A new excerpt from ‘OCULUS: The Zebulon Initiative available on Kindle from Amazon.com
Abijon looked out over the vast frozen expanse that was their world. In every direction there was white. Of course this was not new to his small band. All they had ever known was white; ice and snow and wind, and more ice. They had traveled in the northern countries all of their lives, moving ever northward and ever farther away from established civilization. This had been the pattern of his people for the last 300 years. What once was a mighty nation of nomadic wanderers had dwindled down to the very few – less than seventy – who had stayed true to their current leader.
Their first prophet, Ahijah, had taken his people from their home almost four centuries ago. Of course they had never really had much of a home. Oh, for a while they had lived a glorious life with a mighty king and the hand of their God to protect them. But selfishness, greed, avarice and plain old lust had done to them what those traits always do to people. They had lost their king. They had lost their protection, and their lands, and the ones who stayed behind would be under the rule and subjugation of other nations and other kings for several thousand years to come; so they left. They went north, they went south, they went east…but mostly they went north. Everywhere they went some stayed and tried to carve out a life in a strange and often hostile new land.
At each new stop along the way more people decided to stay behind. Each new valley, each verdant plain offered hope for a new start, a new beginning. Those who stayed quickly shed their former identities and assimilated into the existing population. For their leaders, the prophets who urged them onward, this was OK. They saw the hand of God in all of this. There was a practical aspect to spreading your seed throughout the world. It guaranteed survival of the genetic lines, and the irony was not lost on the prophets: for a hated people with no land of their own, they would instead end up in almost all the lands and spread their influence among almost all the people. Even if they lost their own identity, they would still exist and the prophets knew that one day they would hear the clarion call to reunite, to return home, and to take their place among the mightiest of nations. All this was according to plan, and all this was in God’s hands. So Abijon and those who remained with him moved forward in the whiteness of their frozen world. He wasn’t really sure why they were compelled to move northward but that was where God had told him to go and he wasn’t about to argue with God.
He had a feeling that their journey was almost through, it had to be. There was precious little left to go to. Their world was a frozen waste. Fish and seal meat was their only food and the complaining and questioning from the people was increasing with each step forward. Not unlike our forefathers during the ‘First Provocation’. He thought to himself, though he did have compassion in his heart for the sufferings they were all going through.
Faith was what propelled Abijon and his small band forward. He and they knew that God had some plan for them, and they doubted it was to die a cold and miserable death in a frozen wasteland. Even so, many began to doubt as the food sources got harder and harder to find. And what of all the extra materials and stuff the prophet had commanded them to bring? It was one thing to have plenty of fabric for clothing and tents but there was only so much a person could wear and they had all that and much more with them. The sleds were heavy laden and the effort to drag them across the ice seemed to grow greater as each day passed. Murmuring began to pass through the ranks, quietly at first but then more and more boldly. Soon, talk of turning back could be heard, and some openly questioned the wisdom of continuing on. By the time they got to the portal the only thing that kept most of the people with Abijon was their fear of turning back and wandering alone on the ice.
The portal wasn’t so much a doorway, at least not literally. In fact no one was really sure what it was. They had come to a stop at the end of the ice, an edge beyond which there was nothing. For the last few days they had traveled in a thick fog and the air had seemed to get a little warmer – it was still cold to be sure – but a little less cold than before. Now they were at some sort of ledge, or cliff, or hole. The ice seemed to drop off into the fog and no one was really sure where it went. It seemed a pretty steep precipice and none felt any compulsion to drop down into the unseen chasm below. They had already passed enough crevasses, (and lost a few people to them) to know that they were inhospitable and uninviting.
This one though seemed different. For one thing the fog seemed to come up and out from it. Also, they couldn’t see the other side and no one really knew how big the thing was. Scouting parties were sent out but no one could find a way around it. For that matter no one could find the end of it. This one was different.
Camp was set up and a small tabernacle was erected. Abijon and the two priests who were still with him began prayers and offered sacrifices according to their practices. The people could sense that the journey was almost over though they could not figure out how that could be so. This looked like the end of the world. There was nowhere else to go. But this was not a place to call home; this was death. Is this what it was all about? They wondered. Has God led us to this place to perish? Was this their punishment for all those years of disobedience and faithlessness that had seemed so unimportant then? They knew they worshiped a jealous God, a harsh and unbending God, who had asked many difficult things from them. But they had also believed in a God that would deliver them and lead them to a better place. If this was the better place then the scriptures were true that said, “For God’s ways are not man’s ways.” This was proof that that was so.
They made camp and pondered their future. After three days of purification rites and sacrifices Abijon called the people together.
“My dear brothers and sisters,” he began, “We have come a great distance and have endured many hardships. We have wandered through many lands and lost many of our brethren in each of them. We have suffered greatly for our faith. Today I look out upon the few, the faithful who have stayed with our God for lo, these many years. We, like Yehoshua’s soldiers, have been sorted and culled out from the rest. You are the faithful and true, the ones who will continue to serve God. You are the ones who will form a new nation that will one day restore our people to their proper place among nations. If not for your faithfulness our people would be lost forever. Now we have come to the last step. We have our own River Yarden to cross. Our promised land lies before us.”
The crowd rustled and some fidgeted nervously. “How can this be?” Someone shouted.
“We cannot see our promised land. Where is it?” Another shouted. The crowd began to take up the cry and the energy level rose perceptibly.
“Brothers and sisters, please,” Abijon pleaded, “we have come this far. Do not let your faith fail you now. Go; gather the cloths and ropes you have brought with you, for now we will see the miracle God has in store for us.”
The crowd murmured as they went to retrieve the materials. When they had all returned, the men sorted out the fabrics which were then sewn and cut according to Abijon’s directions. After this, the ropes were unwound to the smaller strands that made them, each rope providing three smaller strands. These smaller strands were then tied to the huge squares of fabric previously laid out.
The people were confused. They had never seen tents built like this before; these were far too flimsy. Everything about what Abijon was asking the people to do was new and confusing; but it was about to get even more confusing… and challenging.
When all the fabrics had been sewn and tied with ropes, Abijon had the individual assemblies distributed to each person. They were then instructed in the proper manner to attach them to themselves. No one was really sure what was happening.
Abijon called and assembled them all at the edge of the hole and quoted one last passage out of their holy writings;
“Verily, verily I say unto you, that he who would save his life shall lose it; but he who would lose his life shall save it.”
He said nothing more but looked at each one of them. They seemed confused. Nevertheless, they could feel the love he held for them and some felt ashamed for the thoughts and feelings they had been carrying these last few weeks. He stepped to the edge of the precipice, turned, looked at them one more time, and said, “Come… follow me!”
And with that he jumped, disappearing into the fog.
The crisp clicking of boots on the polished tile could be heard at least four doors down the hall as the young aide made his way quickly to the office of the OKW Directorate of Resources – a fancy term for the high command’s accounting department. Marshall Fiedler, the director of the DOR heard the boots as well and, like everyone else in the office, made a quick check of his uniform coat and tie. Such urgency always meant a summons to the office of General Wilhelm Keitel, supreme head of the Wehrmacht High Command. You always made sure you were presentable to a man who reported directly to Hitler himself. You also made sure the sweat did not gather too prominently on your upper lip.
It was never a good thing when the General wanted to talk to the Director of Accounting. Money was always an issue to the German High Command and the issue was always that there was never enough of it.
The aide entered the office with the bearing and arrogance of one who knew he was protected by one higher than any of the people he was now standing before. Marshall Fiedler stood without invitation and prepared to go with the young officer. A raised hand, however, conveyed the unspoken message that he was not here for the director.
“Major Jürgen Steiner.” The aide called out.
A secretary silently pointed to a small office off the main salon. Without acknowledgment the officer proceeded to the entrance of the office of the young accountant. As soon as he entered the room Major Steiner jumped to his feet.
“Yes, that’s me.”
The officer reached into the folder tucked under his arm and pulled out a sealed envelope. It bore the seal of the Führer himself. He handed it to the stunned accountant and without another word turned smartly and exited the directorate’s offices. The clicking of his boots as he headed back down the hallway was the only sound heard until it faded away.
Steiner sat back down slowly. He was in shock. This was completely outside of protocol and he wasn’t sure what to. In seconds the doorway to his office was filled with the imposing visage of his boss, Marshall Fiedler.
“Well?” He demanded.
Steiner looked down at the letter and back at his boss.
“It bears the seal of the Führer!”
The director’s first reaction was shock but he quickly regained his composure and snidely remarked, “And what does the Führer want with a sub-level accountant?”
“I, I don’t know sir.”
“Well open it and let’s find out!”
Slowly he broke the seal of the envelope and retrieved the note inside. His eyes widened as he silently read the message. He looked at his watch. Fiedler waited silently. He was not going to move until he heard what the message was. This was understood and needed no explanation.
He looked up at his boss. “It says I am to meet with the Führer in 15 minutes. What do you think it means?”
The director gave a slight chuckle as he said, “It can’t be anything good.” He turned and laughed as he returned to his own ridiculously spacious and ornately decorated office.
He was right of course. Hitler was famous for deflecting the blame for his numerous recent missteps to any number of junior officers – those who could be held accountable and who could be quietly made to disappear without too much notice. Like all truly powerful men, weakness was the one thing Hitler could not display, and accepting responsibility for any of his wrong decisions was anathema.
Jürgen sat there for a minute contemplating his immediate future. He had lost his wife, Elke, to tuberculosis two years earlier and he was now the sole support for his four year old son, his precious little Andreas, ‘Reios’ he liked to call him. What would happen to him if Papa suddenly didn’t come home tonight? And Jürgen knew that was a distinct possibility. He said a silent prayer, gathered his things and prepared to meet Adolf Hitler face to face.
The long walk down the halls and up the stairs to the offices of the High Command seemed much shorter than he remembered, much like, he assumed, the steps to the gallows traveled by a condemned man on his way to the hangman’s noose. The imagery didn’t seem out of place in this circumstance. He was a good man; he had always tried to live his life with honor. His work with the Reichsbank was not by design or desire. Military service had not been optional in 1938 and he figured if he absolutely had to serve he would at least never have to pull a trigger. His training as an accountant could – should – keep him out of a foxhole.
Jürgen hated war and thought this was an ambitious but ultimately foolish way to solve Germany’s problems. It was true that Europe, following France’s lead, had been unwilling to forgive Germany’s World War I debt and had held it over the country’s head for the last twenty years, effectively destroying their economy. Jürgen, like other Germans, saw no way out from under that burden, but, Germany did not have the resources to take on the world and what had started as a popular movement of the people – the ‘Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei,’ commonly called the ‘Nazi Party’ – led by a young and charismatic house painter, had metamorphosed into a vehicle to fulfill the megalomaniacal obsession of a madman, a madman he was now about to face.
He had only been up in these rarefied chambers once before and that was simply to deliver a handful of folders, the contents of which he had not been privy to. As he entered the executive offices he was once again struck by their opulence and excess. Suddenly it seemed the war was a million miles away. Here there was plenty of paper, and typewriters, and all of the myriad things needed to run an efficient office. Freshly brewed coffee was always available to any of the staff who desired it. It was rumored that the elegant dining room just down the hall served fresh venison and other delicacies every day. Indeed, none of the secretaries or other staff he passed looked as if the war had touched them at all. Things were perfect in this tiny part of Germany.
He walked up to the first secretary of the outermost office that led to the Führer’s office. Of course a man like the Führer didn’t just have a secretary. His executive secretary had her own offices and a staff of lesser secretaries at her beck and call. Past the first set of doors he walked into a larger and more ornate room occupied by three hard working, and very lovely secretaries. Good to see that Hitler had an eye for pretty ladies – there had been rumors. From here he was passed to the next room where Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Humps, ruled. At 22 she was pretty and the youngest of Hitler’s secretaries, but nevertheless a formidable presence. Some in the office suspected her of enjoying a ‘special relationship’ with the Führer but years later in an interview she revealed that she always regarded him as a father figure (Indeed, just months later she married a Waffen SS Officer, Hans-Hermann Junge). She greeted the young Major politely, checked his letter and bade him stay while she checked with her boss. She returned a moment later.
“Right this way Major Steiner. When you enter do not speak until spoken to and do not sit until invited to do so.”
“Yes ma’am.” He took a deep breath, unconsciously brushed his hair back, straightened his uniform coat, and entered the lair of the most notorious and evil man in the world.
It had been a grueling and unbelievable four weeks; Jordan Ballard’s entire life had been turned upside down. Besides nearly being shot, blown up, drowned and kidnapped (twice), everything he thought he understood about the world had been challenged. His life would never again be the same, though that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing…just different.
He had survived; his mission completed. Now he had a little down time and he was going to take advantage of that. He understood that in times of great change comfort is often found in doing something normal, even mundane, and he really needed to feel normal for just a little bit longer, so this weekend was it. He was flying down to Atlanta to take in a Hawks game with his best friend Peter Nolan.
The Cessna 185 he was flying was one of his most prized possessions. It had been his father’s since new and Jordan had grown up flying with his dad to all sorts of interesting places, mostly grass and dirt strips in the mountains or to other out of the way destinations. He loved getting away from it all and was as comfortable landing on narrow dirt roads as he was landing on nice paved runways.
Today’s trip was going to last about 3½ hours, which was fine with Jordan. He valued the journey as much as the destination. He had been airborne for about an hour and was checking out some unexplored areas of North Carolina’s western mountains when he caught a glint of sunlight off of another aircraft in the distance. He couldn’t quite make out what kind of aircraft it was but it seemed to be moving pretty quickly and it appeared to be converging with his flight path. Apparently the other pilot hadn’t seen him yet so it would be up to him to avoid a possible collision.
Jordan turned the Cessna 20 degrees to the left. That should have been enough to get out of the way, but the other craft turned in response so that a collision was still imminent. Jordan pulled back on the control wheel and climbed 500 feet but the other craft again followed his actions. He squinted against the bright sunlight to get a better glimpse of this guy. He still couldn’t make out the type of aircraft but it was definitely getting closer. He decided to dive out of the way and pushed hard on the wheel. The airplane nosed down and Jordan lost a 1,000 feet in a matter of seconds, but again, the craft mimicked his actions. This was getting serious now. It appeared to Jordan that this guy was intentionally coming after him. He waited till the craft got closer before trying to evade it any further. Jordan finally got a good look at the other craft and his jaw dropped; this was no airplane coming after him. It had no wings and no propeller or visible engine. It was oblate and smooth, similar to the ones he had just seen over the last few weeks. It was slightly different, but definitely what most people would call a UFO; a “Flying Saucer”. Jordan knew better, now, what these were but that didn’t give him any comfort. This guy was after him and he realized instantly that his little Cessna was no match for the threatening craft. He would do the best he could but it was clear to him that he was probably going to lose this fight.
The craft came rushing at him from the 2:00 o’clock position and pulled up just slightly so as to miss him –barely – as it sped overhead. The Cessna bounced in the churning air left in its wake and Jordan fought to regain control. He lifted a wing and looked out the left window to follow the craft as it made an impossibly sharp turn to the left and back around to come at him from the rear. He didn’t know what to do so he just held on. The craft came roaring by just overhead again. Jordan banked hard to the right to pull away but he knew his efforts were futile. There was no way the 185 could possibly out maneuver this thing. Once more the craft spun around and came right at him head on. He dove down and to the right, but again, the craft was able to copy his moves precisely. They continued the battle like this for a few minutes but it wasn’t really a dog fight; Jordan had no weapons and he knew the other craft could knock him out of the air at any moment. This was ‘Cat and Mouse’ and it was just a matter of time before the pilot of the UFO grew tired of playing with him and went in for the kill.
A moment later it moved around, more slowly this time, and came up behind him. Jordan jinked left, then right, then left again, but it was no use; the craft was on his tail now and it was not going to leave.
This is it, he thought. He was about to be shot down, or whatever the thing was going to do to bring down his airplane, and all he could do was hang on. He didn’t have to wait long. After just a few seconds he felt a strange pulse run through the airplane, and through him. Suddenly all was quiet except for the rushing wind; all his instruments and, more importantly, the engine went dead. Nothing he could do would bring the Continental IO-520 motor back to life. He was now a glider, and the terrain below was solid forest.
Scanning the ground below, he suddenly realized that the other craft had cleverly maneuvered him away from any roads and open clearings where he might have been able to make a safe emergency landing. Instead, he was going to have to put his plane into the trees.
How cunning of that Bastard, he thought. He is going to make this look like a simple engine failure and crash. He realized that, if he didn’t survive this, no one would ever know, or suspect, that he had been forced down by a flying saucer.
Jordan did have one advantage that the enemy hadn’t taken into consideration – he was a very good and very experienced pilot. He had trained himself to stay very calm under extreme circumstances. His dad had taught him well and he knew that most aircraft accident deaths occurred because the pilot simply gave up at the last moment, being unable to purposely guide a plane into whatever it was going to hit. This always led to worse crashes. If Jordan could just maintain control of the plane all the way to the ground, even if that ground was covered in trees, he had a chance. He needed to find a stand of the youngest, and therefore smallest, trees – trees that would bend and break- and guide the plane into them, being sure to keep the nose of the plane between the trunks so that he could rip off the wings, and gear, and tail, first. This would serve to decelerate the plane in increments instead of all at once, thus allowing for his possible survival. He was aware that the other craft was flying in tight formation with him, watching as he descended, but he concentrated on the emergency at hand and prepared for the crash.
Just like WWII fighter jocks following their prey into the ground to verify the kill, he thought to himself. You sick bastard.
Even though he had slowed the plane down to about 60 mph, the initial impact was harder than he had anticipated. The wings ripped off with the first impact and the rest of the plane continued on; it was now at the mercy of the trees. There was nothing more Jordan could do; he was just a passenger. The fuselage rolled on to its side. The left gear ripped off followed by the horizontal stabilizer, but by now all Jordan was aware of was the steady and continuous smashing of tree branches against what was left of the plane. It rolled upside down and smashed headlong into the trunk of a larger tree, coming to a jarring stop. It was over. The dust hanging in the air was the only sign now that anything was amiss. Jordan was hanging upside down in his seat belt harness, unconscious and bleeding.
The other craft came in low and hovered over the fallen plane for a moment before lifting straight up and then suddenly darting off at impossible speed.
The forest was quiet now except for the excited chirped alarms of the chipmunks and squirrels that had just had their space invaded by the torn and mangled Cessna.