Monday, March 10, 2014

Celebration Station: Day 10-Paul Mannering

Day 10

Today we visit with Paul Mannering as he finishes his epic tale, The Exodus Conspiracy.


Moses saw the pestilence borne by the wild animals ravage the animals of Khem. Aaron barely slept for the next two nights as he sent urgent messages and organized for any animal that so much as sneezed to be smuggled in and put among the flocks and herds of the Khemites.

Over the next week cows, sheep, horses and goats, sickened and died in their millions. The milking machines fell silent, the chains of the great abattoirs where a thousand head of cattle were butchered every day, clanked along their runners, empty and rattling in the dry wind. The people watched helplessly as their animals died, burying them in massive pits, scoured out of the dry ground by the silent golems and steam driven machines that built the empire. The people ate bread and waited for Pharaoh to cure the plague.

Moses spent the following days in prayer, the Hebrews gathered and prayed with him. They listened to Aaron preach the commandment that the Lord had given to Moses, telling the story of the burning bush and the commanding voice over and over again.

All around them the voices of their masters grew angry and desperate, guards lined the streets around the palace, keeping the growing mob at bay while the Pharaoh brooded inside.

Aaron went back to visit Ben again. “We’ve had one of the lad’s hiding under your brother’s cot whispering “boils” for the last three days,” Ben said with a sigh.

“Boils? Just how are we going to infect the Khemites with boils?” Aaron asked.

“Come and see,” Ben led his guest up to the roof of the house. Handing Aaron a looking glass he pointed towards the distant horizon and upwards. “There about thirty degrees above the horizon, you probably won’t spot it through the haze and smoke clouds, but they are there. Four dirigibles, all loaded with a powder that David, Doron’s son came up with. It’s nasty stuff. Causes boils, blisters and all manner of irritation to the skin on contact.”

“We are fortunate that the Khemites create so much smoke and ash every day. Otherwise they would notice the plague falling from the sky,” Aaron said frowning at the stinking mist that hung over everything.

“We are ready, they simply await the signal to begin dusting the Khemites,” Ben said.

“Start the dusting tomorrow at dawn, cover them all in it.”

“We’ve already been distributing ointment to our people. They shouldn’t suffer, but we are recommending they keep the kids indoors once it starts,” Ben said.

“This one has to work,” Aaron said and left Ben’s house.

Moses climbed down from the roof where he had meditated and prayed. "Aaron, we n-n-need to go to the P-pharaoh. The Lord commands us to d-d-d-deliver his duh-d-demands once again."

Aaron stood up, brushing bread crumbs from his beard, "Follow me, I know the way."

“First, we m-m-m-must visit the f-f-foundry d-d-district, I need some s-soot from the furnaces,” Moses replied. Aaron waved frantically for one of his messengers as Moses washed himself in preparation of the visit to Pharaoh’s palace.

“Go,” Aaron whispered, “Tell Ben to let the bird’s fly.”

They entered the palace, the court was mostly absent, only a few eunuchs, wizened seers and scribes remained at the Pharaoh’s side.

“Pharaoh,” Moses said, bowing before the god king.

“You again? You plague me worse than the pestilence and the flies,” Pharaoh sneered.

“I have c-come to ask you ag-again great Ph-pharaoh, let the Lord’s chosen p-p-people go into the d-d-desert and worship him.”

“They cannot leave; we have much work to do rebuilding the countryside. Livestock needs to be recovered and brought to the markets, the streets need to be cleared of the dead animals. This country needs every hard working Hebrew to bend their backs and put their shoulders to the wheel. There can be no shying away from the work ahead of us. We shall rebuild, greater and more glorious.”

The scribes made their marks, recording every utterance of Pharaoh for all time.

“The Lord commands you Pharaoh, release my people!” Aaron shouted.

“If your God is so great, why does he not simply take you all away from me?” Pharaoh jeered. “You Hebrews, so lazy, you care nothing for work. Nothing for the greatness of Khem. “

Moses erupted in rage, “The greatness of Khem is built on the technology stolen from the Hebrews of Israel! We created the machines, the great engines that lift your stone blocks, and give life to your golems! This is our machina!”

“You stutter less when you are angry Hebrew,” Pharaoh said with no trace of a smile.

“I have seen m-much to anger me since I arrived, b-b-bearing the word of the Lord. You must listen, let my p-people go or the next plague will strike all of K-khem. A plague of boils and open sores will strike you down. How will your p-p-p-people work? How will they b-bake bread? How will they rebuild if they are so stricken?” Moses demanded.

“We will have the strong hands of the Israelites to drive the machines and bake our bread. Your people have been ours for generations and they will remain so.”

“Forget it,” Aaron said, drawing Moses aside. “What instruction does the Lord give us for his latest lesson?”

“Pharaoh, c-c-come and witness the p-p-p-power of God,” Moses said, turning on his heel and walking out into the courtyard.

When the Pharaoh and his scribes were seated over-looking the gardens, Moses took the bag of furnace soot from his brother and flung two handfuls of the ashes skyward.

“By night fall, you will b-be struck down with a p-p-plague of b-b-boils. This is the w-wuh-will of the Lord, unless you release all Israelites from their b-b-b-bondage.”

“I will kill them all before I release them!” Pharaoh snapped.

Moses and Aaron said nothing further, taking their leave they washed the soot from their hands and retreated to the relative safety of the Hebrew quarter. The wailing and cries of pain began at sundown. “We should stay indoors, there is wine and fine women,” Aaron said.

“I c-c-cannot,” Moses replied. “I must see what the Lord has wrought.” Aaron sighed and followed his brother into the streets. Aaron told Moses the Hebrews were in their huts and houses, giving thanks and praying for salvation from their slavery. The white dust from the dirigibles had settled over everything and mixed with the ash it was soon lost to sight.

They reached the wider avenues where the machines passed at all hours and the steam-cars ran along their tracks, taking the nobles of Khem from banquet to temple. The streets were silent now. The fair people lay moaning in pain, hiding their weeping sores from their peers and praying to the gods of Khem for a cure.

A few souls crept in the shadows, moaning in pain and begging for relief. Moses shied away from a man whose face had already been stricken by the maddening itch of insect bites and now the tortured flesh oozed pus and sloughed off in great chunks as he clawed at himself.

“Oh my God…” Aaron whispered.

“And m-m-mine, and the god of our f-far-fa-fathers, and our f-father’s f-f-f-fathers. How can Pharaoh c-c-c-c-continue to deny His will?” Moses fell silent, his lips moving in prayer for the souls of the afflicted as they continued towards the palace. The numbers of Khemites suffering from the bleeding sores grew as they approached the palace. Those soldiers of Pharaoh who were still able to attend their duties stood in stiff ranks, weapons ready to burn and gun down their fellow countrymen.

“We are here to see Pharaoh,” Aaron announced. The guards peered at them with eyes swollen shut from blistered skin and they spoke through lips that dripped rancid pus. “Hebrews, may you all burn. Your curses have been wrought upon us. We will execute you as soon as the Pharaoh gives the order.”

“Only Pharaoh can end your suffering,” Aaron said. “But we must speak with him to ensure that he does so quickly.” The guards shuffled aside, each crushed under the weight of his own pain. The brothers strode into the throne room, and found it empty. A eunuch, weeping bloody tears and moaning in pain guided them to the bedchamber of Pharaoh.

The ruler of Khem lay on soft cushions, his great head rested back against a padded beam and his jeweled eyes were dull. Linen bandages covered his skin and the remaining sorcerers prayed and made offerings to their chief god, Ra.

“Great Pharaoh, your people suffer needlessly. Your sorcerers are struck down with boils and sores. You yourself are enduring agony that you can end with a simple command. Let my people go into the desert, let them worship Yahweh and then return to their labors,” Aaron said.

“You…shall…not…defeat me…” Pharaoh wheezed. “I have never been conquered, and I shall not fail my people now.”

“Pharaoh, you leave m-me with n-n-no choice!” Moses wailed. “The Lord G-g-god will unleash his full f-fury upon your p-p-people! The p-p-people who have suffered from lice and foul water, f-f-frogs and f-ffff-flies, b-boils and sickness among their c-ca-ca-cattle. The Lord God c-c-commands you to obey him, or he w-will unleash the wrath of heaven upon the land of K-khem. You will see a st-storm of ice and fire. The sky will b-break and fall upon your arrogant head. It is the Lord G-g-god that c-c-commands you. Let my p-p-people go, so that they may worship me, or this t-time I will send the full force of my p-plagues against you so you m-may kn-n-now that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by n-now I c-c-could have stretched out mm-my hand and struck you and your p-p-people with a p-p-plague that would have wiped you off the earth. B-b-but I have raised you up for this very p-pah-purpose, that I might show you my p-power and that my name m-m-might be proclaimed in all the earth. You still set y-yourself against my p-p-people and will not let them go.

“Therefore, at this time tomorrow the Lord will send the w-worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on K-khem, from the d-d-day it was founded till n-now. Great Pharaoh, g-give an order now to bring your livestock and everything you have in the field to a p-p-place of shel-shelter, because the hail will fall on every m-ma-man and animal that has not been brought in and is still out in the field, and they will d-die.” Moses subsided, exhausted with the struggle to deliver the Lord’s words.

“We shall never surrender to you!” The Pharaoh half rose from his bed, eunuchs rushed forward and supported his head as he raised one blistered hand. “Get out, leave my sight or I shall have you boiled alive!”

“As you wish Pharaoh,” Moses and Aaron bowed and left the chamber.

Aaron escorted Moses back to the house they occupied in the Hebrew ghetto, as soon as his brother was inside Aaron ran off down the street. “Gather the agents of the Elder’s,” he commanded Ben’s son and then spent an hour pacing in the kitchen while Ben drank wine and they discussed various ideas for pulling off Moses’s latest plague.

“It simply cannot be done,” Ben growled. “Ice, yes we could drop ice from the airships, fire – of course, we could use the flame jets to burn oil. But a hailstorm with fire?” He shook his head, “That my friend, is something only the Lord could do.”

“But Moses has declared it will be. We must act quickly to see the plague enacted, or the entire operation falls apart,” Aaron insisted.

They were interrupted by the arrival of other members of the operation. The agents of the Elders of Zion. Wine was poured and the cause toasted. Aaron updated his brethren on the outrageous plague that Moses had declared would befall the land of Khem.

“We could load the dirigibles with balls of oil-soaked cloth and light them and rain them down on the city?” the mason named Gershon suggested.

“Too dangerous, if the flame ignited the gas-bladder the dirigibles would burn,” Aaron replied.

“How will we make ice? The airships cannot go high enough, and the air is warm over Khem,” Menachem, who was the master of messengers, asked.

“I will give you fire and ice from the sky,” the voice came from a figure shrouded in black from the back of the room. Everyone turned, some moving aside to let Aaron have a clear view of the stranger.

“I am Ea-Nasir, from the Babylonian city of Ashur,” the figure bowed slightly.

“How will you make this ice and fire?” Aaron asked.

“When you put a hole the side of a pipe, and force air through it, warm air will come out of one end, and cold air will come out the other. We then simply funnel the cold air back into the pipe and let the warm air exhaust itself. Place the tube that funnels the cold air into a bucket of water, and you will make ice.”

“We could mount such pipes on the dirigibles then we could produce a lot of ice with the air flowing through the pipes as they fly!” Menachem grinned.

“And the fire that will fall with the hail from heaven?” Aaron asked, not yet convinced.

“An alchemical recipe, similar to that which the Khemites use in their fire-hoses. It will not burn until it is a safe distance away from your airships, then it shall rain down in an unquenchable inferno with the hail.”

“Are you sure that it won’t set the dirigibles on fire?” Aaron asked.

“I will mix it with another element that shall create heat as it falls, the rain shall ignite itself after exposure to air.”

“If it works, it will be a great demonstration of the Lord’s power,” Gershon said, nodding.

“Could you use this alchemy to make the ice burn?” Aaron asked.

“Of course, we Babylonians have technology that the Gods themselves envy,” Ea-Nasir said mildly and bowed again.


At the evening of the following day Moses obeyed the Lord’s command and stretched his staff to the sky. The horizon darkened, a chill wind stirred the dust and the people looked to the heavens with fear in their eyes. The first ice fell to the south, crushing the fields and orchards that lined the mighty river. Travelers caught on the road were knocked down and crushed. Stoned by hail, as large as a golem’s fist. The true horror came with the fire from the sky. The ice burned, falling in streamers that crashed through the tiled roofs of the houses of Khem and set fire to the rooms below. Women and children, their clothing and hair ablaze, stumbled screaming into the streets, the hail thundered down upon them, spreading the inextinguishable flames and snuffing out their lives in one fell blow.

“One good thing about this,” Aaron shouted to Moses over the roar of the storm outside. “The ice and fire is going to kill off the flies and lice.”

“And the b-boils? Will h-hail the size of your h-head cure the d-d-d-disease of the skin? And what of the livestock? Any animals still alive out there are surely v-vanquished.” Moses drank more wine and felt his mood dropping with the temperature outside.

“Yes, but you see, the hail and fire, it will surely kill the rats and the jackals, the pestilence is ended with their destruction. God truly works in mysterious ways, but he gets the job done.” Aaron clapped a hand on Moses’s shoulder. “Have faith brother!”

“We m-m-must go to Pharaoh. He m-must have the opportunity to end the s-s-suffering of his p-people,” Moses said.

“The suffering of his people? I think they might deserve a few more days of ice and fire from the skies. The Lord is protecting us, no hailstones have struck the houses of the Hebrews,” Aaron said, silently giving thanks that the dirigible pilots up there in the impenetrable haze had good navigation skills.

“What shall they eat? If there are no f-factories, no m-m-machina working, that m-means no food in exchange for labor. Soon enough, ch-chosen or not, our p-people will starve.”

“The Lord will provide for us brother. Pharaoh will change his mind and everything shall be as you claimed. As the Lord promised you,” Aaron grinned in anticipation.

“Our b-b-brothers and sisters, their crops and herds, they are untouched by the plagues. How long before the Pharaoh sends his soldiers to c-confiscate their p-p-property?”

“Before that happens, we will have been victorious. The Lord will smite our enemies and deliver us into Canaan!”

“Yes,” Moses said with a sigh. “As the Lord wills it, so it shall b-be.”

Walking the streets, they saw head sized balls of ice crash down on buildings and machines. Aaron had a moment of panic, the grand dirigibles of the Khemites that floated over the city had crashed in flames and spread the fires that already raged in every neighborhood. These were the pleasure craft of the nobles of Khem, the Hebrew airships flew higher and remained hidden in the smog clouds overhead.

Close calls were everywhere, balls of burning ice exploded on the ground all around the two brothers, but they prayed and walked on towards the Pharaoh’s palace.

The complex of buildings was peppered with holes; flames flared and flickered in the windows as the staff battled to extinguish the fires.

“We can announce ourselves,” Aaron said to the guards cowering in an alcove. The Pharaoh had not yet returned to his throne room. They found him resting on a sea of cushions in his bedchamber. “Pharaoh, you know why we are here,” Aaron said.

“Pharaoh, we b-b-beseech you, have your p-p-people not suffered enough?” Moses began his entreaty.

“Still your jabbering tongues,” Pharaoh whispered, his voice hoarse with blistered sores. “End these cursed plagues. End them and I shall let your people go into the desert and pray, sing, dance and sacrifice their children if that is what your God demands.”

Moses dropped to his knees and prayed to Yahweh, the roar of the fiery hail ceased soon after. Aaron joined Moses in prayer, giving thanks that the Pharaoh had finally seen reason, just in time as the supply of ice and Babylonian fire had been exhausted.

Pharaoh’s attendants gingerly approached and administered medicine to their king, the blisters faded under their ministrations and they congratulated each other on their success.

“Thank you Pharaoh, I will tell my p-people to p-prepare to l-leave the city,” Moses climbed to his feet and spoke.

“No,” Pharaoh said. With assistance from his slaves he climbed off the cushions. Standing on his own two feet he pulled the bandages off his wounded arm. The flesh beneath was clean, and glowed with the deep fire of gold. “The Hebrews belong to me. Your people will stay.”

“But you agreed to let them leave!” Aaron shouted.

“I have changed my mind! I am Pharaoh! My word is the only law!”

“You cannot!” Aaron bellowed. “You defy God! You defy the unchallengeable will of Yahweh!”

“Pharaoh,” Moses said quietly. “A new st-storm r-rises in the south. A p-plague of locusts will descend upon your land and d-devour what few crops remain. Your p-p-people will starve Pharaoh. You will be rule over the d-dead and the monuments to your own arrogance.”

“My Lord,” the sorcerer with the tattooed skin stepped forward and bowed low. “May I suggest that a compromise can be reached? Release the men folk. Let them go into the desert and commune with their desert god. We keep the women and children. Without their wives, sons and daughters, the men will return quickly

“Never!” Pharaoh screamed. “Go away! All of you!”

“A plague of locusts will descend upon you Pharaoh!” Aaron shouted back. “Your people will starve!”

“Then they shall die in innocence! Their hearts shall be weighed and found pure!” Pharaoh paced up and down the bedchamber, his golden form catching the light and the striking of his feet on the marble tile ringing like a bell.

“And w-what of your heart?” Moses asked.

“My heart is as the white stone that floats,” Pharaoh replied. With that the audience was over and Moses and Aaron walked out under a sky dark with another oncoming storm.

Aaron was grateful to the boy Ben had hiding under Moses’s cot, his soft whispers intruding on the prophet’s meditations seemed to be working. The locusts that descended on Khem had been bred with the frogs, the amphibians loved the juicy insects and once the frogs were gone, the locust population exploded. Once released they ate every leaf, twig, and seed of the crops that survived the storm of ice and fire. The air hummed with the whirr of their shining wings and the scrape of their powerful jaws. Moses and Aaron watched the swarm from the shade of a rooftop in the Hebrew ghetto.

“And if this doesn’t work?” Aaron asked.

“The Lord will g-guide us,” Moses assured him.

“In case he doesn’t, I have an idea.” In fact Ea-Nasir the Babylonian had suggested it. His people tracked the movements of the sun, moon and wandering stars over decades. They knew exactly when the moon would darken the sun, and the simplicity of the idea appealed to Aaron after so much effort for so little gain.

Moses regarded his brother with a frown. “An idea?”

“Yes, tomorrow the sky will go dark. Tell Pharaoh that it is God’s wrath.”

“The Lord didn’t mmm-mention mmm-m-making the sk-sky go d-dark,” Moses said.

“But he does drive the moon and the sun and tomorrow the moon shall pass over the face of the sun and create darkness in the full brightness of day.”

“An eclipse?” Moses asked.

“Exactly. And with all the problems the sorcerers are having, they may have missed it.”

Moses stood up, “We have to tell Pharaoh.”

“Not so fast brother, he needs to suffer the plague of locusts. Tomorrow we will tell him about the eclipse. If we time it right, then the sky will darken at your command.”

“At the Lord’s c-command,” Moses reminded him.

“Yeah, him too.”


When Aaron and Moses announced that the Lord would darken the sky at midday if Pharaoh did not bend his will, he scoffed and summoned his mages.

“Where is our astronomer?” he demanded of the two who groveled before him.

“You had him executed Great Pharaoh,” the mage with the telescopic eyes and mechanical arm said with a quavering voice.”

“These men tell me the sky will darken at their command. They claim it is the will of their god.”

“Great Pharaoh, surely you can stop the sun in its path. Make day as night and night as day?” the tattooed sorcerer said.

“Of course Pharaoh can do these things!” the amplified voice boomed from the head that towered over them. “Call upon your god to darken the sky Hebrews. Pharaoh shall use the power of Ra to vanquish your god as he has vanquished all of the enemies of Khem.”

Moses bowed and as Aaron crossed his fingers, Moses began to pray. It took time for anything to change. The smoke and haze of the fires still burning in parts of the city clouded the sky, but as Moses continued to pray, a gloom settled over the land until the light was as dark as midnight.

“The smoke and smog is particularly thick at the moment, Aaron murmured. “With luck this darkness could last a while.”

“It will last as long as G-god wills it,” Moses replied.

“Pharaoh, we shall return when your sun god has had a chance to undo the will of our Lord,” Aaron said cheerfully.

The dirigible pilots reported a heavy cloudbank coming in from the west, which helped keep the city in darkness even after the moon had completed its traverse across the sun’s face. Even so, Aaron fretted for a full day before insisting they return to Pharaoh’s presence. Moses refused, “Let him come to us. We have be-be-beseeched him n-n-nine times.”

The god-king’s guards kicked in the door just after lunch the next day. Aaron and Moses were pushed through the streets, from dull-glowing street lamp to flickering pool of torch light they were marched to Pharaoh.

“You may leave Khem,” the sculpted mask intoned. “Your animals, the cows, sheep, horses and goats of your people. They will stay. We have lost much to your plagues, and your herds and flocks will restock our own.”

“N-no,” Moses shook his head. “I t-tell you Ph-Pharaoh, soon you will offer us animals for sac-sacrifice. W-we shall leave K-khem with your blessing and you shall heap riches up-upon us.”

The golden jaw of Pharaoh’s grand mask dropped open, “You dare?” the voice of Pharaoh shrieked. “You dare make such assumptions of us? Understand this Hebrew; if we see you again you shall be burned by the wrath of Ra. I shall have you flayed and boiled alive. Your eyes shall be sucked out and your manhood crushed by millstones!”

“I am d-done Pharaoh. I shall not ap-pear before you again. God on the other hand, he shall not rest,” Moses shuffled out of the audience chamber. Aaron scowled and hurried after him.

“I have fa-fa-f-failed G-g-god,” Moses stammered, his eyes brimming with sudden tears.

Aaron put a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “You have done more than any man could ask. God shall look down upon you brother and know your heart was true. You did His bidding and obeyed his commands.”

“B-but we have f-failed!” Moses’s face contorted in sudden anger.

“The Lord will see our people free,” Aaron replied. “Let’s go home, meditate and pray, the Lord will speak to you again. I am sure of it.”

Once Moses was settled in his rooftop sanctuary Aaron took to the streets again. This time he went to the docks of the Nile and spoke with a scarred river-boat captain. Coin clinked in the man’s hand and a small barrel was loaded onto a donkey, which Aaron then led back into the city.

He made his way to the vast bakery that provided bread to the workers and many of the noble houses of Khem. Steam driven mixers stirred vats of dough and loaves of bread rolled along leather conveyor belts and into massive ovens. At the other end they were arranged on cooling racks before being loaded onto steam-trucks and being distributed through the city and across the country.

Aaron could not allow himself to consider the scale of the destruction they were going to wreak on the people of Khem. He tied the donkey to a hitching rail and waited. A door opened and the baker Eli slipped out of the building. “Shalom brother,” he said.

“Shalom,” Aaron replied. “Are we ready?”

Eli nodded, his eyes shining with patriotic fervor. “Tonight we strike a great blow for freedom.”

The two men carried the barrel inside, hiding it behind a mixing vat. “Tomorrow,” Aaron said, whispering loudly in Eli’s ear to be heard over the hiss and roar of the baking machines. “Our people will be free!”

“Aaron! W-what are you doing!?” Moses shouted above the clang and hiss of the factory.

“Abraham’s ghost!” Aaron swore, “Moses what in Yahweh’s name are you doing here?”

“We are here to do G-g-god’s will Aaron! We cannot m-m-murder innocents!”

“Unless we are killing in God’s name?” Aaron replied.

“We obey the Lord’s command!” Moses cried. “What you are p-planning is m-madness!”

“What choice do we have brother? If we do not force Pharaoh’s hand, our people will remain his slaves forever.”

“The L-lord Himself will bring the Pharaoh to understanding. W-we are simply His messengers!”

Aaron laughed a cynical, humorless sound. “Brother! You are blind! The burning bush? The plagues? All created by agents of Zion and guided by my hand. This work has been in planning for years! You were chosen, not by God but by the Elders of Zion! You are the figurehead for our revolution!”

“I am a prophet of the Lord!” Moses demanded.

“You are a fool Moses! A devout fool! So ready to believe that the Lord chose you to carry out his work!

“I am his servant!” Moses rushed forward, knocking Aaron aside and snatching up the barrel.

“Be careful with that! It is death!” Eli yelled.

“I would rather d-die here and n-n-now than b-be p-p-par-part of this evil c-c-conspiracy!” Moses raised the barrel over his head.

Aaron and Eli froze, if the barrel broke, the poison inside would kill them all. They raised their hands in a calming gesture. “Put the barrel down brother,” Aaron insisted. Moses backed away, backing up a metal staircase, putting safe distance between him and his brother.

Moses turned and ran down an iron catwalk, Aaron dashed up the steps in pursuit. Moses ran until he reached the great furnace that fired the boilers that powered the factory. Putting the barrel down he yanked open a hatch. A flush of intense heat washed over him and he lifted the barrel and dropped into the inferno. Slamming the hatch shut, Moses sank to his knees, panting.

“You have ruined everything!” Aaron screamed. “You have damned our people to eternal slavery!”

“The Lord will set our people free. I must go and pray,” Moses pulled himself up and walked out of the factory.


Moses was waiting for Aaron when he returned the next morning. “Aaron, we m-must warn Pharaoh! If he d-does not agree to the Lord’s d-demands, a great tragedy will b-b-befall the p-people of Khem!”

“You heard Pharaoh’s words, if we return to his presence, he will kill us.”

“B-but if we do nothing! Thousands of his p-people will die!” Moses grabbed Aaron by the shoulders and shook him. “God has w-warned me that he will k-k-kill the firstborn children of Khem if Pharaoh does not let our p-people go!”

“And you say my plan to poison their bread and slay Khemites in their tens of thousands was evil?” Aaron almost sneered at Moses. “Why did God not allow our plan to go ahead?”

“This is the Lord’s will. It will st-strike at Pharaoh’s heart,” Moses did not smile.

“And when will this plague strike?”

“At midnight tonight…”

“Time for us to drink some more wine then,” Aaron said and clapped his brother on the shoulder. For all his words, Aaron drank little and Moses not at all. They gathered the agents of the conspiracy and Moses told them of his latest vision from God. Most of those gathered were not impressed. They had worked too hard and risked too much to place their faith in the stammering of a sheptech who called himself God’s prophet.

“We m-m-m-must ma-ma-mark the houses of the J-jews. Protect them from G-god’s wrath,” Moses warned.

“And how will we do that?” the agent David asked.

“W-with a si-sign of blood ab-above the door.” Moses demonstrated the sign that should be painted on the houses of the Israelites.

“Go now brothers, spread the word among our people. Tell them to pray and avoid Khemite bread until tomorrow. We can’t be too careful.”

The agents of the conspiracy departed, Moses and Aaron spent the day in silent prayer and meditation until the clock bells announced the hour of midnight.

A shout went up from a house in the noble suburbs of the city. The shouts of alarm spread through the streets, mothers and fathers spilled out into the streets, the limp bodies of their first born children cradled in their arms.

“We m-must go to Pharaoh now,” Moses told his brother.

“He will have us executed,” Aaron warned.

“He w-will be too d-distraught to do-do anything b-but to agree to the L-lord’s demands.”

The two Israelites stepped out into the streets. A crowd of Jews had gathered, and as they marched towards the palace, their numbers swelled until every Israelite in Khem hurried through the streets after the two prophets. Once again they saw death and grief etched on every Khemite face. No house had been spared, and the wails of anguish created a chorus that dimmed the roar of the city’s eternal machine heart beating.

The guards had abandoned their posts at the palace. Only the golems, sentinels without feeling or emotion, stood ready to fend off invaders. Aaron and Moses entered the audience chamber with its grand throne and marble floors. The hall was deserted, only Pharaoh’s grand mask lay abandoned on the floor. Aaron crouched down and peered inside, “His head isn’t inside,” he reported.

A soft weeping reached their ears, moving carefully Aaron and Moses crept through an open doorway. A woman on her knees cradled the sprawled form of a golden boy. She looked up as they approached.

“Milady Nefteri,” Moses said with a bow. “We s-seek an au-audience with Pharaoh.”

“I know who you are!” her voice a grief-stricken cry. “For his pride you have killed my son!”

“Many sons have died tonight Princess. Only Pharaoh can end the suffering of your people. Tell him to release the children of Yahweh, our flocks and our families. He will shower us with gold and silver and we shall leave the land of Khem.”

“I don’t care!” Nefteri shrieked, the color on her face streaking with the wash of tears. “Take all you want! Just leave us in peace!”

The mob of Israelites moved through the palace, they broke down the doors to the treasury and took gold and silver, fine silks and gems. They loaded pack animals and their children on to horses, donkeys, oxen and camels. A great procession began to leave the city before dawn. The people afraid that Pharaoh would come to his senses and they would be hunted down by his army.

“Aaron! Aaron!” a boy came pushing through the crowd in the audience chamber.

“What is it lad?”

“I am Amon of Goshen, my father sends word. You sent him to find a man.”

“What man? What are you talking about?” Aaron pulled the road-dusty boy to one side.

“My father, you instructed him to find a sheptech on a mountain, and deliver some kind of message?”

Understanding dawned on Aaron’s face. “Yes, your father did a great job. It all went according to plan.”

“No,” the boy shook his head, “My father begs your forgiveness. He could not find the man you seek. He could not get the machine to work.”

“But the burning bush… the voice…” Aaron said.

“Please forgive my father, he searched all the mountains and could not find this Moses you spoke of.”

Aaron nodded, a strange sense of shock settling on his shoulders. He slipped the boy a silver coin and sent him on his way.

In the hours after dawn Aaron and Moses stood by, watching their people stream out through the gates and away from slavery.

 “We have done God’s work,” Moses said, his voice strong and clear.

“Amen brother, Amen,” Aaron agreed.

Paul Mannering is an award winning writer living in Wellington, New Zealand
Paul has published dozens of short stories and radio plays in a range of genres across many different international markets. He has edited a collection of horror fiction, published his own collection and his first novel.
In 2007 he co-founded BrokenSea Audio Productions, which podcasts free audio drama each week to an audience of millions. Paul lives with his wife Damaris and their two cats.

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