David W Moore III

Main page for the written works of David W Moore III

The Shroud (an excerpt)



Prologue





Italy

1046 A.D.





Abbot Thomas barely noticed the familiar echoes of the canto as he concentrated on the numbers in front of him. Winter would be upon them soon and he worried that their food stores would not be enough. Another barrel of grain had fallen prey to rats. At the very least, there were going to be some very thin monks come spring.

He put the quill down and stretched his neck. His large wooden desk was covered with reports, most with dire comments added by the Dean. God will provide. He had every winter before, but Abbot Thomas was of the opinion that God helped those who help themselves. Besides there wasn’t much else he could do. The bishop had responded with generic sympathy to his letter requesting aid. The lack of subtlety in his retelling of the fable of the boy who cried wolf only belabored the futility of his request. Why was it that the lambs could cry hungry in the field while the shepherd could sell his post for money? With all the popes and anti-popes, it didn’t surprise him that Benedict IX had abdicated to Pope Gregory VI in return for a large sum of money.

He was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear Brother Stefano knocking insistently on his doorframe. After a full minute restlessly waiting to be acknowledged, Brother Stefano cleared his throat loudly, startling the abbot out of his reverie.

“Abbot…”

“Yes, Brother Stefano. What do you need this late at night that couldn’t wait until morning?”

“You must come. Come at once,” Brother Stefano hesitated as if struggling to find the right words. “You must see this yourself.” He looked down at the floor subserviently as he finished the last statement as if he suddenly realized that he was commanding the Abbot.

Abbot Thomas studied the small man for a moment. His robes were disheveled and not tied fast. He realized that he had been struggling to catch his breath for the few minutes he stood before him. He might have noticed that earlier if he hadn’t been so caught up in his musings. What could have this brother so agitated?

“All right. Don’t worry; Stefano, you and I have been brothers long enough for me not to take offense at mere words from you. What is this emergency that dictates my presence?”

“Come quickly. It’s Brother David. He… His eyes…” Brother Stefano seemed at a loss again. “Just follow me. I’ve seen nothing like this before; I’ve only read of such things.”

The abbot shut his book, stood up, and motioned Brother Stefano to lead the way. They hurried down the hall in silence. He had expected to get more of an explanation on the way, but Brother Stefano had said all that he would on the matter. The only sounds breaking the silence were the rustling of their robes and the slapping of their sandals on the cold stone floor.

As they approached Brother David’s cell, the air became denser, somehow thicker. The light that came through the doorway was whiter than candlelight should have been. It was as if it were daylight beyond the threshold instead of almost midnight. What is going on? Still hesitating outside the door, he heard sounds of a quiet struggle inside.

Abbot Thomas steeled himself against whatever might be waiting for him on the other side and pasted a look of calm confidence on his face. Brother Stefano impatiently urged him forward. Once inside, the first thing he noticed was the two monks struggling on the cot set along the wall to his right. Brother Timothy was holding Brother David in a prone position, but not without a lot of effort. The abbot’s glance darted about the rest of the cell that was significantly smaller than his. Brother Stefano waited in the hall to give them some space. Other than the cot and the two monks, there was only barely room for the small table that held a wooden bowl half-filled with water and an unlit candle. An unlit candle? Where is the light coming from? His eyes searched apprehensively across the room, looking for an explanation. The light seemed to emanate from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. He crossed himself quickly while muttering a prayer under his breath.

Suddenly, Brother David stiffened, ceasing his struggles. Brother Timothy kept his grip on his shoulders but looked over questioningly at the abbot. No one appeared to have the will to break the silence. What had Brother Stefano been babbling about when he had come to summon him? His eyes? Brother David’s eyes had remained closed the entire time the abbot had been standing in the room, so he had no idea what was of importance with them. But there was something else beyond the inexplicable light, something subtler. Then he realized that the hairs on his arm were standing on end. The air, though stiflingly still, felt like it did just before a thunderstorm. He moved his hand to feel the outline of the cross he wore under his robe. The feeling of the worn edges under the rough fabric was only slightly calming. All thoughts of grain levels and bishops and popes had fled from his mind.

Then Brother David’s eyes snapped open.

The abbot’s mouth flooded with the taste of copper. At the edge of his perceptions, he barely registered the pain in his hand as he gripped the cross as tightly as he could. Brother David’s eyes were completely white from edge to edge. No. Not just white. All the light in the room seemed to originate from them. There were no shadows to confirm this thought, but he was absolutely certain of it. The eyes pulled and tugged his own, and gripped them tight. There was no way to tell exactly where they were looking, but he knew they were boring into him, deep into his soul. He could feel steely fingers rifling through his brain, taking inventory. He wanted nothing more than to say a prayer, but his mind was just as paralyzed as his body.

Seemingly without effort, Brother David sat up, sloughing the monk off him with supernatural ease. He turned his head directly toward Abbot Thomas, peering through unseeing eyes. The two of them sat motionless, staring at each other, one with barely contained fright in his eyes, the other with no discernible expression at all. The monk on the floor remained motionless. Abbot Thomas was worried that he might be hurt, but couldn’t gather the necessary will to tear his eyes from Brother David to check.

An eternity passed and neither moved, not even to breathe. Time stood still, a captive audience, trapped by the current flowing between them. The abbot assumed that Brother Stefano was still waiting just outside the door, but that was miles away in another time. Finally, a raspy, thin sound came out of Brother David’s mouth, as if he were not in the habit of speaking.

“When golems walk through firefly rain, when mankind lives in the heart of glass, playing out vitrified un-lives in formless clouds, then there shall come to pass, a great plague. It will be the longest plague to threaten this world.”

Abbot Thomas could see nothing but the two pristine white, bright orbs in front of him. He could hear no sound but the rattling voice. He knew that what he was witnessing here was beyond him. Firefly rain and hearts of glass? Brighter minds might be able to make something out of this. But it was obvious to him that this was of extreme importance. He realized in a corner of his mind that he was being enchanted in some way, but he knew that it was not magic. This was like pure prophesy from the days of the Old Testament gripping his mind with its power. He would have to commit as much of it to memory as he could. He suspected many lives and many souls could depend on what was said here.

“Hordes of locusts will cover the land, more locusts than a thousand monks could count in their lifetimes. But they shall be as one beast, intent upon scouring the earth. They will resurrect the Tower of Babel and revel in its shadow. Blasphemy shall be the law of the land, and the righteous shall be trodden on the ground as discarded offal.”

“But…” the abbot interrupted, surprising himself at his action.

Brother David continued, oblivious to the interruption. “But that is all inevitable and quite unstoppable. There is, however, a greater evil riding upon that wave. It must be stopped. It shall spring from the upside down and inverted. It will crawl onto this earth, a beggar and a thief. And men shall rejoice in it as a miracle. It will be a hollow thing and like an empty husk, it is better thrown on the compost heap. Know this: from whence it comes, shall also come the remedy. The inside out and upside down must be turned out and upright. The painted looking glass will show…”

Brother David hesitated and a pained look formed on his face.

“The painted looking glass…”

Brother David’s body convulsed. He threw his head back violently as a high-pitched keening emitted from his mouth. Abbot Thomas noticed dark, almost black-lined shadows playing across the walls for the first time since he entered the room. They looked less like the shadows thrown from a candle than individual living things running about. He could somehow feel a childish glee radiating from them.

“The painted…”

A tortured scream erupted from Brother David as his body slammed back onto the wooden cot with enough force to make it jump off the floor. The shadows whirled around the room faster and faster, darting momentarily toward Brother David before jerking back to the wall. It seemed to Abbot Thomas like they were trying to gather confidence, almost as if they were actually alive. Brother David continued to lay motionless on the cot, his face contorted in pain. The abbot tried to step forward to help him but still had no control over his limbs.

All at once, the light that had flooded the room was extinguished. For a moment it was pitch black and the abbot could see nothing at all but the after-image of Brother David’s body stretched taut on his cot. As his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he realized that there was a bit of candle light flickering from the hallway. Brother Stefano was apparently still there.

“Brother Stefano,” he croaked, his throat sore as if he had been screaming.

“Brother Stefano, come in at once. I need your candle.”

Without uttering a word, Brother Stefano rushed in. He lit the candle on the table before placing his beside it. He looked at Abbot Thomas with fear in his eyes, but didn't say a word. Then he noticed the monk on the floor. He stooped down and put his face next to the monks face. After a minute he looked up at the abbot and nodded, the worry in his face lessening a bit.

The abbot tore his gaze away from the two monks and worked up the courage to turn back to the cot and Brother David. He was still there, lying on the cot, but now he was in the depths of shadows. What was even stranger was that it looked like some of the shadows were under his skin, not on top of it. There! That one definitely just flowed out of his mouth and down his neck. Now that he had noticed, he saw ripples moving under Brother David’s robe like fish swimming just under the water’s surface. They were becoming more frenetic with each passing moment, circling the cot and one by one leaping off the floors and walls to writhe on his body. Abbot Thomas reached inside his robe and pulled out the cross he had been gripping tightly for the last ten minutes. He held it out toward the shadow-shrouded figure, hoping to ward them off.

“Abbot?” Brother Stefano stopped, realizing he didn’t know what to ask.

“Stay back, Stefano.” There was still an oppressive weight in the room. The air itself pressed down, making it hard to breathe and harder still to talk. But there was a noise, something in the background. At first it sounded like a rustling, maybe rats digging through the grain. No. Maybe it was a rattling. It was definitely in this room even though it sounded like it was far away, but approaching. As it grew in volume, he still could not identify exactly what he was hearing. He looked over at Brother Stefano. After a moment of eye contact and an unspoken question, Stefano nodded, acknowledging the shared experience. At least I’ve not gone mad. The sound was becoming clearer. Maddeningly, it remained just beyond his grasp. He noticed more movement from Brother David on the cot. The shadows had coalesced into a single sheet of black velvet, draped over his body like a blanket. There was a rhythmical rise and fall under it, too fast to be breathing. Maybe…

Laughter. It was laughter coming from Brother David. It was not a happy or joyful laughter by any means. Abbot Thomas had not heard laughter like this ever before. It had an edge of pain coloring an otherwise brutal staccato. Brother David slowly propped himself up as his laughter continued to grow louder.

“Stopped? Stopped? You think this can be stopped?”

Brother David’s voice had taken on a deeper, more feral tone. Abbot Thomas wondered if there was anything left of the monk he knew inside. Brother David opened his eyes, eyes that moments before had been white and illuminating. Now they were obsidian windows, looking into a vast abyss that the abbot barely had the strength to keep from falling toward. He couldn’t see the surface of them, just darkness like one of the shadows compressed and concentrated into a maleficent orb.

“You impudent men.” The last word was spit out with particular vehemence, “You can’t stop this. You will bring this upon yourselves, and in so doing, cement the inevitability of your demise. Created in God’s image. Ha! You don’t have the slightest idea of the smallest part of your God. You make my argument for me.”

The shadows began spinning maniacally, creating a dizzying effect. Abbot Thomas felt nauseous.

“You are the locusts! You are the plague. What greater plague could be thrust upon mankind than itself?” Brother David began laughing once again inter-spaced with a wet coughing that slowly wound down to an inhuman chuckle.

Abbot Thomas could not move, but he saw Brother Stefano slip out the door.

“If I had the power in my hands to command His attention… You squander it every day. You are a petty, violent, puerile people.

The small part of the abbot’s brain that he could still control hoped that Brother Stefano would return with help soon.

“You buy and sell your way into His presence for mere money, as if that makes any difference to Him. You fight and kill each other over who knows Him the best. It’s an unending farce. And yet, He forgives you. He loves you. I can kill and maim. I too can garner His attention… Know this: as time moves forward, so does it bring you closer to the moment. Remember, you will ask for this. You will be your own downfall.”

Brother David grasped the edge of the cloak of shadow and slowly lifted it off his body. It flowed like a sheet of linen, but one made up of living snakes.

“Look at me, man of God!”

Brother David's eyes sucked the heat out of the room. “You think you are righteous, but don’t tell me you’ve never thought ill of another. You can’t tell me you’ve never wanted to wring the neck of that silly bishop of yours.”

The abbot stood unmoving, hearing nothing but the voice issuing from Brother David’s mouth, and some distant applause. What is that noise? His attention focused once again as Brother David flung the cloak at him. Blackness overcame him as the shadows fought to enter his body.

“Don’t fight it,” he heard from a distance, as the applause seemed to be getting louder. Applause? That can’t be right. He was fighting for his very soul and someone was clapping? There was a pressure on his chest. Something warm and slippery wound its way around his neck. He couldn’t open his mouth to breathe for fear of inhaling one of the shadows. His head was pounding, but it was fading. Everything was fading. From a great distance he heard shouting. Then the shadow began shaking him. Flames danced around him throwing their flickering light onto his eyelids. The shadows lifted him back to his feet, but he refused to breathe or open his eyes.

“Abbot!”

Brother Stefano? No, you were supposed to escape.

“Breathe!”

Abbot Thomas opened his eyes. Three other monks crowded into the cell, each holding two candles. The shadows had retreated to Brother David back on the cot. The smile on his face had a sadistic tilt to it. The abbot sucked in as much air as he could to chase away the spots floating in front of his eyes. At least they seemed to be spots and not shadows.

“Saved by your holy men. It matters not. Now, I must leave, but I will return. I will be asked to return. Until then...” Brother David’s laugh was more the bark of a rabid dog than laughter, but it continued on for at least a minute while the monks tried to steady their abbot. Finally Brother David fell back onto his cot and was silent. The shadows that had seemed to have a life of their own were now tethered to the flames of the candles. The chill that had come upon the room during Brother David's possession slowly receded.

Brother Stefano cautiously approached the cot and leaned over the unmoving monk. He looked up and shook his head. Abbot Thomas said a small prayer and began ushering the monks out of the cell. He had a lot to do before the sun rose tomorrow.




*~*~*~*




From a letter to Gregory VI from Bishop Ruiz:



Holy Father,



I thank you once again for this appointment you gave me, although I feel you may be testing me. This flock is very troubled.

I have mentioned the abbot who whines for more riches for his abbey than he truly needs. He has now gone too far. In an attempt to bring our attention upon him, he has concocted a story that is truly unbelievable. He would have us think that the prophets of old live in his community. He tries to disguise the untimely death of one of his with a fantastical story of impending doom. And when is this doom descending upon us? He doesn’t know. He speaks in riddles and rhymes.

I am tempted to have him flogged for his negligence, but I will rely upon your wisdom in this matter. Please advise me on how this situation should be handled.



Yours in Christ,

Bishop Carlos San Ruiz

 

 

 

Chapter 1





Italy

1987





Three shadows huddled together, moving purposefully down the cobbled street as one. No cars passed at this time of night when the silence pressed down as ominously as the dark. The three shadows were almost indistinguishable from each other, wrapped in black overcoats and topped with equally black hats. One carried a small satchel at his side, protecting it with both hands. They all stopped at the same time, looking warily in all directions.

“Are we sure this is the right thing to do?” Father Joseph asked the other two priests.

“This is but a small transgression,” Father Anthony answered without hesitation. “And in this case, the end... The end is almost unimaginable. When, in the history of mankind, has anyone ever had the opportunity to do anything nearly as great as what we begin tonight?”

“Be quiet, you two. This isn't the place for this,” Father Michael whispered. The youngest of the three by a visible margin, he peered nervously down the alley where they huddled. “We've had conversations about this ad nauseum, and we've all agreed that we have an opportunity here that can't be passed up. Now isn't the time for cold feet. Come on; let's go before someone sees us.”

Nodding against a sudden cold breeze, the three priests continued down the alley to a small set of marble steps leading to a side entrance to the Guarini Chapel. As they stopped, Father Anthony pulled his coat tighter around his body, shivering against the cold. The domed top of the chapel loomed oppressively above, more felt than seen. He always forgot the physical presence of history in Italian architecture.

Father Anthony took the lead up the steps, looking back only to see that the others followed. When he reached the ancient looking chapel door, he stopped and knocked lightly on its burled surface. The three priests waited in the cold January air. The other two priests looked at Father Anthony expectantly.

Nothing happened.

Father Joseph fidgeted nervously. “Why isn't he here? Did we get the wrong time?”

Father Anthony knocked again, louder than before. Father Joseph's eyes searched the alley as if for looking someone to apprehend them. Both he and Father Michael looked like they might bolt at any minute.

“Calm down. This is the right time, and the right place,” Father Anthony admonished. “Give him a minute or two. It is a large building.”

“But he knows we are coming? I thought this was all arranged. Can we really trust someone who'd sell out their religion for a sack of money?” Father Joseph lifted the satchel he had been carrying at his side.

Before Father Anthony could respond, they heard the muffled sound of footsteps approaching from the other side of the door. It opened just wide enough for them to get a glimpse of a dark uniform blocking the entrance.

“Avete i soldi?” the guard asked.

“What?” asked Father Joseph, jumping slightly.

“He's just asking about the money,” said Father Anthony. “Show him the bag, Father Joseph, so we can get in out of the cold.”

Father Joseph unzipped the satchel and opened it to show the neatly banded stacks of bills. Gunther had helped come up with the funds needed to complete his work, otherwise they would be trying to do this Mission Impossible style, and he doubted that they had that kind of ability. The guard quickly stepped back and opened the door without once taking his eyes off the bag. One must sometimes deal with those of questionable morals to do a greater good.

The three priests stepped into a dimly lit hallway and watched the guard re-lock the door. They stood in what appeared to be a service hallway with only a few security lights on at this time of night.

“Seguimi,” the guard whispered, motioning for them to follow.

“He wants us to follow him,” Of the three, Father Anthony was the only one who understood Italian.

“Yeah, I think we got that one,” Father Michael whispered sarcastically, already a few steps down the hall.

They followed the guard, turning often in the labyrinthine hallway before reaching another door. The guard punched a handful of numbers on a keypad inset beside the door. Before punching the last number, he paused and turned to face the priests.

“Ora. Dammi i soldi prima di spegnere l'allarme.”

“Not a very trusting guard,” said Father Anthony. “He wants the money before he turns off the alarm. Father Joseph?”

Father Joseph reluctantly handed over the satchel hoping that once paid for, he would stay paid for. The last thing they needed was to get arrested. What would the rest of the church think, rogue priests trying to steal the shroud?

The guard turned back and continued punching keys until they heard a high-pitched chirp and a green light flashed on the top of the screen. He stepped back, motioning the priests forward as he began to sift through the stacks of bills in the bag.

“Well, I guess that is all the permission we are going to get,” Father Anthony muttered as he reached to open the door.

Even in the dim off-hours light, the sight as he opened the door was enough to freeze them all in place. The altar was set elevated on a black marble rotunda surrounded by a balustrade of gilt wood. The altar itself was constructed of the same black marble and seemed to absorb all the light in the room, and transport it into the sparse white veining. Four golden angels guarded each corner of the altar, their wings stretched out behind them, shielding it. Father Anthony barely noted the bronze friezes that adorned the altar. He had seen many churches and cathedrals, but none hummed with the power that he felt here.

“Dietro l'altere,” said the guard who had entered unnoticed behind them. “Seguimi.”

Father Anthony followed the guard behind the altar to a heavy looking iron grill set into the back. The guard inserted something into it and slowly swung it open. Inside, barely visible in the shadows was a silver reliquary in the shape of a small coffin. He gingerly lifted it out and set it down on the rotunda. The three priests were motionless, staring at it in awe. The guard carefully opened it and stepped away, motioning to the priests. They gathered around the case, speechless.

Father Anthony turned to Father Joseph and whispered reverently, “Do it.”

Father Joseph reached into the reliquary and lifted out the ancient folded linen. He stood up and placed it on the altar. As he unfolded it, he noted the patches where molten silver had damaged the shroud centuries earlier. Only seconds saved this cloth from total destruction in that fire. This endeavor would have been impossible. In all the millennia of earth's existence, a blink in eternity's eye and, no matter the technology, the downfall of man would have continued unchecked.

“The Shroud of Turin,” he whispered. “The sacred burial cloth that covered Jesus after he was crucified.” He turned to the other priests and spoke louder. “Shouldn't we say some sort of prayer?”

Father Anthony shook his head, “Just get it over with before something happens.”

Father Joseph made the sign of the cross, and then removed a small vial and scalpel from the pocket of his overcoat. He ran his fingers just above the surface of the cloth from the beard-covered face down to the hands. This close up, it was hard to decipher the sepia-toned negative image of the body, but the bloodstains were fairly obvious. “There,” he said pointing to the wrist. “And there, at the head as well.” He hesitated as he moved the scalpel closer to the shroud.

“Don't worry, Father. All will be forgiven when this is over.” Father Anthony waved his hands at him impatiently. “Just scrape some off. You don't have to actually cut the cloth.”

Father Joseph lightly scraped a few flakes into the vial, taking care not to damage the cloth. He held the vial up to the light, looking to see how much he had.

“How much do we need? I've got some here, but...” Father Joseph asked.

“He said the more the better, try a little more. It's not like we can come back for more if we don't get enough the first time, and if we steal the whole shroud, there's a chance its absence might be noticed.”

Father Joseph nodded and scraped more before pocketed the vial and folding the shroud back into the reliquary. Father Michael came over to help him lift the heavy box. Together, they walked it back behind the altar, where the guard was waiting.

As they slid it back into the opening, Father Michael asked, “What's that blinking red light? Is that part of the security system?” He pointed deep into the opening behind the reliquary.

Father Anthony translated the question for the guard. The guard immediately became agitated, shoving them aside to peer intently into the darkness. He jumped back and slammed the iron grill shut with a loudly echoing clang, eyes wild.

“Afrettatevi. È necessario partire immediatamente!” He shouted as he shooed them toward the door.

The guard shouted a long stream of Italian as he locked the grill with shaking hands.

“Go!” Father Anthony shouted, running to the door. “We need to leave now. He said it's not part of their alarm. He doesn't know who it's warning.”

The three priests ran down the hallway while the guard struggled to reset the alarm. They struggled to retrace their earlier path in their haste.

When they got to the street, Father Joseph stopped them.

“Here. You should take this,” he said as he handed the vial to Father Michael. “You're the youngest. If it comes to a foot race, you have the better chance. But please, be careful with it. This is the Lord's blood.”

Father Anthony looked about nervously, “We should split up. Meet back at the hotel only if you are sure you're not being followed.”

The other priests nodded their assent. Father Anthony and Father Joseph ran off in opposite directions, their obsidian cloaks flapping like giant wings. Even in the midst of all the pandemonium, Father Michael managed a light chuckle at the picture. The image brought visions of comic book pages he'd read as a child to his mind.

Lost in thought, he almost didn't hear the footsteps coming from behind. He barely had time to dive behind some nearby shrubs before a dark figure turned the corner and raced up the street to stop at the exit from the chapel. He watched as the figure walked surreptitiously up the steps to check the door.

Father Michael held his breath as he tried to remain as still as possible. His heart beat harder than he had ever felt it. He hunched down, trying to make himself as small as possible. Fortunately the dark would add to his cover. He was having his own trouble making out any features on the man standing in the open. All he could distinguish was his red hair.

Apparently, deciding that the door was locked and no one was coming out anytime soon, the man ran down the street in the direction Father Anthony had taken.

I'm not cut out for this kind of thing. Father Michael finally let out his breath. Who was that guy? Certainly not the police. No uniform and no backup, and cops usually don't travel alone. He shook his head. I watch too many cop shows. But, if he wasn't with the church and he wasn't with the cops...

Father Michael waited a few more minutes to make sure the stranger didn't return, and then crawled out from behind the bushes. He searched for signs of the stranger, then having satisfied himself that he was alone, he turned toward the direction Father Joseph had taken. He had plenty of time during the walk back to the hotel to be puzzled by the unknown man.

Two hours later, the three gathered back in their hotel room. Father Michael paced back and forth, full of nervous energy. The other two priests sat on the edge of one of the twin beds, watching as the sun began to rise.

“But who was that?” Father Michael asked, addressing the elephant in the room. “It wasn't the police or someone from the cathedral.”

“It doesn't matter...” said Father Anthony.

“Doesn't matter? Father Michael turned to face him. “Doesn't matter? Don't you think some stranger setting up an alarm on the shroud and chasing us all over town at three in the morning is important. Doesn't that concern you?”

“Keep your voice down. Yes, of course it bothers me. But look at the end result: we weren't caught. As far as we know, we weren't even seen. And as far as the larger goal, he is totally irrelevant. Why someone was watching the shroud is a mystery. Indeed, it is a somewhat troubling mystery. However, it doesn't concern us. For all we know, he might be somewhere across town right now wondering why his alarm malfunctioned. Do we know if he actually saw any of us?”

He paused. When no one said anything, he continued, “We left no visible evidence. It would take a microscopic examination of the exact spot to see what we did, and with all the testing done in the last couple years, what was found would be written off as part of that. In fact, unless the guard talks... And why would he? We gave him one thousand reasons not to.” Father Anthony quickly stood up and grabbed Father Michael's shoulder, stopping him as he tried to pace past. “It's okay. We got what we needed. We weren't caught. No one else knows about the cloning except Gunther and Mary, and neither of them knows all the details. Most people don't even realize cloning is possible. Our plans are safe.”

“Possible, yes, but this will be the first human cloning. Do you think Gunther can do what he promises?” Father Michael relaxed slightly as the subject changed.

“Have some faith. We are bringing about the second coming of the Lord. The little things will take care of themselves. This is meant to be.”

Father Joseph added, “Anthony is right, Michael. We have what we need and can now get it to Gunther so he can start his part of this endeavor. We should be rejoicing, not fighting.