JANUARY 21, 2013
30 DAYS A.N.D.E.
(AFTER NEAR-DOOMSDAY EVENT)
The Dojo is sixty feet long and thirty feet wide, its walls covered in mirrors, its floor made of polished wood. Master Gustafu Pope, fifth-degree black belt and former karate champion of Argentina, turns to his “Bushi” warriors, all seated along one wall in a lotus position. “Richard Rappaport. Andrea Smith.”
Hearing her alias, thirty-one-year-old Dominique Vazquez jumps to her feet. Like the rest of Master Pope’s students, the ebony-haired, Hispanic beauty is dressed in full Bogu—protective armor. Her chest and stomach is covered by the Do, her waist in the Tare, her hands and wrists by the Kote gloves. She slips the headpiece known as the Men over her long ponytail, the heavily padded base protecting her face, throat, and the sides of her skull.
In her hand is the Shinai, a sword consisting of four staves of bamboo, joined together at the handle and tip by leather straps. Designed to flex as it strikes an object, the Shinai, though infinitely safer than its predecessors, the Fukurojinai and Bokuto, is still a weapon that can kill.
She takes her place across from her opponent. Rich Rappaport is bigger, stronger, and more experienced than Dominique, but lacks her tenacity.
Master Pope calls out, Rei.”
The two student combatants face each other and bow.
“On your marks.”
Bracing their bamboo swords, each moves into a crouching posture.
Dominique attacks, shouting out, “Men!” as she launches an overhead blow to her opponent’s head. Rappaport blocks the strike, but the woman’s furious barrage continues, her Shinai a blur as it lashes out at the man’s forearms and chest. Dominique calls out body part names before each strike, her brown eyes focused intently on her fellow Kendo student through the bars of her headpiece.
“Oosh!” Master Pope awards Dominique a point for a strike to the top of the head.
The two students return to their spots.
“One to zero. On your marks…begin!”
“Kote!” Dominique prances ahead, her Shinai raised to strike Rappaport’s forearms—
“Men!” as the tip of her opponent’s sword strikes her in the throat.
Dominique drops to one knee, swallowing hard against the throbbing pain.
Master Pope bends to her. “Can you continue, Ms. Smith?”
“One to one. Back to your marks.”
She hustles back to her place, her blood pressure seething.
Dominique is an erupting volcano, her anger raging, her arm and shoulder muscles bulging beneath her armor as she whirls the Shinai at the retreating Rappaport—
—who deftly blocks each of her strikes, then slices her across the midsection.
“Oosh!” Master Pope signals to Rappaport. “Two to one, point and match. Rei to me, to each other…and shake hands.”
Rappaport offers his hand, his face expressionless in victory.
Dominique shakes his hand, averting the eyes of the senior student.
* * *
“Ms. Smith, may I see you?”
Dominique tucks her headpiece into her gym bag and joins Master Pope in his office. “Yes, sir?”
“How’s your throat?”
Master Pope smiles. “It’s good you were wearing Bogu or you’d be speaking out of a second mouth.”
She nods politely, her cheeks flushing beneath her Hispanic complexion.
“Andrea, you’re an excellent student, truthfully, I’ve never met anyone who trains so hard as you. But in battle, technique is not everything. Kendo teaches us to observe our opponent and devise the appropriate strategy in order to achieve victory. You fight with anger, you fight to kill, and in doing so, you reveal your weaknesses to your opponent.”
“The Way of the Sword is the moral teaching of the Samurai. The art of Zen must go hand in hand with the art of war. Enlightenment is the realization of the nature of ordinary life.”
Ordinary life? Ha. I’d give my right tit to have an ordinary life…
Master Pope stares at her as if reading her mind. “The teaching of Ai Uchi is to cut your opponent just as he cuts you, to train without anger, to abandon your life or throw away your fear.”
“Do I seem afraid to you?”
“What I perceive is not important. Each of us has his demons, Andrea. I hope Kendo will help you to one day face yours.”
* * *
Dominique changes into an old Florida State tee shirt, shorts, and her cross-training shoes, then stuffs her equipment bag into a locker and heads for the weight room.
Chris Adair, her personal trainer, is waiting for her by the rack of dumbbells, his dreaded clipboard in hand. “How was Kendo?”
“Good,” she lies.
“Then it’s time for a little pain.” He sets the bench press at an incline, then hands her the two thirty-five-pound dumbbells. “I want twenty reps out of you, then we jump to the forty-fives.”
* * *
Dominique emerges from the gym two hours later, her freshly showered and massaged body still trembling with fatigue. The gym bag filled with wet clothes and equipment causes her right shoulder to ache, and she leans on the heavy bamboo cane for support.
The older woman with the burnt orange hair pulled into a bun is standing by her Jeep, the grin of a cultist pasted on her face. Her eyes are shielded behind the wide wraparound sunglasses preferred by seniors.
Dominique approaches warily, gripping the handle of the bamboo cane tightly in her right hand. Concealed within its false bamboo outer casing is a Katana, the double-edged carbon steel blade of the Japanese sword deadly sharp.
“I’m sorry, you must have me confused with someone else.”
“Relax, my dear, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Dominique remains at sword-striking distance from the older woman. “Is there something you want?”
“Simply to talk, but not here. Perhaps you could follow me to my home in St. Augustine.”
“St. Augustine? Lady, I don’t even know you. Now if you’ll excuse me—”
“I’m not a reporter, Dominique. I’m more of a messenger.”
“Okay, I’ll bite. Who’s the message from?”
“Maria Gabriel. Michael’s mother.”
In her peripheral vision, Dominique notices the two Homeland Security agents approaching, one from each end of the parking lot. “Sorry, I don’t know anyone named Michael, now I have to go.” She turns and walks away.
“Maria knows you carry her unborn grandsons in your womb.”
Dominique freezes, the blood draining from her face.
“Maria’s energy force reaches out across the spiritual world to contact you. You are in grave danger, my dear. Let us help.”
“Who are you?” she whispers. “Why should I trust you?”
“My name is Evelyn Strongin.” The older woman removes her sunglasses, revealing bright azure blue irises. “Maria Rosen-Gabriel was my sister.”
The three-thousand-seat arena is standing room only, as it has been every evening over the last four weeks. The television cameras and Internet videocams are manned and ready, the studio audience prepped.
Houselights dim, igniting a fresh buzz of energy.
The candy-apple red curtains flutter, then part, revealing center stage and a charred, seven-foot-high cross.
Mirroring the symbol, his arms outstretched, is the televangelist.
Peter Mabus is a heavyset Caucasian in his early fifties. His Alabama accent is thick, his thinning black hair slicked back and combed over. His pasty pale complexion matches his suit and tie and shoes.
The flock grows silent as he raises his head to speak.
“I’m going to tell you a story, ladies and gentlemen, a story about a man whose existence was riddled with disease, a disease that affects the mind and the body and the spirit. A disease that contaminates the soul. A disease that nearly destroyed society. Yes, my friends, I’m talk’n ’bout that disease known as Greed. This man had all the symptoms. Selfishness. Dishonesty. Malice. Jealousy. Envy. He was a liar and a cheat, and he was corrupt as corrupt can be. He was CEO of one of the largest defense contractors in the world, and he was heavily invested in oil. He was a man who treated women as objects, and bathed in the nectar of their sex until their flower withered and died. And then one day, ladies and gentlemen, as this despicable wretch of a human being lay in his mahogany four-poster bed in his fourteen-thousand-square-foot mansion, an Angel appeared before him. And the Angel brought with it a vision. And the man saw this vision, and in it was the Rapture. And he saw devastation and pestilence and death. And he saw the end of humanity, charred and ruined, buried beneath smoldering rubble. And then he saw the Lord.”
Peter Mabus looks up as an overhead light casts its heavenly beam upon his face.
“And the Lord said to the man, ‘My son, see what your sinful ways have brought? My children have forsaken me, allowing the serpent to take root in their garden.’ And the man became frightened, and he dropped to his knees and repented. And the Lord said, ‘Because you have asked my forgiveness, I will spare humanity, but only if you rise to lead the flock.’ And the man bowed his head, and the Lord touched his heart.
“Gone were the greed and hatred that had corrupted the man for so long. Gone were the lies and the deceit. And the man rose from his knees and was embraced by the light, and the convenant was made.”
Mabus steps away from the crucifix.
“I was that man, ladies and gentlemen, and that vision came to me four months ago, ninety days before the winter solstice of 2012. From that day forward, I have served the Lord as his humble servant, carrying His word to the flock. And when the Rapture arrived, and the bombs fell, the Lord kept His word to me, and spared our people.”
A chorus of Amens.
“And when the serpent showed his face, that wily Devil, the Lord smote him with His light and saved us again.”
“Divine intervention, children, it was divine intervention. And now, as I stand before you, a changed man, a servant of the Lord, I ask for your support. It was our leadership in Washington that brought the Rapture, it was the policies of Clinton and Bush and Maller and Chaney that nearly destroyed us. God has given me a vision, my friends, and the vision is to carry his word to Washington, then to the rest of the world. America’s strength as a Christian nation has been compromised, along with our values as human beings. The Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with a second chance, one we cannot forsake. Support us now. Rise with me, rise up—”
Small sections of preseated worshipers rise, encouraging others to do the same.
“—take your neighbor’s hand, children. Go on. Hold your hands high to the heavens and praise God. Will you praise Him with me?”
“Will you rise above your sins with me?”
“Will you support my campaign to restore goodness to our nation, so that we may never face our annihilation again?”
“Because there’s so much work to be done, so much good to be spread around the globe, so that we may finally conquer the diseases that still plague mankind.”
A small army of men in white suits appear in the aisles, their empty buckets aimed at the chanting crowd.
Mabus looks directly into the camera lens. “It’s time to go forth and spread the word, ladies and gentlemen. Call tonight and pledge your tax-deductible donation. Call tonight and join God’s party, so that together we can create a groundswell of love that will sweep us into the White House. This is the vision our Lord and Savior gave unto me, it is the covenant He made when He spared us from death. Remember back to that day, then reach deep into your wallets and show the Man upstairs that you deserve this second chance. Stand tall with me, my children, support the Lord so that we can walk together, hand in hand in the spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior, into the Ever-After.
* * *
The markeup artist touches up the last bit of shine beneath Richard K. Phillips’s eyes as the host of the political forum takes his place opposite Peter Mabus.
The television producer pauses as instructions are relayed from his producer over his earpiece. “All right, gentlemen, we’re rolling in three…two…”
Richard Phillips looks into camera one. “Good evening. Tonight, World News speaks with Peter J. Mabus, former CEO of Mabus Enterprises, and presidential candidate for the 2016 election.”
“Good evening, Richard, and good evening to all our supporters. God loves you.”
“Mr. Mabus, let’s get right to it. The next presidential election isn’t for another three years, why begin campaigning so early?”
“Richard, the message I carry knows no political timetable. Now is the time for sweeping changes, and even though we’re not in office yet, we believe the current administration needs to feel the will of the American people. Ennis Chaney has failed to restore faith in the United States government, and without faith, this administration will collapse, America with it. We simply cannot wait four years to make a difference.”
“To be fair, President Chaney’s only held office for little over a month.”
“You either have the faith of the people or you don’t. Chaney doesn’t.”
“Mr. Mabus, you’ve openly blamed society’s near demise on the previous administration’s policies that led to global isolation. And yet, your own company profited heavily from the new regimes that rose to power in the Middle East, as well as Asia.”
“And Richard, who better to institute change than one who knows what it’s like to walk down society’s dark path? Having been there, I know what it will take to root out the evil that shadows our society. More than anything, I believe this is why God chose me to lead postapocalyptic America.”
“Interesting. However, isn’t it also possible, as your critics are quick to point out, that your sudden foray into politics has more to do with simply reading the writing on the wall. Chaney’s already talking about canceling the Space Defense Initiative that’s been blamed for fueling nuclear buildups in Russia and China, and your company was its main supplier.”
“You mean my former company. I resigned weeks ago.”
“Still, you walked away with almost $200 million dollars.”
“Those were stock options I had coming to me. George Bush’s vice president received $20 million from Haliburton when he left, and they lost money under his leadership. The money I received was earned. God has no problem with that, especially when I’m investing it into a campaign that is doing so much good.”
“Let’s talk about your new political party, People-First.”
“I think our name pretty much says it all.”
“Some have labeled it extremism.”
“Extremism? Richard, if the majority of Americans share our beliefs, then how is that extremism? We believe in the strength of the family unit. We feel the good ol’ Christian values that made this country great have been replaced by promiscuousness and a generation of children who fail to give back to society.”
“When you say Christian values, you are aware how those words frighten most non-Christian Americans?”
“It’s just an expression, Richard. I love all Americans, be they Jew or Hindu, or whatever, as long as they respect the values of a Christian society, which is what we preach.”
“You realize what you’re saying flies in the face of the Constitution.”
“I believe in the Constitution, but let’s face facts. It’s been less than forty-five days since our political leaders nearly wiped out our entire species. If that’s what the Constitution protected, then it needs some serious amending. Our Lord and Savior didn’t save our butts just to watch us commit the same sins all over again. We need to learn from the events of 2012 and move on.”
“Again, you credit Jesus with saving humanity, giving no credence to the administration’s reports about Michael Gabriel.”
“That crock about a race of superior humans building the pyramids? Please.” Mabus leans forward, his eyebrows knitting. “Let me tell you something about this Michael Gabriel. I’ve spoken with many clergymen who are absolutely convinced he was the Antichrist.”
“Mr. Mabus, by every account, Michael Gabriel died a hero.”
“According to who? The government responsible for nearly getting us nuked? It’s well documented that Gabriel’s father, Julius, was a wacko, and so was Gabriel. He spent eleven years in a mental asylum for assaulting former Secretary of State Pierre Borgia. Does that sound like a hero to you? For all we know, Michael Gabriel may have been the one responsible for causing that alien to awaken in the first place. He did claim he had entered its vessel in the Gulf, right? He even said he was in communication with that demon.”
“But nothing. We’ve all seen the footage. Gabriel entered the serpent’s mouth, and the two of them disappeared. Poof!”
“What are you implying?”
“Ain’t implying anything, I’m tellin’ you straight out that our Lord and Savior intervened at our darkest hour, sending Gabriel and his serpent back to Hell whence they came. Divine intervention, Richard, not some Mayan malarkey. Now humanity’s at a crossroads. We either learn from this brush with extinction and elect leaders who will help us become the God-fearing people Jesus always wanted us to be, or we stick our heads back in the guillotine and wait for the next Judgment Day.”
* * *
Peter Mabus signs three more autographs, then boards his private jet.
Campaign organizers line up to greet him in the aisle.
“Beautiful job, Peter. The latest polls show us approaching 22 percent.”
“The Dallas speech netted just under two million. Well done.”
“Salt Lake City booked us for three more trips. The Mormons love you.”
Mabus acknowledges each assistant as he makes his way to his private office located in the rear of the 707 airbus.
An older, white-haired gentleman is waiting for him inside.
Mabus’s campaign manager, Texas billionaire Joseph H. Randolph, Sr., looks up from watching the CNN broadcast. “You did well on the family values crap, but you lost points when you labeled Gabriel the Antichrist. This campaign’s success may be fueled by a faith-based initiative, but the public still views Gabriel as a hero. In the end, his close ties to Chaney may be our undoing.”
“Michael Gabriel will be old news by the 2015 New Hampshire primary.”
“Maybe, but his child won’t be.”
Randolph nods. Hands him the report.
Mabus scans the document, his blood pressure rising. “The Vazquez woman’s pregnant?”
“Yes, and when the public finds out, and they will, they’ll flock to her like she’s the second coming of the Virgin Mary, her newborn worshiped like the baby Jesus. Chaney won’t even have to campaign, he’ll waltz into the White House for a second term, and we’ll never get his kind out of power.”
“Christ!” Mabus punches the closest wall, then rubs his knuckles as he collapses into an easy chair. “So? What do we do?”
“Only one thing to do, we get rid of this Vazquez woman before the public finds out she’s pregnant. I’ve already got my sources working on finding her. Fortunately, Homeland Security’s overseeing her case, so it should be relatively easy to get to her.”
“Do it. Spare no expense. I want that bitch and her demon seed dead by the weekend.”
Copyright © 2004 by Steve Alten