DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY FOUR
Patrol boats have stopped us twice and sent us on our way. Both were satisfied with our paper work and seemed even less curious when they learned our port of call was not to be the capital, but a port hundreds of miles from here.
I suppose if we were headed to the capital we would have come under closer scrutiny.
One of the officers was curious about the shortage of people bearing the Mark among us. They boasted that this definitely will be the last voyage for the ship under those circumstances. Elijah kept to the special cabin whenever officials were aboard. Each time the Captain was relieved when he did so without being asked.
And so it goes.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY FIVE
We were detained crossing the mouth of the gulf that leads to the capital. A flotilla of warships is stationed there.
The latest patrol boat brought us alongside the vessel of the commodore of the flotilla. Evidently our clearances from the first two patrol boats had not yet made it through their systems.
It took a while for the Captain to sort out the issues with the commodore.
I was called upon to give a full accounting of everything on board and their destinations. We were helped along by two facts. They had records for the long ago transfer of weapons to the robotic warship, and for our most recent delivery.
They thanked us and sent us on our way.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY SIX
Tomas has relieved me from all watch duty. The danger from pirates has past. Though we still exert caution not to call undue attention to ourselves from the patrolling naval vessels which seem to be everywhere.
The Captain estimates that we are three days out from our next port of call. Therefore he asked me to prepare the list of containers that will be offloaded there.
In the process I discovered a listing for a container with no destination information on its original paper work. I queried Tomas about this. He told me he had discovered the same anomaly when he was filling in as purser, but hadn’t had any time to investigate.
I put it first on my list.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY SEVEN
Elijah tells me I worry too much. I had been explaining to him my concern about the mysterious container, and the fact that it is buried so deep in the hold that we cannot get at it while we are underway, that he stopped me mid-explanation and told me to forget about it until such time that I can do something.
Sage advice. But how to put it into practice. I feel such responsibility to the Captain, to the crew, and to the ship.
After expressing this sentiment, Elijah gave me a sterner talking to, but in the end let me down gently. I felt more peaceful afterwards. And I realize now I can last til the next port.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY EIGHT
The Captain called me to the bridge in the forenoon. I’d been busy crunching numbers so I welcomed the interruption to get away from my desk and office.
I was surprised however to learn the reason for my summons. The Captain handed me his binoculars and pointed to the shore. He said our next port used to be there.
I looked, but beyond a screen of naval ships it was hard to make out what I was seeing.
It helped when he added that skyscrapers used to stand where an inlet of water lay.
I wondered out loud why the Commodore had not forewarned us.
The Captain shrugged and asked me to prepare things for the port next in line.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED SEVENTY NINE
We should arrive at the next port of call sometime in the early morning. Plenty of time to prepare my lists. Or add to the one I had put together already.
In any case, I’ve been instructed to offload the containers due at the port we could not enter. The Captain reasons that someone who can claim them, may be at this “neighboring” port.
I’ve not seen Elijah all day. And Tomas repeated the same observation to me when he dropped in after dinner. He helped me plot a way to bring up the mystery container before making a search for our elusive friend.
Afterwards I swung by the special cabin. No Elijah.
I refreshed my soul before turning in.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY
This is a busy port. We waited several hours for a space dockside to open up.
The naval patrol off the harbor supplies all pilots for vessels seeking to enter the port. Apparently our ship is now in their system, so there was no fuss upon our arrival. But I thought it strange that they don’t use it to keep up a more controlled flow in and out.
While we were awaiting a berth, Tomas accompanied the pilot everywhere around the ship. Only then did I realize that such arrangements gave them more time and more access to fully check out each vessel.
Elijah has finally reappeared. He wants to go ashore and rejoin the ship at a later date.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY ONE
Elijah wants me to accompany him. Not just ashore, but to continue across this subcontinent and perhaps rejoin the ship at a port on the other side.
I want to go, but not before discharging my responsibilities.
Elijah will wait, but will wander around the waterfront in the meantime.
We have landed the cargo for this port and that of the prior one. Due to our status (i.e. No mark) we will not be allowed to take on any other business. That cuts our time short here. The Captain and I had to battle the port authorities for more time and space to get down to that mystery container.
They only relented, when we shared our suspicions of potential danger.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY TWO
The light of the sun now shines into the depths of the ship’s hold. All to reveal a hollow space in the midst of the other containers. Was there ever a container there at all?
Tomas surmises that someone or “someones” on the crew arranged it in order to have a private spot for illicit activity. I’m not so sure. There are no signs that the space was ever occupied. And if ever there was a container to go with the paper work it must have been removed long ago. All that remains is the mystery.
I left Tomas to supervise the reloading and sought Elijah.
I found him only to learn we will not be allowed to stay ashore.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY THREE
Elijah won’t be dissuaded. He plans to go on shore at the earliest opportunity.
Our ship has been waiting in the roads all day. The Captain has been giving the authorities a series of excuses as to why we haven’t left yet. Any longer and their patience will be used up.
Neither of us can swim that far, and Elijah doesn’t want to show off by walking in from here.
Tomas thinks our only option would be to go on to the next port and perhaps we will be allowed to land there.
Elijah and I drew apart to discuss that option. Neither one of us felt that was the answer.
We climbed to the highest point on the ship.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY FOUR
We were lifted on the wings of the Spirit and borne over water and the city itself. And deposited gently in a field beside a road running from the city.
Elijah wasted no time in taking up the advance down the road. I asked why we were bypassing the port city. He explained that he already knew that any followers of Hamashiach had left long ago. And that we no doubt had a long way to go before encountering any, if at all.
Miles and miles of dusty road, and not a village, nor even a house did we pass by. It was like the city behind us had sucked its surroundings into its sprawl, leaving the vast countryside empty.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY FIVE
We have passed through areas of wholesale destruction off and on. But those spaces in between them were empty also. I am beginning to think that perhaps we should have stayed with the ship.
Elijah continuously moves forward unperturbed. Even the sight of mangled cattle whose carcasses we have to skirt around does not slow him down.
Then the sky brightened over the road ahead of us, and my spirits were buoyed.
At one point we were climbing out of a hollow and a great darkness was mounting in the sky behind us and rapidly overtaking the smiling skies to our front.
We stepped up the pace towards a line of rocky hills and there sheltered in a shallow cave.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY SIX
After our night in the shallow cave, we had to climb to higher ground in order to gain access to the road again. Standing water in the wake of the storm left the road inaccessible at the lower levels.
Elijah thinks it may take a month or more to reach the other coast. This gave me pause. Would we be able to rejoin the ship again if it took that long?
Elijah knew the answer, of course. The Captain had confided to him the ship was due for a lengthy refit at a shipyard when finished with their deliveries on that side.
We may very well arrive before the ship is prepared for the next leg of their voyage.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN
Another hot, dusty day has left me longing for the rains of yesterday. Meager clouds scudded along overhead with not a hint of cooling relief.
But we discovered a stream which flows over a rocky bed and stopped to refresh ourselves. It felt wonderful to wash the dust off of our feet. We took to the road again with a renewed spring to our step.
Conversation circled around the continuing lack of people. We passed through a couple of intact villages. All signs point to a hurried abandonment by the inhabitants.
They appeared to have fled in the same direction we are heading.
Elijah thinks that we may overtake some of them before much longer.
We both hope so.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY EIGHT
No stream today. No rain. No breeze. No shade anywhere. The very ground beneath our feet radiated heat. I felt we were marching our way to the sun.
So providential to have a full water skin.
Elijah and I discussed walking by night instead, but first we would need to find a place to stay out of the glare.
We took turns pouring water over ourselves, to benefit from some coolness by its evaporation.
At long last the shadows lengthened and we came upon a place suitable enough in which to weather tomorrow’s furnace.
We’d hardly exchanged any conversation all day. We rested and talked. And decided it best to press on, not wanting to lose a night’s march.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE
Another day was dawning and we had not yet found a suitable place to pass the day. Until Elijah spotted a hovel some distance off the beaten path.
We made our way to it, down a culvert and up the other side. It was one room with earthen walls and floor – deserted, and for quite some time.
Elijah stood watch while I slept. However, he judged there was nothing to fear, so he did not waken me to stand a watch, but turned in himself.
I awoke in a panic to a new night. And then anger with my friend for not letting me cover my watch.
He finally calmed me with assurances that we had nothing to fear.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY
We made progress for only half the night, when the light from the moon lit our way. Otherwise we were at a crawl until it’s rise.
We found another hovel in which to rest and pass the heat of the day. Elijah acceded to my wishes and split the watch duties with me. Though he upset me again when he chose not to wake me when a vehicle passed by on the road during his watch.
As explanation he said it bore the logo of a globe, and therefore he judged it as something to avoid.
Anyway, I returned the favor, I decided not to wake him when I saw a globe logo on the side of a truck.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY ONE
The terrain of our passage last night was for the most part level and easy going. I judge that we have covered the most ground yet.
As the first glimmer of dawn was stretching its fingers in our direction it revealed a town huddled around the road ahead.
Again no inhabitants were evident. Though the sound of engines rumbled somewhere within.
We were cautious on approach.
Elijah was intent on finding the best place to rest for the day. I was alert for the source of the engine noise.
Our road did not take a direct route through the town, but took a right turn off a central square.
As we took that turn we saw a truck speed away.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY TWO
We made some unsettling discoveries after the truck sighting. It effected our choice of shelter and our security consciousness.
Detritus in front of one building led us to surmise that the truck had been positioned outside. We entered. In Elijah’s evaluation it was a temple of some kind. I had the same thought, but was puzzled at its barrenness. But then with that truck, its contents could have been carted away easily.
Then around in a candle lit alcove the image of Stan looked benignly down upon us.
We left immediately and looked for a place to rest far away from that edifice.
A fitful day passed with frequent watch changes.
Come night we shook its dust from our feet.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY THREE
The drought of people has come to an end. Scores of travelers, all lighting their way with torches, passed us on the road tonight, heading to the town behind us.
Elijah questioned the first group. They are under orders to proceed back to their homes and are to be in place before a scheduled census. To a man they are filled with praise for the world government and are eager to please its supreme leader.
Subsequent individuals related the same sentiments and were questioning why we were headed away from the town.
Elijah simply replied that we were under other orders.
With the new day it was difficult to find an unoccupied shelter, as many travelers had the same thought.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY FOUR
Many of the villages we are passing have lights within. And dogs which bark at us. A few even chased us. But not for long. When Elijah turned on them, staff in hand, they stopped in their tracks and bolted for home.
The image of Stan continues to haunt us. His visage stares out from posters plastered on walls throughout the villages and towns. Some have incense burning before them and offerings of bits of fruit. It turns my stomach. Elijah does not even deign to look.
Some are wary of us. Most are just curious.
Elijah learned that there is excitement about the upcoming census. And I learned that the prospect of renewed global communication is all the buzz.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY FIVE
We have gained in elevation, and the temperature has dropped in consequence. So we have chosen to make a long march of it and switch over to traveling in the daytime.
Come sunrise there was no place to shelter anyway, so we had another reason to press onwards.
Past the meridian we arrived at a teeming metropolis. We experienced no problems at all upon entry. Apparently no control or restrictions are being exercised at this time over people’s comings and goings.
And we had no trouble either in finding an inn. A notable blessing, as we were exhausted and turned in immediately.
We awoke in the early evening as our bodies are still attuned to nocturnal activity.
But what now?
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY SIX
Elijah made a brief foray into the busy streets of the metropolis last evening, just to get oriented. I took the opportunity for some alone time with the Spirit.
A good thing. Otherwise I would not have been open to Elijah’s proposal this morning that we spend a few days here searching for followers of Hamashiach. I would have much rather been pressing onward to our rendezvous with the ship. But the Spirit has made it very clear we are not yet released to continue on our trek.
There is a great hubbub everywhere. The people are resettling back into their homes after an absence. And everywhere you turn representatives of the world government are facilitating and controlling it.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY SEVEN
Elijah decided to change inns, to go on into another section of the metropolis. Our canvass of the first area had come up empty. Not even a hint of any followers of Hamashiach anywhere.
We moved to an inn situated near the banks of a river that flows through this end of the metropolis. There are many fish shops all along its course that Elijah deems worthy prospects.
So far it has been easy to avoid encounters with government officials, both of the local kind and of the global.
Elijah has also made another decision. No longer shall we part ways, even if such a course would be helpful. He feels it important that the two witnesses be always together.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT
We have moved again. The area of the river has proven a disappointment. No shop under the sign of the fish has yielded any followers of Hamashiach, though we have one lead that has taken us further into the metropolis.
It took longer to find a place to stay, as this new area is central and quite populous. So many people chase the same vacancies. However, we were able to ask questions as we went about that business.
The bigger crowds were thronging the temple-like structures similar to the one we were in five days ago. I learned they have all been recently converted and are now places to honor the supreme leader.
With that knowledge we avoid them.
DAY FOUR HUNDRED NINETY NINE
Some disconcerting news. Along with the conversion of the local temples we have learned that they were despoiled of their precious possessions.
By some accounts, much gold and gems are now on their way to the global capital, with the blessing of the grateful inhabitants.
Elijah says it won’t be long now before things turn drastic. It has given us renewed impetus to soldier on.
To be thorough it may take the next two days, if they don’t eject us first. A couple of encounters today brought threats of setting the authorities on us – a real danger as the offices of the local government are nearby.
Elijah is considering sealing up the sky before our departure. But he’ll await confirmation.
DAY FIVE HUNDRED
The one lead we had from the river district was a dead end. We have only a third of the metropolis left to check. It seems more likely than not that no followers of Hamashiach remain to be found.
It is a severe disappointment to Elijah. Under his crusty exterior he is actually very tender.
We have moved again today. Our exit from the metropolis is only a day or two away. The slums will be the focus of our search next. Rather than stay in one place we plan to move about daily and stay wherever we land for the night.
I long to be back on the ship and among our friends. I wonder how they are faring.
DAY FIVE HUNDRED ONE
A momentous change over night. We left the central district of the metropolis moments before a lockdown. The local government is out, and the global authority is exercising full control.
Here in the slums there is no official authority, only that which is exerted by social groupings. So Elijah is confident we have a small window of opportunity to complete our task before they clamp down on this area too.
Already we have contacted several groups. They are alarmed by what is transpiring and thus may become natural allies.
Still no followers of Hamashiach among the people we’ve talked to so far, but one of them told us that he has crossed paths with one individual a number of times.
DAY FIVE HUNDRED TWO
The current realities are sending ripples of distrust and agitation through the slums, making it very hard to gain the good will of anyone we question. Most dismiss us outright, which frustrates Elijah.
But he won’t give up.
It seems the closer we come to the edge of the metropolis the more recent are the sightings of the lone follower of Hamashiach.
We’ve agreed to give it one more day here in the slums, then we will depart the metropolis and again take up our march to the other coast.
Others are also circulating the area in our wake announcing the rule of new masters in the city and handing out photos of the supreme leader, our “old friend,” Stan.