62 - Rome
PRESENT DAY His response didn’t at all help me believe that this was the actual Lazarus. If he’d really been around for more than two thousand years and if this Cup was the thing that had kept him alive so long, surely he would have kept better track of it. I mean, one would think that after living for two thousand years, one would have amassed some sort of person power.
“Did you not know about any of the rest?”
He wasn’t looking at me when he answered; not that I’d really had that much luck reading him even when he had been. “That changes nothing. Particularly since they were brought back with only a part of the Cup.”
Seeing the rest of the Cup there in his hands, watching him turn it slowly over and over, really sent that point home for me. “What would that mean though? Only brought back with a part of the Cup?”
“It stands to reason,” he said, his attention still focused on the Cup in his hands. “That without the full wording spoken by Jesus that the same power inherent in those Words would likewise be incomplete. Those brought back by these partial words would have only a partial rebirth, only part of a second chance.” He looked up at me, but I couldn’t tell what he thought about that.
“Honestly,” he said, “I’m surprised that it worked at all.”
I thought back to the phantom form of Private Jackson, the perfect in appearance but still completely intangible body that Alex had been given. It had worked. As crazy as that sounded, it was one of the few solid pieces of evidence I had that this might actually have been Lazarus standing before me.
“It just doesn’t make sense…” He just stared at me, waiting, it seemed, for me to continue. “Why would Jesus make you immortal?” I mean, I knew that Jesus had come to Earth to conquer death–the story of Lazarus itself was a large part of that–but still…
Lazarus sighed. “Do you think I know?” He was still looking at me, but his fingers were running along the grooves in the Cup, again and again. He seemed barely conscious of the fact, if that. It looked more like habit than anything. “I would have asked him myself had I been given the chance.”
“So you think he made a mistake?” Jesus was God, all powerful and all knowing. How could he make a mistake?
But Lazarus just shook his head. “No. He didn’t make a mistake. He knew that the Cup would keep me alive well past my time. I got a letter from him you know. Transcribed by one of his disiples, passed along from person to person until finally it made its way back to me.”
I could feel my eyes going wide. “What did it say?”
He smiled slightly, most likely at my enthusiasm. I couldn’t help it though. What knowledge had Jesus passed on that hadn’t been recorded in the New Testament? But Lazarus' words were simple and to the point. “He said that when I was ready to join him, that all I would have to do was destroy the Cup.” He looked down at that simple lump of formed clay in his hands.
I couldn’t help but follow his gaze. “But you did.” I could only assume. I knew that the Cup had been broken–he’d said himself that he was looking for the final piece, implying that the rest had not always been whole–but still, the Cup was already broken.
He shrugged. “I tried. So many years ago, I can scarecely remember how I did it. But it doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters was that it didn’t work. I broke the Cup, yet here I am. Still alive.”
63 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I awoke slowly, not sure where I was or precisely what was going on. My memory returned over the next several minutes.
I remembered walking out into the square, completely alone and unarmed. In hindsight, that had been kind of amazingly stupid. Who in their right mind returned to where they’d just been shot at and attempts to go right up and knock on the front door?
I remembered the sound of the shot. I remembered the impact against my chest.
I remember getting up.
I remember getting shot again.
There wasn’t much of anything after that.
As my memories came flooding back, I tried to open my eyes. It appeared to be a pointless endeavor, however, as the room remained as pitch black with my eyes opened as it had been with them closed. Heck, it actually seemed darker still. Until I’d opened them, I’d at least had the memory of light to keep me company. Now, all there was was darkness.
I was lying on something soft, perhaps a cot of some sort. I couldn’t see anything, but at least I could feel that much beneath me.
My first thought was to get out the tiny capsule containing a few matches that I carried in one of my chest pockets. I’d kept it there since training–one cold night without being able to build a fire had been more than enough for me.
But when I reached up for them, I instead made two rather startling revelations.
The first was that the matches were gone. Worse yet, they’d taken the entire pocket with them. And with that, the entire top half of my uniform. I hadn’t consciously realized it until just at the moment, but as I did, I realized that I wasn’t wearing either part of my uniform any longer. My shirt was gone, as were my boots and socks. The pants had been replaced with some sort of loose cotton garment that felt particularly lightweight to the touch.
I wasn’t sure which bothered me more. That someone had gone through the trouble of removing all of my clothes or that they’d gone through the trouble of at least partially dressing me again.
The second thing that I realized was that my hand had been cuffed to that same cot that I was lying on. I realized this rather harshly when I tried to reach up for a pocket that was no longer there and my arm jerked to a stop, well short.
I tried to loosen the hold that it had on me, pulling one way and the other, trying to wedge a finger in between the steel and my own flesh, but nothing I did seemed to have any effect. The cuffs remained on as tight as ever.
All righty then. So I was in a pitch black cell, almost completely naked, and chained to a bed.
Not exactly the sort of thing that they cover in either seminary or basic training.
So I lay there in the darkness, staring up at nothing in particular. I didn’t have the slightest idea where I was or why I was there, but one thing was certain–this was not my finest hour.
I lay there for what felt like hours, when abruptly a voice came out of the darkness. It was so sudden and unexpected that I instinctively tried to sit upright, only to be jerked back down. Hard.
Ignoring all the commotion I most have been making, the voice said. “So Padre, how’s your day going?”