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Excerpts from the Book
Home Planet, Vermont -- day one
The fly buzzing in the room was a distraction. Sardis Malocco, Mother of Revelation Sect, didn't approve of its presence. It buzzed and then stopped, landed and then flew and buzzed in circles around her head, then stopped again. Intermittent, random, out of her control, it drew her outward when she needed to think. Pray. Commune with her destiny.
The fly ribboned around her head as she sat at her desk, hands folded, large and luminous eyes focused on the portrait of mother and daughter that hung on the wall across from her. Aside from the gray in her black hair, and the few extra pounds on a frame that was always meant to be ample, she didn't look that different now than she did twenty-five years ago, when the photo was taken. She pursed her lips in a kiss directed at the coal-eyed, curly-haired little girl who smiled so serenely at her mother. When the fly landed on her forehead, she didn't wave it away. If it stayed there, at least it would be quiet.
"All will be washed clean," she murmured, "in the blood of the lamb."
Sounds of singing, praying, weeping, reached her from various parts of the house. Above her in the many bedrooms, people were preparing for the next phase of their plans. She could hear a child crying. Jeremy, she thought, from the high-pitched whine in his voice. Down the hall in the communal room those who were ready were gathering for their final stand. In the kitchen to the rear of this room items necessary for their journey were being assembled. She heard three voices rise in harmony to the tune of "Onward, Christian Soldiers."
She looked out the window and saw the Sassies, as the press called the special artillery squadron. They stood at attention, heavy and sexless in their gear, waiting for orders to move. Half an hour before, their squad commander telecommed into her that they were prepared to make forcible entry. She'd replied that she was sending the children out, and needed time for the parents to say goodbye to them. They were motionless now, giving her time.
Apparently, they'd believed her.
The fly left her forehead, circled the desk, and landed on her right hand, exploring her knuckle with his tongue. The small, tickling sensation was pleasant on her skin. She smiled.
Slowly, very slowly, very carefully, without taking her eyes off the portrait on the wall, she tilted her left hand over the back of her right hand, and carefully brought it down. The fly, unthreatened, continued feeding off her dead cells as he hand closed over it like a dome. It took a moment for the signals of entrapment to go through its tiny system, and then it buzzed and lurched wildly under her palm. She waited until it grew quieter, then pulled it into her left hand and held it up. It buzzed, and she shook it hard. Quiet. It was quiet.
She shook it one more time, then slowly opened her hand.
The fly wasn't dead, just momentarily quiescent. Perhaps confused, if flies had enough neural capacity to allow for something as subtle as confusion.
"I am confused," she said, examining prisms of light in the insect's wings. Flies, she thought, were undervalued as a species. They could live off waste, sustain life out of excrement. And they were as necessary as any creature in the kingdom of heaven, she supposed. She pinched one of its wings between her thumb and forefinger and pulled it off. Immediately, the fly buzzed again, struggling to escape. She pulled off one leg, then another. It buzzed louder. If she released it now, it would try to fly away, just as if it could actually survive. In their insistence on survival regardless of horrific conditions, humans and flies were the same, she thought.
She sighed, and placed the fly on her desk, where it crawled in clumsy circles, attempting still to fly away. With a puff of breath, she blew it off the desk. She held the wing up to the light. It was beautiful. Like the wings of angels, she imagined.
"'And I beheld an Angel in the midst of heaven crying with a loud voice, Woe, Woe, Woe, to the inhabiters of the earth,'" she said. She put out her tongue and touched the tip of it to the wing, then closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair.
The door to the room opened and closed softly. A man walked across the thick carpet and stood in front of Sardis's desk, regarding her with loving eyes. She opened her eyes, and her face brightened into happiness. He went around to stand in back of her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She rested her cheek against it briefly.
"Philo," she said, using his sect name, "Are you sure you want to do this with me?"
He stroked her heavy black-and-gray hair with his thin hand. "'For the great day of wrath is come,'" he quoted, "'and who shall be able to stand?'"
She leaned into him, and kissed his hand.
"We'll stand side by side in the new heaven," she said. "I'm sure of that. But we should begin."
Sardis released his hand, and he stepped back as she pushed herself out of her chair. "You're right," she said, standing and turning to face him. "Are the children prepared?"
"I saw to it myself."
"And those who remain know the hours and days to count? Where to go and--"
"All the plans are complete, Mother," he said rather sternly, using her title rather than her sect name. They would not be Philo and Sardis in the New Realm, but Mother and Father. "Why do you hesitate? Are you afraid?"
She shook her head. "No, Father. Not for myself. Only, it's so important that I've done my job correctly. That I don't forget anything before we go on ahead."
"I understand," he said. "But you've been perfect. The people are prepared, and the places all assigned. The accounts -- you remembered to change account names, didn't you?"
"Yes. Of course."
"Then you've done everything. Now you have to trust heaven."
She smiled at him, and held her arms wide, her white death robe spreading like wings around her ample shoulders and bust, her blue eyes alight with ecstasy.
Philo lifted a hand to caress her neck. "That's my girl," he crooned.
He pressed his hand hard into her neck. Her eyes widened and she gasped once when she felt the needle penetrate the skin. Adoration became confusion, and her lips formed the one-word question "What?" before she fell heavily onto the floor.
He stood over her and consulted his watch as the second hand swept around. "Good enough," he muttered, and grabbed her arm, dragged her across the carpet, out the door, and down the hall toward the great room where the others were gathered.
His intent was to put her in the middle of the huddled group of parents and children before he made his exit, but he was only halfway across the hall when he heard a voice behind him.
"There's a couple. Grab 'em."
Philo whirled around and saw four Sassies, weapons pointed his way. He gulped air, and slowly lifted his hands high as they swarmed him, sensors beeping, the neural net wrapping around him. They lifted Sardis's limp form and levitated her down the hall as more Sassies rushed in.
"In there," the squad leader shouted, barreling toward the great room.
"I wouldn't if I were you," Philo said, his voice muffled and slowed by the neural web.
"What's he yacking about?" A Sassy asked.
"Says he'll never do it again, so could we please not take him to those nasty Planetoids."
Planetoids. No. He couldn't go there. That wasn't in his plans.
He tried to find a part of his arms that would move, a part of his legs that could kick the net that pulsed around him. Nothing worked. No part of his body would cooperate. Even the glass vial in his cheek was pointless now because he couldn't get his finger in his mouth to pull it out.
"Wait," he garbled to them, "Don't send your men in. You don't understand. The children."
The Sassies laughed and dragged Sardis and Philo out of the house, tossed them into a vehicle, and slammed the door shut. They went back into the house and joined the rest of the Sassies at the door to the great room, where the sect members were gathered. The squad leader bent his ear to the door and listened.
"Singing," he muttered. He straightened up, nodded at his squad. Two of the Sassies kicked the door in. The others poured through and surrounded the circle of praying, weeping people.
"Face front, hands up, and nobody gets hurt," the squad leader barked.
The outer circle turned itself outward to reveal an inner circle of children. The Sassies mover toward them, weapons held ready. The squad leader spotted a little girl clutching a teddy bear to her white robe.
"Cute," he murmured.
Then he saw the blinking red light on the girl's chest, and the wire it was connected to.
"No!" he shouted. "Don't touch them. They're wired."
But it was already too late.
From the prisoner's van, Philo heard the explosion in the house, and he knew that at least part of their plan had gone off as expected.
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