cynthia's lab was destroyed in an explosion that levelled the whole building. Wormwood Industries disappeared off the map and my friend died in the inferno."

"Didn't that poison the local water supply down there?" Bailey asked.

"It fell on rivers and springs."

"Tyrone, why do you recite the Prophet's words?" asked Isaac.

"He said that when the third angel blew his trumpet that “bitter wormwood” would pollute waters and that many people would die from drinking it. Saint John, John of Patmos, whoever he was, he knew," he stared at Sara. "They'd murder your friend. The Voss."

Sara took out the evidence bag, the cigar stub cradled inside. "My brother gave me this tonight." She looked at Magdalena. "This is Keats's cigar. It should have human DNA on it. Does it?"

"I detect only Voss," she said.

"Your president," began Isaac. "The Prophet writes that he is a beast."

"He's an asshole, if that counts," added Bailey. This raised a smile from Sara that was gone too quickly.

"He has seven heads?"

“'I saw that one of its heads seemed to have had a fatal wound but that this deadly injury had healed,”' Tyrone said.

Sara turned to him. "Keats was shot in the head, like his namesake, but our JFK survived."

Tyrone nodded. "The people called it a miracle. The Prophet's words state that “after that, the whole world had marvelled and followed the Beast”. The continents, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Antarctica, Europe and Australia ... they are the seven, and their heads -- their leaders, they all follow Keats's ideals now."

"What is 'shot'?"

"Like you were, Isaac," Bailey began, "by him," she pointed at Debruce.

"Metal propelled at high velocity will not kill him. So, I, as the Conquer, must."

"What!" Sara stood up. "You can't kill the president."

"He has brought your world to ruination. We must destroy him or you will suffer the same fate as the Patmoseons."

"He didn't do it alone," Tyrone said. "There's another like him. His name is Ali Hussein. He began the Armageddon Movement, halted religious wars by obliterating the old religions. He deemed them “archaic and oppressive regimes”. His followers have decimated churches, mosques, synagogues, all the old places of worship. Hussein has this sway over people ... like Keats."

"The euphoria you speak of is a by-product of the metamorphosis your species undergoes during the changing process," Magdalena told him. "On Patmos a minority were unaffected by this sense of joy and wellbeing. They tried to rise up against the Liar and the Beguiler without success."

"Where does this False Prophet reside, Tyrone?"

"You'll find him in the Temple of Golden Possibilities in Jerusalem, Isaac."

"Then we shall destroy your False Prophet and your Beast."

####

"The signal is constantly replicating itself, has done so for the preceding six years," Jacob said as he brought the data from the Terex beacon up onto his shuttle's main screen. "It does more than send data to the Apollyon, Isaac. What, I do not know."

"The eruption of the volcano Stromboli coincided with its activation?" he asked.

"Yes. But it has no means, as the humans state, to spread sickness."

"You say there is an additional signal radiating from it over the planet's surface?" Jacob nodded. "Scan for motom particles across this world and cross reference them to the areas where the signal is being relayed."

Jacob did as his brother requested. "They match, Isaac.

"When the Apollyon arrived in orbit it began transporting Patmoseons into its detention cells. Millions in mere hours. Only those in stages six and seven of the Rapture were transported. The rest were destroyed by the executioners. It is a remarkable feat," Isaac looked at his brother, "to be so accurate."

"You think the Patmoseons were marked for transport prior to the ship arriving? The motom particles we have detected, Isaac, they may be the apport devices."

The door opened and Abraham joined them. "I've discovered an anomaly within the beacon's central processing code." Data filled the screen to Jacob's left. Columns and lines of alien code criss-crossed each other, made a blue net of seemingly unintelligible information; an opaque veil to disguise brighter treasures. "Within this code are the schematics for the Apollyon, Isaac, as well as its mission. The conquering begins in the womb. They chose two female humans and infected their young before birth. These offspring mature into adulthood."

"The Beast and the False Prophet." Cunning. "If you wish to master a species you must learn its weaknesses. Jacob, destroy the b -- " The beacon exploded, showering space with crystals of blue. Isaac methodically examined the blackness for dreaded proof.

In the distance he saw the glimmer of the Apollyon'sseven bright eyes.

ETA: 00:00.01 ...

Time had run out.

VI

"Magdalena, you must hide as many as you can," Isaac said into the communicator in her ear. "The Apollyon has arrived. This world's primitive weapons cannot save them."

"And what of you, Abraham and Jacob?"

"I have sent Jacob to Jerusalem. Abraham I will send to you. I have a Beast to kill. Work quickly, sister, we have little time. Even now, apport devices move amongst the humans marking them for transport."

"How?"

"I have no answer. Begin replication of the Omega generation."

"Yes, Isaac."

"Where did Isaac go?" asked Tyrone.

Magdalena turned to face Sara, Tyrone and Bailey. "Our four shuttles are in orbit of your planet. He returned to one of them at my younger sibling's request."

"You're like Keats, aren't you?" Sara asked.

"No. Your president has been created from primary Voss infection. I am made from the Omega generation."

"What's the difference?" the professor pushed.

"Patmoseon basic modular DNA was re-sequenced and re-encoded. Parts of this genetic material were then deleted and mutated Voss were added. The mutation took fifteen years to control, but finally, the Elders did that which they had set out to do: create a new species. We are constructs made of two enemies to bring about peace. The Apollyonhas arrived in orbit of your planet. It will bring nothing but destruction." Yelling filtered in from the communal lounge. "If you wish to survive, you must trust me."

"I trust you," Tyrone said. He came out from behind the desk. "I watched my wife and children die from A-poc." He glanced down at the New Testament, battered and worn, blueprint for victory or annihilation. "I won't watch anymore." Shouting drew him out of the office into a scene of war-like proportions. The community centre's interior was saturated by blood-covered people.

"What happened?" Sara set to work aiding the injured with Bailey.

"Something came out of the sky."

Tyrone turned, saw a young man, face blooded, a gash above his right eye. He rocked backwards and forwards on his haunches, left arm held close to his chest, broken bone protruding from the forearm. "Let me see your arm." He reached for the wounded limb.

"Don't touch me!"

Tyrone pulled back. He'd seen dozens of men like this during his service in the Middle Eastern wars; outdated concepts but not forgotten. The man began to rock again. "Talk to me. Tell me your name?"

"Jake."

"My name is Tyrone. Jake, tell me what happened to you?"

Jake's eyes widened. "It came out of the sky. Like a star. My girlfriend Judy thought it was a plane crash. We went to help and out of it came -- "

"An army."

Tyrone turned and saw Bate Cruz behind him. Alex Garcia was close by, his right hand missing, the wound cauterised.

"An army, Faith man, sound of their feet like horses going into battle. They started firing at people -- not bullets." He pointed down at Alex's terrible injury. "With lights. Like locusts, destroying everything. We ran." He stared at Debruce, tears bouncing down his dirty face. "We ran."

"They took my Judy," Jake added. "They took her!"

"He has been wounded by a Vectomic plasma bolt," Magdalena said, surveying Alex's injury. "It is the weapon of the Executioners."

####

The first line of security guards advanced, their machine guns spewing forth a wall of unavoidable projectiles. Jacob marked his prey and went for the one centring the line. He yanked the guard's gun forwards and smashed his elbow into the masked face. The power of the collision snapped the man's neck and he fell to the floor. With manic speed Jacob swirled the gun around his back and took out the entire line with it in robotic precision. The first wave of bodies fell, Ali Hussein's true believers, willing to sacrifice their lives for an untested saint.

The gun clicked, empty. The warning taken, Jacob moved with inhuman precision. Bones broke; lungs and hearts were torn from chests, spinal columns rupturing under the shear fury and elegance of the alien being labelled: War.

He rushed through the bloody carpet of human debris and ripped open the door to the Prayer Room in time to witness Ali Hussein's last smile as he was beamed up to the Apollyon.

####

"What the hell are you talking about?" Sara asked.

"The bodies of those infected," began Magdalena, "they appear dead -- "

"They are dead." Tyrone looked at Sara. "Aren't they? Magdalena?"

"They live," she said. "The Voss have evolved for many millennia, are an intelligent sub-microscopic organism that chooses to infect a host. The Voss's targets are biological organisms they deem useful. Once inside, they begin to multiply."

"Like a virus," added Sara.

"Yes. However, the Voss can reproduce without the aid of a host."

"Then why bother killing us?" asked Bailey. She came over to them, dungarees splashed with blood.

"Their desire is not to kill you, but to use your species to aid them to conquer other worlds. Once critical infectious mass has been reached, the Voss go into a hibernation state, during which time, an alteration in their genetic structure occurs. The host's shell also hibernates. The Elders believe that during this process a host can be reclaimed, if the Voss can be killed."

Tyrone looked down at his left hand, at the golden band encircling the third finger on it. "Reclaimed?" His wife and children had all been ended in the flames of the crematorium. "You mean, resurrected. Saved?"

"Yes. Long before the Elders researched the possibility, the Apollyon arrived and laid waste to Patmos."

"How many survived?" Alex Garcia asked.

Magdalena turned to him. "From a population of six billion -- fifteen thousand."

"Holy shit. And you think you alone can save us? Why?"

Magdalena smiled. "Because I am death, Sara."

The flaming form stumbled in through the office door.

"Bonny?" Tyrone ran to his sister -- a hand smashed into his chest and launched him into the air. He hit the sofa, rolled onto the carpet below.

"Stay back," Magdalena said, lowering her hand. Sparks of white light streamed out of the mass's eye sockets.

"It's my sister!" Tyrone scrambled up. "Bonny! Bonny!"

Magdalena held him back. The inferno could not disguise what burned beneath: Motom. "It is an apport device, marks your kind for transport."

Replicant 55-645-666 had marked a thousand humans for transport during its six months of existence in quarantine sector seventy-nine. Seven of them disappeared as it disintegrated. Flesh, so easily ruined, allowed the Gnats they carried to enter a human with excessive speed. They burrowed into the coarse calcium of any bone and waited until transport was required.

Current total: Three billion.

"What happened to those people?" Bailey pointed to the empty space.

"They have been beamed into the Apollyon's detention cells," Magdalena said.

The TV set showed that Quarantine Sector Seventy-nine was not alone -- the Executioners had invaded, killing on a colossal scale.

"Bonny ..." Tyrone said, this time he did not struggle.

"Your sister has been deleted by this Replicant, Tyrone," Magdalena said. "You must -- " he disappeared.

####

Flying like a crazed insect the yellow school bus surged on down the road. Bodies and debris from shattered buildings lined the tarmac. Sara sped on, foot flooring the accelerator. She saw the lights, twisted the wheel and threw the bus to the left as the Executioners fired. Plasma bolts zoomed through the night as the vehicle mounted the kerb. The bus burst through the metal fencing of the old bus station. Its front rose sharply then bounced down onto concrete.

She hit the brake as she saw the burnt corpse of a car in her path but was going too fast. She tried to veer around it. Too much for the overloaded bus, it flipped, screeching along the concrete. People fell beneath. It hit a concrete barrier next, was forced up into the air before it smashed through the front of Thor's derelict mini market.

####

Isaac glanced at the duplex wrapped around his left bicep as he carried on down the main corridor of the White House's West Wing. The fresh power capsule inside it ensured he moved unseen by its many human eyes.

Inspiration and intelligence sometimes conquered.

The humans, caught in a fever of hope, would never believe that the Alpha Carrier of the Voss infection was one so loved.

The Beast must die.

####

Bailey shook her head. "I can't, Sara, my leg is busted."

Plasma bolts surged over the top of the bus, viewable now that the ceiling was a row of shattered windows.

"I'm not leaving you," Sara said. Blood beaded down her face from a deep gash above her eye. Sara wiped away her tears, left bloody streaks in their wake. "We can carry you to the hospital. Magdalena?"

"The charts of human anatomy I have recently studied suggest the young female's left fibula is shattered and the tibia is splintered in six places."

"She'll heal -- "

"The damage to her vital organs is not repairable." At least not without violating the Elder's rules.

"I'm not leaving her." Sara gestured to others to help her lift the injured teenager. Bailey shook her head. "Bailey -- "

"Go. Now," she told her.

Defeated, Sara began the evacuation. Bailey rested her head on the only pillow, the corpse of Bate Cruz, and watched the survivors leave her one by one. The silence grew.

A sudden thump beat against the bus's shell.

Bailey reached up, scrambling to pull Cruz's dead body from beneath the mangled bus seat. It keeled over on top of her.

Heavy footsteps crossed the bus's new ceiling. Beams of light zigzagged across the corpses, crushed window glass falling through them like diamonds through sunlight.

Something wet stroked Bailey's cheek. Retching boiled in her gut as the dull light exposed the caresser: the torn flesh of Cruz's chest wound. His exposed rib cage was now a vaulted ceiling above her.

Bailey's sucked in a breath but the Executioner had already fired.

####

Keats turned to face Isaac. "You can dispense with the duplex. It only works on humans." Isaac powered it down and its radiation veil ceased. "Nice suit. Come in. Nobody will bother us here. Everyone is too busy trying to figure out what's arrived from the stars to kill them."

Isaac entered the office. He saw a man sprawled on the floor and noted that a high velocity projectile had torn into the male's cardiac muscle and ruptured his left atrium and ventricle.

"I shot him," Keats said. "Perrimont was only in stage three of transferral so I did him a favour. Plus, he was remarkably irritating. Humans are. Like your own worthless breed."

"The Patmoseons were not worthless."

"Some of them still aid us; most of their hosts died when reanimated. They are weak, as all carbon-based life-forms are."

"And that is why you are happy to exterminate those on this planet?"

"Not all. Those of no use. Talking of exterminating," Keats began, taking his seat behind the Resolute Desk, "you're here to kill me, aren't you?"

"That is a preferable outcome."

He picked up a cigar. "No Patmoseon will kill unless aggressively provoked. It is your first law." Keats lit the cigar.

Isaac studied his opponent, saw deep into Keats, saw the second self-controlled by the Voss inside the human mask. The building blocks of its life had been raped and molested by the foreign organism.

"You are correct," he began, walking around Resolute, "Patmoseons will not kill unless aggressively provoked." He stopped before Keats, his massive hulk casting a foreboding shadow over the smug president. "However," Isaac leaned over him, "I am not a Patmoseon."

He thrust his fist into Keats's chest, flesh and bone wilting under the terrific strength. Blood spurted over him as Isaac released his cargo.

####

"Is anyone alive in there?"

"Debruce!'

"Bailey, that you?" The weaker beam of a torch cruised over her.

"Yes. I'm here. Help me!"

Aided by Emilio Valdez, Debruce freed her from the metal mausoleum. Bailey stared at the mangled bus. "Get your arm around me, woman," Debruce told her. Leaning heavily on him, they crossed the mini market's car park that had escaped its parent's demolition unscathed.

Valdez unhooked the Mini Uzi from his shoulder. "The church. Move!"

They smashed their way into the derelict building. Bailey fell onto a pew as Debruce turned back for Valdez. "Get in here -- " a plasma bolt cut through Valdez, left a scorch mark against the church's aged metal door. Debruce reached for Valdez's fallen weapon. Another bolt blasted the ground beside it preventing rescue. He retreated and slammed the door, thrust its dated locks into place.

"Get up!" Debruce yelled.

"I can't." She was so cold. So cold.

Another plasma bolt hit the metal door. The aftershock clanked around the church's interior. Debruce dragged her down into the darkness between the pews. "Be quiet." He rushed into the shadows as the door blasted open. Bailey tried to inch her ruined leg round, clipped her foot against the wood. She let out a faint whimper that ached to be a scream and the triangular barrel of a Vectomic plasma gun filled her field of vision --

A marble cross flooded that of the Executioner's as Debruce swung it at its head. The alien crashed into the wooden pews. "That's what you call a second coming, mother fucker!" He threw the cross aside and reached for Bailey's hand.

Blood and brain tissue splattered her. Debruce's headless corpse collapsed as particles of his skull and features slid down her face on tears of his blood.

The Executioner's weapon discharged again as a fist punched through its back.

####

Sara stared at the imprint of the body against the bedsheet. The Apollyon had already beamed up those in the hospital in stages six and seven of A-poc; the Executioners had slaughtered the rest.

"I need one of those you wished to burn," Magdalena told her.

Burn.Sara closed her eyes. They were not dead. She was a murderer. "Why, Magdalena?"

"The Prophet John's words are a warning to me. If I introduce the Omega Voss into your human race without an adequate test, your species could be fundamentally altered. Lost.

"I would become death."

####

The pounding of a machine gun rang around the church. Abraham removed his hand from the Executioner's back and turned to see its companion fall. Behind it, Jacob lowered Valdez's Mini Uzi. They studied the fitting Executioner, its movements involuntary, a sudden uncontrollable occurrence.

"Oh God, I'm so cold."

Jacob threw the Uzi to one side as he knelt down beside Bailey. He assessed the damage. "This human is dying. We must help her."

"No."

"She will die, Abraham."

"Then you must let her -- " Jacob kissed Bailey. "Brother!"

Inside Bailey a new war began: Voss against Voss. Beginning and end. Alpha and Omega. Each army marched through her bloodstream to fight in the battlefield of her very cells.

The occupier of Bailey Summers opposed the invasion but it could not beat its better self.

Elder Omar had altered the Omega Voss at a molecular level. Introduced new instincts, not to destroy but to preserve the host. Anything which endangered this outcome was considered an unacceptable element, disassembled, and removed.

It was the host that was sacred, not the Voss.

Bailey's eyes broke open, the irises now as violet as her hair.

####

The crematorium's furnaces still burned. Clinical metallic, their central doors were big enough to admit the dead alone, without casket or coverings; the death rate had made incineration a primary need. Sara stared down at the bodies of four technicians sprawled over the ceramic floor tiles. Above them two hospital trolleys waited, one empty, the other held a filled black body bag. She unzipped it and revealed the body of Rosie Falkirk, the sixteen-year-old girl she'd battled to save on the operating table.

Magdalena came to her side. "She is in stage seven of the disease, yet she remains. Perhaps the replicants did not have sufficient time to mark her for transport."

She'd heard the heart monitor in the theatre justify the belief, right now, Sara's beliefs were in turmoil. "Is she dead?"

"This host is in hibernation as are the Voss within. It may be possible to save this female."

Sara hung her head. Rosie Falkirk was one of hundreds she had condemned to the flames.

"I will use this female as my subject for transferral," Magdalena said. "Sara, if my experiment is a failure -- "

"It will not be a failure," Jacob said as he entered the crematorium with Abraham, the body of the Executioner he'd shot with Valdez's Uzi over his shoulder.

"Bailey?" Sara rushed over to them, stopped a few feet away as she saw the girl's violet eyes. "What happened to you?"

"You disobeyed the Elder's rules -- "

"I cured the human, Magdalena." Jacob heaved the Executioner's corpse down onto the empty trolley. "Abraham deleted one of the Executioners with his DNA. I deleted this one with a primitive human weapon." Jacob placed the Uzi down onto the body.

"Mere metal projectiles stopped the Executioner?" Magdalene surveyed the being. "I do not detect any penetration within the armour."

"No, but the armour was penetrated. And look," Jacob pointed to a small circle on the collar of the suit, "this is an Ypres. They were used by the exploration teams of Patmos in order to extract nitrogen and oxygen from various planetary atmospheres."

"Bailey," Sara whispered. "You're alive. How do you feel?"

"Weird, like I'm in someone else's body."

"The Omega Voss are repairing your molecules," Isaac said as he entered. "You are not what you were. No longer human."

"I had to help them, brother," Jacob said.

"Your bravery has proved that we can save these ..." he glanced at Sara, "people. However, we cannot delete all the Executioners ourselves. That," he nodded to the body, "is a member of the Tran species. Their true home is Veles, a world whose atmosphere is ninety percent argon. It could not survive alone in this world's atmosphere, yet, it has been given the ability to do that."

"You mean they made this thing a respirator," began Sara, "so it could function here?"

Isaac nodded. "The Voss have failed to fully integrate the Tran species. Perhaps they have failed with others."

"The exploration teams from Patmos needed a power source, Isaac."

"Their ship, Jacob. So the Ypres this being used was provided power by ..."

The four spoke with one mind:

“The Apollyon.”

VII

Seven Seals: portent to ultimate destruction.

Isaac pried the lid from the fifth seal. Radiation spewed into his face again as the inner tube of buttons and switches was ejected from the core. Isaac entered the same code he'd used for the previous four, 666, and switched off the Apollyon's next set of coolant systems.

Death for the destroyer needed to be a slow affair.

####

"How you doing?" Sara asked Bailey as she drew out the seventeenth syringe of blood from her arm.

"Fine." The Omega Voss had released her body's true potential; it had reached the premium of its intended evolution -- she was a new species.

Ryan rushed back into the crematorium. "The Executioners are returning."

"Do you think Isaac and the others will succeed, Sara?" Bailey asked her.

"They better." She held up the syringe of infected blood. "Ryan, hold out your arm."

####

Aboard the Apollyon, War and Famine raged.

Jacob and Abraham surged on through the crowd of Executioners, killing with a divine grace as they descended to level nine: the detention cells.

Tyrone recognised the suits. "Your Isaac's brothers, aren't you?"

"We have little time," warned Jacob. "You must allow my brother and I to infect you with the liquid in our veins."

Others in the cell backed away from the request, Tyrone remained still. "How can we trust you?" Jacob held out the syringe and Tyrone took it, unravelled the page from around it. Sara had underlined some of the words on it in blue biro: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”.

Tyrone dragged up his shirtsleeve. "Let's end this."

####

The Executioners made a surging wave of darkness as they approached the hospital, spitting plasma bolts as they advanced. They beat against the clothing of those awaiting their arrival, but the flesh beneath did not fade.

####

Sara tapped at her left arm, enticed the vein to show itself. The inoculation was halted as a human form phased into being in the corner of the crematorium. "Tyrone?" Another form followed him, another, until the room was saturated. "What's happening?"

"Jacob and Abraham freed us." He looked at the small needle mark in his arm. "From everything."

####

Ambit Gas vented off slowly into space, a mere whisper in the darkness. Aboard the Apollyon, its home, the coolant system ran dry. Parched and unworkable, its systems started to shutdown, leaving the engine core's vaporising heat free reign to move beyond the constraints of its home and devour it.

####

"Begin," Isaac said and forced his shuttle to jump into top speed. His siblings too demanded all of their own crafts and together they began to pull the Apollyon from the planet's orbit. It dragged behind their shuttles like a heavily laden chariot, four silver horses leading it to desolation. The gravitational demands on each hull were unbearable as they struggled to tow the massive hulk of the Apollyon far from the planet below it.

An explosion rocketed out of the massive ship. The magnitude of the blast disintegrated the four shuttles and ignited the seizure snare between them.

Below, Tyrone followed millions of others in church and synagogue, mosque and chapel, in east and west, as they collapsed to their knees and stared up at the blistering white cross now guarding the sky.

This was the Rapture the Prophet John had written of.

THE END


© 2011 S. H. Hughes

Bio: S. H. Hughes currently lives in Yorkshire, England, home of the famous pudding and a group of sisters called Bronte. His work has appeared in Aphelion (The Ouroboros, December 2007), Dark Tales and Jupiter SF amongst others. His new YA novel “Friday Sparks: Teenage Detective” is currently being perused by UK agents.

Website: S H Hughes

E-mail: S. H. Hughes

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