January 16, 2029, Gravity Pod, Milky Way Galaxy
After their meditation time, the troops report to the gym. It’s the crack of dawn in the Gravity Pod and the training sessions are going well. The seven of us rotate in rounds on the equipment, weights, mats, cardio, and yoga room. Archangel Michael arrives today. I think we’re ready, except for the superpowers. I’ve been giving the team two hours alone each day to work on their individual powers. We don’t talk about the results, but I’m pretty sure we’re all feeling intimidated. As much as I’ve tried, I haven’t seen any progress with my teleporting. I hope Michael will show up and magically unleash these powers for us.
I’d forgotten how much I enjoy leading physical training. Knowing I am training a team for a mission set by Almighty himself is surreal. This time, preparing for combat really does feel like I am going to help save the world. It took coming to Heaven to see my life was always on a determined path to have me here at this exact moment. There isn’t a person on Earth who wouldn’t like to know their life has a divine purpose—and is perfectly timed. Someday soon, they’ll know. But before comes the Great War. Our team won’t be a part of World War III, but we will undoubtedly see some bad stuff. It’s my job to have them as prepared as possible.
Though I am working with each of the six warriors, I admit I most enjoy watching Tova go at the punching bag. She is every bit the tough person here I knew her to be on Earth. I want to spend every minute with her. I find it odd this longing has transferred to the other side. I am beginning to suspect love truly is eternal. I can think of a lot of people on Earth who are going to be excited about this part of Heaven. Even if this ends with me being able to see her every day for the rest of eternity, I will live forever as a happy man.
“Hello, warriors, I need your attention.” Seneca’s voice echoes across the training room. All seven warriors halt their workout regiments and gather around him. “First, congratulations on your physical preparedness. You’re all in great shape. You’re harnessing the power of your new bodies and hopefully learning how to use your individual superpowers. Even the yoga seems to be taken seriously.” Laughter spreads through the group.
“There are only two days left before you begin your mission to retrieve the keys. The enemy is preparing troops as well, but they will be no match for you. Please, have a seat.” Seneca directs the seven of us to an open area of the gym. There are chairs circling him and a hologram square in the center. “Today, I want to begin another part of your training.”
“There’s more?” Sterling blurts; it sounds like impatient sarcasm.
“Yes, Sterling, there’s more.” It’s obvious that Seneca enjoy the outbursts of our most vocal team member.
After a quick laugh, Seneca refocuses the team. “As in any war, there will also be intellectual warfare. In many of the great wars of history, intellectual warfare has been more debilitating than physical combat. I’m sure Grayson can attest to the effectiveness of these tactics. You’re going back to Earth where war is practically a sport. Intellectual warfare comes through propaganda, mirages, traitors, misdirects, outright lies, distortion of senses, and even false surrender.
“I’m sure all of you are familiar with the story of the Trojan War and the gift horse sent to the city of Troy: After ten years of failed attempts to enter the city, the Greek army constructed a huge wooden horse. They left it on the beach as they sailed away in apparent surrender. The army of Troy opened the gates and pulled the horse inside. Thinking it was congratulations for victory, they started celebrating. The horse was filled with Greek soldiers who crept out of a hidden trap door late at night, opened the gates for the rest of their army—which had sailed back to shore in the dark—and began its attack inside the city walls. The city was laid to ruins in a matter of hours.”
“So, what are you saying? We should be wary of looking gift horses in the mouth?” Liam is laughing. It quickly spreads through the group.
Even Seneca joins. “No Liam. You’re mixing metaphors. This mythical story didn’t happen. But the tactic used makes for a great teaching point of battle strategy. The war tactics you’ll see on Earth will be epic. We don’t know exactly what to expect. The enemy has had thousands of years to prepare. We will be monitoring things from here and will do everything we can to communicate as you advance.”
Seneca stops talking and pulls up a seat in the circle. He looks around the group—looking each of us in the eyes. “Before Archangel Michael takes over, I need to walk you through the rules of engagement and into the psyche of Lucifer.”
“With all due respect, Seneca,” says Sterling, “we’ve seen the holograms of Lucifer. She looks harmless to me. She’s a tall chick with fighting skills for sure, but mostly, she seems like your run-of-the-mill bad girl with a hot bod and an attitude to match. Weird stinging tail aside, her fiercest weapon seems to be her entourage. Those demons are nasty!”
“Sterling, if you are going to help man come out of this alive—and by alive, I mean free from literally existing in Hell on Earth for the next one thousand and seven years—you have to open your mind to receive the information I’m trying to provide for you. Lucifer is dangerous because she attacks the very organ that can convince you she is not a threat—your brain. I assure you Lucifer has taken down greater men and women than those in this room. I don’t want to demean anyone, but there is not a person sitting here who can defeat her on their own. This is the reason for the team. It will take the combination of your talents to have enough power to outwit her and recover the keys.”
“Allow me to demonstrate one way she can gain control of you.” Seneca stands and walks over to Sterling and closes his eyes. He waves his hand in a circular motion over Sterling’s head. Within seconds, Sterling jumps to his feet and begins screaming profanity. He starts swinging his fists and punching the air. He seems to be fighting something that isn’t there. He’s turning red with anger. He is kicking and threatening someone named Jack. His screams turn into cries for help. Everyone is looking at each other in horror.
“It’s a mind game,” whispers Tova. She stands, “Seneca, stop! He’s in pain! Stop it now!”
Seneca waves his hand and Sterling falls to the ground, gasping for air between sobs. He covers his eyes with his hands. Tova runs to him and cradles his head in her lap. “Why did you do this? He wasn’t hurting anyone.”
Seneca extends his hand to Sterling and helps him to his feet. He puts his arm around his shoulder and helps him back into his seat. Sterling is fighting back some final tears. “I’m sorry to have put you through that, son. Tova, he will be fine—thank you. You can go back to your seat.
“Sterling, you didn’t deserve what happened to you when you were a defenseless child. You didn’t deserve to relive it here. You were a very brave young man. Your daily struggle to protect your mother from domestic violence was an ugly chapter of your life. But it was an important one. You saved your mother’s life, and you grew into a fine man who spent his life protecting people bullied by the court system. Around this place, you’re a bit of a legend. This is the reason you were selected to be on this team.” Seneca pats Sterling on the shoulder and begins walking slowly around our circle of chairs.
After looking at each of us one-by-one again, he continues. “This has always been one of Lucifer’s weapons. She can’t read your thoughts, but she knows your history. From this, she can surmise your greatest fears. Sterling, may I share your story?” Sterling nods and looks at the floor. “Sterling was a victim of child abuse. His father died before he was born, and his mother remarried when he was two years old.
“By the age of five, his stepfather, Jack, was hitting him and his mother whenever he was drunk —which was most nights. This went on for five years. When he was ten, Sterling shoved Jack back to keep him from strangling his mother. He fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck. He isn’t here in Heaven. Sterling wasn’t really seeing Jack just now. However, his senses were convinced Jack was here, and he was convinced the experience was very real.
“What I did just now was conjure up one of Sterling’s greatest fears. Through mental trickery, aka telepathy, I was able to cause him to see Jack and feel the fear again—even though the rest of you could not see or hear the abuser. This is what Lucifer does so brilliantly. She’s been doing it throughout the ages. Right when one of Almighty’s children is about to take a risk on something good, or make an important life decision, she pushes their fear to the forefront and renders them helpless. I know each of you have seen this in your own lives.
“It won’t take Lucifer long to figure out who is on this team. Once she knows your names, the demons who know you best will fill her in on the highlights of your life stories. From this, she will assume your greatest fears. As I mentioned earlier, she already knows about you, Grayson. She has demons placed near the entry to the Fourth Heaven. They hang out there to hear what is said by the angels and the spirits who pass over. When she learned of your diversion from entering St. Peter’s gates, she knew. Since then, my sources tell me your data has been thoroughly researched.
“Expect her to use this information against each of you individually. Here’s the thing you most need to understand—you won’t be able to see each other’s terrors. You don’t have access to the information the way she does. The only way you can combat this as a team is to talk to each other. Share your deepest fears while you train here and head to Jerusalem. You’ll have to be willing to be vulnerable. By the time you get to the end of this mission, you’re going to know each other at the deepest level. Trust each other. Believe each other’s intuition—no matter how outrageous it may seem at the time. Do you understand?”
Seneca looks to each of us for physical affirmation. Once he secures our buy-in, he speaks to an empty space and pulls up a hologram. “Give us a history lesson.”