"The Antichrist?" said Gary. "You mean like Damien or something?"
"Well, sort of," said Paul. "According to the checklist, the Antichrist is going to be a charismatic politician, probably at the UN."
They sat round the table in Paul's office: Paul, Gary, Patrick, and Kate, with all the Rapture leaflets and books Kate had accumulated. The dreadful predictions barely varied from one leaflet to another: at least they knew exactly what was coming.
"That Nicolae Whatsit," said Patrick. "He's charismatic - did you hear that speech he gave?"
Paul nodded. The new leader of the United Nations, hastily sworn in after his predecessor was confirmed among the disappeared, had spoken simply and emotionally about the need for unity in this time of horror. He had stressed the need for the nations of the earth to pool their resources, since this was their only hope for finding their missing children or preventing more disappearances.
"That's another warning sign," said Kate. "The Antichrist is going to be all about peace."
Gary picked up one of the leaflets by the corner, as if he was afraid it would give him fleas. "So the Antichrist is the opposition, is he? He's fighting the ba- the Rapture God?"
"Eventually." Kate sounded tired, as if the angry energy that had sustained her in church had finally run out. "He's going to run around wrecking things for a while, before God shows up and beats him senseless."
"But we're on his side, right?" said Gary. "If he's fighting God, and we're fighting God..."
"There are worse things to be than on his side," said Patrick. "Everything he said in that speech was something you can really believe in."
Kate shook her head. "It was all a lie. There's a war coming, and he's going to start it. Oh, he probably won't mean to, an idealist like him, but that's how it's going to work out."
"You don't know that," said Patrick. "Maybe if someone talked to him, showed him the prophecies, he'd know what not to do."
"He's already seen them," said Kate. "He must have millions of advisors, and the Rapture people are everywhere. Someone must have made the connection by now, even if he didn't know about it before."
"So he knows," said Patrick. "He knows what would start a war if he did it, and he won't do it."
"Or he'll decide some things are worth starting a war over," said Kate. "If he's the Antichrist, you think he'll have a problem with a little war?"
Gary looked from one to the other, wearing an expression of complete bewilderment. "So which side are we on?"
"Nicolae's," said Patrick. Kate shook her head, but didn't say anything.
"The Antichrist is fighting against God," said Paul, "but he's not fighting for us. It's between the two of them, and we're just the battlefield."
"Oh," said Gary. Now he looked as if he understood - and rather wished he was still confused.
"We can still help Nicolae, can't we?" said Patrick. "Or ... at least give him some sort of support."
Paul shook his head. "He's going to do some terrible things, especially to followers of the Rapture God."
"Serve them right," said Gary.
"You think it serves Lucy Woolford right, if she follows the Rapture God in the hopes of seeing her children again, and dies horribly for it?"
"Anyone who's stupid enough to worship that bastard..." grumbled Gary. "No, I suppose not. But what's the alternative? The Antichrist, or that..."
The three of them looked at Paul. Patrick, still wanting to believe the best of Nicolae; Gary, willing to consider any opposition to the Rapture God; Kate, miserably disillusioned with every option. They all needed something from him.
He looked down at the pile of books. "It doesn't say anywhere that there can only be two sides."
"But what other side is there?" said Gary.
"The side of humanity," said Paul. "The side of the people who are going to get hurt by all this. We won't be able to keep everyone safe, but we'll do what we can."
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