Jim reached for his cell phone to check the time. Sunday 7:30 am. No messages on his phone. He searched his closet for his clean pair of dress pants and the dress shirt that matched and put them on. The sound of the television penetrated his bedroom door from the downstairs living room where his dad and mom were watching. Last night Ouima, Chief High Messenger of the Council of World Eternal, had told the world that he would make an important announcement this morning.
“Unusual time for a speech,” Jim grumbled as he headed down the stairs.
His dad refilled his coffee cup and sat down in his chair. “It's 6:00 am at the United Nations Building,” he reminded him.
Nell looked up at her son standing at the bottom of the stairs. “Come join us, Jim. There’s scrambled eggs and toast in the kitchen. Mom said she didn't sleep well last night, so she's sleeping in.”
Jim managed a smile. His grandma usually slept in. “Okay, just let me get some coffee. Last night I promised Christine and Marcy I’d meet them for breakfast this morning.” He stepped into the kitchen and poured a cupful, then carried it into the living room and sat down on the sofa. “So how's the store coming, dad? Is there enough food for everyone?”
James muted the television. “Yesterday, Allen Crow gave us the fixtures from his market that World Eternal closed. After what Christine and Marcy found out about World Eternal’s seeds, many don't want to grow or eat WE foods. More and more people are finding out about the store and bringing in canned and frozen goods so they can trade.” He paused and sipped his coffee. “Our meat and dairy products are in high demand. Joe and Judy Miller are bringing milk from their cows every day, and it's snapped up.” He glanced at his watch. “It's time.” He turned the television sound on.
Ouima, Chief High Messenger of World Eternal and Secretary-General of the United Nations, strode onto the speaker's stand in the United Nations General Assembly Hall. His long red robe encircled his feet, and he carried his scepter. Its shimmering gold globe pulsated with light.
“Peoples of Earth,” Ouima began. “Seated before me are your leaders, rulers over every nation.” His white hair shone beneath his mitered, jewel-bedecked hat. The ridged veins on his forehead seemed to throb with his every word.
James scanned the audience. “I see our President Holden Garner, Britain's and Canada's Prime Ministers, France's president, and Russia's president. Most of the world's leaders are in the Assembly Hall, and of course, dozens of photographers and news people.
Ouima raised his scepter. “As Secretary-General, I have worked with every nation to come to some important resolutions and mandates. All have agreed to work together in order to present a united front. Working in unity is our first line of defense against The Haters of Everyone Mortal, or T.H.E.M., as you like to say.”
A video screen descended down the wall under the United Nations symbol, and a picture of a long, cylindrical space ship appeared.
Jim's mouth flew open in astonishment. “Just like the one Pat and I saw in the gulch!”
Ouima pointed to the picture. “We want you to see the enemy. This is one of T.H.E.M.'s space craft. Ships like this have been seen all over Earth.” Another picture appeared of a large rectangular space craft. “Now look at this vessel. Notice the top lights. See the large holding tanks on the bottom of this ship. We believe that T.H.E.M. used a ship like this, but much larger, to carry away the oil from your oil reserves.”
James couldn't believe what he was seeing. Were Ouima and World Eternal really working for the good of earth and its citizens?
“What does T.H.E.M. look like?” Ouima flashed his scepter. “They are masters of disguise and might look like any one of you. Your leaders and I request that you report anyone who does anything suspicious to the World Eternal police. World Eternal, or WE, as you are calling us, encourages you to help us watch for T.H.E.M.'s ships. Remember, they hate you and World Eternal. They will do anything to keep us, World Eternal, from accomplishing our goal of uniting Earth and the universe in peace and prosperity. Now I call upon the members of our new Earth Council to tell you how we are going to work together to overcome T.H.E.M.”
From out of nowhere, a World Eternal minister appeared beside Ouima. He called President Garner up on the stage and handed him a scepter, the exact image of the one Ouima held, but with a smaller ball.
Garner accepted the staff, then bowed to Ouima. “My fellow citizens of Earth,” he began. “I am Holden Garner, President of the United States of America. Our esteemed Secretary-General has also appointed me as President of the Earth Council, a group of special world leaders within the United Nations. You will learn more about the Earth Council very soon. It is a group of world leaders who work closely with Ouima and World Eternal's ministers.”
Garner glanced at his audience, then at Ouima, who nodded. Stepping forward, Garner pointed his scepter toward the world leaders seated in the General Assembly Hall. “The members of the Earth Council have collaborated with all the national leaders you see here to make some changes for the good of Planet Earth,” he said. “We are combining our militaries to make a powerful fighting force. Richard Cunningham, the United States Secretary of Defense, and Bulow, Advisor in Chief for the United States Department of Defense, and chosen military staff from other nations, will play an important role in commanding our defenses.”
A Chinese man walked onto the stage and stood on the other side of Ouima. The same WE minister appeared and handed him a scepter just like the one given to Garner. Ouima nodded at him, and he bowed to him and stepped forward.
“I am An Ming-hoa, Premier of the People's Republic of China,” he announced. “I am also the Food and Drug Secretary for the Earth Council. I am in charge of quality control and distribution for all of World Eternal's foods and medicines. I pledge to maintain purity and wholesomeness in the products our world consumes. It is my duty to ensure that each person in every nation has access to the nutrients he needs to lead a healthy and active life.”
Another stepped onto the stage. He took his scepter and bowed. “I am Sanjay Rohan, Prime Minister of the Republic of India. I am the Secretary of Fair Housing for the Earth Council. My duty is to see that no one on earth must sleep in the street.”
Jim shook his head to try to clear it of Ouima's hypnotic gaze. He watched in disbelief as leaders from other nations joined Earth Council. Before long, ten men and women stood near Ouima. World Eternal controlled every facet of government on Earth. In the blink of an eye, the world had assumed the structure of totalitarianism. The individual nations still existed, and their parliaments, congresses, and ruling parties endured, but did they breathe? Would their lives now be snuffed out by the Earth Council, and would the members of the Earth Council be subject to Ouima alone?
Ouima stood alone on the screen. “Fellow World Eternal citizens,” his mesmerizing voice intoned, “as the Earth changes, you yourselves must change to survive. Changes are coming for all peoples of Earth. When you see them, do not be afraid. They will greatly enhance your quality of life, for you cannot survive in the world that you have known. World Eternal will take care of you. Your bodies will be healthy, and you will have no needs if you cooperate with us and accept these changes. That is World Eternal's promise to you. Now, I bid you farewell.”
The television screen went blank, and Jim turned it off. Stunned, he turned to his parents. “Dad? Mom? What do you think?”
His mom’s eyes were vacuous. “Isn't it great that President Garner is President of the Earth Council?” she asked. “Just think, it's like the president of the United States is president of the world.” She blinked and looked at him. “Isn't Ouima wonderful? Don't you want to join him?”
Jim put his hands on his mother’s shoulders. “You can't mean that, Mom!” He shook her gently. “Did you hear and see what just happened? The governments of the world aren't in control any more. Ouima is!”
Worry furrowed his dad's brow. “You're right, Jim. Secretary of State Tom Holland and the United States ambassador to the United Nations, William Downs, are supposed to speak for us at the United Nations.”
Jim wished he could talk with Dr. Durand, the French scientist who had been at CU Boulder. Durand had been his friend Pat's and his mentor at CU-Boulder. He had no way of getting in touch with Dr. Durand, who had left before the end of the semester. “Dad, Mom, I’ve got to go. Promised to meet Christine and Marcy. We’ll talk about this later.”
Jim grabbed his coat and waved goodbye. His mind raced as he drove into Beakon to Christine and Marcy’s apartment. How long had it been since Ouima, Chief High Messenger of the Council of World Eternal, interrupted President Garner's speech? Only six months. Now he was Secretary-General of the United Nations. Their world had changed drastically. World Eternal centers dotted the globe like polka dots on a dress. W.E. had promised them worldly comforts for free. Much of the world lived in W.E. housing, worked in W.E. jobs, was healed instantly by WE doctors, and ate WE food. WE saw to it that no one was left out, but Ouima made sure WE controlled everything. Essentially, WE had taken over the world. Trouble was, only a few Christians in their small Texas town of Beakon and surrounding cities and states seemed to realize it. His dad was working with them to preserve and grow their own food, and unknown to WE, they had their own store in the church were his dad served as the preacher. Christians could buy and trade their own food. Jim and his friend Pat, and their friends Christine and Marcy, were working to find a way to stop WE's genetically modified seeds from changing all the food in the world.
He hoped they could find an antidote quickly. His summer work at the Center near Beakon gave him access to seed from Texas and from the Center. Christine and Marcy’s graduate studies at Texas Plains Christian University gave them access to labs there. But they had to be especially careful, since TPCU had entered an agreement with World Eternal to use their labs. The girls’ boss was Bajal, a WE scientist who watched them closely. Jim’s friend Pat worked at the Center in Denver, and he helped by sending them seeds from Colorado.
Jim stopped in the first empty space he found in the parking lot at Christine and Marcy’s apartments. Bounding up the steps to their second-story apartment, he rang their doorbell. He rang twice, then knocked. No answer. He pulled out his cellphone and called Christine. After three rings, he heard her voicemail message. He called Marcy. No answer.
Strange. The last thing he had said to them the night before was “See you a little after eight in the morning.” He turned and ran down the steps to the parking lot. Christine’s car was not in its parking space. Maybe they were supposed to meet at church.
Back in his car, he sped through three alleys, zig-zagging the shortest route to get to the church building. He made a sharp turn onto Church Street, and another twist of the steering wheel took him into the church parking lot. It was empty.
He headed back to the girls’ apartment. Maybe they had run to the grocery store and were waiting for him. He drove by their parking lot and gave it a sweeping glance. Christine’s car was not there.
His cell phone showed 8:30. Christine’s parents, Chris and Lee Brown, should be at the church building soon, if they were not there now. Maybe they had heard from Christine. He retraced his path to the church building. The Browns’ car was there.
Jim parked and ran into the church. Christine’s father stood in the foyer, talking to James father. “Chris, have you heard from Christine this morning?”
Chris raised an eyebrow. “Not yet.” He glanced at his watch. “She and Marcy are teaching a Bible class, so they should be here soon. Lee’s talking to some of the ladies. Ask her.”
Lee was in the auditorium talking to his mom and Dana Dean. Jim approached them and interrupted, “Lee, have you heard from Christine this morning?”
Lee looked puzzled. “She’ll be here any minute. She usually lets me know she’s here.”
Nell put her hand on Jim’s shoulder. “Jim was supposed to meet Christine and Marcy this morning, Lee.” She looked at Jim’s worried face. “Didn’t you see them, Jim?”
Jim shook his head. “I got to their apartment a little after eight, and they weren’t there. Christine’s car wasn’t in the parking lot. I came to the church, but they weren’t here. So I went back to their apartment. They still weren’t at home. I’ve called both their cell phones several times, and they don’t answer.”
Lee started walking toward the classroom wing. “Let’s see if they’re in their classroom. Sometimes they get here late and don’t see me until after class.”
Jim and Nell followed her down the hall to the classroom for children ages four through six. Inside the room were six children looking through books and doing puzzles.
“Children, have you seen Miss Christine and Miss Marcy?” Lee asked.
One little girl shook her head. “No. They’re not here.”
Nell stepped into the classroom. “I’ll stay with the children until they come,” she volunteered.
Lee reached into her purse for her cellphone and called. After listening a brief time, she turned and hurried off. “I’m going to see if they’re just getting here,” she said over her shoulder.
Jim had to run to keep up with her. They found Chris standing in the foyer beside the door.
Lee shook her head as she neared him. “Jim was supposed to meet the girls this morning, but he couldn’t find them,” she explained. “They weren’t at their apartment. Christine’s car wasn’t in the parking lot.” Panic crept into her voice. “And it’s almost eight, and they’re not here to teach their class.”
Chris opened the door to the outside, then stepped out onto the porch and looked over the parking lot. “They’re not here,” he stated. “Lee, let’s get in the car and retrace their drive to church. I know how Christine comes.”
Jim was right behind Lee. “I’m going with you,” he said as he opened the car door for Lee and climbed into the back seat of their car.
Chris was leaving the parking lot by the time Jim fastened his seat belt. “I’m glad you’re coming, Jim,” he said. “You can help us look for them.” He sighed. “I hope they didn’t have car trouble.” He drove the familiar route to the girls’ apartment building. Jim watched out his side of the car, and Lee looked out hers, but they did not see Christine’s car. It was not in their apartment parking lot. Chris parked the car, and he and Lee followed Jim up the stairs to the second-story apartment. They rang the doorbell and knocked. No answer.
Lee felt in the bottom of her purse. “I have a key,” she said as she retrieved it. She inserted the key into the lock, and the door opened.
Jim followed Chris and Lee into the living room. The light was on. The room was just as it was when he left the girls last night. In the kitchen, there were no dirty dishes in the sink or on the counter.
Lee peered into Christine’s bedroom. “The bed is still made.” She wrung her hands. “Maybe they didn’t even sleep here last night.”
Jim opened Marcy’s bedroom door. “The bed’s made in here, too. And Marcy’s phone and some of her books are on her bed. I bet they didn’t sleep here.”
Chris held the living room door open. “I don’t even want to think that,” he stated. “Come on, let’s give this town a going over. They’ve got to be someplace.”
They ran down the steps and got back into the car. Chris pulled onto East Central Avenue, the street where most of the town businesses were located. He entered the parking lot for Wholesome Eating, the grocery store, and circled around. No sight of Christine’s car. They exited and entered the next business, a clothing store where the girls shopped.
Lee stared out her window as they passed the shop entrance. “They don’t open until ten,” she said. “Jim, can you think of any other place they might have gone?”
“Texas Plains Christian University? The World Eternal Center?” Jim thought for a moment. “I don’t know why they would go there Sunday morning, though.”
Chris left the parking lot and headed down East Central to the highway to Texas Plains. “We’re going to check, just the same.” Once they turned onto the highway, he stepped on the gas.
Jim peered over Chris’ shoulder and watched the needle on the speedometer climb to eighty miles an hour. The speed limit was sixty-five.
Lee noticed, too, and she laid a restraining hand on her husband’s arm. Jim breathed a sigh of relief as the speedometer needle slid toward seventy.
Texas Plains was not a large university, and it took them only ten minutes to pass through or by all the parking lots. They did not find Christine’s car. Chris frowned, but he said nothing as he turned the car back onto the highway toward the World Eternal Center.
Jim retrieved his cell phone from his shirt pocket. “Pat told me he had to work today, but I’m going to call him anyway,” he said. “Maybe he’s heard something.” He heard Pat’s voice mail greeting and left him a message. “Christine and Marcy are missing. Have you heard from them?”
Ten minutes later they entered the front parking lot of Center A-1, the first center the Council of World Eternal, or WE, as most called it, had built. The lot was full of cars, and the stations on the tracks surrounding it were full of people getting on and off the cars that stopped at them every five minutes. Crowds were streaming into the front Center doors as people entered to get medical help, pick up seeds and agricultural supplies, apply for jobs, and attend the worship service at the Center Religious Studies Hall.
Jim pointed to the west side of the parking lot. “Christine usually parks on that side,” he told Chris. “Let’s go over there and look.”
Chris followed his directions. They passed between each row of cars, but Christine’s car was not there. Chris returned to the east side, and they searched every row. Chris threw up his hands in a gesture of defeat. “Now what? Where else can we look?”
Lee dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “Chris, we’ve looked to ourselves, and we can’t find them. Let’s ask God for His help.” She took his hand, and Jim reached over the back of the seat and clasped their two hands.
Chris prayed. “Lord, we can’t find our daughter Christine and her precious friend Marcy. Father, you know where they are. Please keep them safe and help us find them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”