"Did you really think you could get away with this?" Captain Rayford Steele sneered.
Dr. Nicholas Ozark rolled his eyes. "I wouldn't have tried it if I hadn't thought I could get away with it, would I?" He fixed his gaze on Steele. "Just tell me one thing, Captain. What was the point of all this?"
Steele smirked. "Willing to try anything to grab on to a few more precious moments of life, eh, Doctor? Even condescend to listen to a simple airline pilot?" Ozark saw Steele's face twitch, and he knew that behind the pilot's smirking expression there was a boiling cauldron of rage. But the hands, he noticed, remained steady, and the barrels of the machine pistols remained pointed at his head.
"You want to know the point of all this?" Steele continued. "Fine. You can consider this your last request before your execution.
"Before the Rapture came, I was a man just like you. I went to church, but I didn't really believe. I did my job, I raised my kids, I lived my life, just like any other man. Then the Lord took away my wife and son, and I realized that we were living in the Last Days. It's all right there in the Bible, if you know where to look, and my wife knew. We've all got to prepare, Doctor. We've all got to prepare. The Antichrist is coming, coming to bring tribulation to those who've been left behind by the Lord. And it's our duty, Doctor, our duty as Christians, to resist the Antichrist's call. He will come, Doctor. He will come. He could be anyone. He could even be you." Steele suddenly burst out laughing. "But I don't think so. The Antichrist has got his role to play in the Last Days, and in a few minutes you, Doctor, aren't going to be playing any role at all."
"All right," said Ozark cautiously, "I get that. It's the Rapture, and the Tribulations are coming. The Antichrist is going to rise. What will you do then?"
"Fight him, of course!" Steele said, and his blue eyes burned with the zealot's fire. "Resist him! That, Doctor, is what all this, as you put it, is about. Those few remaining Christians will be called upon to resist, and so I've built my organization, my Tribulation Force as I call it. When we've identified the Antichrist, we'll be in position to attack him, and all his works." Steele's voice, which had been ringing out, fell to a conversational level. "We suspect that he'll be taking over the United Nations. That's why I've taken the liberty of seizing control of it."
And slaughtered all the delegates and staff, Ozark remembered. At the time, it had seemed nothing more than a piece of insane butchery, but Ozark realized that within Steele's frame of reference, there was a certain twisted logic to it.
"Captain," said Ozark, "are you certain about that?"
"About what?" Steele seemed momentarily set aback, as though he weren't expecting Ozark to interrupt his monologue.
"About the Antichrist taking over the United Nations."
"The Book of Revelations says that he will rule the world, and that's what the United Nations does."
Ozark had to resist the temptation to correct Steele. Instead, with a sudden burst of inspiration, he said, "But, Captain, you've just taken over the United Nations."
"Well, yes, but just so that . . . "
"The Antichrist will take over the UN, just like you've done. Don't you see, Captain? It's you! You are the Antichrist!"
"Me?" Steele shook his head, as though trying to shake loose Ozark's idea. The two machine pistols wavered. Ozark knew that his chance had come, and that he had to seize it. He had worked his right foot out of his shoe, and now he kicked it into Steele's face. The pilot fell back, firing the machine pistols as he did so. Two streams of bullets stitched their way up the compartment's walls.
Ozark turned, slammed down the automatic release on the hatch, and leaped through it into the starry night beyond. He was blasted by the turbulent air, flung about helplessly. There was a sharp pain in his ears from the sudden drop in pressure, and he worked his jaw until his ears popped. He felt disoriented as he tumbled through the empty sky, Steele's flying command center long gone. He cracked open his eyes, and found that he was floating on his back, the night sky above him. Unzipping the pocket of his parka, he fished out the lab goggles and fitted them over his head. Then he twisted his body until he was looking down at the ground, the wind of his passage screaming past his ears.
If his calculations were correct, The Pinnacle should have been passing over Nebraska when he jumped. He could see a few sparks of light, small towns separated by huge tracts of land. In all likelihood, he'd land in an empty cornfield somewhere, miles away from any other people. It couldn't be helped.
Stolidly, Dr. Nicholas Ozark waited as the unseen ground rose up to greet him.
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