January 11, 2029, Gravity Pod, Milky Way Galaxy
A soldier is trained on many things, but none of these things involve time travel. Seneca says it’s not really “time travel”—it’s dimension travel. Either way, I’m confused by what transpires when I step through a portal and am completely removed to a different place. The portal to the Gravity Pod is different from the others I’ve seen. In the intra-Heaven ones, we stepped through misty fog and that was it. This portal is like a black hole. There’s absolutely no light inside, not even at the end of the tunnel.
The team goes in one by one. I watch Tova step through. The darkness swallows her whole. I take comfort Seneca went through first and is waiting for her. He asked me to stay behind to see everyone makes it through. I’m not sure what he means with his request, but on covert operations this usually means “make sure no one deserts.”
I’m still dealing with Seneca’s revelation that I have a superpower. Interestingly, he told me I can teleport. I remember times playing hide-and-seek with my father and pretending I could change hiding places without him seeing me move. It’s likely my father was playing along when he would go to the last hiding place I just left and act surprised that I wasn’t there. He would do this for about ten moves of location before he “found” me. I wanted this superpower for a reason. Seneca says it’s because subconsciously, I knew I had it all along.
Liam catches my attention and brings me back to the present with a wave of his hand. Ever the character, he turns and gives me a mock salute as he heads into the portal backwards. Now that he is gone, I’m alone. Normally, this would be concerning, but it seems as if this new body and the things I’ve learned about the future have relieved me of fears of an unknown future.
As I take a final look around before I step into the portal, I’m curious about the full potential of this new brain I’ve been given. Since it’s free of defects and illness, it seems reasonable I am able to do so much more, like harness a superpower. I noticed the powers Seneca identified in the seven of us are all “mind over matter” powers. I can believe humans fail to use the full potential of their brains. I utter a simple “incredible” and follow Liam into the darkness.
When I emerge from the portal, I find myself standing in a red desert. The sun is directly overhead—the heat is almost unbearable. It’s so bright I find it hard to see the others. I put my hands up to shield my eyes. The other team members are doing the same.
Seneca speaks, “Welcome to the Gravity Pod. We’ve been preparing this place for some time now. Almighty created it and the hosts of the heavens did the fine-tuning and decorating. It’s an exact replica of the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. This is exactly how it looks and feels today.”
“Wow! How big is this place?” Sterling is starting early with the questions.
“It’s approximately five miles by five miles. It’s mostly made up of desert that surrounds the city. We’re standing just outside Eastern Jerusalem. This is where the great controversy over ownership of the city is taking its toll on the people. This will be the launch site of the Great War. I’m beginning our tour outside the city because many of the tunnels that run under Jerusalem open out here. They were, and continue to be, escape routes from the Temple of Solomon. Some tunnels open in the caves of this hillside, some open under the shielding of a boulder, and some open into landmarks that act as camouflage. You would do well to split up and tour the area to map out these openings and become familiar with them before the Mission. You may need it later.”
“I can plot them out on a map for the group.” Seiko offers her organization skills. “I could stay here in a neutral spot while the rest of you explore the territory, and report back here so I can assimilate the data. Seneca, what was the need for an escape route from the Temple? How many vein lines do you think are here?”
“Good questions, Seiko. The tunnel system served as an escape route for the Jewish priests, and as a hiding place for the gold and other treasures normally kept in the Temple. There are twelve vein lines that break off the main underground corridor below the Temple.”
“When you say the ‘Temple,’ are you referring to the newly-rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem—the one the United States defended to the United Nations? Didn’t it pretty much wipe out ten years of Israel’s budget while costing America the respect of the rest of the free world?” Liam asks.
“Yes, one in the same. Though that description might be slightly altered by cultural understanding.” Seneca winks at Liam.
“You have to look over Liam’s exaggerations, Seneca. They’re fairly common in stories told by Idealists.” The group joins Sterling in laughter.
“Ha, ha,” Liam speaks out his laughter. “At lease Idealists have vision enough to stretch the story to the next level. That’s better than holding everyone back with the doomsday outlook of your average Strategist. Right, Sterling?”
“Well, that depends on if you need a realistic assessment of a situation that is as critical as a war, or one best left in a children’s storybook.”
“Okay guys, simmer down. Save that passion for the enemy. You’re going to need it. Once you know the history of this city, you’ll understand the need for the tunnels. Let me run through some stats. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged twenty-three times, attacked fifty-two times. It’s been captured and recaptured forty-four times. King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and established it as the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel. His son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple.
“In 66 A.D., the Jewish population rebelled against the Roman Empire. Four years later, in 70 A.D., Roman legions under Titus retook and destroyed much of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. The third, and current, Temple took a decade to complete under the guidance of the Jewish Parliament and the Priests who make up the Sanhedrin. The United States played a big role in funding the rebuilding of this Temple, as well as protecting the city during the reconstruction period.
“The Muslim center of Worship, The Rock of the Dome, is on the same grounds. This is part of the U.S-inspired peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. As it is now shared holy ground, citizens of all nations are allowed access to the property. Until 2019, only Muslims were admitted to the Rock of the Dome. The change was accepted, but those from the religion of Islam resent the new treaty. This tension continues to stretch the patience of the Israeli soldiers who are charged with keeping the peace.
“This city is considered a holy city by three of the world’s largest religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. In Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city after Mecca and Medina. According to the Koran, Muhammad made his Night Journey from here to speak with God. The Bible of the Christians identifies this city to be where Jesus was crucified. Judaism has its entire religion centered here.
“Though both Jews and Arab Muslims date their claims to the land back a couple thousand years, the current political conflict began in the early 20th century. Jews fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to establish a national homeland in what was then an Arab and Muslim territory. The Arabs resisted, seeing the land as rightfully theirs.
“In 1948, the Provisional Jewish Government proclaimed a new State of Israel. On that same date, the United States recognized the Provisional Jewish Government. The battle ensued. After an early United Nations plan to give each group part of the land failed, Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory. The United Nations voted to admit Israel as a member on January 31, 1949. The wars of 1948 and 1967 put us where we are today. The status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The international community, including the United Nations, still refuses to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The city hosted no foreign embassies until 2018. The United States, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, approved and supported the moving of the Embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Much to the surprise of the U.S., only a handful of nations followed their lead. However, with the U.S. move alone, Israel has marched forward with its determination to keep the city united. All branches of the Israeli government are in Jerusalem, including their Parliament, the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and their Supreme Court.
“All of this controversy is coming from a nation with a population of only eight million people. About seventy-five percent of the nation is Jewish, twenty-one percent is Muslim, and four percent identify as Christians. Though the Palestinians and the Israelis have agreed to share the Temple grounds, and a peace treaty to that effect was signed, the conflict is intensifying under the surface. Other nations of the world are choosing sides and getting involved to protect various interests. All this is leading to the Great War.”
“How much time do we have before this war?” Sterling sounds concerned.
“About forty-two months. Three and a half years.”
I decide to focus the team with direct questions. “What specifically are we to do with this time and these tunnels? What is our exact assignment?”
Seneca motions us to move into a concave of the rocky banks. It offers us a little protection from the sun’s direct rays. He sits on a boulder, and we surround him on the red soil. “One year after the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt, the Ark of the Covenant was created according to a pattern Almighty gave to Moses. It was a wooden box about the size of a coffin, and was built for the purpose of holding the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.
The Ark was carried in front of the Israeli army. It has been said any army that carries the Ark in front of it is invincible. There’s no reason to believe the Ark’s power to influence wars has ended. It would be quite the treasure for any nation as the world heads towards a third World War. This should make the need for secrecy clear to you. We cannot lose the Ark to the enemy. Though the box was built to carry two stone tablets, other items were eventually placed into it for safe keeping.”
“Ooh, I know this story,” says Liam proudly. “It was in the Indiana Jones movie.”
“Yes, Liam, that movie was loosely based on a fictional rescue of the Ark of the Covenant. Just imagine, you could accomplish what Indiana Jones failed to do.” Seneca chuckles.
I recall some of my Bible trivia as Seneca laughs. “I know something about this. The stone tablets are carved with the Ten Commandments. Aaron’s rod which has magical powers, and a pot of manna which is the food Almighty rained down from Heaven to feed the Israelites in the desert are also in there.”
“Correct. You might recall Moses said he has a personal interest in this mission. He wants the Ark of the Covenant, and its contents, home with the Saints. His life story surrounds the Ark and its contents. Later, a fourth item was sealed into the Ark of the Covenant. Though we want to rescue all the items and the Ark—we are most in pursuit of the fourth item.”
“Which is?” Sterling asks with trepidation.
“The Keys to Death and Hades.”
“What? Why are they on Earth?” Liam shifts from jovial to serious.
“When the Romans were on their way to destroy the Second Temple, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Head Priest to foretell of its destruction. He brought with him the ‘Keys of Death and Hades’ as a symbol of Almighty’s promise that the Temple would be rebuilt a third time and the promise the new one would never be destroyed. Michael instructed the priests to seal the keys into the Ark of the Covenant and hide it within the tunnels.”
Liam paces, and his voice cracks as he speaks. “Aren’t these keys kind of important for locking up Lucifer and ending her reign on Earth?”
“Yes. Almighty must have these keys to lock her away for one thousand years.”
I need to refocus the group. “What happens if we fail?”
Seneca’s face is serious. “Should the keys fall into Lucifer’s hands, she will be allowed to remain in control of Earth for the one thousand years in addition to the seven years of the Tribulation. The Great Game stipulates if this happens, Almighty cannot intervene to spare his children from her wrath.”
“What is this ‘game’ you keep referring to?” Seiko asks.
“The Great Game is the story of everything—how it came to be, why it came to be, and the ultimate story of good vs. evil. The Great Game is a contest, of sorts, between Almighty and Lucifer. There are rules and stipulations—and some compromises.”
“Yes, Almighty was forced to make some concessions and compromises through the years to protect mankind from the consequences of his shortcomings. I cannot tell you more about the Great Game than this.”
“Quite honestly, I’ve told you everything I know. The rest would be conjecture on my part. I will know the rest of the story at the same time as you. Archangel Gabriel is coming here before you depart for the Mission. I was told he’d reveal to us some of the finer details of the Great Game that will shed some light on your journey. Though some of us knew about the existence of the Game, the details were kept sealed in the Holy Atrium. All I know is our assignment is to rescue the keys at any cost.”
The soldier in me is getting intensely aggravated. I refuse to lead people into a situation where secrets are kept. “‘Any cost?’ What’s the risk here, Seneca? What happens if we are captured?”
“If you’re captured, you will be held on Earth until the Tribulation ends. This might be in prison, or it might be on the run. It may be a combination of the two. If this happens, you can still use your superpowers, so you certainly wouldn’t be helpless. At the meeting held between Almighty and Lucifer at the end of the Tribulation, you would be released to return to Heaven. I know it’s not the promise you hoped for, but Almighty will be relinquishing his power on Earth for those seven years. Meaning, He can’t rescue you.”
The team goes silent after hearing Seneca’s last declaration. I’m disheartened to see we’ve been drawn into this dire situation. This scenario is a constant of war. But, the soldier in me rises to take control. “Understood! Okay, we need some more specs. Who’s protecting these tunnels?”
Seneca beams at me, pride in his eyes. He understands, with the last statement, the power of leadership has subtly transferred to me. He knows I’m ready to lead. “Israeli troops are protecting the temple and the cave openings—at least the located ones. Many other openings haven’t been found.
“On the inside, servants of the priests provide protection. No weapons can be taken inside the holy areas, so they’re stored in the tunnels below the temple. It’s the perfect location for easy access by the servants in case of an invasion. Should you find yourselves cornered in the tunnels, look to the walls for encoded Jewish markings. These will show you where certain weapons are hidden. Then dig. Seiko knows the language well.”
“What kind of weapons do they have?” I ask.
“There are many Uzi guns and Desert Eagle pistols stored in the holding boxes. In other holding boxes, you will find tear gas, grenades, and pepper spray.”
“Are we being armed?”
“I see no need.”
“Are we being armed with any technology?” Seiko asks.
“You won’t be able to use technology as it now belongs to Lucifer. It has been compromised and you’d be traced. It will be as if you are stepping back in time. Still, you will not need to be armed. You are taking enhanced bodies, combat training from Michael, and your superpowers with you. Should you be injured, you’ll heal immediately. Your new bodies regenerate.”
Before another question can be directed to Seneca, I refocus the group once more. “Seneca, I assume there’s a housing and training facility for us in the city.”
“Yes, there is.”
“Troops, we are heading to the city now. After the heat breaks late in the afternoon, we’ll return to map out the tunnel system. Training begins as soon as we change into whatever uniform has been provided for us. Let’s go.”